For years, when parents didn’t want to tell their kids that it was time to put the family dog to sleep, they would say they were sending it to a farm in the country.

In time, the youngsters recognized that there was no farm, the dogs were dead and the world is a harsh place. It’s part of growing up.

So imagine my surprise Monday to read that in Maine, such a farm actually does exist.

According to a story by Sun Journal reporter Lindsay Tice, Mickey, a 19-year-old, slightly senile poodle, and Sweetie, a one-eyed Pekingese who was accustomed to being spoon fed, and maybe a dozen other dogs have, over the past four years, found a home on a farm in Winthrop, where they receive the loving care of Stephen Smith and his wife, Nancy Lever.

If there really is a farm in the country for old dogs, what else could be true?

For a long time, I’ve been waiting for a populist movement to emerge in this country to balance the power of wealthy interests that control the economy and the political establishment. Instead, I’ve seen those interests grow more powerful, while the rest of the country declines, with the luckiest among us having a few dollars to tuck into a 401(k), hoping to catch a few crumbs from the Wall Street excesses.

The four-week-old Occupy Wall Street protests look like that movement may have finally arrived.

Starting in New York and spreading to cities all across the country, including Portland, mostly young protesters are standing up against an economic system that puts the comfort of 1 percent of the population ahead of the other 99 percent.

The numbers here aren’t that impressive — daily demonstrations can still be counted in the two digits. But they have an enthusiasm that is usually reserved in these parts for locally grown produce, and they have a staying power that sets them apart from other causes that have come and gone.

They are getting hammered for lacking a coherent political program, but so what? This is a social movement of people who don’t see any future for themselves in the current system. It’s a cry of pain, and the way things are going, a movement like that can only grow.

Its strength can be tracked by the response it is getting. First the protesters were ignored, then dismissed.

That sound you hear is not a helicopter, it is the “tut-tut-tutting” of my colleagues on the editorial board, who wrote that spouting “tired slogans” was no substitute for “real reform.”

And on Friday, Press Herald letter writer Dennis Twomey of Old Orchard Beach quipped that these protesters wouldn’t know a “hedge fund from a hedgehog.”

He may be right, but if that’s the test, not many Americans would pass. I don’t know enough about economics to know whether the country would really be better off without the Federal Reserve, as some activists with Occupy Maine suggest. But I do know one thing.

We do have a Federal Reserve now, and the economy stinks. And we have a political system in which no party presents a plausible idea for fixing what’s wrong, or a strategy capable of carrying it out if they did come up with a plan.

So the Occupy Maine kids, with their drums and face paint, may be right or wrong about the Federal Reserve, but they are right about a much larger point. An economy that can’t promise a future for its young people and a political system that can’t deliver on its promises won’t survive.

The latest and most dangerous phase of reaction to the movement is coming on now. The occupiers are getting loved.

Big-time liberals are expressing sympathy for the protests and publications are calling them the “tea party of the Democrats.” If the occupiers are looking for a cautionary tale, the tea party would be a good place to start.

Born out of anger at the cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington, the tea party is now a bought-and-paid-for, wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. The movement that started in protest to the bail out of big banks now devotes its efforts to making sure that no bailed-out banker ever pays a dollar more in taxes. The sorry state of the debate in Washington makes cozying up to the Democrats a bad idea.

Everyone knows two things about the Obama jobs plan: One is that Republicans in Congress, including our two moderate senators, would never let it pass.

The other is that if, by some miracle, it become law, it wouldn’t change what’s really wrong. It would ease the suffering of some people, which is why I support it, but investing a little in roads, extending unemployment benefits and preventing teacher layoffs would not dramatically change the trajectory of an economy that is not producing enough opportunity.

So, the occupiers are in the right place — out in the streets.

And if the economy gets grimmer for more people, these protesters could get some company.

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-64810 or at: [email protected]