By Steve Klinger
When the protesters are streaked with gray, they say they’re too old to be taken seriously. When they wave signs for peace, they’re called naïve or treasonous. And now that the left, for the first time since the Vietnam generation, has significant numbers of young people “occupying” Wall Street and its proxies in cities across the country, they call them rag-tag and un-serious.
Older liberals are even more cynical, intoning that nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen unless there are full-out riots, and then they’ll just get their heads cracked open. Mitt Romney calls the situation dangerous, invoking “class warfare.”
But after three weeks and counting, even the stodgy news anchors with their striped ties are grudgingly beginning to take notice of this phenomenon, which has spread to such unlikely places as Wichita, Kansas. Obama himself observed that the protesters have a valid argument or two, given the unrelenting greed of those who have literally capitalized on the nation’s economic misfortunes. It remains to be seen if the Great Conciliator will use this last chance to reconnect with his populist roots and dust off his campaign rhetoric of hope and change, or if he’ll retreat in some pivotal moment-to-come and cast his lot irrevocably with the fat-cat bankers.
In the downtrodden and disillusioned circles of progressives who have seen their modest gains of many decades battered by the virulent onslaught of the plutocrat-backed Tea Party, by the sweeping reactionary tide abetted by Koch Industries and ALEC, a few voices are beginning to whisper: Could it be, might it be, is there any way, by any stretch it could be, can we dare say we are on the cusp of the counterpoint to Arab Spring: American Fall, both seasonal and empirical?
To which I’d say it looks from here like it could have a fighting chance, despite the lack of a cohesive list of demands, despite the absence of top-down organizational origins—or maybe because of these lacks, for the very reason that the spontaneous inception of this movement had to arise in its own good time, on the very social media that were criticized for addicting and distracting this country’s youth from any useful purpose whatsoever.
The need was stronger, the greed perhaps more blatant in Egypt and Libya and Syria, but the hard times are percolating through the towns and villages of this teetering nation now, and maybe, just maybe, the 99 percent can be awakened to demand the change that only numbers, accompanied by great resolve and youthful enthusiasm, can produce.
Now even MoveOn.org and organized labor are climbing on the bandwagon, and soon a few more prominent mainstream Democrats will forget their invertebrate nature and lavish timid praise on the Occupiers—until some untoward act or comment sends them slithering back into gelatinous retreat. But true leadership may yet emerge from the ranks of the acolytes themselves—or the weathered activists who have been scouring a somnolent landscape in search of them.
What they will do if and when their ranks swell and the entire nation takes notice I can’t answer, since the solution seems so far-removed from the government that let the problem fester and itself became the problem. Whether the 99 percent will rise up successfully—or at all—I can’t predict, nor whether such an uprising would restore our democracy or rather usher in a disastrous authoritarian retaliation that would doom it. But from here, it seems damn well worth the effort, and I’m going with that demographic that has its own future at stake, and I’m hoping we’ve underestimated them, because they, if anyone must lead the charge.
Rise up, our emerging band.
Rise up and make your stand.