Over the summer Israel experienced over 50 protests across the country. The demonstrations began with young people camping in tents and quickly mushroomed across the country. Their slogan: “The people demand social justice.” The demonstrators concerns included social and economic fairness, business corruption, the cost of living, regressive tax laws, stagnant wages and income inequality. Finally in early September nearly half a million Israelis took to the streets for the largest demonstration in the history of the nation. 430,000 Israelis were cheered on by others along the avenues and roads of Israel. Proportionately compared to the US population that would equal almost 20 million Americans. And it all began with a few tents camped on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
Many of these Israelis compared their protests to the ‘Arab Spring’, revolutions that swept the Arab world transforming unjust societies. And of course there were more violent outbreaks in Athens and London as politicians attempted to make the people pay for a financial meltdown created in the boardrooms of financiers and bankers.
You probably saw pictures of the violence in London and Athens. You probably heard news reports about the youthful uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East. And you probably heard next to nothing about Israel because it didn’t fit our corporate media narrative that salutes Israeli bravery fighting terrorism but not Israelis fighting crony capitalism and a corrupted economic and political system.
I’ve not seen one media figure compare Occupy Wall Street to the historic Israeli movement yet I’ve seen many broadcasters anxiously contemplate its explosion into violent riots as in London and Athens. Commentators also compare it to the most silly and frivolous Hippie ‘happenings’ of the Sixties. Many mass movements from anti-war demonstrations to the Tea Party to the Israeli Summer have also been described as having a ‘carnival atmosphere’. When people share serious common cause in large groups they tend to celebrate and celebrate rowdily. Don’t forget the Boston Massacre began as a snowball fight and the Boston Tea Party was a group of rowdy young men half-heartedly dressed up like Indians!
I just returned to Florida from two weeks in NYC. I’m usually busy every day with Kyle or business during my trips to the city but I wanted to be a part of this protest. I’d always said that if the Tea Party would identify the real malefactors, i.e. the unregulated manipulators of our economy and our government, I would join them. Well, they never got to that point. They were almost immediately co-opted by the very corporate and political forces that created our economic crisis. I wanted , in some way, even a small way, to be a part of the Occupy movement.
So I gathered with other OWS protestors at Grand Army Plaza across from The Plaza to march up Fifth Avenue and Park on what was called ‘The Millionaire’s March’. This parade had a specific political purpose: protesting Gov Cuomo’s proposed sunset of the New York State millionaire’s surcharge. We would visit the front doors of Rupert Murdoch’s penthouse, then on to David Koch’s apartment on Park and the condos of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co and hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made billions betting against those Credit Default Swaps. It should have been called ‘The Billionaire’s March’, but poor Jamie Dimon was only worth $200 million. (Actually, I pointed out to a few demonstrators that Mr. Dimon was perhaps the bank CEO LEAST responsible for the meltdown but certainly a suitable candidate for the millionaire’s surcharge).
There were plenty of reporters and cameras around, so many in fact that it seemed every protestor had a chance to talk with them! (And there were about five hundred marchers!) I hadn’t come there to speak but INSIDE EDITION came up with a camera and I did an interview, then a reporter from ABC’s Internet news operation, then a foreign correspondent. I talked about the executives who got hundreds of millions for destroying Merril Lynch, Bear Stearns,AIG and Lehman Bros. I compared the thousands of demonstrators arrested to the zero number of executives who were rewarded rather than face charges. I talked about the inequity of capital gains tax versus tax on labor. Hedge fund billionaires who pay less tax percentage than teachers because of an accounting fluke. The distortion of democracy by corporate lobbying. How capitalism could not survive if Americans did not believe it was a fair system. I wasn’t going to end up on Bill O’Reilly‘s OWS goof reel…at least I hoped not!
I kept wondering: ‘If there are no leaders how will we know where to go? When to stop? When to start?!?’ But word filtered down through the crowd that we were all to stay on the sidewalk and follow police instruction. And we did.
Surprisingly, many of my fellow marchers were in their forties or fifties and despite media attempts to portray us as ill informed and clueless I had many conversations with mature well-educated protesters. One couple, immigrants from South Africa interestingly talked about the inspiring social changes in their country, contrasting that inspiration with ours. I didn’t chant with the crowd but did shout out “Lets save capitalism” several times wondering if other marchers knew what I meant. They did. This was no ‘Bolshevik Mob’ storming the Winter Palace.
At one point a minuscule, overweight, Rush Limbaugh mini-me ran to the edge of the march and began shouting at us. “Why do you people hate America?” he ranted. “Why do you hate the Constitution?” Some around me responded that they loved America, that we were enjoying one of our rights under the Constitution by assembling and speaking out. But he would not stop. Now, I have a pretty big voice with a lot of diaphragmatic support from my old acting training and I shouted back loudly (and yes, lamely): ‘Why do you hate Teddy Roosevelt and FDR? American presidents who stood for economic reform! Why do you hate them so much” He started to say: “I don’t hate Teddy Roosevelt and FDR…I don’t hate—wait a minute, I do hate FDR! I hate FDR! I do hate him!” He then scurried away down the street before I could continue our insightful dialogue. Probably late for class at The Cato Institute.
The police were professional, though most smirked sarcastically from the street. Can’t blame ‘em for that…they were probably upset that the ‘liberal media’ yanked Steve Malzberg and Glenn Beck off the air in NYC. When I worked on a conservative talk radio station I was always amazed at how many callers claimed to be cops. Some nights it felt like every third caller was a police officer! (Actually, I would enjoy hearing Steve go over the top describing this movement! No one rants like Steve). When it was time for me to leave one cop shouted: “So you finally had enough of this?” I told him I had to pick up my son from school at 3. But all in all the police did a professional job on a march that extended several blocks and had no marshals or crossing guards of its own.
For that matter, the marchers did a professional job as well.