Following is a note written by a colleague who’s currently doing research in London. The note is his response to his interaction with the Occupy London movement (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement across the Big Pond). He addresses an issue that I think’s pretty important: many of the people who sympathize with the Occupy movements aren’t looking for handouts – all they want is the chance to work for their family, for the chance to make a living on their own. I won’t say any more, because I feel that this note captures the sentiments better than I could.
Today I visited St. Paul’s in London to see the “Occupy London” encampment. While on the steps, I heard an American in a business suit describing the protesters with mockery and scorn, and he said “I am one of the 1 percent. What these people don’t understand is that they need me to give them a job.”
The statement immediately struck me as vulgar, but I couldn’t fully put into words why. It took most of my walk home to fully put my thoughts into a coherent form.
His statement ultimately underlines the fact that he doesn’t understand the protesters.
They don’t want the 1 percent to “give them a job.” They want to earn a job on their own merits, independent of your whims. These are people with university degrees; they are trained engineers, architects, computer programers – jobs that you have shipped over seas so that your own fortune could become a bit larger. Those jobs you have not shipped overseas are now underpaid due to the high applicant pool, again to make your fortune slightly larger. The protesters are people who want to be teachers, social workers, civil servants, conservationists – all state-employed positions you work to destroy so that you can pay a bit less in taxes, once again to make your fortune a bit larger. They aren’t looking for you to “give” them a job, but they do want you to stop destroying public services. They want you to stop exploiting workers. They want you to stop controlling the legislative process.
This isn’t an issue of “class warfare.” They aren’t angry because you’re rich, nor because you own a company, nor even necessarily because you are friends with senators, parliamentarians, and heads of state. The anger stems from the inequalities of the current political and economic system, which allows an extreme minority of the population to have a life-shaping and ultimately detrimental impact upon lives of the rest of the population.
The protests may not have a single coherent message, but don’t write off their complaints as baseless. Just because their goals and motives don’t fit onto a bumper sticker doesn’t mean they don’t have legitimate concerns. In fact, it’s high time we had political movements that aren’t so simplistic that their aims, complaints and general ideology can be fully described on a bumper sticker.
And I’ll just end with a couple of graphs for you to chew on: