By Lynn Paris
I’ve wanted to write about Occupy Wall Street for a while now. I first learned about it --not from the national media, which either ignored it or attempted to trivialize or ridicule it -- but on Twitter, where I kept seeing # OWS on so many of the posts of the bloggers and organizations I was following that I had to find out what the heck #OWS meant. At first, it seemed like a large group of people, mostly young, mostly coming from a liberal/progressive point of view, gathered at Zuccotti Park in New York City, talking, protesting, discussing their frustrations, grievances, anger. Because they seemed to believe in a lot of the same things I believed in, I thought I should watch it and wait to see what it was, and what it might become.
Reading about it made me feel hopeful for the first time in a very long time, because it seemed that this was finally what I’d been talking about, and wishing would happen, in my columns. It reminded me, because I am old enough to remember, of the first anti-war demonstrators in the late 60s. On the fringe, not taken seriously by the mainstream, until suddenly one day they WERE the mainstream. So, I reasoned, maybe this was the silent majority finally ready to go up against the right-wing nut jobs of the country. Maybe, if I waited long enough, this seemingly fragmented group would coalesce into the mainstream, and I wouldn’t have to endure this crazy, tea-party tilted world forever.
Of course, I saw the irony in the fact that the tea party had started in a similar way, with frustrated, angry people who felt disenfranchised, ignored by their government, overwhelmed by debt. So many of the same concerns being expressed by the Occupy Movement. But the tea party rapidly became co-opted by the right wing of the Republican Party . . . of FOX news, Glenn Beck and conservative republicans in Congress, who molded it into a political force with a narrow and highly political agenda. And its objective was to find a scapegoat for everything wrong with our system and name it Barack Obama. So their agenda became getting rid of Obama and winning enough elections to convert an ultra--conservative worldview into a dominant voting bloc. It became all about exclusiveness, about repudiating “the other,” refuting science, ignoring social responsibility in favor of self-interest and preserving the status quo – hierarchical power for those at the top with incredible wealth, and increasing the disparity between the top and everyone else.
Still, I couldn’t figure out how to write about the Occupy Movement without co-opting it to support my own political ideology.
What I see now is that OWS is definitely not a political movement. It’s not to be manipulated or made neatly cohesive or molded into a PAC. It is not going to be molded into the ultra-liberal wing of the Democratic Party and then used as a tool to filibuster in Congress. OWS is about so much more than politics.
It’s a movement with a message that can’t fit into a sound bite, which is why it continues to drive the mainstream media crazy. It has grown, exponentially, into something both national (spreading to cities all across the country) and international and its message, it seems to me, is about fundamental change. Specifically, at least in America, it’s not about change from one political party or politician to another (or about blaming one politician or another since all operate under the same corrupt system) but fundamental change in the way this country operates. Of course, it is fueled by the same anger and frustrations that progressives have been talking about for ages, especially since the recession of 2008. Some in the movement are most angry about -- perhaps because they’ve been most affected by -- unemployment, the lack of concern about the environment, housing policy, investment banking, deregulation, education cutbacks and student loan debt.
At its core, it’s a protest against the corruption of government by corporate America and Wall Street. It’s a protest against unfairness, against the obvious disconnect between an economy based on investment banking and one based on goods produced and services rendered; against the disconnect between what the politicians want to tell us are the issues and what the people know in their gut are the issues.
Just like any rational person, the Movement as a whole isn’t against all corporations and it isn’t against capitalism. It recognizes, like rational people do, that corporations perform some functions very well. It knows that capitalism made our country great by rewarding productivity, creativity and innovation. Rather, it’s appalled by the BAD corporations, the unmitigated greed of the one percent (those who control approximately 35 percent of the nation’s wealth) to the detriment of the remaining 99 percent. And it’s appalled by ineffective, inefficient, corrupted government that is in thrall to the one percent.
In my opinion, the moral imperative of the movement is fairness. Contrary to the ludicrous statements made by politicians like Eric Cantor who derided the Occupiers as “pitting Americans against other Americans,” the movement is about bringing Americans of all ages, income brackets, ethnicities, occupations and interests together to somehow get us pointed in the right direction. Or, at least, to focus on the right issues.
Although they’ve been referred to as hippies, as Bill Maher pointed out, we haven’t had real hippies in this country for forty years. Even though they seem predominantly young, with the occasional drum circle and half-naked woman to add to the counter-culture label many Republicans and media-types would like to pin on them, the fact is there are construction workers, teachers, managers, technicians, union members, and small business owners among them. They are there because they’re either broke, angry or fed up. They are part of the 99 percent of us who have sat and watched our system of income inequality go on too long. No one in the Occupy Movement wants a handout; they just want a job. And they want the system to be fair, not rigged by the bad corporations and by Wall Street.
Besides, these aren’t people who are “dropping out.” These are people who love this country deeply and want it to be what it can be, what it ought to be. They are patriotic American citizens willing to do the hard work of taking care of themselves and also caring about one another . . . and about their neighbors, their country, the global community and the planet.
The Occupy protestors seem to understand that nobody makes it on their own. Not really. The 99 percent know that even the one percent at some point have relied on public education and scientific research, public transportation and infrastructure, laws and law enforcement, protection and safety nets, public resources, parks, art and culture. And it somehow also understands that when the super-wealthiest among us grab up such a disproportionately large amount of those resources, life for the rest of us becomes less and less livable.
That is what the tea-party owned Republicans don’t want us to see. They so desperately don’t want us to see it that they not only scream class warfare, but they then continue (with the help, it often seems, of mainstream media) to obfuscate by pointing out the 47 percenters who pay no taxes – never adding that these people fall at or below the poverty line.
That is what the Occupy Movement is trying to find a way to articulate. They may fragment and eventually disappear into the cold of winter. Or they might grow and spread until they can no longer be considered the counter-culture because they’ve become the culture itself. But their message of fairness and caring for one another and wanting something far better for this country than the status quo resonates with too many of us to be ignored.
Once you’ve heard and seen the truth, once it gets under your skin and into your consciousness, it’s hard to go back. Those of us not living in the parks or marching in the streets must do what we can. We can occupy pulpits. We can occupy social media, blogs and airwaves. We can, and must, occupy elections and voting booths. Because whatever happens to OWS, the message isn’t going away.