Occupied: Many voices, many messages, one main point

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October 3, 2011 by 8junebugs

Raised FistOccupy Wall Street started in New York City on September 17. The protest continues today — in an increasing number of US cities — in spite of hundreds of arrests (Thousands? I’m starting to lose count.) and widespread accounts of…let’s call it “inappropriate police response.” For now.

We are the 99%,” the occupiers say, and their demands are legion, leading mainstream newscasters and professional activists to criticize them for lacking one cohesive message.

A cohesive message, you might learn in a graduate communications degree program (maybe) is critical to the success of a campaign.

If you’re a lobbyist. A paid lobbyist.

These aren’t lobbyists or professional communicators. These are the nation’s un- and under-employed. These are our kids and our parents, and now our teachers, our autoworkers, our nurses, and the people who run our trains and buses.

They bought into the version of the American dream we’ve been sold for the last 30 years and they’ve got nothing to show for it. Or they were raised on it, post-Reagan, and followed all the rules, only to get locked out of the “dream” before they even got started because an unsustainable system finally broke down. They — we — continue to be sold out by a socioeconomic class that supports trickle-down economics knowing that nothing much ever trickles down. And our government, always in campaign mode, listens to that socioeconomic class.

These protesters are our neighbors.

And they have nothing — or nothing else — to lose.

To me, this is their most important message. These are smart, organized, well-meaning Americans who can focus their energies on this protest, many of whom have no better occupation or idea in which to put their faith and their talent. They hold advanced degrees and technical certifications. They “did it right,” and they’re still facing a lifetime of college debt and credit card debt  and medical debt…more debt than they can see past and little hope of relief. They’re our neighbors, our fellow Americans, and they can’t think about saving for retirement — they’re too busy trying to make rent.

Instead of gaining a little more to lose with every generation, we’ve got millions of middle- and working-class Americans winding up with less than they need, to say nothing of what they want. And 1% of Americans control more than 40% of the nation’s wealth.

This is our nation’s Reaganomics legacy: A multi-generational mass of citizens with nothing to lose.

***

Right now, I have a good job. I save religiously and manage debt and risk pretty well. I am temporarily able-bodied, healthy, and strong. I have and make choices — yes to dental insurance, no to medical for now; yes to BART budgeting, no to a new car payment; yes to some new clothes, not yet to new shoes.

I’ve been fortunate for a while now.

But even well-managed debt looms darkly over the rest of our lives; together, our educational debt is roughly double my brother’s upstate New York mortgage…and we each got one of our degrees for free (or near enough). We’ll spend our working years paying interest on the promise a future that only about halfway materialized, and we’ll scramble to keep that “halfway” — without it, we’re sunk. We’re only about 1.5 emergencies away from needing a social safety net that is fraying more and more every day, a safety net that will disintegrate entirely right about the time we may need it most. We’re fortunate and we’re okay for now, and we’re still part of the 99%.

Whether they’re wearing ratty tank tops and docs or khakis and polos, whether they’re on sabbatical or have no job to go to, these protesters are me.

Are they you?

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