The folks who have gathered on Wall Street these last few weeks describe themselves as “The 99 Percent”.
They have picked up on President Obama’s repeated insistence that the wealthiest one percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of the taxes.
Other than Susan Serandon and Michael Moore, the crowd seems to be largely made up of students and the unemployed. If they do have jobs, they are taking a lot of time off to demonstrate.
When the Tea Party folks took to the streets, I had a pretty good idea of what it was they were complaining about. Their grievance was the massive federal debt and the continuing federal deficit.
It’s hard to get a handle on the 99ers' complaint. It’s pretty clear that they don’t like rich people. With some exceptions.
Presumably they like movie stars, rock singers, basketball players and philanthropists, especially those whose generosity is directed toward environmental causes and endangered animal species other than homo sapiens.
But they sure don’t like stockbrokers, bankers, and other corporate executives.
Makes you sort of wonder what would change their chanting to cheering.
I suspect that if someone came out on the steps of the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow afternoon about 4 o’clock and announced that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had tanked and lost 98% of its value, a mighty cheer would rise from the milling multitude.
Good. The rich people have lost all their riches. Now we can all go home and live happily ever after.
I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I think there are plenty of good reasons for Americans to be concerned, indeed to join forces and demonstrate. The Tea Party, the Coffee Party, the 99ers and their friends are all pretty fed up with the mess in Washington.
Nobody likes the unholy alliance between well-heeled lobbyists and members of Congress who crawl up K Street begging for bucks.
Making a public fuss about it might just encourage some new leaders to step up and do something.
But I do worry about people taking to the streets for no better purpose than to express unbridled envy of rich people.
The tenth commandment teaches us not to covet the wealth of others. And anyway, who decides how rich is too rich? The President speaks glibly of ‘millionaires and billionaires” as though they both enjoy the same status, even though the “B’s” are a thousand times richer than the “M’s.”
I suppose it makes no difference to a factory worker, a store clerk or a college student. All they know is that however you define it, they ain’t it.
A demonstration without a defined purpose is very like a mob. Without a platform or a plan, it can easily begin to focus on people.
In Egypt and Lybia, Yemen and Syria political demonstrations have morphed into revolutions. Placards become guns. Shouting and shoving turns into killing.
It can’t happen here, you say? Guess again. Remember Newark and Watts and Detroit in the 1960’s. Remember Kent State.
On August 20, 1786, Louis XVI was told that the royal treasury was insolvent. Over the next fourteen years, the government of France came apart at the seams. The guillotine became the symbol of popular government. The Bolsheviks weren’t any kinder to the Tsarists in 1917.
Americans have a great tradition of political activism. Our constitution gives us the right to assemble peaceably and petition the government for redress of grievances.
We have a system of periodic elections. We don’t have to force the government to let us vote.
We also have a constitutional right to come together in convention and fix anything that doesn’t work properly in Washington. There’s no need for blood in the streets.