By Rosalyn Baxandall, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine
At last the 99 percent are shaming them: “This is not a Recession; It’s Robbery,” one sign read in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Usually U.S. social movements occur every 30 years: the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1960s. Even with the longest war in history against Afghanistan, and wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Colombia, it was eerily quiescent on the North American front in the past decade. A movement was long overdue.
Occupy Wall Street is the first populist movement on the left since the Populist Movement of the 1870s to 1897, the largest social movement of the 19th century. So, hurray.
When Occupy Wall Street set up in lower Manhattan on September 17th in Zuccotti Park, originally called Liberty Park Plaza, it took back the plaza’s original name, and spawned 400 or more occupations and actions across the U.S.
Back in the late 1800s, the Populists blamed Wall Street and the railroads for bankrupting farmers, forcing them off their land and devaluing their crops. Farmers paid more taxes than the industrial or the financial sectors because they couldn’t hide their land.
As a North Carolina farm journal in 1887 accurately stated:
There is something radically wrong in our industrial system. There is a screw loose. The wheels have dropped out of balance. The railroads have never been so prosperous, and yet agriculture languishes. The banks have never done better or more profitable business, and yet agriculture languishes. Manufacturing enterprises never made more money, or were in a more flourishing condition and yet agriculture languishes. Towns and cities flourish and “boom’ and grow and “boom,” and yet agriculture languishes. Salaries and fees were never so temptingly high and desirable, and yet agriculture languished.
Women were very much a part of the Populists, and the women had strong alliances with women’s suffrage. Mary Elizabeth Lease, a Populist leader from Kansas, famously said, “we should raise less corn and more hell.”