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Time to Rage Against the Machine

The other morning, I mentioned to my colleague Lindsey that it would be perfect if Rage Against the Machine got back together and held a revival performance for the crowds occupying Wall Street.

“Oh yeah, that would be awesome!” she said, no undue enthusiasm in her voice.

Rage was the one redeeming standout of the entire mundane Rap Rock genre, musically and lyrically outperforming boneheads such as Korn, Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit. The lesser lights had little to say beyond cynically appealing to teen angst and the need to get baked.

Rage was having none of that. Using incendiary guitar and sick beats as a call to take to the streets and fight for justice, guitarist Tom Morello and lead singer Zach de la Rocha took stands that put them at odds with their label, the government and every other spineless shill supporting the status quo.

Lindsey’s response was as much a reading of the Occupy Wall Street zeitgeist as was my own not-so-offhand comment regarding RATM manning the barricades. Morello performing at the LA Occupy Wall Street Protests (along with Immortal Technique and Lupe Fiasco) was not so much a matter of why as it was a matter of when.

It was a feeling similar to my thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street protests themselves – not so much wondering why they happened but what took so long.

In covering the protests, CNN, Fox News and even MSNBC exhibited more than their usual tone deaf and mealy-mouthed coverage, getting details laughably wrong, completely misunderstanding the motives and determination of the protesters. The airbrushed bubbleheads reporting the story have attempted to apply their limited intellects and impoverished understanding to concepts far exceeding their pay grade. Rather than doing actual reporting and discovering what beefs the protestors have, they’ve deferred to the points of view provided by their corporate masters.

Watch almost any of the blather on the 24/7 news stations and you’d think the protestors lack an “agenda” or have no specific demands.

What a load of horse manure. Only the intentionally ignorant and the pathologically stupid have missed the clear demands that we, the 99 percent (as the protesters refer to us), deserve accountability from what Theodore Roosevelt dubbed the “malefactors of great wealth,” those making even more money after driving the economy into the ditch while the rest of us suffer.

Three weeks after the protest began, the New York Times finally got the message, publishing last Sunday, “The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.”

Unfortunately, that message should have been made years ago, well before deregulation made it possible for Wall Street speculators to treat our money like casino chips and then (after crapping out with historically tragic consequences), led them to go hat in hand to the government for the biggest welfare scam of all time.

Since 1979, wages for the top one percent grew a whopping 281 percent (according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities) while wages for the bottom fifth only grew 16 percent during the same period — essentially falling after accounting for inflation — and just 25 percent for the middle fifth. As a result, we now have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major, advanced country on earth.  The top one percent earn more income than the bottom 50 percent and the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

Meanwhile, as the number of Americans living in poverty is historically high, U.S. corporate profits set records at the end of 2010, with many financial firms showing the largest gains (profits at JP Morgan Chase were up 47 percent to $4.8 billion).

Yet, with companies continuing to hold onto record amounts of cash and liquid assets, hiring did not increase. Productivity, on the other hand, skyrocketed, as companies cut jobs and then demanded more work from the workers they held onto. While output by U.S. companies has returned to pre-recession levels, it came at the expense of 7.5 million jobs.

Did someone say, “Job creators?”

“Job creators,” and “Class warfare,” are the tropes opponents to the 99-percenters continue to spew, paying fealty to their corporate overlords, attempting to paint the protestors with the broad brush of derision. It is the repetition of those lies and the imagined burden that would be placed upon those whose incomes grew 281 percent over the past thirty years that continues to roll off the tongues of the privileged punditry as they wriggle with their untenable and demonstrably false philosophy.

As a sign read at one of the protests, “It is only Class Warfare when we fight back.” Indeed, the last thirty years have shown us that, in the war of class, the rich have won.

Occupy Wall Street is the logical reaction of the vanquished, the oppressed. If the last few weeks are any indication, it is a movement that will continue to grow and intensify. For the most part, the 99 percent has had enough of the greed, power and influence exerted and exhibited by the big banks and the money men who have cowed the government, Republicans and Democrats alike.

“Anti-Capitalist” is how several GOP candidates have characterized the protestors. While I have no doubt that some of those protestors are in fact “anti-capitalist” — any large group of people is apt to attract a few crackpots — the very idea of capitalism has been muddied and the reaction the protestors have shown represents a moral clarity in reaction to a gamed system. As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz explained at the New York rally, what Wall Street is practicing is “not capitalism. We are bearing the costs of their (bankers’) misdeeds,” he said. “There’s a system where we socialize losses and privatize gains. That’s not capitalism. That’s not a market economy. That’s a distorted economy, and if we continue with that, we won’t succeed in growing.”

One thing the media bobbleheads cannot deny is that the Occupy Wall Street protestors across the country have converged through no corporate sponsorship and is a truly grassroots movement. The same cannot be said of the teabaggers who have benefitted from the patronage of big money interests, scoundrels who cynically appropriated what grassroots organization once existed. There are no Koch brothers funding the protests (if anyone has firm evidence that George Soros is funding them, I’d love to see it) and I doubt the folks would allow Ben and Jerry’s to steer the discussion in the way Americans for Prosperity has pulled the strings for the teabaggers.

The fundamental difference between the teabaggers and the Occupy Wall Street protestors is that the latter know that income inequality and corporations (by and large) are the problem and not fabricated illusions of Obama the Socialist or other wacky conspiracy theories. Whereas the teabaggers have been duped into advocating for policies that work against most of their economic self-interest (i.e. growing income inequality and the constriction of capital into fewer hands), the Occupy Wall Street protestors know that the system cannot continue as it has the last 30 years. They know it is time for the status quo to change.

It feels like an exciting time as the protests continue to grow. It feels like Americans are finally waking up to the realities of economic policies that have diminished the power, influence and wealth of the country.

As the Rolling Stones said, “Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy…” It feels like it’s time to Rage Against the Machine.

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