"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Saturday, November 12, 2011

OF Occupy Wall Street & Those "Lazy, Misinformed" Protestors

Like everybody not concerned with Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage, I've been thinking a lot about Occupy Wall Street lately, and the state of our union. And I don't have as many answers as I do questions:

  • What's up with these people who keep insisting that the Occupy movement is about demanding a handout?
  • What's up with politicians claiming to represent Christian values, but showing through their actions/legislation/rhetoric that they hate people?
  • What's up with with the idol worship of capitalism and the fairy tale that is the "free market" system?
  • What's up with all the anti-immigrant and anti-poor people vitriol?
  • What's up with all the anti-intellectualism?
  • What's up with America? 
 ...and most importantly...What's up with Michele Bachmann's crazy eyes?

That first question in particular really persists for me. The irksome idea that the people occupying Zucotti Park, or closing the Port of Oakland are really just doing all this unnecessary rabble-rousing because they are whiners who can find nothing better to fill their time--like 1) taking a shower, 2) getting a job, and 3) "sucking it up," as it were, like hard-working adults. 

I don't know what's the most troubling aspect of criticisms like these? Should I be more upset that they are often issuing from the mouths of working-class people who are, themselves, marginalized by the systems and status quo they so fetishize? Or should I be more disturbed by the fact that criticisms like these actually belie a deeper, more pernicious societal distrust of democratic processes like the right of the people to assemble peacefully and demand change? Whereby we see protest and picketing and occupying as something only 60's-nostalgic hippies and nit-wit college kids do? Whereby we say, hold on America: you are not allowed to speak or organize until you've provided the inherently-biased-corporately-owned media with a bulleted, and footnoted list of grievances and demands?

How dare they open their mouths to speak without a figure-head and a five point plan!

How dare they start a national dialogue on income inequality, staggering personal debt, and corrupt K-street lobbyists stealing the legislative process away from the American people!

How dare they talk about things like corporate corruption and monopolization--because, isn't Walmart splendid? We need our cheap toilet paper, America! We need our Kathy Ireland sweaters knitted by a 10-year-old in India! We need our Comcast customer service delivered to us by a rep in the Philippines!

Corporations are job creators! Corporations are people! Wealth trickles down! But I digress...

Back to my original point here: the OWS movement has virtually nothing to do with a handout, ladies and gentleman.

If I could personally sit across the table from naysayers or Conservatives like those who've come out in support of the mocking, anti-OWS movement called "We are the 53%"--I'd tell them, respectfully, this:

1) The Occupy movement is not about a handout, it is about justice. As someone who supports OWS, I feel like our government and economic systems should support people who, like you, have: worked 3 jobs, paid for your own schooling, and did not ask for any help along the way. More power to you! I think you should be rewarded and be able to keep what you worked so hard to earn. But the truth is, our current systems don't reward that at all. In fact, our current economic model is increasingly against you--the dude in the middle. Look at the statistics on income tax for individuals versus tax for corporations. And this is just one aspect of the overall way the middle-class is being sucked dry, eradicated to a mere footnote of post-WWII America. The fact that the 53%-ers are telling themselves (and others) to stop whining and "suck it up" tells me that they've decided--ignorantly, or stubbornly, like good little worker bees--to lay prostrate, willingly, before the altar of a disinterested idol at their own expense and peril. If you think American big business is here to benefit the community and treat its workers with dignity, you are sadly mistaken.

2) To believe that the protesters are there because they are not professional people, or are lazy and don't want/need jobs is astoundingly untrue. Of course there are always going to be those people present at protests or demonstrations who are there purely for the drama or fun of it--the unwitting bandwagoners. This is as true for the Occupy movement as it is for the Tea Party supporters who descended on the capitol last year. But I don't think it's fair for the media--both Conservative and Liberal--to paint a portrait of the participants as ignorant, iPhone-bearing, privileged crybabies who want to feel like they're participating in a botched nouveau version of the 1960's.

I am myself representative of many of the people I met at Occupy Atlanta: I am a Master's-level degreed professional, underemployed, facing hefty student loan payments for my education, and discouraged at the lack of prospects for anything beyond working 2+, part-time, service-sector jobs (if I'm very, very lucky).  

Look, I want a job! Let me clarify that, I'd like to be fully employed. I'm one of the fortunate few with the privilege of a part-time job. And further, I don't expect anyone but myself to pay for the student loans I took out with the full understanding that nothing is certain or promised to me except death and taxes. I support OWS not because I want a Wall Street-style bailout for my personal debt, but because I want a future for my daughter that doesn't make it necessary for her to become a indentured-servant-debt-slave to survive or in order to realize her natural right to an education while the privileged of our society reap interest on her hopes and her toil.

I'll work 2 or 3 part-time jobs if I have to, and I will, and I have before. All pride to the wind, folks. But it would be nice if I only had to work one job in order to pay my bills and provide for my daughter. Does that make me an over-privileged, spoiled jerk to hope for a future where my hard work and education results in a 40 hour work week, benefits I can afford, a modest savings, and God-forbid--two weeks of paid vacation? Doesn't look like that kind of pipe dream is going to happen for me, and millions of Americans like me any time soon. Here is the latest employment summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and as expected--things are bleak. And that summary doesn't even include the story of the "underemployed" such as myself, which represents an even larger sector of the population. And that summary doesn't even include discouraged workers or those who are ineligible to claim unemployment!

3) The last thing I would tell the mockers of Occupy Wall Street is this: instead of useless cynicism or passive mockery, why don't you try activism? Why don't you embrace optimism? Empowerment? Change? Disagree with my political opinions? That's totally fine. That's democracy. That's America. But do something about it besides posting a snarky comment on Facebook.

Of course there are issues with OWS, it's an imperfect process like anything new and different. But considering History--and yes, by that I mean the fruits of the 60's (which include civil rights, the desegregation of schools, and women's rights--all generally considered positive social changes)--I simply ask you to give it time. Let it figure itself out without your prejudice or the confines of outdated modes of operation. 

The kids are alright.

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