At the time of this update, the Occupy Wall Street is approaching it’s 3 month anniversary. Yet as our nation’s attention spans, destroyed as it is by soundbite media, wanes, people are bringing the old questions and confusions back to the conversation. While many are reintroducing doubt inducing talking points as a form of outright derision or mockery, others are still legitimately confused, largely due to the fact that the media outlets that should be educating and reporting in earnest are unfortunately owned by the people who would rather see the movement go away. So to do my part and continue to support the movement, I would like to introduce “Occupy Wall Street for Dummies” to answer some questions (if you have legitimate questions you need answered, put it in the comments section, and I’ll update the post)
1) Who are they? What do they want?
One of the biggest complaints/questions surrounds the percieved/stereotyped lack of organization and clearly defined demands of the movement. The movement calls itself the 99%, referring to the problem of economic inequality in this nation (more of this to follow). They don’t claim any leadership figures, but rather operate through a system of general assemblies that rule through democratic consensus. This system is not as flawed as the mockery makes it out to be. They do have process rules to prevent anarchy, and they ensure that everyone who wants to have a say gets to participate. The lack of a single leader prevents the movement both from being hijacked by a personal agenda and from the character assassination that we are so prone to today.
If you were to ask to have a conversation with occupiers, you would know exactly what they stand for. The movement also has a clear message that is easy to find, and is well informed and easy to understand, and focuses around getting the money out of politics, holding Wall Street accountable for its part in destroying our economy (like this and this), ending the corporate personhood that steals free speech from the American Citizen, and fixing the economic inequalities that create a number of social problems in this nation. The semantic attack has been that they don’t have clear demands, but that is because this is not a terrorist/hostage situation, it’s an exercise of free speech intended to end a social inequality. When the fight for civil rights occurred in the 1950’s, the righteous masses did not present a list of demands and then leave as soon as they got to choose which bus seats they sat in. Instead they fought for more abstract and less concrete goals like “equality” and “integration.” Occupy Wall street is doing the same, demanding economic equality in the spirit of the 1950’s struggle for racial equality. And before someone draws offense in the comparison between Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights work and Occupy Wall Street, it needs to be remembered that Dr. King’s final work was to begin a campaign against economic inequality.
2) Aren’t their economic problems their fault? Can’t they just work harder to get money and gain economic equality?
The discussion over the problems of economic inequality isn’t just hippie liberal rhetoric, it’s based in sound economic principles and It’s F@#%ing Science! Right now, wealth inequality in America is more severe than some third world countries, but is even worse than that of ancient Rome. The main predictor of wealth is the wealth of your father, real upward mobility is disappearing. In addition, economic inequality destroys our physical and mental health, and leads to increases in drug an alcohol abuse, crime, and other social problems. It’s easy to call the protesters lazy, but in truth, If they could work, they would. Their message is that they don’t have the meaningful work society once promised. And they are right, they have been losing their opportunities to succeed. And unless you were born rich, so have you, and the problem is getting worse.
3) Will it really work?
I think one of the driving forces behind this question is the fact that it is an active protest that hasn’t had instant results. There have been indications that the movement is having an effect. Public support is rallying behind the movement. Amendments are being introduced to remove the corporate personhood that has stolen the voice of the American Citizen, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as in individual cities. Opposition groups are even admitting their fears over the fact that the Occupation is working. In recognition of the power of the movement, Time has even listed the Occupiers as part of the archetypal Protester it named Person of the Year.
This style of protest is not new, and there is a historical precedence for its success. In 1932, WWI veterans marched on D.C. so they wouldn’t have to wait 20 years to get their wartime bonuses. They occupied an area of Washington, were forcibly removed, met with violence in a showdown against police and the army, but continued on. They eventually got their demands, but it took 3 years. The fight for civil rights in this country also used occupations (aka sit-ins), marches, and boycotts to make their point. Though we like to epitomize the movement through the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., the truth is this successful struggle took 13 years to complete. A couple of months is not a realistic gauge to judge the success of this movement.
This nation abolished slavery, fought for gender and racial equality, and is currently succeeding in its struggle for sexual equality. Each of those movements has had its naysayers, each one was told they were foolish, or even dangerous, for going against the social grain, and yet they have had their successes. This movement also has staying power. It’s been going on for three months, and that takes stamina.
The more frightening question is: “What happens if it fails?” As it stands the wealth gap is expanding, and the middle class is disappearing. The standard dream of owning and affording a house is disappearing. Jobs are being shipped over seas, and there is a push to hold the remaining jobs hostage with the demands of removing the worker protections and bargaining power so that the choice becomes: send the jobs to third world workers, or treat Americans like third world citizens.
4) Why don’t they lobby politicians to reach their goals?
Part of the reason this is necessary is that the lobbying system is broken. In 1886, comments made in the Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad have been interpreted as giving corporations personhood, including First Amendment rights. The 1976 Supreme Court Case Buckley V. Valeo, ruled that money equals free speech. Finally, the recent Supreme Court Case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, removed limitations on the use of money during election campaigns. As a result, instead of 1 person 1 vote, we have a situation of 1 dollar 1 vote, with corporate interests holding most of the money. The average citizen no longer has a say in the political process, and as the wealth gap increases, so does the inability of citizens to be heard. Asking us to play this game is like asking a person to play baseball in a league where only one of the teams is allowed to use steroids. Rather than try to fight in an unfair system, the movement is restoring fairness to the game.
5) Isn’t the movement just a bunch of drum circle playing hippies and anarchists who don’t want to get jobs?
As found in new polls and in my own visit, The movement is diverse and representative of the American population. The movement is comprised of health workers, union members, artists, military veterans, and other professionals. As for the 12% of the Occupiers who are unemployed, part of the message is that the unemployment is not voluntary. People want to work, it is a human need. But when corporations are outsourcing job after job overseas, the real jobs for skilled and educated citizens are gone, and the unemployment is involuntary. In addition, even though the reported national unemployment rate is 9%, it has been argued that this does not reflect the true unemployment rate, and a more realistic rate may be 12% nationally, making the Occupiers representative of the American people.
6) Do Occupiers hate America?
To expand upon the thoughts of Paul K. Chappell, when you are a child, this nation is your parent, raising and protecting your. Once you have come of age and are a fully empowered citizen, this dynamic changes, and it is now your responsibility to become the parent, and the nation is under your care and guidance. A good and loving parent will correct a child when that child is misbehaving, but in doing so, that parent still loves the child. It is the irresponsible and negligent parent who allows the child to run around uncontrolled and hurting others. The Occupiers love this country, they just do so responsibly.
7) Aren’t the Occupiers wasting the money of working taxpayers because of the police overtime and other resources they are taking up?
First of all, as mentioned before, the unemployment rates of the Occupiers more or less matches that of the nation, so the majority of Occupiers are working taxpayers. On top of that, much of the police response to the Occupiers has been excessive and unnecessary, prompting official investigations, and UN claims of civil rights violations. Bloomberg has declared the NYPD to be his own private army, and his army has used such taxpayer money wasting tactics as surrounding a peaceful protest with riot police, and arresting journalists for covering police actions. The cities could choose to save money by having a more reasonable and cooperative response. Also, as a friend recently pointed out, every major social change in this country has had a financial cost, but the benefit of justice and freedom has always outweighed that cost. Finally, there is a saying that has been popular throughout this decade: “Freedom isn’t Free”
8. How can I help?
One of the biggest ways you can help is to just show up to one of the protest sites in New York, LA, Oakland, Portland, DC, etc. If you are on the fence, show up and ask open ended non-judgemental questions, or just have real conversations with some of the other protesters. One of the things I have found reading people’s accounts is that people who go in with their minds made up one way or another will only see what they want to see, but those who go with an open mind will have a fascinating experience.
If you are supportive, check out and participate in the general assemblies and work groups. These assemblies are open democracies. You get to have a vote in what happens. You may not get what you want, but you get a say, and that is the essence of democracy.As for work groups, if you have an interest or specialty, these groups allow you to use them for the cause.
If you can’t make it to a protest, as many can’t because of restrictions on available time and money, there are other ways to help. Educate yourself on the movement using alternative media (corporate media isn’t the best source of fair and balanced information on an anti-corporate movement), and act as a relay to help educate others. One of my favorite sources is the Ustream live broadcast, such as produced by Tim at The Other 99.
Help support the movement through donations. Information on what is needed and where to send it can be found here.
Find new and inventive ways to support the occupation. Occupy your own front lawn in solidarity. Adopt occupier symbolism in solidarity. Or make something up on your own (as long as it’s non-violent) as this movement is about change and innovation.