Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Support Occupy Wall Street & Occupy Boston

I support the occupiers of Wall Street, and by proxy, those of Dewey Square in Boston. I haven't been surprised by the coverage of it: Starting slow, becoming overly-dramatic and focusing on fringe elements, much like they treated the "Tea Party."

I want to be clear about why I personally support the cause, as I've seen a lot of criticism of it from places I didn't expect. I'll address why I support it, then I'll address those who don't.

To me, Occupy is an embodiment of people's frustration with big business and government. We've seen, in the past few decades like never before, rich companies getting much richer and taking no responsibility for their actions. They've achieved something of a corporate socialism in which they get all of the benefits but bare none of the responsibilities. Banks packaged mortgages and sold them, then made money hand-over-fist on speculation of them. But when people defaulted on them, instead of eating the losses, they had the US Government, and by proxy us, to bail them out. I don't necessarily think we shouldn't have bailed them out, but at the very least, I expect that they should have to follow new rules and not continue business as usual. Certainly, they shouldn't be hording all of the money they've been given by the tax payers while they deny new mortgages to qualified applicants, deny loans to small businesses, and raise fees and interest rates on customers who are struggling.

I support Occupy because I make about as much money as I made five years ago, but that money isn't worth as much as it was. I didn't devalue it and I work just as hard for it. Meanwhile, fine print that is now illegal allowed those same banks to raise interest rates on my credit cards and other debts, making a once manageable, if difficult debt load almost unbearable. And I know that I'm one of the lucky ones. While I am forced to hand over almost all of my "middle class" salary to rent and debt, my borderline wage-slavery situation has not left me without a roof over my head, nor did I have to move in with my parents.

That said, I see people struggling, and I refuse to believe what I'm being told from so many of my peers, who keep repeating this fallacy that if people are struggling that it is inherently their fault. Are there freeloaders? Sure there are. But there are just as many, and I'd argue many more people who are doing what they can and are still struggling. I'm sick of watching people work or try to work and lose while the so-called "job creators" of America horde more money, much of which is funneled to them through bonuses made possible by bailout money we have to pay. That's not American capitalism. That's American greed.

I don't hate bankers. I'm sure they're nice people and I'm sure they're just trying to look out for themselves and their families. Yesterday, when Cornell West spoke at Occupy Boston, and he said, "we don't hate the rich - we hate injustice." He was spot-on in that statement. It is unfair and unjust for these banks and businesses to take government money and give nothing back while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.

I cannot be at Occupy Boston all day. I cannot be at Occupy Wall Street at all. The reason for this is that I do have a job. But I refuse to denounce the Occupiers, even the alleged "professional protesters" and "trustafarians" among them for being able to be there. They represent a message that many of the employed lower and middle classes cannot state, and their occupation in our stead is welcome. They march under the banner of "We are the 99%, and so are you." When they marched by me on Monday morning at 8:30 AM on Winter Street in downtown Boston, I joined them, if only for 20 minutes, not because I was aching to smash the state, not because I hate business, and not because I'm a disappointed liberal. I marched because they were right. They can (and have been) written off by many as being dirty hippies, 60's throwbacks, angry students, and unemployed, but it doesn't make them any less right. Within my lifetime, the discrepancy between rich and poor has grown at an astounding rate. It is similar to an America of our past, but not one we're proud of. While we no longer work in coal mines for 16 hours a day or in mills we also sleep in, we are willingly dismantling the system that protects us, our children, our neighbors, and strangers we have nothing in common with but our home country from that life.

If Occupy is nothing but an expression of anger, it's an expression that needs to be made. Even if it's demands are impossible, if it makes people in Washington (and maybe even Wall Street) just an inkling more interested in economic fairness and consumer protection, it's well worth it to me.

As for my peers who have been quick to speak out against the Occupy Movement, I say to you this: Even if you are entirely right about the most negative opinions you have about the protesters and the people they represent, even if every welfare recipient, unemployment check beneficiary, and every public employee is hoodwinking you and getting something for nothing because they're too lazy to make an honest living, the amount of money that equates to annually is nothing compared to what the people they're protesting are extracting from you and me every year, not only in the form of tax loopholes and bailouts, but also in unfair and hidden fees and interest increases. You are welcome to believe that the poor are your enemy. I'm even happy to have a conversation about what we can do to reform welfare, health care, social security, and medicare. I'm just not willing to have that conversation before we go after the biggest culprits. Welfare didn't cause a foreclosure crisis, gambling bankers and traders did. Police don't spend all day going after street dealers - they go after the kingpin. Go after the kingpin. Occupy.

I'm not much one for arbitrary patriotism, nor am I overly concerned with proving how much I love America. I am concerned with accusations that Americans are doing un-American things. Specifically, I disagree with the sentiment that this, or any other movement, is un-American. It is comprised of Americans, and opposes entities that are primarily nation-less, with headquarters' all over the world to ensure that they can hide their money from the American tax system. If you find yourself wondering "how is it that I can show my love for America," let me make a suggestion: Try not to hate Americans. Even the ones you don't agree with.