Occupy: Don’t Give Up the Ship

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I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence.
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
— David Bowie, “Changes”

Occupy Wall Street

Officers move in to bust up the party at Zuccotti Park. (Credit: AFP)

While one hears an awful lot of debate about the tactics used by the Occupy Wall Street movement, there seems to be very little controversy about their positions.

Such was revealed in a Pew Research study out late last month, almost half of the Americans surveyed – 47 percent – thought Wall Street’s way of doing business was detrimental to the nation’s economy as a whole.

And Pew Research is providing further evidence as to why the protesters removed earlier today from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan’s financial district are mostly young:

The typical household headed by adults over 65 had 47 times as much net wealth as one headed by adults under 35 — $170,494 versus $3,662 (all figures expressed in 2010 dollars). Back in 1984, this ratio had been less lopsided, at ten-to-one. In absolute terms, the oldest households in 1984 had a median net wealth $108,936 higher than that of the youngest households. In 2009, the gap had widened to $166,832.

“The median net worth of older and younger households moved in opposite directions between 1984 and 2009. Older households gained 42% in median net worth while net worth for younger households fell by 68%. These age-based divergences widened substantially with the housing market collapse of 2006, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the ensuing jobless recovery.

In other words, we’re seeing a growing divide not only between the rich and the poor, but between the old and the young as well.

This doesn’t mean we should eat the old as well as the rich, nor does it mean that age is an assurance of wealth. Indeed, there are a great many older Americans living a very meager life. But neither does it mean that age is any guarantee of growing wealth. In fact, it means very much to the contrary.

Older Americans who have lived for some time in the same residence doubtlessly purchased their homes well before the housing market swelled into a massive, thin-membraned bubble, whereas younger Americans most likely purchased their homes at the inflated prices precipitated by the bubble. So while the ebbing tide has lowered all ships, older Americans had much less further to fall.

Older Americans also benefitted from decades of relatively steady growth in employment opportunities and income; a benefit that has not been available to Millennials and Generation X-ers who have found no such promise of optimistic prospects in their careers.

Younger people are more likely to be faced with a hand-to-mouth existence in a land of plenty, surrounded by the excesses of wealth and the empty promises of a better life. Meanwhile, we learn that members of Congress are lawfully engaging in a form of insider trading, using information privy only to them about publicly traded companies to make business decisions for their benefit. We have a justice system that views corporations as people when it comes to free speech, but not when it comes to criminal accountability. We have prospects that are bleak and looking bleaker still.

In light of everything, it’s a wonder that the least of “the establishment’s” problems are these Hoovervilles in city parks. Knowing what we know now, I’m astonished that we’re not engaged in full-throated revolt.

Why, we must assume, has to do more with the unique, passive way these young Americans are expressing their dissent. Rather than throwing bombs and stones, they are quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., and occupying the public space to give a face to our public shame.

They are being forced from their encampments in New York, Atlanta, Oakland and elsewhere. They are being taunted and harassed by city officials with little concern for the Constitution and virtually no appreciation for the fact that, if not for the peaceful means of protest adopted by the Occupy movement, they would have a much larger problem on their hands.

In London, just this summer, the discontent took a violent turn, with flash mobs that turned to riots and destroyed buildings that had survived even Nazi bombing campaigns. Here, on the other hand, dissent takes the tone of tents and chants that turn sour only when boot-toed thugs with riot gear are ordered to abuse the right of the people to peacefully assemble and request redress for their grievances.

Those who have taken to the streets, who have become, en masse, the face of our national debate and living reminders of what’s wrong with our nation – with the way we are cannibalizing our own and destroying the American dream – are to be admired.

We are only days removed from Veteran’s Day – once called Armistice Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, etc., etc. We recall that people gave their lives for liberty, and we celebrate the fortunate who returned for the scars they yet carry. But we look to the parks, and we wonder what it was all for, when the America for which they fought is best expressed by an American flag flying from a makeshift pole outside a tent pitched in a city park.

In their name, and for their sacred honor and ours – for the millions with nowhere else to go – I implore you to continue. Do not be scared. Do not go quietly into the shadows. Find your place in the square, in the sun, hold high your flags and signs and raise your voices.

The 99 percent shall not be denied.

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