I started not understanding Occupy Wall Street’s purpose. I fell into the media trap of reciting a talking point: they have no message! But the more I spoke to members of the movement, people online, people at Occupy Seattle itself (yes, I’ve been a few times), the purpose and message became more clear. Occupy started focusing itself as well, which helped. Switch to Credit Unions? Yeah, I get that. And old friend who worked in finance until 2008 (heh) has been telling us the same thing for months. The Beautiful Competition’s been saying it for years.
The more I learned about Occupy, the more I realized I’ve seen this before. I was quite an activist in my college days: supporting Nader in 2000, working on a certain filmmaker’s TV show, railing against corporate greed and a fundamentally corrupt system.
After Bush was elected and 9/11 happened any sort of discourse about these subjects came to a grinding halt for several years–while the very interests we sought to highlight proceeded to continue their ruin of our economy. Not just the American economy mind you, but the global economy.
It’s been a strange past month. I’ve watched as friends and family attack the Occupy movement with a variety of strawmen and non sequitors. I’ve seen relations of those family members struggle to try to find a job several months out of college–hardly a unique phenomenon, and one that’s central to the heart of the Occupy movement.
|Yes, it’s the protesters who are messy.|
They’re not too proud to go and flip burgers (despite being told that incurring tens of thousands in debt is the way to avoid burger-flipping): it’s just that there aren’t enough burger-flipping jobs available. “They should shut up and get a job” in response to Occupy is the response you’d make only if you were utterly clueless about the economic situation in this country (and now spreading into the EU.)
There is a certain amount of irony here: the very boomers whose protests in the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War are the same people who simply don’t understand Occupy, for whatever reason. I was reminded yesterday of a verse written by these very boomers more than 45 years ago, which are oddly prophetic for Occupy. Here’s a video to accompany it.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
Much of this coalesced last week when I read this stunning article about a Catholic’s loss of faith after the Penn State pedophilia scandal. It’s not so much about a loss of religious faith but a loss of faith in institutions, leaders, and those who should be serving as role models. In a way it’s the loss of faith in the boomers who protested war but put us in this situation by allowing the monied interests to have their way with America. I grew up on The Simpsons: the first episode to hit Fox came out in my very formative fifth grade year. The Occupy grew up on South Park, a far more nihilistic cartoon lampooning literally everything. For The Simpsons generation, there are institutions we should still be able to trust. For the Occupy generation, the South Park generation, just a few years younger than me, they have been raised to suspect and distrust literally everything.
It’s an isolating proposition. It’s the ultimate existentialism, a body of internal self-reliance that would probably scare the ever-loving shit out of most people who rely on religion, leaders, institutions, or something for meaning. As the boomers drift around like boats on the ocean taking refuge in new age nonsense while ignoring the economic ruin they’ve enabled if not condoned, the South Park generation is taking to the streets.
|Occupy Paper Street|
In a Facebook conversation the other day about the above article I mentioned how much that nihilism reminded me of the film Fight Club. If there’s a movie that encapsulates what we were trying to achieve (or at least, Cassandra-like, trying to bring attention to) in the last 90s, Fight Club would be it. It isn’t a glorification of violence and anti-establishment behavior: the film is a warning that a corrupt and awful system stacked against those who enter it at a young age will inevitably reach a breaking point.
The Simpsons generation still trusted too much in the ability for things to sort themselves out. We were drowned by the jingoism following 9/11, the patriotism suppositories forced on us by the extreme right who said anyone who questioned their actions were traitors while the literally robbed us blind and ruined 99.9% of us while they made out like the bandits they were.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have our place in Occupy, as do the boomers who have joined and supported it, as do the Vietnam vets who are protesting, the 84-year-old retirees who have been pepper sprayed, as does anyone who understands what’s happening here (what it is, is exactly clear–if you’ve been paying attention.) But fundamentally it isn’t our movement. It belongs to the South Park generation.
They’ve watched as the institutions they have been told will uplift and protect them have repeatedly, fundamentally and systemically failed. And rather than accepting this fate they have taken to the streets, formed General Assemblies, put into action fundamental democratic principles, and enacted steps to raise awareness and start taking things back. They are doing what we tried and failed to do 10 years ago.
Despite the movement’s many shortcomings (see, we can’t do anything without questioning the institution!) it has the best chance of success of any political movement since the 1960s. It’s their time. They have my support. Their success won’t be stunted but enabled by their fundamental distrust in the institutions that lead us here–all of them. Those kids are alright.