Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Afraid of What?

Police in a number of cities have tried to evict Occupy protesters, with varying degrees of success. There are several reasons why they may be trying to get rid of the protesters.

The city councils and mayors that give the police their orders and that are protecting the status quo may be afraid that the protests do not look inviting to visitors. They may be afraid that the protest encampments will become permanent squatters' villages, such as those established in cities elsewhere in the world. These are questions of appearance, and most people probably share these concerns. People want New York and Chicago and other American cities to remain livable and attractive. The powers-that-be understand that this is what most people want, so when they ousted the occupiers, they said it was to clean the parks.

The powers-that-be may also be concerned that the protests will become violent if they get large enough, even though they have been peaceful so far. Most people don't like violence, so if the powers-that-be can make the protesters appear to be violent, the public will go along with repressing the protests. The problem the powers-that-be have had in making this argument is that so far the only significant violence that has come out of the protests has been caused by the police, as has been clearly shown on videos posted online.

But the powers-that-be may be concerned about something that is much more threatening than untidy parks or unruly demonstrators. They may be worried that if the protests continue, people will start thinking more seriously about making fundamental changes to the way the capitalist system operates in our country.

Most people support some of the ideas which we are told are the foundation of our current economic system. Principally, people like the idea that they will be rewarded for their talent and effort, and they believe that the possibility of making money encourages people to be creative.

But there is an awful lot about the so-called capitalist system that people aren't particularly interested in preserving. Most people don't believe that the richest people have been able to amass large fortunes solely based on their talent and effort. They know that luck usually plays a role in financial success, and that exploitation and corruption often do also.

People don't like the idea that individuals and corporations should be allowed to accumulate vast wealth without paying their fair share to the government and without helping people who are not as fortunate and who are in need.

People don't believe that business profits should go only to the people who invest money in the businesses, without a share of the profit going to the people who work for the businesses. They think that people deserve bonuses and raises when their work makes companies profitable.

People also don't believe that businesses have the same rights as people do, despite what the Supreme Court recently decided. People think that they are more important to this country than the companies that make their toilet paper or import their waffle irons.

People also no longer believe that whether a person is wealthy should determine whether they, their children, or their parents get to see a doctor.

If the police and their bosses can keep people thinking about the outward appearances of the protesters and the tactics the protesters are using, most people will support the repression of the protests. It is not so clear what will happen if the public starts listening to what the protesters are saying about economic justice, and it is impossible to predict what kinds of changes people will make if they decide to restructure the economic system so that it acts in the way that the people think that it should.

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