10.16.2011

Room for Occupy


It's popular in my circles to thumb a snobby nose at the "Occupy" crew. Get a job, take a shower, what do you want, why blame Wall Street, is this just an excuse to chill and play the bongos. You've heard all that, and maybe said or thought some of it. I know I have.

I'm certainly not justifying any behavior or seconding any positions here. Believe it or not, though, I do harbor some sympathy. Right or wrong, in this country people have a right to feel unhappy about the direction and rules of our country, and to want to express that unhappiness. There is a healthy sense of entitlement (and, I know that word is often used pejoratively, but here I mean it in a very positive sense, in that we are guaranteed certain rights) about feeling like every opinion counts, and about being able to voice that opinion and have that mean something.

In short, while you may reject the message and the media, if you are an American it should sadden you that the "Occupy" crew feels a very real feeling of disenfranchisement, that there is an anger or a sense of betrayal and no real channel or lever for change. One may argue that all it takes to get politically involved is a little effort, and that vilifying Wall Street and painting clever protest signs is just an easy cop-out way, and there is some validity to it. But a democracy ought to have easier on-ramps to participation, and if the common person feels these on-ramps are unavailable or closed off to them, there's probably some truth to that.

Let me assure that you that, despite the sense that "we the people" feel like we have less power than we should, we are still uniquely empowered in the world and even in our history. The rest of the world longs for the participatory democracy we take for granted. And, as much as we want to romanticize our founding fathers, power is much more distributed now than it was in our earliest days as a nation. Remember that way back when many blacks were enslaved, and that women only got a chance to vote in 1920. And it will come as no surprise that, despite how much money plays a role in our elections today, things were far less egalitarian in elections in the distant past.

Of course, just because we're better doesn't mean we're perfect. And so the "Occupy" crew laments at our very real imperfections. And I give them room to do so. And, in my own, different way, I lament too. Although even in the lament, I rejoice, for I live in a country that strives towards that perfection, or, to borrow a phrase from the first line of our founding document, I revel in the fact that we are a people about the desire "to form a more perfect union." What a country.

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