A few minutes ago I saw a tweet go past which asked the question, "How do we stop opportunist politicians who are trying to ram stuff through we won't like while we are busy?" The truth of the matter is that the question provides its own answer in the phrase "while we are busy." The point is that We the People must never be too busy to pay attention to what is going on in our federal, state, and local governments.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was asked, at the time our country was born, what type of government we should have. Dr. Franklin famously replied, "A republic--if you can keep it." His words were prophetic indeed, and the demonstrable fact that We the People have been asleep at the switch for far, far too long is precisely why, today, the Occupy Wall Street movement now spreading across the country like wildfire may be the final hope for the survival of representative democracy in this country.
Yes, there have been populist movements before, during both the 19th and 20th centuries, many based on rage against the perceived social, economic, and/or political injustices which existed at the time. But in each case what has happened is that once the point of crisis has passed, most of us have, sheeplike, gone back to tending to our daily business, leaving politics up to others since most of us don't see ourselves as being cut out to be activists by nature.
Of course, today's focus is the colossal (and perhaps ultimately fatal) influence which the big banks, the biggest corporations, and "Big Money" in general have managed to exert over our elected officials, particularly in Washington, D.C. But that influence didn't come into being overnight. Most of us participating in, or in support of, the Occupy Wall Street movement today, particularly those of us of middle age or older, are to blame for having let things get out of hand in the first place. Far too many of us, so long as we personally were comfortably off, were perfectly content to satisfy ourselves with our daily dose of mindless, numbing so-called "entertainment" provided by television. We were far too content to be satisfied with whatever explanation the mass-media outlet of our choice chose to tell us about what was going on in our country and in the world in general.
As I suspect many, if not most, "occupiers" around the country are now finding out (or have already in more than a few cases), standing up for our rights is often inconvenient at best, and sometimes downright dangerous to our own personal well-being. Therefore the temptation has always existed to let those of the Left or Right who always seem in search of a cause to support to do our protesting for us, and in many cases even to do our thinking for us.
That is why I say that the reason the Occupy Wall Street movement today is needed, probably even vital for the survival of democracy in this country, is largely our own fault.
Sure, we can point fingers at the "banksters" and the usual assortment of crooked, venal politicians on both Left and Right, but where were We the People when they were busily engaged in getting us and our country into this mess?
Benjamin Franklin was reputedly one of the wisest men of his time, and his response to the question as quoted above was not a throwaway reply. In any type of democratic system, there have always been, and always will be, those who seek to extend their own influence and self-interests above what is just, what is fair, and in some cases what is even tolerable. It is not up to our elected officials in Washington, D.C., nor in any of our state legislatures, nor in our county or city governments to see to it that our rights and liberties are preserved. It is up to us, to We the People, to do so.
If this movement is successful, if our American democracy can yet be saved, I hope the lessons we have all learned at such a terrible cost will never be forgotten.
President Andrew Jackson, in his farewell address, famously observed: "But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government." He could not have been more right.