Many of us have mixed feelings about Occupy Wall Street. I personally get excited at any signs of life in America’s normally apathetic citizenry, but have been confused and maybe a bit turned off by the festival atmosphere and the initial incoherence of the movement and its participants. We expect sound bytes: where’s the political platform that I can fit on a bumper sticker, or in a pithy, provocative tweet? Instead we get a cacophony of clashing, inarticulate opinions to the beat of drums and peace songs. And what the hell is this “We are the 99%” all about?
But you know, more I look, the more I listen, the more I realize that dismissing the entire movement because these individual voices seem unimpressive is like dismissing twitter because no one wants to know what you had for breakfast. Mass protests are like the screen on which you read this post: the picture emerges in the combination of all the individual pixels. The global Occupy Movement is a pointillist painting, each protester shivering in her tent right now is a dot of color, and all together you have a dramatic picture condemning universal frustration with economic inequality–inequality driven by corporate greed and unaddressed by representative democracy’s standard channels.
The Movement is Reason Enough
Occupy Wall Street will be two months old in two days. It takes some serious organization and dedication to maintain an encampment and to keep spirits up in the face of serious, sustained opposition. These folks consciously choose to risk injury, insult, arrest and lost opportunities and suffer from cold, boredom, frustration, and the lack of warm meals and facilities. However the media chooses to portray the movement, this is no Woodstock. I feel like they’ve at least earned the right to be heard through their determination.
Most of us have democracy handed to us on a platter. Maybe a couple of times per year we go to a local polling station, have a convenient menu of multiple-choice or true-false options presented to us, and in a few minutes we’ve done our duties as members of a representative democracy. But who picks what goes on the menu? And what happens if this manifestation of democracy doesn’t represent you? We can call or write our MPs or congresspersons. Or we can take to the streets. As Emerson said, “Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.” (and this regarding his protest of the contemporary American genocide of the Cherokee nation known to us as the Trail of Tears)
“We are the 99%.”
This is the main sound byte to emerge from Occupy Wall Street, and it’s as powerful as any campaign slogan prepared on a ten million-dollar budget (this started as a free tumblr).
I’m going to let a couple of graphs talk for me here (click on the images to see the source articles):
Share of wealth held by the Bottom 99% and Top 1% in the United States, 1922-2007, from article by UCSC Professor.
From the Economist
The message is less about policy, and more about setting priorities. The protesters are saying to their government and to the wealthy: “We’ve gone along with your schemes for long enough now. We, the 99%, are tired of offering our backs to carry the richest 1%.”
Where do you stand?
I’m a Quaker now, and no longer Mormon, for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that the Society of Friends have generally stood on the right side of history, even when things were tremendously unpopular. Quakers fought against slavery a century before it was popular to do so in Britain, which was another half-century before Americans abolished it. Mormons were slow to support Civil Rights, while Quakers were helping to lay the groundwork in the Fifties. I went to a Quaker meeting in LA this weekend and listened to OccupyLA protesters and fellow Friends ask for bottled water and for people to help train protesters in peaceful conflict resolution. One guy was tired, haggard. These are not clueless, partiers with nothing else to do.
Occupy Wall Street is history in the making. And even if it fails utterly, I want to stand on the right side history. I want to say that when shit got serious, I wasn’t on the sidelines. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do, just how I’m going to support this movement, but I’m in.