Barbaric Yawping


The Occupy Wall Street logo, taken straight from their website.

Granted, I have been crazy-busy and not blogging as much as I should have been, so I haven’t commented on the new craze that’s sweeping the nation, the Occupy movement. But there’s another reason I haven’t provided any commentary on this yet, and it’s quite frankly that I don’t know what I think about it.

In case you live in a cave, the Occupy Wall Street movement started about a month ago and has spread throughout the country so that we now have people Occupying DC and Austin and Charlottesville (and many, many other locations), causing much controversy and confusion. The movement appears to have come from a place of deep frustration with our government for allowing the financial industry and big corporations to essentially make life miserable for the majority of us while their top executives rake in the cash: greed at the expense of 99% of the other citizens of this country. And that’s something I agree with, frankly – I think our government needs to take a HUGE step back from its corporate ties and re-evaluate that whole “of the people, by the people, for the people” thing. We all should be ticked off at the crap the big banks and massive corporations are allowed to get away with at the expense of the public. But the Occupy movement is…less than cohesive, shall we say. Everyone seems to have their own agenda and their own gripes, some more legitimate than others. There is not, at present, a unified statement of purpose or demands (though apparently they’re working on that, and the democratic system the Wall Street protestors have implemented to make sure everyone’s voice is heard is actually kind of fascinating in and of itself).

Given all of that, I just don’t know what to think, so you get my conflicting brain gunk flung onto the screen, and hopefully those of you with more analytical minds and the ability to actually form opinions about things can chime in below and give us your two cents. So…

Seriously? This guy's a dillweed. He does not represent the better part of the Occupy movement. (Source: Flickr user Bob Jagendorf)

On the one hand…

The Occupy protestors are just all over the place. Some of them want to end our military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some just want to cut military spending. Some want to end corporate personhood. Some want to tax the wealthy at ever higher rates. Some want free college education for everyone. Some want free healthcare for everyone. Some seem to want life handed to them on a silver platter (though I have no idea where they think the money for all that is going to come from). Kevin of Thousandaire did a great post refuting one protestor’s reasons for her involvement: she’s unemployed, uninsured, and has student loan debt (though she has a great apartment, somehow), and she’s pissed off about that. None of these things, he points out, are problems that can be solved by Wall Street, unless she happens to have a financial degree so that they can give her a job. If she wants to protest, she should be protesting her college or Congress, he says. He has a point. It is certainly your right to ask your government for health insurance or to wipe out your student loan debt, but Wall Street can’t help much with that. In his post, Kevin also includes a photo of another protestor holding a sign that says, “A job is a right! Capitalism doesn’t work.” And that’s a statement I wholeheartedly disagree with – a job is NOT a right; it’s a position you earn with hard work, maybe some experience and/or education, and possibly a little luck. That’s not to say I believe our current unemployment rates aren’t a problem – they are – but they have nothing to do with whether or not a job is a basic human right. That goes against the Great American Dream – which I know is a myth, but it’s a good one, one people still firmly believe in and therefore make true. In fact, people who believe in that dream have started a counter-movement, which they’re calling We Are the 53%. Men and women around this country have worked their butts off to pay off debts, get good jobs, start their own businesses, and succeed without help from anyone else. A number of these amazing people are ticked off by the sense of entitlement that many of the Occupiers seem to have. Their opinion is that the protestors should work harder to find a job or make their own job, to get off their collective duff and make their lives better themselves instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them. Being a hardworking, busy woman myself, I understand this feeling.

This, on the other hand, disturbs me. (Source: Flickr user casey)

On the other hand…

As I mentioned earlier, we as a country have a right to be royally pissed off at the way corporate greed is invalidating the Great American Dream. There is an unbelievable gap between the wages of average workers and top-tier executives: in 2010, the Institute for Policy Studies estimates that the pay ratio of executives of big corporations to their workers was 325:1, far higher than other high-income countries in the world. And in 2007, before the economy came tumbling down around our ears, that ratio was 525:1. Most of the big big banks – you know, the big banks that needed our tax money to bail them out? – are reporting record profits. The banks and big business are doing what they’ve always done – finding loopholes to make more money, and paying politicians either directly (campaign funding) or indirectly (stock options, endorsement, I would even believe money in offshore accounts) to make laws that continue to benefit them – even if it ultimately destroys our economy, and even if it ultimately means the majority of the people in this country suffer. We should be mad as hell. And the Occupiers – some of them, at least – are mad for all the right reasons.

Will they accomplish anything? Only time will tell. It’s hard to know exactly what they might be able to do without actually defining what it is they hope to accomplish. But if nothing else, the Occupy movement has people talking. They’re talking about what it’s all about…and getting mad. And an angry, informed public is NOT something that Congress wants to see right now, just a few weeks from an election. It’s certainly not something either party wants people to be talking about a year from now, right before a Presidential election. So whether or not you support the Occupiers, do your research on our economy. Ask hard questions. Talk to other people about it. Make your politicians squirm. GET MAD. If enough people get angry enough, maybe we can finally demand some accountability.

Because this could be a controversial post, I feel the need to declare that I won’t tolerate bad behavior in the comments. If you want to disagree with me or each other, that’s fine – just do so respectfully. Name-calling and trolling will be deleted from the comments if such things even make it through moderation to begin with.


5 thoughts on “Occupy…Something?

  1. Ok, I’m going to do my very best not to get hot-headed here, because I think the most important thing that can come out of the Occupy movement is a tendency toward more discussion amongst the citizens of this country. (I know it may not seem like it on the surface, but I can get pretty heated sometimes, especially right now around this particular topic.) I am 100% in support of this movement. This is a movement about the American people being sick and tired of being ignored, of being trampled upon, of being used for the good of a select few.

    I take issue with the argument that the Occupiers are not unified (not just by you, but the argument in general). I read a couple of weeks ago their declaration ( On superficial reading, yes, there are many, many issues being included. But, from where I stand, all of these issues are symptoms of one central problem: Money rules our government, not the people. That is what the Occupiers are protesting. I feel that the “They aren’t unified” argument is a distraction tactic by those who are threatened by this movement.

    As to the “We are the 53%”… most of these folks are part of the trampled upon masses, and I just don’t understand why they think they’re not. Yes, there are a few folks out there who feel “entitled” and, I agree, having a job is not a basic human right. But, you know what? When you live in a culture that screams at you your entire life that you can’t succeed without paying for an over-priced education and then takes away your ability to pay it back due to some shady decision-making by people who ARE NOT YOU, I feel like something is broken. And, to those 53%-ers who are moaning on and on about how “I have 3 jobs and barely get by and I lost my entire retirement savings in the housing bust and now I’m clawing my way back…” Are you really proud of that? You really want to spend the rest of your life working 80 hours a week working your ass off so that you can barely scrape together your rent money? That’s how you want to live?

    I don’t think I’m entitled to anything. I’m not looking for a handout, and I expect to work for what I get. But I also don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be expected to live the way I just described while 400 people horde all of the money and use that money to influence policy so that they can keep it.

    I know that the 53%-ers hear the plights of the downtrodden in the Occupy movement and all they hear is “entitlement, entitlement, entitlement!” But, when I hear the plights of the 53%ers, all I really hear is “judgement, lack of empathy, and assumptions”. And it makes me furious. Those folks who are working 80 hours a week to get by ought to be JUST AS PISSED as the rest of us.

    Also, I feel like the whole “You should be Occupying DC” or “Occupying Wall St is pointless b/c Wall St isn’t making the decisions” argument is another distraction tactic. The fact of the matter is that Occupying Wall Street is a symbolic move by the Occupiers. That’s where they want the attention to be brought – I find it a very apropos statement about the mix of government and money that they are protesting. I mean, isn’t the main statement here that Wall St does, in fact, make the rules in this country?

    As to the morons with their signs about “buy me weed” or whatever… Well, every movement is gonna have a couple morons in the mix. It is unfair to blame the movement for that.

    Also, I would like to point out how the people participating in the Occupation are behaving – very responsibly (for the most part – again, there will be one moron in every crowd who tries to ruin it for the rest of the group). They have worked hard to protect the plants and trees in the park, they have worked hard to keep the park clean. They are focused on a non-violent movement, and have stuck to that. And I think they deserve a lot of credit for that, and I think it speaks to just how serious they are about making change happen.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I have been following the OWS movement from close to the very beginning, and this is something I am quite passionate about.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Christine! I agree with you that something is broken, and I’m really glad that people are talking about it. As I said in my post, we should as a society absolutely be mad as hell about a lot of the crap that’s been going on for YEARS that has led us to this precarious economic position. And the protestors have largely been peaceful and responsible, which I think is awesome. As to their unified front…well, I have read the NYCGA declaration several times, and while it lists a number of grievances, there is no defined goal beyond sharing these grievances with others. Which begs the question, how long will they continue to protest, and to what end? Until all their grievances are addressed to their satisfaction (whatever that may mean)? They’d better be prepared to live in that park for the rest of their lives, then. Maybe this is my education background bias, but it’s hard to give an effective lesson if you don’t have specific, measurable learning outcomes for your students. How do you know what you’re going to teach and how you’re going to teach it if you don’t know what you want your students to be able to do at the end of it? So if what the protestors want is to end PACs and lobbying, or mandated full disclosure of all campaign contributions over $10,000, or something else or some combination of those things, and they’re willing to sit there until those changes are made, they need to say that. Otherwise, they appear to be without purpose – regardless of whether or not they think they are without purpose, they appear that way from the outside – and that weakens what they’re trying to do.

      1. I think we need to make a distinction between whether or not they are unified and whether or not they are with purpose – both are worthy of discussion, but I think they are different – you can have one without necessarily having the other.

        I think they are unified – the underlying message seems to be the same to me – this is supposed to be a government of the people, but right now it’s a government of the money. That is their unified front, in my opinion.

        As to the issue of purpose – I hear what you are saying. How can you measure success if you don’t know what the goal is? And while I think there is validity to that point, and it applies in a lot of aspects in life, not just education, I think it only applies here to a point. I think they’ve already had success. People are waking up, people are talking. I don’t know that the goal with what they are doing is necessarily to change one policy or two policies… but to shake people up to the idea that there is a big root to all of the wrong policies. And to stop sitting and taking it. We do have the power to make change – and allowing for the 1% to divide the 99% into manageable pieces isn’t going to be tolerated anymore. If we stick together, we can make things better for ourselves.

        Also, we have to keep in mind that this is an evolving process. The whole point is to have a meeting of the people to talk about what the important issues are and what we want to see happen with these issues. I think it’s kind of great that the people are figuring out what they want together, rather than following a couple of people who pre-decided what the movement would aim for. (I am also wary of the suggestion – not by you, but in general – that the Occupiers should adopt “sound bytes” or distill their message down to one or two main points… I feel that is ultimately an attempt to split the 99% into smaller pieces that can be easily fought and conquered. The problem here is big – no use in pretending that it isn’t.)

        And, lastly, I’m not blind to the fact that I’m a little bit of a starry-eyed optimist (ok… more than a little bit). I know reality has to make an appearance somewhere: ok, we want change – how do we make that happen in real life? But, I think that’s going to be a process. And that process will include small conversations all across the country, just like this one. Thanks for writing about this.

      2. I think, undeniably, the best thing this has done is to make people talk. And talking is really, really good for the public (and really, really scary for politicians and corporate entities). I’ve got many more hits than usual today, I would imagine because of this post – I’m really surprised there haven’t been any more comments! And I’m quite surprised my father-in-law hasn’t weighed in yet…

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