Saturday, December 03, 2011

Preoccupied by Emotion

Being of a certain age, I remember the Vietnam War years well. So many people have remarked to me that the Occupy Wall Street (OSW) hoards are “like the 60s.”

I think not. There is at least one glaring difference between the grungy ‘60s war protestors and the current OSW crop--in the ‘60s, we knew what we were protesting.

Some of my contemporaries railed against the government; others fumed against the military itself. The personal approaches may have varied, but the result was the same: a protestor who had a grasp of his or her issue.

My objection was never to the military per se. Even in my ignorant youth, I respected our troops, although not with the soaring gratitude and appreciation I feel today. The source of my teen-aged protest was focused and specific.

Back then, we did not have a volunteer military force as we do today. Military service was compulsory during the Vietnam War. The draft age was eighteen, but the legal voting age was twenty-one. The fact that young men were being ordered to serve in the military by a political system that allowed them no voice in choosing their elected government representatives was outrageous to me. And so, I carried my candle and marched to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” With the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971, 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, and the vehemence of my opposition softened. We had overcome, so to speak. I still objected to the war, but I believed that some sense of fairness had been achieved.

Today’s protestors have a more nebulous case. In fact, I have yet to hear any of them coherently articulate any concrete source of their discontent. They're simply ticked off about the economy. Well, who isn't? Ask any working person with a 401(k) account how he or she likes how things are going financially. They're not happy, but they're not pitching personal tents on public property (probably because they need to get up and go to work in the morning).

The best interpretation I can make of the the OWS movement is that they are against “the rich,” “greed,” and “corporations.” I find it ironic that they spend their copious idle time surfing through their Androids, iPhones, iPads, and iPods--all produced by rich, greedy corporations. I also wonder how many of them grew up being housed, clothed, and fed by paychecks issued to one or both of their parents by rich, greedy corporations.

If there is a disconnect, obviously the Occupiers don’t see it. Has there been abuse of power by those at the top of large corporations? Have they been dishonest and greedy? Yes, absolutely, the guilty parties have without a doubt been abusive, dishonest, and greedy--and all of us have suffered mightily for it. We are still reeling from the corruption and unethical behavior of American financial and mortgage institutions. The offending organizations have not even begun to offer sufficient amends for the damage they have wrought. They just keep taking. On that point, I'm with the protestors.

But there are further questions worthy of consideration by any thinking OWS protestor--"thinking" being the operative word.

How many ordinary working people in the "99%" have been negatively affected by the OWS protests? I’m talking about fellow citizens who are working office jobs in the business districts of America, the middle class employees making an average salary, supporting a family, and facing a gauntlet of protestors each morning trying to reach their desks. How many mom-and-pop shops and cafes that used to serve busy workers have seen their business slow to a crawl and watched their incomes shrink or disappear because of the protestors’ obnoxious presence? Why do the OWS protestors assume that they have the "right" to cause difficulty, even harm, to small business owners and working fellow citizens with their noise, disruption, and mess? These are questions that every thoughtful person should examine on a rational--not an emotional--level.

One more question--how much taxpayer money is all the law enforcement and cleanup activities costing the working citizens?

The photo of Zuccotti Park in this post was taken by my niece, who works in Manhattan’s financial district. She told me that one day her boss walked into the park full of protestors, in his designer suit, to talk to them one-on-one. A particular young man impressed him as having intelligence and real potential. The executive gave his business card to the protestor and told him, “When you get over your daddy issues, give me a call.” Within days, the protestor did just that.

It's a reality of life that, sooner or later, all of the Wall Street Occupiers will need to grow up.