Back to the 1960s on Wall Street

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Column by Jim Flynn

On a sunny fall afternoon in the 1960s we were at the business offices of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at a gathering of suits for the purpose of finalizing a major building project. We had entered the building through a back door to avoid a gaggle of students and street-people exercising their first amendment right to demonstrate against the oppression of the day.
While observing the protesters from an upper floor window, a member of the MIT staff pointed out the male and female leaders of the demonstration, students who had full scholarships and free dormitory rooms, in which they slept alternately.
Motivating issues were many in the sixties and seventies – civil rights, the Vietnam war, women’s rights, participatory democracy, and the free speech movement. Youth were energized to challenge all authority and conventions.
Those were heady days for college students, whose glandular systems were pumping overloads of adrenaline, hormones, and testosterone. Colleges were generally tolerant of student demonstrators, except occasions when they seized possession of administrative offices. On one occasion we were deprived of an invitation to drinks and a free lunch at the Harvard faculty sanctum, because students had taken possession of the facilities - an unforgivable disregard of etiquette.
We were reminded of the student uprisings of the sixties by a headline on a recent Associated Press (AP) article titled: “Workers wonder what the protesters want.” The purpose of the spreading Occupy Wall Street demonstrations was announced by a threatening sign which read “Billionaires Your Time is Up!” Sounds like Peter Finch in the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”
Unlike the student protests of the 1960s, the Wall Street project has spread across the country without any identifiable organization or leadership. An early explanation of the protesters motivation was an effort to end corruption of government by corporation capitalism, a noble sounding goal.
Lately, however, some Wall Street protesters have voiced solidarity with the protesters in Greece, a spoiled nation which appears certain to collapse, if it hasn’t already. Greece is an example of the perils of social democracy – an oversized popular government which made promises it can’t keep.
It would appear the Wall Street protesters intend to end capitalism in favor of a social democracy in which economic inequality would be discouraged, if not prohibited. That’s not what the United States was intended to be or has ever been.
Now that students across the country are leaving classes to join the protests, Occupy Wall Street is likely to blossom into a left-wing counterweight to the right wing Tea Party – more government and less Wall Street vs. more business and less government. Idealistic young people love causes, and their adrenaline is pumping again.