Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Occupy Wall Street FAQ

Pretty much every mainstream article or other coverage of the Occupy Wall Street actions asks the same few questions. Here are my answers the those questions. And they're just my answers. Others who support the actions like I do, including those actually occupying, might give different answers.

What are you protesting against?

This question usually gets asked in the opening paragraph and what is kinda funny about this question is that the journalist almost always answers the question in the exact same opening paragraph. We're protesting a system of radical wealth concentration that hurts the vast majority of the population. That's it. All the chaos, the ambiguity, the “pet projects” the articles go on to list are just descriptions of particular manifestations of that damage. Recent college grads and college students will focus on coming out of school with crippling debt into an economy devoid of well-paying jobs despite years of increased productivity, substantial corporate profits, and massive (and growing) executive salaries. Unions will obviously focus on the erosion of their ability to ensure fair wages and safe working conditions for their workers. Whether it's teachers, nurses, small businesses owners, or people who don't think big campaign corporate campaign contributions and corporate lobbyists should have so much influence on policy, this system hurts, well, just about everybody, and so everyone describes the particular effect the system has on them. The more accurate conclusion to draw from the many different voices heard at the Occupy actions is not that the actions are disjointed and chaotic, but that our system is so destructive, people are lining to tell the world how it is screwing them.

Why aren't you focusing on the 2012 elections?

Didn't we try the whole election thing before? In 2008, on a somewhat liberal platform, promising to change the system we're occupying against, Barack Obama was elected with 54% of the popular vote, way more than George W. Bush received in either of his elections. More on theelection here. Democrats around the country rode in on Obama's coattails to the tune of a majority in the House and almost a super-majority in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, out loud and in public, said the Republicans' goal for the next four years was, not helping the economy out of the greatest recession since The Great Depression, but making sure Obama wouldn't get elected again. To that end, they used every procedural trick allowed by the Senate; anonymous holds on Obama's nominations, filibusters and threatened filibusters on every single meaningful piece of legislation offered by the Democrats, to delay, distort, and diffuse every attempt to put that extremely popular platform into action. Furthermore, as long as the same lobbyists are in Washington, it really doesn't matter that much who we elect to Congress. Furthermore, odds are that pretty much every campaign took donations, and thus are somewhat beholden to, the 1% at the heart of this whole problem. To use some businesseese, thus far, electoral politics hasn't provided much of a Return on Investment.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Maybe thousands of Americans will decide to move their money from too-big-to-fail banks to locally owned banks and credit unions. (I know I'm thinking about it.) Maybe people will start shopping with the 99%, the locally owned independent retailers who, despite being told over and over again by everyone in Congress that they are the backbone of the American economy, never seem to get tax breaks, subsidies, and bailouts. Maybe the next time Walmart or Costco or Amazon or some other huge company comes to a city begging for tax breaks, direct subsidies, and low or no interest loans, the people of the city will stand up and prevent it. And there could be some policy results. Nancy Pelosi seems to like us, and the Buffet Rule is about as popular as a piece of hypothetical legislation can get. Or maybe some of the 1% will decide they want their children to inherit more than trust funds. Maybe they'll want to help pass on a just and sustainable world where the best succeed, most live in comfort, and everyone lives in dignity.

But perhaps there's something even more basic that can be accomplished. The American economy has been acting like an addict. Through every boom we think we're invincible and after every bust we promise it will never happen again. We tell ourselves that if just stop drinking during the week, we'll be able to get our lives together. And then we say, after the wedding that's it, we're done. But it never works out like that. We forget our mistakes. We mistake a quick high for a full recovery and go right back to buying, selling, and trading with abandon. The first step in any recovery is admitting the full depth of your problem. In that sense, Occupy Wall Street is not a movement or a protest, but an intervention.

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