Occupy Wall Street! Occupy Tampa! The government is keeping us down, man! I’m reactive!
That’s what it sounds like. How about you occupy that 8 a.m. class you skip or occupy a job fair?
The Occupy Wall Street protests have been going strong for five weeks now. Seeing as the protests are composed of young people complaining in a disorganized fashion, it’s no surprise that the craze has hit Tampa. The streets are littered, people are yelling at cars passing by on Ashley Drive. There are sleeping bags on the sidewalk at night. Barefoot, dreadlocked guitarists sit in a circle that smells like marijuana, working on new harmonies. It’s like a Phish concert came to town with worse music.
When the protests started, it was easy to feel uninformed. People protesting in the cities across the country still feel uninformed. What exactly are they protesting against?
It’s about the 99 percent. We are the 99 percent. The claim is that, the one percent of the country that controls the heft of the wealth does so unfairly, and it leaves the rest of us financially gasping for air. Websites, blogs and message boards about this protest show pictures of sad people holding notes about how the world has been unfair to them. How they worked so hard only to belong to that 99 percent.
The one percent worked to be there. They got there through the capitalist system. Remember the system that made us a world power? The free market system where people have the right to start businesses and reap their own success? Yeah, that one.
By occupying city streets and demanding change through threat and disruption, the protesters are disputing that free market system for all the wrong reasons. Capitalism doesn’t treat men like slaughter for wealth. People are not a byproduct of capitalism. People propel capitalism, and that is what separated us from the broken Soviet Union. Fear mongering over the class system and communism didn’t end with the cold war because once people remembered that they had to work for their living, they got scared. Indirectly, and as opposition to our proven capitalist system at the time, communism seemed like the “other way” to live. Who wouldn’t want to live in a country where the government regulated everything economically? After the Cold War, some people liked the attractive aspects of communism; equal pay, free healthcare, etc. However, people soon forgot that what separated us from the communists was the idea that every man should, and could be responsible for his own financial welfare. Or at least 99 percent did.
We can’t simply demand a change, or demand something we want from others by occupation and complaining. We can’t be a screaming child. Remember how we all laughed at the redhead in Wedding Crashers throwing a tantrum at the wedding? That was funny because it was absurd. It isn’t funny now, though, because the way we look is equally absurd. We’re complaining about the financial system like a small child. It’s unattractive and ineffective.
It’s become American protocol to stand in front of the government, sad face on, hands out. Right now, the average American looks like the picture of the Monopoly Man when he’s told to go directly to jail.
Americans are constitutionally guaranteed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The key word there is pursuit. We are not guaranteed the right to happiness. The government should not have to take responsibility for people that feel as though they are entitled to happiness. These Americans have been so blinded by their direct association of work with money alone, that they feel like they’re too good to work manual labor. Work is not supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work. Not every job is a 9-5 gig, working behind a computer screen making six figures. Ask your parents or your grandparents. Think they made every dollar without some elbow grease and sweat?
That being said, for our generation in particular, this issue is a social issue in the guise of an economic one. Our generation has been raised to think that we’re special, unique and will ultimately be financially successful. The internal focus our generation has isn’t something previous generations have dealt with. Ours is one that believes we are defining ourselves by protesting and giving ourselves both a personal and generational definition. Our grandparents’ generation had World War II define them. Our parents had a cultural revolution through music and social rights. We really don’t have that identifiable trait generationally speaking, and we crave it. The protest itself does not and cannot define us. We’re fighting against something we potentially have the ability to change, but that we will not work to change. A protest cannot exist for the sake of itself; there has to be tangible goals.
The recent Minaret article titled “Teapot: Meet Kettle: Occupy Wall Street a Celebration of Democracy,” said of the widespread protest; “It’s about those 18-29 year old students who try to get ahead by taking on $80,000 of debt, only to be tossed into an economy with a 9.1 percent jobless rate.”
Nobody forces young people to go to college. Attending college in today’s economy is a gamble because of the unemployment rate, true. It makes the idea of graduating and joining that 9.1 percent a potential reality. Wouldn’t that make us want to work harder in college? If we realize this, we’ve got to take advantage of all the institution has to offer and maximize the return. After all, we understand the debt we face upon graduation. Make the debt worth it. Get set up for a career. And then we’ll have something to show for our hard work, something that can define us.
These protests aren’t about necessarily changing our financial system; they’re about a generation fumbling around trying to find an identity. It’s about people who grew up hearing how wonderful they are, believing it, and now struggling with the fact that they’re not that special, they’re not that unique, and they probably won’t have anything other than an average life.
The great American leaders of the past brought about change in this country by showing that a system was wrong in a time of crisis. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, brought about change through peaceful protests against a lack of civil rights. And today, like during the Great Depression, wealth must be distributed. Then, it was redistributed through public works projects and the assembly line – with American hands and sweat. We yearn for a leader who will fix the system with change by way of organized, peaceful infiltration. We need to become part of the system that we are trying to bring down so that we may change it for the better. From the outside looking in, yelling at the people who have been successful will not work to our benefit. It will not be redistributed today through angry opposition and a lack of an organized vote.
We cannot be the screaming 8-year-old in Toys’R’Us. That’s not how it works.
Greg Spraklin can be reached at email@example.com.