I’m going to do it. I’m going to opine on the Operation Wall Street (and various other 99%’ers around the world) efforts. I’ve avoided doing so for shamefully cowardly reasons, which I’ll go into below by way of two stories. But I’m compelled now because of the outcome of a shameful admission: I read comment threads. I don’t know why – it’s an utter waste of time and it tends to leave my blood boiling with the cruel ignorance I see in so many of the posts, and the very few posts which are thoughtful or thought-provoking. But I do. And the catalyst for this post was that I’ve read simply too many of those gut-wrenching, cringe-inducing comments. I do not believe that the people who make those comments speak for the majority. But I do believe that each and every one of them are also part of the 99%.
But onto those stories. The first:
In high school my mom made a deal with me that if I wanted to invest part of my savings in a school trip to Spain, she’d foot half the bill. I was aching to travel and jumped at the chance. There were students from schools all over the country, and one of the coolest parts of the trip was a one-day excursion to Morocco. As we boarded the bus to get back to the ferry, a 14-year old girl who was part of our group shouted to the crowd of dozens of men below our window selling their wares: “Why don’t you get a real job?!” The superhero memory I have of me simultaneously slammed her window shut and pushed her down at the shoulders as I sternly and loudly proclaimed, “In the entirety of your existence you shall never have a job more real than theirs.” In all reality, I probably just started shouting and cursing, because I am painfully inarticulate when I’m angry. That is one of the reasons I have avoided writing about the Operation Movement.
At Mira Costa Community College, I had the incredulous luck to meet both my mentor and the love of my life (not the same man, thankfully…that would be terribly unhealthy, I think). My mentor was a professor of mine, teaching Sociology: Problems in Society. He was also the founder of Activist San Diego. In one of our classes the subject arose of just how significant African poverty really is, and from whence it came. A self-proclaimed military brat who regularly sat in the back of the class and always had something lovely to say called out, “If it’s so bad, why don’t they just get on a plane and leave?” My professor, after finally getting me and several others to calm down, answered the student with dignity and respect. It was magical. And I understood – as I still so often don’t – that one cannot convince the opposition with violence and anger. Understanding that the young man’s ignorance was as much of an atrocity as any of the subjects he covered was my professor’s genius. That is why I feel like I have to write about the Operation Movement.
The problem the media and the posters on those threads keep citing is that the protesters don’t know what they’re protesting. They claim that there is no clear agenda. This is both completely true and utterly false. It is true because society has become such an incredible quagmire, anyone capable of clearly articulating just what this movement is about is on par with Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky. It is false because they have been very clear: the vast majority of the resources are held by the tiniest fraction of the population. This disparity of wealth has grown by leaps and bounds since capitalism and the industrial revolution shook hands, and is in no way getting better. The disparity thrives and grows because it is systematically fed by corporations and wealthy individuals/families, many of whom own those corporations while running and being elected to political office. Those commenting tell the protesters, “Make yourself heard in the voting booth!” But the options are limited to those already in power, their offspring and their protégées. And the most difficult thing is getting just 50% of the 99% to understand that they’ve been had all these years.
It’s no secret that I cry easily. Three times in the not-too-distant past in which I swallowed them back with great difficulty included the following, in this order: a trip to the dentist in France; a visit with my nurse in London; a visit to the Osteopath in France. The reason on each occasion for my near-tears was this: I was entitled to adequate, affordable health care simply because I am human. Reading about the general response to Obama’s health care plan makes me nauseous. Perhaps his is not the perfect plan, but there has been no collaboration in the name of progress. The education system in the U.S. is at an all-time low. And it is not the rich who are affected by this. Things are not getting better. Things are not getting better.
Many of the posters also wrote about the protesters’ lack of jobs, or inferred – or stated outright – their laziness as evidenced by their ongoing participation in this demo. No one who has ever spent a single summer afternoon demonstrating would think for one second that spending days on end, into the winter, in places like New York and Chicago is lazy. It’s simply the opposite of true. There have been times in my life in which I have worked three jobs whilst studying full time, and I can confirm that a day at a protest knocked me out.
My point – which I understand has taken ages to arrive at, so I thank you if you’re still with me – is that these people are not to be admonished, ridiculed, or chastised (particularly by the working class police force they so desperately wanted on their side). They stand in the cold day in and day out because they have opened their eyes to the fact that life for the majority is not just unfair, it is unjust. This is painfully difficult to do. Because one either makes this realization and does something, or they make the realization and actively choose to do nothing. If knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility…well, you see where that’s going. No, we should not berate them this act, because it is noble, heroic, and exhausting. If we cannot stand beside them, we should stand for them with all our hearts.