Quite a few people have been asking me for my opinion on the Occupy Wall Street movement, so it seems appropriate to spend a little bit of time and take some of my platform to discuss the movement.
I’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) since it’s conception, but in all honesty, haven’t really developed a significant attachment or opinion one way or the other. It’s been sort of like watching the Egyptian Revolution for me – a sort of detached fascination with which one goes, “Oh, that’s pretty cool!”
Many of my liberal friends would cry out, “But Dianna, you are part of the 99%! You should protest with us!”
And my conservative friends say, “But the protest is pointless! Wall Street is never going to budge.”
I agree with both, partly (Oy, did you just hear me agree with a conservative? Yes, yes, you did).
If you are reading this blog, you are part of the 99%. What does that mean? This means that you are not able to walk down the street and order a dessert that costs $1,000 without having to take out a loan. This means you are probably in debt of some sort and it will take years to pay off. This means you are not part of the top 1% of rich people in this country – a 1% which owns 40% of the wealth.
At its heart, #OWS seems to be a movement against income inequality – inequality created, naturally, by a capitalistic system that demands my neighbors must fail so that I may succeed.
It is also a movement against the influence of money and corporatism in Washington. Even Democrats we admire frequently have to bow to the power of money at Wall Street, and it’s disturbing how long we have simply accepted it.
The movement really had its start a couple of years ago when the US Supreme Court ruled on the Citizens United case, handing down a ruling that basically declared the corporations would be treated as people under campaign law. That opened the floodgates for unprecedented amounts of corporate and spurious sources of money to influence elections all over the country. Companies that conduct most of their business overseas but are based in the US could have potentially more say in a local election than Joe the Plumber and Sally the Schoolteacher.
It doesn’t take a voter registration as Democrat to see that corporate money poured into elections is going to obscure the will of the people. It’s a complaint brought on both sides of the political aisle – both conservatives and liberals, for example, were outraged when current Speaker of the House John Boehner went around the House floor literally handing out checks from tobacco companies hours before a vote on regulation. Both Democrats and Republicans are dismayed when out of state corporations fund candidates in local districts.
We have a corrupt system. And the #OWS movement is a result of that.
However, I don’t know how much good it will do. I waver on supporting the protest because while I with them in spirit – agreeing that we have a corrupt system where bad money has been flowing for ages, even before Citizens United – I do not know that they are approaching it in the right manner.
Protesting is fantastic. It is a right guaranteed to us by the Constitution, and I absolutely love seeing my fellow citizens exercising it. But any solid argument needs to have a thesis, a guiding principle. Any protest needs to have a specific set of achievable demands. “Get corporate money out of Washington,” and “I am the 99%” are not necessarily achievable.
This does not mean I am without hope that our (frankly awful) government system can change. Protesting in the streets is, indeed, making the American public much more aware of their stance on issues, much more aware of how corrupt the system truly is. But until we can get Congressmen and women to stand up with us, to truly represent and listen to what the people who have elected them want, we’re not going to get very far.
What should our Congresspeople be supporting if they want to stand with the #OWS movement?
Comprehensive campaign finance reform. While I admittedly don’t know the laws back and forth, I do think a step in the right direction would be that money has to come from a person – not a corporation, not a non-profit, but a person – who lives in the government official’s district. I don’t want to have to worry, when I shop at Target, whether or not that company is helping to finance candidates with bigoted agendas.
That, first and foremost, is needed.
There’s a lot that needs fixing in our nation right now, but money is at the heart of it – as it is as the heart of a lot of things. When a corporation has more of a say in my local school board election than parents who actually have children at the school, there is something very, very wrong with our democracy.
Dollars don’t vote. People do.
I would just like to make a small comment on what is possibly the most interesting story (to me) that comes out of the #OWS movement: Police brutality. I’ve seen some very interesting commentary on this, but I think what I will do here is simply include some videos from the protests that demonstrate police overstepping the boundaries of good conduct, and express my frustration that none of these officers will receive as much as a reprimand. It is truly disturbing to see power being used in this manner and it is incredibly frustrating to see representatives of the government quite literally beating down people for expressing their first amendment rights. I don't believe for a minute the media narrative that these protests are violent in nature or that the harsh police action (or mass arrest) was at all necessary. If you have not watched videos of the protests yet, please watch these two - they are seminal to the story of the movement.
One of the girls pepper sprayed (the screaming one in the long skirt) is deaf.
Police arresting protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. There are conflicting reports, but the ones that have the most consistent story are as follows: The police were following along on the march to keep an eye on the protesters, directed them onto the bridge into traffic, penned them in, and then arrested as many as they could. You can see from the above video that the people they are arresting do nothing to provoke the officers, and they seem to be picking people at random. Just doing their job?