I’ll voice my own opinion through the words of others.
I’ve been pretty quiet about the Occupy Wall Street movement. And I’ll be honest here: I’m keeping my thoughts to myself because they’re not exactly popular.
And that’s made me wonder whether I’m missing something. Why is it that I’m not all gung-ho about this movement? After all, I share a lot of the same frustrations as the Occupy protesters. Why is it that I don’t feel comfortable speaking out in support of them?
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I really didn’t support them — not the way most of the people I know do. I think a lot of people have been blinded by emotion and aren’t seeing the big picture. I’m seeing a bit of that picture, mostly because I’m reading the thoughtful words of others who are far more knowledgable than I am.
I’d like to explain where I stand on this issue by sharing three blog posts I’ve read about the Occupy movement that really ring true to me. I’ve linked to these on this blog and on various social networks, but I haven’t really talked much about why they’ve echoed my sentiments. Here are my comments, in the order in which I read them.
Like a Rolling Stone
First off, Matt Taibbi’s excellent October 25 piece for Rolling Stone, “OWS’s Beef: Wall Street Isn’t Winning It’s Cheating.” This is Matt’s attempt to explain why the protest isn’t about envy. It’s about anger — anger over the fact that Wall Street investment firms and banks aren’t playing by the same rules that the American public is. He points out the availability of interest-free loans, forgiveness for missing payments, bailouts for losses resulting from bad/careless business decisions. He’s absolutely right: the average American doesn’t have Uncle Sam to help him out of trouble if he makes a bad investment decision or misses a mortgage payment. Financial institutions do. And because of this, they’re able to reap huge profits and pay their executives huge salaries and bonuses. They’re cheating, Taibbi argues, and that’s how they’re winning. And that’s why the Occupy protesters are angry.
I pretty much agree with this. After all, it explains why I’m angry. I’m angry partially because my tax dollars went to rescue financial institutions that were “too big to fail” instead of creating jobs, improving education, or helping people get affordable health care. I’m angry because the management of those financial institutions — the same people who send jobs overseas, stick customers with huge fees, and take bailout money when they make business mistakes — have huge compensation packages. I’m angry because I know that the reason big business gets all these benefits is because they paid good money to line the pockets of too many politicians, one way or another, and those politicians are taking care of the people who paid them off — not the people who voted them into office.
And here’s another thing: If I make bad decisions in my business, my business would fail. Why is it that big financial institutions aren’t allowed to suffer the consequences of their own mistakes — and I have to? That’s what’s making me — and many others — angry. It’s the unfairness of the system. That’s the point Taibbi is trying to make and I think he does a pretty good job, with lots of examples to illustrate what he’s saying.
But, at the same time, I think Taibbi’s mistaken if he thinks all of the OWS protesters are driven by anger more than envy. Too many are pushing socialistic ideas like wealth redistribution. Too many believe they’re entitled to jobs — not just honest jobs that utilize their skills and give them a stepping stone to move up. They seem to want only certain kinds of jobs with only certain kinds of companies, jobs that pay a high wage without making them “wage slaves.” I blogged about this the other day.
And with people like that in the movement, it’s hard for me to support the movement as a whole.
Who Is Dave Ramsey? Beats Me.
Dave Ramsey’s October 19 piece, “Dear Occupy Wall Street ,” summarizes another reason why I can’t fully support the OWS movement. This is what has been nagging me for a long time — the movement hasn’t been able to adequately communicate exactly what it expects to achieve. In this piece, he critically reviews the slogans found on OWS protester signs. His thoughts pretty much echo mine.
Now I don’t who Dave Ramsey is. From what I gather from his website, he’s some sort of financial advisor. (I see a tab labeled “Church Leaders” on his home page and I find that worrisome, given my own lack of belief.) Is he left, right, center? I don’t know and I don’t care.
One of the problems we have these days is that if we know the messenger, we automatically agree or disagree with what he says because of labels put on him. But do we ever stop to read what these people have to say? I don’t care if Dave Ramsey is an ultra conservative, Tea Party card-carrying wacko — I agree with almost everything in this piece. Why don’t you read it and see if you do?
Words of Wisdom from Alaska
And finally, tying all the strings together in a nice, neat package, is a recent post by Jim Wright in his blog, Stonekettle Station. I like Jim’s writing. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He says exactly what’s on his mind. But instead of just blathering out solid opinion (as I so often do), he backs up everything he says with facts or information from his own personal experiences as a retired naval officer.
In “Occupy Wall Street, Lessons From The Tea Party, and Niven’s Law,” Jim begins by explaining why it has taken him so long to write about OWS. And, as I read, I began to realize that he also felt a lot like I do about the movement.
Jim’s main beef is twofold:
- These are not peaceful protests. While yes, it’s true that in some instances, police have overeacted (think pepper spray in NYC), in many other instances, the police have just been doing their job to control unruly mobs. Interestingly, he compares OWS protesters to Tea Party protesters and the Tea Partiers come out looking not only a lot more civilized, but a lot more effective.
- In a democracy like ours, We the People have the power to make changes like many of the ones the OWS protesters apparently want. That power is granted by the vote. Jim points out that the number of people who bother to get out and vote is rarely as high as even 65%. That’s 35% of the people who — in his opinion (and mine) — have absolutely no right to complain about elected officials and the laws they pass.
Jim’s no-nonsense piece is an excellent critical analysis of the situation, along with suggestions on how it can be improved to be more effective. After getting a lot of feedback, he wrote a follow-up piece, “Occupy Stonekettle Station, The Follow Up,” which attempts to bring rational thought into a reader discussion dominated by emotion-charged excuses and criticisms. But will people listen? I doubt it.
The Way I See It
In my mind, the OWS movement has problems on multiple levels.
- Emotions are getting in the way of reason. People are caught up in the anger or envy (or whatever) of the main theme. They’re either for it or against it, period. They’re too emotional to consider the facts.
- The main theme (and sub themes) are not being clearly communicated. Because the movement is so disorganized, there are too many themes and some contradict others. Yet supporters focus on the ones they agree with and assume the whole movement is about that. This simply isn’t the case.
- Sources of information are biased and are showing just one side of the issue. For example, we all saw a few innocent women get pepper-sprayed for no apparent reason — and that image got many people to support the movement. But did we all see the man defecating on a police car? Or the mob breaking windows at a bank? Or the people hurling burning bags of shit at police officers? If so, did that change your opinion of the movement as a whole?
- People trying to engage in a reason-based discussion of what’s going on and how it could be made more effective are being shot down by the blind supporters of the movement. Why do you think I’ve been so quiet? Every time I mentioned my doubts on Facebook or Google+ I was blasted by “friends” who could only shoot back with emotion-based arguments.
It’s unfortunate because the movement is polarizing would-be supporters, thus losing the support of rational, thoughtful people who might help it succeed.
Those are my thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement, as voiced by others who have written in more detail about it. I’m not against it, but I’m not for it in its current form.
I’ve been saying for months now that we need to clean house, we need to vote out everyone in office. I’m not blowing smoke. I really think this is true. Politicians are in the back pockets of big business. We need new politicians — candidates who actually care about the people — to move in and make a change. The only way to get that is to vote.
Don’t fight the system. Use it.
Got Something to Add?
I’ll leave comments open here — at least for a while — but I will remind everyone of the comment policy. I will not approve any comments that include a personal attack on me or any other commenter.
In addition, if you want to comment on this post, read the articles I linked to here first. If your comment demonstrates that you didn’t even bother to read what you’re commenting on, I will not approve it. I’m presenting this blog post as an attempt to get a reasonable discussion going. If you can’t be reasonable and back up what you say with facts, don’t waste your time here.