When the only story is civil disobedience, you have an annoyance, not a movement

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 20, 2011, 8:56 PM | comments: 0

I've watched the whole "occupy movement" with great interest, because I've generally been a guy who didn't care for "the man," and I've challenged "the establishment" my whole life when it comes to culture, social issues, politics and whatever. I'm the guy who will proudly tell you that I have never owned a suit, want my gay friends everywhere to get married, drive a Prius and don't mind paying taxes if I feel I'm getting value for the money. While I consider myself somewhat centrist, I think many would classify me as a bed-wetting liberal. That's how I roll.

But this thing... I can't find a way to be sympathetic. It's this bizarrely coordinated thing made possible by the Internet, where all of the energy is spent making the protest happen, and none of the energy is spent determining a specific agenda, or a plan for action targeted at any specific individuals or entities. The end result is that the protest is doing little to make anything happen beyond confrontation. That has become the only story.

What's even more disturbing is that these folks are trying to identify with the revolutions in the Arab world. That's completely absurd. No one here is staring down a military dictatorship or being cut off from the Internet. What happened to any sense of perspective?

The divisive "99%" thing is one of the most destructive things I've seen in American culture in my lifetime. Those self-labeling with the group, by some surveys, clocks in around 10% of actual people. (Not surprisingly, 10% of people identify with the Tea Party "movement" at the other political end.) Even if you're sticking that percentage to household income, you're including people who make $300k and below, and I don't think those are people particularly in the mood to protest anything. More to the point, the actual 1% types that I know, and you meet your share in a place like Seattle, are pretty focused on their jobs, not keeping everyone else repressed in some fashion. In the software industry, I would add that they tend to be in it because they enjoy solving problems.

So what I am hearing, looking around at the Internet, boils down to a few points. There is no "official" platform, because as I mentioned, the organizational efforts are all geared toward the act of protest, not developing the issues. Some of the points have some real value around things like campaign finance reform and reversing some of the haphazard deregulation of the financial industry. 

The points I can't agree with are those that bubble up from the protestor-on-the-street. I can't pay my student loans. My mortgage payment is too high. I deserve to have a good job. Basically, anything that falls under the category of entitlement or a lack of personal accountability bothers me. I realize that "the system" has a lot of problems with it that desperately need to be addressed, but I live in that system as well. I've spent more than two years of my post-college life unemployed (though I describe it as "self-employed," choosing not to collect benefits). I can sympathize with hard times.

Ultimately, the American way has been one where we innovate our way out of a shitty situation. Today our shitty situation is a poor economy, seemingly unending wars, high unemployment, environmental disregard... there's a long list. There are a lot of hard problems. Solutions for those problems will not arrive by declaring, "My life sucks, and it's all the fault of the people with non-sucky lives." I can't identify with that.

Without viable talking points that a majority can get behind (and calling yourself "99%" does not make you a majority), the occupy movement will fade and go away. Let my parents' generation tell you all about how ridiculous the 60's and 70's were, and compare that to what we have today. Our social ills, by comparison, should be easy to fix.


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