What I Found at Occupy Philadelphia
Hint: It’s not the image portrayed by the mass media.
Most folks with a modicum of sense would keep clear of the “Occupy” encampments that have cropped in in our major cities since last year. There have been violence and mayhem, robberies, even reports of sexual assaults – so why take the risk of entering an encampment and taking photos?
In a word: curiosity. The riots aside, we have been told by our newspapers and broadcast news outlets that the purpose of the Occupy Wall Street camps is to protest widespread financial corruption – the very malfeasance that led to the financial crisis that began in 2008 and continues to this day. Was that the whole story? I was curious, and I wanted to see for myself.
We’ve seen and read interviews with polite, all-American grandfatherly types of protesters explaining their goal of improving the honesty and level of responsibility on Wall Street and in Washington DC. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?
One sunny afternoon in Philadelphia I decided to make a quick and unobtrusive tour of the Occupy Philadelphia encampment and take some iPhone snapshots of whatever and whoever I found there. My goal was to be discreet, stay in one piece, but at the same time document who and what was really there. I wasn’t sure how they’d react to someone taking photos.
I didn’t find any polite, all-American grandfatherly types.
Bring Down the System!
The Wikipedia.org entry for Occupy Philadelphia begins: “Occupy Philadelphia is an ongoing non-violent demonstration demonstration with an aim to overcome economic inequality, corporate greed and the influence of corporations and lobbyists on government.”
I certainly agree with most of that. My personal bias is that I oppose the alliance of government and business (the government owning auto companies, for example) and I am against corporate greed, if I can assume by greed they mean corporations defrauding, poisoning or reneging on their contractual obligations toward any other entity. The term “economic inequality,” however, is commonly used by the American left as a euphemism for a lack of government redistribution-of-the-wealth schemes and other infringements on free market property rights.
As I entered the encampment I saw that most of the bare ground at Dilworth Plaza was taken up by about a hundred nylon tents. At 3:00 PM, many of the tents were clearly “occupied” by sleeping people, mostly male, mostly with a definite homeless appearance.
There were two “literature” booths with tables covered with various books, pamphlets and newspapers, some of which you can see in the photos that accompany this article. None of the reading material was moderate or “straight educational” in nature – there were no books about economics, but there were plenty of books advocating a specific economic system: communism and socialism.
From what I could tell from the literature on display, the Occupiers were less interested in reforming the system than they were in overthrowing it. Far from the oft-portrayed media image, they were not striving to make Wall Street more honest – they were seeking to eliminate it and the capitalist system. I felt I had just stepped through a time machine and emerged at a 1968 counter-culture rally – I half expected a ragged, spaced-out Abbie Hoffman to dash out of one of the tents crying, “Bring down the system, baby!”
I Start a Debate (of sorts)
I circled the literature displays taking snapshots with my iPhone. Occasionally a young man or woman would enter or leave the booths rapidly, with the speed and determination of someone on a mission – they walked past me as if I was invisible. I expected someone to ask, “Can I help you with something?” at any instant, but it didn’t happen.
Once I had gotten some photos, I approached a man who was sitting quietly behind a literature table staring off into space. He had a disheveled appearance yet he possessed some kind of quasi-intellectual aura – imagine Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H with a ski cap and glasses, fortyish.
He turned toward me, his blank look giving way to one of confusion.
“Liberty.” I repeated. “Freedom. You have all these books and stuff here talking about jobs and ending poverty but if you know your history you can see that it is capitalism, people trading freely, which creates the most opportunity and prosperity for anyone willing to work.”
He began to speak of the American War Machine. “Two million people dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s what capitalism did for us.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. In my experience speaking with self-professed communists in Los Angeles, I find that using words like “freedom” and “liberty” disorients them and causes some sort of memory crash, almost like a Microsoft Windows Blue Screen of Death. I didn’t want to have to reboot this guy, so I toned it down and laid some Milton Friedman on him.
“If our goal is to create economic opportunity for as many people as possible, a free market economy, capitalism, is the best way to do that. I agree that government should not be in bed with business. But socialism is definitely not the way to go – history proves it. Not only does it infringe on our individual freedoms, but socialism actually creates poverty and destitution.”
“Socialism is the most perfect system.” he countered. “It has not been tried yet.”
“It certainly has been tried. Surely you’ve heard of the Soviet Union? North Korea? The People’s Republic of China? Cuba?
“Cuba has a one hundred percent literacy rate!” he shot back.
Unidentified Occupy Philadelphia protester
“Since Castro’s government provided that figure, I would take it with a huge grain of salt.” I consoled him. “And even if it were true, which it probably isn’t, any person is still much better off in a free country. In a free country, an illiterate person can learn how to read, and then they are free to read whatever they want. Under communism, the government censors everything – they decide what you can and cannot read. Give me freedom any day.”
“At least in Cuba everyone is guaranteed a job.”
“The government tells you where to work. You have no choice. You don’t show up, you go to jail . . .”
“And they get free medical care guaranteed for life.”
“Look,” I said, “Thousands of people, men, women and children have risked their lives over the past fifty years to escape Cuba and come to the United States. Do you really think, if Cuba and communism were so great, that so many people would take such risks, risk of drowning or being eaten by sharks, to try to get out of the communist people’s paradise and live under capitalism, where they can be exploited by greedy profit-mongers?”
Silence. For a second I thought I had him. But no. He replied,
What could I say to that? So I said nothing more. The man declined to be photographed. I turned and walked away.
What is the “Workers World Party?”
Can anyone honestly believe that the Occupy protesters represent “99-percent” of Americans? Since its inception, honesty has played little role in how these organized protests have been portrayed to the American people. Yes, at some point very early on, the initial rallies included ordinary concerned citizens who desired to show their justified displeasure toward the mess Washington DC and Big Business have made of our financial, banking and mortgage sectors. That is their constitutional right.
But those folks are long gone, and the mainstream media has forgotten to inform us of that fact.
It’s easy to find out if you visit the Workers World web site. Confident that the mass media will never associate them with the Occupy movement or any other “grass roots 99-percent protest” movement, they are completely candid about who and what they represent. On their web site, WW even sent “deepest condolences” on the recent demise of North Korean communist dictator and mass-murderer Kim Jong Il. They even go so far as to acknowledge the “difficulties” caused by aggressive US imperialist rulers to the rulers of “truly sovereign” countries, like North Korea.
I have found it is nearly impossible to exaggerate the self-parodizing beliefs of modern day communists and socialists. It’s tempting for law abiding Americans to dismiss them as nuts and cranks, but I believe this would be a mistake. History shows that nuts and cranks can and do deliver grave damage to civilized societies using two simple weapons: propaganda, and civil unrest. America is by no means immune, and the determination and organizational efficacy of today’s far-left activists (regardless of the name they choose to go by) must not be underestimated.
According to their web site, the Workers World Party promotes “international working-class solidarity,” which sounds benign until we consider that euphemisms and other forms of code flow freely in the literature of the far left. Particularly to young Americans who have not been broadly schooled in political science, phrases such as “the right to a job” and “the right to a living wage” seem outright compassionate. There is very little in our current educational system to give students a clear idea of the historic and economic meanings to those terms – and the intent of those who brandish them.
When the far left allies with the mainstream media, which is often sympathetic to their causes, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. The American media can chose to consistently portray communist-rooted movements in a positive light, for example linking the Occupy protests with civil rights protests and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s difficult for young or politically naive persons to resist falling for this underhanded deception.
When I walked through the Occupy Philadelphia encampment, I did not see a single American flag. I did see several red stars, several images of communist revolutionary Che Guevara, several pamphlets and newspapers bearing the Workers World logo, and several books by a man named Fred Goldstein, who turns out to be a member of the “Secretariat” of the Workers World Party, a cadre of six leading members. Did the other Occupy encampments in other cities include displays of literature advocating the overthrow of capitalism? I don’t know, and it will be difficult for anyone to find out, as the encampments (becoming hotbeds of assault and other crimes) have been disbursed.
But why didn’t the mainstream media report this? Not enough time? Not enough space? This is the same mainstream media that sends scores of cameras to every Tea Party protest scouting for any sort of person, book or sign that can be used to discredit the people calling for fiscal responsibility and smaller government that adheres to Constitutional limits. An image that portrays President Obama as a witch doctor is given prominent coverage, yet any possible affiliation between the Occupy movement and a communist organization founded for the purpose of overthrowing our system of government is ignored.
Occupy: Not Dead Yet
As we head deeper into 2012, the Occupy movement is beginning to feel like yesterday’s news. Don’t be fooled. As warm spring weather rolls across the nation, a new litter of earnest 99-percenters will emerge and begin their chants – only this time, their leaders will have marshaled the lessons learned from 2011 and spread a fresh doctrine designed to avoid the errors of the past year.
For example, this year, there are plans for Occupy protesters to be paid. Go ahead and laugh (or cry) but this was done experimentally on a limited scale last year. The organizations responsible have responded that conservative claims about a “conspiracy” to pay Occupy protesters is hogwash. Sure, some protesters were paid, but that is something that has been going on for a long time, well before Occupy.
This year a good idea is just getting better: Ben & Jerry, of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt fame, have announced they are raising upwards of two million dollars for a fund to pay 2012 Occupy protesters – not in ice cream, but in cash.
That is their right. The first amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees it. The Occupy protesters also have a constitutional right to be on public property and petition their government their grievances. We also have a right to be there. With our cameras, our questions, our natural skepticism and inquisitiveness. We have this going for us: once a True Believer opens his or her mouth, there’s no stopping them. The hard left will always make our jobs as citizen reporters a lot easier by leaving their true beliefs out in the open. Ask, and you will be told. They can’t help it.
But it’s up to us to be there, asking the questions, capturing the footage, delivering the truth about the nature of freedom’s enemies.