Opinion: What the Critics Get Right About the Occupy Movement (and What they Get Wrong)

Thursday, December 08, 2011 - 12:04 PM

Occupy protesters stand on the steps of a foreclosed home that they re-occupied on December 6, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty)

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.


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Comments [7]

Marianne Redden

First Off,

Thank you.

I have been searching for legitable information on what "The Occupy" movement stands for. After bouncing back and forth from supportive websites, news articles, and even Youtube videos. This article is the only thing I have found that provided me arguements from people involved in the movement.

Second, I am very disappointed.
I live 45 minutes in the rural area of Northeast Georgia, and while visiting the city of Athens I ran into the first Occupy protest I have seen. The city is home of the University of Georgia, and I have noticed that many of the protesters are young college students and being 22 I wondered if I could also support this. However, after reading this, seeing pictures of young women protesting naked, and hearing about people being disruptive to the everyday lives of others, this just looks like a Spring Break event.

I am 22, but I am also a disabled Veteran that suffers from PTSD for being raped while serving in the Navy. My monthly income is barely $800 a month. With this money from the VA I pay my rent for my apartment and other expenses. I am also a full time student with two student loans I'll will have to pay back at some point. It is obvious I will need help with this, and a fear I have is not being able to find work after I get my degree with a seventy percent rating for PTSD.
There is no doubt that things need to change, but I do not believe the Federal Government is responsible for my debt.

Feb. 16 2012 10:08 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

But it IS tha simple, Solomon. We should have a system where what you know matters far, far more than who you know....or who you know's second cousin, where you graduated.

But so much is premised on networking, as a VP of mine once put it, "People hire and promote folks that the like..."

What's the difference between patronage and campaign contributions?

Dec. 14 2011 01:59 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"Take the private money OUT of elections - at least have full disclosure for goodness sake! -- and we can fix this in another 50 years."

I don't think it's even close to that simple, but certainly only individuals should be able to donate to campaigns - no PACs, no bundlers, no unions, and no organization that spends a single penny on political activities should be able to hide their donor information.

And nothing Jon said gave any reason why someone should be able to just up and not have to pay back their debts. If a school is doing a poor job of educating, and charging too much, then students should go to a cheaper place with better education. I learned quite a bit every year of college - if you didn't learn anything the first two years you made a very poor decision either in the school you went to, or the classes you chose. None of this has anything to do with the fact that money was borrowed to pay for something... should I be able to have my credit card debt erased if something I buy with that credit card ends up being junk? Of course not, that's rubbish.

Dec. 13 2011 03:00 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

So the Occupy-types don't say it well enough or even precisely but the message is clear...

The opportunity to make one's way in America by working hard, getting an education and playing by the rules don't work any more.

I suggest that they haven't worked since JFK had his brains put on display in Dallas. In 1963, the average wage was $4,400 (, and GDP was $600B. For 2011, average wage is around $42,000 while the GDP is $14.2 TRILLION. If wages had grown with GDP average income would be around $106K. However, we let high dollar earners rob the middle class of their due - mostly through the tax code.

Take the private money OUT of elections - at least have full disclosure for goodness sake! -- and we can fix this in another 50 years.

Dec. 11 2011 08:22 PM

Is the Occupy Movement effective?

Come add your 2 cents....

Dec. 10 2011 11:28 AM

I have to disagree on the student loan perspective held by the writer. It is expected of youth to have a degree to earn a respectable living. It is seen as a necessity within our culture. You MUST go to college to succeed. At least that what was told to me by my parents as well as everyone I went to high school with by their parents. Not having a college degree is equivalent to being born a woman in China where I come from. So, loans are taken out, willingly yes, but with the weight of the world being pushed on the student's shoulders by their elders.

The university then proceeds to teach 2 years of general liberal arts education which is basically just a regurgitation of high school, at the cost of $30,000 a year. Now the student is in $60k debt without gaining anything except a knowledge of binge drinking and prescription drug use. Why would they be eager to relearn everything they just learned? After that realization, the student then has to narrow their education which, no matter what choice they make, the student is ill prepared for due the emphasis on standardized testing throughout their education and complete lack of lateral/critical thinking. After suffering through all of that the student is then released into the world with a degree, $120k debt and nobody to hire them. Companies are downsizing to increase profits, flooding the job market with people much more prepared to take on a job in their field than any fresh graduate. While these companies create higher profits, people suffer, opportunities are denied, and student loans become harder to pay off. While the graduate is looking for a job their interest on their loans drives them further into debt and blemishes their credit rating (again helping deny more opportunities like getting a mortgage). How is it that we pay so much for education, yet are considered behind the international leaders? How is it that my father could pay for his education with a part time job and I could not?

The answer to me is because students are being exploited by an inefficient, misguided, education system. So, needless to say, I have a HUGE problem with student loans, but they are only part of the problem.

Dec. 09 2011 02:03 PM

I don't agree on violence. There is some things I do agree on. Some of those is corporations are greedy. And thanks to Wall Street, and Government, they are getting greedier. I work for a greedy one. I know the drill. The corporation is getting richer, and they are making sure I get poorer. They are making sure nobody shares the corporation's profits, even though the employees help make that profit.

Dec. 08 2011 03:59 PM

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