The arrests in recent days of several Occupy Wall Street protesters have cast a pall over what already was a movement of dubious origin and direction. Civil disobedience, as practiced during the civil rights era and at other times, can be an effective tactic for drawing attention and public sympathy to a legitimate cause. But the arrests last weekend in cities from New York to Phoenix included many that could not be categorized as civil disobedience.
Instead, there were reports of vandalism, including attacks on police cars. One California protester was arrested in connection with vandalism against several Santa Ana businesses. Overseas, a similar protest in Rome led to riots that smashed windows and set fire to vehicles.
All this for a movement that so far has been devoid of any central message, other than that it supposedly represents the 99 percent of the American people who have been voiceless, held hostage by the 1 percent who control much of the wealth.
But if the movement truly represented 99 percent of the people, its causes already would have been incorporated into the government. This is one nation where, despite the power of corporate donations, the people rule.
That was proven in spades by the tea party, another group that started as a disorganized collection of angry people but that kept itself orderly as it transformed itself into a political force. Working within the system, the tea party backed several politicians who were elected to Congress on promises to support issues of importance to the movement. Indeed, the tea party and Occupy Wall Street have many similarities. Both seem upset with Washington's bailouts of banks and businesses, with the difference being that the tea party blames government for these while Occupy Wall Street blames the banks and businesses. Their tactics, however, could not be more different. Working within a representative system of government is much more effective than working outside it.
Instead, Occupy Wall Street protesters are demanding that all loans be forgiven, seemingly oblivious to the economic consequences of such a thing. Beyond this, the movement is rife with ironies. As some observers have noted, many protesters fail to see the hypocrisy in using iPhones, wearing clothes with the Nike swoosh, using computers with Microsoft or Apple technology or demanding green energy that most likely would be produced by large corporations such as General Electric, all while demanding an end to capitalism and to greedy corporations.
Politicians should be careful how they react to this crowd. Yes, there are legitimate concerns about Wall Street practices that led to the recession. But Wall Street did not act alone. The economic downturn was prodded by a federal government anxious to expand consumer credit and abetted by average Americans who saw debt as a means to enjoy things they really couldn't afford. The answer is not to destroy a capitalist system that has created so much wealth that even the economic downturn hasn't led to anything approaching the suffering during the Great Depression.
The answer is to use to the best system of government on earth to correct any wrongs and move forward to renewed prosperity.