“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified by Congress meeting at Federal Hall in New York City on Sept. 25, 1789. Today, a motley, disorganized group of American citizens is exercising its First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and to petition their government, literally within steps of where Congress met to acknowledge those rights.
The movement’s goals are at best uncertain, and to the extent they can be determined, in some ways extreme and unrealistic. And as has been demonstrated convincingly with other large political gatherings, it is certainly possible to wade into the crowd to find people whose antics and beliefs can be used to discredit the larger effort.
The protesters are at least pretty clear about what they don’t like: They don’t like the fact that Wall Street and the financial sector benefited enormously from taxpayer-funded bailouts, while insisting that ordinary Americans neither need nor deserve such assistance.
As the protesters like to chant, “The big banks got bailed, but the middle class got left behind.” Rasmussen reports, 79 percent of Americans say they agree with that sentiment. Only 10 percent disagree.
As Rasmussen assesses its poll findings, “The bailouts of the financial industry still leave a sour taste in the mouths of most Americans, who feel as strongly as ever that the government was looking out for bankers rather than taxpayers and that crimes on Wall Street remain unpunished.”
Earlier this year, Gallup conducted what has become an annual polling of Americans on their attitudes toward major corporations. Not surprisingly, given the role that Wall Street greed and arrogance played in creating this economic crisis, the public isn’t all that happy with them.
In fact, two-thirds of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the size and influence of corporations in national life.
But take another look at the charts above and below. This sense of dissatisfaction and distrust began to grow long before the crisis of 2008. Those events merely helped to crystallize sentiments that in fact had been building for years.
In other words, it’s easy to dismiss “Occupy Wall Street” as the work of the radical fringe, because in some ways it is. But what makes it bigger than that is the fact that the misgivings and distrust it is expressing are felt much more broadly, not just in campus coffee houses but in small-town diners, and not just in liberal chat rooms but in Tea Party meetings as well.
You don’t have to agree with the solutions they propose in order to recognize that the problems they dramatize and publicize have merit. Tens of millions of American citizens understand that .
– Jay Bookman