Our government is barely functional. The economy sucks. Nearly 10 percent of working-age adults are out of work, and about 10 percent more are underemployed, working part-time instead of full or waiting tables with a master’s degree. Health care costs are skyrocketing. The people in charge don’t seem to have the answers. Their primary focus seems to be staying in power, which requires catering to their most significant contributors. The wealthiest Americans control a bigger share of our nation’s wealth every year. The middle class is shrinking. Many of those who have jobs are still struggling to survive. People are angry, and they don’t feel like our leaders are paying attention.
It’s a recipe for some protestin’.
Inspired by recent anti-government movements in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe and the American protests of the 1960s, the Occupy movement gives struggling, disenfranchised people a way to express their frustration. After beginning with a small group of protesters in New York called Occupy Wall Street, the movement is spreading throughout the country and now to other countries as well. Occupy Dallas, for example, is camped out near City Hall.
With no centralized structure and coordinated largely through social media like Facebook and Twitter, the movement seems disorganized. Critics claim the protesters don’t even know what they want, have no solutions, and simply have nothing better to do than complain about corporate greed and political incompetence. Many Baby Boomers have trouble understanding the protesters’ complaints because they came of age in a different time with a much healthier economy. And yes, the protesters do look funny using their iPhones to protest the record profits of huge corporations like Apple. And some of the groups are making ridiculous demands, such as government-provided port-a-potties for them to use while they protest. But I still think there’s something to the movement.
I’m certainly not a sociologist, but this movement seems like a long-simmering pot that is finally reaching a boil. The protesters have some legitimate gripes. Although the economy hasn’t affected my job or changed our lifestyle in any way, people I know have been significantly hurt by the downturn, and I’m just as frustrated with our government’s failure to lead and get things done as you probably are. The statistics on income inequality, although not completely surprising, made me realize how big the gap is between the elite (the 1 percent – the wealthy, the political leaders, celebrities, etc.) and the rest of us (the 99 percent, which includes any poor schmucks who make less than about $290k/year according to recent census data).
If you listen to the protesters and read their signs, some of them sound like they resent the elite. As a result, the elite (and many regular people who sympathize) find it easy to blow off their criticism as jealousy and sour grapes. I don’t personally resent the elite. Many of them, probably most of them, got where they are through a combination of God-given talent, luck, and lots of hard work. But it doesn’t seem right to me that so many others work just as hard, maybe even with similar amounts of ability, but can’t stay above water. No one has full control over all aspects of his life. It’s ignorant to claim that anyone who can’t find work or can’t climb out of a financial hole is simply unwilling to work hard enough. Yes, some of those people are lazy and unmotivated, but others are just as dedicated and hardworking as you or me, if not more so. Effort is not the only variable in the equation. I don’t know the best way to narrow the gap. I’m not an economist, either. But I do think it’s a worthwhile goal.
Enough of that soapbox. No one knows what concrete impact this chaotic movement will produce. But it’s fun to watch. If nothing else, it’s getting people talking and giving frustrated people a voice. If the protesters can organize themselves and their gripes and produce some viable solutions, perhaps they might actually get something done. Go get ’em, 99.