Defending the Occupy message

As the Occupy Wall Street movement expands to Austin and other cities across the globe, certain groups have moved to discredit participants either on the basis of their collective message or on the grounds that no message has been articulated. Some critics have weirdly managed to express both positions without noting the contradiction. Apparent GOP frontrunner Herman Cain echoed many Republicans last week in referring to the Occupy movement as both “anti-American” and “anti-capitalist.”

I have monitored and occasionally assisted with the drive to launch the Occupy movement, spoken at Occupy Wall Street in New York and attended Occupy Austin a couple weeks ago. I have also been on record as in favor of free markets since my writing first appeared on this newspaper 10 years ago. I can attest to Cain’s incorrectness on this matter.

The eclectic individuals who have turned out in support of this movement hold differing opinions on a range of issues including economics, but the one position that seems held in common by organizers and participants alike is opposition to the massive bailouts of failing financial institutions with taxpayer funds. Such a practice is not only outside of capitalism as an economic system but is in fact inimical to it. It is a forced transfer of wealth from millions of taxpayers to a few banks that have failed to perform within the free market. That some see such opposition as an assault on capitalism is bizarre, though not surprising in a nation in which the Tea Party protesters began denouncing government spending upon the rise of President Barack Obama while ignoring the issue during a previous period when Republicans controlled all three branches of government and presided over the largest spending increase in years.

Our nation’s conservatives will also point to the marked anti-corporate rhetoric employed by protesters and their supporters, but the bulk of this rhetoric is in opposition to state involvement with the economy. One sign displayed at Occupy Austin summed up this collective position with the phrase, “Get your corporations out of my government,” itself a reasonable request within the free market system of which our republic allegedly consists. One need not reach further than the bailouts to cite the extent to which private parties, having deployed the proper campaign contributions, may expect to receive large sums seized from millions of individuals — not to mention an endless array of no-bid contracts, corporate subsidies and laws written by lobbyists.

This ubiquitous conservative defense of all monied interests, with the exception of George Soros, also helps to explain what I must fairly admit: A minority of those involved in this movement are indeed “anti-capitalist” and in some cases even “anti-American.” The intentions of the minority ought not be ascribed to the majority, much less the whole. Moreover, those who oppose capitalism may be excused by virtue of having never seen it due to the corruption described above. Those who oppose America are increasingly justified by the America they have seen, one that has degenerated to such a point as to entertain Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann as potential leaders, and in which the dishonest Obama remains the better choice despite everything. If conservatives wish to defend the free market, they should start by ascribing to it. In the meantime, the citizenry will take to the streets, as is now their duty.

Barrett Brown is a former UT student.