Who Are the 99%?: a return to vitality

Ok. It seems I’ve returned to blogging. (Please forgive my rust.) I haven’t written since election day 2008; in fact, since his acceptance speech that night, I have not watched Barack Obama at all. I have barely followed any news with any specificity. I knew ahead of time I couldn’t handle it. I knew reality would never match up with the glorious dreams many of us shared that night, that the events that would transpire in our country and, indeed, around the world, would prove horrific to stomach. Until the horror landed on my doorstep. Until I could ignore it no longer. And—until Hope rode again along with it. I give thanks that this has happened, is happening. It is no mystical occurrence. It’s come borne on the backs of Americans (a term I apply to any person within the borders of this nation, regardless of immigration status), namely those who have ‘occupied’ Wall Street over the last few weeks.

Most of us have done our best to ignore them or discredit them – Who are “they”? What do they want? What’s their plan? What are their demands?

Most of the mainstream media coverage – though this seems to be changing, a touch, perhaps – has followed this sheepish, cynical, and demeaning line of attack. My friends are mostly artists and graduate students. Many of them have asked me the same questions. My family, liberals, too. Maybe we all figured this country's hallmark protest movement here (the “hippies”) failed and deserved to. Maybe we’re too scared to risk what little we have. Maybe we’re afraid the “protestors” are… right. We miss the point.

The point is not: What is their structure? Who is the leader? What is his five-year plan? What will they really accomplish?

The point is rather: We – different, dis-unified, dissimilar – have come together to stand up and alter the tide that’s sweeping us all under. To shake our society and force it to break the inertia that deadens us and leads us to follow, like lemmings, our fellow fools over the cliff to a dismal demise. It's true that "they" have no one demand nor a clear list of demands, but reflects not the competency of the protestors but rather the very reason for protest: so many things need changing in this country that we cannot attack one item at a time (see health care), but rather, we must alter the underlying nature of our system. We must change ourselves.

In that sense, I don’t care what the goals are. The act itself is what matters to me. That we not only awaken and recognize the dismal state we’re in but that we see we’re not the only ones and that we can come together. That we stand up not only for ourselves but for each other – for those who cannot or will not stand up, too. That we at least put up a (nonviolent) fight.

Can we by pure accumulation of mass, change the gravity field that currently pins us down? Where government by the (rich) people and for the (corporations that now count as) people does not continue to work its own self-serving agenda unimpeded by the People it manipulates to keep running its con-game? Yes, I understand this is how government often works, but let’s not make it so easy for them, alright?

When Goldman-Sachs is the biggest bank on Wall St. and Goldman-Sachs alumni serve at top levels in the U.S. Government, we have a problem. When people are losing their life savings and college savings when Lehman Brothers collapses, but Lehman Brothers employees get huge sums of taxpayer money at the same time, we have a problem. When, in the midst of high unemployment, massive personal debt, and irrational credit-interest rates, Credit Suisse North America reports great earnings, we have a problem. Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges lays this out rather nicely in this rather contentious interview.

I have, to a large degree, chosen my own situation – barely part-time employment, no health care, a significant credit-card debt. As things go, I will never buy a house or be able to retire. But I chose it only by not going to business school or law school – by following my own dream, the one promised me by this country. I chose it by not sticking to a job – for a Wall Street bank – that had no job security and provided actually no benefits. I chose it by not sticking with a job that made me desperately miserable, had no chance for advancement, and provided meager health care and no dental coverage. I chose it by dedicating myself to the full-time job of artist – in addition to the part-time job of substitute teacher and private tutor, since to actually earn a living as an artist in this society is largely absurd.

Still, I could choose law school. I could choose finance. Med school. Corporate marketing. Telecommunications consulting. If I took out massive loans. I’m, relatively, in a position to do that – ignoring that it’s never taken me less than eight months of searching to get a ‘real’ job. So could -- assuming somehow they could pay for it and could gain admission -- all the “kids” who have joined this burgeoning movement, all of the people who marched yesterday. Of course, if we did, our country would have no: schools, cars, restaurants, garbage collection, running water, electricity, roads, buildings or motherfucking art. (Among a lot of other things.) There would be little where people did things for each other and not just for themselves. I don’t want to live in that place. I suspect neither do you.

So, if you want to question the motives of the people around the country stirring up trouble, just think for a moment. Remember that, unless you are part of the top 1% richest Americans, they’re actually enduring your scorn to help you.

So, the 99% aren’t a well running organization. Considering how our political institutions function in this country, I say: Good. So, they have not articulated their demands to your liking – that’s part of the point. Their mere presence should remind the rest of us that we need to think outside the boxes to which we’ve become accustomed. We need to wake up. So, they have no plan beyond staying in the street as long as it takes for a tidal change in sentiment across this nation that maybe can lead to tangible changes. I’m okay with that. As we saw with the election of Barack Obama and also with the toppling of Mubarak in Egypt, among other events, the act of uniting people and changing something in and for ourselves can be its own victory, no matter what follows.

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