In the late 1960’s, rock music began to address political issues. The radical temper of the times had something to do with it. I grin a little when I hear John Lennon sing “Revolution”. Despite his eccentric reputation, the Beatle guitarist-vocalist-songwriter was actually rational in matters of politics. In “Revolution” he warns the left-wing activists against excess.
I have to shake my head, however, when I hear The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”. In the forty-odd years since this song first aired on the radio, the U.S., state and local governments have done much to limit the rights of individuals. Large corporations, on the other hand, have been allowed to go virtually unfettered. As a result, we now live in the new Gilded Age. The rich have become recklessly rich, the poor become have poorer and the middle class has all but disappeared. The full rein given the elite has led to economic ruin comparable to the Depression of the 1930’s.
Meanwhile, the deregulation of oil led to the B.P. environmental disaster of 2010. Finally, oil and other large companies have dictated U.S. foreign policy to the extent that we have engaged in ruinous wars. The last Iraq war, for example, while killing a number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and civilians, made a number of rich corporations even richer.
In short, despite Peter Townsend’s prayer, we did get fooled again. The recent Occupy Wall Street movement, therefore, was a historical inevitability. Too long the majority was silent while the wealthy few preyed on it. Members of Congress who knew better went along with George W. Bush on the war against Iraq. Finally, in the fall, the Occupation began, and the silence began to end.
It’s easy to draw comparisons with the radical movement of the late 1960’s, but the contrasts are just as striking. The protesters against Vietnam seemed to go almost unfettered. The current Occupants, on the other hand, are granted permits to occupy areas for limited periods of time. When permits have not been extended, trouble has arisen. Tempers have been short, and many arrests have resulted.
We should never be too hasty in drawing simple conclusions about the many Occupations that have occurred across the country. A judge in Boston bypassed the city in extending the permit time granted to protesters. At least some of the people at the protests have not been legitimate. A number of police officers have been more than patient with the protesters.
But it is striking to see the decline in civil rights that has occurred over the past forty years. The first amendment right of free speech is a broad one, but municipalities now dictate the times and places of protests.
And this particular problem lies with the courts. It is not merely the legislative and executive branches of government that have narrowed civil rights. The protesters of the 1960’s faced a government tamed by the Warren Court, which had acknowledged and enforced individual liberties. Since the retirement of Earl Warren in 1969 from the Supreme Court, judges have gradually failed to enforce many basic rights. Citizens are not so constitutionally protected.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are right to harshly criticize the banks. The greed of bankers has impoverished many. But the government has allowed and even encouraged the banks to bring general ruin. It was the federal government that bailed out the banks, and allowed them to again prosper while the country remained in crisis. It was the government that removed the old usury laws, and created a nation of debtors.
Yes, checks need to be made against the banks, but members of the government should also be held accountable for the current situation.