The coalescing of disaffected middle Americans looks different in 2011 than the coalescing of disadvantaged Americans in the 1960s. In that era, the civil rights, anti-war and free speech movements were broadly unpopular with the middle class and relied almost entirely on upper crust intelligentsia to persuade the nation’s courts and – to a lesser degree – its legislators to move society in a certain direction.
Two of today’s amorphous movements – the Occupy groups that have metastasized across the country, an anti-banking action that is still taking shape, and the nascent Blue Republicans that we reported on earlier this week – are organic, grassroots, distrustful of big corporations, and critical of both Republicans and Democrats. Early on in the Occupy process, getting the word out involved loudly repeating the sentences one speaker was saying in a fire brigade-like effect until everyone had heard them. It was the anti-media at play.
Police and government have begun to react as if we now live in a third-world dictatorship threatened by the little people. Tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other means of scattering crowds are now being wielded in a manner that makes sense if you're trying to protect a plutocratic power structure but looks indiscriminate on the nightly news. This is not the image of America the Beautiful. Meanwhile, various political candidates talk about building electrified fences on our southern border. Why bother? Who would want to chance entering a police state? How long will people envision economic opportunity when the possibility of success as part of America’s middle class diminishes by the minute?
We have become a system of Crony-Capitalism gone wild. Under the protection of the Supreme Court and our bought and paid for Congress, only corporations have a true say in the nation’s future. And the ability of those corporations to market themselves as kindly, caring organizations makes them so powerful and so compelling that we are all frightened to unravel the current system.
Deconstruct the corporate image advertising and you will see the Mitt Romney message (“corporations are people too”) at play just as you do in President Obama's latest luncheon with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon at a swanky New York eatery. There is nothing of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in those corporate messages, none of the mechanized dehumanization of foreign outsourcing; instead, it is all about what good guys our corporate neighbors are and how much they protect our American values.
But many middle class Americans have finally opened their eyes to the real world that the Koch brothers, Wall Street titans, and other favored industrialists have created around us, and it is not the Land of Oz. It is, in fact, the little man behind the curtain telling us to “pay no attention.” But we have begun to pay attention. And we have begun to realize that there is a lot of humbug at play in our most excellent world.
The America we know and love was created by working men and women, inspired by great thinkers and entrepreneurs, but under moral values that were always different from third world dictatorships where the big people took whatever they wanted and left either crumbs or nothing for the little people. We are in danger of becoming the latter until people across our nation recognize the massive hoodwinking that has occurred. The only question that remains: do we have the nerve to see this new coalition of movements through and reclaim our birthright as genuine American capitalists who know how to make a profit and share the wealth more equitably?