A few weeks into the Occupy Movement's sparking, I took a bit of a page from John Avlon, who did great work following around the Tea Party during their rise, and began following Occupy groups around the country - mostly groups in the midwest and the major Occupy groups that were in the news. I signed up for email newsletters, dropped in on message boards, watched Facebook pages, websites and did a little in-person snooping around my local Occupy group.
What I saw essentially matched what non-ideological media has been saying about them lately. They are mostly liberal to left wing, younger, white people who share many of the concerns that the American people do about some important issues.
The main divergence from mainstream America is a pervasive belief that they should be exempt from various laws because they feel passionately about what they are doing, like local ordinances involving park rules, and vast majority of the ideas they put forth as potential solutions to the previously mentioned concerns are liberal to left wing.
The General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street recently put out the 'Declaration of the Occupation of New York City', and is an excellent illustration of this. The following are six of the 23 line items from that declaration.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
It's unfortunately typical for extremist political types to pretend that things they disagree with are illegal, and they fall into this trap here. The foreclosure process is not illegal, although the concerns about how packaging and selling mortgages should effect such proceedings is something that will hopefully be ironed out in coming years. This is a great example of how hard core ideologues mistake personal political belief for reality in their heads.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
Here is a great example of where they share a concern with a large majority of the American people. Conspicuously absent is the common statement among Occupiers that TARP should have never happened, which would have ensured a much deeper recession, and probably a depression. They'd get a lot more traction out of this if they followed this up with the statement that the bailouts needed to happen, but they should have come with much more severe strings attached.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Perhaps I should have mentioned this above, but the declaration is referring to corporations as "they". Like so many other examples of this on the declaration, and in much of what you see coming out of these groups, they make it seem like there is some kind of monolithic evil consortium of corporations that is trying to ruin our lives. In fact the vast majority of corporations are ran by regular people just trying to make it through life like anyone else.
Most of the time all corporations care about is whether the person in a position can do the job they're in well. It's no wonder that when we find out about examples where corporations have some kind of institutional racism (Cracker Barrel comes to mind), for example, it is big news... because it's extremely rare anymore.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
Again Occupiers lump corporations together here, when in fact its a cabal of SOME corporations that have brought this into being. Most corporations do not pollute, poison people, or undermine farmers.
On top of that, it's corporations like Whole Foods, and health food companies that put many of the products on their shelves, that are leading the way against the unhealthy and environmentally damaging segments of the food production system in our country. They should go after factory farms, and companies like Monsanto, not make blanket statements that make it seem like corporations in general do these sorts of things.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
Again they mistake bad apples for the whole basket. Most companies that have a unionized workforce do not have major labor disputes with any sort of regularity, and companies trying to de-unionize their workforce is exceedingly rare, not to mention rarely successful. A great example of left wing propaganda, trying to make a real problem with some companies (like Wal-Mart) seem widespread.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
I've saved this one for last because it really is indicative of the fantasy world these people live in. All developed countries that I am aware of give their youth some form of basic education. In our country we are given about twelve years of free education.
What these people are saying is education itself should be paid for by the government. I'm not sure if they'd like it to go to a full four year degree, or perhaps a Masters or PhD, but this is picture perfect left wing entitlement.
It is one thing to think that the government should work to help young people gain a college education, but it is something else entirely to pretend like something they think the government should do is actually a human right. They go even farther off the deep end by suggesting that corporations are holding people hostage by expecting them to pay back loans of money they chose to take on. The only thing these people are hostages to are making a mistake and taking out loans for a degree that hasn't helped them reel in a good paying job yet, and/or a bad job market.
I've spent the majority of the time since the recession set in either unemployed, or underemployed, but I'm not expecting my credit card company to wipe my account clean, or my student loans to magically be paid off by my fairy government godmother. I chose to spend that money, borrowed to do it, and should have to pay it back.
The above are only about one fourth of the line items from the declaration. Occupiers have some very salient points in highlighting issues like growing income inequality, corruption and greed. But when you get down to it, and find out what they'd like to do about these problems, you see that a better label for them would be the 20-30%, meaning those on the left of the political spectrum that use corporations as a big scary faceless bugaboo for most everything wrong in our country, just like the Tea Party uses government.
In fact polls continue to show that the American people blame government more than corporations for the problems facing our country, making it even more clear as to how absurd this 99% banner really is.
Polls also show that the American people aren't fooled by the 99% mask, and see through to a movement that is very much a liberal counterpart to the conservative Tea Party movement that the public has similarly soured over.
I do, however, agree with the sentiment that their declaration ends on. It implores the reader to get active and make their voice heard. They're right about that... the rest of the country does need to get more active and make their voices heard.
What we don't need is more finger pointing from the left and right, or ideologically extreme and unpassable legislative demands. What we do need is more common sense, long term and politically realistic ideas on how to begin working towards fixing our job market, economy at large and fiscal situation in the coming years.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.