Idealism on Wall Street


In the heat of a passionate and thoughtful political conversation this morning, a friend called me “an idealist, not a realist”.

It kind of made me laugh, because at the ripe old age of 55, seeing many of my dreams in the rear view mirror, I feel more like a cynic than an idealist.  But I’m pleased to hear that I still give off some idealistic energy.

The conversation with my friend, the one that lead to his unintended compliment, was a discussion of the recent “occupations” in various cities around the country.  These small but growing protests are an expression of frustration at the injustice in the current political and economic systems.  They are largely unfocused, very peaceful, and filled with the kind of youthful rhetoric that hasn’t been heard in this country since about 1973.  Cries of “democracy now” and talk of “we the people” resonate through the crowds. There is chanting, drumming, and demands for a new world, a new day, a new democracy.  People are donating food, tarps, raingear, medical supplies. Volunteers are cooking, cleaning up, handing the press.  The marchers are taking care of each other. I hear echoes of the campus demonstrations of the sixties in these voices. I feel a breeze from the age of Woodstock. I see a renewed sense of greater community and a belief in a greater good.

When I became a mother, I embraced my idealism.  To raise a child is to declare our belief in a happy future.  Every New Year when my children were young, I could look ahead to the adventures that awaited us together.

And I teach elementary school.  It’s hard to think of a more idealistic life choice than that!  But I haven’t felt politically idealistic since….well, since Jimmy Carter, I guess!

But the current anger at big banks, corporate lobbyists and Wall Street speculators is a chord that I think crosses party lines, age lines and philosophical lines.  All of us who are members of the bottom 99% of the national economy are fed up with the collusion between the government and the richest corporations in the world. So I for one will join my voice with those hopeful young idealists, including my own three children, who are spending today holding signs and chanting for change on Wall Street.

I am realistic enough to expect that the next President will come from either the Democratic or Republican Party, and that he will have a whole host of corporate owners whose bidding he will do while he is in the White House.  I am realistic enough to understand that the people on Capital Hill, whose seats were largely bought and paid for by business groups and company CEOs, will be slow to change the laws that regulate those businesses and banks.

But I am idealistic enough to believe that a loud enough outcry from the streets can change history. I am idealistic enough to believe that all political and economic systems change and evolve.  And I am idealistic enough to take Abraham Lincoln at his word, spoken at his first inauguration:

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

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