Monday, October 10, 2011

The Message of Occupy Austin.

Welcome back from the weekend, Reader!  I hope you had a good one.

On Saturday, I went to City Hall to see Occupy Austin with my own eyes.  And, to get educated on the movement.

While I was there, I decided to snap a few photos.

If you're just now hearing about Occupy Austin and the Occupy Wall Street events around the country, may I kindly direct you to Republic of Austin, which has two extremely helpful / informative posts (here and here) breaking down the movement.  In a nutshell: Correcting corporate control over our government.  With a particular emphasis on banks, their role in the recession, and the widening gap between the top 1% of wealthy individuals in this country (many of whom work at the top of banks) and the remaining 99% (hence the other moniker for this movement, "The 99% Movement.")

Now, there seems to be two popular story lines in the media about this movement.  First, that it's led by hippies, and second, that it's led by unemployed hippies who don't have jobs and that's why they can attend a movement in the middle of the day.

Let me set the record straight: This movement is definitely led by hippies.

It is also attended by non-hippies.  These are just people, after all.  Calling Occupy Wall Street a "hippie movement" is just as reductionist as calling the Tea Party an "angry white man" movement.  This to me seems unproductive.  

On the unemployed part: I actually met plenty of people who had jobs.  One guy in particular (the one holding flowers below) said he was approached by a reporter with a local news station, who asked him if he was unemployed.  He told her, "actually, I got a job on Tuesday!" and she said, "oh, nevermind" and went off in search of an unemployed person to interview.

Does this storyline sit uncomfortably with anyone else?  It's like there's this assumption that you would only want to protest corporate control if you didn't have a job.  

But what if you have a job (like me) and think that some industry and some capitalism is OK?  You just think there are some industries (namely, banks) that lack proper regulation?  And that as a result, a wealth distribution gap has emerged?  And that maybe, there's a way to do things better?   

I don't think mainstream news outlets are trying to be sinister; they're just looking for a story.  And the whole, "are you unemployed?  Are you ANGRY?  Is that why you're protesting today??" seems to be a baiting question leading to a very specific story, and that bait very often leads to: "So you're mad at Obama, right?  RIGHT??"

Look.  This problem is so much bigger than Obama.  As he correctly pointed out in an interview last week, what many of those banks did in the run-up to the recession wasn't necessarily illegal, just highly, how-can-you-sleep-at-night? immoral.  Some of it may have been illegal, but most of all it was just wrong.  And unfortunately, you can't prosecute "wrong."  At least not all of the time.

So what we're really talking about here is how to prevent stuff like that from happening again.  Reducing the extent to which a few people can play with a lot of people's money, and also reducing the influence those few, very wealthy people have over our political process.  And that's where most of the Occupiers frustration is being channeled: America's political process.  Not Obama.

(Ok, ok.  I did see one person out there wearing one of those terrifying "SOCIALISM" t-shirts, with Obama painted in 'white face' to look like The Joker a la the late Heath Ledger.  Jebus!  That thing scares me!

So there was at least one individual who definitely hates Obama.  But in general, the feeling in the air wasn't anti-Obama.  More anti-corporate power.)

Let's pause here to acknowledge the cutest family EVER. 

What did I tell you?

In my opinion, I think we could actually get somewhere with this thing (and with our political process in general) if we stopped wasting the President's time by asking him to show us his birth certificate, for example.  And I'm less mad at the people who pull that stuff, than at the media who gives those people a platform and airtime.  Stop doing that, you guys. 

(And PS, that goes for those on the left too.  Of which I count myself a member.  Media, don't give a liberal person ample airtime if they are simply being hateful -- it's happened.  I'm so exhausted by cult-of-personality news these days, right or left.  I miss boring, reporting-of-the-facts news, and that's why I have a big dork crush on the BBC.)

So.  How great is this, that we've got this conversation started?  Also: I wonder if this is a sign that we're blossoming into more than a two-party system?  Because I'm beginning to think we've outgrown it.  Republicans, c'mon -- you don't all seriously agree with the Tea Party.  But you're putting on a brave face and being pragmatic, because you want to get somebody elected.  It's the same thing with Democrats, who are probably looking at this thing going: OK, strategize!  How can we get these folks on our team?  Let's think, people -- think! 

Not everyone may agree with me here, but I think we may be able to focus on creating cool, effective policy if we have more than two parties.  I mean, aren't you sick of this Us vs. Them situation?  It puts politicians into this position where they have to focus on electability over policy, which is the reason Obama is like ... "um, I'm still making up my mind about gay marriage, you guys!"  Do you think he actually cares?  NO. I bet deep down in his heart, Obama is 100% down with gay marriage.  But he has to court the independents, some of whom unfortunately disagree with it.

I would rather vote for the person with the best ideas.  Which is a dreamy and lofty notion.  I think Obama has terrific, smart ideas.  But our political process neuters them.  Also?  George W. Bush put forth a shockingly progressive notion with his Guest-Worker Program for immigrants.  That was an awesome idea!  But the political process killed it, because George W. Bush is indebted to his party, and his party did NOT like the Guest-Worker Program.  So you see why good ideas get shot down a lot.  Having just two parties tends to really limit what you can reasonably do as a leader.

How exciting would it be if my generation was the one that evolved our political process?  And if this national conversation was a historic turning point for that? 

I don't know about you, but I am so intrigued to see where this thing goes.

No comments: