thoughts on occupy wall street

I´m feeling a little guilty for missing Occupy San Salvador (yes, there was an Occupy San Salvador event, held at the US Embassy for one day, and no, I can´t believe I missed it for something as stupid as “I never know what the date is” either), so despite a telling myself I would avoid the news like the plague for a few months (and that I would, you know, quit blogging), I´m going to address a couple points commonly made about OWS that have been bothering me.

1. The occupiers don´t know what they´re talking about

There are a lot of people going to different #occupy sites and interviewing protesters, and reporting back to the world with the news that “these people” don´t understand economics or the economic system, have no idea what they´re protesting, can´t actually explain what´s wrong with capitalism, just want to be “part of something,” are blind followers, can´t define socialism/communism/whatever-ism, and are generally stupid lazy social parasites who clearly know nothing about how the world works.

This isn´t entirely true, and if you´re interested, there´s plenty of evidence for Intelligent Life at OWS in the form of video and press interviews, and articles/blogs written by protesters themselves. I feel  no need to defend that point. It speaks for itself. If you don´t believe me, get off Fox News and CNN.

What I´m interested in admitting that there ARE people there who can´t explain what, exactly, is wrong with capitalism, or even what it is, and there ARE people who don´t understand economics, and there ARE people who have no idea whatsoever how to fix society. And there are a lot of them.

But I fail to see how that delegitimizes the movement.

Let´s look at revolutions and civil wars around the world. Would you side against Salvadoran campesinos during the war because they couldn´t tell you in clear, academic terms how they were being exploited? Would you consider slave rebellions and indigenous resistance “unknowledgeable about how the world works” because they couldn´t define and explain the economic system that led to their social status? Was it a waste of time for the people of India to follow Gandhi “blindly,” without years of their own political analysis, in world-changing efforts of civil disobedience? Would you divide protesting Egyptians into groups of “deserve a less corrupt government” and “do not deserve a less corrupt government” based on their ability to list EXACTLY what Mubarak did that was so bad?

I´d like for anyone who gets really upset when someone “doesn´t know what they´re talking about” to walk into an occupied space and look someone there in the eye and say, “you are not well-informed enough to deserve or even ask for anything better than what you have.” Because that is essentially what people are saying when they try to delegitimize OWS by arguing that the protesters don´t know anything.

No one has all the answers. Even the well-spoken and/or well-educated people out there have a lot to learn – but everyone, regardless of level of education or knowledge, has something to offer, and deserves to be taken seriously when they say they want a better world.

2(a): From the would-be sympathizer/people (not just activists) in “armchairs:” Their demands are unclear and they are disorganized. I might have been interested in a movement that was actually going to, you know, get stuff done, but sitting in tents in public parks isn´t going to change anything. This is, unfortunately, a waste of time.

Similarly, 

2(b):  from the opposition:  Their demands are unclear and they are disorganized. This is a good reason to consider the entire movement, at best, a useless and inconvenient waste of time. 

Oh my god, I know, right? Being politically engaged, building community and making sacrifices for your values ARE SUCH WASTES OF TIME. YOU COULD BE WATCHING TV, OR WORKING FOR MINIMUM WAGE, OR HANGING OUT IN YOUR HOUSE CRITICIZING OPTIMISTS ON THE INTERNET.

…this makes me so angry.

Amanda Palmer says it best:

occupy is a small seed. and yet it’s as huge, vast and complicated as the very unwieldy problems it’s trying to address.

i feel excited and sad for my generation, for the world, for my country. excited because i am so happy to see people mobilizing. trying.
waking up and going out and doing.
sad because it’s also underlined how jaded and difficult we are.

sometimes we forget that the world is absolutely fungible, morphable, re-creatable. we forget (maybe want to forget) that governments and systems topple ALL THE TIME, that human peoples have a habit of looking around, saying “nope, nope, don’t like this one bit” and gathering enough force, energy, and will to create a change. i’m sure at every single moment in history where a regime has seen a giant shift, there’s been those standing by, thinking that the impossible (change) would never happen, could never happen.

is that you?

could you honestly imagine a different kind of country, where business and government run without corruption, where the wealth of the land is fairly shared, where people actively took responsibility to take care of each other instead of just trampling their way to the top as an accepted way of life? or does that sound stupid, naïve, an impossible hippie-dream? what if everyone who thought that was a actually a pretty good idea stood up in solidarity and forced a change? would you stand up?

if occupy does nothing else, it’s made people wonder that.

i’ve been shocked by the number of people (even pals of mine) who actually are trapped by the idea that things can’t – and won’t – get better…so “why fucking bother?”

This is why I love *Amanda Palmer. There are so few people who understand that just because nothing “big” will result from setting up a tent in Zucotti Park or wherever, it doesn´t mean nothing is being accomplished. Starting conversations, planting seeds, getting people informed…Those are all really good and useful things.  You know what´s NOT useful? Standing on the side and being all “you´re doing it wrong.” Who is that helping?

And if you´ve been silent about the matter because you´re just not sure about it, or it´s not interesting, or you aren´t ready for the actual physical commitment of “occupying,” then get together with some friends or facebook friends or random people and talk to them about it. But not one of those “did you see those protests on the news? that pepper spray was some crazy shit” conversations. Don´t just talk about what you think you know. Ask each other about what you don´t know, talk about what is important to you, what you think is possible or not possible, if your ideas and hopes for the world are being addressed or not addressed (whether by OWS or elsewhere), and is there a reason for that, and if they´re not being addressed, how can they be? 

I would be very happy to break my current resolution of not being a news junkie in order to point any interested parties in the “informed and engaged citizen” direction. Cause I completely 100% believe it´s worth it. Do you?

tl;dr: (1) stop being such an elitist asshole, and (2) get out of your armchair. stuff is happening.

*If you´re interested in more Amanda Palmer, she blogs about OWS at length, here, here, and here.

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One Response to thoughts on occupy wall street

  1. Stranger Danger says:

    Interesting stuff, Karen. I’m somewhere in-between the “let’s occupy wall street” thought and “occupy people are just lazy.” This mainly has to do with the fact that I don’t understand economics at all, and because I know that it’s more than just Wall Street that’s to blame for my struggles to find a job, despite having a Bachelor’s degree and being a 6-year veteran of the Army. From my perspective, it’s hard to point a finger at a single group for this mess we’re in, though I won’t deny how broken our economy is right now. I just went several months without a haircut because I couldn’t afford it, so I’m not ignorant of the problems going on. But, it’s hard to get excited either way (whether pro-occupy or anti-occupy) because…

    1) I have more important things to do, if not things that will make me money, then things that are productive in nature.
    2) There are too many idiots on both sides of the argument, and I don’t want to get bunched in with either group. For every one person who knows what they’re talking about, there’s one more idiot making the group look bad. And, in a sense, not just making the group look bad, but raising awareness that the group isn’t doing enough to express the purpose behind their arguments.
    3) And finally, as I already explained, I’m a financial idiot who can’t comprehend whose fault it largely is, and I don’t want to protest something unless I 100% understand all the facts, and could defend my stance on TV if needed.

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