Saturday, October 15, 2011

Trying to make sense of Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and other cities are big news right now, but it's hard for me to make sense of them.  They have a nice website, but only a non-official list of demands.  This leads most people to conclude the protests are more a loose coalition of frustrated people with a wide variety of demands.  I think that's accurate.  But I'm not sure.

If you talk a virtual walk through the forums at the OWS site, you'll find certain themes repeat themselves.  And even the non-official list of demands may provide some clues.  Some of the main ideas that emerge include:  universal healthcare, a living wage for all people whether they are employed or not, free college, forgiving loans (especially student loans), an end to the use of fossil fuels (to be replaced with alternative fuels), more money for infrastructure and environmental restoration, open and fair elections, open borders, and a gender and racial equity amendment.

The first thing that you may notice is that most of the ideas center around the United States.  I don't know if movements in other countries are supposed to come up with their own demands, or if we Americans just continue to be that self absorbed. 

I'm not an economist, but I'm curious how some of these ideas will work.  For instance, if the government gives you a student loan, then the money goes to the school, and you owe the government that amount back.  If you don't pay the government, then the money has to come from your fellow tax payers.  So other people paid for you to go to college.

The infrastructure and environmental wish list is unrealistic because the US simply doesn't have the money.  We are in debt.  We need to spend less, not more.  I'm all for getting away from fossil fuels, especially oil.  If we quit oil, most of our enemies would starve, and funding for terrorism would shrink.  I think this is already happening as we move to other forms of energy, but it's going to take time and patience. 

The idea about fair elections makes sense to me, especially in light of the problems with electronic voting (which we've discussed here before).  And I like the idea of healthcare for everyone, particularly children and the elderly.  I just don't think we should force people to participate in it--that's too authoritarian for me.  I think gender and race are covered in the current US amendments, but they aren't in the constitutions of many other countries around the world--like places under hardline Islamic rule where women aren't allowed to vote or drive or leave the home without a male relative as chaperon.

I don't really understand the open borders concept.  Borders exist because not everyone is a good neighbor and not everywhere is safe.  If you decide to move to another country and get a job there, you should expect to have to abide by their laws and learn the local language.  If I planned to move to France and work, I'd probably need some sort of permission from France, and I'd need to learn to speak French.  That seems pretty straightforward to me, but maybe I'm missing something.  (I'm definitely missing that awesome bread they have.)

There's a lot going on in the world right now.  Wars.  Revolutions.  Starvation.  Big stuff.  But I can understand that for the people in the parks in New York, it's hard to look at the big picture when you've lost your job and you can't pay your rent and your kids are going hungry.  I get that.  And some of their grievances are very legitimate, while others seem to be more on the scale of optimistic dreams.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out during the next elections.

(Again, this is an opinion piece.  I support your right to disagree.)
(Here is the Occupy Wall Street site and their non-official list of demands.  An article titled "Occupy Wall Street Protesters make demands" by Ryan Young in  The pic is from:

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