I have been attending the Occupy K Street protest. In fact, I have put to use my skills running an investment firm, holding a teach-in at the site on the causes of and cures for the financial crisis.
In my time there, I spoke with protesters, sympathizers and opponents. I learned a lot about the movement, much of which was, to me, surprising. Some of these lessons may be of interest to businesses in the area.
Regardless of your political views, I think small business people should embrace the protests. I know this is difficult — small business people tend to be conservative and tend to vote Republican. But to the extent that income disparity eases, more people will have money. With more money, more people will be able to buy goods and services from small businesses.
And considering the number of small businesses that have failed since the start of the financial crisis, we would have to say that small businesspeople have been more negatively impacted by fraudulent bank practices than most. Also remember that banks were supposed to lend bailout money to small businesses. They did not. They shamefully sat on the money so that they could earn bigger bonuses. These are reasons to support the Occupy Movement, not condemn it.
The K Street site has received support from small businesses. While I was milling around one Sunday, a local baker (Against the Grain bakery in Chestertown, Md.) brought 90 loaves of bread for the protesters. Other small businesses have provided significant material support. Local branches of larger businesses, including a local outpost of a national coffee chain, are supporting the movement site. The coffee shop has allowed protesters to use its restrooms.
It is important to say that I do not speak for the Occupy K Street Protest. No one does. Each Occupy settlement is independent. Occupy K Street is very different from Occupy Liberty Plaza, which is independent of Occupy Wall Street. They are all self governing and self-sufficient. Think of them as franchises, but without the bothersome and restrictive franchise agreement.
What I’ve learned is that they are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Methodists, Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, atheists, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Ron Paul supporters, young people, old people, homeless people, college educated, non college educated, Greeks, English, Aussie, Taiwanese.
They are here because they are struggling economically and ethically. The fact that the October 15th protests were held in 951 cities indicates that this is truly worldwide.
Are they anti-corporate?
According to the conversations I have had with protesters, many believe that corporations, certainly those in the financial sector, have grown so powerful that they are a threat to democratic capitalism.
Remember that the American Revolutionwas a declaration that the king was not better than all other humans. Therefore, the king did not get to determine the fate for everyone in society. People can decide for themselves. All humans are equal. But artificial, man-made creations like corporations are not human, so they do not deserve the same rights as humans. Corporations exist to serve people. People do not exist for the sake of corporations. Corporations do not get to determine the fate for everyone in society.
Most feel that the democratic processes, critical to insuring competition based on the rule of law, have been captured by a small group of firms that break the law with impunity and capture outsized returns as a result. They then use these gains to further their hold on the body politic. This gives rise to an extreme amount of selfishness and greed that is detrimental to the long-term interest of the country and its citizens.
I think these protests will endure. Attempts at shutting locations in Chicago, Denver and Oakland have only served to embolden protesters. I think support now — or at least the absense of hostility — may translate into increased business later.
William Michael Cunningham is a social investing adviser with Creative Investment Research in Washington.