My uncle recently asked what it is exactly that members of Occupy Wall Street want–he objected to what he saw as “privileged suburban, bourgeois” twenty-somethings “dabbling in radical politics.” The protestors benefit from capitalism, he argued, so what exactly are they objecting to? I’m happy to hear criticism of OWS, and I’d like to take the opportunity to respond.
Having spent several weekends engaging with people in New York, it seems that nine out of ten people on the street who are not directly participating in the demonstrations support the movement. However, while most of these people feel that they agree with the protests fundamentally, many do not yet understand what the specific goals are or what is actually happening. I feel that this is the result of the media’s attempts to misrepresent the movement and reframe the problem at hand. Pundits object that the movement doesn’t have specific demands, when in reality I believe the participants have been clear about what they are after from day one.
The only problem is that the demands are, admittedly, a bit abstract and aren’t exactly what the mainstream media wants to hear. OWS aims to give a voice back to the people. It aims to legitimize the public’s feeling that the current system is unjust, to put citizens’ rights before corporations’ profits, and to ensure that the political system truly represents its citizens instead of pandering to the wealthy. The list goes on.
True, signs can be seen at the protests advocating for all sorts of issues. But they all relate back to the same thing: our society currently values money above people. If you head down to the protests, you’ll notice that young, middle-class people make up only a small percentage of the protesters. There are anarchists, hippies, libertarians, conservatives, democrats, the elderly, college students, children, the unemployed, the working class, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, the disabled, the homeless, people of color, and queer folk. The people at Occupy Wall Street come from every walk of life. They are protesting because they are fed up with their voices being marginalized by the one percent of the population that has the vast majority of the money and power in this nation and would like to keep it that way.
Sure, you can say we owe everything to capitalism—we can thank it for our over-abundance of jobs, for our soaring economy, for the lack of homelessness, for ensuring that every single person is making enough money to eat healthy food each day, for our unparalleled education system, for keeping innocent people out of prisons, and for the spending of our tax dollars on problems here at home instead of funding wars in foreign countries. We can thank capitalism for keeping our environment clean and preventing a climate crisis, for making sure that companies that make millions upon millions of dollars pay their fair share of the taxes in this country. Thank you capitalism! I’m glad to know that I have such a bright future to look forward to if everything remains as the status quo!
These days, money talks. People who have cash fund the politicians they want in office and create extremely powerful lobbying groups and PACs to ensure that the laws they want are passed (regardless of how much money it takes to do so). In this corporatocracy, politicians no longer represent their constituents. And when it comes down to it, Democrats and Republicans aren’t really that different.
I’m not sure that capitalism is inherently bad, and I think that most Americans feel this way. The problem is that a few large corporations want all the capital, and they have used their significant influence to tailor our society and culture to fit their goals. There isn’t anything wrong with people making money if it is done fairly and legally, but the way the corporations have made their billions is neither of those. Maybe the reason that so many young college students joined the movement lies in the fact that they have studied these issues from many perspectives and are aware of the issues. They are no longer deluded by consumerism and other guises used to hide such problems from pop culture. As college students, they can afford to spend their time analyzing our nation’s problems instead of having to work to pay the rent. Maybe this is also an explanation for why some of the most vocal supporters of the movement have been academics and intellectuals.
The majority of Americans can sense that something is “off” in our nation, but they are only now starting to grasp the reality of the situation and to feel empowered enough to speak up and call for true change. That is exactly why OWS is gaining momentum and spreading around the country and beyond. Asking for society to take care of its own people is not radical; it is common sense. Ultimately, that is what OWS is fighting for—common sense and compassion. Change won’t come over night; it is a long and slow process. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for it. If that isn’t a worthwhile goal for a movement, I don’t know what is.