I’ve been thinking about Occupy Wall Street quite a bit over the past three weeks. I’ve been avoiding writing a post about it because I don’t want to ramble on incessantly or get to the spot where I start digressing on a dozen angry tangents.
The most interesting thing about the movement – I think it’s a movement now – is the total lack of clarity with which the media reports and comments on it and, as a result, the populace misinterprets what is going on around the country right now. In the past twenty-four hours alone, I’ve heard that:
- President Obama has organized the protests (because he is evil and duplicitous and wants to shift blame for ruining America onto the major corporate banks, who are both some of his largest campaign contributors and the beneficiaries of in excess of one trillion dollars in ‘bailout’ money).
- “The Unions” have organized the protests (because unions are abusive organizations that care only about screwing their wealthy employers and protecting their own power, disregarding that despite the occasional petty and political acts of a relative few, an organization that protects workers’ rights is not a bad thing)
- That the protesters are violent, which is why the police need to mace and kettle and bludgeon all those people who appear to be demonstrating peaceably in accord with their first amendment rights (the same rights that Hank Williams Junior is claims to be denied by his corporate employer for equating the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler on national television)
- They have no organization (which might be the closest to truth that I’ve heard; even though it’s grown past its origins, it is an Anonymous op at its heart, and the hacktivist hive mind that comprises it is, as best as I can understand it, amorphous and actively chaotic, and this, along with the distinct possibility that the participants are, in some cases, trying to fuck with the media ‘for the lulz’, is the genesis of the frustrating ‘they don’t know what their message is’. It’s Anonymous, and you can claim whatever cause you want for your actions – they prefer it that way). I include this mostly to juxtapose it to this next point.
- This Anonymous person needs to step forward and provide some better leadership to his followers.
- It’s only a bunch of slackers who don’t think they should pay back their student loans/can’t read the language in a loan agreement (I’ve seen and heard a few talking heads try to birth this narrative; I think it has a decent chance of sticking because of its inherent anti-intellectualism. It’s true that a majority of the protesters support student loan forgiveness, but less from a place of personal responsibility than the crushing specter of debt that looms over college grads matriculating into the worst job market we’ve faced in decades after paying artificially high tuition rates assessed by schools who can in part justify their skyrocketing costs by acknowledging that the majority of the student body is already borrowing to afford their education. Student loans only have limited periods of deferment for unemployment available to their borrowers, and interest continues to accrue on some or most of that debt while the borrower is unable to pay; and that’s for federal loans – private loans offer much less borrower protection).
- The protesters share the same ideals as the Tea Party (I confess I am still scratching my head over this one).
By design or not, all the focus on the scattershot ‘demands’ of the protesters also distracts from a discussion about whether their splintered, myriad anger is justified.
At its core, the impetus of Occupy Wall Street is not the wealthy paying more taxes or student loans or LOLcats as much as it is a sense of anger at the practices and culture of the Too Big To Fail banks leading up to the economic collapse in 2008 and afterward, the incestuous relationship they have with the government that has allowed them to circumvent or remove regulatory roadblocks designed to prevent abhorrent and dishonest practices like credit default swaps or the scary, scary rape cave that commodity futures trading has become. These organizations and the sociopaths that staff them write billions of dollars in bonus checks despite having halved (or worse) nest eggs and pension funds and public funds placed into investments that were ‘safe’ and had good long-term growth potential. They are likely to settle out of court with the Attorneys General of the United States and pay back only a small fraction of what they are culpable for, an amount that is about equal to what one of those monster banks would make in one day of normal operations.
These are the companies that we were told, by politicians who get giant piles of money from those very companies, could not fail or things would get worse. That we needed to bail them out to maintain confidence in the economy, that confidence would lead to a resurgence and more job creation. None of that has happened; the only thing that has happened is that the corrupt bankers who essentially gamble with the middle class’s future have gotten richer because they have set themselves up a system that ensures that they are always paid whether they win or lose. That is a basic inequality and it has nothing to do with merit or American exceptionalism, and there is anger out on the streets because the people perceive that it is an inequality that will never be corrected. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough being done by anybody to make sure that the victims of the economy’s decline aren’t suffering. In fact, the victims are being told that it’s their own fault or that they deserve it. They are being mocked by the perpetrators of the scam (see the ‘We Are the 1%’ banners in Chicago). There are thousands and thousands of Americans taking to the streets because we live in an America that values corporate citizens above the flesh and blood ones.
Various accounts of the so-called Arab Spring that I’ve read have put forth that it wasn’t a need for democracy that sparked the demonstrations and uprisings, but hunger and desperation and forced inequality. Which is something to keep think about – when will you be hungry and desperate enough?