Why Occupy?

I have a confession to make.

I keep getting really cross with the people involved in the occupy movement. I mean really cross, vitriolic abuse flingingly cross.

This isn’t like me… not at all like me. I’m not right-wing, I have socialist leanings and I support the right to free public assembly. So I’ve been thinking about why I’m cross and what I really, really think about occupy and everything that they’re trying to achieve. Bear with me if you will, I have a feeling that it’s all going to get a little bit complicated.

1. I have a problem with the people who are speaking on behalf of the movement.

I’m not an idiot, I know there are processes happening within the news media that are specifically designed to present the movement as a bunch of left-wing, student scumbags. I also know that a stereotype is not something to judge a community based movement on. These people are just asking for a slap though.

So, yeah… initially I have a very clear prejudicial dislike of, well, for shorthand let’s call them hipster hippies. Hip Hip hooray Henry haters. Urgh, alliteration. That very particular slice of white, middle-class, western society that can quite happily abandon their mortgages, jobs, whatever and go camp out for however long they feel the need to. That slice  of society who seem to feel that no-one else has ever tried to use any of the techniques they have magically come up with to solve all of the world’s problems. Someone give them a city to run and we’ll see if the bins get collected and the buses run on time shall we? BAH.

You see? There I go again. Cross.

When I look at the declaration from the occupation of New York City for example, I see a list of general complaints about how unfair it all is and how the big boys are bullying them. They are gathering to let ‘facts be known’ not, we have gathered here to engage in a multi-partisan debate about the percieved injustices against the common citizen by corporations and government. Not, we’re here with a path of action that we’d like you to consider implementing. No, we’re here because we’re cross and we want to tell you that.

Fair enough, be cross. Demonstrate, make your voices heard. Do not, however, think that you are going to make a blind bit of difference unless you a) organise yourselves like a group of adults and come up with some suggestions or b) truly inspire revolution by the masses.

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.”

Of course they’re not. They never will be. Life is not fair. This is a fact, a fact that is acknowledged by nearly everyone in the world. The difference is how an individual chooses to approach that. Fat cat executives argue that no, life isn’t but that’s the way of the world and they’ve worked hard to get where they are. They’re pure free-market capitalists and their opinions and beliefs should be respected.

That’s what I think governments are there to control. Part of the role of a state is to govern it’s people and processes, by imposing higher taxes on the rich a government can allow competition to survive whilst acting with a social conscience in the use of those tax funds.

I think we have a pretty good compromise on the go at the moment. Sure, there are people earning obscene amounts of money but there always will be. I don’t believe communism works in practice based on the historical examples of East Germany, Cuba and Russia and I think a government that can keep the majority of people satisfied enough for most of the time is doing a pretty good job.

This leads me neatly to;

2. What’s your suggestion for doing it better?

I’ve been getting really frustrated by the lack of intelligent political debate going on around occupy. It reminds me of the beginning stages of the Tea Party when it mainly seemed to be just angry noise from the middle-aged, middle-class. There’s a danger with any grassroots movement that they get caught up in their own hype and truly believe that they are representing the best interests of the whole world. At least the Tea baggers had a pretty nicely drawn up set of requests and legislative changes after a while, Occupy seems to be sticking with the ‘don’t be so mean’ tagline.

Speaking of not being so mean, I should pause for breath. I really do appreciate that it is a rubbish time to be a home-owner or unemployed, especially in the US. I don’t doubt that the outpouring of indignant outrage comes from a very sincere place for all of these people and if I honestly believed that it would make a difference, I would drag my unwell carcass down to St Paul’s and pitch a tent.

I absolutely feel for the people who honestly can’t find work, who have been shoved to the side and ignored by the system. I think America has a particularly rubbish social support system compared to the good old UK. It makes my heart break to think of families losing their homes despite working their fingers to the bone to hold onto the security that they believed effort could bring you.

It’s not fair. It really, really isn’t.

It’s also not fair for much of sub-saharan africa where children are starving to death and have been for decades. It’s not fair that there are wars going on around the world that are very rarely reported on and are being funded by our tax money. It’s not fair that one of the main trading partners of the US and the UK is actively occupying another country and has some serious human rights issues.

There are all sorts of horrible, horrible things going on all over the world. I’d love to be able to fix them, but idealism and pragmatism are working as polar opposites in my head. I give to charity, I give blood, I work in the public sector and try to keep politically aware. I also join in. I sign petitions, always vote in local and general elections, have been on marches for cause I believe in and try to raise awareness of under-represented issues in my own small way.

It’s also worth noting as a side point that as an Atheist, it doesn’t stop me appreciating the golden rule as a good guideline for living by. I try to consciously think about how my actions affect the people around me and if there is anything that I can do to make their experience more pleasant.

I guess I’m a goddamn hippy after all.

My final point is a lead on from this;

3. The 99% doesn’t include me thanks very much.

I’m a homeowner. I have a job. I’m a university graduate. I’m white. I’m female. I speak English as my first language. I’m a British citizen.

I am one privileged mofo.

Okay, so it makes me wince when I fill the car up with petrol these days. I maybe can’t have every little thing that I’d like to have. But I also don’t have to worry about where my next drink of safe water is coming from, I know that I’m not going to be thrown out of my house any time soon. I know that I will be paid for the work that I do and, because of my profession, I could find another job easily. I have a shiny TV, a computer and internet access and know that I’m unlikely to be thrown in prison for publishing my views online.

My point is that there are false lines being drawn in the sand here. It’s not them and us, it’s us and us. The system is a bit broken, it could certainly do with an overhaul but the first step has to be a conversation about it. Let’s open the dialogue. Being part of society is about compromise, it has to be. Let’s just find a compromise that works a bit better.

But please, please stop making all of this noise for no good reason. You want revolution in a democracy? The only change you’d be able to effect is to create chaos or a new dictatorship. There is no way to enact the lovely dream of a whole population in consensus and still have a working social infrastructure. We’ll never get rid of consumption based capitalism, it’s been around since there was meat to barter for flint. But there may be another way, let’s try and work it out.

So that’s that. Next time someone asks me what I think about occupy and I start to feel the confused mess of opinionated noise rise in me, I shall simply direct them here and take some quiet breaths.

Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong. I feel a bit like an Objectivist right now and that’s not a label I ever saw myself having.

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3 Responses to Why Occupy?

  1. manish patel says:

    You said it yourself, it must start with conversation. And, that’s where the movement is right now. An airing of grievances, if you will. As for suggestions, here are the fundamental ones (from my consensus and based on observations): 1) Reinstate Glass-Steagall; 2) Get money out of politics; 3) End corporate personhood; 4) Stop illegal foreclosures; 5) Audit and end the Federal Reserve; 6) End the wars; 7) End crony capitalism/corporate welfare (this is different than actual capitalism, which seems to be fine with them); 8) No more bailouts; 9) No taxation without representation; 10) Jail those responsible for collapsing the world economies. Which one(s) do you find fault with? I ask because you mentioned something about making noise for no good reason in your post. With the amount of people participating, of course you will see some “off signs” (i.e. marxist, communist, socialist, etc.), but these seem to be limited in scope. Most of the students protesting about student loan debt are angry, not only because they can’t find work, but also because in the U.S., student loans can’t be discharged via bankruptcy (effectively screwing a lot of people with a lot of debt). Fixing things has to start somewhere. The ten things I mentioned don’t require much work. Why haven’t they been addressed? In my opinion, it’s because it would be a direct hit to the elite, who like the status quo just fine. They finance campaigns, have lobbyists write the laws, get congress to pass them, and continue to pilfer from the population. I’ll leave it here, but suggest that you engage these ‘occupiers’ in conversation.

    • zenspider says:

      Firstly, thanks for your comment. You raise some really good points, I’m just not sure how little work some of them would require to put in place. I’m assuming that by 6) end the wars you are specifically talking about withdrawing US troops and ending US led wars. Does this include the disbanding of a standing army too? 5) Audit, definitely but how would national and international monetary policy be regulated in it’s absence? 8 ) for any organisation by the state or purely for big business that has played a risky monetary game? and 10) how do we go about this? Can we effectively single out the people responsible? My understanding of the problem was that the speculative investing and sub-prime lending situation in the states was a systemic failure rather than down to individuals and the problem over here in Europe is even more complex. I’d feel uncomfortable putting individuals in prison for something that was, although ethically wrong, not necessarily illegal at the time.
      I agree wholeheartedly with all of your other suggestions, although I’m not convinced of the ease in which you seem to think they could be addressed. I’m not so convinced of shadowy cabals either. I think the view of the situation is clearly very different in the states than here in the UK. I remain pretty content with the systems that we have in place and would only really push for a review of corporate taxation and true proportional representation via electoral reform.
      My comment about making noise is tied into yours about an airing of grievances. I just believe that demonstration without proactive and positive movement towards achievable change is akin to getting your voice heard and your feelings acknowledged, but not ‘useful’ in the long run. I guess I’m saying, positive action for positive change is what seems to be needed. I’m still open to being won over, and seeing more definite aims and requirements across the movement would definitely make me much more pro occupy. I’ll keep watching and discussing and see how it all develops.

  2. manish patel says:

    Point (6), the U.S. (or any other nation) has no business “occupying” 140 (+/-) countries with over 1,100 military installations (standing armies or otherwise). Not only does it have no business, but it can’t afford to police the world anymore. Point (5), go back to the gold standard. That way money is backed by something other than just “confidence”. No more quantitative easing (i.e. printing), no more currency debasement, no inflation, stable prices, etc.

    Point (8), with capitalism, there is no difference. If you’re a primary dealer (e.g. MF Global), hedge fund (e.g. Long Term Capital Management), investment bank (e.g. Bear Sterns, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, etc.), insurance company (e.g. AIG), bond fund, whatever and you want to speculate leveraged alpha/beta/gamma and you blow yourself up, that’s your business. We can’t have a system where the gains are privatized and the losses are socialized. On the same side of the coin, if you’re a state pension fund, municipal fund, etc. and you assume 8% returns or higher when realistic returns are closer to 3%, why should public funds be used to make up for incompetent actuaries? With pure capitalism, you live and die by the sword.

    Point (10), this one is trickier because it involves those least likely to support it. But, it can be done. During the S&L crises in the late 80’s/early 90’s, Bill Black sent over 1,000 people to jail. As for “not necessarily illegal at the time”, fraud has never been legal and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of citable cases. Citigroup’s former Chief Risk Officer testified (under oath) that by 2007, 80% of what they were underwriting was garbage. In Jefferson County, several politicians were jailed over a sewer bond deal, but none of the people on the other side of the financing were touched (bribes usually involve two parties). Wachovia pled guilty to laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. Goldman and Citi were both caught creating faulty CDO’s that were sold off as “good investments” (please see here as one example, mind the language: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLx2Xc1EXLg). Lehman was caught playing Repo 105 games before they filed BK. I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the point. And, if you’re still “uncomfortable”, how about just terminating bank charters? If you can’t play by the rules, you can’t play at all. There can’t be two sets of laws. And, you’re right, some of these are easier to take care of than others. For example, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed parts of Glass-Steagall. It was legislated and signed into law (stroke of a pen, if you will). It could just as easily be legislated and reinstated.

    And, I agree with you that positive action is needed for positive change and like I said, it has to start somewhere. The underlying issues were never addressed. Are they being addressed now? I don’t really know. What I do know is that those in their corner offices are still in their corner offices (making a killing). No one has gone to jail or even been held accountable. There is still a lot of leverage in the system. CDS are still traded OTC. HFT’s are still frontrunning and channel stuffing. No one wants to address budget, deficit and debt issues. Fraud has now gone to a sovereign level. Banks are still marking assets-to-make believe. And, on and on. This debate (and possible political movement?) is just beginning. I, like you, will keep an eye on it.

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