Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My conflicting attitudes about #Occupy

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Like many, I was fairly sickened by the use of pepper spray on the protestors at U.C. Davis, and the bizarre overreaction of force last week at U.C. Berkeley.  Actually, sickened might not be the word because I’m not that surprised about either incident and the reaction it is invoking in the media.  Maybe I’m more strongly concerned than sickened.  I don’t know.  It’s like I want to support the overall message that the Occupy is trying to convey, but at the same time I think this generation is getting a dose of something that it wasn’t taught when it was younger.  A dose of reality. 

And this is where I’ve become more and more conflicted with the Movement.  I think Fareed Zakaria said it best when he stated that the Occupy Movement was about social mobility.  The concern is that the ability to progress upward in class status is starting to erode in society and the Movement is drawing attention to that, albeit rather poorly.  The research shows that they have a huge point.  Social mobility has become really difficult since the 1980’s, as the ladder has been clogged with debt, false promises of equality, and a lack of genuine work ethic.  Has Wall Street exacerbated the problem?  Sure.  But by no means is Downtown Manhattan the primary force behind this problem of moving up in America.  In fact, I think the main problem is the protestors, and that’s why you might hear a whole lot about Berkeley and Davis in the press, but main-street America is strangely silent.

One of the most interesting comments of the Oakland march to the Port was from a longshoreman who declined to give his name.  He said, “How in the hell does a person who hasn’t worked a day in his life call for a strike?”  It’s a good question, and I think it’s more indicative of the attitude of most Americans towards the Occupy protestors.  Yes, Americans agree that the build-up of economic inequality is hurting the country.  However it becomes very hard to get behind protestors with a $1,000 worth of tattoos on their body, who carry a $500 iPhone, and demand that their student loans be forgiven.  The quizzical look from Main Street might hide the realization that parents put their children into this entitlement mode; where it’s a right to have an education, a MacBook Pro, and drive a Prius to the latest Occupy movement in the middle a blue collar business district.  Yesterday one of my former students announced that people that shopped at malls were selling out to Corporate America.  Yet her Facebook photo looked straight out of a Macy’s catalog, and included plenty of indications of an upper-middle class upbringing that included plenty of help.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except that hard working mainstream society doesn’t look too kindly at people demonstrating about how hard live is when they haven’t really worked that hard. 

So I continue to watch with interest while letting kids form their own opinions and holding back from commenting on Facebook posts from former students.  I can’t really blame them for the occasional “fuck the police” and “mic check” and “We are the 99%”.  They are, after all, still teenagers.

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