October 17th, 2011


The occupy movement

Journals are supposed to kind of be time capsules, about the way you feel in the times you live in, right?  So Occupy Wall Street deserves an entry from me here.

In 2008 Obama was elected on a wave of hope for change.  The ads brought tears to my eyes... We CAN end the wars!  We CAN save the planet!  I'm almost 30 so of course I knew it wouldn't be perfect, I didn't think Obama was the messiah.  But I was excited with everyone.

Then came the tea partiers.  They were nervous that government-funded healthcare was overreaching into a private sector.  They were angry that the collapse of the economy, which they blamed on people taking out housing loans without being able to afford them.  They won some elections, and a batch of no-compromise representatives stormed onto washington with a solitary goal of no new taxes, not even fixes to systems that might be unfair.  No taking from the rich to give to the poor.  The poor will always be poor because they are stupid, and deserve to learn their lessons.

And now Occupy Wall Street.  Storming the streets of New York, they blame the situation on corporate greed and general intolerance.  The poor are poor because the system is unfair, because it takes too much today just to afford health care and childcare and life.

It goes back to the old questions... if you were poor, and bought a home when you could barely afford by taking out an adjustable rate mortgage, who should feel bad?  What if you needed a home for your kids?  What if it's part of the American dream?  What if the bank has the right to raise that interest rate?  Did the brokers know they'd hurt you in the end?  Did you know you couldn't afford it?

Do people deserve to be punished, or is the system unfair?

Does everyone deserve health care, or only people who saved up and got the right college degree?

In conservative Wichita, a tiny band of "occupy" supporters was counterpointed with a sign reading GO OCCUPY A JOB.

Personally, I continue to feel unfairly privileged by the health care plan I have.  I am too close to too many friends who were left out, and yeah maybe they got liberal arts majors while I was up all night working my engineering project that had to work, but some of them pulled some all-nighters too.  They're digging out from student loans while mine are well paid off.  And what about sheer dumb luck?  I did work hard in school, but in the three months after school that I was unemployed I saw a risk there, that I could be left behind.  And I won't forget it.

I may be doing okay, but it's not because I plumeted to earth on my own.  I've been privileged from birth.  Denying that, and acting like millions of people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstrings because I've worked hard, would make me morally corrupt.

In 2005 I slaved away on a gay rights campaign and saw what amazing change can come from just hitting the streets and knocking on some doors.  Looking back, it was the start of the progressive glimmer that brought Obama into office.  Some of us wanted to help the targeted.  My parents questioned how much time & passion I was pouring into the campaign, because in Kansas we knew we were going to lose that vote, they said "Everything is a pendulum, and everything changes, you know people are opening up and learning about this issue, in a generation it'll go away.  Why knock down doors now?  If you just sit, it'll fix itself."

Because things get lost along the way.  Students are unemployed now, kids are growing up without healthcare now.  Gay teens are still bullied into suicide... now.

The tea partiers, with their isolationism and finger pointing, made me shy away from my once libertarian ideals.  Oh but let's face it, they weren't libertarians... even the libertarian party was saying so.  They were looking for an out.  Libertarians don't blame their problems on immigrants, don't care if a political office holder is religious enough, don't support racial profiling as a national security measure (because it doesn't make sense!)

So how come I'm not out to Occupy anything?

It's mostly that I'm jaded about vague "we're just angry" sort of movements.  We saw it with the 2005 campaign... people who'd sit on the sidelines, whining about how our side wasn't organized enough.  But they wouldn't join the organization!  Protests and signs do not get politicians elected.  Votes do.  Volunteers do.  Get out the vote campaigns, phone banking, knocking on doors... dirty work!  And something tells me that maybe Occupy Wall Street will find some leaders to get to that point, like the tea parties did in 2009, so we can counter the haters and get some messages across.  I like Elizabeth Warren and other "anti-corporate-greed" leaders... but make no mistake, they can only work from the inside with some real practical support.

I don't know if I'll ever have the energy to work a campaign like I did in 2005, I think that was my fun experience in the sausage factory.  The pendulum is making me dizzy these days.  I will show up and vote, I may call my representatives... I honestly still believe those two things are more important than standing on a street corner with a sign.  Especially when I'm a little unsure of the signs, and the solution they're looking for.  It's not "we can", that's for sure.