Current Comedy, 11/6/11: Occupational Hazards:
Dear New Activist,
Welcome to the Occupation! You can change the world! ... unless your spirit gets trampled, either figuratively or literally, first. And I am here to warn you, if you are not careful, that is likely to happen. My name is mikel weisser, a long-time activist & disorganizer. I am the head of nothing. I am also not here to be about taking, nor giving, orders to or from anyone. I have joined the Occupy Movement of my own volition, just like you did, because you were compelled as a citizen to do your best for your country. In return you can rest assured your country will soon do its best to demonize you to the fullest of its spiteful little heart's content.
Yes, rest assured friends--friends, family, and absolute strangers will soon start going out of their way to take it upon themselves to call you all kinds of fool. (Generally while resting on non-existent laurels of their own non-contributions to our country). You know it's going to happen and we all know it sucks.
At some point, you turned, sickened by the injustice and finally said, "Well, I think the Occupy Movement might be bringing up some good points." Or something innocuous like that.
And they heard, "Bugger mother's apple pie & rape the Statue of Liberty! Kill the rich, free money for everybody! Especially me!" Next thing you know they start reaching for the pitchforks and torches and it goes downhill from there. Happens all the time, been through it a thousand times myself.
Haven't liked it once.
So, rather than leave you ill-equipped for your impending series of battles of wits and duels with fools, here is a handy guide to refute some of the condescending vitriol you will soon be drenched in. While each of you will have to work your own way through the whole personal attack wave you wiIl soon be surfing (and how it meshes with your own life style choices and/or guilt over them); here are some of the replies I generally wish I could say-
(PS: Thank you for joining the cause of saving the world. It is worth it far as I can tell.)
They will say: "You are ____________________________!"
And I want to say--Get serious, this is America, everyone is a capitalist. We need money like we need oxygen. I like to spend and I am ready to work to get it. I have had a job since I was 15, and have one now; but even more so, i am also an artist. So, of course I believe in individual reward for individual achievement. Of course, I want people to be rewarded for their hard work and effort, just as I want to be rewarded lavishly if I should achieve lavishly. I further think everyone should have these opportunities I hope to have for myself. Duh. But I think that there's a point beyond which accumulation for is generally a sin against others and I know, much of the wealth made in the world in this or any point in history has been based on exploitation, misery and/or poverty of others. Through 99% of human history 99% of humans have suffered through a subsistence existence of some while a select few manipulated and exploit the many.
I am a capitalist, I want to be rich. I want to be rich for being good at doing good things, but not for doing cruel and rapacious things well. I am a capitalist. I want to get rich because I figured out a way to make lives better, not because I figured out a way to squeeze already stressed lives just little harder to wring another dime from another's misery. That's not being a capitalist, that's being a monster. If you can't tell there is a difference, I don't want you in charge of my country; because this country is supposed to be about improving the lives of the multitude, not the enriching the wallets of the few at the public's direct suffering.
Yes, I object to such things, but that in no way means I am not a capitalist. Besides working for others, I have bought and sold several houses in my lifetime, and as a writer/entertainer, I have charged people for my services for over 20 years. These are two of the most defining-ly capitalist actions an individual can take. In those instances, my personal standards of capitalism demand that I expect to conduct myself as a fair-hearted honest business partner and insist the same in return. Not wanting to tolerate you manipulating the rules of the game so you can economically rape me is not being anti-capitalist; it's being anti-being flipping raped.
2. Anti-American-I don't know about you, but I am so American by the dawn's early light I purple mountains' majesties and live on a fruited lane where I proudly hail the twilight's last gleaming. I hold it a truth that should be self evident that a government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from this earth. As a school teacher, I actually do say the Pledge of Allegiance five days a week and mean it eight. And as political writer, I actually do quote Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson and Franklin every so often, and study the Constitution on a regular basis and honestly do carry a copy in my coat pocket, beside my favorite poems. I have US history books in every major room of my house. I work an American job and produce an American product: your children.
And when it comes to loving the land or leaving it, being a cog in good faith in the machinery of American economics, I know our country was founded on a capitalist venture, the moneyed elite of the colonies organized a revolt against British business interests to create their own economic power structure. Washington, Hancock, Jefferson, & Franklin were all plutocrats and among the couple of dozen movers and shakers who made an America shaped to their own interests with quirky little personal touches, such as 3/5ths persons and properties that claim full personhood.
Still I buy and sell American. Me and the mortgage company are currently buying my current home. I'm about four years into the mortgage. I did take my money out of a mega-bank and move it to a smaller one, but I still bank with a bank that I don't want to fail. I have purchased or am paying on all the home accessories good Americans are supposed to buy. We eat turkey on Thanksgiving and mangle red white and blue assemblages on the 4th, often complete with Patriotic music. In fact it is the very fact that I do so love America, I am compelled to protest against her destruction. To not stand up would be to me Un-American. To paraphrase Thoreau, the questions isn't why am I protesting, it is why are you?
3. Commie/Socialist---First let me say this about that: I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the communist party, I have never desired to be one. I never read Marx, or Lenin, or Mao. I don't use the word "Comrade." I've never sung "The Internationale" nor could I quote any of the words. This term has become so abstracted from over-abuse that these days the cliché contemporary GOP use equates to simply, "Any boogeyman I am too lame to actually describe with nuance and specificity." I am in fact insulted that that is the best insult you can come up with.
In the so-called "Communist" governments of the 20 century, Russia and China for example, actual operations had so little to do with the supposed actual "communist" ideology that to continue to use the label at all anymore as if it ever was appropriate or remain current is to be either ignorant or disingenuous. Oligarchy, kleptocracy, dictatorship, command economy-those words apply to those systems but none of that isn't interesting to me, not a proposal I or most people would want to embrace.
Now "Socialist," is the essence of the Preamble to the Constitution-you know, the whole business about justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare, liberty, all that stuff, all of it is socialist. A socialist government is one that cares about the needs of its people; and since that is the basis of any and every government, by that definition, I, and most people interested in theorizing on government, are to a degree socialist. I do expect my government to work on the problems of my public, I do expect to be expected to contribute to a system that benefits the whole of the public. I bet you do too, to some degree. So, once you get that far along the slippery slope, we all adjust to our own level of comfort, but to me the impulse to work for my own benefit through working for the good of the public is the essence of being American. If that impulse isn't American then the folks who volunteer to go to war for the country are really only doing it to shoot people and having joined the military once myself, I am pretty sure for most there's more to it than that.
4. Unemployed Moochers, Selfish, Lazy (meaning it's their own fault)-Having now been to weekly AZ protests for almost a month, I can definitively explain why so many of the thousands of protests around the nation happen primarily on Saturdays: because we the protestors have got jobs and only can protest on the weekends. See? That's why this is the saddest item on the list. I am not unemployed, nor am I alone in being not unemployed among the protesters at the Occupy protests I've attended. And I've checked out a few. Thus far I have attended protests or meetings in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Flagstaff, and helped put two together in Kingman. In large cities where the economic policies of business and government have led to an immense swelling of the homeless population, the Occupy events have become 24/7 ad hoc 21st Century Hoovervilles; but in smaller communities, it is the people with the resources to get away on a Saturday that can and do lead the protests. One of the routine cat-calls aimed at Occupiers is that others will sneer they can't join the protest because they're busy working as if it is a badge of honor to have a job that sucks so much you can't have your weekends free.
I can tell you most of the people I have met have or at one point had a decent job. Then the entire economy shed millions of jobs. Businesses evaporated, only the strong survived, only those who could defend their market over the past few years as the money dried up and blew away. For workers like that, for the now millions of Americans who haven't been able to continue to work because the jobs they did just aren't there anymore, this isn't about lazy or gaming the system. This is about staying alive.
And, somehow, that is a minor detail to most of the most austerity-minded. The " let them eat cake while they pull themselves up by their bootstraps" mentalities never put together that to actually give up on America's ever increasing number of poor people is to choose a genocide that would make Hitler blush. We are now talking 46,000,000 Americans living below the poverty line. Casual talk aside, are you really ready to sacrifice those lives to teach them a lesson and to consolidate your own holdings? Gosh-ee, I hope not. If so, then tell me, who is the real moocher?
And this does not even go into the myriad of ways getting up off one's butt and going out into the public square to stand up for one's country is the exact opposite of being lazy or selfish; or to address the commitment of energy one must expend to deal with the overt hatred one will surely subject themselves to by announcing you want people to rebel against the corrupt, but widely-accepted, system. Thus, until you've tried it, you may not realize, that agitating for one's country is and should be a whole lot of work.
5. Ignorant of the Fairness of the American Economic System-Please. Do we have to go through this again? Pick any decade of American history and tell me a time when numerous businesses and government officials, operating at all levels, were not actively involved in trying to rip the rest of us off. One hundred years ago the elites held the rest of us in serfdom and slave labor. Whether the peasants of the Steppes or the sharecroppers of the South, shop-girls in the East and miners of the West, the whole world was held on its knees. One hundred year ago, your twelve year old would be complaining about her fourteen hour workday and not her algebra. Go ahead, pick a decade. The twenties when market manipulations collapsed the economy? The 30s, when business leaders like IBM and Ford were doing business with the Nazis? Is there a decade that can be picked to show that businesses can be trusted to operated unfettered by the protections of government restraint? White collar crime was estimated to be 200 billion a year back in the 80s and now are measured in the trillions. Eighty percent of the new wealth in the nation over the last 30 years went directly to the rich, not because they earned it, but because they took it. The litany is so long it should pass as a given; but when millions of Americans are thrown unjustly out of their homes to serve the greed of the rich, we can't legitimately claim it is a just system. If they can't see this one, they're not looking.
6. Democratic Stooges-The scenario here is that supposedly, like Dick Armey and the Tea Party, there is a direct link from Democrat Party hierarchy to the protesters freezing their butts off in Zuccoti Park and elsewhere as the fall of our economy turns into a winter of growing discontent. Sure, there is an admitted connection with the voting records of many of the activists "Occupying" around the country. A lot of us either are currently registered or tend to vote Democratic. I, for example, am. But the Democratic Party doesn't support me anymore that it supports Occupy. The upper levels of the Democratic Party are as bought and sold as the GOP and have just as much stake in perpetuating the system and its inequities as Republicans do, Dems are just more deceitful about it.
And as a result, like Occupy in general, I am ready to condemn and call out Democrats who slit the throats of the public to help their cronies swindle another bundle from the public, either though unfair business practices or unfair tax cuts. At a time when the average wealth in Congress is upwards of $600,000 and their annual salary is $100,000 above the median income in a nation where half of the workers in America earn under $10 an hour, it is farcical to suggest they even have an inkling of the realities of the average American, much are prepared to represent them, the D or R behind their name notwithstanding.
While the small time activists may associate with the Dems because the party bears the comparative label of being progressive, the hierarchy of the party is every bit as beholden to the plutocrats as the GOP is. That's why they were ineffective as a challenge to Bush and ineffective at subduing the Republican challenge to Obama. Corporate money buys suits on both sides of the aisle and the folks at the Occupies know it. That why they aren't backing the traditional political parties' solutions to the problems. Tea Partiers turned out to merely GOP with funny hats. Occupiers distrust the Democrats only slightly less than Republicans.
7. You guys should point their protests at politicians not innocent hard working businessmen just trying to earn an honest living in the free market. Next you'll be telling me Santa and the Tooth Fairy have weapons of mass destruction. Among things we know categorically to not be true is that the US economy is anything but a free market and I am not talking about the supposedly egregious business regulations that keep your boss from demanding 12 hour work days in unsafe conditions from both you and your 8 year old. I am talking about the way, around the world, our government enforces its so-called trade agreements at the point of a gun. I'm talking about the way, here at home, government subsidies and tax breaks Congressmen create give their friends tens, if not hundreds, of billions in unfair advantages. The latest outrage comes as Bank of America shifts 75 trillion of toxic debt into federally insured banks, virtually saddling our country with another mountain of debt without a public referendum or even a Congressional vote. How can this be shown to be good for the public?
Eighty-five percent the toxic mortgages rightwing pundits want to grouse about have turned out to be banker frauds and hundreds of trillions of our alleged debt was created by bankers first creating loans then betting against them then contracting the money supply to cause them to fail knowing the US government would bail them out; which our Congress did in '08 in direct contradiction to the will of the public. And every since they got away with that theft of trillions, the plutocracy and their banks have been emboldened. They provided themselves millions in bonuses for successfully impoverishing the rest of us, while the beholden Congress have cleared the way for them enacting thirty years of bribery purchased de-regulation. While it is true the plutocrats have only succeeded in this nefarious plan with the aid of their servants, our Congress, Congressional abuses are only a symptom, not the whole problem. We can get rid of the current crop of sell-outs who ruin our lives at their owners bidding for their own self-aggrandization, but as long as we leave the corporatists in actual power they'll just buy the next wave as well.
8. They are all outside agitators, Looney Tunes bomb-throwers out to violently overthrow our country, folks who don't have any idea what they're talking about. If there was any one thing I would say that unites the protesters it is this--they may be there to protest about a wide variety of things, but they all have very specific, sometimes painfully personal, explicit reasons to be protesting. Former military guy who saw the systemic corruption of the military industrial complex first hand and now organizes for Veterans Against the War. The other retired military guy who can detail how our country has been sold to corporations. The small-town business woman who has watched her customer base dry up and blow away. The woman who lost her home because of medical bills, the couple who lost their jobs, but got replacements, but the banks wouldn't renegotiate and evicted them anyway. The woman who took out 80 grand in student loans to learn a profession that now has no jobs left in it. The kid who does not even know why his family lost their home, but now has his whole family living on his student loans and the debts just keeps piling up. The retired couple from Chicago who are warning that the Post Office is the next target of the rightwing goal of privatization. These aren't wild-eyed professional dissidents, these aren't tin-foil hat wearing, paranoia saturated, conspiracy theorists. These are regular Americans standing up and calling on you to join them, not to
9. You're Wasting Your Time-Already this ruse is being proven wrong. Already the general public is getting used to the idea that same folks are protesting about American injustice. Already in a poll of the 1%, about 35% are willing to acknowledge the protestors have a point. Already you can see a diference in the way the public hears your objections and the way you feel about yourself for finally standing up and trying to make the difference you've wished to see n this world. Already you probably feel better about yourself merely for trying to try.
What better use of one's time is there than to devote one's self to pursuing the good of one's country? Compared to the folks who languish their lives away wishing there was something to be done, then feeling guilty about not getting anything done, protesting, even for a losing, but right, cause is its own reward.
10. They will be appeased with minor corrections-Understand, minor corrections aren't going to fix this thing. We will change the system or it will destroy itself in short order; but neither of our options are going to be a minor blip on the radar. This is the time of radical crisis you've been bogey-manned about your whole life. If you don't see it yet, you will.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ