While in Manhattan recently, I visited Occupy Wall Street. The demo has become a major tourist attraction and is located within easy walking distance of the World Trade Center Memorial, the New York Stock Exchange and Trinity Church (where founder Alexander Hamilton lies buried).
Actually, I visited twice -- on a Tuesday night and a Wednesday morning. Between darkness and rain, I didn't see much except dozens of people huddled under enough blue tarps to outfit the Kenai Peninsula for hunting season. I expected to be transported to the '60s but the demonstrators were more given to expressing sentiments than advocating policies. Soggy signs admonished: "No Fracking," "No More Business Schools," "Go Vegan."
Conservative commentators have mocked the demonstrators' lack of a program -- and their long hair and their casual dress -- but polling shows that, for the moment anyway, a majority of New Yorkers and close to a majority of Americans support Occupy Wall Street. The explanation is simple: Finally, somebody is pushing back at the financial institutions who drove the American economy into recession.
Nobody knows how the Occupy Wall Street movement will end. Dorothy Day, a founder of the radical Catholic Worker, often said, "Ours not to reap but to sow." Perhaps that's what the demonstrators are doing -- sowing what others will reap.
It's important to remember the most successful critics of American society have been marginalized in their early stages. The abolitionist movement, for example -- which featured William Lloyd Garrison denouncing the Constitution's slavery provision as "a pact with the devil." Labor unions too, which were attacked as an unnatural restraint on individual freedom, especially the boss' freedom. And suffragettes who were jailed for disorder during their protests on behalf of women's rights.
The smart money always will pick Wall Street over those who protest against it. But the smart money already has lost hundreds of millions of dollars investing in Wall Street. And a few of the smartest guys on the street are now in jail for criminally abusing the financial system that made them rich.
-- Michael Carey