I suppose it was inevitable. Occupy Wall Street, the leaderless but persistent protest against corporate interests and for left-wing revolution, recently issued a manifesto modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages of a leaderless revolution is no one is maintaining the Web site: Every news story I’ve checked that has a link to the “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” ends up at a black page with the dread words “under construction.” Sorry, but that means that I don’t have the full text available. Forbes Magazine has a serious but clever critique of the Occupier’s literary efforts along with chunky selections from the text. As for me, it is a little difficult to take a manifesto seriously that has an asterisk at the end and the all-purpose disclaimer “These grievances are not all-inclusive.” (I’m not kidding.)
Some are already drawing comparisons between Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration and the activists at Seneca Falls. Thomas Jefferson and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are both hard acts to follow, so I will chalk those comparisons up to media enthusiasm. However, many Americans viscerally understand that the Declaration is the touchstone for those who wish to garb their protest in the legitimacy of the nation’s founding event.
After both the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 and the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, the blogosphere was thick with different “Declarations of Independence” where writers fumed in mock Jeffersonian phrases about proposed taxation of the Internet, accusations of voter fraud during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and denunciations of the president. “And Now the People Step Forward and Charge High Treason, and
Show that Democracy in its roots today, is Corrupt … A CONSPIRACY, CONNECTING THE MULTIMILLIONAIRES, ONE WITH ANOTHER. And while the People of the Earth Watch.[sic] We the People of America join among the Powers of the Earth, using the Laws of the Constitution that Guarantee the Separate and Equal Station towhich the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God Entitle Them …,” wrote one blogger crafting a modern “Declaration” in an attempt to channel the righteous fury toward a George from an earlier age to another George of more recent times.
Not to be outdone, individuals and organizations dedicated to a more conservative or libertarian point-of-view used the Declaration formula to advocate freedom from movements that “know what’s best” for the public in general. For instance, the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based lobbying group that champions freedom of choice regarding American eating habits and desires, issued a 2004 “Declaration of Food Independence” in response to organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that see a conspiracy in every Big Mac served. “On July 4, 1776, America’s founding fathers signed
their names to the Declaration ofIndependence in an effort to affirm basic liberties. But they never dreamed that anyone would someday attempt to strip the American people of the fundamental freedom to control what we eat and drink,” the authors wrote in an introduction to their Web page. This is part of their declaration to the “Food Cops,” who are cast as contemporary enemies of freedom:
When in the course of human
events it becomes necessary for freedom-loving people to dissolve the bands
which bind them to the will of Food Cops, a decent respect to the opinions of
mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to
We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all Consumers are created equal, that they are endowed with
certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness; that whenever any aspiring Big Brothers become destructive of
these ends, it is the right of the Consumers to alter or abolish that relationship.
But when a long train of
abuses and usurpations, including taxes, finger-waving, and food demonization,
evinces a design to reduce the freedoms of responsible adults under dietary
despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such tyrants. Such
has been the patient suffering of we freedom-loving Consumers, and such is now
the necessity which impels us to alter our former tolerance of Food Cop abuses.
Occupy Wall Street isn’t the first in recent memory to voice their grievances in Jeffersonian tones. They will not be the last.