03 October 2011

Seven reasons why I don't support #occupywallstreet

Let me start out with the immediate caveat that I fully support the right to peaceful, non-violent, non-disruptive protest. On the other hand, blocking traffic, for example, is disruptive. It prevents the freedom of movement of other people. It might be peaceful, but it is disruptive and unlawful. So don't be surprised if that gets you arrested. But enough of that.

A second caveat: this is my response to #occupywallstreet as it is seen through social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook, and also some other related Internet sites. I am not on the ground, I haven't been there, and I don't intend to go there. With a few exceptions, I have tried to stay away from the "news" and "MSM" coverage since that itself is a huge issue. So if you have issue with my view of how things are going down, perhaps your independent media types need to do a better of crafting the message.

Let me also state up front that I expect many people to disagree with me. I'm not trying to convince you to abandon your side. I'm just explaining my side. I don't claim to speak for 1% or 99%. I speak only for myself. Oh, and please send your intelligent responses to this guy.

Tim O'Reilly wrote a post a while back about #occupywallstreet and generally lamented that
 the people who were there were the wrong people...It seems so odd to me that the Tea Party isn't out in force at this protest. It seems so odd that government largesse aimed at rich corporations seems to be OK with them, while government largesse aimed at the disadvantaged ought to be cut. I would have loved to see blue collar Americans out in force at this protest, not just college students.
I've never self-identified myself as "Tea Party" but I might as well be. I'm a married white male in my mid-30s, a conservative-libertarian who isn't afraid to criticize the Republican Party when they stray too far from the party's principles. I'm one of the types of people that Tim O'Reilly thinks should be out protesting on Wall Street. But I'm not, so this post is meant to explain why.

First, my back-story.

I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, which had the recent distinction of being named the poorest city in the United States. It wasn't quite that bad when I was born, but Reading is a blue-collar industrial place that rise and fell with the railroad. It has never quite been the same since then.

I was fortunate, at a very young age, when my parents moved us just outside the city limits. Rather than having to survive the rough streets of Reading, I grew up in an otherwise nondescript middle class neighborhood and grew up mostly middle class. By the time my brothers and I were in school, my mom went back to work and both parents worked. We had enough.

Throughout school, I worked; first delivering newspapers. Then at a farmer's market. Then at K-Mart. Then at the local hardware store. None of these jobs were beneath me.

I did well enough in high school to get decent grades without working very hard. I enjoyed sports more than school. My sights, instead, were set on college.

I started college in a small, liberal arts school in Virginia. It was expensive, but there was financial aid and student loans. I could do this. Things started out OK, but very soon it became apparent that a butt-load of the financial aid I had been promised was not going to appear. As a result, after one single semester in Virginia, I transferred to Bloomsburg University, a state school back in Pennsylvania that would cost me considerably less. Despite the transfer, I worked hard and graduated in 3 1/2 years total.

Like most political science majors, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I was leaning toward law school, and that became plan A. Beyond that, there was no plan B. Yet on a whim, I applied to Georgetown University's National Security Studies program and (somehow) got accepted. This was my new plan A, but it was Georgetown. One semester at Georgetown was more expensive than three years at Bloomsburg. I kept working hard, took on a part time job, and got my Master's Degree in only three semesters. But the student loans kept on mounting. I was digging myself into some serious debt by the time I graduated.

That was 1999. Fast-forward 12 years to the present. I'm still paying off my student loans, can you believe it?! I'm paying off a mortgage that is probably worth more than the current value of my house. If I wanted to move now, it would be very difficult, if not impossible. I opposed bailouts across the board.

So why I am not at #occupywallstreet?

1. Rhetoric. I've mentioned this before, but the rhetoric is over-the-top and largely fringe leftist in nature. Revolution, occupation, solidarity, comrades. I grew up at the peak of the Cold War. This language is not foreign to me. Yes, they're just words, but words mean things. And I don't like the things that these words mean. Additionally, the strong anarchist, socialist and anti-capitalist tones aren't going to attract me, either.

Closely related, the other bit of rhetoric that bothers me is the constant class warfare. It permeates everything that I see about #occupywallstreet and ties it all together. 1% vs. 99% is a perfect example of it. Seriously, put down the Karl Marx. It didn't work then and it won't work now.

The rhetoric is so over-the-top that I totally whiffed on @The99Pct, which I understand now (in embarrassed hindsight) is a parody account. Sadly, many of the posts aren't too far from what I've seen (especially online).

Like it or not, this point alone will keep people away. Viva la revolucion! But very few on the Right are going to join you, even if they agree on the core issues.

2. Message. People keep saying that #occupywallstreet is leaderless, but they shouldn't have to. It's pretty obvious. Many groups showed up making sure to get their message out. Against Bush, against the wars, against this or that or  the other thing. They, collectively, are against so many things I've lost track. And that's sort of the point. What is the message? The "official" demands keep growing and changing. At one point, the demands included references to Troy Davis and the elimination of the death penalty. It has nothing to do with Wall Street. It's an attempt to link a supposedly populist cause to the "occupation."  This is an example of what the military would call mission creep.

I've talked before about the negative connotations you send when you use words like "demand." This goes hand in hand with the point I mentioned above about rhetoric, but it applies equally here.

Among their declaration and demands, they claim that corporations "have sold our privacy as a commodity." Yet they're using corporations to get their message out. Facebook is perhaps the most notorious social network for privacy violations, yet #occupywallstreet has a home there.

3. Hypocrisy. One of the many themes espoused by those at #occupywallstreet is to decry the influence of money in politics. They seem to hate Citizens United and the whole idea of corporate personhood. I understand this. In some ways, I am sympathetic to the cause. However, the same people who despise the influence of money in politics are happy to welcome the support of multiple unions (re-read that Citizens United link; it doesn't just protect corporate funding of independent spending for political broadcasts, but also union funding). And it's known that the biggest spender in the 2008 election cycle were not corporations, but unions. So it seems hypocritical to complain about the influence of corporate political spending, while cozying up to unions, who actually spend more on politics.

And then recently, #occupywallstreet welcomed the support of MoveOn.org. It has been well-documented that MoveOn has been heavily funded by the billionaire George Soros. It seems further hypocritical to scream bloody murder every time the Koch Brothers spend a dime on politics, but just shrug away the same sort of political spending by George Soros. This inconsistency in the message reeks of hypocrisy.

Don't claim (without evidence) that corporate donations to the NYPD are buying off the police, but that Michael Moore and MoveOn support to #occupywallstreet are somehow beyond question.

4. Antisemitism. Despite the "leaderless" claim, there are still groups behind #occupywallstreet. One of them is Adbusters, has been accused in the past of antisemitism. A freelance writer by the name of Nathalie Rothschild wrote an article about her experiences at #occupywallstreet:
But the responses I got to my article were even more astonishing than the carry-ons in the Financial District. I received a string of indignant emails and tweets about my Jewish, kleptocrat banking connections; demands that I reveal the details of my pay checks and that I come clean about my not-so-hidden agenda. I was told that my family name disqualifies me from having any opinion about the protest and that I have 'the karma of a demon'. One reader posted my article online, headlining the post 'Journalist & Jew - Nathalie ROTHSCHILD'.
This is pretty sickening stuff. Please, it's about time for someone at #occupywallstreet to stand up and condemn this stuff. But they won't, because...

5. There is no accountability. I've talked about this before in regards to Anonymous. Anonymity allows people to take credit for anything good that happens while simultaneously reject all bad things as "someone else." Anyone can do something in our name, they say, so we can't be responsible. The same goes for a "leaderless" organization. No one is accountable. No one will stand up to the antisemitism that Nathalie Rothschild faced. Multiple wepay.com pages are set up for #occupywallstreet, collecting thousands of dollars in donations with little or no accountability in how that money is being spent.

6. There is no accuracy. Claiming the top 1% don't pay any taxes is as silly as those people at the town hall meetings a few years back who told the government to stay away from their Medicare. The truth is that the top 1% of earners pay over 38% of all income taxes. They pay 23.27% of their income to federal income taxes. On the other end, the bottom 50% of earners pay less than 3% of all income taxes and are taxed, on average, 2.59%. In fact, most of the bottom 50% pay no federal income taxes at all.

When you start out your argument with a claim like this, it shows you as being uninformed. I stop listening to anything else you have to say. The truth is that we have a highly progressive income tax system already.  A Buffet tax (a proposal of the President and also one of the demands) won't even hurt the man it's named after because most of his income is through capital gains, not salary. Your demands are built on claims that wash away like a sand castle built right up against the water at low tide.

7. I have a job. This isn't meant to be cruel to the unemployed, but I do in fact have a job. In fact, I have my own business. I can't spent weeks marching around New York City because I actually go to work everyday. I don't mean this to sound harsh, but sleeping on cardboard and eating pizzas paid for by someone else is not contributing to our economy. From an economic perspective, you are not contributing to the collective, common good. You're not doing your fair share.

Despite signs to the contrary, you do not have a "right" to a job. And the job you might land might be at Wal Mart or McDonald's. If you think working a retail or fast food job is beneath you, then maybe you're at the wrong protest. Wear our your shoes pounding the pavement looking for a job instead of waving a sign. Don't bitch that the 99% pay too much in taxes if you're not working; because if you're not working, you're obviously not paying income taxes.

I welcome your comments, criticisms, and questions below this post or via Twitter.
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