10.11.2011

If you see something, say something.

As the Occupy movement continues to grow and to spread, we see the growth also of a kind of intangible value to the protests, what stands side-by-side, almost invisibly, with the declared demands and causes, what underlies perhaps the most important facet of the uprisings' significance: The appearance of true and widespread dissent in the United States of America.

While the great gripe the protests voice about the American economic-political system -- this one in which we fire teachers (and cut after-school programs and arts and sports and AP classes) while funding several wars, erase pensions while giving tax money to the banks who gambled away those pensions, and so on -- remains clear to many of us, many have noted how shocking and important it is that people are simply saying: Enough. I'm pissed off, and I'm pissed of enough to plant myself in the street next to other people who are pissed off about the same shit.

At the very least, the Occupy movement has shattered the apathy of many Americans. Indeed, the people who have taken to the streets around the country are doing a favor for all of us who cling to our little crumbs of the pie and try to keep our eyes closed. They have altered the inertia; they have woken up many of us and hopefully will continue to wake up more, so that we stop allowing the rich and powerful and greedy to lead us around by our noses to toil in their service.

Paul Krugman -- Nobel Prize winner in Economics and professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University -- wrote in yesterday's New York Times a very clear piece about the effects of the protests on the mindsets of "wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor" as seen by how they "react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is". He points out the overreacting, panicked terms some politicians, finance figures, and commentators have been using towards the protests. He contends they do so because they don't like seeing themselves called out and "realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is."

Because that's partially what we have at stake here, a moral issue -- do we want the United States to be a place where each is out for him/herself and will sell his grandmother -- or, rather, yours (Social Security/Medicare...) to get ahead? That has never been our creed, though it has often, if not always, been our practice.

This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens's Letters to a Young Contrarian and the more recent (and hot-selling) short essay by St├ęphane Hessel, a 94-year-old who fought the Nazis and participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called in English Time for Outrage!. These publications share an admiration of the importance -- indeed the fundamental importance -- of questioning the status quo, of rocking the boat, of contradicting the party line, of expressing your anger.

This, in part, is what the Occupy movement is already doing for us: It opens a space for dialogue and contemplating -- and perhaps acting on -- ways to create a better society. It gives us a chance. At the least it should cause us to examine ourselves; at the most, who knows?

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