By Arthur H. Gunther III
When was the last time America smiled? You see tears now, in the households where the unemployed sit for two years or more, from college graduates without hope, from those who bought into the American Dream only to have it dashed by an economy once built on the middle class and now controlled by those who ignore that class.
The young, the vibrant ones, the easy protesters, perhaps even attention-seeking, occupy Wall Street and increasingly across the world, but older people are now coming, too, their grievances of unequal opportunity and clueless government and lobbied officials stirring in a cauldron that promises to be a stew of real taste, a flavor that can grab attention. The focus toward changing government may well come.
Why are we here in this place, in America, in the world? When did the smiles of generational improvement, college and other achievement, satisfying, productive careers, improving health and a better future for more and more turn to forlorn, scared faces?
Nothing great happens in this great nation, in this, God’s experiment in participatory democracy, without going through a “system.” Prohibition, though a costly mistake that gave birth to organized crime, began with populism not unlike today’s Occupy Wall Street, which took on steam when it was legitimized -- enabled -- by the 18th Amendment. It took the system to make it real. World War II was not won by patriotism alone, by selfless soldiering, but by the system forged by a huge defense industry, by that system.
We see the system at work today against Occupy Wall Street, in New York, the nation, across the world. Police respond to a loose movement of occupiers as trespassers, even trouble-makers, and make arrests. Some leaders and candidates, the media, too, characterize the protest as ragtop, young, without a message beyond claiming that it represents the 99 percent who suffer from the 1 percent holding the purse strings. Give this movement time, though, a more diversified membership, set goals, offered solutions, charismatic leadership and demonstrated responsibility for non-violent protest that focuses on free airing of grievances, and it could grow to the point where the system recognizes it, and then things could begin to change.
It’s happened before -- this nation’s independence was not likely. How could the disorganized, under-funded colonials defeat the British Empire? But here we are, a power greater than Britain. The Occupy Boston Harbor movement of the day gained focus, and so may Occupy Wall Street. The key is developing a system.
America is a gift from God. Its shaky beginning has endured, and we have helped save the world from inhumanity. This experiment must not end, must not go down in flames. The majority of our citizens are not physically with the few on the protest line, but the many in America today know full well that Congress and the presidency are broken systems, and great change must come if the nation is to survive. Special interests rule the roost, and somehow the people’s voice must become a lobby.
Maybe then the system would create jobs, perhaps in emerging technology, where we can again become world employment leaders.
Maybe then elected officials would be free of lobby money, with campaigns funded only by limited tax dollar so that Washington, states and municipalities listen to the people instead.
Maybe then the wealthy with conscience, who recall their own upward climb, would help by loaning money to create jobs and also outright invest in America. They have the funds, and you know what? They would be repaid handsomely in renewed economic activity as consumerism “trickles UP,” not down (as it rarely has).
Maybe then the nation, free of special interest, whether moneyed or of political ideology, would decide what sort of health care, pension system and social service network a progressive world leader must have. We must work with private industry to fund it, not government, make it a profitable enterprise, but with greed controls.
Maybe then we would recognize that the super rich were made even more so by our outsized expectations -- bigger houses, bigger cars, goods bought on the credit cuff. We enabled them through the system, shot ourselves in the foot.
America can smile again, should smile again, but it won’t come without change and sacrifice, not only from the ordinary people but from those who have the investment funds, who should be persuaded within the system.