Pro-democracy marchers flex new muscle

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The greed-is-good community spent Thursday walking the streets they supposedly own as “masters of the universe” with their heads down and their proverbial tails tucked deeply between their legs.

Investment bankers and stock traders clicked the locks shut on their Range Rovers (below left) and BMWs as they drove between protesters and police in cities across the United States, and clambered on foot over the barricades separating them from the once voiceless poor and middle-class.

“I don’t know when I’ll get home,” one well-dressed professional shouted into his iPhone Thursday evening from a press of Manhattan protesters marching south to the Brooklyn Bridge. The front of the procession was blocked by police and hemmed in by the 15,000 marchers behind them trying to leave Foley Square.

Sympathetic protesters asked the man in the expensive overcoat and suit if he had wandered into the march by accident on his way home.

“I’m a marcher,” he responded, drawing laughs. “I’m a marcher and I’m heading home. I’m multitasking.”

More than 50,000 Americans filled the streets Thursday in respodorlinse to a coordinated crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protest camps earlier this week by big-city mayors seeking to defend the political machines that brought them to power.

A crowd estimated at 32,500 by the New York Police Department took to the streets for a day of protest marches that rocked all five boroughs. Smaller protests reverberated through Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, Las Vegas and more than 30 other U.S. cities.

The marchers were overwhelmingly non-violent. The police response to them was not.

At least 300 people were arrested in New York City and dozens more elsewhere, according to The Associated Press. The arrests occurred two days after law enforcement officers in Seattle provided the pro-democracy movement with a new iconic image for police brutality by pepper spraying 84-year-old Dorli Rainey (right) in the face. The New York Daily News reported that seven police and 10 demonstrators suffered minor injuries Thursday in The Big Apple.

The marcbesthes highlight the changing face of the pro-democracy movement as older Americans join the younger protesters who once predominated. Occupy Wall Street is protesting the dominance of corporate interests and wealthy investors over the U.S. government, in which industries are increasingly being allowed to self-regulate and lobbyists have created a pay-to-play political system of legalized bribery. 

“This is part of an historic economic civil rights movement,” said Buddy Bolton, 40, of Brooklyn. “We are allowing our jobs to go overseas and that’s having an adversarial economic impact. I slept down here in Zuccotti Park next to an unemployed machinist and his wife – a middle class family who is now sleeping in their car and on the street. This can’t be allowed.”

Bolton said he had a six-figure income four years ago as a creative director on children’s television programs. His $55,000 in savings were wiped out by the medical costs from a single shoulder injury after he lost that job.

Bolton (below left) spent much of Thursday posting information about the protests on the Internet from his Mac computer in Zuccotti Park, a Guy Fawkes mask covering the back of his head. Fawkes is an icon for those opposed to hereditary rule. He died in 1606 after being captured in the failed Gunpowder Plot to kill the King of England.

ZuccotPhoto Credit: Victor Epsteinti Park drew more than 5,000 protesters throughout the day and provided a staging area for the 2,000 protesters who briefly succeeded in reaching the New York Stock Exchange early Thursday morning. The tent city in Zuccotti that had served as a gathering place for Occupy Wall Street for more than two months was removed by police Tuesday at the behest of New York City’s billionaire mayor.

Michael Bloomberg, whose fortune is estimated at $19.5 billion, is a former Wall Street investment banker and trader who derives about $7.2 billion a year in subscription fees from the 400,000 people that each pay $1,500 a month to use his company’s financial information terminals.

“It was an opportunity for a bunch of unions to complain or protest or whatever they want to do,” Bloomberg said of the protests, according to the New York Daily News. The mayor’s workforce at Bloomberg LP is nonunion.

The bbgbiggest change Thursday was the influx of older Americans into the ranks of the protesters on the 64th day of the Occupy Wall Street movement against the dominance of corporate interests and wealthy investors over American society. They became more visible in New York City as the day of protests wore on, bolstering a 3 p.m. rally in Union Square to 10,000 and a 5 p.m. rally in Foley Square to 15,000.

Protesters held signs protesting the unequal distribution of health care and education opportunities. Dr. Jay Kallio (below right) said that he was motivated to join the protest in Union Square by the knowledge that working Americans are dying earlier and being bankrupt by the high cost of medical care. Meanwhile, the emergency care physician said wealthy Americans have easy access to the most advanced system of medical care in the world.

“That’s heartbreaking (and it’s) just slicing away at the soul of our country,” Kallio said. “I am seeing far, far too many good hardworking patients who have played by the rules – no lifestyle issues – putting off care an
d literally dying prematurely by 20 and 30 years because they simply cannot afford care.

“Even people who have insurance at this pPhoto Credit: Victor Epsteinoint can’t manage the cost sharing, the co-pays, the deductibles and all this. They simply cannot af
ford care and they cannot afford when they’re sick to fight with insurance companies and they’re getting fought on every single item.”

Nona Russell, 62, said she joined the Union Square rally because most Americans are now one paycheck away from living on the street.

“Bloomberg likes power,” said Russell, who lives in Manhattan. “He’s for the moneyed interests because he has money.”

The preservation of the status quo is the key motivation for many wealthy elites like Bloomberg, who is the 12th richest American. They’ve profited from the dominance of Wall Street over other aspects of American society as the quest for greater shareholder value has prompted many to disregard the means by which it’s built. Immoral tactics for profit growth, like the off-shoring of U.S. jobs to low-wage nations to reduce labor costs are now standard operating procedure.

Likewise, the huge increase in the size and influence of the political lobbying industry has helped create a situation where representative government has been transformed into a club for the wealthy and public office is purchased – a key waypoint in the demise of the Roman Empire.

The demise of rules forbiddPhoto Credit: Victor Epsteining media ownership of multiple news outlets in the same city, replacement of objective journalism by political advocacy and propaganda, and greater effectiveness of political marketing have also played a role in the deterioration of representative democracy.

Congress is being transformed into the elected American equivalent of England’s appointed House of Lords. Half of its 659 U.S. Senators and Representatives were millionaires in 2010, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. They had a median net wealth of $989,000. By contrast, only 1% of the 315 million Americans are millionaires. The U.S. had a median household income of $50,046 in 2009-2010.

The huge cost of elective office and the tremendous advantages enjoyed by those belonging to the two major political machines have encouraged some political families to begin seeing themselves as a kind of hereditary aristocracy that is entitled to the best jobs, healthcare and investment opportunities – regardless of merit. Former first daughter Chealsea Clinton, 29, joined Meghan McCain and Jenna Bush Hager this month among the ranks of children from those privileged families who have secured national news job with no prior experience in the profession. Such jobs were formally considered the capstones of lengthy journalism careers.

Photo Credit: Victor EpsteinThe rapid slide of American democracy toward oligarchy is too much for some elites, like billionaire Warren Buffett. A group of about two dozen millionaires called “Millionaires for Fiscal Strength” called on Congress to begin taxing the wealthiest 1% at the same rate as everyone else on Wednesday. They called for a tax hike on those with annual incomes of $1,000,000 or more.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” producer and entrepreneur Charlie Fink said during his Congressional testimony on behalf of the group. “We are the 1% in this country. A little unselfishness (by millionaires) now will go a long way in preserving our own wealth and the wealth of this nation.”

Fink said “Millionares for Fiscal Strength” had no ties to Occupy Wall Street, but was motivated by the same concerns for the preservation of American democracy.
Photo Credit: Victor Epstein
The pro-democra
cy movement has gathered steam in recent weeks, picking up support from most unions – with the notable absence of those like New York City’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Sergeant’s Benevolent Association. It’s also seeing increasing support from clergy.

Seminarian John Bethell and 14 of his classmates at the General Theological Seminary in Lower Manhattan joined protesters in Foley Square on Thursday evening, where flashing police lights illuminated their long black cassocks. The 30-year-old said that the head of the Episcopal seminary had encouraged his future priests to support Occupy Wall Street after seeing the brutality directed at protesters by police.

What would Jesus do if he were alive today?

Bethell said he had no doubt Christ would be on the side of the 99%.

“We’re here to bear witness and to be a presence against police brutality,” Bethell (below, far right) said of the seminarians. “If there is one thing that we have learned from Christ, it’s social justice. I do believe that if Jesus were alive he would be here now.”

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