I went back down to Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to see how the #OccupyWallStreet protest was progressing a few weeks after my last visit (which I wrote about in https://plus.google.com/107033731246200681024/posts/Sy8Z2uWy655?hl=en
). The crowd was larger - perhaps twice the size - and signs of permanent organization are starting to appear. The mood was serious but many of those in attendance really seemed to be enjoying themselves, and there was a real sense of community.
I was hoping to get on camera to voice my support for some of the key ideas behind this protest - that many of the companies in our financial sector have started extracting far more value from our society than they provide to it, and that we need businesses to remember a more honest form of capitalism, where companies make money by providing sufficient value to customers that they are happy to pay for it, where the gap between the amount extracted in profits to owners doesn't so far outstrip the amount paid to workers in the business that those workers need to go into debt to pay for ordinary living expenses, where government protects all its citizens, not just those who can afford lobbyists, and where society as a whole feels the virtuous circle that can only happen when companies create more value than they capture for themselves.
Alas, there was a press conference going on, with all cameras focused on an existing lineup of speakers. Since I only had a half-hour before heading for JFK for my flight home to SFO, I wasn't able to get on camera.
One of my favorite things about the protest (besides the issue they are bringing to the fore) is the lovely crowdsourced megaphone, in which the speaker's words are echoed phrase by phrase in shouts by the crowd of those closest to the front so that those further back can hear. There's a great example of this human megaphone in the video of +Dylan Ratigan's visit, which I happened to see on my Virgin flight in to New York yesterday. I've embedded a link below.
I'm not fond of all the populist rhetoric by some of the protestors. It's understandable though, why people are using the language of class warfare when the other side is actually practicing it. But name calling both obscures the fundamental rightness of the #OccupyWallStreet position and alienates those who might otherwise be supporters (after all, even Warren Buffett, one of the greatest capitalists of the past half-century, agrees with many of their positions). And as the Tea Party has also shown, anger gets attention. But anger can get out of control, which is why it's so important for the #OccupyWallStreet movement to do some work on message control.
I'd suggest that the protesters get a bunch of copies of Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy http://aeinstein.org/organizations98ce.html
, which was reportedly influential in the Arab Spring, and study it. There's something building here that I really like. But it's important that it go right. (Hmm. I think I'll order a bunch of copies and send them there.)
As I think about all of these revolutions around the world, I'm constantly mindful of a book I read a few years ago, Jay Winik's The Great Upheaval, which contrasts the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and an abortive revolution in Russia that was put down by Catherine the Great at about the same time. We're not talking a revolution here in America, but there are lots of lessons to be learned from past and present revolutions. And in their heedlessness and their greed, the Wall Street bankers do so
remind me of French aristocrats before that Revolution, which began so nobly and ended so badly.