Occupy Wall Street: The Tea Party for Democrats
The United States is a country that was built on protest, created laws to protect it, and has since seen it at the center of huge and important sociopolitical change. We all grew up hearing the legends of Paul Revere, marveling at Susan B. Anthony coins mixed in with out spare change, and seeing footage from lunch-counter sit-ins and bus boycotts, all the while absorbing the sense of pride and accomplishment for what those protesters did. Unfortunately however, protests like the current “Occupy Wall St.” movement seem to have forgotten the thing that all those famous protesters had to make made their efforts significant—a purpose.
As Twitter buzzed with excitement when this all started, I went to the usual sources of national news to see what Occupy Wall St. was actually about. Based on the tweets, there was a lot of general talk of “greed” and “corporations” and how big banks were hurting the country but not much more. It all sounded like the typical entry-level politics of any Freshman liberal arts student learning what money is for the first time, but I assumed that these blanket statements were just 140-character shorthand for something more specific. As it would turn out, they were not.
Reading through reports coming out of CNN, NPR, The Huffington Post and other seemingly sympathetic news outlets, I struggled to find any actual centralized theme, largely due to the fact that the protest itself has no real organization or leadership (a fact that the protesters themselves seem proud of but has ultimately been to their detriment). Again, many man-on-the-street interviews gave voice to people who took issue with corporate greed, but none seemed to have anything deeper than that.
What corporations specifically were the problems? What actually constitutes “greed” and what did anyone propose to do about it? What exactly did these protesters hope to see happen as a result of their efforts? What impact are those efforts even having that might incite change? Who are they calling on to actually make those changes and how? If anyone knew, they certainly weren’t telling. Of course, these questions can’t easily be answered because they’re all far too broad and situational to really be summed up in a concise manner, but I’m not sure anyone at these protests actually understands that or cares.
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of reasons to complain about the effects of capitalism on our society, but so-called Evil Corporations don’t exist without someone purchasing their products—we all have our roles in the current financial ecosystem. It simply isn’t possible to remove “corporations” as a concept and still live the way that we’ve all become accustomed to, so if that’s the occupiers’ goal, then they’re wasting their time and everyone else’s by trying to demand a simple solution to a very, very complex problem.
Judging by the number of Nike sneakers, Levi’s jeans and Apple iPods strewn throughout the crowds of protesters, large corporations obviously play some role in these protesters’ lives, so again, which corporations are we talking about here? Those Guy Fawkes masks that people are so fond of clearly aren’t hand made, so they must’ve been purchased somewhere. Do small business owners count? After all, if Nike disappears tomorrow and is replaced by a thousand small companies, one of them will still eventually grow to Nike’s size and the cycle will continue. Does that make Joe Shoemaker greedy? If so, exactly whose fault is that?
What about the issues of corporate personhood that are raised by some of these protesters? On one hand, some complain about the idea that a corporation should have overarching rights and protections similar to individuals, but in the same act, accuse those corporations of having very human emotions like “evil” and “greed.” Which is it? Again, this is an issue that needs some serious discussion, but not one that can be productively encapsulated by anything written on a cardboard sign.
For a protest to be successful, it needs to have a clear, specific purpose that people can form an opinion on: “we will keep doing _____ until _____” happens. More importantly, the consequence of the protest needs to actually affect the people who make decisions. Bus boycotts didn’t work because the stirring protests melted the hearts of racists, they worked because the financial impact of losing that many black customers eventually became too much to ignore. If the protesters’ assertion is that Evil Corporations only care about money, then tampering with that money is the obvious way to get results. Wearing a jester’s hat while shouting at the police about “those fat cats on Wall Street” is not.
The Occupy Wall St. (or LA or wherever) protests are aggravating to local law enforcement and get a lot of media attention but to what end? Many of these people are still tweeting about it on their pricey smartphones over one of The Big Three’s cellular networks an irony that seems to be lost on many despite its seemingly obvious nature. While it’s hard to get a clear picture of which corporations are being branded as evil and which are acceptable, it is clear that neither is losing or making any money over this situation so they don’t really care.
Things do need to change and the American people are ultimately going to have to be the ones to do the changing. That said, Occupy Wall Street won’t change anything because of the disorganized activities and unclear desires of it’s participants. The only thing that seems truly important to a large number of those participants is the false sense of nobility that hash-tagging a tweet with “#OccupyWallSt” seems to afford them. This protest is the physical equivalent to actors wearing red ribbons at award shows to fight AIDS—a nice sentiment, but one that almost instantly outlives its debatable usefulness.
To put it bluntly, Occupy Wall St. is The Tea Party for Democrats: a lot of sound and fury from scared, angry people that will never amount to anything because everyone is more focused on pointing out perceived problems than providing solutions. They’re both groups of citizens who call themselves disenfranchised, but really only because it’s a convenient excuse to avoid learning how government actually works. You can replace the gun-wielding rednecks with iPad-wielding hipsters but the impact is the same—nothing. Enjoy your Facebook sit-ins if you like, but do you really remember anything that people were Tweeting about a year ago? Probably not, and at the rate it’s going right now, “Occupy Wall St.” will have the exact same legacy.