Demonstrators at Zuccotti Park in New York City persevered through the first snow of the season, while reports from other U.S.-based occupations – in Denver, Oakland, Nashville and other cities – are tallying the arrests, which have become increasingly frequent, and forceful. “The whole world is watching,” a chant that gained prominence during anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, is being loudly recited by occupiers around the country. The world is watching. Anyone with a smart phone can record video and put it online, and a growing number of websites stand ready to gather and disseminate occupy-related content. The result of ongoing media coverage, mainstream and independent, is the emergence of a platform.
Back in August, before there was any mainstream media coverage of the movement, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights speech on one of its websites, which includes the “right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” To the pharmaceutical companies with headquarters in the tri-state area: why not send a few boxes of provisions to the demonstrators? Not prescription drugs, of course, but OTC products like Band-Aids, Neosporin and tampons (Johnson & Johnson), and Advil, Robitussin and ChapStick (Pfizer).
Pharmaceutical companies complain, rightly sometimes, that they aren’t duly recognized for the community service and philanthropic efforts they provide and support, outside of core business operations. Industry’s current reputation may be slightly “above Congress and tobacco,” as Pfizer CEO Ian Read recently put it, but that isn’t saying much. Pfizer headquarters is a subway ride away – without the need to change trains – from Zuccotti Park. Johnson & Johnson likes to talk about the clear social benefit its products have provided over the years, but here is a chance to bandage the cuts and scrapes of an active and visible community. It’s a PR play, but one that isn’t damaged by its transparency. Given J&J’s ongoing manufacturing difficulties, and Pfizer’s ongoing promotional missteps, both companies could use a reputational lift.
From an OWS perspective, companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson represent a scientific vehicle fueled primarily by commercial interests, without seat belts or airbags; the humanistic objectives of most pharmaceutical scientists get left by the wayside. Executive compensation at top pharmas, in the context of plant closures in the U.S., is also a point of contention. Despite this perspective, a goodly portion of the demonstrators, not to mention their families and friends, have probably depended on medicines produced by one of these two companies, at one time or another. The question is, would OWS be willing to accept a gift of bandages, pain relievers, decongestants and other products from pharma, to aid in the struggle against the elements? My guess is that they would, and that they would be grateful. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. Perhaps the question can be put to the General Assembly, for a consensus vote.
Regardless of whether you believe access to adequate medical care is a right or a privilege, what would be lost by donating a few boxes of Dr. Scholl’s to OWS, Merck? The Congressional Budget Office’s October report on income growth (1979-2007) makes it more difficult for political pundits to continue saying they don’t understand what the OWS message is, or why these demonstrations are occurring (full CBO report here). Gifting medical supplies to protesters accomplishes PR goals, and it aids those demonstrators willing to stand and sleep outside for a cause they believe will help make America a stronger, more equitable place to live and work.
Pfizer, J&J, Merck and others, will you step up? Anyone own a subsidiary that makes hand warmers?