You've all heard it, you've all seen it. For the past month at the time of this post, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been staged in New York, and it has spread not only to cities around the United States, but also to cities around the world. I've been reading up a lot on the protests lately to find out where I stand on not only the issues, but in relation to the political philosophy which binds these people together.
To put it bluntly, I'm frustrated and I'm angry with politics and with politicians, but not in the same way as the Occupy protesters. They call themselves a part of the "99%" - that caste of people who don't make millions of dollars a year, who don't own stock options, who don't get big bonuses, who don't have titles like "CEO" and "President" and "Chairman." They feel like all their grievances are the fault of corporations and big businesses, that the government is letting them down by not redistributing wealth to give the poor an equal share of this country's money. They're named after the statistic which says that the top 1% of wage-earners gets all the breaks in this life, while the rest of the population gets stuck in the mud.
I know how they feel, and it's part of why I'm torn. I have essentially been unemployed for the past three-plus years. I have had jobs during that time, but they're nothing to hang my hat on and call a career: summer jobs, part-time minimum wage employment, seasonal stuff, and two-and-a-half years substitute teaching. I was part of the group of people who had reached a threshold where they stopped looking for work because the economy prevented it; where businesses turned their noses up at our resumes because they screamed "unemployed;" and where I barely had enough money to do anything, let alone pay back my student loans from my college degree or pay my fair share of rent at my parents' house.
On the one hand, I should be just as fed up and frustrated with the lack of the government to fix the economy. I should feel like risky investment with my (albeit few) tax dollars is an improper use of funds, and I should be extremely mad about government spending money it doesn't have on grandiose projects like universal healthcare when people like me can't afford basic necessities without putting ourselves in extreme debt. I get that, I really do. But I'm not part of the 99%; nor am I a one-percenter. To call myself a part of their group would be to admit that what they're doing is right. That the Occupy [Name of City] protests actually are akin to the sit-ins of the 1960s and the American Revolutionary War and the desire to get America out of Vietnam. It's not.
I went to these protests, like I blogged about a few days ago. I saw who these protesters are and watched them mill around with their signs, chant about how the economy sucks, and try to get petitions signed for this agenda or that. These protesters are the same stereotype that people always associate with a liberal agenda: people flashing peace signs, wearing tie-dye, waving rainbow flags, displaying Che Guevara and pot leaves on their t-shirts, studded with piercings and inked with tattoos. They are the old hippies from the 60s and 70s, living out the reincarnation of the Vietnam-era protests, the middle-aged who remember how cool it was when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and the young, who believe that emulating the stereotype from years gone by will somehow give their grievances meaning.
The Occupy group is disparate and they are hateful. The amount of vitriol spewed even at the "peaceful" Phoenix protest against the government, the president (and former President Bush), conservatives, liberals, police, militia, banks, the Fed, Jan Brewer, Congress, Sen. Pearce, etc. is just wrong for getting a message across. They seem to think that they operate in a vacuum - that by shouting at the moon, they'll affect changes in policy. It's not true. The Occupy group, if you ask them, will tell you that they are the epitome of "democracy in action." Democracy is more than just being the loudest in the room. It's a complex system with laws, rules, judges, elections, political parties, and lots and lots of boring activities which test the foundations of the patience and civility required by those processes.
I am not part of the so-called 99% because I believe that to effect changes - real, meaningful changes - in the way our system works, you have to work within the system. It takes dedication, principles and morals, an ability to see beyond the black-and-white of decision-making, and patience. A whole metric ton of patience. Change doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen because a few aimless people decide to yell at the world for their problems in life down the barrel of a loudspeaker. This era requires, even demands, that discourse to get anything done be civil and that it be crafted carefully. Citizens need to stand up, not to scream and shout and bash whatever they disagree with, but to play a real part in the process of democracy. To bring new ideas to the table, not chant away that we want to banish the old ones. Only then will this democracy upheld in word but not in spirit that the Occupy protesters hold so dear be truly fulfilled.