I know what democracy looks like. Stop yelling at me. Jeez.

It’s a good thing I was born to a quasi-apathetic generation. I could never stage a protest for 20 days.

For one thing, I have to work.

Today is 20th day of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration in Lower Manhattan, and it’s spread throughout the country. It’s super-exciting because the New York folks (who are not actually on Wall Street, so the name is a bit of a failure) are yelling chants and camping out (well, the hard-core people are camping out; the rest are just joining up on the weekends) and painting their faces to look like corporate zombies while they eat fake money. Seven hundred of them got arrested for blocking the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend. Of course, this means the protestors are now also protesting against police brutality. Which everybody else is against, too, so apparently it depends on how you define it, and they’re defining it as “we got arrested for blocking the bridge.”

The cops did pepper-spray some women who were penned into a little square on the sidewalk and didn’t do anything to deserve it. I’m down with that definition of police brutality.

But I wish I knew what these super-exciting protestors actually want.

I mean I get that they don’t like Wall Street corporate money-eating zombies. But I’m guessing pretty much everybody is against that. Zombies are terrifying. Some of the demonstrators say they’re like the Tea Party movement, but liberal. Which is then, by definition, not at all like the Tea Party movement. And then others say they’re like the Arab Spring demonstrators who brought down their rulers in the Middle East. In fact, Occupy Wall Street’s website says it is using that model.

So I guess one of the things on the list of demands is a coup…?

Wait, there’s not actually a list of demands. And that’s what sort of frustrates me about this demonstration. It seems even the mayor of New York City doesn’t really get it. Michael Bloomberg says the demonstrators aren’t even aiming their protests at the right people. As quoted by the Associated Press: “The protestors are protesting against people who make $40- or $50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s the bottom line. Those are the people who work on Wall Street or in the finance sector.”

Um… Mr. Mayor… I might not know exactly what they want, but I know they’re not protesting the dudes who make $40,000. Perhaps you need a refresher in symbolism. You look like an idiot when you say stuff like that.

I looked at occupywallst.org to see if their mission statement was clear there. Not really. In a sidebar to all the video and photos and calls for solidarity to the vague cause, there’s a summation that says:

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

(Well now I have a rhetorical bone to pick, because there are only two genders, and because most of us are angry to some degree, but I wouldn’t say all 99% exactly have decided they will no longer tolerate it, and this group doesn’t have 99% of the country at their protests. But protests are, to some extent, about rhetoric. So I’ll let it go.)

I don’t have a problem with the people’s right to protest. Protests that started small and gathered steam have helped change the way things get done in this country, despite the dismay of the majority. I believe in standing up for what you think is right, and if you feel that you need to stage a protest, by all means, go ahead. Please make it reasonable, non-violent, and not a catalyst for criminality. (Disturbing the peace and other civil disobedience measures I can handle, to a point.)

But this particular protesting fad that’s sweeping the nation doesn’t seem to have a cohesive point or a broader understanding of implications. I’ve heard some protestors say that they are staying put until the entire American banking system changes. Well… you’re going to be there a long time. Bloomberg is going to mistake you for homeless people and sweep you out when it’s time for holiday tourists. Other protestors want reforms to health care. Some are calling for an end to corporate tax loopholes. There’s a set that wants an end to corporate campaign donations (there is a larger argument that companies have too much influence over government). Still others say the biggest problem is income tax discrepancies. And then there are those who want our entire political system to change. For some people it’s about the educational system. Or the distribution of food. And some of them do want a coup. There are so many different causes that the only thing uniting the group is their anger.

I wasn’t part of the 60s. My frame of reference for the civil rights era is one that benefits from the grace of historical perspective to define it more succinctly. At the time, I suppose it felt largely like chaos and anger and fear and brutality. But it seems that it still had a single message: end discrimination. It seems it had a credible goal, rather than a propensity for overstating that takes away from its validity as a movement. I guess maybe there were a lot of messages back then, a lot of fractured demands. But it’s easy, from a historical, humanist perspective, to see why people fought back. It’s easy to see why people deserved their rights.

It’s harder to see that when we’re talking about concepts like capitalism. Capitalism absolutely has its victims. And it would be ignorant to claim that it’s not as fierce a foe to those victims as the violent and widespread, blatant racism of the pre-civil rights era. The truest victims of capitalism’s crimes are hungry, homeless, hopeless, sick or desperate. Poverty is a plague that claims generations, just like racism. And the two have their inarguable links.

I can support a cause that believes government must empty its pockets of corporate influence, at least to some extent. But there are so many other demands… I can’t tell if that’s really the overarching theme. And if your movement doesn’t seem to have a unified voice, how can you expect it to accomplish anything besides making noise?

 

 

I think another part of the reason I’m a little frustrated with these folks is because we have it pretty damned good in this country. It’s far from perfect, and right now it’s unacceptably difficult for a larger group of people than usual. I believe in constantly striving to be better. But on the whole, this country is still the envy of the world, and there’s part of me that feels like using the Arab Spring as a model for rebellion here makes a mockery of the fight those people were fighting. I have to wonder: of all these people protesting, how many of them will vote in November? How many will vote in local races? How many will contact their congressional representatives after that to exercise their voices on varied issues?

And how many are just there because it’s a thrill to join in the frenzy?

I know what democracy looks like. I’m not sure the protestors do. This country is not a democracy; It’s a republic. It’s a republic for a reason. We may be incredibly, angrily frustrated with our representatives, but if we were a true democracy in which nothing was calibrated for weight, it would be absolute madness on a scale we’ve never seen. All the voices in the cacophony would cancel each other out and we would be left with nothing but unproductive, intractable noise and no message. Above the din of everyone yelling, no one would ever be heard.

I’m not saying every person on Capitol Hill is a genius, and I’m certainly not saying they all offer a true representation of their constituents. But I grow increasingly frustrated with a population whose information is limited, but who insist it is educated enough to know how the handle global financial affairs. The reason we’re a republic is that sometimes the People are flat-out stupid and there has to be somebody who knows how things actually work who says, “Yeah, thanks. We’re going to go ahead and ignore you because if we do what you say we’ll all be in the midst of nuclear war and widespread famine within five minutes.” Ungoverned groupthink can be dangerous because it lacks checks and balances. The world is a big place and a small place at the same time, and not everybody plays nicely in the sandbox. It takes finesse to play it right, and the People don’t have that.

But we do have a voice. If you insist you don’t have a voice once the elections are over, you have forgotten that you can call or write or email or show up at the door of your representative or senator and insist on being heard. Sometimes you will be ignored, or deflected, or pawned off on someone else. But you do have a voice. Sometimes a representative does not hear it. Vote them out. Use your voice for something other than shouting at the rain. And don’t confuse the effort to make yourself heard with the effort of getting your way.

Because that will make you just like everyone you are trying to defeat.

What do you think of the protests?

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20 thoughts on “I know what democracy looks like. Stop yelling at me. Jeez.

  1. In some ways, the claim that the message is incoherent is the usual self-fulfilling prophesy of the media. They don’t tell the protestors’ stories, therefore their message is “unknown”. We saw this with the anti-globalizations stuff from Seattle on.

    The common theme of it all is that big financial institutions own our government, and that needs to end. Specifics will emerge later, if any politicians want to jump on the bandwagon. Being leaderless is sometimes a good tactic. If you show a head, the enemy knows what to cut off. Voting doesn’t work if there are no good choices on the ballot. Writing to your representatives is futile if they all sit in carefully gerrymandered, secure districts.

    Minor quibble about the phrase “pawn off on” — See one of my language rants:
    http://kitchenmudge.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/a-good-whine-i-believe-ill-have-another/

    • Hi Mudge! I think you’re right to some degree about the message being unknown because carriers don’t make it known. However, to me, not being able to find a true mission statement even on the loose organization’s website is an indicator of a bit of a challenge to the message. In the days before the internet, there were lots of protests we understood because the message was clear. If a journalist, blogger or other carrier can’t find the purpose on the organization’s site, it would be hard to codify the desires of the people at the protests into one cohesive whole. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me.

      That said, I completely agree about the leaderless element. I hope my post didn’t come across as critical of that specific element. And I do take the point about the choices on the ballot and the gerrymandered districts. It’s a challenge, to be sure, and it should be easier.

      And thank you for the education on the “pawn off” phrase! It’s funny – as i wrote it, I thought, “Is this really a thing? Is it something else and I’m getting it wrong?” In the end I used it for the colloquial acceptance, but now that I know better, I won’t use it in the future!

  2. I don’t know much about these protests, and I agree with kitchenmudge that that’s because of the media, but then I think far far far too much of what we think we know is controlled by what the media wants us to believe. I have serious problems with the unbiased nature of 99% of news outlets. That said, I find myself frustrated with people who want to object to something, and yet have no constructive alternatives to put forward as solutions to the thing to which they are objecting. I too feel that there is an imbalance of wealth and power in our society, and that greed is a driver racing along the Autobahn with its passengers oblivious to the speed and potential impact as they drink champagne in the back seat. But can I solve that by dressing up as a zombie and chewing fake money? No. Can the protesters do so? No. Will the people who are truly the source of this problem, those who perpetuate our society’s attitude of greed and entitlement, care one whit about these protests? No. In our model of a democratic republic, we have the freedom to protest, to speak, and to express ourselves. But true change requires more than that – it requires a change in global vision and consciousness, and these protests will not accomplish that. Not this way. And unfortunately, not at this time.

    • I have to get this out of the way first, dear Sea: I’ve always bristled at the notion that the media “want us to believe” anything. I’ll grant the obvious biases of some of the outlets, but knowing a lot of people who work in the field, I can confidently tell you there’s no agenda in straight news coverage for local stations or those national organizations not screamingly biased (the hosted programs on MSNBC and Fox News Channel, or the deliberately sought content on HuffPo, Daily Kos, World Net Daily, RedState.com and their ilk). We are absolutely right to be critical consumers of information, and I wish more people were. However, we are also incredibly mistrustful and, in being so, sometimes refuse to believe the truth in what we see and hear. That said: we should be mindful that we never see or hear the full story, not because the media don’t care to tell it, but because there are practical limits of time and space for media outlets. End of that particular spiel.

      Moving on: I wholeheartedly agree with you about people who complain but don’t have a solution. I think eventually these protests might garner promises from politicians, largely to help bring them to an end. They might even produce some bills, down the line. If nothing else, they show popular support for certain issues already on the radar (though the protestors seem to have a liberal bent). And if that’s true, good for the protestors. But as I think we agree, complaints without thought-out and considered solutions have little impact in today’s society.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Those greedy #x@%&s! on Wall St. don’t do nothin for the peeepul except stuff like make evil trash for public & private sector retirement plans & individual investments while those poor Hollywood & media celebs, trial lawyers & pro athletes who work for peanuts always give more than half their pittance to the homeless. Oh yeah…fogot to mention the struggling politicians who are forced to make speeches for measly fees of 100K to 1M. Seriously, read what Adolf said he learned from Karl & Joseph in Mlein Kampf, then read Rand,s prophetic Atlas Shrugged. Some perspectives may be modified.

    • Hi BOS. I’ve checked out your posts so I can have a better idea of where you’re coming from with this comment. Thanks for coming by and reading! Yes, there is hypocrisy in all areas. I have read part of Atlas Shrugged, though I confess I haven’t read all of it yet, so I’m not yet sure what your point will be when I come to the end. I take your point about Hitler, as well (though I won’t read his manifesto) because I read your latest post; doesn’t that theory of appealing to the emotions of the least intelligent in a mass apply to everyone and everything attempting persuasion? From politics to advertising, right down to football, if you like. I don’t think Hitler, Stalin and Marx were the only ones to use that approach, nor do I think it is only used for evil. But if we’re honest, there is fault on all sides, isn’t there? Wall Street does do good, but it also does bad. Celebrities, too. And politicians. No one on the list is purely one way or another. But your comment made me think, and for that, I thank you!

  4. Let’s see. I lived through (though at a fairly young age) the civil rights protests. The civil rights movement benefited from very charismatic leaders, from Martin Luther King to Malcolm X and from having a clearly defined objective that was hard to argue against on a moral basis without sounding bigoted or stupid. There were a lot fewer trendy hangers on because you could actually get hurt. I was on the edges of the sixties antiwar movement, and although the primary objective was an end to the Vietnam war, the demonstrations brought in complete pacifists, anarchists, drug culture advocates and, of course, a lot of young people who didn’t want to be drafted. George McGovern (who I voted for,. by the way) lacked the charisma of King and was upstaged by street theater like that of the Chicago Seven. The peace movement was also tainted by the shameful treatment by demonstrators of our soldiers returning home. Still, it nudged the country toward the primary objective, getting out of Vietnam.

    I disagree with your statement that “The truest victims of capitalism’s crimes are hungry, homeless, hopeless, sick or desperate.” There are hungry, homeless, hopeless, sick or desperate in every human society … you probably can’t convince me that they are worst in ours because we have a quasi-capitalism and I’m inclined to think we’re better than most. I absolutely do not believe that the government should decide who can make how much money, On the other hand, I don’t think it should construct laws so favorable to a particular group that it becomes obscenely rich. I agree, business has too much influence. On a system I was involved with, a competitor won a small contract to build a component to replace something in our system. It was too big and too heavy to work in our system, but they collected a group of companies in different legislative districts and got $20M to build it. It’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere. That’s a legislative problem, not a Wall Street one. My sense is that most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are clueless as to how the economy and this country work … they’re just frustrated by the economy. Who isn’t?

    I have always believed while most of our citizens are fairly moderate, they are also fairly apathetic. The great pendulum that is our government spends little time in the middle but swings regularly left and right. Periodically, it needs a good kick from an organized protest to get it moving one way or the other. I worry a little bit about what direction our easily influenced politicians will scramble in response to a protest with no obvious concrete demands except “these guys have too much money.” The statement that they are the 99% is patently ridiculous, as you say, kinda like Agnew’s Silent Majority.

    Obviously, a thought provoking post.

    • Oh, let me clarify: I do not in any way mean that the people I believe to be true victims of American capitalism are, by default, the worst-off in the world. But I do make my “victims of capitalism” statement with broad strokes; I think there are people in third world countries who are victims of American capitalism with respect to food distribution, pharmaceutical companies’ decisions (they do a lot of good, but they also withhold a lot of lifesaving treatments because of money– though there are certainly other reasons). I believe that just as I believe there are people here who match my description in the post. My feeling is that all systems are flawed and all systems will produce their victims – and by “victims,” I mean people who really did work hard, try hard, act responsibly, etc., who still slipped between the cracks… or people who cannot overcome the poverty they were born into. I will not disregard their suffering out-of-hand because I support capitalism; they are human and deserve compassion. There are things that need to change undoubtedly, and I think we agree that this might not be the most effective catalyst.

  5. This is a great post – very thought provoking!

    So far, capitalism is the best system we humans have found. Capitalism is responsible for much of the advancement in the world, because it recognizes that people should be and want to be rewarded for their own efforts.

    There is a common misconception that if you have more $$ than me, it must mean that you took more than your fair share from some finite pot of $$. That’s not how it works. If you have a better mousetrap, you earn more $$. Then you buy more stuff, you expand your business – in short, you put other people to work. And, in addition to a job, I get a better mousetrap because of your creative efforts!

    Is it perfect? No. But consider that those considered “poor” in America still have much more than the average person in many parts of the world. Most poor people have places to live, and TVs, and cell phones. Yes, we have homeless. Most (not all) in that situation are there because of mental illness or addiction. People do not starve to death here. That’s a very powerful truth, and something that couldn’t be said for much of human history.

    I think that the message of this protest seems to boil down to: it’s not right that rich people are rich, and they should have to give their money to me. To which I say: go get your own. It’s out there for the taking if you’ve got the talent and the work ethic.

    Very well written – thanks!

    • Thank you for the compliments! I think it’s clear from the comments that this is a discussion worth having. Certainly, some of the people involved in the protests are upset about what they perceive as the unfairness of some people’s wealth over others. The more I watch and read, the more I see diverging demands and concerns. It’s alright to have those varied demands and concerns; everyone is entitled to their concept of a better country, but it’s frustrating because I don’t know how anyone can decide whether to support of decry the protests if they can’t tell what the protests are cohesively about. I do sense an overall theme that there is too much corporate control over the government. I just want someone to make that clear, if that’s the case. A civil rights leader from the 60s was quoted as saying that movement was organized and had a goal to work toward, whereas this protest is nothing more than an emotional outcry. That outcry may be valid in some ways, but it seems to spend a lot of energy on shouting rather than working toward a goal. I’m interested in seeing how it morphs and possibly gels or falls apart.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  6. What bothers me about these protests is that I watched the media interview some of the protestors yesterday and ask them what they were all about, and many of them looked like deer caught in headlights. They had no idea what to say. I don’t get it, I don’t get it. You’ve got to know why you’re there or it is meaningless.

    Now, I think I would join a protest if it were about our anger that the two parties won’t work together so nothing is getting done. I’m not thrilled about how much those corporate people make and how strong their influence is with the government, but I really just want the rest of us to have a piece of the pie, too. I want our country to go back to work, I want better healthcare solutions, I want these wars to end, etc. Our country has definite wants and needs, but the two political parties don’t want to deal with those issues and cooperate. Heaven forbid that one party might have a good idea and are allowed to act on it, which jeopardizes the other party’s chances of getting elected. I don’t care about political parties! I care about the country! The politicians should, too.

    By the way, terrific, thought-provoking, well-written post!

    • Thank you for the compliment. I so value those from you. I think the problem this movement is having is that, being leaderless, its message is left to whoever finds him- or herself with a microphone. That leads to fractious messages and a confused consumer. I completely agree that it’s meaningless if you don’t know why you’re there. We also agree on what we want for the country, and I think we’d find that many of the people involved in the demonstrations want the same things, but their focus is less on the parties and more on the money that the parties see.

  7. Pingback: Thinking, Anyone? « Older Eyes

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