Wednesday, November 23, 2011

OWS: A ship in search of a rudder

A few days ago, someone I went to High School with and haven't spoken to in over 20 years (but none the less is one of my Facebook "Friends") posted a picture on Facebook of some National Guardsmen with a sign that said - Occupy Bagram: Quit your bitchin' and get back to work.  This set off a response from me and a little back-and-forth about the OWS movement.  Needless to say, I was put-off,, offended, by this little protest by men and women who I have enormous respect for.  Mainly because most of these same National Guard personnel will be in the very same boat as the OWS folk when they get back to the States - no job and little prospect of getting one anytime soon. 

The image that's being conveyed by the conservative right about OWS is being fed by the liberal left - a mob of out-of-work slackers with no leadership and no sense of direction.  Regardless of what narrative or picture the right wing establishment wants to portray, the reality of who these people are (the Occupiers) is far from their truth but also confirms what is painfully obvious.  This movement is a rudderless ship drifting out to sea, in desperate need of rescue. 

The facts that get in the way of the truth, on how OWS grew, are somehow debatable.  But regardless of how the right wing establishment wants to frame "the Occupiers", there is a national consensus for a re-balancing of relative equality between the 99% and the top 1%.  So what are the organics behind this movement? 

From the post WWII era up to the late 1970 to early 1980s, Democrats & Republicans (Liberals, Moderates, and Conservatives), were in relative agreement on Corporate accountability and responsibility to the nation. The same goes for personal and corporate taxes, as well as Capital Gains taxes. During that time, while the nation went through some incredible social changes, our overall economy was relatively stable, with small to moderate recessions that we were able to come out of relatively quickly. 

Since the late 1970s early 1980s, people that felt success and those that take risks (in business) were not being rewarded enough for their "prosperity" were able to gain incredible access to elected officials. This started a movement to massive tax cuts and deregulation that eroded the relative economic stability we had as a nation. Within this thirty year time frame or so, we have had three Stock Market crashes - two directly attributed to financial bubbles and one as a direct result of the Terror Attacks on 9/11. Prior to that, the last Stock Market Crash was in 1929. 

All during this 30 year time frame, our nation has run continual budget deficits as a result of cutting taxes and deferring to the judgement of Wall Street hacks (which has developed into a defacto fourth branch of our Federal Government that is more powerful than the three branches that our Constitution is structured on). This has piled up to our current level of national debt. 

To bring my point to a close, the American Taxpayer has given these folks on Wall Street bailout after bailout - whether it be two rounds of stimulus, direct bailouts, deregulation, or tax loopholes where the largest corporation pay next to nothing or nothing at all in taxes. What have we gotten in return? More bonuses for Wall Street CEOs, Hedge Fund Managers, and their lobbying firms on K Street. They have shipped manufacturing and high tech jobs overseas, and parked their corporate profit in off-shore banks to avoid paying taxes.  But somehow this is OK, because they are rewarded with disproportionate influence over our lawmakers in DC and in every state capital in this nation.  All because they have money to fund political campaigns. 

So, why not protest the place and the people that are clearly running this nation. The people we elected to do what's in the best interest of this nation are clearly answering to the Wall Street CEOs and their Boards of Directors.  As for the folks that are being told to get back to work in the sign being held by these warriors, believe me if there were jobs to get back to - that were in a relative pay range or income level prior to the Great Recession - they would be there in a heart beat. 

The students that have graduated college during this time, most (I'm not going to say all) don't want to be living back at home with mom and dad - in the basement or attic playing Call of Duty on their XBox 360 - and would rather have a job. The older folks that got laid-off or lost their job, they're not getting hired because their "too old" and have too much experience. You might say, start a small business.  But the banks are so tight with their lending, that it's next to impossible to get a loan.  They'd rather give their top managers and Board Members bonuses for hording money.  By the time a loan gets approved (if they do at all), they're out on the street or living out of their car - if they even have a car. 

Take a good look and it will become clear that these folks that are part of the OWS movement are doing almost the only thing they can do - bringing attention to the massive income, wealth, access, and accountability disparity between those with money, power and access and those without. I agree that folks need to get back to work, but there are not jobs to get back to work to. 

For a long time, we were a nation where if something wasn't working for us (individually) we could change gears or take a different path professionally. What we've lost is the security of being able to do just that. Making the case to prospective employers that you have transferable skills is falling on deaf ears. Same goes for trying to start a small business and prove to lenders that you are a smart and safe business risk. We have lost that ability and its frustrating, and in many ways - depressing. 

So, where does this put the OWS movement?  Almost all of the encampments have been cleared.  With the exception of clashes with local or campus police, the press coverage has slowed to a trickle.  The decision making structures of the disparate OWS groups has been modeled off of a group consensus format, where participants are held accountable by each other.  In the short-term, this method has worked fine but the momentum has stalled and the larger message is being repackaged by those outside the movement - that of a movement of unemployed, upper-middle income and liberal trust fund babies, just stirring up trouble, that are disconnected from working class Americans. 

A movement that once sparked global action is now drifting out to sea, mainly because there is no focus, no cohesive message, and most importantly no leadership.  Someone, please rescue this movement before it sinks under a wave of obscurity. 

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