Maximum Occupancy Approaching

When protests began in New York City on September 17, coinciding with Constitution Day, most people had no idea what they were there for, if they knew of them at all. Certainly their mission seemed disjointed and unclear, and at best the media portrayed merely a mass of people with little else except a slogan: Occupy Wall Street. Surely no one knew where the idea came from–or that its origins weren’t even American.

In mid-July, the Canada-based anti-consumerist group Adbusters suggested that readers take to the streets to demand change, blaming the current financial crises on bankers and insisting the government needs to be freed from the opinion-swaying force of money (Fleming).

“We came up with the idea, but independent activists just made it their own,” said Micah White, Adbuster’s senior editor (qtd. in Fleming).

Since then, the Occupy movement has traveled around the nation, spreading into cities in New Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Carolina, and even Washington, D.C., among many others. It’s been almost a month since the protesting began, and news coverage only seems to be growing as the days go by. People on one side are speaking against it, while those on the other hail their support, while many of us at our computers and in front of our TVs still haven’t a clue what they’re protesting or what message they’re trying to tell us.

Presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich recently shared their opinions on an episode of CBS’s Face the Nation. Mr. Cain said, “We know that the unions and certain union-related organizations have been behind these protests that are going on Wall Street and other parts around the country. It’s coordinated to create a distraction so people won’t focus on the failed policies of this administration.” (qtd. in “Herman Cain”)

Newt Gingrich then added, “We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise, and frankly a strain of hostility to classic America, starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country, and I regard the Wall Street protest as a natural outcome of a bad education system teaching them really dumb ideas.” (qtd. in “Herman Cain”)

First unions trying to divert our attention from the Obama administration, then our educational system’s a failure–something just doesn’t seem to add up here. Do they even know what the movement is protesting? For that matter, do we?

According to Occupy Cincinnati, the message is this: “We are the 99%.” Their belief is that we–the protestors–are the 99 percent of the American people who are not the wealthiest one percent, we are those who work for a living and live paycheck-to-paycheck, of all ages, races, creeds, and identities, the average man and women who lives in the United States. They claim the government has failed us, catering only to that one percent whose money corrupts our nation’s leaders, that one percent who’s currently the only group not suffering. (“About Us”)

There’s so much information about these protests that it’s hard to tell where the real story is. Although the Occupy pages seem to share a common theme and message, the media never say the same thing twice, although conservative and Republican sources portray the protest much more negatively than others who cover the story and especially the protestors themselves.

One poignant sign held by a protestor reads “I have a 4.0 GPA & $20,000 in debt. Where’s my bailout?” (“Sign Language”) If these are the people protesting, then I can’t believe statements like Newt Gingrich’s. As a 4.0 student myself, I know how challenging it can be to live from paycheck-to-paycheck while keeping up good grades. I’m not trying to brag when I say it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of dedication to make it happen. And I know I’m not the only one–many of my friends are excellent students, but with their financial struggles, you would never know. Meanwhile, there are people out there who work far less than we do but have more money than we would know what to do with. They lobby the government for their own agendas, while those of us in our positions are left to fend for ourselves.

Does this make me part of that ninety-nine percent? In Washington, D.C., the protestors voice concerns over paying for education, a lack of faith in the current government, even a sense of hopelessness for the future of our country given our present leadership, while one protestor says the goal is the promotion of human need as opposed to corporate greed (Lee).

Back on Wall Street, the diverse crowd says they’re standing up for equal rights, for the downtrodden, the immigrants whose American dreams were dashed–they’re students and teachers and nurses (Noveck). They reflect my own family, my mother a nurse and my sister an elementary school teacher, both of whom can’t find jobs in their fields, let alone jobs anywhere else. If these are the defining features of the movement, than I am the 99 percent.

If the question is no longer what they’re protesting or who they are–for both are clear: they’re protesting corporate greed and a government run by money, not representation, and they’re people just like you and me, the middle-class of this country trying to stay middle-class while the slope toward poverty becomes slicker every day–what is the future of the protests? Will the movement survive, or will the movement die?

The truth is no one knows. On the one hand, their motives are ambitious, their followers passionate, and they certainly have a wide audience and a wide base of support, but protestors alone cannot bring success to the movement. We studied in class the civil rights movement and came to the conclusion that a successful movement has five key features: A national leader, extremist elements, diversity, political support, and multiple fronts to the fight.

Clearly the Occupy movement has diversity down, probably more than any past movement at that, and they’ve surely got extremist elements promoting solutions that many Americans could not support–but at the same time, these voices are coupled by rational ones who could lead to compromise, allowing the movement to achieve its goals. But after that, the movement’s strengths turn to weaknesses.

First, they lack a national leader; in fact, they pride themselves on being leaderless, and in this absence, they lack a unified agenda and a clear aim for any solution to be worked toward. They have yet to gain the support of any political party, although some politicians have lauded the protestors and I’m sure others will continue to do so. Lastly, they have failed to fight on multiple fronts. Yes, protests are popping up everywhere, but where are the people challenging the courts, rallying the politicians, or bringing the issues to State and local governments? Without varying their tactics, the movement can only persist as a one-hit wonder, a great idea defeated by time.

I think the Occupy movement has genuine potential and I think many of us agree with the overarching themes the protestors speak of, but I think their lack of cohesion will be their downfall. I believe from this others will gain a platform to continue their aims and promote their agenda of human need over human greed, but unless they can unite under a single heading, unless they can stand together and Occupy America, I think they’re doomed to become a passing note in history, no more remembered than the faceless 99 percent they represent.

October 10, 2011. American Government. Grade: A.

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