I wish I was writing this from New York City.
Obviously, I won’t be the first person from whom you hear about the Occupy Wall Street protests, and I won’t be giving you any new information about the movement, its numbers, the various cities in which it has sprung up, or what precisely it is that the movement even stands for. But what I can tell you is what the movement needs.
It’s very disheartening to hear the kinds of dialogue that I hear, at work and amongst my friends, regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. Cynicism is widespread. For many, even many young people who ought to themselves be taking to the streets, the movement is nothing but a bunch of smelly, pot-smoking hippies. Of course, that isn’t what I see when I see interviews with the protesters. I see the most ordinary and representative segment of America finally doing what courageous people in places like Egypt and Tunisia have done.
Naomi Klein delivered a good speech, apparently unamplified as amplification is not allowed, and the text of it can be found here: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/07-0. It says much of what needs to be said. And although I am usually the first person to become cynical about matters like these, cynicism is not what this particular movement needs, at least not right now.
It’s easy to take the attitude that you will wait and see how the movement plays out before deciding whether or not to participate. And the decision to leave everything behind and join a revolution is not an easy one, nor one to be taken lightly. But if everyone has the same reserved attitude, the movement will never get off the ground. Police will eventually win the day and everybody will go home without having affected more than marginal change.
And change cannot come in the form of concessions with those in power. My hope is that this movement doesn’t settle for a few gifts from the established powers. It would be easy for them to enact new legislation that might get the majority of protesters to go home. The legislation could even be painless for them. It might merely offer some kind of loan forgiveness; a noble aim it is, of course, to get ordinary people’s debts forgiven, since it was ordinary people who footed the bill for the bankruptcy of the wealthy (who were never truly bankrupt and by their definition never could be), but if we leave the institutions intact, we will eventually get right back where we started.
Precisely what it is the protesters are fighting for is actually pretty well-articulated. Better-articulated, at any rate, than the mysterious freedom-robbing boogeymen of the Tea Party protests. It’s been a long time coming for a left-wing counterpart to that movement; but this doesn’t even need to be about political affiliation. It underscores what I, and others, have felt about the Tea Party from the very beginning – that we DO all have the same grievances, and we do all have the same enemy. The amount of solidarity is inspiring. Fundamentally, the issue this country has is a simple “us vs. them” kind of thing.
For too long, the superrich have had it far too good. And it gets better for them every day. Meanwhile, it gets worse and worse for every ordinary American. This isn’t due to laziness. This isn’t due to lack of motivation or ability. Any ordinary American can get three jobs working 100 hours a week or more and still go nowhere. The robbery in this country has always been of the poor, and it used to baffle me that so many of the poor, with their own pockets being emptied before their very eyes, failed to see this.
The language being used by the people involved is non-hostile and precisely the kind of revolutionary attitude that’s necessary. And as much as it is nice to see sympathetic movements of solidarity springing up around the country, what’s really necessary is a massive push right in the heart: New York City.
A couple hundred or a couple thousand people in a few of America’s biggest cities is nice to see. But it can be crushed by the police. Get a couple million people right in Wall Street, and they’ll have to use the military. Which they might do.
There are plenty of criticisms that might justly be hurled at the activists. And, in the event they… we… actually achieve anything, those criticisms will likely only increase. But for now, what the movement needs is optimism, not cynicism; mobility and bodies on the street, not blogs (like this one) and tweets of support.
It will take an army to topple the most secure power the world has known thus far. But one is rising. And as Ms. Klein rightfully points out, time is of the essence. We can’t afford to let this movement be one of temporary traction, a victory of some petty concessions and handouts. It’s got to fundamentally reverse decades of increasing corporate prosperity and decreasing standards of living for ordinary people. It has to move us away from the shallow goal of economic and material prosperity and into the realm of caring for one another.
It’s a moment that has to be seized. Forget your reservations, your cynicism, your prudence. Throw them all aside and join the fight. Be not afraid of what you might lose; this is a fight to gain. It’s a fight to gain the future.