Occupy Wall Street is not fueled by the brutal historical repression of Tahrir Square or the savvy political message of a PAC. It is, instead, the last stand of messy humanity. These are the people who never accepted spreadsheet-driven indifference as a method of keeping social order. And they’re not going to hurry up and formulate their message because it isn’t a message; it’s a litany of arguments about how society is run.
Recently I strolled through the Occupy encampment in downtown LA. The few empty spaces of grass on the City Hall lawn were carpeted with handmade signs deriding everything from corporate tax rates to marijuana laws. The Occupiers aren’t interested in money or power. They’re interested in their quality of life, which they equate to things like clean air, a financially rewarding 40-hour workweek, and the right to be slightly disorganized. There is no “leader” in this movement. It’s a carnival of dissent, from the clean-cut homeowner advocates to the ramen-chomping agitators whose hands vibrate when they stand still. A fat homeless man urinated on a sidewalk planter, capping off his flow by grasping a roll of his abdomen and shaking his extended undercarriage.
“I think we want to disconnect entirely from the banking system,” explained Occupier Ben Zandpour. He was affably manning a table on the north side of the lawn near the sidewalk. A steady flow of the curious and mildly deranged loped on by. Ben, a board certified specialist in internal medicine in his 40s, traces the financial collapse and subsequent impetus for the movement to the repeal of the Glass Steagall act in 1999. He believes that while reinstating these regulations might temporarily help the global financial situation, the banks would ultimately find their way around them. “I think this movement is about disconnecting from that entire process. We’re not trying to work within bought Congressmen or by continually revising a broken system. The message that I’ve learned is [to withdraw] all of our funds from major banks and [invest] in credit unions. It would be the equivalent of investing in your community.”
Instead of living in the grimy hell of the Dickensian industrial revolution, we’re living in the LED glare of the Facebook age. Shark intelligence, not manual labor, is driving the economy. But a large number of people are being turned into chum.
The Occupy movement is about how it sucks to be chum. And it shouldn’t be this way. People have always had to work hard to earn a living, but at least a “living” used to be achievable through no-tricks manual labor. Our current societal structure openly rewards people who make a living by taking advantage of the ignorance of others. While this is hardly a groundbreaking historical development, the openness of this reward system pisses off a raft of the formerly middle class who make up for their lack of financial savvy with their righteous anger. Take corporate communications behemoth Verizon (please). Verizon posted a 2.5 billion dollar profit but didn’t pay any taxes in 2010; in fact, they received 705 million dollars in tax refunds. General electric posted an 11.6 billion dollar profit, and received a 3.2 billion dollar tax refund.
The occupiers used to have enough money to fuel one of the world’s most powerful economies. Now they’re just HERE, funning with the truncheons. Beating them up and moving them isn’t a solution, although San Diego and Oakland have certainly given it a shot. A 5’6” 140 pound video store clerk received a cracked rib for her occupation of Oakland. Oakland, meanwhile, suffered the loss of several large real estate deals because the developers didn’t want to invest in the cracked-rib district. As Occupier Ben noted about the global economy, “we are linked more than ever now.” The occupiers aren’t advocating a return to a consumer-driven economy, but rather a return to a community-driven one. And no community survives by beating itself senseless.