I don’t usually tackle economic or political subjects, but WordPress has presented an interesting topic this week, so I’m giving this one-woman’s-take-on-events a try. Did you know that the Occupy Wall Street protests celebrated their anniversary on September 17th?
Remember the Occupy Movement?
At first, I got it. People were outraged that apparently Wall Street insiders got rich by being careless of their clients, careless of the long-term implications of their dealings, careless of any particular moral imperatives. We go to our financial advisors much as we go to attorneys or accountants when we need them. There’s a lot of trust involved, and undoubtedly some trusts were violated. There’s a growing wealth gap – the rich got richer, and… well, you know.
I’m absolutely not against peaceful protests or demonstrations. I’m a child of the 196os, and I both understand and appreciate the difference well-orchestrated voices can make. The difficulty I have with the Occupy movement is that it has failed to find its common voice. It has been unable to communicate cohesive demands or goals, at least to me. It doesn’t even always seem to know who/what the target of its anger is.
It’s not enough to be angry that wealthy people are powerful people. In a free-market economy, in fact in most cultures, that’s the case. It occurs to me that one problem confronting Occupy is that there is no single “bad guy” in what happened to the economy. Some people got greedy, and many others turned a blind eye to what they were doing.
In the US, some of the villains were Republicans, and some were Democrats. Some were stock brokers; some were bankers. And some were union or other pension fund managers and regulators elected or appointed to make sure that trades, loans, and mortgages (and the publicly traded firms which offer them) were properly developed and managed.
And the investing public didn’t always take responsibility or do its due diligence either. Investors and their advisors ignored those simple maxims: “Let the buyer beware” and “If it seems to good to be true, it is.” After all, didn’t they have to buy in for “Wall Street” to succeed?
When things started to fall apart, even those who hadn’t invested in iffy transactions got hurt, because the stock market took our traditional investments, IRAs, 401ks, and pension plans, down a few notches, too. Companies suffered; more jobs were lost. We all became unhappy, regulators stirred from their reveries, and some people were moved to demonstration… hence Occupy Wall Street.
The idea caught on like wildfire – people suffering from the wealth gap across the US and around the world jumped on the idea, and individual encampments popped up everywhere. But they appeared, at least to those outside the movement, disconnected and diverse. No clear leadership stepped up and grabbed our attention, and the message was diluted.
In the sixties, non-violent demonstrations helped break down color barriers in the US, and also saw an end to our involvement in the armed conflict in Vietnam. Everyone still remembers the well-organized March on Washington, and Martin Luther King’s dream. There were persuasive leaders, unity, and achievable goals in those protests (and others), that Occupy seems to lack.
On its anniversary, absent a cohesive voice and concrete proposals, Occupy has fizzled, but not died. The encampments, which had taken over public parks and become eyesores, expenses, and annoyances to the people they were trying to influence, have mostly been disbanded by local authorities. Regulators seem to be snoozing again, after slapping a few hands. The American people and media have moved on to the upcoming elections, where they feel they can have some power over our economic future.
And what have we learned?
Well, I suppose that outrage and righteous indignation alone aren’t enough to create lasting change. Nor are protests. Nor even being right. To make change, unifying, clear solutions must be presented – objectives that people can get behind. Being inclusive, as Occupy strives to be, is lovely – but the message of any organization hoping have an impact needs to be refined and focused. A clear voice has to rise, and the goals must be offered in a way everyone can understand and grasp. I believe that’s what builds true momentum behind a cause.
The wealth gap concerns us all, whether we realize it or not. The economy affects us all. I certainly get that. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with the Occupy movement. It’s just that I never understood their plan.
And for me, there has to be a plan.
This post was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap-The Occupy Wall Street Movement. To read more about the challenge and other bloggers’ responses, click here.