You can sing Kumbaya until you are hoarse, and I’m betting the big money boys and girls on Wall Street, in the nation’s boardrooms, and those fat and sassy souls hovering behind the safety and security of their investment portfolios won’t hear a thing. They’ll just dial up security to make sure you are shuffled out of the way and that their peace is not breached. Funny how the law works. If you can pay a police officer to wield a baton you have power. You have the power of the jailer’s key.
So I wasn’t at all upset to see that events turned surly in Oakland. Several thousand protestors succeeded in shutting down the nation’s fifth largest port as part of what they hoped would be a general strike. Then things turned violent. Bonfires were lit, bank windows broken, and there were arrests. Occupy Oakland was front-page news.
Management believes in progressive discipline. A worker is first counseled, then reprimanded, then suspended and finally fired in gradual steps reflecting a desire to maintain a relationship in which both sides benefit. But both sides know that the things can be pressed to the breaking point. It’s the way of the world.
So is violence.
I was relieved to see flames in Oakland. There is an economic crisis in the country spawned by several decades of wishful thinking. If we just set folks free in unregulated markets, why the invisible hand would dress and feed us all. That’s just semi-mystical chatter. One in fifteen Americans are now classified as super-poor, families of four getting by on less than $12,000 a year. In the meantime, those atop the nation’s economic pyramid control most of the country’s wealth. For the life of me, I don’t see why those at the bottom of the pyramid think that they can chant, pray and march their way to economic health. Tear down the pyramid; set the prisoners free.
During decades of economic deregulation, the nation’s prison population grew fivefold. The United States has five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates. We lock up the surplus population and call ourselves the land of the free.
The various Occupy rallies in scores of cities across the nation encourage me. People will become emboldened by realizing that their despair and sense that all is not well is widespread. The marches are the first step in popular efforts to engage in progressive protest. But the leisure class isn’t listening. They’re giggling and scoffing.
So turn up the heat, I say.
I made my case for what I call strategic vandalism in a judge’s chambers the other day. If the windshield of every car in the nation with a book value in excess of the median income for a family of four were broken once a month, or even once a week, that might catch the attention of those who have things of value. The status quo isn’t working. You can’t put the wax of affluence in your ears and expect the cry of the desperate simply to go away.
I made this case, and a prosecutor sat nodding in agreement. “Nothing changes in this country without violence,” he said. The judge said nothing, but looked pale: Was he seeing the fire next time?
Yes, I’ve sworn an oath as a lawyer to uphold the law. So I am not encouraging anyone to engage in violence. But I am not blind. I see the fires in Oakland, and I see progressive discipline applied to the propertied class. Where will it end? I suspect we are a long way from the end. A cold winter is upon us, and Congress can’t pass a jobs bill, but can waste endless hours debating the significance of “In God We Trust.”
Can’t Congress smell the smoke?