To Occupy?

by: Michael Shields

I am starting to see things slowly come to a boil again. Saw a shabby looking but determined crew at Union Square this past weekend who had dusted off their signs awash with cleverly composed cracks at America’s elite. Saw the remnants of a similar outing today near Madison Square. Looks like, slowly but surely, Occupy is coming back.

The hiatus bothers me some. Nothing changed of course, and the winter was the mildest I can remember here in the apple. A mid-winter hibernation from what I was once convinced was a critical and possibly historic cause taints something about the whole movement in some way. If the cause is so vital why wait for the Spring for a revival? Also, the antics of the Spring insurgents further my apprehension. Propping open subway gates and taping the card readers seems to me more the work of anarchist than people who want true social and political change. But there were always bad apples amongst the entire movement the first run around I guess. I just find myself confused whether to start believing, as I possibly foolishly did just months ago, in the power of the people….of the 99 percent.

I wrote the following on October 20,2011. I was not camped out in a tent. I didn’t make a sign, wear a mask, or even march Brooklyn Bridge in mass. I was, however, very fired up. But while sitting in the safe comfort of my desk chair…..

It is embarrassing to admit to many of my closest friends my true feelings about OWS. To so many the protestors are viewed as a bunch of hippies wasting everyone’s time and a lot of New Yorker’s tax dollars. They are seen as the jobless, the lost, the ones with too much time on their hands. I understand this viewpoint on the surface especially if you are merely looking at the group huddled beneath tarps at Zuccotti Park and not look at it as a movement. A movement that could possibly be one of the more important undertakings our generation gets to witness, gets to be a part of.

If you have the privileged to be around me after I ingest a couple amber colored drinks and pull out my soap box you will clearly hear the opinions that I share with you here. The truth is I am an optimist, I am hopeful. I do not see a bunch of hippies. I don’t hear a bunch of the rambling nonsense uttered by the obtuse protestors, who are the minority, so frequently interviewed by the Fox News, the Stern show, and all the others who implore their “Jay-walking” bit to minimize the movement. No. I hear people talking about politics. I hear people, FINALLY, discussing the problems. I hear important conversations that have been buried for far too long awakened, finally walking the streets living and breathing.

The thrust of my argument, the point I try to make when defending the occupancy is this: ANYONE who say that they don’t know what the protestors are protesting (or say that the protestors themselves do not know what they are arguing against) is flat out lying to themselves. Whether we agree with the protestors or we do not we all know what they are upset about. We all know that there are problems and we all know that there are bankers on Wall Street getting filthy rich while things get worse for so many (and not each and every one of these bankers is at fault mind you….but a system or two is clearly not just broken, but shattered beyond belief).

I go so far as to say, and agree with many who say it, that the inequality that exist between classes in our country is nothing short of immoral. Yeah, I said it. Immoral. It ain’t right. Why?

Because the extreme inequality we are seeing (1% is not a made up number and we would know if it was as the far right would be shoving that in these protestors face daily) is the sign of a dysfunctional economy which is the direct cause and effect of a financial sector that has been run on so much speculation and gouging.

And because: This inequality will (and is!) lead to an abundance of problems, including lower levels of education and poorer health for the masses. It disproportional skews political power as policy will always reflect the views of the upper crust versus the rest.

The comment I hear so often, in terms of the protestors, is that the OWS movement has not stated it’s terms or set any goals in the traditional language of a campaign speech. Personally I am just satisfied to know that these folks just started the conversation. To me, that is enough. To me, the fact that I am even writing this and feeling so passionately is a success…..as I know I am not alone. So much dormancy has blossomed into action, or at least a fire or two has been ignited. But it is even more than that. (Allow me to use the use words of a mind much more capable than mine to elaborate)….. “That’s because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet. Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.”

And to those who argue that the protestors are directing their angst at the wrong place, at Wall Street rather than the Government (talking to you Mr. 9-9-9), who do deserve a great deal of blame mind you for lack of regulation in so many facets, let us not forget who took worthless sub-prime mortgages and knowingly bundled them as mortgage derivatives so they could be sold, re-bundled, and re-sold to pension funds and banks around the world until it inevitably collapsed, annihilating 17 trillion, the national economy, century old financial institutions, and the life savings of untold Americans. Two words…wall and street.

The point of the whole movement, and my backing of it, is they are they are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are gambling to run our economy is no longer appropriate. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and hopefully correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.

And another thing!

If I hear another person ask the question of these examples of real democracy….’Why don’t that just get a job?’. Well, that’s kind of the point.

Exit: Soapbox.

I dusted this off to read it to see if it could re-ignite my fire. I wonder, aloud, here and now, what happened to those who were so visibly, so violently angry? Why did my fire extinguish as Zuccotti Park emptied? Why did I stop discussing the urgent message of the movement?

Upon reread of the above rant I was reminded of the faint humiliation I always felt in speaking up and backing OWS. In hindsight it seems ridiculous, but I didn’t want to get looped in with the hippies and freeloaders that could be easily found at Zuccotti (anyone who paid a visit knows it wasn’t all peaches and cream, some unsightly and flat out misguided going-ons could be found down there). But it makes little sense to me now….as why should I feel embarrassed about wanting to discuss solutions to a broken system?

Of course when examining the daunting issues at hand it can become paralyzing, and it just all feels so hopeless. The one thing that is certain, a surefire lock, is this: if no one ever says anything nor does anything the problems won’t just go away on their own. And sometimes in life you act in defiance of hopelessness just because it’s right.

On March 17th a rally was held downtown to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the movement. The gathering was stomped out as easily as a cigarette butt by an NYPD that was clearly out to make a point. That point being: We are not fucking around this time! But OWS organizers have big plans for May Day (the 1st) where during the morning protestors plan to blockade offices in the financial district and midtown followed by an afternoon rally featuring musical acts and keynote speakers. They hope to resurrect the cause. I am curious the result.

Does one let the anger boil over once again, donate money to the hopefully appropriate places, and hijack the fireside chats to discuss the hopes and dreams of the many once again? Or is that a waste of energy….as inevitably….winter will fall upon us once again?

I, for one, am looking forward to at least starting the conversations again.

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