Recent developments in the ongoing Occupy Wall Street Movement have brought the timeless wisdom of Mohandas Gandhi to mind: “First they ignore you, then they laugh atyou, then they fight and then you win”. Events here and now in our 21st century are moving in a much more rapid progression than was the case during his days of social protest and non-violent revolution. The trajectory so far has been true to Gandhi’s template in that these protests were ignored by main stream media outlets for over three weeks before nationwide coverage slowly began. And then, as the coverage opened up, much of the media initially feigned ignorance as to what this populist fuss was all about and then slowly, the message of the OWS movement continued to gain traction through social media; twitter and alternative information sources. No longer able to ignore, the mainstream media coverage initially split along party lines. Those outlets totally controlled by the one percent launched an all-out campaign to ridicule and discredit the protesters as unwashed hippies, over-educated college types, homeless street criminals, domestic terrorists and so on. The alterative media however, took up the OWS cause and deflected some of this derisive humor back at the one percent. This caught fire in viral videos on You Tube and on late night comedy and talk shows.
Repressive regimes have limited defenses against political satire and other forms of truth revealing humor. Therefore, our government, military and police who protect the one percent have inevitably resorted to unimaginative episodes of brutal suppression, involving various forms of violence and attempts at overt and covert intimidation.
As of now, it appears that the OWS movement is finding itself somewhere out in an open, and as yet, unknown field of opportunity and challenge. This very young and vulnerable movement must now navigate a path between derision, laughter and fight. So far, protesters have done an impressive job of getting their message out to anyone who might be at least willing to listen. American citizens have finally and somewhat belatedly opened their eyes to the fact that crime and government policy have become interchangeable. Vast numbers of people have given up on their elected representatives and taken to their streets, barricades, parks and plazas. From all walks of life, these are patriotic citizens who have finally realized that positive change is not going to come from above. Their protest began in the Wall Street district, which they consider to be a symbolic target of populist discontent with wide spread and ongoing abuses of our financial oligarchs. Millions have now awakened to the reality of a soaring income gap, services cut, illegal foreclosures, neighborhoods wrecked and tuition hikes. Something finally clicked here in a country which prides itself on promoting an egalitarian society. Family incomes are declining while profits of the rich and super-rich, especially those in finance, politics and war profiteering continue to soar. (“Let them eat cake”).
Those who study history know that too much wealth in the hands of too few sets up a volatile dynamic. In times of catastrophic levels of unemployment, unions crushed, demolished regulation, unaffordable health care, decline in services, intrusive surveillance, erosion of civil liberties and a growing resentment of Wall Street’s control of both parties, civil unrest is inevitable. In view of the many recent, violent, suppressive responses that legitimate protesters are now facing, they have an imminent and crucial choice. Their decision as to whether to meet violence with escalating violence or remain on a non-violent path will likely determine an outcome which could lead to peaceful social change or yet another cycle of violence.