Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Occupation Heard Round the World

I tend to read a lot of history. Thus, as I stand with the #OccupyDenver occupation in support of #OccupyWallStreet, I am struck by the similarities with the 1st American Revolution.

Events happened more slowly back in the days when it might take a month for a piece of paper like a letter or a law to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing ship. Thus, the American Revolution which is often thought to have begun in 1775 (not 1776 btw), actually began with the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

The British Parliament had passed an Act called the Tea Act which was designed to help rescue a failing corporation called the East Indian Corporation. The Act gave the East Indian Company the right to ship tea directly to the American colonies, and a legal monopoly on its sale. I guess even the tyrannical King George III wouldn't go so far as to mandate that people have to be the customers of a corporation. It also reignited the fight over taxation as many colonists felt it was another way of the British to impose taxation without representation. The act definitely had the effect of harming American based small businesses in the tea-trade in order to give more profits to the EIC which was highly politically connected in Parliament and the Royal Family. One of the main objections of the colonists was that parliament had given a legal monopoly on the tea trade to this connected company, and the colonists felt this had to be resisted before it was expanded to other areas and corporations.

In December, 1773, a dispute arose in Boston about three corporate tea ships that had arrived in the harbor. The people of Boston wanted the ships to turn around and leave. The Royal governor of Boston declared that the ships had to unload and pay the 'tea tax' on the tea on the ships before they could leave.

On the day of the deadline, 7000 citizens of Boston (approx 1/3 the population) rallied, and heard the news that the governor had refused to allow the ships to leave. Shortly after that, a group led by Samual Adams and called the Sons of Liberty dressed as Indians and then staged a direct action against the ships. They took over the ships, and threw some 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This is of course known as the Boston Tea Party, and yes, it was a direct action destruction of corporate property. It was also largely non-violent, as no injuries to the crew of the ships is recorded that I can find in a quick search.

The British King and Parliament responded to this with the "Coercive Acts". One effect of these acts was to suspend local democracy in the Massachusetts colony. Up until then, the local courts that handled foreclosures had been overseen by locally elected judges. These Coervice Acts instead gave the King the authority to appoint these judges.

In the summer and early fall of 1774, these Royal judges arrived in Massachusettes to take up the offices that they had purchased from the King in the expectations of the profits to be made as such a judge. The people of Massachusetts rose up to oppose this, and "occupied" the county seats with large crowds that prevented these judges from heading these courts. Crowds of thousands of people in the town squares instead forced these judges to resign their offices and thus return to Boston and to England.

Thus, in the 1770's, when the British Parliament tried to ensure the profits of a politically connected corporation, this led first to direct action that destroyed corporate property, and then to mass popular occupations of towns across Massachusetts by people committed to defending their liberty and their freedom.

Sound familiar? To someone like me who's standing in occupation against a government that currently puts corporate privilidge and profits over the liberties and freedom of ordinary Americans, it sure does.

Where do Paul Revere and Lexington and Concord fit into all of this? That occurred in the spring of 1775. The people of Massachusetts knew that they had committed an act of rebellion against the King. See movies like Braveheart for how the English Kings responded to such rebellions. Thus, the colonists started to stockpile muskets and gunpowder and other weapons with which to defend themselves against Royal retribution. Meanwhile, the King had sent more troops to Boston over the winter.

When the spring came in 1775, these troops marched out from Boston to attempt to raid and seize a stockpile of weapons that they believed was in Concord. Paul Revere was one of several riders who rode out from Boston to try to warn the militias. He was less than successful as he was captured by the British and held in custody. Nonetheless, word of the raid spread through the Massachusetts militias, and they formed at Lexington and Concord to resist this attempt. That was the Shot Heard Round the World.

But, the Shot Heard Round the World was a direct response to what might be called the Occupation Heard Round the World. It was thousands of American citizens standing up for their freedom and liberties over attempted taxation and favoritism to corporations that started the American Revolution.

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