The young folks who have gathered in Jackson’s Smith Park every day since early October likely never heard of Ralph Webster Yarborough.
They’re carrying on his work, though.
The late “People’s Senator” from Chandler, Texas, left Washington as the last of a breed of public official — one who could get elected by speaking and working of behalf of just plain ’ol folks.
Come election time, Yarborough traveled the Lone Star State with a campaign slogan of “Let’s put the jam on the lower shelf so the little people can reach it.”
God love him, he’s gone. But his message is on its way back.
At least it is around Smith Park.
A cast of characters is shaping up there. Some you’d like to pull up a stool and have a beer with. Some others, maybe not so much.
Many are 20-something college students and military veterans. Throughout the day, retired men and women show up to occupy the park in their lawn chairs. At noon and dusk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Occupiers take part in general-assembly sessions at which goals and strategies are discussed.
I told one of the older men just before a session that the only protest I ever took part in was a march against the Vietnam War at the 1972 Democratic Convention on Miami Beach. He would probably have been there, but he was in Vietnam, the old guy said.
Well, we were back here trying to get you home, I assured him, not fully divulging a major motivation for my desire for a timely end to the war — a draft call-up fewer than 60 days away.
History says those marches and demonstrations helped to end America’s tragic mistake in Vietnam.
That’s why I’m not dicounting the likelihood that Occupy Jackson and the other Occupations under way across the nation may help to restore a moral compass to our national economic policies.
I suspect that trip to the abyss the nation took in late August over the debt ceiling caused people to consider getting off their couches and out the door. An early Halloween like that scares you while it’s going on and later angers you big time that it happened at all.
A willingness for our national leaders to go nuclear over a debt ceiling doesn’t make sense to a jobless father who can’t pay his family’s rent or the single mom who steps outside while the kids eat, knowing there’s not enough on the table for them all.
A Jackson city councilman asked the other day why the Occupiers were in the park in the first place.
They’ve all got a list of reasons (a 60-something Marine Corps vet whom everyone calls Mr. Moe is protesting an absence of checks and balances in Mississippi’s county governments; a middle-aged scooter rider who moved here from Atlanta after buying a Belhaven house on eBay for $7,500 wants to promote the isolationism of Ron Paul, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination who talks a libertarian game and opposes America’s current foreign wars.
But the Occupiers are not without common cause under their “99 Percenters” banner. Sum it up in a paraphrase of the late Jerry Reed: The “One Percent” got the gold mine and the rest of us got the shaft.
You’ve got to love what the Occupiers of October brought us.
Turn on your TV. The self-important New York and Washington media and pointless pundits have to talk about working people again, about jobs, about how Archie Bunker may have got it right when he called the “Trickle Down” theory of economics “The Tinkle Down.”
And our president, heretofore hapless and disengaged, is at last talking about jobs and how more of the jam belongs down on the lower shelf.
Some time soon, we just might get the answer country singer Travis Tritt sought when he once asked: “Why’s the rich man always dancing while the poor man pays the band.”
Ted Carter is the senior economic writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.