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The Occupy movement should be taken seriously

After reading Haldun Anil’s opinion piece on the Occupy movement, I felt compelled to respond to some of the inaccuracies and distortions in this article, which were almost identical to those voiced in the mainstream media, largely controlled by the rich. The article has the effect of discrediting the Occupy movement’s legitimate concerns by simplifying the motivations of those involved in the Occupy movement. The author states: “…it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out why those not in the one percent would be angry about this enormous income gap.” In order to “…put things into perspective…” the author cites the starting yearly salary of those in the “one percent” and compares it to the median household income of the “99 percent”.

In selectively citing only these two figures, the author omits the fact that income disparity is huge even in the top one percent. The top 0.1 percent of Americans earn incomes several orders of magnitude greater than even others in the top one percent. If the author had instead compared the top 0.1 percent with the income of millions of Americans living in poverty, income inequality would have appeared much more significant and serious. I was surprised that this important information was omitted, because it is easily accessible in scholarly, peer-reviewed research. The small difference between the cited figures has the effect of minimizing the apparent difference between the rich and poor, and allows the reader to conclude that any complaints about this disparity are childish and pointless.

The author further justifies the rise of the ultra rich as: “…something that must simply be accepted as a pre-existing condition for a capitalist economic system”. This is precisely the same logic that is used to destroy social services and programs for the poor, one of many ways that the powerful are able to shift the balance of wealth in their direction. This logic is shockingly callous as always.

In addition, the author discusses the Occupy Harvard movement and again attempts to discredit this movement based solely on the fact that the students participating in this program are elite, and therefore have no right to complain. While I do believe it is normal to question the motivation of these students, totally dismissing them on the basis of their education is, in my opinion, wrong. There are many examples in history where well-educated, ‘elite’ members of society have selflessly acted to benefit the less fortunate, and implying that Harvard students cannot choose to do this is presumptuous and wrong.

Finally, the author’s speculations about the failure of the Occupy movement are misinformed, not only because of the many direct actions such as port blockades and the “Occupy Congress” protests, but presumptions about what exactly the Occupy movement represents. The author blithely states that “besides making us talk about them, they have achieved nothing,” but fails to understand that the Occupy movement may very well be only the beginning of greater cooperation and engagement of civil society with unions, environmental organizations, human rights groups and poverty activists, all of whom realize this enormous income disparity threatens our lives and world in many serious ways.

Jesse McNichol
Ph.D. Candidate, MIT/WHOI Joint
Program in Biological Oceanography.