I have sat quietly on the sidelines as I watched the unfolding of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I at times thought I would want to join them. As the movement and the protests have gone on the mood has changed and it has, at times, seemed to be an unorganized event with no clear mission or message. An ongoing occupation of a park seems to attract some who see it as an opportunity to take advantage of others, behave inappropriately, and commit crimes.
I recently saw a blog post. It was on a friend's Facebook newsfeed, so it showed up in my newsfeed. I clicked on it. I knew, even before I opened it, that I likely wouldn't agree with the blogger, because I was reasonably certain that my Facebook "friend" and I had very differing political views.
I like to believe though that I am smart and open minded. I do not automatically believe something because one political party or another espouses a view. I want to be informed. I do, however, sometimes feel like there is information overload and I no longer know where to turn for a simple, unbiased, explanation of a situation.
The blog post I read was written by a local pastor, Pete Wilson, who said, "I can see why they (the 99%) might be upset, but their tactics, while certainly their right, seem a little off to me. I've never been much of a protestor. I've never carried a sign. I've never participated in a march. I've never been a part of a sit in.'' Wilson then quoted another man (B.W.) who wrote, "Like most protests the Occupy Wall Street folks are better at indetifying something that is wrong than identifying a way forward that is right".
Wilson then went on to say, "And this is why I don't protest. The reality is there are things that need to be changed. Our political system needs change. Our financial system needs change. The Church needs change. But I think all this "protesting" just shows that we would rather point fingers, lash out, and fight, then share blame and own up to how we've contributed to the problems we face."
As I read that last part, about how we don't share blame and own up to how we've contributed to the problems we face I was annoyed. Excuse me, how are any of us really to blame for the financial crisis our country is currently in? How are any of us to blame for the mismanagement of mortgages and money by the banks and mortgage lenders? But I still have a strong belief in the right of free speech, that we all have a right to our opinions, that just because I don't agree doesn't make another person wrong.
And pointing fingers? Heck yes we should all be pointing fingers at the people and institutions that have created this disaster in our financial system. A CEO of a bank that was bailed out and is now accepting large bonuses and has not changed the way that bank does business should be pointed out at every opportunity and his ability to continue to make millions more while the majority of American's suffer for it is unconscionable.
I went on to read the comments. Most were from parishioners I think, regular readers of Wilson's blog who wholeheartedly agreed with his viewpoint and voiced anger and mentioned the "lawlessness" of many of the protestors. And I could understand how many people are now unhappy with the OWS movement, with reports of theft, rape, assault and numerous other crimes at the varying locales. But then one of the commentors (I'll only identify her as L, because i don't know her nor have I asked her permission to quote her or speak on her behalf) on Wilson's blog brought me back to what makes me as well as most people I know part of the 99%. She started by writing, "What about the civil rights movement? MLKjr? Rosa Parks. When anyone with no power is being abused by anyone with all the power you stand up and defend them. Peaceful protests can and do bring change. We just heard on the news last night Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that was 'bailed out' their executives just received 7 figure bonuses. Millions of homes are still in foreclosure court. I bet everyone in church knows someone who is losing their home."
A response to that woman was, "MLK was all about moving forward to something that is right. That was his whole stance -- he pointed out the wrongs and offered solutions."
Another response was, "Sadly, these protests aren't peaceful. It has already been reported that 10 people have been raped at these protests ...." (I only am quoting a short portion of the response).
I began to feel a little angry and a little offended by some of these people. One, because there is crime at the location of the protests does not meant that the protest itself is wrong or at fault. Maybe rather than being concerned with arresting protestors we should work to protect their safety as well and find those who are committing crimes. Painting the protestors with the wide brush that includes criminals is unfair and unneccesarry. Two, to say that the OWS movement is not moving towards "something that is right"? What it isn't right that people should believe that those who caused the most horrendous financial crisis in our country's history should be held accountable and not receive continued wealth while the majority of those they made their money from suffer? What is not right about that?
Others commented after "L", some in support, some complaining about "entitlement" that some believe the protestors think they have, to some of the wealth of the 1%. "L" commented again, "I don't feel entitled. My home is being illegally foreclosed. We are NOT bums working the system, I worked for over 35 years, my husband still works two jobs."
The comments back and forth continued. One commenter in particular struck me as well informed, intelligent and even tempered. I will not restate all that he stated or the other commentors, I urge you to go read the entire post and it's comments yourself here.
I think my real point is, I am one of the 99%. I don't think that those who have worked hard and become millionaires or gazillionaires or whatever should hand over their money to me. I work hard and will make my own thank you. BUT, I do think that if I have to pay taxes on what I earn, we'll just say for the sake of argument, 20%, then why shouldn't they also pay 20% on theirs? If I am held criminally liable for my actions, should not the banks and mortgage companies also? For those that ran the banks that were a huge contributing factor to the housing market collapse and the failure of many banks, how can those people still be enjoying huge bonuses and not repaying the "bailout" money they received?
I also lost a house. I purchased in 2006 just before the housing market collapse. Do I take responsibility for my own poor money management and getting in over my head. I certainly do and beat myself regularly for it believe me. But I trusted people. The mortgage broker who I confided my fears of being in over my head before the sale went through and he assured me I would more than do well with the tax breaks I would receive for buying and with the increased value of my home over the next several years. Hmmmm, I wonder, do you think he already knew the forecast for the housing market? I'm kind of betting yes. As soon as it became undeniable that I was in some real trouble I turned to my lender. I asked for help. Their response, "well if you can just wait til the market turns around then maybe we can talk to you about refinancing". Ummm, if I could have waited til the market turned around I would not have been calling and I would have waited. I didn't just ask once I asked three times for help, I asked different lenders for help but by then the die was cast, everyone knew there wasn't going to be a quick turnaround in fact most thought there might not be a turn around at all. I tried to do a short sale, as requested by my lender. I had interested buyers within a week of listing the house. The mortgage company sat on the offers for months until they all just went away, to go spend their investment money elsewhere. Finally I gave up, I just let the lender have the house back. I bought for $350K, it sold two and half years later in a foreclosure for $200K and my life was forever changed. My credit my never recover either. I'm trying to move myself to living solely on cash, no credit card, no debit cards no nothing.
I don't feel entitled, just as "L" doesn't either. But those of us who feel powerless and believe we are in our current situation due to the greed and dishonesty of a majority of the 1%, see the Occupy Wall Street movement as one of the few ways we have a voice. Who would listen to me by myself? No one.
I have tried to become more informed, reading articles from all sides of the issue. I'm not sure that the park in New York that the occupiers are camping in is the best place for the protest, since the people inconvenienced by the protest are not the 1% but more of the 99%. But I also think that citizens of this country, standing up, or sitting down as another generation did, in order to speak with a voice of many in order to be heard is not a bad thing.
Occupy Wall Street may not be the answer but at least it has forced the entire country to start asking the questions, what are we going to do, continue to allow the 1% to get richer while the 99% continue to suffer?
I don't know the answer to the problem, but I am willing to support those protesting peacefully for a change in our financial system and holding accountable those responsible for the current situation.
I am strongly in favor of criminally prosecuting anyone who is guilty of rape, assault, theft etc., at OWS or anywhere else. I am, however, also strongly in favor of the millions of American's who have been crushed by the wealthy, powerful, bankers and those in the pockets of politicians. I am the 99%.
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. I try to not get too political on this blog, likely to send people running for the unsubscribe button. But once again, one of the great things about this country is my right to post anything I want.
And as an aside, it is election day today, hope you voted.