Open: Occupy Wall Street
...the streets, the doors, and your eyes
The unifying idea of the Occupy Wall Street protests is in one, minimalist word: OPEN. In both the literal and figurative sense of the word, OPEN needs to happen to help people help themselves. In recent years, more and more businesses, services and opportunities have closed down, creating a chain reaction of misfortune as a result of unemployment, underemployment, foreclosure, people going hungry, homelessness, bankruptcy, lack of medical care, loss of life savings, loss of educational opportunities, insurmountable debt, and, perhaps as bad as anything, loss of hope. The protesters are demanding the kinds of change that make it possible to reopen opportunities for a better life. Those who see the protesters as whining for entitlements, the “1%” or those sympathetic with that rarified group, have blinded themselves to the very real suffering that is happening, or else have no compassion.
Minimalists are big on reducing needs, winnowing things down to sustainable levels, so that a modest income can cover our basics without resorting to credit card debt or becoming slaves to work we hate. Personal Responsibility means getting real with spending habits, and determining if one really needs those “needs.” And that’s great. Eliminating debt, downsizing to smaller homes, to one or no cars, cooking at home, ditching cable TV, and not falling prey to advertising that says we need new wardrobes, laptops, cellphones, gadgets, etc., are within the grasp of anyone who chooses to put their minds to it. The rewards are immense, on both a financial and personal level. This kind of fiscal mindfulness cannot be compared to the experience of those who are forced into deprivation, but in some lucky cases it was a preemptive strike.
Occupy Wall Street is about a set of problems much greater than consumer debt. It is a common misconception that the economy’s woes are the direct result of credit card debt and people buying more house than they can afford. The credit and mortgage crises are actually a symptom, the result of a lack of regulation and accountability for both financial institutions and corporations. Our own culpability comes in not demanding that our government apply the previously mentioned sense of Personal Responsibility in the form of regulating the flow of our money. Of course, if we aren’t awake enough to apply it to ourselves, we are not likely to be awake enough to force the government to do the same. Nonetheless, capitalism’s drive for profit has been left unchecked by the very institutions that had once been in place to restrain it for the common good.
Let’s consider paying down debt: at the very least, you need a job, one well above minimum wage. At this time there are 4.3 unemployed people for every job available in this country. Most of these jobs, as well as the ones already taken, are minimum wage and have no health insurance. Many are part-time. Paying down credit card debt, let alone paying down a mortgage, is not going to happen for an awful lot of people no matter how badly they want to do it. When the debt is the result of a perfect storm of unregulated finance charges, loss of equity because the housing market crashed, and loss of employment, insurance, and savings, telling these people it’s their own fault is tantamount to telling those who have no bread to eat cake. It’s cruel, it’s wrong, and incredibly insensitive. And it will foment rebellion, if not the guillotine, the historically inevitable end to any 1%.
Nothing is wrong with making lots of money, but something is wrong with stealing it and then tossing it back and forth to each other like ball while the rightful owners are trying to leap up and get it back. The money is recirculating among the people who need it the least; it’s buying political clout, it’s sending good jobs overseas, it’s not paying its fair share of taxes that support collectively-enjoyed benefits such as infrastructure, social security and disability, police and fire departments, and other public safety personnel such as food inspectors, air traffic controllers, the Coast Guard, environmental monitors, etc.
We of the 99% can indeed vote with our dollars and boycott sociopathic companies and financial institutions. But it won’t fix lack of regulations, proper taxation, and accountability, the elements that can affect our whole quality of life. It’s too late for change through boycotts alone, because we were lulled into a stupor by consumerism, believing anything that’s advertised–that’s why companies like BP can have the unmitigated gall to run a commercial saying how nice it is to vacation in the gulf, because test-marketing has shown we’ll buy anything if it’s presented in a “we care” way. The distribution of money is now so skewed that even the elimination of all personal and corporate debt will not change things for the better, if the way it is distributed doesn’t change. This is why it is now necessary for us to take to the streets and to support those who go in any way possible, to demand this fundamental change in the way things work.
So, OPEN the streets to nonviolent protests and demonstrations. OPEN the media to report on things as they really are. OPEN the political process to human voices, not dollar bills. OPEN the factories and local businesses and OPEN their hiring offices. OPEN access to medical care by bringing costs into line. OPEN the spigots of income again by restoring taxes for millionaires. OPEN the dialogue between lenders and homeowners. OPEN the access to affordable education again. OPEN government information about our environment and international affairs. OPEN the path to clean energy and freedom from the oil companies. OPEN the opportunity for a third of our country’s people to get back on their feet. OPEN your minds to educate yourself about the power of money on this scale, and IMAGINE a better quality of life for the average person.
Most of all, OPEN YOUR EYES, and see the corporations and Wall Street for what they really are, see advertising for what it really is, and remember what happens when we don’t exercise our larger Personal Responsibility to speak out, protest, vote with our dollars, and demand accountability from the get-go.