The Occupy Wall Street movement has been lambasted by Republicans nearly since its inception. This is not entirely unreasonable — interviews with some of the protesters have demonstrated an extensive lack of knowledge regarding what they’re protesting and why they’re protesting it. One college student said that he thought the government should pay for his college tuition simply because he wants them to. Others, even if they are able to clearly enunciate problems, have no ideas about the solution. As such, it has been only too easy for Republicans to trivialize the movement, portraying it as a group of people too lazy to look for work, individuals who simply want everything handed to them, or people who are looking for something to do and figure that Occupy Wall Street — being the latest fad — would be fun.
But Republicans should not trivialize the importance of this movement and what it stands for. Every movement, whether it is Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, or Red Sox Nation, has a subset of people who are either crazy or do not really care about what the movement is trying to accomplish. For every person who is dressed up in an Uncle Sam costume and has no idea what a financial derivative even is, there is at least one other who is legitimately concerned with the state our country is in, the direction it is going, and has thoughtfully considered the problems and possible solutions. And it is these individuals who have brought legitimate concerns into the spotlight; primarily, the degree to which money and corporations can influence elections and policy and the growing inequality gap.
The fact that, only three years after crashing the economy, Wall Street companies are once again making record profits is not, by itself, the fuel for this movement. Rather, it is this occurrence in conjunction with an unemployment rate stubbornly hanging at around nine percent and the fact that average pretax income, since 1979, has dropped by $900 for the bottom 90 percent of households while that of the top one percent has increased by over $700,000.
An interesting Republican tactic has been to provide the standard advice that hard work will bring you good fortune, and the protesters should stop protesting and go look for jobs instead. Then they can be happy and share in the spoils of the “one percent.” Of course, the nine percent unemployment rate is not a result of people deciding that they’d rather protest than work — it’s a consequence of the anemic number of jobs being created. Most of these individuals would be more than happy to work, if only something would be done to further encourage job creation. Also, a new report from the Bertelsmann AG found that when it comes to “equal opportunities for self-realization,” the U.S. ranks 27 out of 31 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, ahead of only Greece, Chile, Mexico, and Turkey. As opportunities for social mobility continue to dwindle, the American Dream dies a little bit more every day for countless young people across the country.
The other major criticism of Occupy Wall Street has been that the movement has not outlined a set of demands, or posed solutions to address economic problems. Occupy opponents deliver this criticism as though, unless the protesters can come up with a list of bullets as to what they’d like to see done, politicians should not be expected to do anything about it. It is quite interesting that Republicans feel that high joblessness rates, growing wealth inequality, and diminishing social mobility are only issues to be acted upon if their constituents can outline precisely what they would like to see be done about it.
This, of course, is ridiculous — every politician was elected to represent the interests of their constituency and to creatively solve the problems that they are presented with. They were not elected so that they could ask the people they are representing to write bills for them solving the unemployment crisis, and then go vote on them. So while it would certainly be nice if Occupy Wall Street had at least some suggestions for lawmakers, the fact that they don’t is not a basis to disregard them completely. The movement is an embodiment of the anger towards the economic injustices that have been growing for the last several decades. Politicians are generally concerned with being re-elected — if a significant portion of your constituency is upset and you ignore them because they don’t present you with solutions, I would not bet in favor of your re-election.
Occupy Wall Street is like most other protest movements that have gained sway on a national scale. They have a subset of individuals who are more than a little crazy, and they do not always have a coherent and unified set of demands, but they should never be ignored. Closing your eyes will not make the worsening economic injustices disappear, and as long as these conditions continue to deteriorate, there will be protesters. The middle class used to be the engine of America’s economic growth. The so-called “middle-class values” of hard work and determination used to lead to success. Republicans need to stop pretending that things haven’t changed for the worse (largely as a result of their policies) over the past 30 years, because the middle class will not go silently.