Donna Perry: Why Occupy Providence?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

 

The growing street protest movement, collectively called Occupy Wall Street, is due to roll into Providence this weekend so I thought it may be helpful to give the movement’s leaders a few tips about the local political scene. Oh wait a minute. I already failed at understanding the movement, since they proclaim that they have “no leaders”, in their anti-hierarchal or “everyone is equal” universe. Ok, so here’s a few tips to be passed on to their organizing point persons, who most likely will be receiving a whole lot of help from Brown University students this weekend.

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Actually, the Brown students are a good place to start with this reminder checklist. It may work better for your signs and protest chants to go light on the Wall Street references when the Brown kids are present. There’s probably a pretty good chance that a Wall Street income (their father’s) or a Wall Street level income bankrolls their Brown tuition and life in Providence so maybe keep the protest slogans a little broader to “Stop All Corporate Greed” as opposed to “Stop Wall Street Greed”. (Better to tone down the awkward hypocrisy level for a lot of the students you will be counting on to help you.)

But that leads to a bigger dilemma for the movement when it comes here. You should realize one of the biggest challenges for a place like Providence, RI is not that corporate America acts greedy here—it’s simply that it is basically Not Here at all. In fact our state’s leaders spend a fair amount of their time begging, pleading and handing out huge tax breaks in order to get corporate leaders to actually occupy Providence, but not in the way you are planning. Leaders here are trying to convince corporate types, greed and all, to set up shop here, and they definitely do not want them to stop occupying Providence if they are among the vanishing few still left here. (You’ll have to figure out some rhetoric around those realities.)

In RI, Unions Are The 1 Percent

I know a big part of your message is to address the plight of the long term unemployed, and I agree with you that it’s a scary reality for far too many people of all age ranges now, not just the throngs of 20-somethings who seem to make up the base of your movement. I don’t blame the long term unemployed –or underemployed—from feeling fear, anger, and resentment. I really don’t. But you should know that some of the leaders of the local public sector unions, who of course want to join you in solidarity, actually represent the only class of people in this state who for a long time have had the best job security, and the best retirement packages you’ll find around here.

Now I realize your movement revolves around this idea of saying “we are the 99%” and it’s the “1%” of the wealthiest elite hurting the country. But here’s a different percentage to keep in mind. In our state, we talk a lot about the “80%” or even “70%” threshold. That happens to be the percentage of salary that many of our public sector employees get to retire on. So even though their retirement plans are about to undergo some modifications, compared to the rest of the working people, they still have a pretty good deal.Just some local perspective.

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You will also need to skip the “Billionaire’s March” once you get to Providence. We really don’t have many of those here, although there was that Wall Street billionaire who had an impressive spread in Jamestown for a few years but it was reported he recently sold off the place. (Must have heard you guys were headed to town) You could, however, stage a “Millionaire’s March” but just give a heads up to the growing ranks of national Democratic establishment friends organizing you behind the scenes, because most millionaires here are Democrats, fyi.

Speaking of well-connected establishment Democrats, you may also want to note that you will be on the hometown turf of a prominent ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee. Our very own Senator Jack Reed chairs a key senate subcommittee (Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment) which actually heads up Wall Street oversight. If you can arrange to get him to show up, you could see if he knows anything about the long standing cozy relationship between your nemesis, Wall Street, and his senate panel. I mean you could at least ask him about the bailouts of the big investment banks that got them out of the mortgage industry collapse they partially created, but has now left ordinary homeowners around here holding bank foreclosure letters. You could at least ask.

One final note: since your movement is posting teaching videos for the growing ranks of protesters on how to resist arrest, it’s likely your presence here this weekend will create a lot of police overtime for our capital city. Maybe try to coach your troops to go easy on the police resistance routine because when it comes to extra police and overtime, there’s a reality we know you’ll understand: we’re broke and we simply can’t afford it.

Donna Perry is a Communications Consultant to RISC, RI Statewide Coalition (www.statewidecoalition.com)

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