Will Occupy Wall Street ever end?
This nagging question is one that sane citizens, local store owners, lovers of anti-bacterial soap, capitalists, lovers of freewill, politicians -- probably even the movement's supporters -- are asking. On a personal level, the large gripe sessions are intriguing (after all, it's always noteworthy when people come together en masse to champion a cause). But at some point, the movement that claims the represent "the 99 percent" will actually need to stand for something calculable.
Beyond the intrigue, the protests have shown themselves to be patently bizarre, angst-ridden and frankly -- unspecific. At moments, the Occupiers seem more interested in re-creating Woodstock; at other times, they lament America's current capitalistic system while calling for everything from free health care to federal jobs for the nation's unemployed. And let's not forget about the college loans they're angry about -- loans they willingly took out, knowing full-well how expensive their education would be.
Throughout the month-long occupation, "leaders" in the movement have appeared on television incessantly, claiming that they won't settle for amendments to the current system. "This isn't about reform, it's about revolution" has been one of the statements made repeatedly since the Occupiers first "took" Wall Street in mid-September. While this sounds bold, it's yet another example of the weasel-wordy overtures that have come from those championing the cause.
Now before I take heat for being overtly negative about the protests, there are some viable points that the Occupiers are making. Obviously, there have been some less-than-ethical practices in banking and business. Unemployment has remained extremely high. College costs are soaring. Gas prices are still absurdly high. Global warming is (apparently) a massive problem worthy of epic displays of panic (and, of course, government intervention). The list goes on.
The Occupiers have a number of valid complaints. But they lack two very important items: Solid proposals for fixing these issues and an easy-to-understand list of bullet points regarding what they actually hope to accomplish.
At the end of the day, the old adage, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," holds great meaning. Sure, the protesters are angry over their current situations, but their Occupy movement lacks a solid mission. Without a focus, the protests have essentially become a free-for-all of complaints and lamentations.
Sally Kohn, a liberal commentator who has come out in support of the protesters (and whom I consider a friend), published her thoughts last week on FoxNews.com. Kohn, who has dismissed some of the movement's critics, made the point that those opposed to Occupy Wall Street and its sister movements should focus more on what the protesters are against, not what they're for. Sadly, due to a lack of focus, this is what most Americans have been forced to do.
In Kohn's view, the protesters stand united against "the gaping inequality that has poisoned our economy, our politics and our nation." She writes:
In America today, 400 people have more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined. That’s not because 150 million Americans are pathetically lazy or even unlucky. In fact, Americans have been working harder than ever -- productivity has risen in the last several decades. Big business profits and CEO bonuses have also gone up. Worker salaries, however, have declined.
While there may be some hard-number truths here, let's consider who we're speaking about. The 400 people she's referring to are the nation's wealthiest Americans. Naturally, these are the creme of the crop -- the large-scale business owners and those who are innovators (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others like them).
Are these people unbelievably rich? Sure. But the statistics and numbers that stand as the basis of this calculation aren't necessarily full-proof (they actually come from Michael Moore, a filmmaker known for tweaking the truth). Either way, these people are some of the nation's largest employers and most brilliant innovators. Of course they're the richest.
What Kohn's description fails to mention is the federal government's continued spending spree, the nation's $14 trillion in accumulated debt and a slew of regulations and interventions that have taken the overall fiscal situation from horrible to economically dangerous. Aren't these some of the big issues that are driving America's economic conundrum? Kohn continues:
According to polls, most Americans support the 99% movement, even if they’re not taking to the streets. In fact, support for the Occupy Wall Street protests is not only higher than for either political party in Washington but greater than support for the Tea Party. And unlike the Tea Party which was fueled by national conservative donors and institutions, the Occupy Wall Street Movement is spreading organically from Idaho to Indiana. Institutions on the left, including unions, have been relatively late to the game.
This paragraph includes a multitude of information that's screaming to be debunked. Comparing the Tea Party's current support to that of the Occupy Movement's is like comparing apples and oranges. The former hasn't been holding massive rallies in recent weeks (or months even) and the public has had plenty of time to digest its mission. Occupy Wall Street, which still lacks a stated mission, is a newfound movement with little or no substance by which to be graded.
But beyond that, let's look at whom Americans really are frustrated with. According to the Los Angeles Times, "When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy in the poll conducted over the weekend, 64% of Americans faulted the federal government while 30% cited big banks and other financial institutions." And while Kohn and others continue to try and build a case for majority support for the Occupiers, this simply isn't the case. The Times has more:
A majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, said they were neutral about the Occupy Wall Street and tea party movements. About 26% of those surveyed described themselves as supporters of the Occupy movement and 19% said they were opponents. About 52% said they were neither, with 4% having no opinion.
And to dismiss the power and fury of unions is a bit silly. While the few hundred people who originally headed down to Zuccotti Park may have accounted for the "organic" portion Kohn is heralding, the unions and large Democratic enterprises have subsequently been heavily involved in funding and organizing. These institutions are far more powerful than conservative non-profits who supported the Tea Party, no?
In the end, a mission must be determined and sought out. It's simply a natural progression. Right now, the general public is confused -- which is why there's neutrality in assessing what people think about the movement.
The movement's organizers would be smart to take their displaced anger and turn it into viable activism. If you're annoyed by tuition rates, chat with the universities! Frustrated by the lack of job opportunities? Start a small business!
There are plenty of options that are far more viable than basking in the sea of absurdity down at the Occupy protests. Truly.