I want to preface all of this by saying that at my core, I can't help but side with the occupy people. Limiting the amount of influence greed plays over our society seems like a reasonable idea. Trying to make sure people who steal billions of dollars get punished for it, would be ideal. However, as much as I like idealism - I try to remain as realistic as possible.
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement will soon be entering December and I'm pretty sure it's as irrelevent as ever.
For the record, I almost fully support their ideals - however these ideals are so far removed from reality that I feel as though far too many people have wasted far too much time on this movement.
The system is what it is - and it's not as if everyone was somehow screwed into thinking that things are "fair". For the most part, people aren't blissfully ignorant of the inequity between the 99 and 1 percent, instead they're quite aware of it.
There's a lot I want to talk about around this occupy thing and I'm going to try to keep it under some fairly broad headlines. I'd like to point out now that the things I'm about to say are not intended to indicate what is ethically or morally right, but moreso an attempt at accurate description of how things currently stand.
What are they protesting?
This question of outcome keeps coming up. One would think a movement of this size would have some kind of agenda laid out, or demands if you will. They don't, though. Instead it's a mismash of people with their own gripes. I'm not quite sure certain things haven't been laid out as of yet (see: Constitutional ammendment to indicate that corporations are not people, the immediate jailing of Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankenfield etc.) but for whatever reason the movement would much rather just grow. Growing is nice - but it peaks, eventually. We're on the other side of that because the fact of the matter is...
These people have absolutely no power.
Protest your brains out, people - no one who matters gives a shit. See, it's a numbers game. One of two parties is going to get elected - and both have already been bought and paid for. So while you hang out in your tents and using your human microphone, you effect about as much change as my choice of socks in the morning. This is essentially what you're protesting, right? Well, the only way for your voice to be heard is through the law of the land. As frustrating as it is to see political pundits from both sides try to lay claim to the movement, the only way the movement has any clout is to become a force within one of the parties. The Democrats seem like the obvious choice - but I wouldn't rule anything out. Unless this group is willing to be poitically engaged within the political system that currently exists - it's unlikely that they'll see change that meets their needs. Some would ask, "Why would a movement that's storming the country ever want to allign itself with a politcal party unless there were enough people to essentially co-opt that party?" My question for those people would be, "Why should a movement that can't even carve out a part of a political party to get things done be taken seriously?"
I believe that it's the perception of many inside the occupy movement that there are millions of blissfully ignorant people who don't undesrstand how badly they're getting screwed. I'd argue that much of the population knows (while perhaps not in great detail) that they're getting screwed. People realize at a very young age usually that the system is broken. To provide yourself with clothes to wear, food to eat, and a roof over your head - you almost always have to work in a position where you are paid less than what you are worth. Even if working in a position that is a loss leader, the position is necissary to the overall success of the company usually. We know this though. There's not one account manager making money equal to what they bring in for the organization. Obvious exceptions to this are positions like health care and social services and other not for profit positions. However, in the private marketplace you are almost certainly going to be doing a job where the value you provide is returned in a portion of that value into your bank account.
If you sit down and explain these simple facts to people, the majority already know it. There are the blissfully ignorant who had no idea - but having them latch on to this information isn't about to bring on some kind of internal revelation that will make them join us. These are the people who vote republican because they love job creators and Jesus (or don't like that black guy). The vast majority of these people are perfectly happy in their blissfully ignorant world and any argument against it can be so easily turned into an argument against their guns, religion, or family values that these are not the people that we'll ever see join us.
The ones that should be targeted are the choiceful ignorant. Those of us that see how completely fucked up our way of life is, want drastic change, and will do anything to get there. It's here where you'll find me diverge from the common OWS folk.
It's a numbers game, and you don't have them
This paragraph is going to be filled with generalizations and assumptions that I don't think I grossly unrealistic. Let us assume OWS has already or can convince everyone 18-34 that they're right. Good work! Now what are you going to do about the seniors who vote en mass and have lived in the current system their entire life. It was clearly good enough for them - so why do they want change? Also: How about those middle aged folks who have families and such? An attempt to overhaul the system would surely have some reprecussions throughout the economy. While the previous statement is a huge assumption in and of itself - it shouldn't be disregarded as this will be the primary attack point for people on the right.
"I think we can all agree that we want to make the world a more fair place, but such changes would completely destroy our economy and way of life!"
The second that there's a constitutional amendment around corporations not being people (or restricting the financial system to not allow gambling with your retirement) you'll immediately hear this and millions of lines like it. If you're 27 and have spent the last 7 years traveling the country trying to find yourself - this isn't a big deal to you. If you're 44, married with a mortgage and two kids the threat of a poor economy is the threat of losing your house, your car, your marriage, and possibly even your kids. This doesn't invoke a rationalization about economic phases and long term gain - it invokes an emotional response that can usually best be summarized as "No one will take food off my child's plate."
There's an entire machine built around ensuring that you have less money and someone else has more. Our western capitalism essentially rotates around people trying convince you that you need something that you don't. In fact - there's an entire industry (marketing) created around this idea.
If it's through the fine print in an online terms of service agreement, exorbinant bank fees, or hidden cell phone charges - there's always a way for a corporation to find a reason that they need more of your money. This isn't because you did anything wrong - or even that they did. It's just that within the current system productivity is key and executives that can't find a way to increase it aren't worth anything.
While we can all sit here and rationalize that it's impossible for productivity to constantly increase - managers can find ways to make it happen. Sometimes that means that Coke is going to give us 9ml fewer than the original 600 - but more often than not it means having your staff do more with less. When we're looking at the short term especially in freshly started businesses this is extremely important for creating viability. However - multinational corporations have, will, and continue to place new productivity expectations on their workforce. A friend who works for a multi-million company that cleared a billion dollars last year outlined for me how their expectation for production had increased by 43% for the new year. This means that employees who had been producing just fine at the previous expectation - had to work 43% harder to earn the same wage.
Let me recap. OWS wants to effect change - but they'll never get great number from those over 35, or who the current system favors, those disengaged, and those just flat out stupid. How does one make change happen without having any pull with those groups? The short answer is that they don't.
Maybe though - just maybe, Matt Taibbi may have nailed it:
People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It's about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a "beloved community" free of racial segregation. Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn't need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.
I want to note that if somehow OWS can be successful and gain wide ranging support significant enough to fix some of the glaring issues in our ready to implode economy, we're living in an extremely exciting time. While the prospect of reshaping the quality of life for future generations is exciting - I still don't think it's realistic... yet.