Occupy and What It Means, and Why It Matters

I have liberal friends who don't get it. Mostly young liberals, people committed to the Democratic party and progressive causes; they don't understand it.

I think I understand why, and I think it has something to do with the fact that to really feel the rage and anguish that has led to this outpouring of inarticulate mass outrage, you feel it more strongly the more you've had to live in the world in the last twelve years. I don't want to be dismissive of these folks, because I could well be wrong. But for me this all started a long time ago and has been building and building for a long time that for me has stretched from my young adulthood throughout the entirety of my twenties and now into my early thirties. For me, I've seen the betrayal of the promises I've been made by the culture I inherited. I've made my mistakes along the way, and certainly there are things I could have done differently, but by and large I did everything I was told I was supposed to do. I graduated from high school. I studied technology and ideas and I got a good college education and my more or less meaningless sheepskin that did not prove to be the ticket into the middle class it was for my parents generation. Still, I did my best to work with globalization and the new economy, to try to find my niche in corporate America. I made some progress. But the whole time the world was falling apart around me and the opportunities I had available were always limited and it often felt like for every step forward I took, I took a step and a half backwards. I did ok, but I have to say that the only reason I did as well as I did was because of a maximal use of inborn talents and gifts that I was handed at birth; advantages I didn't earn and had done nothing to deserve or choose for myself but were mine merely by an accident of genetics and circumstances. And along the way I was often working in circumstances where I was really pretty overqualified and I often felt invisible barricades in the way of better opportunities that limited my options. This meant I had to work harder for less money than I was worth a lot of the time. In the end, although I had some very good experiences in my last job, the instability of venture capital funded startups caught up to me just like they've caught up with every member of Generation X at sometime or another over the last decade plus of American history.

And I'm not alone in this, and the economic travails that I've experienced have only been a small part of my disillusionment with my nation and my people. I saw the presidential election of 2000 stolen right out from under democratic processes. I saw the greatest manmade disaster in America in my lifetime twisted and debased into a cynical, flag-waving, jingoistic excuse for immoral warfare waged with my tax dollars. I saw one of the great natural disasters of the last two decades completely bungled by a Federal Government that just didn't seem to give a damn about the suffering of my people in the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans. I saw the Democratic party completely fail in the face of one of the most craven, idiotic, and arrogant right wing movements the world has ever seen. And then I saw a massive transfer of Wealth that has been going on my whole life accelerate with the complicity of those we have elected to ostensibly serve us who have only ever served to fuck us for their corporate masters.

Living through all of this has taken its toll on me. I have evolved from a vaguely civil liberties oriented traditional liberal to a professed socialist forever raging against the expanding injustices of late capitalism. I have seen my brothers and sisters suffer in poverty; maimed, mutilated and murdered on battlefields they should never have set foot on. I have seen my parents generation suffer at the end of their careers as they are pushed aside in favor of younger, cheaper, mid-career professionals; their nest-eggs raided by financial institutions, the wealth they accumulated in real property and work experience devalued by the collapse of the American economy. I have seen the ranks of the homeless and the working poor; the mentally ill in need of better, more compassionate social services; the drug addicted in need of treatment and an escape from the petty criminal lifestyle that comes with addiciton; I have seen this cancer grow and grow while our national monies are wasted on fighting guerilla gang wars in South America that have displaced and destroyed the lives of our brothers and sisters to the south.

The pressure builds and builds and there comes a point where all that remains is a primal scream, an inarticulate howl of an animal in pain screaming "Enough. Enough. I can't take it anymore. Make it stop. Ya Basta. Enough."

And that is why the occupation matters. Because it accomplishes something great and glorious just by the very fact of its existence. Because it is a communal affirmation that we are here and that we matter and we are tired of being traded like bubblegum cards and treated as a commodity; the faceless masses of consumerism on whom the burden of debt and degradation have been piled and piled while the fruits of our labors are enjoyed by a shrinking population of the grotesquely wealthy who have, to a man, done nothing, built nothing, contributed nothing, created nothing, lived as nothing but a leech on our struggles to survive.

We matter and we have had enough. We are asked what we want. We are asked when it will end. We are asked what the point is. The point is that we matter. The point is that this is a birth, not a death, and as with all births, what matters is that you scream and cry and exercise your lungs as you gasp for air. And only once that has passed and the world begins to come into focus do you have time to calmly clear the blood from your eyes and face and look out into this new world that you have found yourself in. Because this initial birthing moment will pass. The occupations will dwindle. The attention from the media will flag. There will come a time when we are no longer effective. And that is when it will matter.

Because every person in a tent, on a street corner with a sign, marching on a sidewalk, engaging in civil disobedience is a new organizer, a new leader in a new movement. We are all Spartacus, and this birth is the birth of a million supernovae of human freedom that can only grow from here. This is the beginning of real communities of people who will not stop until our world is better than this one. These are communities born of real love and respect as we come together and meet one another and learn from one another and find out that whatever our politics, whatever our goals, whatever our struggles, we are more like each other than we are dissimilar.

This matters because it matters to name the baby when it comes into the world. This is a rite of passage that we are all going through simultaneously and when we come through the other side we will every one of us be changed. And the change that has seized us will give us a power that has been absent from the world for the bulk of our history. And that power will be something to be reckoned with. And at that point you won't need to know what our demands are. Because they will no longer be demands, they will be edicts, and the world will have no choice but to reshape itself into a newer, better place in which there is more air for all of us to breathe freely. We will have liberated ourselves, and in that state of true freedom, there will be no choice in accepting that freedom as it spreads to the rest of mankind.

This is possibly the beginning of something monumental, and as such, it is already monumental. It is already important and unavoidable. And in this, we have already won.

Comments

Right On

Good analysis. Experience plays out for those of us who had some trust or faith or hope in the Democratic Party as the party of the left in America. But this changed, starting in the 1980s when big companies began to kill manufacturing jobs in USA and replace them with non-union jobs, either in the Southern States or abroad. Deprived of its strong labor union machine support, the Democrats faced a huge competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis the Republicans, who were raking in huge campaign contributions from big business.

Bill Clinton and his buddies took advantage of this by shifting their policies rightward. The Republicans responded by moving even farther to the right. Now the Democratic Party is a center-right party and the Republican Party is far-right.

Many voters still fall for the far-right media campaign that claims that the Democrats today are still leftwing, even socialist. One look at President Obama's record will disprove that. Many left-leaning voters trusted in this rightwing media campaign and believed Candidate Obama was a newsprung hope of the Left. One more case of disillusionment added to all the others since President Clinton's terms.

Ya basta, indeed.

Wow! This is beautifully

Wow! This is beautifully written by and large. You are eloquently stating what all this means to you. There is one thing that concerns me. Your anger seems to overwhelm you at times. If you have peace under all that anger, it doesn't come through in this piece. While your compassion for ordinary people is screaming from the page, so is what sounds like a need for revenge against the super-rich. You are absolutely entitled to all these feelings, and to whatever you feel. If you're the one issuing edicts at a future time, I hope you can hold onto your compassion and let go of your rage by that time.

The word "edicts" smacks of a kind of authoritarian government that I'm not really comfortable with. I don't hate capitalism per se, but it truly requires enthusiastic oversight, with teeth. As one of our founding fathers, maybe Jefferson, said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." With businesses developing to a national and international scale, they require the same constant scrutiny as government. I have been thinking for years that if we don't get control of the way business handles globalization, we are going to push the world to the social structure that Marx and company described so many years ago. We are rapidly developing a "lumpenproletariat" in this country, with the chronically unemployed, and the underemployed. And the powerful try to hide this from the general public by excluding from the "unemployment rate" all those who have fallen off the unemployment roles by exhausting their unemployment benefits.

So I welcome and support the Occupy Wall St. demonstrators, with my heart wherever they are, and with material and (meager) financial help here in my community. I wear buttons, I have stickers on my 11-year-old vehicle, and I talk it up every chance I get. Most people I talk with agree with the economic positions of the 99% movement. A lot of them don't "get" the demonstrations. But they sure are talking much more openly about these issues, and "getting" that we can take the power back for the people.

Thank God for the Occupiers.

I've never cared for the idea

I've never cared for the idea of the lumpenproletariat. That it exists is always a fact, but I always tend to think "there but for the grace of god go I" with respect to that class and I don't see a real distinction between them and the rest of the proletariat except for a greater level of desperation on the part of les miserables.

As for the edicts and anger, that's a stylistic choice as much as anything trying to express something about where the power of this movement comes from. It's difficult to talk about power without using the language of power. But I certainly don't envision an authoritarian dictatorship of the proletariat and that's not what I'm talking about. What I really mean is that this is a transformative experience for us and that there will come a time as a result of this when we are no longer making demands, but speaking from a position of power where the justice that we are seeking is not something that is being asked for by a marginal group in supplication, but from a powerful place where our words will have the force of law. This, in my mind, is the realization of true justice in a democratic republic and bound up in the nature of how law works. But that of course must come from a reasoned place of calm reflection and peaceful change. The reason I'm angry and not devoting so much of my energy to that phase of what is happening is that that is still for the future. For now it feels very cathartic just to let the rage be expressed in a healthy and peaceful manner through speaking about the injustices in the world that I have grown weary of tolerating.

this matters

"Living through all of this has taken its toll on me. I have evolved from a vaguely civil liberties oriented traditional liberal to a professed socialist forever raging against the expanding injustices of late capitalism. I have seen my brothers and sisters suffer in poverty; maimed, mutilated and murdered on battlefields they should never have set foot on. I have seen my parents generation suffer at the end of their careers as they are pushed aside in favor of younger, cheaper, mid-career professionals; their nest-eggs raided by financial institutions, the wealth they accumulated in real property and work experience devalued by the collapse of the American economy. I have seen the ranks of the homeless and the working poor; the mentally ill in need of better, more compassionate social services; the drug addicted in need of treatment and an escape from the petty criminal lifestyle that comes with addiction; I have seen this cancer grow and grow while our national monies are wasted on fighting guerrilla gang wars in South America that have displaced and destroyed the lives of our brothers and sisters to the south."

This matters because your generation's parents' feel not only their own frustrations, but they see the pain of their children and feel helpless, this is why this matters