Occupy Wall Street

Hi Internet, it’s Tuesday, October 4th.

For the past 2 weeks, there has been a movement in New York (and in other major cities across the US), in which several thousands of Americans have gathered at Liberty Square to peacefully protest the dramatic rift between the wealthiest 1% of the American public and the remaining 99% who continue to struggle to make ends meet.

If you don’t know about it, it’s not your fault – the media are largely ignoring it (why? that’s a whole different blog entry, friends). It only attracted attention when police started throwing punches. To read about it (and watch some beautifully cut video recaps) click here.

I love the idea that thousands of people can sit in on the streets of business district NYC for weeks at a time, and do it peacefully. I love that people all over the world are becoming aware of this movement and identifying with it, sending emails, letters, food, medical supplies, and lots more to the protesters to keep them going. I love that, finally, a group of people representing the hitherto silent majority is doing something to make itself heard. This is the kind of thing that led to India’s independence, and that recently led to Libya’s tyrannical leader stepping down. And it’s the same kind of civil unrest and anger that led to the French Revolution (which is frightening). People are hungry, they are sick, they are homeless, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing motivates a populous like hunger.

(I know that I come back to the French Revolution often, but I think it’s an important landmark in Western History and that we should all be learning from it and watching out for events in our current political sphere that resonate with those historical events. If you didn’t take European History in school, or have just forgotten the details, YouTube’s got your back. John Green, a YA novelist and all-round intelligent person – not a historian, just a person who cares – has 3 videos that do a pretty good job of summarizing it all.)

But – and please, I actually want an answer to this question – what do they hope to achieve? Obviously, changes have to be made, but which changes? In what order? The siege on Wall Street is very dramatic, and is finally getting some of the media attention it deserves, but…

In any relationship, when you are dissatisfied with the behaviour of the other party, it is not enough to tell them what upsets you. You must also work together to solve the problem.

So now, thousands of displaced people have put themselves into a relationship with the for-profit corporations and the governments of their country. They are angry. They are demanding change. But they are not actually having a conversation with these corporations and governments to solve the problem. They want that conversation, but if they were to sit down at that table… What would they ask for?

The problem with representing 99% of the population is that they can’t be specific about anything without alienating a faction of their supporters. A friend of mine suggested that a legal redefinition of “corporation” would be a good place to start – right now, corporations in the US have the same rights as individuals (and much better lawyers), and they have no responsibility to anyone but their shareholders. Redefining “corporation” to put them in a different category from that of human beings, and to make them responsible to the planet and to the national – if not the global – economy, would be a good step.

But a lot of the protesters seem to be focused on medicare. And as a Canadian, I have spent a lot of time being thankful that I live in a place where I can go to the doctor whenever something doesn’t feel right. (For example, last month I went to the doctor to have him check out the cough that had been bugging me for about a month. I wasn’t bedridden. I wasn’t even having trouble working. It was just ANNOYING ME. Diagnosis: subacute bronchitis. I am one of those pesky self-employed people who wouldn’t have health insurance if it weren’t for socialized medicine. If I lived in the States, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor and would probably still be coughing now, damaging both my lungs and my vocal cords.) Private healthcare seems like lunacy to me.

So I throw my support behind those protesters holding signs reading “Have scoliosis. Haven’t seen a doctor in years.” I hope they get their public healthcare.

But… how? If they present the problem but don’t talk to the decision-makers, how do they expect to get their solution?

The same can be said for senior care, veterans’ rights, student debt, affordable housing, etcetera ad nauseum.

These are not rebels without a cause. They are rebels with too many causes to deal with at once. There is no leader – which is the point. They want “change”. But without any specifics, how do they hope to effect that change? How long can they survive in the streets of NYC with no manifesto?

How do they – and we, watching – make sure that this extraordinary feat of social resistance and non-violent protest has any lasting result other than the worsening of the participants’ poverty and the further deterioration of their freedom?