The Truth Smells

A Fox News commentator the other day said of the Occupy Wall Street protesters — “They smell.”

The New York Times on Saturday quoted a hedge-fund manager calling the protesters “a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Another bank exec was quoted: “It’s not a middle-class uprising. It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”

In the Sixties, protesters for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and an end to the Vietnam War were called all kinds of derogatory names. Communist was the most-common, all-purpose epithet. “Dirty hippie” was one I heard protesting in Florida against Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1968. Women’s Rights protesters were “dykes” or worse. Black protesters had the worst names, along with bricks and bottles and bullets, flung at them. All of us were bums, unAmerican, worthless.

So marginalizing the Other 99 Percent protesters by calling them unemployed smelly bums is an old trick of the status quosters. Demean them with language. They’re beneath you. Beneath contempt. They wouldn’t look right in the obscenely expensive Manhattan restaurants the Wall Street pirates frequent. They’re not our kind dear.

The wealthy have always looked down on the rabble. Built fortifications of contemptuous slurs to block out the unsophisticated words conveying the unvarnished truth.

As Ellen Mrja pointed out in the previous post, those most hurt by this rich-rigged economy aren’t just the kids. It’s all ages. And in a photo essay in today’s New York Times, five people or groups are shown. Of course this is no scientific survey, but it’s a slice of the protesters on Wall Street — one is a WWII vet, one a teacher, one a retired teacher, one a homeless young man, and one photo has no indication of employment. None of these people is a bum. None should be dismissed with foul names. All should be listened to. They are America.

In 1972, on Christmas Eve, my father joined my brother Michael and me at the Capitol in St. Paul to protest the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam. Michael and I had been against that endless war for years, and had protested some and argued a lot with our dad and mom at the dinner table. My dad, of the World War II generation, had trusted the government and supported the war. Until it wouldn’t end. When dad joined us in the snow, I wanted to call over the TV cameras and say “look, a vice president of General Mills, an adult, not a fuzzy kid. Can you dismiss him?”

Insult the protesters all you want, greedheads. It won’t make them go away. And it won’t make the truths they speak less true. Americans may finally be realizing who’s picking their pockets. And they’re pissed. If some are aromatic because they have the guts to camp out in the park for their beliefs and can’t get up to the showers in your private bathrooms in your lovely executive offices, well, General Washington’s troops at Valley Forge were pretty ripe too. So were the Freedom Riders. And the brave people in Tahrir Square.

God bless them every one.

BTW, hedgefundhog, remind me. What’s wrong with sex drugs & rock ‘n’ roll again?

— Bruce Benidt
(photo from rollingstone.com)