dear occupy people, you are now officially off message

The Occupy movement appears to have lost its way.

What began as a protest against Wall Street – the symbol of corporate corruption, greed, irresponsible risk, the exploitation of consumers, and a culture of entitlement resulting in a lack of appreciation for taxpayer-funded bailouts from a government paid for by the very corporations they assist – that protest has turned into a free-for-all.

Even Librarians are angry. That's a bad sign. (Actually, it's a good one.)

Today, rather than sticking to the original core message of rooting out corruption and advocating for corporate (and thereby government) reform, the leaderless OWS movement has devolved into a random mass of hostility and anger. And while hostility and anger are and should be the reaction to the corporate-government two-step of corruption and irresponsibility that has become American capitalism, some OWS protesters, perhaps due to the lack of leadership, a loss of focus, or the simple thrill of being a part of a protest, have quickly crept away from the core message and are now demanding things that make the entire movement look foolish and, well, utterly dismissible.

The Occupy movement has attracted many college students who want to voice their outrage and offer their support to the cause. And while I applaud those with every advantage who stand up for the disadvantaged, it seems that the Occupy movement has unfortunately deteriorated into an inarticulate smörgåsbord of, dare I say, greedy demands from otherwise entitled individuals who want their college tuition paid (without having to serve in the military or Peace Corps in exchange), or see this as an opportunity to demand that their maxed out credit cards be paid off.

Today, many Occupy protesters are arguably spoiled college students with clothes on their backs and bills they don’t want to pay. Somehow they think that by camping out in their own personal Woodstock in between runs to the local indie coffee shop (because Starbucks is corporate), they’re going to accomplish something beyond making themselves look like lazy freeloaders Tweeting in the park while others are out applying for their jobs. And rather than do as many of us have done and go to Junior College, take our pre-reqs, then transfer to a state college, working an entry-level job to make ends meet, they sit and demand free college education at the college of their choosing.

Rather than enlisting in the army and defend this country, or enlisting in the Peace Corps and directly serving an underdeveloped nation where the REAL 99% live, they’d rather demand that someone else do it (as if corporations are ever going to really give a crap about dealing with poverty). Rather than using their hands and feet for physical work and volunteering with worthwhile projects to make the world a better place, many would rather sit on their asses all day and complain about how no one handed them a six-figure salary right out of college. I’d be curious to know how many of those participating in the Occupy protests have ever spent as much time, energy, and Facebook status updates volunteering with a non-profit organization or advocating against something other than a bank to whom they owe money.

Rather than stick to the core message so well articulated in the cartoon to the right, this leaderless revolution has sprawled into lists of ridiculous demands to such an extent that now Stephen Colbert (a supporter of the original movement) is even poking fun at it. The movement seems to be spinning out of control and becoming the second chance for hippie high school seniors and college freshmen like the “elected spokespeople,” Justin Wedes and “Ketchup,” who appear to be bent on making up for the fact they weren’t elected Student Body President. Or to put it as my wife put it, the current wave of OWS protesters:

…are identifying themselves as the “99%”, but are not demanding that the “1%” end world hunger. They are asking for their college tuition to be paid. They are asking for their credit card debt to be forgiven. They are asking for privileges that only the world’s wealthiest 1% enjoy, and they want it for free.

By making demands of “free college education” (elite schools of course, not state schools), “open borders migration (anyone can travel anywhere to work and live),” and “Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all (Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books”),” the OWS movement leaves itself open to ridicule and charges of naïveté, disorganization, idealism lacking practicality, and insensitivity to those who are truly suffering around the world.

The Occupy movement needs a coordinated plan of action and a leader. And before you respond with the typical, “That’s not how this protest works,” let’s take a lesson from the Tea Party. At the other end of the political spectrum, I recall the early, leaderless days of the Tea Party movement. I remember how they held up the example of the starfish – a headless organism that was comprised only of “action arms” – as its model of organizational leadership. I remember NPR’s Steve Inskeep commenting that it was appropriate, as it had neither a brain nor a backbone. Then, I remember the Tea Party getting organized, crafting a message, and ultimately taking the House of Representatives.

Ironically, in spite of its questionable ideology, what the Tea Party wanted most is what the Occupy movement wants most: government-corporate reform. I commented earlier that the first one to see past the oceans of ideological diversity on these polar opposite ends and unify both groups behind the singular message of government/corporate reform wins, and would become the leader of the single greatest revolution in this country since, well, The Revolution.

There should absolutely be reforms. We should let failing businesses fail in a capitalist system; that’s how it works. Banks that took exploitative risks should not (have) be(en) bailed out. And yes, corporations should pay taxes sans loopholes. And no, corporations are not going to do less business if they have to pay more tax. That argument is laughable, albeit threatening. Corporations will expand business and work even harder to make up the difference, because that’s what they do – make money. There should be more corporate responsibility. Corporations that received bailout funds should have imposed upon them salary caps and bonus limits just like in the NFL. And we should demand this and not settle for anything less. Alas, this was the entire point of the initial Occupy Wall Street movement!

But the movement has gotten WAY off message. And now that some of the protests are turning violent, the public is losing its stomach and patience for the cause. And the more ridiculous, off-topic demands that are stacked up and demanded by students who should otherwise be studying for their macroeconomics final, the less the public cares about and supports the cause.

It’s time to get back on message: government and corporate reform. When you have marched as much as Dr. West has marched, and served as much as Mother Theresa has served, and advocated for as many causes as U2 has advocated, then and only then can an upstart movement demand more than one thing at once. Until then, keep it focused and keep it simple.


If you’re looking for activities that are consistent with your core message that will actually get the banks’ attention, try “Bank Transfer Day,” or as I call it, Occupy a Different Bank. I ditched Bank of America three months ago and transferred all accounts (mostly loans) to a local credit union. Pull your money out of their vaults, and you’ll get the reform you’re seeking.

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6 Responses

  1. OWS resembles the movements of the 60’s. The Weather Underground, and Students for a Democratic Society both violent and somewhat peaceful movements, Which produced the leaders of today, in america. Now those same protesters of the 60’s are the oppressors. Is OWS the future, the hope for the middle class? Hopefully the OWS will not be corrupted by capitalism,

  2. I think you’ve vastly mischaracterized the statements regarding college loans. First, the cost of tuition is rising faster than the standard of living, faster than the price of homes, and faster than the price of healthcare. Second, it was a social contract that if you went to college and succeeded you would have a middle class life on the other side. That is simply not true anymore. It is incredibly difficult to be middle class with only a high school degree. Another social contract that used to be true is, education was free and compulsory in order to support our society’s wellbeing. A highschool degree is no longer capable of this. A college degree is (even if it isn’t highly correlated with middle class status). Occupy WANTS both of these social contracts upheld. There are Mandy countries in which university education is free, and more where it is highly subsidized. With rising costs and lowering subsidies we will eventually reach a point at which the 99% will, with each generation, have a growing educational debt, and be serfs for their corporate employers. *note this argurment says nothing about the necessary reforms of the education system desperately needed.

  3. I don’t know about the guy who wrote the list of demands you link to, but some people seeking free or lower tuition might be people who got roped into the scammy for-profit school system, or who are considering it, thinking it their best option.

  4. […] friend and colleague has a very astute discussion of the OWS movement where and how it has lost its way in his view. Dr. Cargill is an archaeologist and biblical scholar […]

  5. Yes, the for-profit schools are a problem, especially when their students receive financial aid and then don’t finish.

  6. Great article. I agree (somewhat) with Rusty They are starting have many of the same issues (small group of people inciting violence) that the civil right era marchers encountered. The only thing is they do not have an M.L.K., Jr. as Dr. Cargill has pointed out. They need a strong leader that can craft the message for the media and people to get behind. MLK did this by going on the Dick Cavitt show and Political talk shows in the 1960’s. When the Media goes to interview the protesters, they have no concrete demands, etc. I agree with Bob, that if they do not find a national leadership, they will be flash in the pan.

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