Coming to a Decision on Occupy Wall Street

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.


  1. My own opinion is that we need the Occupy Wall Street movement simply because there are people like Michelle Bachmann in th world.

    I was watching the Today show a week or two ago (my usual background nosie while I’m working…when I have work), and in the midst of an interview there, Ms. Bachmann was complaining about, among other things, the unfairness of the rich having to pay so much in taxes. This is nothing new, of course; we hear this from a lot of people, a lot of the time.

    The shocking thing (to me, at least) was when she went on to complain (whine, actually) about how unfair it is that the poor don’t have to pay any taxes. My first thought was, “Oh, no, she didn’t just say that.” It’s a fallacy*, of course, but she did say that. And while I haven’t heard too many other people say it, I suspect that a lot of folks who make a lot of money have the same attitude, which pretty much comes out to expecting the poor to support the rich in this country and around the world.

    It seems to me that the Occupy movement is standing up to that and saying, “No. And, hell no.”

    *Re: the fallacy of the idea that the poor don’t pay taxes: there are sales taxes, of course, and then for those of us who are self-employed, there’s a little thing called the self-employment tax. Due to the self-employment tax, I have to pay every year even though most years I don’t make enough money to even be required to file if I were working for someone else rather than myself.

  2. Writing this blog post is one way to support it. I haven’t done much myself, other than retweet. I don’t know if I “should” do more, but it’s what I have to give right now. I figure if I can do what little I can to convince the people in my closest circles, just by linking to facts and figures, or during in-person discussions or debates, then that’s something.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful post. The events of this morning will spur more people to take part (or start thinking more about doing so) even in small ways.

    We may not see a shift towards more radical forms of democracy, but there’s a growing recognition of the failures of our representative system. I think the Occupy movement’s most important contribution is that elevated level of awareness, and its attempts to model consensus on a large-group level.

    I feel moved, too, to speak out more than I have been, and to decide what actions are appropriate for me in this historic time.

  4. Will

    I liked Thomas Sowell’s comments regarding the OWS movement as follows:

    The current Occupy Wall Street movement is the best illustration to date of what President Barack Obama’s America looks like. It is an America where the lawless, unaccomplished, ignorant and incompetent rule. It is an America where those who have sacrificed nothing pillage and destroy the lives of those who have sacrificed greatly.

    It is an America where history is rewritten to honor dictators, murderers and thieves. It is an America where violence, racism, hatred, class warfare and murder are all promoted as acceptable means of overturning the American civil society.

    It is an America where humans have been degraded to the level of animals: defecating in public, having sex in public, devoid of basic hygiene. It is an America where the basic tenets of a civil society, including faith, family, a free press and individual rights, have been rejected. It is an America where our founding documents have been shredded and, with them, every person’s guaranteed liberties.

    It is an America where, ultimately, great suffering will come to the American people, but the rulers like Obama, Michelle Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, liberal college professors, union bosses and other loyal liberal/Communist Party members will live in opulent splendor.

    It is the America that Obama and the Democratic Party have created with the willing assistance of the American media, Hollywood , unions, universities, the Communist Party of America, the Black Panthers and numerous anti-American
    foreign entities.

    Barack Obama has brought more destruction upon this country in four years than any other event in the history of our nation, but it is just the beginning of what he and his comrades are capable of.

  5. John

    Moderator’s note: I decided to let Will’s comment through, even though it seems like a cut and paste polemic that doesn’t address the content of this post directly. This is an attempt to pull the discussion away from specific issues by using inflammatory polemics. We normally call this sort of commenter a troll, and I encourage you all not to feed him.

    Will, I invite you to use your own words to actually engage my original post (there’s is not one item in your comment that suggests that you even read this post), and to prove that you’re capable of respectful, intelligent engagement.

  6. lama21

    this is a cool website!

    john, i love how you try to visually back up the reasons for ‘occupy’ via graphs, tables – all in layperson’s terms so i can understand! awesome, dude.

    and in typical form, of COURSE those stats show what they show. it is no surprise ‘occupy’ happened. makes me sad, but i saw it comin’.

    i think it’s horrible how regular -joeblowlocal-people (like myself) have been left behind and abandoned – marooned by those who often ‘promise’ to remain rigidly faithful to us supporters in their causes: politically, economically, emotionally, and in their damned orgy of stock exchanging goods.

    and for too long, ‘they’ have played us – yes! we continue to be faithful to them, but they screw us over with half ass responses, no real commitment (though they always want ours – how else would they have succeeded?); and never really have time to ‘thank’ or be with all of us who gave them their economic base all these years! all while they enjoy ‘excess’ elsewhere and outside, away from ‘us’ — their true home in all that enriches them.

    You’ll never see one of those a**holes return in true, righteous shame to ‘us’ – they’re too far gone to make the right kinda U-turn – it is the way the world works (we are nowhere near true intelligence, as we are still animals that abandon and screw over anyone that is truly good because it’s just too much work to actually keep those home ties). The blend of unintelligence, privilege, and superficial do that – years later after our commitment to them, they shit on us. And think nothing of it.

    i’m an old man now that has seen a lot – and it’s a cycle we will see over and over again in years to come.


    sudden amnesia that we were their most powerful reasons for their success?

    that we were there from the beginning?

    that we had been faithful and hopeful in ‘them’ (though they had not always been so with ‘us’) because they lived some form of the American dream, upper tier that has always been outside of my own reach?

    all ‘they’ wait for is their next dirty whore dumb ass that (the glitzy kind that gives head for the moment until one of the two finds another dirty whore – it’s no rocket science).

    i hate admitting that often, i have been the joblowlocal that allowed this treatment of me all these years as a consumer, taxpayer.

    well, this time, ‘we’ didn’t sit and take it. ‘we’ showed out true colors (not me personally, but the ‘other 99%’ representatives of me – hence, i say ‘we’).

    Blogs like yours make me feel so empowered, not alone, and hopeful that people are truly thinking, deeply looking inside them and contemplating.

    in reading all your posts, there is definitely longstanding substance here! i’ll tell the wife and kids, grandkids, great grandkids to read you – i’ll bet you’re a great dad and amazing husband, man. u truly have best integrity.

    we need more family men like you (if ur married and all – but ya look so young – like 26 or somethin’ – that’s a compliment, dude!).

    i’m 65, still married to the same gal 39 years,

    way to go, John, on this website! keep it up!

    –lama (immigrant Cali American who is ready to find more intellectual in my old life)

    ps–my sons and grandsons always say ‘dude’. so, writing it and saying it is my latest neat thing to use as i’m relearning and rebuilding who i am.

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