Home / Culture and Society / Occupying the New Year: The Power of Populism and the Path to Reason

Occupying the New Year: The Power of Populism and the Path to Reason

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There we three were at the party, sitting comfortably, sipping cider, and waiting for the ball to drop. While most of those around us were talking about mundane topics, ranging from the weather to, of course, sports, we had something a bit more challenging in mind: the future of American society. I have known the two with whom I was speaking, rare finds in any crowd, for years; one is a retired teacher turned activist, the other a former member of the Bronx’s Democratic machine. As is probably obvious, the views held by both typically leaned far to the left of mine, but this did nothing to prevent a good discussion.

After a spirited exchange on the preservation of women’s rights, one of the few issues on which our opinions were in agreement, we moved on to the Occupy movement. Naturally, my friends supported it to no end, with one even being a local member. I made it perfectly clear that I did not oppose Occupy’s founding goals: a more flexible, responsive government in conjunction with fiscal sanity. Its methods, however, had become far too savage for my approval; from vagrants hassling business owners near demonstration sites, to brazen squatters battling police. I did mention that I had actually seen the original Occupy camp at Manhattan’s Zucotti Park during a totally unrelated trip to New York in November. Coming face to face with the frustrated individuals claiming their stake on Wall Street’s only privately owned public square was a hands-on lesson in civil disobedience.

Interestingly enough, following a short debate regarding the Occupiers’ ethics, I found that my friends and I pretty much wanted the same things; a serious debate on sustainable nationwide economic reinvigoration, as well as a reduction in the influence lobbyists wield over lawmakers. Naturally, we each held very different opinions on how any of this might actually get done, but that was merely secondary. Our discourse truly pushed me to consider how most Americans have far more uniting rather than dividing them. When all is said and done, each of us wants a bright future and the opportunity to succeed. Building on this solid base, one can easily imagine how well we could cooperate in achieving these ends; not as Republicans, Democrats, conservatives or liberals, but simply as concerned citizens.

Whether the Tea Party realizes it or not, civilized Occupiers are anything but belligerents. It is very possible for cool heads in both mass movements to work together as a means of holding government accountable for its actions at all levels, from city hall to Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, such a positive development is doubtful, due to the simple fact that the Tea Party and Occupy already have far too much in common. How can this be? Simple: both are populist to the core, and in populistic uprisings, the more radical elements tend to take control and destroy any chance of reasonable discourse. This is why I have a profound dislike for populism in any form, and make no bones about this in my writings, much to the chagrin of leftists and rightists alike.

Still, I cannot claim that the levels of voter awareness brought about by Occupy on the left and the Tea Party on the right are negative developments. Hopefully, over time, participants in both movements will come to understand that those we perceive as being ideological enemies are so often nothing of the sort. Maybe, if a greater number were to hold conversations like the one my friends and I had to bring in the new year, our country would be in a much better way.

In the end, who can say for sure? All I know is that the cider was delicious, and Times Square looked beautiful as midnight struck.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Maurice

    Joseph – I am with you 100%. The goals are the same, the method is the disagreement. I have some acquaintances that are left of me but we can still have good discussions and agree on many things.

    Thanks for a cheerful article!

  • Arch Conservative

    As many of you may know I am from NH. I work on Elm Street in Manchester and the window of my office is literally across the street from the Occupy NH Primary protestors. I’ve had the occasion to walk by the people in the past weeks on a number of occasions. Believe me when I say that here is nothing the occupy crowd can teach anyone about civility.

  • zingzing

    archie, you once praised a man who shot someone he disagreed with. in the face. at church. wasn’t even football season.