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Buffalo: Embrace the Occupy Challenge to Become Known as the City of Enlightenment!

New York City, Chicago, Denver, LA, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, are among a growing list of US cities to use brute force to close down Occupy encampments in the past two weeks. In most cases, police were dispatched en force, in full riot gear, to evict Occupiers whose primary offenses were violating local curfews and no-camping ordinances in order to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly, among other constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Scores of occupiers have been detained, arrested, and freed on bail for these and other petty offenses while not a single officer or salesman of a major bank, investment firm, mortgage lender, or insurance company has been charged for predatory lending, fraud, or other practices which robbed millions of Americans of their life savings and retirement funds, family homes, etc., totalling hundreds of billions of dollars, while pushing the US economy and the world financial system to the brink of collapse. Instead of being prosecuted and punished, guilty financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” instead received trillions of federal dollars to keep them from failing. In exchange, they continue to lavish millions in bonuses on executives while denying mortgages and loans to millions of creditworthy families and businesses.

Occupy Wall Street was organized to express the outrage of most Americans to the unbridled excesses of Wall Street, to the detriment of Main Street, USA. In the past few weeks hundreds of these peaceful protestors have been maced, tear-gassed, beaten with truncheons, handcuffed, dragged over pavement, and had their tents and personal property trashed by the authorities. This jackbooted response mirrors the callous disregard for the 99 percent expressed by the financial institutions who essentially robbed the 99 percent of their equity in stocks and real estate with apparent impunity. The message here is clear: Only the property and equity of the one percent is sacred; the rest is expendable and subject to plunder by the powers that be. That is why each crackdown only increases the ranks of those willing to occupy and strengthens their resolve.

The question is not whether there is class warfare in America. Warren Buffet, owner of the Buffalo News and much more, openly admitted as much, adding, “And my classs is winning.” The question at issue here is what tactics will the one percent use to maintain their stranglehold on wealth and power and how united are they compared with the solidarity of those representing the 99 percent, notably the Occupiers. The current push to quash the Occupy movement before winter, before Christmas, the most important spending season on our calendar, is a colossal test of political will. On one hand we have the one percent striving to consolidate their huge gains of the past decades and especially the last decade, by literally bulldozing their only visible, stalwart opposition under the false mantle of preserving law and order, i.e. protecting the rights of the one percent to keep all of their ill-gotten gains. On the other hand are the Occupiers, the unwashed rabble, who dare to question the established order, including the “golden rule” that “whoever has the most gold rules” by insisting that the titans of Wall Street be held to account just like rest of us. For them it is not acceptable that robber barons like Countrywide Mortgage Insurance’s ex-CEO, Angelo Mozilo, get bailed out of his $67 million worth of civil penalties by Bank of America and ultimately by the bank’s customers, we the people. For them it is not acceptable to be fined and jailed for exercising their constitutional rights of freedom to speak ad to assemble and to organize for the redress of serious grievances, while nary a Wall Street conspirator even sees the inside of a jail cell, let alone relocates to one.

Buffalo is a city of no illusions, the heartland of the 99 percent, despite having plenty of one percenters. In many ways it is ground zero for the Occupy Wall movement, because it is Main Street, USA. At the very least, it is as good a place as any to make a strong stand for Main Street, for the 99 percent, for a United States of America this winter, by allowing the Occupiers to continue their vigil through the dead of winter, unimpeded by hollow calls for law and order and specious concerns for public safety and the like.

To their credit, Buffalo officials haven’t jumped on the “throw the bums out” bandwagon as officials in many larger US cities have. They should be commended for that and encouraged to continue taking the high road and to embrace discourse and tolerance over police state tactics and expedience. If they do, and if those of us who support the just grievances of the Occupiers will support their efforts morally, and with food, clothing, and cash, Buffalo may finally gain the recognition that it deserves for toughness in the face of adversity, including its notorious winter weather. The freshly concluded agreement between Occupiers and city officials, which spells out ground rules for long-term occupation of Niagara Square throughout the winter, augurs well for an ongoing public dialogue regarding fairness, social justice, and how best to revive Main Street while reining in Wall Street’s greed-fueled excesses and the casino-ization of our state and nation.

With the patience of public officials and the kindness of strangers, like the one who donated the weather-resistant geodesic dome which is the new centerpiece of the Occupy Niagara Square encampment, perhaps Buffalo can become reknowned as the City of Enlightenment in the early 21st century, even as it was the City of Light in the early 20th century!

> Carl Mrozek, Buffalo

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