Thursday, October 27, 2011

From 1920 to 2011: Occupying Wall Street

Class warfare, income disparity, unfair wages, fat cats, organized labor busting, series of economic shocks, recessions originating out of the financial community, hatred against immigrants, an unpopular war, war profiteers, a Democrat in the White House.  Sounds like the last few years?  Of course it does, but we are referencing the years from 1918 -1920 that culminated in the detonation of a bomb outside the JP Morgan Bank at 12:01pm on September 16, 1920. The blast killed 38 and seriously injured 143, and was never solved.
Now I am not proposing, implying, insinuating, promoting, or inspiring similar attacks today.  What am I saying is the Occupy Wall Street movement is spreading and building momentum like a flywheel driven by some of the very same reasons that lead to that terror attack ninety years ago.  I honestly do not believe that the current incarnation ends with homespun terror, I think this movement is unwilling and incapable of such dire and desperate actions.  Nonetheless, the level of class divide in 2011 is very reminiscent of 1920.
But the fact is history repeats itself in short and long term cycles.  Recently, we have seen financial shocks every decade such as the S&L failures, Long Term Capital Management implosion, dot.com bubble bursting, and the recent Great Recession.   Long term cycles track the short term cycles and the long term cycles are usually much bigger and nastier.  This is where the 1918-1920 to 2008-2011 comparison becomes relevant.  When economic calamity, social strife and distrust start spiking, all parties get revved up.
Leading up to the Wall Street Explosion the rise of organized labor had been steady but in 1919 4 million workers went on strike at some point during the year.  These strikes often turned deadly when pro-labor forces clashed with management’s hired guns and security personnel.  This year there has been nothing remotely as violent but we have witnessed resurgence in the labor movement following the efforts of various Republican governors’ attempts to break up public unions.
There are a number of other striking similarities between the two events.  As anyone who has followed the Occupy Wall Street movements can attest wealth concentration at the 1% of the population is the primary rallying cry for the masses.  The same was happening ninety years ago and that is one of the main reasons why Wall Street was chosen as the main target in 1920.  Further, Wall Street was focused more on mergers and acquisitions than on creating value.  Yes, a common denominator was wealth generation for the very rich with little consideration of value generation for the nation and the population.
Of course there are many social similarities between the two events.  Ninety years ago xenophobia was at an all-time high.  European Jews, Italians, Germans, and Slavs were routinely and frequently harassed by White Protestant ‘Natives’ and the government fearing that these European immigrants were communists and anarchists started aggressive and unconstitutional search and seizures and as a result, one of the nation’s monstrous episodes in oppression occurred: The Palmer raids named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and co-championed with soon to be Director of the new Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover.  The natural tendency to attack and blame minorities during poor economic times is sadly as American as apple pie.  Red scare = Muslim scare.  Dirty Europeans = Dirty Hispanics.  The American need to blame someone.
Finally, the last period comparison comes in the form of the rise of the extreme Protestant Fundamentalist Revival.  This revival comes in the form of persecution of non-Protestants by extremists and can result in the denial of civil rights, harassment, and murder.  It was during the second decade of the 20th century that the Ku Klux Klan returned to prominence.  With their pursuit of religious and race purity the KKK and other Fundamentalist Evangelicals also preached an anti-science dogma as science was the instrument of the non-believer. Religious and race intolerance coupled with an anti-science crusade; I wonder where I have seen that recently?
Some will challenge this comparison because the haters in the earlier period were Democrats.  That misses the point.  This is not about a political party, it is about an ideology.  Southern Democrats are todays Southern Republicans thanks to 1964 Johnson v. Goldwater and the case of the Civil Rights Act, but is not the point.  The point is there are times that our progress as a nation appears to be stunted.  The haves will take advantge of the have-nots and decry that as capitalism and those that look, talk, dress, and behave differently should be feared, loathed, and denied the basic of rights penned from that great revolutionary Thomas Jefferson:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

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