It’s been six weeks since Occupy Wall Street took to Liberty Square. Six weeks of effectively nothing.
To be sure, the movement has done a number of things. It’s highlighted the socioeconomic problems faced by the majority of the population of the United States. It has inspired many other people to do the same, in their respective cities and nations. It is an ongoing experiment in leaderless, democratic collectivism. It allows people to express their rage at Wall Street and the banks and corporations they feel are responsible for the plight of millions of people around the world.
What it has not done is come anywhere close to doing anything about the situation it decries.
Occupy Wall Street claims it had been inspired by the Arab Spring. But there is a fundamental difference between the protests at Wall Street and the protests at Tahrir Square. It lies in the gulf between We are the 99% and Ash-shaʻb. yurīd. isqāṭ an-niẓām. The former is a slogan of identity: We are the 99%; we are the marginalised, the homeless, the jobless, the poor, the Have Nots. The latter is a declaration of intent: The people want to bring down the regime. The former is a signal of identity. The latter is a call to solidarity – and to action.
The Arab Spring had a purpose: to topple oppressive regimes and/or to initiate political reforms. This purpose was manifest in the protests, the demonstrations, and the fighting. The revolutions were a means to an end.
In the case of Occupy Wall Street, the protests were an end in of themselves. OWS has no official demands, no goals, no leadership. It is just an amorphous entity railing against Wall Street.
Goals are important. A movement that focuses on toppling a dictator will concentrate its efforts on removing him from power, and will gain support from people and organisations with similar goals. A movement that wishes to express anger at banks will focus on making themselves heard, and will be supported by people who also want to tell the big corporations that they are angry. Toppling a dictator will remove him from power, allowing the revolutionaries to seize the reins of the state and (hopefully) build a better tomorrow. Telling the banks you are angry just gives more work and stress to the employees who have to deal with public anger.
I don’t blame people for getting angry at Wall Street. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and it’s been this way for a long time. This article shows concisely the problems of the American economy: high unemployment, massive income disparities, and 1% of the country owns 42% of its wealth. Getting angry at Wall Street is understandable. But it won’t do anything.
The 1% did not get to own a controlling share in the nation’s wealth by caring about how people felt about them. They got there by caring about the bottom line. They are not democratically elected by the people, and derive no power from the people’s consent or approval. They aren’t going to care about what people think of them, and see little to no purpose in caring for the 99%.
(Sure, there’s a fair number of rich people who do give of their time, money and energy to help the unfortunate – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation comes to mind – but they tend to be the exception to the rule.)
Anger is a means to an end, not an end. The heart of OWS is rage. It is rage directed at Wall Street. Instead of using this rage to do something useful, OWS continues to express continued outrage at the banks. Instead of sending a message to Wall Street in the language of money, OWS sends messages in the language of frustration – messages that the big businesses have no incentive to receive. Instead of giving direction to popular will, OWS is content to let somebody else dictate the national political agenda – which includes the big banks and their lobbyists, who are busy convincing the politicians that OWS is fundamentally irrelevant.
My sympathies lie with OWS, but I am not going to support OWS. I am not going to any Occupy-related event to show support the cause. I am not going to spread their messages. I am not going to post anything they say. I am not going to treat OWS as relevant.
What I am going to do is take action. To me, wealth is a means to an end. Having money provides options. I don’t care about being rich; I just want to be able to live without having to worry about the bills. So I have structured my life around this.
I’m a writer. That means I create my job, like every entrepreneur. Employability is now irrelevant from my perspective. I’m changing my life, slowly but surely, so I can make real money out of writing instead of having to depend on somebody else for my income. I don’t have much talent outside of writing, so I hire people to help me – people, not big corporations. I keep my money in a bank that (for now, at least) doesn’t play funny games with my money. I don’t use my credit card. My monthly income is in the high triple digits, expenditure in the low double digits, and every month the gap between the two increases. I plan my purchases months in advance. I don’t take any loans. In short, what I will do is take control of my life, and live on my terms – nobody else’s, and especially not the banks’.
Not everybody can come close to this. Not everybody is fortunate enough to do this, or even want to. But what people can do is to reduce their dependency on the global finance system and the corporations that run it. If they want the banks to fall in line, they need to send messages to the banks in a language that they will understand. Such as petitioning the government for increased regulations, pulling out money from the big banks, and boycotting corporations. That is something Wall Street will care about. Not protests in a park.
I am not the 99%. I am not the 1%. I will not be pigeonholed into either category. I will not spend my energy on fruitless endeavours. I will use it to make my life better. I am that I am, and I will be what I will be.