|"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more." Network 1976|
Everywhere I go these days I hear the same thing. “What’s going on in Greece?” It’s generally followed by a comment along the lines of, “It seems like the place is falling apart.”
It’s reached the point where I want to say, “Really, I haven’t noticed?”
|Louisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse|
But of course I have, and things are going to get a lot worse for a long time. It makes me very sad.
The Greek people have lost confidence in their leadership but not in themselves. They are willing to suffer to get their country out of the mess that it’s in, but only if they see a viable restructuring plan that is both equitable and realistically achievable. Most see their leadership as either clueless to what must be done, or unwilling to implement promised measures that might threaten their own political bases.
One friend described the relationship between Greece’s politicians and its EU/IMF lenders as “making kamaki.” Kamaki is the Greek name for the trident used to spear an octopus, but in popular usage it’s slang for the Greek man’s perceived skills at seduction. When one hears, “Our leaders are making kamaki with them,” it’s a crude way of saying that Greece is getting what it wants by telling the EU and IMF what they want to hear.
What’s most surprising is that each seems to be expecting flowers in the morning from the other.
|Solon (638-558 BC)|
Some plan. More like a prayer. Perhaps the historians among Greece’s leaders believe that debt forgiveness is in the cards. After all, Greece is the cradle of democracy and its generally credited father of democracy, Solon, did just that over 2500 years ago in the 6th Century BC. Solon imposed debt forgiveness, but that was to end civil war and proved to be only a short-term solution.
Whatever. The bottom line is that Greece’s leadership will offer the Greek people an honest, workable plan and commit to implementing it fairly or it will not. Either way the Greek people will survive despite their leaders, for by nature and history, perseverance in the face of adversity is the Greek way. God bless them.
But, frankly, the news that has captured my imagination is Occupy Wall Street.
I don’t know a lot about the goals of the demonstrators, other than to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth—an admirable, difficult to achieve concept. Much like trying to bring about an end to a war in Southeast Asia. Yes, today’s demonstrations remind me so very much of my own experiences forty years ago as a young Wall Street lawyer in that same venue.
I’m not going to attempt to draw parallels between the two movements, except to say Nixon was elected President in 1968 promising to end the Vietnam War, but it did not end until 1975, past his tenure. I moved to New York City in the fall of 1969 and vividly remember the Spring of 1970, standing in front of Trinity Church, at the top of Wall Street, watching peace demonstrators march down Broadway. I saw counter-demonstrators in hard hats with American flags mounted on rebar staffs swinging their flags at the demonstrators, while others tossed empty soda bottles down from construction sites into the crowds.
The term “hardhat” came out of those Wall Street demonstrations, as did new NYPD procedures on how to handle crowds. I grew up among Western Pennsylvania The Deer Hunter neighborhoods, so I understand from where the sincere patriot devotion sprang, but what I witnessed over those few days was just plain wrong.
I remember receiving a call a night or so later from a woman begging me to come to New York University and serve as a lawyer-buffer between the police and demonstrators who’d taken over the Student Center. There was genuine fear in her voice. It was May 4, 1970 and Kent State had happened that afternoon. I went. Police were not to be seen. Students talked quietly among themselves. Polarization had reached a new level that neither side wanted to test.
|Student John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio|
kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller after he was slain by
the Ohio National Guard
They were horrific times.
Peace Demonstrators v. Hardhats emerged as America’s perennial roadshow playing out across the country amid impenitent pride on all sides for what they were doing to safeguard our values.
But those years are long past, and there’s a new game in town.
This one doesn’t seem very well organized. Rag-tag some might say. But that’s what makes it so enchanting. And let’s not forget that it has something extraordinary going for it that none from my years ever saw: a message bringing hardhats and social idealists together in a very slow burn.
Mark my words. This is a force to recon with, for its participants will not go quietly into the night, nor have they come for a tea party. They have come in search of a plan to be championed by someone they believe in.
Any takers out there? Kamakis need not apply.