As a supporter of Occupy Wall Street, I would like to ask a simple question: How long should we ‘occupy’ the streets of our major cities? Next year? Indefinitely? Some may say, “We will be here as long as it takes!” As long as it takes for what? This immediately raises the issue of what the OWS demands are. What I hope to point out is, having demands are an essential part of a final resolution. Otherwise, we will simply be here forever.
Consider this another way: Occupy Wall Street is not about freedom of speech. Our free speech rights ensure the right to speak publicly on any topic.
Ultimately, the wealthy WANT to make the Occupy Wall Street movement about speech. Why? Because it detracts from the real issue: wealth. If protesters complain the police aren’t allowing them to camp in the park, if the police try to remove them, there are no real demands – we are revisiting speech. If protesters are pushed around, sprayed, they aren’t making any real demands – we are fighting for speech. By making this about speech the wealthy allow for the protesters themselves to avoid finding solutions and making concrete demands to eliminate wall street corruption.
How long should we occupy the streets? Until they let us stay on the streets indefinitely? Let’s not forget the whole purpose of the movement is wealth disparity. But what can we reasonably demand? Certainly, as others point out, the right to a job is not a civil right – the government cannot guarantee jobs. As one writer said, “I knew a girl who dropped six figures in loans for a degree in Women’s Studies, and now complains she can’t find a job. What did she expect? That it would be easy?”
We have to accept that times are changing, globally. A freely available study, “Research on Future Skill Demands”, by the National Research Council (2008), reports that by 2030 up to 60% of our current workforce could be displaced by technology. Manufacturing has already seen a 40% decline in the past 5 years. Can we reasonably demand that jobs are created in –your- area of expertise?
Others claim that we have a right to a share of our country’s wealthy. This is not a reasonable civil right, either. The vast majority of the world is 20x worse off that even the poorest American. Most people in the world have no access to public toilets or clean water. Can we really expect the wealthy to give us a share of America’s money based solely on the idea that we deserve it? The American middle class may have labored hard, only to have the economy drop out, but as a commenter said “You were paid for your work. Your employer has no other obligations to you. You’re welcome to get another job.” The world is changing. Instead of pointing fingers, the question should be, what specific things were done which –should be- illegal?
How long should we occupy the streets? I suggest the answer is actually quite clear. We are unified because of very specific things: bank bailouts, foreclosure, and wall street greed. But we can’t make laws against greed itself. What kind of laws can we demand?
Here are three to start with:
1) Lobbying should be illegal.. The constitution introduced lobbying as means to advocate for the public. Now, the primary use of lobbying is the opposite – it is an advocation against the public interest. We must demand specific reform to lobbying, perhaps outlawing it altogether.
2) It should be illegal for CEOs of major companies to serve on government regulatory bodies in the same field. Some examples are the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), NCI (National Cancer Institute), DOE (Department of Energy), and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) other. How can a group of people regulate an industry with whom it has a hidden financial interest?
3) Congress must be legally required to pass national debt reform, or be forced out of office. The process of perpetually delaying hard decisions must end.
The Occupy Wall Street movement must remain focused on the goal and not allow media attention to distract us from these specific demands. If we make Occupy Wall Street about freedom of speech our goals will never be met. This type of movement becomes a perpetual, never ending occupation of our cities – hardly the kind of future we hope for. The fundamental purpose of protests is to insist on change.