One wonders: Will they swap a concrete overpass for the wobbly pedestrian bridge? Will the New Left see the wisdom in forging its long-delayed alliance with the Old Left? Will independent-minded vegans learn from well-honed, meat-and-potatoes union members?
Such were my questions as I snapped pictures of the spreading “Occupy Wall Street” campaign, which moved into Hartford, Connecticut, Friday night and featured 350 marchers lofting signs and chanting “We are the 99 percent!” Some camped on the corner of Broad Street and Farmington Avenue. I was on the ball: I arrived ahead of schedule but at the wrong location and I found no marchers – thus my Saturday-afternoon pictures of orphaned signs and a small knot of sleep-deprived organizers planning their next assembly, scheduled for 3 p.m.
It was a time warp moment. The campers’ flower-child looks forced me into cliché-riddled memories of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s and the era’s mantras and signs and slogans. I remember the huge gulf that was never spanned: The New Left and the Old Left sneered at each other from different worlds. The New Left was forged in anti-Vietnam protests and in strikes and sit-ins on college campuses; the Old Left grew up in the Depression and in the 1937 strikes and sit-ins against General Motors. Police bloodied the New Left; company thugs teamed up with police and beat up and threatened members of the Old Left. The New Left revolved around skeptical students experimenting with “alternative lifestyles;” the Old Left included church-going, often Catholic, family men (and it was a male world). The New Left was dovish; the Old Left was adamantly anti-communist and hawkish: The union-supported Truman administration launched the anti-Soviet containment policy and led us into the Korean War; the liberal Johnson administration sent combat troops into Vietnam. The New Left carried books to class; the Old Left carried a lunchbox to work.
The New Left and Old Left never shook hands …
Until now, perhaps. The frail bridge was thrown when unions began supporting the flower children’s heirs. They’re supplying food for the “Occupy Wall Street” campers and are marching with them in New York. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, applauded them and declared: “It’s been three years since Wall Street CEOs crashed our economy. When Wall Street was on its knees, the American taxpayers came to their rescue with trillions of dollars in bailouts and promises from the big banks that they’d invest in our recovery. Instead, the banks used our hard-earned tax dollars to enrich themselves.” Her concluding line: “The people are finally speaking. Now it’s up to our leaders and CEOs to listen and respond.”
Those questions kept pouring as I snapped my pictures in Hartford: Will the heirs of the New Left now listen to the heirs of the Old Left? The Old Left is organized; it’s experienced; it can teach everyone how to set goals, how to negotiate, and how to fight the good fight. Can the New Left see the practicality of humility? Can its members get comfortable with mothers and fathers and meatloaf lovers? Can they cozy-up to those affirming “traditional family values,” some of whom attend daily mass and disagree with abortion? Will they see allies in nuns and priests and pastors and Bible-lovers? Will they have the savvy to frame this movement in “pro-family” terms (our long work days and work weeks steal parents from their children). If they do, the wobbling pedestrian bridge may grow into the multi-lane overpass. If not, “Occupy Wall Street” and the New Left’s heirs will meet their ancestors’ fate, and the American greed manifested in Wall Street will keep gnawing our nation’s soul.