Last week I finally visited Occupy Philadelphia, and it did not disappoint. Having long derided the “Occupy” movement from the sidelines, I was intrigued by the prospect of getting some time on the ground with disillusioned iconoclasts.
It’s no secret that since inception I have not been a fan of this ragtag band of economic protesters, and the accumulated hangers-on. To me, their lack of a concerted focus message seemed more like a tantrum than a crusade. Besides, my current understanding of economics, unfortunate though they may sometimes be, does not mesh well with “demands.”
The opportunity to see it all in person, however, offered a new lease on the movement. Now I could talk to these people on the street, in the tent and put human faces to this cacophonous mob. I say this with all honesty, I was willing and open to having my mind changed there, or at least adjusted from “opposed” to “understanding.” That, however, did not happen.
My notions were re-inforced by the people I met there and things I saw there. It is disjointed, there is no focus other than a very broad sense of dissatisfaction, and the people that seemed to speak the loudest also seemed to know the least about what they were speaking. Nowhere was this more evident than in the signs and slogans carried proudly by “Occupy.”
Shouldn’t the signs you hoist in self-representation be written to express how you really feel? If so, then my opposition to “Occupy” needs go no further than the signage:
“Bailout my student loans” – Why? While I understand the animosity many in debt feel towards banks that were bailed out, there is a simple principle being missed: pragmatism. Is it a shame that the US government had to bail out banks that failed? Yes, ideally that would not have happened. However, if the US government refuses to, suddenly your movement has a few million (conservatively) more voices. That may sound useful, but a few million more jobless and homeless doesn’t. On the other hand, if the government cut your student loans, that you took to buy a service that you actually used…you see where I’m going with this.
”Kill the rich! Kill Wall Street!” – Aside from being both morbid and French-Revolution-y, this shows a grand lack of continuity in thought. Yes, we get it, you don’t like the rich and how much money they control. But if you’re mad at rich people for being rich, why limit it to the Wall Street bankers? They at least have done something to earn their wealth (namely go to school for years and practice their craft at an elite level consistently).
Shouldn’t this message instead be aimed at lottery winners and trust fund babies who have done nothing to earn their keep? Besides, in a country where the wealthiest 10 percent of people pay a whopping 68 percent of the federal income tax and the bottom 50 percent pay just 13 percent, shouldn’t the poorer want the richer around to foot that bill? Especially when eliminating the wealthy won’t suddenly make the middle/lower class billionaires; there’s a reason the blue collar workers of the country aren’t managing multi-billion dollar hedge funds.
Who counts as rich anyway? The wealthiest 10% begins at $111000 a year per household. Sure that’s good money, but presumably a husband and wife that drive taxi cabs for a living could make that number. Are they really the villains here?
“Fracking is Genocide” – and the wheels start to come off. It doesn’t help this was plastered across a 15- foot- wide banner. Yes, fracking (the process of shooting a liquid chemical mix into the earth to extract natural gas) is bad for the environment. But genocide? That’s more than a step too far.
“Down with Capitalism!” – and the wheels are off completely. Never mind that the man carrying this sign was also carrying a large Starbucks coffee (not cheap) and wearing $100 (estimated) Sperry shoes. The very existence of this sign demonstrates a fantastic lack of awareness both in history and in the economy.
The last time a large country tried to bypass capitalism (Soviet Union) they wound up unable to get their hands on amenities like toilet paper and burning money instead of firewood because it was cheaper. Not to mention one of the benefits of capitalism and free markets is they allow you access to the paper and markers used to make that sign at competitive prices. It may not be perfect, but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill: it’s the worst system conceivable, except for every other system out there.
Now, I realize that signs are not exactly detailed elaborations of anyone’s true ideology (at least I hope not). But at the same time, it’s the short message you’ve chosen to represent yourself, that gives it some gravitas at least. I make an effort to be informed and understand my beliefs and causes, I apologize if I hope for the same from my occupying mobs.
I don’t hate the people of the “Occupy” movement; I met some admirable protesters that day. In fact, the nature of their protest and the raw emotion they show towards their belief is admirable. If only they knew or understood what they believed.