Lawrence Gooley: Occupy Movement History Lessons

Despite the wisdom of elders and some noted quotations (“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”), we are often caught up in another axiom that defines insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” It struck me recently that followers of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement should read pertinent history to avoid the results of the past when issues of the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent have surfaced.

As for the two opposing arguments, that the extreme wealth of the 1 percent should have limits, and that the 99ers are waging class warfare against our wealthiest citizens &#8230- timely, new, and forward-thinking, right? Think again.

If you enjoy history, you’ll probably enjoy this headline from 105 years ago, appearing in The New York Times of January 6, 1907: “The Country’s Wealth: Is 99 percent of it in the Hands of 1 percent of the People.” Similar stories appeared in many other publications.

What happened then is happening again today: supporters of the 99ers are speaking out on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, the underpaid, and the poor. The other position is defended by those who feed off the 1 percent (the “trickle-down theory”) and so must serve as their bullhorn.

And as usual, the 1 percent itself remains largely silent, content to have others speak for them. Depending on how it all plays out, they’ll be either less rich or more rich … but still rich.

Those siding with the 1 percent have declared the Occupy Wall Street movement as “class warfare against the wealthy.” Were they using a new catchphrase to encapsulate such a huge issue? Hardly. A catchphrase, yes, but new? Check out these three quotations.

Pro 99: “The cry of class warfare was raised against us by the government and wealthy classes as pure propaganda in the hope of enlisting sympathy of the public against labor.”

Pro the 1 percent (regarding tax loopholes for the wealthy): “… to collect the taxes, the administration now seeks to attack the rich and the thrifty. This becomes part and parcel of the class warfare which has been waged … to gain popular favor with the masses.”

And finally, pro 99, who are characterized by some media as lazy, shifty, and troublemakers: “A peculiarity of all professional agitators of class warfare in the United States is their personal aversion to toil. Many of them never did a day’s work at manual labor. They know no more about the working people of America than a pig knows about Christmas, yet profess to be the tireless champions of the working class … and have hit upon a plan for feathering their nests without ever laying an egg. They just cackle and collect.”

Those quotations are from 1920, 1937, and 1949, respectively, but they sound like excerpts from today’s 24/7 “news” broadcasts. The OWS folks might be well served by researching protests of years past to prepare for arguments made against the movement. We’ve been here before.

Perhaps by knowing the questions that have been asked so many times in the past, along with the answers that were given, there might be hope for a different outcome.

But for observers who look at history to see what has gone before us, it’s hard not to subscribe to another famous axiom: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” General translation: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Photo: NY Times headline, January 6, 1907.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

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