Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quote of the Day & My Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

This is a bit of a long one, but it’s worth it.

So what do the 99% want? That's a common complaint among the media class, many of whom seem incapable of covering any news story that can't be reduced to a quick headline or an easily deconstructed ideology. The Occupy movement is messy, it's unfocused, it's dangerous, it's scary, it's full of anarchists in black masks throwing gasoline cans at cops, it's hippies with bongoes, it's communists, it's…it's…
It's frustration. It's millions of people around the world who are sick and tired of feeling isolated. It's a direct reaction to the extremist individualism and austerity and "me first" ideology that has been so dominant in our discourse of late – the "if you don't have a job it's your fault" that seems to be on the lips of every Tea Partier and Republican presidential candidate – the notion of "I'm rich, so you should be able to get rich, and if you can't, well I shouldn't pay for it." People who have been unemployed for 2 years even though they thought they were doing everything right, following the rules, being good citizens – they're sick of that kind of rhetoric. People losing their houses because they were scammed into an unsustainable mortgage by predatory lenders don't want to hear that they shouldn't have signed that contract, and they should bail themselves out.
People also don't want to hear that kind of rhetoric because the people spouting it only point the judgment finger one way. A single mother struggling to pay bills and hold down two jobs who gets laid off and ends up living on the street with her kids shouldn't rely on the State to help her back on her feet. Yet a bank that bets on shady mortgages and ends up on the brink of collapse – that bank is deserving of billions of dollars in tax money. The notion of "shared sacrifice" always seems to be spouted by rich people who don't want to pay higher taxes on their foie gras and corporate jets, but think cutting Medicaid spending is just fine.  
And that single mother, and the man who has been unemployed for two years, and spends every waking hour sending out thousands of resumes, and who works his tail off trying to get a job – they don't want to hear about shared sacrifice. The college graduate drowning in student loans who can't find a job – she doesn't want to hear about shared sacrifice. The veteran living on the street doesn't want to hear about shared sacrifice. Especially not now, at a time when corporate profits are at their highest level – and wages at their lowest – in decades. And when Congress is at its lowest approval rating ever because the majority party in the House would prefer to let the economy tank in order to defeat a President in an election a year from now than do anything about jobs, and the other party is the picture of impotence.  
Thus, the grievances are many, but the impulse to organize has commonalities. Neither the government nor the "free market" seem to be capable of fixing anything, and what's more, they seem to be in bed together, with a shared goal of making the rich and powerful more rich and more powerful at the expense of everyone else. The 99% are being screwed on so many levels that it's a wonder it took this long to get everyone out onto the streets.  
But now that they're out there, the goal should be simple. Communication. The consensus model of decision-making that has developed from this movement is messy and time-consuming, but it should serve as a model for building a new spirit of community and social consciousness. This is a leaderless movement that spontaneously organized, and its participants are as diverse as their grievances. And yet, they're able to come together, sit down, talk, and make decisions. Because at the heart of this movement is a recognition that the only way to win is to work together, and that any socially conscious, humane, truly democratic society is one in which each person recognizes the humanity in every other person, and recognizes the need for mutual cooperation and respect.
Thus, the lasting legacy of the Occupy movement, even if it doesn't succeed in changing any major laws, may be this notion of communal responsibility - this notion that we have to talk to one another in order to create a functioning society. If we can't depend on the powers that be, then we have to be able to depend on one another. Perhaps, then, the best bit of truth that comes out of the Occupy movement is simply this: that the tired argument over government vs. the "free market" is actually a false choice, and only by working together can the 99% can create a new, more humane, more democratic system within the shell of the old. If we can reach that kind of collective realization, then we'll have really made significant progress.
-- Ethan Jones from the post Thoughts on the Occupy movement

I haven’t written about the Occupy movement because I honestly haven’t followed it that closely.  In fact, the most that I have heard about the movement has come from bits and pieces of the Glenn Beck show, and while I like Beck I take his opinion on this matter with a grain of salt (he seems to see communists and evil progressives hiding behind every corner).  Other than that I read Steve’s post Sounding Off on Occupy Wall Street and have heard a smidgen of stories on the movement on NPR, so needless to say I am not an expert. 

Based on everything that I have read and heard however, I think that Ethan has summed things up pretty well with his analysis above.  I do not believe that this is an evil movement orchestrated by communists and progressives to destroy the capitalist system.  That having been said, it is clear that there are some incredibly unintelligent people in these protests that don’t understand a lick about economics or politics or history.  There are also folks there simply for the drugs.  But at its core I think this is a movement of people who are simply fed up with corporate greed and the inability of Washington, DC to accomplish anything.  It truly is the mirror image of the Tea Party movement.  And just like the Tea Party it is comprised of a multitude of different people with different agendas.  Also like the Tea Party it has its fair share of nutjobs and crazies that make the entire movement look bad. 

But also like the Tea Party, the Occupy movement has some very legitimate grievances.  In fact I tend to find myself personally agreeing and disagree with both movements, depending on the specific issue.  The fact is that we are taxed too much and that it is completely wrong that only the ultra-rich hold any real power in this country.  The average folks are getting squeezed and screwed by those in power and that stick to which we are holding the short end, is being handed to us by the elite and powerful on the left and the right.  At the end of the day, the powerful tend to only care about their power and not the people.  Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are the people trying to stand up and make their voices heard.  This is a very good thing.

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