2012-01-20 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

This past holiday season has allowed me and many of us to reflect on our own personal condition. We sometimes become melancholy and remember our past as superior or inferior to our present condition. Living in the present and facing the world without reflections and planning for the future may be the best for our mental health. Unfortunately, human beings are programmed for thinking of our lives as a continuum. We study history for examples. We often make erroneous comparisons and we generally believe in myths rather than face the facts of our past, present, and our future.

Most Americans have had an optimistic outlook and felt the nation has been a shining city on the hill. Americans have had almost a spiritual belief that divine providence has set this nation above all other nations for a purpose. Today, this belief has been shattered by political and corporate corruptions, abuse of power, increasing inequality, and a poor economic outlook for many young people. This year we will be privileged to select our national leaders in an election that will cause some of us to become part of the solution and for some to decide to become civic hermits.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS), according to many political commentators, is a weak movement set for oblivion because of a lack of leadership and clear, concise and comprehensive objectives. This movement makes life difficult for the Democrats. Republicans criticize the movement using the canard that the OWS is a movement of the children of the elite who need to secure employment, bathe and keep silent as the diligent working class American does each day. In other words, the GOP has the best interests of working Americans. The bipartisan attack on collective bargaining, living wages, the disregard of criminal behavior of our financial leaders is the cause of OWS and the other occupations last year. Unethical and criminal behavior has caused many of our family members, neighbors and friends to live in misery and despair. We now are faced, as former mayor Ed Koch, to reflect on a system that sends a young man to jail for stealing a bicycle but calls for men and women who stole millions to pay fines.

Poverty is a killer of souls and a danger to physical health. It is daily humiliation. Poverty causes people to lose hope and is dangerous to social peace. Criminal activity increases when poverty increases. Democracy cannot survive if an increasing number of people have no stake in the system. Class envy is inevitable. All virtue is prostituted when a society allows corrupt business practices to continue.

All across the nation occupy encampments were suppressed and physically dismantled by local police forces. Health and safety were the main reasons given for the use of police to dismantlethe camps. Most progressives realize that our police are needed at shopping malls, transit hubs and tourist attractions in this city and at demonstrations. To use the police to become tools of suppression distorts the fact that police mission is to serve the citizenry not subject the public to conform to the needs of the ruling class. Our mayor has said the police are his private army. This is dangerous! We are not a military police city state.

I witnessed OWS first hand. I attended a number of OWS demonstrations. These young people were of all races, religious beliefs and political thought. They had the naiveté of saints and the enthusiasm of youth. Some were theatrical. Others were pensive. Some were full of hope in our political process. Others were cynical.

Our media generally ignored OWS until the police used force on the Brooklyn Bridge. Often, our tabloid press had articles that made the OWS campers appear to be dangerous, disruptive and deranged. In any large grouping there will be homeless people, drug users and undesirable behavior. At the same time, the message of OWS hit a nerve in the body politic.

After the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge, thousands of people of all age groups joined the OWS campers in Foley Square. It was an impressive sight. After the dismantling of the camp in Zuccotti Park, I went to the park with senior citizens to join a few of the remaining OWS people who returned to continue the OWS message. That day, the protest was to ensure no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medi-caid. Television cameras recorded the protest. We followed the police instructions.

There was no problem but the immense and forceful police presence in my opinion caused the public to ignore the message we were trying to convey. The demonstration received no media attention and yet the filming of the protest is probably part of police surveillance of our citizenry.

We cannot ignore OWS’ legacy. Economic justice cannot be suppressed by the use of denial of facts, oppression and false characterizations.

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