Occupied!: The Curse of the 99
**From now until when we feel like stopping, we’ll be running quasi-daily posts on different perspectives about the Occupy Movement. This will include a mix of 40 Acres Authors and guest contributors. If you want to contribute anything, an article, a poem, a picture, a story, or whatever, just hit us up at email@example.com**
Most of you all know about the Occupy Wall St movement and the similar movements that have sprung up since the first protests happened in mid-September. If you haven’t, I have no fucking clue how you are reading this because you must not have internet
Although I didn’t know much about the Occupy Wall St movement for a while, something about it was familiar to me. As I studied it and started to read about the various and often vague goals and aspirations, it resonated even more with me, but aside from my general views about the terrible wealth disparity and the excesses of the super-rich and their financial arm (banks), there was something deeper that hit me about it. I read about students who had done everything right; who had gone to school and gotten good grades to go to college and then graduated and ended up unemployed with no relief for their debt. I read about people with advanced law and research degrees who had taken on more debt just to try and do what we have always been taught would get us the home and life we all wanted.
There were homeowners who had perhaps made bad decisions in taking on loans to get houses and ended up destitute and foreclosed on, but who had done so only because society tells you you have made it when you have a decent house and a family. Most of the stories I heard weren’t of “lazy” people or people who were jealous of the rich, but of people who had genuinely done everything right to get their piece of the pie, but ended up with none of it, and sat in frustration watching while the government saved the jobs and the asses of industry bankers and execs making millions while they did almost nothing to save the jobs of the little guys. Stimulus packages for banks that could have paid to run several smaller countries were passed in weeks, but jobs bills worth much less than that that asked for a little contribution from those who benefited the most to fund them were shot down immediately. Wealthy folks cried about being victims and somehow blamed the poor for the recession and claimed that THEY should pay more in taxes. The system was broken.
I understood the counter-arguments (curiously, mostly by the wealthy and those in the financial industry), that we are where we are because we had to save banks in order to avoid a larger collapse in the system and that giving money to the rich stimulated the economy and creates jobs. I also understood that while those arguments rest on a particular strain of reasonable thinking, most of them are full of shit. Banks can never sell to me that they are in danger and are doing everything they can do to secure their long-term positions when they offer multi-million dollar golden parachutes to employees just to keep them from working for someone else. People can’t find jobs in the real world and bankers get paid to not look for jobs? Looks like I pursued the wrong major. White folks (and wealthy folks in general) can’t tell me that social welfare creates dependence and laziness among lower class Blacks when banks are dependent upon money that dwarfs welfare to stay operational and make more and more risky bets because they know they are “too big to fail.” In poor folks they call it laziness. In rich folks they call it “moral hazard.” Wealthy folks like Mitt Romney can’t sell to me that taxes should actually be cut on the wealthy when he complains about his $5 million house being too small. My family never complained about paying our taxes (oddly similar in percentage to his) when we lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my parents, myself, my brother and my sister AND my grandmother. My brother lived in basically a goddamn walk-in closet for a year!
These inconsistencies are what I think folks are noticing and I believe that the Occupy movement is just a harbinger of the real struggle to come. But I still wasn’t fully invested after reading up on all of this. Something gnawed at me but I wasn’t sure what it was. But it really hit me yesterday. The protesters are protesting mostly because they’ve done everything they’ve been told to do and worked their asses off to achieve the American dream but have been denied it. They see rich people getting richer and receiving aid during the worst financial crises in 80 years while they get nothing. Then they see those same rich people who got saved blaming THEM for what’s wrong with the country.
Basically, they got a glimpse of what it’s like to be Black or any minority really in this country. We’ve been taught that the American Dream is about just working hard and “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps” but come home after trying our hardest and spending every dime we had on education in dead-end jobs realizing that that dream doesn’t always apply to everyone. We’re used to being blamed for what’s wrong in this country without ever being congratulated for the major contributions we’ve given everywhere. We’ve been exploited and shunned since we first came over on ships in 1619. I think that those protesters in the “99 percent” are really just feeling what we’ve felt forever.
And once you realize this, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. A fellow by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. launched something eerily similar to the Occupy Movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, in the year of his death. It was a very drastic change for a man who had previously been known for being the champion of a single race, and it was cast out by whites and blacks alike as “socialist” and too radical. It suffered from the problems in scope and focus of Occupy Wall St and suffered from finding concrete demands that were so much easier to identify in the Civil Rights Movement. It was the next step, but I don’t think even King realized how difficult and before-its-time the campaign would be. The Civil Rights Movement challenged the racist notions of a single section of the country that were considered backwards and barbarous by many in the country. The Poor People’s Campaign may not have intended to, but it tackled the roots of the injustices in the Civil Rights Movement, asked questions about the very soul and character of this country, and challenged what EVERYONE thought about how to make it in America. Unfortunately, King was assassinated after one of the first major operations in that campaign and we’ll never know how it would have turned out. I suspect the world was not ready.
As a self-proclaimed student and devotee of MLK, I recognized the heritage of the Occupy Movement and support it dearly. My challenge to those who participate, shape, and lead it over the course of its lifetime is that they recognize the heritage too. Recognize the spirit of Benjamin Mays and the words of Bayard Rustin in the rhetoric of the signs of the 99%. Learn from the lessons that the Civil Rights Movement taught us. Avoid the pitfalls and capitalize on the successes. You have a map that has been given to you by history. Use it. See these things through the lens of history and realize how difficult this will really be. This isn’t camping out on a street for a while. This is challenging the very nature of the power dynamic in this country. We’ve been trying for a hundred years with limited success; surviving through the first snowfalls in NY is a pretty minor accomplishment. Realize how dangerous this movement can be and how dangerous it could also be to be a part of. Realize your social inertia. And don’t forget the minorities and freedom fighters who fought as the vanguard to your protests. Only through doing these things do I think the Occupy Movement can really be successful.
So, yes, we are the 99 percent. We’ve been that way for a while. Ask us about it.