Yorktown vs Occupy Wall Street
This week over 230 years ago, the mighty British surrendered to the rag tag American patriot revolutionaries at Yorktown to cap off one of the most remarkable eras in world history. From what started as grassroots protestations over an invasive government unfolded into the creation of a democracy that has defined the centuries since, ultimately producing the greatest document of personal freedom and rights in the Constitution.
Flash forward to present day and see two separate movements trying to claim the mantle of revolutionaries taking action to create change. Both groups are a response to the declining economy, the sense of unfairness and crony capitalism limiting access to success, and a belief that status quo politicians won't be the agents of change.
While both groups are awfully angry, the targets of their respective ire is drastically different. These groups, of course, are the Tea Party movement and the upstart Occupy Wall Street protests.
To begin looking at where each group is coming from and what they hope to accomplish, one has to start with what they chose to call themselves. The Tea Party is an overt reference to the Tea Party of 1773, where opposition to the Crown's imposition of the Tea Act catalyzed the drive for independence. While today there are no tea taxes at issue, the source of the frustrations is the same in an overstepping and increasingly overburdening government.
Occupy Wall Street's name, on the other hand, conjures up visions of anti-corporate activists, deadbeats, and a smattering of paid political operatives to take up space and make a lot of noise. The choice of including "Wall Street" also is telling, as to this group the source of their problem is the financial center of the country. As this movement spreads around the country, the overall sentiment expressed is that corporations and the wealthy are the source of inequality and failed economic policy.
So, which of these competing movements will win the day?
Certainly, there's plenty of understandable anger directed at Wall Street, but history suggests it is not the stuff of true progress. Looking back at the original revolutionaries, the manifestations of any class warfare is not the heart of that movement. It is government overreach, not the accumulations of wealth, which cuts across and hurts at all socio-economic levels, especially through suppression of job creation.
Perhaps President Coolidge understood this dynamic best when he said:
"After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of our people will always find these are moving impulses of our life. . . Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, and dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it."
Those original revolutionaries came from all levels, from wealthy industry leaders to the back mountain farmers, they were united on the idea that freedom and individual rights was in the best interest of all their countrymen.
Obviously, past is not prologue, but it's worth remembering that over 230 years ago people died for a positive vision of freedom-not to sit in and beg for more handouts.
Brett McMahon is president of Miller and Long DC and spokesman for the Halt The Assault campaign