Recently, I’ve been taken to task by friends about my position on the Occupy Wall Street movement, and also why my family did not take part in the demonstration in my city last weekend.
It’s such a polarizing issue among my friends and family that I’ve honestly been avoiding it… but I’ve been feeling guilty for being quiet on it. So here goes.
To be honest, Mitch and I had planned on attending the protest in our town, but then got scared by reports of police brutality and widespread arrests. This may seem pretty cowardly– especially if you have been arrested at one of the demonstrations– but all I can really say about that is that we’re parents, and the fear of being arrested and taken away from Maren was just too much. Even if we weren’t arrested, I kept having visions of the police tossing pepper spray into the crowd and it hurting Maren, or even of the crowd getting too wild and Maren getting hurt.
We thought about getting a babysitter and just praying that we wouldn’t be arrested, but then– 100% honest– I got strep throat on Friday and was so sick that I didn’t get out of bed for two days. So there was no civil discourse participation from us that weekend.
All in all…. I think I might be glad we didn’t go. The issues seem so widespread and there doesn’t really seem to be a central voice that connects all the people at the protest– I would have had a hard time articulating my support. I am a liberal, but not as liberal as many of the people involved in the protests. I would not call myself pro-welfare, but I do see situations where assistance is appropriate. I am not anti-corporation, either. I do choose to patronize small businesses whenever I can, but I also have seen corporations do great things.
I am also not anti-rich.
I grew up poor– and not just a little bit. I grew up very poor. It’s hard for me not to resent people whose parents paid their way through college– especially when they didn’t care, got a million chances, and didn’t even need a degree to get the ‘job’ that they wanted. But, of the rich people that I know, the fact is most of them got that way by working very, very hard. Most of them got that way not just by being smart or having connections, but also by working very, very hard. On their weekends, their evenings, their vacations…. every spare moment they’re thinking about their work. Additionally, a lot of the rich people that I know took a lot of risks. Mitch and I know one guy who lived off of fifty percent of his salary for his entire adult life. That doesn’t just mean no fringe fun, like going out to dinner or cable TV. It meant no phone, no car, renting a basement from an elderly couple, and never. NEVER going out. I’ve known people who mortgage their home, borrow against life insurance, and other crazy risks to see their business succeed. Sometimes they go to school for a crazy long time and go into a field with a crazy amount of stress.
Additionally– a lot of the rich people I know are extremely generous. It’s true that they don’t want to be taxed more, but I don’t think it’s because they’re greedy– at least, not the ones that I know– I think its more because if they are giving money away, they’d rather choose where it goes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve met some rich jerks, too. A kid I knew in college once yelled at me for giving a bum in Europe some spare change. “That’s why you’ll ALWAYS be poor,” he said, sneering. “People only get rich when they don’t give their money away.”
But I’ll tell you what makes me mad.
What makes me really mad is the impression I am getting– from the media, from politicians, from some of the talking heads I’ve been seeing around lately– that they think they are all oh-just-so-much smarter than the rest of us. That because I am poor, I must be lazy and stupid. That because I think it is not right that Wall Street accepted a billion dollar bail out and then laughed at us, I must be looking for a hand-out. That because my husband and I are struggling, I must be spending large amounts of money on frivolous, crazy purchases.
I’m tired of hearing about the trickle-down effect. What is that supposed to look like? I’ve been hearing about how this so-called trickle down effect is supposed to work, and yet, ever since I started paying taxes (and yes, I pay taxes) all I’ve seen is rich people getting richer, and poor people getting poorer, and middle class people getting poorer, too.
It makes me sick– really, really sick– that there are people who got so super rich by being dishonest. A lot of these people got rich due in part– in huge part– to the work of so many people who never got rich from their work during better economic times. And now, when the country was hit by hard times, the rich guys bailed. They laid off the people who’d worked for them for decades, stole their pensions, and went on Fox news and called them whiners. They want poor people to stop asking for hand-outs– and I think that poor people would agree! I think we’d all much rather have jobs then have welfare.
I know a lot of poor people, too. A lot of us poor people have a lot of disadvantages. I don’t mean to whine– it’s just a fact. A lot of people weren’t born to families that are supportive or stable. A lot of people are never given an example of someone who succeeded– someone who “made it”– and so they don’t ever try to make it either. Some people are born with disabilities or disorders (and most of these people are targeted by credit card companies, lured by promises of an easy life, and then spend the rest of their life with crippling debt). Is it really fair– really seriously SERIOUSLY fair– that these people struggle their entire lives? Is it a huge shock that so many of these people turn to crime, alcoholism, and drugs?
Is this the best we can do?
However… I don’t have a lot of faith in the process. I don’t think that any amount of protests will make those people– the really crooked ones– change. I think that the only thing that will make those people notice us is when it affects their bottom line. We are many, they are few.
The truth is this: We don’t need them. THEY NEED US.
I’m tired of these jerks acting like we are a bunch of naughty children that just need to be DEALT WITH. I’m tired of politicians and the media telling us just to sit down and be quiet. I’m sick of it, and obviously a lot of people are.
If every single protester took a pledge not to buy anything– ANYTHING– other than food for the next year, I think we’d see a pretty substantial policy change (and hey! we could even make a go at not buying food if we all worked together!). If everyone who used a bank who accepted bail-out money withdrew their money and took it elsewhere (or just kept it!) we might see what ‘customer service’ actually means.
Also. People will laugh at you when you attempt to do this. Promise. Because most of those guys have spent their whole lives laughing at people like us– because they were taught that we are completely insignificant.
If you are serious about wanting things to change then you need to show them how insignificant we are not. We are many. They are few.