Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street DOES have a message.

There has been a lot of criticism from the beltway media and the usual suspects on the conservative side about the OWS movement.  Besides the "turnabout is fair play" mocking to get back at the left for their merciless mockery of the Tea Party throngs and their infamously misspelled signs and the purposefully edited videos that show only the weirdest, dumbest and most outrageous protesters as a sampling of the entire movement - also a payback move for those Tea Party videos that served the same purpose - all of which should be expected and isn't at all surprising, there is a larger push in the mainstream media to portray the OWS protesters as disorganized, incoherent and without purpose.  To their credit, many people have stepped up to make statements on behalf of the OWS movement that are generally quite agreeable and seem to articulate the primary motivations for most of the people who are there and those who sympathize with them across the country.  There have been some pretty incredible clips of OWS protesters who do a great job of saying what the majority of the people are upset about, where their issues lie and what they would like to see happen.

Here are some of the more popular clips that show not only the diversity of the protesters and the different ideas each has, but also how these different people and ideas find a commonality among the rest of the movement:

These clips do a fantastic job of explaining the perfect storm of factors that has created the OWS movement.  Even I threw my 2 cents in on the "what's their message" speculation in a previous blog post about this subject.  This hasn't stopped the critics in the media from insisting the OWS movement is at best a disorganized throng of pot-smoking slackers with bongo drums, looking to hook up and defecate in public and at worst an insidious, anti-American socialist uprising, akin to the German Labor Party in the late 1930's before it became the better-known Nazi party.

However, in the lack of a universally-accepted mission statement lies the mission statement itself.

The one "slogan" if you will, that has come from the OWS movement is the "We are the 99%" message.  This means, in no uncertain terms, that the OWS movement represents the 99% of the country who don't control 90% of the wealth, who don't generate 25% of the revenue and who don't control the entirety of the 3 branches of government due to their wealth, influence and armies of well-connected lobbyists.  The whole thing about being part of the 99% is that this is a large group of people, from every type of background and with all different ideas about what is best for our country.  To encapsulate the mission statement of 99% of the population into one quotable "bumper sticker" slogan is by it's very nature impossible to do. 

Not everyone agrees as to what the best solution to the problems we face right now is, but everyone agrees that there is a problem that requires solving.

That's the message.  "We are the 99%".  The message is the people, not what they're saying.

The PhD who works 4 jobs, married to the MBA working 2 jobs so they can make their mortgage payment and afford to raise their children.

The unemployed construction worker, sitting on a run-down bridge that he could be getting paid to help repair.

The laid-off executive who was a victim of the merge and downsize frenzy of 2008.

The unemployed college graduate with over $100,000 in deferred student loans and not a single prospect due to the dismal job market.

The out of work small business owner who lost his livelihood due to the recession and has no health insurance.

These are the 99%.  These are the faces of the people who have been negatively impacted by 30 years of trickle-down economic pyramid scheming.  No two of these people have the same idea as to what would best solve the problems that put them in the situations they're in, but every single one of them agree that something needs to be done and that the status quo isn't working for them and hasn't worked for a long time now.

The message of the "Occupy X" protests are told by the diverse groups that attend them.  It's not what's being said, it's who's saying it.  To try and affix a tidy little label to it would be to take this movement down the same doomed path the Tea Party traveled down a few short years ago.  Like the "Occupy" movement, the Tea Party was also unhappy with politics as usual, they were unhappy with bailing out corrupt corporations, political crony-ism, out of control government spending and they too felt like their concerns were being ignored.  In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the OWS movement and the early days of the Tea Party.  However, at some point, a group of well-financed, corporate-connected political puppet masters began to infiltrate the Tea Party movement and before you knew it, the people who had claimed to be about fiscal responsibility and accountability were now against universal health care and immigration and had become a strongly polarized, extremist fringe of social conservatism within the Republican party.  Of course, given the statistics that have come out about the Tea Party membership and what political and ideological affiliations were the best determining factor of whether someone would be a Tea Party member, it's not all that surprising that they allowed themselves to be absorbed into the GOP and devolve into an extremist wing of social conservatism.  Regardless, at one point they did have a significant level of support among moderates and independents and that's something that should be considered when talking about OWS.  Most importantly, though, it's something that should be kept in mind when anyone starts to talk about pigeonholing the movement by adopting "mission statements" or "lists of demands" or anything that would attempt to drive a wedge between the people within the movement and splinter it into smaller, weaker camps of ideology.

The strength of OWS right now is in the fact that they aren't allowing themselves to be defined.  If you take that away, you will inevitably create derision among it's membership.  If you start saying "Being part of OWS means you support X, Y and Z..." then you're absolutely going to find your numbers shrinking as people who don't want to sign on to that agenda bail on the cause.  If you're going to claim to represent the 99%, then you have to be broad of scope and narrow of purpose.  You can't say "We're about this and this, specifically", or else you alienate everyone who isn't about that.  Instead, you must say "We're about democracy, we're about getting our politicians to start listening to the other 99% of us for a change."  Whatever those within that 99% might have to say. 

Everyone has their own "list of demands", including me.  Everyone has their own ideas about what our government needs to do and where it needs to refocus it's priorities.  The point of the OWS movement isn't to get a specific list of demands met, it's to get Washington to start listening to us at all again.  We're not saying "Hey, Washington, do this and this and this."  We're saying "Hey Washington, LISTEN TO US FOR A CHANGE!"

This is the message that gets intentionally misrepresented by those who defend the 1%.

See, it's not about hating the rich.  It's not about wanting to punish success or pit the wealthy against everyone else.  Nobody is begrudging success, as hard as that might be for the critics to comprehend.  Nobody is saying you shouldn't be allowed to be rich and successful in this country.  Wealth isn't the enemy, greed is the enemy.  It's not about hating people who get rich, it's about hating people who are corrupt and greedy and who deliberately wrecked the economy for their own personal gain, who buy off politicians to further their selfish agendas, who take away American jobs and ship them overseas just to make more profit.  It's about the selfish, greedy agenda that is destroying the middle class and ruining the quality of life for the lower 99% just to benefit the highest 1%.

This is why you see a growing number of bankers, executives and other wealthy people begin to stand with the 99%'ers.  This is why you see these same wealthy people holding signs that say "Please raise my taxes".  This is why 77% of the country, which includes a majority of Republicans, favor increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  It's not about hating wealth or wanting to punish success, it's about everyone stepping up and doing their fair share to get our country back on track again.  It's about challenging the so-called "job creators" to actually create jobs.  It's about challenging our government to listen to the people and not the money.  It's about challenging ourselves to do what's right, not just what's easy.  Most of all, it's about solidarity.  It's about the 99% coming together and proving that an organized, unified majority will always effect change.  It's about proving that democracy still works in this country.

There is a message here and that message is "we are the 99%, start listening to us".  Once we can get that point across, then there will be plenty of time for lists and statements and everything else.

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