CEOs Contemplate the Occupy Movement
Stetson J. Bradford III met up with his fellow CEO F. Reginald Lawless for a brow-to-brow lunch at the Penthouse Reverie Room high above Wall and Broad Streets in New York. As charter members of the 40-year Corporate Supremes Club, they had serious business to discuss before Thanksgiving weekend in 2011.
The topic numero uno was: Is the Occupy Wall Street movement and its around the country the precursor to the giant peoples upheaval that they and their brethren have feared ever since Wall Street collapsed the American economy in 2008 and sent the bill to the taxpayers?
Over their large whiskey sours prior to consuming their lobster lunch, they shared their innermost thoughts in nearly whispered tones and grave visages:
Bradford: “I’m worried, Reg, that this could be the big one all of us have been dreading. It is always the ruffians and the demagogues who are the vanguard. Remember the sacking of the Bastille?”
Lawless: “I beg to differ, Stet. It is always the middle class that raises the banner of revolt, at least in the past couple of centuries. These people down at Zuccotti Park aren’t relatable to the majority of people, what with their sanitation
problems and worsening influx of the homeless and vagrant crowd in their public spaces.”
Bradford: “Maybe so, but look at the daily mass media coverage of these people calling themselves the 99 percent. I’ve never seen anything like the TV and newspaper reports on these encampments everywhere. Also the polls show they have more support for their message against inequality than the Tea Partiers did. Recall what Abraham Lincoln said about what can be done with the ‘public sentiment.’”
Lawless: “Let me calm you, Stet. We know from our disheveled infiltrators what is going on in all these encampments, except maybe small ones like in little Niles, Michigan. It’s our sort of jobs program. Barring some flash provocation caught on video, like a sneering Wall Street trader kicking a child beggar into the gutter, the Occupiers will soon be frozen off the public consciousness both by winter’s coming and a bored media.”
Bradford: “Why do you say this? They must be very determined to stay and sleep in these uncomfortable parks night and day, setting up tables for first aid, legal aid and even a library. You know, libraries with radical materials have historically been dangerous influences on the multitudes.”
Lawless: “Time out, Stet. Let me show you why they are here today and will mostly be gone tomorrow. Do they have leaders? No, they proudly reject leaders and even the very trait of leadership. Show me a successful movement or business or union drive, and I’ll show you leaders. It can’t happen without leaders to give form and direction over time, no matter how unpleasant they may be.”
Bradford: “You’re right up to a point. But a mob doesn’t have to have leaders. It just has to have emotion, motive, a target and a sudden jolt or spark that can come from anywhere.”
Lawless: “With modern, high-tech crowd controls, mobs can be spotted very early with corner surveillance cameras and dispersed in a hundred ways. Our good police – public and private – get tremendous adrenaline bursts in the face of advancing mobs.”
“But Stet, there is more. Occupy has no agenda or program that millions can relate to. Sure ‘inequality, inequality, 99 percent, 99 percent’ make good slogans because people believe them to be true. After all, don’t we really? But without either a religious fervor, some kind of ideological ‘ism,’ – both out of tune with the times – all they’re left with are actual reforms for which they have little interest or patience. This is where they’re really missing the boat and the vehicle of change. Because they detest politics.”
Bradford: “What do you mean?”
Lawless: “Stet, why do you think our higher class spends so much money and time and influence on Congress? Because that is where the desired action or inaction reside in our governmental system. Arouse Congress and we get tax breaks, subsidies, bailouts, contracts, giveaways and little enforcement of the laws against us. Freeze Congress and the masses get nothing, worse they get rollbacks of protections for their economic well-being, health, safety, children and their shrinking pay, jobs and pensions.
So, by detesting politics, they avoid surrounding members of Congress at their offices back home or on Capitol Hill. They avoid the single victory that could be theirs in this election year. And that is raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour to where it was, inflation adjusted, in 1968.
And that doesn’t count doubling worker productivity whose health our class regularly appropriated for our coffers. You know, Stet, over 70 percent of people polled support keeping the minimum wage raises current with inflation. Hundreds of groups of influence want it – at least they are on the record like the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP, social service and religious charity groups – just about everybody.
But none are on the ramparts. Like a long train ready to go without the fuel. Guess who can supply the fiery energy? The Occupiers. And they can galvanize all these groups to pour it out on members of Congress. Imagine the gratitude of 35 million workers who are now making ten dollars or less per hour for their families. Imagine a victory in an ocean of gridlock to whet the appetite of tens of millions of Americans for more of what they call their fair share. Once the masses get moving, as you know, they’re hard to stop.”
Bradford: “Well, why don’t they go with all those tens of billions of dollars that can go into the pockets of these people now earning between $7.25 and $10? Seems obvious. And it’s not going to affect our business. Our golfing buddies may be making several thousand dollars an hour, but none of our employees make less than $10, except maybe for the janitors in our offices.”
Lawless: “I’ll tell you why, but pardon the repetition. The Occupy people are increasingly bickering amongst themselves in an imploding way while dispiriting themselves with the endless democratic assemblies where majority rule is out. They do not want leaders, or a real-life agenda. They are tussling with anarchists and hired provocateurs, and they disdain any discipline, much less paying full-time organizers. One might uncharitably say they are not serious about anything described as victory – even one in their hands that will bring them great admiration.”
Bradford: “You almost make me feel sorry for them. They could be our sons and daughters, Reg. They mean well.”
Lawless: “Let them mean well. I’ll give them that, any day, so long as they don’t mean much more of anything else. How about another whiskey sour, Stet, before we get to those credit default swaps in Greece.”
Bradford: “Cheers, Reg. Cheers.”
(Stetson J. Bradford III and Reginald Lawless are fictional representations of Fortune 500 CEOs)
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.