From what I've seen, organized labor has been quite supportive. They're on slightly different wavelengths; Occupiers are in the very early stages of trying to decide their agenda, while organized labor has been with us for a long time.
If we don't change the structure of our economy in some important ways, we may end up [there.] But I don't think that's sustainable; I don't think the American public would stand for it. That does not generate political stability.
Americans like the idea of "fairness," a word we're hearing a lot lately. Still, to some people, that sounds like "here they come to pick my pocket."
There's huge skepticism, if not downright cynicism, about any large institution today. Yet the questions being asked are moral questions about what we Americans owe each other as members of the same society, what we should expect from the major institutions of our society, how to reverse trends that seem to reward the wrong people, often for malfeasance or nonfeasance. These are all moral judgments about how lopsided our economy and our society has become.
It's not a "Kumbaya" moment?
The anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement -- those were not "Kumbaya" moments [either]. Those were hard challenges. A friend of mine was murdered in Mississippi for trying to register voters. This was the opposite of "Kumbaya."
Are you talking about one of the three civil rights workers murdered in 1964?
Mickey Schwerner. I was always very short for my age and older guys help[ed] protect me from the bullies, and Mickey was one of my protectors. When he was killed by the real bullies, it was a transformative experience for me. It opened my eyes to how important it is to give people the power to stop the bullies. I date my commitment to these issues to that summer of '64.
'Tis the season, so, of Charles Dickens' three ghosts, do you have a favorite?
I love them all because I love the idea of Ebenezer Scrooge being haunted and ultimately seeing the light. "A Christmas Carol" is a wonderful metaphor, [but] we have an American metaphor for what's happening now. "It's a Wonderful Life" is the American story. Jimmy Stewart is Everyman; Mr. Potter is the venal and selfish voice, often, of the rich and powerful who do sometimes abuse their power.
We don't want a society that's lopsided in terms of economic gains. We don't want to be cynical. We want to help each other; we are linked together, not just by laws but by social norms. Ayn Rand's view that we're just individuals selfishly seeking our own ends is profoundly wrong. I would take Frank Capra over Ayn Rand any day!
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.