I've decided to start a series of short posts concerning not only my involvement in the Occupy Philadelphia movement, but also the movement itself in my opinion. This is the second in a series.
It is now 22 days into the Occupation, and everything seems different. Over the past week I barely went back to the Basecamp at Dilworth Plaza, really returning more to my own personal life than to helping out the occupation itself. The attacks in Oakland... they're just horrifying. To me, its just a harbinger of what's to come in Philly once the cops kick out the Occupation for the construction to begin on Dilworth Plaza.
On Thursday, the General Assembly in Oakland voted for a General Strike. The strike was later adopted by the entire movement. Today, Friday, I talked to a few co-workers I knew who were either following or semi-involved in the movement if they were going to participate. The reaction was split.
The general reaction from my friends is just one question: Why? Why are you doing this?
With everything I do, with all the running around and working I've done lately, its nearly impossible for me to actually explain myself to them without going into a diatribe. So I decided to take their most interesting and common questions and explain what I've seen:
1. Why are you even out there?! You guys have no message!
We're all out here for different reasons, but the general sentiment is the same; We're mad as hell that the banks got bailed out for doing a poor job while we were all left to fend for ourselves. We're mad that the income of the Top 1% rose over 270% over the last 30 years while that of the 99% percent only rose 18%. We're mad that over 50% of the people in this country only make less than $27,000 a year. We're mad that jobs are being sent overseas, that the job market stinks, that education in this country is so poor, that we can somehow pay for another war but we can't seem to get enough cash together to let everyone in this country to at least have guaranteed health care.
At this point, there is no one single message. Instead, it's a jumble of hundreds of thousands of messages, but everything I said are, in essence, the underlying points.
If you had to put it on a bumper sticker, it would simply say, "It's the Economy, Stupid."
2. It's nothing but spoiled rich kids!
If I'm a spoiled rich kid, then you're the Queen of England. At one point, I was actually on food stamps. At another I almost lost everything. Right now I work full-time. It was with hard work and persistence that I got my current job, and it wasn't because my parents put in a good word for me.
A lot of the people down there are anything but spoiled or rich. In fact, virtually everyone on the tech team I know works a full-time job and are just trying to pay their bills. Based on who I met, that's the vast majority of people. The people down there protesting aren't looking for a handout; they're looking to help the world.
3. You guys aren't getting anything done!
Actually, we are.
I was thinking about this today while reading Consumerist.com. Over the past month, there have been some MASSIVE reforms! I can't say for a fact there's an immediate cause-and-effect, but I think its safe to say that some of these could be connected:
People were protesting at Bank of America's around the country, writing them letters and closing their accounts because of their new $5 fees for using debit cards. The company refused to eliminate the fee. Chase Bank, which had considered a similar plan for $3, got rid of theirs October 28th.
One common things protestors have said they wanted was a forgiveness of Student Debt. Student debt is currently at $1 Trillion (Trillion with a T) Dollars, and for countless people its a source of pain and problems. Even with a job, most people can't make payments. The White House came up with a plan to cut some payments on October 26th.
We're marching on the streets demanding that the people who got us in this mess face justice! Criminal charges were brought up to an ex-Goldman Sachs Director for insider trading and he turned himself in on October 26th to the FBI.
We want Corporations to treat people better and be punished for their crimes! A federal ruling will make it easier to be sued for human rights violations in foreign countries on October 26th.
They're making it easier to refinance your house.
People are closing their accounts at big banks and going to credit unions.
So, no, we may not know exactly what we want, but we are making a difference.
4. Why aren't you protesting the government?! They started this whole mess!
The problem with the economy today boils down, in my opinion, to unrestrained capitalism. Ronald Regan, during his Presidency, did everything he possibly could to being the re-regulation of not only the U.S. Stock Market, but also industry as a whole. During his term, we saw more and more businesses begin to ship jobs to Mexico. Over the last 10 years, we've seen more and more deregulation and more volatility in the market resulting in market and eventually destroying the country.
Is this partly the governments fault? Yes. Could you also make the argument that the government has been corrupted by the same companies that are hurting us and that they are, to a degree, nothing more than a middle man between us and them? Yes. So why not just go after the source?
We've tried voting out the bums, and we've tried writing and calling our politicians to actually effect change.
5. You're all a bunch of Communists and anti-Capitalists!
Not even close. I actually like Capitalism myself. Although I have some Libertarian leanings, the truth is I do believe in government regulations of business to a degree. Because of the mess this country is in now, I now believe more than ever that there is a need for them. At the same time, I don't want to see a system in place that says that my money and gain is not my own. A lot of people do believe in Capitalism, but they want restraints. Meanwhile other people would rather see Communism. That's just how it goes.
6. What, you guys just want a handout?! I WORK!
We don't want a handout, we want what's fair and what's right. We want to go back to the days of the New Deal and FDR, a return to the America we were promised at one point. Instead we were given a nation in over $14 Trillion dollars in debt and growing thanks to wars we shouldn't be fighting in the first place. We're not looking for people to give us stuff (outside of donations for the occupation), we're looking for a chance to get things better.