Sparking up all over the world, the Occupy movement was one of the most popular trends of the second half of 2011. Starting with Occupy Wall Street, the movement soon spread to more than 95 cities around the globe. Before getting to its shortcomings, let’s first reexamine what the Occupy movement really is.
Referring to themselves as the 99 percent, the protesters that took part in the occupations are mainly against economic and social inequality brought about by the American banking system. In short, the occupiers have expressed concern, anger, and discontent about the fact that the richest one percent of the American people controls almost as much wealth as the rest of the country. According to a New York Times article, those in the top one percent have annual incomes starting at $386,000. To put things into perspective, the median household income for the United States as a whole is about $50,000 a year. There are a myriad of reasons which contribute to this income inequality. These include, but aren’t limited to educational attainment, race, and gender.
Looking at the figures, it’s obvious that it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out why those not in the one percent would be angry about this enormous income gap. It is also easy to deduce the motivations which eventually led to the birth of the Occupy movement. This is also the point where some of the convenient oversights, contradictions, and hypocrisy begin. The United States of America was founded on the principles of equal opportunity and later evolved to include equal rights (with notable exceptions that continue to exist). As an inherently capitalist system, the economy of the United States provides people the opportunity to be as rich as they can. It, however, in no way guarantees equal lifestyles, income, or employment. This is something that must simply be accepted as a pre-existing condition for a capitalist economic system.
Further, let’s be honest here: if asked whether they wanted to, I doubt any sane person would reject the opportunity to earn upwards of $380,000 a year. A huge percentage of the same people that now oppose income inequality would be perfectly fine with it, if instead they were on top of the wealth pyramid. This is one of the fundamental consequences of the Occupy movement’s eventual self-contradiction: the 99 percent comprises an enormous majority of the American people. As such, just as the one percent is significantly different than the 99 percent in terms of income, the top 15 percent is also drastically different than the bottom fifteen percent. Even within their own ranks, the so-called 99 percent have astonishingly different levels of income. The huge contradiction that arises from this situation is quite evident.
Of course, there are other incidents that have slowly begun corrupting the Occupy movement by trivializing it. A perfect example is Occupy Harvard. One study in U.S. News and World Report looked at the Fortune 100 companies and found where their CEOs attended college. Harvard University tops the list with fifteen alumni as CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, trumping the runner up Columbia University by more than two times. I’m no expert, but seeing Harvard students complain about social and income inequalities not only expands the boundaries of hypocrisy, but also asserts itself as borderline ridiculous. After all, they can easily become part of the “one percent” and have more opportunities than they could ever know what do with.
These reasons may have contributed to the Occupy movement’s downfall, but they are by no means the most significant. One reason stands above all else in determining the movement’s ineffectiveness, failure to prompt action and eventual collapse: the lack of an endgame. Unlike other movements — like the Tea Party — the Occupy movement lacks clear goals and demands without which it cannot expect change.
Imagine yourself working on a group project and one of your coworkers is constantly complaining. If he doesn’t offer a solution to all of these problems that he deems obstructive, people around him will eventually tire of his constant ranting and stop paying him any attention. This is exactly what the Occupy movement has brought on itself; by constantly complaining but never offering any sort of tangible solution, they have turned themselves from the “voice of the 99 percent” to “that annoying voice that just doesn’t quiet down.” Besides making us talk about them, they have achieved nothing. Nothing has changed, the banks are still making unbelievable sums of money, politics remain a game of power and influence and the one percent continues to have all the wealth.
And on that wonderful note, I wish you all a happy holiday and hope to continue writing for you in 2012. Good luck with your finals, everyone!