Monday, October 31, 2011

In Support of the Occupy Movement

I wholeheartedly support the Occupy Wall St (OWS) movement. I've been highly vocal in my support, and with that presence comes the obvious question: "then, what is it about?" We all know how it started - a bunch of disenfranchised wanted to "bellow" at the wealthy. Not because the "1%" have money, it is deeper than that and I would accuse anyone of trivializing OWS of deliberate reductionism much in the same way people use a straw man in a debate.

But I can appreciate that some people don't "get it." The objectives, as OWS grew and eventually went on to become a global phenomenon, were never plainly laid out for the passive observer. Such is the nature of emergent and organic cultures, and that is exactly what this is. What it is not is a collection of easily-defined stereotypes that want what other people have, who think that the rich, simply by virtue of having money, should give some, or much, of that to those who don’t. To the layman, and by layman I mean the person who has no vested emotional interest in OWS one way or the other, this protest just started. The truth is, the catalyst started somewhere around 2008 when banks went out of business, were bought by the Fed or propped up with tax payer dollars after having been infamously described as “too big to fail.”

I had always wondered why, for so long, people spat their vitriol at the "one percent" (though I do recall a time when the percentage was spoken as 5%) and the corruption of government and it's rotating-door with big business. By so long, I mean I've been hearing this since at least the early 90's, and only then because I had begun to listen. Reaganomics wasn't winning many hearts either, as I understand it. So here we are, people have coalesced into something, but it's messy and it's not clear what they point is beyond a reaction to recent economic downturn, huge bank bailouts and a lack of oversight and accountability from the federal institutions in which we have placed our trust.

Well here's the purpose I assign to it: it's a start. More than that, it's people getting up and getting mad. Sure, millions of people haven't suddenly gotten up and stopped watching Jersey Shore so that they could go outside and shake their fist to the heavens, but it's a start. The OWS movement, and all its satellite movements, will all eventually go away in some form or another. But a movement which has sparked unified protests by people all around the world is not something I don't think I've ever heard of.

Sure, people have made a show of solidarity during times like the protests at Tienanmen Square, but it was never a template to start a protest in your hometown, even if your hometown isn't a hotbed of capitalism. Whether it fizzles or explodes (and that is a concern, despite the best efforts of protest organizers to reinforce the importance of peaceful protest), OWS will hope be the catalyst that can be seen in other movements or ideas moving forward. I mean, outside of a singular voice of what OWS is, what it's achieving, whether deliberate or not, is starting a conversation - and that can be very powerful.

I have to admit that this is largely my interpretation of these events imbued with my own hopes of a positive change. And hearing about the lynching on Facebook is disappointing, because it reminds me of how often and easily we sacrifice reason to passion and instinct; how we will fight tooth and nail to prove ourselves right, even if we're wrong, because, for some of us, changing our outlook is akin to an existential crisis. And OWS NEEDS criticism and combative adversaries in order to develop that thick skin that is required to survive, not only scrutiny but the movement itself - as OWS attempts to define itself it risks fragmentation and disintegration if it cannot establish an identity with intent.

Already I've seen Occupy protesters, even here in Philly, start rallying people to start protesting in other locations for different reasons that only serve to further muddy the already fuzzy message of the Occupy movement. Here’s the dichotomy as I see it with the OWS message. The first part is that it has thus far refused to distill the message down to bumper sticker one liners, choosing instead to start a conversation. The other side is that there is a mission to raise awareness, or perhaps ire, over the incestuous partnerships that exist between government and business. OWS doesn’t want mantras, it wants sincere consideration and a list of demands won’t work: while the overarching message is accountability and responsibility, there exist so many nuances in the quagmire of concerns that one person or groups definition may alienate others. This is a time for unity, not semantic disparity.

Where does the movement go from here? It’s getting cold and there are news reports daily of unnecessary police brutality, calls for blankets, food and water. For all the support I and others give to the OWS protesters, what can be accomplished? First, in many of the conflicts with law enforcement, you’ll hear calls to remain peaceful. These are not angry mobs, although they may be upset, they’re civil and exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. It seems unreasonable to expect some kind of shift in the way commerce happens here in the U.S., but OWS has been using its power of disruption positively by raising awareness of the issues, and encouraging people to boycott businesses, switch banks, do what they can to make it know that if 99% of the people change the way they do business, or 60% or even 30%, it’s a shift toward change. Ultimately, this is just as much a call to motivate people to get off their asses and do something as it is a protest of corporate and government corruption.

I’ve long said that we get the government we deserve. We’ve been a society in absentia, preoccupied with instant gratification while ignoring those who we allowed to run our country and economy into the ground. Occupy Wall St is a call to wake up, to think about what is happening to us and to come together collectively, as a civilized society, and decide our own fate.