Because the conversation that took place on Nicole’s post about Occupy Wall Street necessitated me moderating more than commenting, I don’t feel like I really had a chance to verbalize my own feelings about what’s going on there. Nic Wirtz mentioned that it would be great to have a retort of sorts from someone within the movement. Well, I’m not in the movement, but I think there is a lot of great stuff going on tied to this wave of action. What do I like about Occupy Wall Street? Let me offer some tidbits of thought and then we can talk about them further if you like.
People are actually doing something
One of my biggest frustrations about American society during my lifetime is that a lot of people like to complain but when the time comes for action, they are not so keen to participate. I know this because I fall squarely into this category. There’s all kinds of stuff I complain about, but I never actually take the complicated step of doing something. It’s like one of my favorite scenes from Life of Brian (Monty Python). The time has come for action, so the team sits down and starts carefully planning what they will do while time is a’wasting. While the motivations of some folks are suspect – PBS Newshour talked to a Harvard Business Review economist who was clearly there for the media attention – a lot of the people have genuine beefs with the way things are going here. Instead of just immersing themselves in World of Warcraft or reality television, they’ve left home, are risking arrest, and if nothing else, they’re getting people to talk about some of these issues.
The college loan situation
For the last 10 years, I have lamented the way college loans work in this country. If you are able to fill out the immense piles of paperwork you need to fill out to get a loan for your education, you find yourself in a very complex predicament by the time you are ready to graduate. To wit, after you leave school, you have a 6-month grace period before your first payment is due, or at least that’s how it was for me. My last year of school I made under $10,000 for the year. The thought of having to make $300/month payments scared the crap out of me, so I knew I needed to find a job right away.
Have you ever tried to find a well-paying dream job in six months when you’re right out of school? It was tough back in 2004. Now, it’s even tougher.
This framework causes a few things. It causes a sense of desperation, so a lot of people settle for jobs just so they can get money rather than holding out for that job that might be a year to 18 months out of reach. Young people are having to live with their parents longer because they certainly can’t afford rent, utilities, AND their loans with no income coming in. And of course, there is the old catch-22 problem. How can you prove you are reliable and credible and a good worker if no one will take a chance on you?
I did not do anything to protest this framework other than write about it here and there and feel pretty angry for a few years. These young people are getting the issue out there.
Money is messed up in the US
OK, let’s face it. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is not decreasing. The middle class is disappearing, and for the most part, they are not being added to the “haves” crowd. Where I live, which is by no means a crappy area, there are pan-handlers at every corner and in front of every store. There are houses that have been up for sale for months and months because no one can afford them. That’s just in my little corner of the world.
Is it right to say that rich people are evil? No. There are a lot of philanthropists out there. Warren Buffet is begging the government to tax him more. But have a lot of people, tons of people, gotten rich off the backs of people who were already down? Heck yeah. This is hardly a new issue. People have pointed out these kinds of discrepancies for ages. How do you think the serfs felt in Medieval England? I mean, talk about a rotten deal. But in a country that is all about equality, it is getting to seem a little…hypocritical at best.
But there’s a gorilla in the room
To me, the Occupy Wall Street movement is missing the mark by a few states. Ultimately, to me, the biggest problems in our country lie with our politicians. I am not saying that either party is more or less to blame. While I have loved talking about politics for my whole life, the subject now makes me throw up a little, because our leaders, regardless of party, have lost track of what they’re supposed to be doing. They are after sound bytes now. They have created a country that is increasingly poor and increasingly polarized. Those are two Ps that are highly damaging to us as a nation.
So those are some of my thoughts about this movement. I’m watching it closely, but for now, I’m just happy that these painful issues are getting some attention. It’s about time.
Image by Asif Akbar. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/asifthebes