I’ve spent a few hours over the last couple of weeks wandering near various of the “occupy” protests in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. On Friday, I grabbed a chunk of curbside next to the Boston encampment. I sat, listening to the babble, and tried to open myself to a thought longer than 140 characters.
Here’s what I got:
I support the protests. I think that they are vital and necessary. I hope that these protests will morph into something sustainable over the next 25 years. That’s how long I think it will take to get a decent start on adjusting the framework of our society to adapt to modern realities. This is nowhere near as simple as giving women the vote or outlawing human slavery. The necessary changes will not fit in one or even a small number of constitutional amendments. We will get it wrong on the first and second tries. We need something like the “occupy” movement all the time to keep an honest and uncompromising spotlight on how we’re doing.
I think that the first order of business is for society, large and small, to figure out how to support the protests without any appearance of trying to co-opt them.
I have no idea how to thread that particular needle, but it cannot be a messy camp-out in the town square forever.
The “occupy” protests are unfocused and leaderless because they combine the reactions to a large number of societal symptoms. They are, as someone commented recently, a “primal scream” of a society with a deep sickness. The individual protesters are still (mostly) reacting to symptoms – though some people are starting to stitch together a larger narrative.
My friend Mark articulated it well: For the past 30 years, the vast majority of Americans have been paid off with cheap debt and outsize lifestyles. We were complacent that our big houses and unreasonably cheap luxuries meant that society was going the right direction. I fell for it too: I thought that when the CEOs of my bank got big bonuses, that meant that the bank was well run. It actually meant that I was at the wrong bank.
We bought into the idea of an endlessly expanding bubble economy. We were complacent enough to not complain at the insane excesses as, along the way, a very small number of individuals amassed truly outsized wealth and power. Certainly, there have always been rich and poor – but the sheer scale of the difference is something new. The old, pre-existing imbalances of power and wealth expanded dizzyingly in the last 30 years.
As a society, we have ceded too much of our power to collective entities that do not have our better interests at heart. Corporations are inhuman and amoral by design. They are the proverbial demon, powerful entities that must be carefully bound with law lest they cause massive damage. Our political parties are sparring for control rather than acting in the interest of the people, – leaving the country spinning out of control.
It is a pathetic testament that none of the major political parties have any idea how to meaningfully engage with a protest that, at root, is about “the people.”
The “occupy” protests are shining a spotlight on these imbalances and the danger posed by unregulated corporate greed. They started with the symptoms: The financial collapse, the housing bubble collapse, mass unemployment, violent hatred and reactions against outsiders and foreigners of all stripes, the wars and rumors of wars.
I dearly hope that a new generation of political thought and leadership is being forged in those campfire debates.
I hope that we’re watching the re-birth of democracy, right here in America.
I hope we’ve got the maturity, as a society, to help it happen.