Peeling Back the Crust of Occupy Wall Street

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole Occupy Wall Street…thing since it hit the internet a couple weeks ago. I say “thing” because I’m not sure what else to call it. Is it a protest? A revolution? A movement? None of these words seem to completely embody what OCW has come to mean in our cultural consciousness.

The most fascinating thing to me about OCW is the strange disparity between what it looks like, and what it is. What it looks like is a movement driven by pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, nut-job hippies who want to take away all the money from the “one percent” and transition to a system where no one buys anything, and we all live off roots or something, right after Tyler Durden blows up those pesky credit card companies’ headquarters.

But what it is, is something far harder to easily classify.

What it is is people. People who are looking at a their own country, a country that used to be something, a country where hard work and determination paid off, and wondering what happened. Some of those people are indeed, the far-left anti-capitalist nut jobs I just described. But from what I’ve seen the members of OCW as well as those who have joined with them in solidarity across the country are far more diverse than that.

The protesters’s lack of unity has been the source of much derision in nearly all of the OCW media coverage in recent days. But in my opinion the lack of unity is precisely what makes this movement important. We’ve been told over and over about the widening partisan divide in America, and yet here is a group in which people from all political walks of life are coming together with the understanding that something is wrong.

Which is why I am somewhat dismayed by how some of my fellow conservatives have reacted to this movement. It seems that in their minds OCW is a symbol of the terrors of liberal thinking, the absolute extreme of left-wing evil. But they’re only looking at the surface of the movement, rather than trying to understand the underlying force behind its success.

Need we remind them that the same fear that the country was screwed up beyond recognition was the reason for the success of the TEA Party? I’m sure I’ve raised some liberal hackles with that last statement, but in my mind OCW and the TEA party are two trees grown from the same roots.

Take these quotes for instance:

“Remove all loopholes and bring the corporate rate down to something like 15%. This would actually INCREASE tax revenues by luring in more corporations as well as having all corporations pay something in taxes.”

“I’m learning more and more about how regulation actually squeezes out small businesses, and is often driven by the very companies that we consumers want to regulate.”

“We wouldn’t need subsidies for renewable energy if petroleum had no subsidies. I support this.”

And It does my little conservative, Adam-Smith-loving heart good to hear some of these guys protesting government bailouts of big banks and calling for the abolishment of the Federal Reserve. Take that John Maynard Keynes.

And these comments aren’t from ultra-radical anti-government conservatives. These statements, and many more, came from this comment thread discussing the focus of the OCW movement. I’ve only provided a few snippets, but you should click through and read as much of it as you can. It’s fascinating stuff, and it really helps to illustrate my point. Most of these people would probably identify themselves as some variant of liberal. In fact there are several derisive comments to the tune of, “keep this up and you’ll attract the libertarians, hur hur.”

But as a conservative who often feels very very alone when I step across the threshold into cyberspace, it’s revealing to see that there are no shortage of people online who think in much the same political direction as me. They likely have very little love in their heart for the Republican Party, but that is because they see Republicans as the mindless supporters of all corporations to the detriment of everything else. And now that many of the Democrats have jumped onto the “too big to fail” bailout bandwagon, no wonder they’re protesting.

OCW has the potential to be something good for our country, but only if we accept it as an opportunity to understand that our political enemies are not the mind-numbed robots we would like to believe they are. It’s easy to develop an “us vs. them” political mindset and immediately discount anything coming from the other side of the aisle.

And it’s worth noting that there are things worth fighting for, principles worth standing up for. This post is not about compromising your beliefs. Rather it is about looking across the aisle and realizing that the person you’re fighting with may not be as different as you first believed.

It is an admonishment to look past appearances and political cliches, and to see what is.

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15 responses to “Peeling Back the Crust of Occupy Wall Street

  1. The us versus them mindset has been cultivated here for an awfully longish while, amigo. Do you happen to recall Nixon’s ‘great silent majority’? Purging it would require a job of work not likely to happen, thinks I.

    • I’m not completely against us vs. them. I’m perfectly willing to argue with those who disagree with me. But the way those kinds of battles get divided politically baffles me. For instance, just because I hold my faith to be very important, and believe in conservative fiscal policies does not necessarily mean that those two ideas are fundamentally and irrevocably linked. And yet in our system, they are. OCW may be giving us a chance to rethink some of that.

  2. I agree with Jules. My hard-core Tea Partying uncle-in-law has nothing good to say about OCW, because he thinks it’s full of hippie Liberals and Democrats. Now if he thought OWS was full of Tea Partiers and Bible-thumping Republicans, he’d be right there with them, hand-in-hand. “Us VS Them” trumps all in a nation this size, always will.

  3. Hell, Us vs Them goes back to Jeffersonians versus Federalists…and *that* ended with Hanilton being shot by a political rival in a freaking duel. Frankly you can probably then hop back to Supporters of the Crown vs Revolutionaries, then back then back then back…

    I don’t think Us vs Them is going anywhere and I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. I think a little bit of Us vs Them keeps the melting pot bubbling, but I do agree that I’m getting awfully confused by where the lines are getting drawn.

    I also think anyone of any mindset can elevate “Them” from debate opponents to dangerous radical given enough detatchment from reality IMO.

    • One of the reasons I love getting comments is that sometimes they help me solidify the thoughts I’m trying to convey in a given post. I’m not trying to say that OCW will eradicate “us vs. them” or even that it should. But it does present the opportunity to understand that simply because I may disagree with you about some things doesn’t mean we must necessarily disagree about everything. What we do with that opportunity is up to us.

  4. Very good post. From a generally liberal mindset, I’ve also noticed that the Tea Party and the OCW are united in the core realization that “things can’t go on like this.” I think most from both camps would also agree that neither traditional Republicans or Democrats are really aligned with their interests.

    Us vs. Them thinking gets us wrangling about the wrong things. The question of tax rates for the wealthy may signal “fairness” or its lack, depending on where you stand, but it doesn’t get near what I take to be the heart of our problems.

    I’m sure my view is simplistic, but it comes from working in technology for close to 30 years, from the days of Usenet to smart phones. I think America and Europe are in the early throes of tech driven globalization that is causing the kinds of displacements both continents saw during the first industrial revolution.

    We had a serious recession in 2000; when people talk of “gutting the working class,” I think much of it was a done deal then. Whole industries that allowed blue collar workers to make a decent living had moved to Asia, along with thousands of white collar jobs. After the Y2K scare amount to nothing, entire floors in the complex where I worked emptied out as employers realized they could hire really good software engineers in India for $25K a year.

    These were systemic issues, masked in this country by (1) artificially low interest rates that fueled juiced consumer spending and fueled the housing bubble, and (2) wartime spending in the wake of 9/11. In 2004, someone on a financial bulletin board said, “Soon our biggest industry will be selling each other beanie babies on eBay.

    If there’s any truth to this – and I believe there is, then there are not going to be any easy fixes. I immediately mistrust any politician who claims to have “a plan to create jobs.” At the same time, I think infrastructure investment is critical to ease our path to a sustainable future.

    Meanwhile, the OCW people have a right to question executive golden parachutes which reward shoddy performance, as unemployment benefits of the 99% begin to run out.

    And the Tea Party people have a right to question investing taxpayer money in Solindra, when it was the local power company that gave us enough in rebates this summer to persuade us to put solar panels on our roof.

    Anyhoo, this is longwinded enough. I just keep coming back to something Einsten said, that the mind that creates a problem is not the one that can solve it. Or in the words of the late, great Steve Jobs, we all have to learn how to “Think different.”

    • I don’t have anything really to add here, but I did want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts. In our sound bite media driven world it seems that everyone wants a simple solution. But what you have correctly grasped is that this is far from a simple problem. It gives me hope to know that there are others out there willing to look deeper than the surface and really think about the problems we face.

  5. I haven’t had a chance to finish reading this post to give my opinion, but I thought I would just lend support as a fellow conservative 🙂 I know how alone you can feel in the online world, as well as in the real world.

  6. liberal hackles raised ;-)…but you do write so well…if only there was no mention of that tea thing…

    • I think if you give it a fair look you’ll find that the TEA party has people from all over the political spectrum in much the same manner that OCW does. TEA certainly skews further right than OCW but both are victims of slander and mischaracterization at the hands of those who oppose them. (Also, plenty of people from TEA and OCW would be loath to admit that they have anything in common at all with each other, adding yet another thing they have in common with each other.)

  7. I try to stay away from politics…but…even though you make a great point re. commonality, some political platforms and/or beliefs are so flawed, so dangerous and toxic, and ultimately have such destructive implications that even though they are protected under free speech, legitimizing their ‘voice’ is highly problematic to put it mildly. I have to give an extreme example…take a few KKK members advocating segregation in some school based on statistics showing a decline in student performance, and then across the street, a group of people protesting against the KKK’s take on the situation. Are both voices legitimate? In principle yes, in reality no. And can we possibly ever say that the KKK members are victims of slander or mischaracterization by those who oppose them? No. My point is that not every opinion deserves recognition as part of an intelligent, productive and socially beneficial dialogue…and a ‘balanced’ view is often thrown entirely out of balance.

    • It’s easy to pick a horse after the race is over. Not that I’m insinuating you would have backed the KKK at any point in time. What I’m saying is that there was a time when there were really people who believed that black people had no soul and therefore it was perfectly fine to own them as property. Just saying, “Well yeah, but that was super wrong,” doesn’t quite cut it. When that belief was pervasive it needed to be argued against. It needed to be attacked.
      And if you let someone determine which kinds of speech aren’t really legitimate, then you run into problems. Sure, the KKK thing is easy to decide, but what about issues being hotly debated today? What about the argument about whether a fetus has a soul, and whether it is okay to kill it? It doesn’t often get framed that way, but that’s what the abortion debate really boils down to. (And for the record, I’m not coming down on one side or the other on that one. I don’t know if a fetus has a soul. I suspect probably yes, but I’m not prepared to swear to it.)
      In short, restricting speech certain “offensive” points of view is a problem because in the end you have to leave it up to someone to define what “offensive” means. And that may not be as easy as it sounds.
      (Also, this really doesn’t have much at all to do what what I’m saying in the post unless you’re trying to make some link between the TEA party and the KKK.)

  8. I’m not linking nothin’! lol So not going there, I know better. And I don’t suggest restricting anyone, just not legitimizing certain platforms just because in principle they have as much right to be there and argue as anyone else. I know what you’re saying…and, the KKK thing is easy to decide…today. The reason why though is also why other issues are ‘easy’ in to decide, today, if one stops for a moment to consider/study logic and ethics, not to mention a bit of history. Maybe one day in the future everyone will look at same-sex marriage and find the discrimination we witness today still just as offensive as racial discrimination. Anyway…I found your post interesting and fixated I guess on the commonality thing…and then you mentioned the tea thing in passing, and given I’m all about coffee, well…downslide from there. 🙂

  9. Nice post. Now I’m going to go read up on the OCW, and I guess the TEA Party too.

  10. TEA party did scare the heck out of me (what, I’m liberal). However, protesting the Wall Street I was glad that some people are doing it.

    What it needs is for Americans to unite in a social cause. Conservatives and liberals alike need to find a common ground. We are not separate from our neighbors eve if we think that they’re too extreme for our tastes. Deep down, we want the same thing–jobs to provide for our families, home to live in, and opportunity to be anything that we want to be.

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