The protest that started nearly a month ago in the Battery now has a name – Occupy Wall Street — and we’re sorry we didn’t think of it first, since the catchy title – “Occupy (fill-in-the-location)” — seems destined to go viral worldwide. We’re not sure whether the demonstrators’ demands will eventually skew right or left politically, or perhaps in neither direction, but Mr. Obama and Rep. Pelosi have not wasted any time getting the jump on the Tea Party and GOP frontrunner-by-default Mitt Romney by presenting the demonstrators with verbal fruit baskets and bouquets – everything but the key to the city, which as of this writing was still in the safekeeping of Mayor Bloomberg. To her credit, Ms. Pelosi zeroed in an actual reason for the demonstrations, even if the protestors themselves haven’t quite figured it out. It’s about jobs, she told ABC News in an interview — and that is undoubtedly on many of the protestors’ minds. But it seems predictable that the movement will come to be “about” many more things as the months roll by. What is not so predictable is who will assume leadership, or perhaps try to co-opt the movement from outside, as it spreads to every city, town and village in the Western world. But if protests should turn violent – a possibility that we’d rate an even-odds bet at this point, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Establishment that has rushed to embrace the demonstrators will start cracking heads.
Whatever happens, the protestors have nearly a year to build up steam ahead of the national political conventions. Charlotte, North Carolina, will play host to the Democrats in early September, and although the event, with 35,000 delegates reportedly planning to attend, is expected to generate $150 million in business for the city, Charlotte may come to regret having been selected over finalists Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Louis. For, much as Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Santana and the Grateful Dead were big draws at Woodstock, Charlotte boasts a superstar protest-magnet of its own – Bank of America — that could conceivably attract more activists than the convention attracts delegates. You can bet the whole world will be watching – and one can only hope that the demonstrators by then have Woodstock in mind as a behavioral template rather than Chicago, circa August 1968. Republicans are set to convene in Tampa, Florida a week earlier, but we suspect that the extra miles between Northeast population centers and southwest Florida, not to mention the sweltering mid-summer heat, will inhibit the crowds. It’s possible, however, that if a huge throng shows up in Tampa nonetheless, that the city’s unique’y pleasurable waterfront scene will help keep demonstrators from growing surly.
Time for Honest Capitalism?
But even if the mobs are peaceful, they’re not going to be easily satisfied with hollow political promises to create more jobs. The best way to do that is of course to provide tax incentives for small businesses to expand. However, it’s hard to imagine that this will be on their agenda. Or will it? The possibility exists, but only if those who assume leadership of the “Occupy” movement understand that, unlike the big banks, not all businesses are parasitic and in bed with the ringleaders of our incurably corrupt political system. Perhaps those rooting for a revival of honest capitalism should take as a hopeful sign the moment of silence observed for Steve Jobs last week by Wall Street protestors.
(If you’d like to have Rick’s Picks commentary delivered free each day to your e-mail box, click here.)