A word of advice to those who have not yet joined the Occupy Santa Barbara, Occupy Isla Vista, or any faction of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement: WAKE UP.
Whether you realize it or not - this movement is about you. If you are a student, a teacher, a health care professional, a government employee, and especially if you don’t have a job at all – this movement is about you. If you have a mortgage, a retirement fund, or student loans – this movement is about you. If you are homeless, sick, or disabled – this movement is about you. If you are against war, against inequality, against deception – this movement is about you. If you have kids, want to have kids or want not to have kids – this movement is about you. If you believe in transparency in government and privacy for citizens – this movement is about you. If you care for the future of America – this movement is about you.
So, then, what is the Occupy Wall Street movement? The movement is borne of solidarity, to offer a voice for the 99% of American people who have been working longer, harder hours for less pay and less job security year after year – or worse yet, who have simply been laid off. (Sound like anyone you know?) It’s about expressing collective frustration and demonstrating that if you have experienced home foreclosure or no longer have a retirement fund, you are not a failure. Your system has failed you. And while not supporting any political party, the movement is about showing politicians that we, the American people, DO care about our individual futures and the future of the nation. We care enough to recognize that there is a future we can build together.
Our open future need not be strangled by a system that values profits over people. We care that for too long the future of our nation has been in the hands of corporations. Legally and literally this means that the most economically powerful institutions in the world pursue unending profit for shareholders at the expense of human rights and human dignity. This has been the result of a predatory and exploitative form of capitalism. This brand of capitalism destroys the environment upon which our very survival depends. It viciously undermines the blue collar workforce, who have no say when corporations close up their factories and move them to parts of the world where labor laws are most lenient. It stifles intelligent, young college graduates, forcing the very people who should be contributing to innovation and improvement to take a job, any job, and robbing us of their potential. It marginalizes the middle class who have worked long and hard hours to save money for retirement, only to see it disappear overnight. And worst of all - it completely ignores those who are most in need - those who do not have the money to pay for their health care, housing or food through no faults of their own.
Let us be clear - the problem isn’t with capitalism itself. It’s with this breed of capitalism that has been allowed to grow and run rampant in a very destructive way - a breed of capitalism that would mystify Adam Smith in its brutality. The traditional binary dialogue of socialism versus capitalism has not served us and we have the opportunity now to be more creative in finding complex solutions to complex problems. The problem is also not with the 1% who have profited from this imbalance - it’s easy to find villains in this situation, but the 1% are not bad people and the Occupy movement is not an assault on their character. The problem is that we’ve found ourselves in a race where only 1% wins and everyone else gets thrown to the dogs. This race has hard evidence that we can examine: the loss of jobs to China and the growing income inequality both between and within countries for two examples, and we are disgusted with a system that allows corporations to seek higher profits by exploiting those outside the US who may not have means to protect themselves. It is this system that we refuse and that we desire to change.
You might ask - what will an “Occupy camp” accomplish? How on earth is sitting in a public park a complex solution? It’s important to point out that the occupiers have already done far more than just sit there. At the very basic level, we have taken time out of the daily grind to forge connections and demonstrate that nobody is alone in feelings of frustration, anger, powerlessness and fear. This is solidarity and in solidarity there is power. We have come together to realize that while we may not have all the solutions yet, we are willing to learn from one another and to begin a discussion about progress and change. It is in finding our collective voice that the new knowledge so integral to opening the future will be borne.
By showing solidarity in such large numbers, we’ve also demonstrated that citizens ARE a force with which to be reckoned. Media attention around issues like unemployment is already changing, and when we change the way the population talks we start to change the way the population thinks about these issues. We’re demonstrating that even if you don’t feel as though your vote counts any longer in our supposedly democratic elections, together all of our votes do count. It’s no wonder that politicians have felt responsible to corporations - the corporations make their voices heard with money. Now we are making our voices heard with solidarity. We must take responsibility for our roles as agents of change in our own future, the future of generations to come, the future of the country and the future of the world.
Are you ready to join the movement yet? You don’t even have to physically occupy to become part of the movement. Try occupying your mind for a few minutes - start thinking about issues in new ways. Critically think about your situation; from where you sit, from who you know, what needs changing in your life? For a couple of minutes enter into the national dialogue: read independent press, send an article to your friends or make an editorial you agree with your Facebook status. Ask someone what they think. And when you are ready, go downtown and talk to people - something that has sadly become a radical gesture today. Better yet - go to People’s Park in Isla Vista on November 5 and sit long enough to listen to experts explain how they believe we found ourselves in this situation. Go to the UCSB Human Rights Board event on November 19th (location TBD) and learn how these injustices affect the UCSB campus, the Isla Vista community and YOU specifically.
After all, the protesters in the Occupy movement are out there standing up for you. Now we invite you to stand up for yourself