Occupy Wall Street, the grass-roots, pro-middle-class protest movement that began on September 17th, has morphed. Owing to its success, the resonance of its message and its expansion to (so far) 70 other major cities, it has necessarily abbreviated its handle to the factually more accurate, and viscerally more satisfying: Occupy.
Fittingly, for a movement that’s redefining social protest, it is also redefining “Occupy”. There are no militaristic overtones to the word, at least not as it’s being used here. Occupy certainly refers to sitting-in, and to invading the territory of others, as a way of demonstrating discontent – but to the credit of the 99 Percenters, as they call themselves, this occupation is being performed totally without violence.
“Occupation” also refers to jobs, or more specifically, gainful employment. Lack of gainful employment – lack, indeed, of prospects and hope – is one of the driving forces that have brought these protesters to confrontation.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, among others, decries that confrontation as un-American, and as class warfare. Cain, specifically, said that if these young, college-educated protestors can’t find jobs, if they can’t get rich, in fact, then they ought not to blame Wall Street or corporate greed. They ought to blame themselves.
That position strikes me as simplistic and jingoistic…and an astoundingly easy line to take for someone who made his fortune in an utterly different economic climate. The facts, as Herman Cain well knows, are that for every ten college graduates today, no matter their field of study, there are three or fewer jobs. For the non-college educated, things are even bleaker.
Cain and others did get one thing right: this is class warfare. What they don’t realize (or won’t admit) is that the 99 Percenters didn’t start it, and they’re not the aggressors.
What we are seeing, in New York and in those 70 other cities, is an outcome of class warfare that Wall Street never anticipated. We are seeing how lack of hope, lack of prospects make people angry. We’re seeing how it mobilizes them.
After all, there’s never been a lack of middle-class angst or anger in this country…but there was just enough success, just enough social mobility, to keep that mostly in check. Gainful employment keeps it in check, too: it’s hard to hit the streets and to risk arrest when you work eight-to-five and you’ve got a mortgage to pay.
But take that away, and you’ve also taken away the last restraint against unrest.
Greed, economic injustice and the class warfare launched by Wall Street sowed this wind, and it is reaping the whirlwind. Something tells me this movement is just getting started.
I’ll give the final word on this subject to a young man whose name I don’t know. He was interviewed by Fox News, but his cogent words are unlikely to ever be broadcast by that network. Eric Cantor might call the 99 Percenters a “mob”, and Alison Kosik of CNN might Tweet that they’ve gathered only to “bang on bongos and smoke weed,” but this young man shows how uninformed those critics are.