What do a restaurateur, a college student, a mom, a chef and a homeless college dropout have in common? They constitute the 99% that is finally speaking up against the disparity with the other 1%.
This weekend, I decided to put the conflicting media reports on the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement to rest and check out on my own, the San Diego version of the movement.
At 11:00 AM, the crowd was still building up after the previous night’s crackdown by the police. A medium sized poster talking about taking a stance greeted me as I stepped outside of the San Diego civic center.
I scanned the perimeter and decided to sit next to a small group that was engaged in conversation – a full time mom, a college student and a waiter. I asked them what they were protesting against. I expected a clueless look – based on what I had read. But the waiter jumped in rightaway – “The primary issue is that we don’t have a voice. We elect our representatives to Congress, but the Corporations fund their campaign. So while they are in office, they are occupied with obliging the corporations and they totally forget about us.”
I was impressed, but did he have a solution to the problem?
“I can’t tell you how to fix it. All I can tell you is that it can’t go on like this.”
The full-time mom echoed his sentiment – she wanted her voice to be heard and didn’t think the current political system allowed that.
I still had my skeptical hat on – I was sure that I would soon bump into a group of clueless folk. I walked up towards another group engaged in casual conversation. “Our money was used to bail out the large banks and the banks immediately turned upon us with foreclosure notices. Why weren’t we bailed out as well?” I was amazed to see a chef fresh out of culinary school have such a degree of political awareness.
I noticed two small trees in the corner with several notes hanging from the branches. I was told that these were the wish trees with wishes hanging from them. The wishes were wide ranging – from ‘education for all’ to ‘healthcare for all’, to ‘elimination of corporate greed.’
And if I needed a written proof of what the occupants’ demands were, there was a poster just for that. Most of the points were not debatable at all – I was fascinated by the Robin Hood tax and the trickle up theory. It seemed in line with Henry Ford and his implementation of Fordism – high wages for employees so they can buy more goods.
In a couple of hours after several conversations across a disparate group of people, I saw a theme – the political system that was by the people, did not seem to be for the people.
I looked back wondering what may have triggered the frustration. Both institutions – democracy and capitalism had stayed unchanged for several decades – so what had suddenly triggered self-realization within the 99%? It was probably the handing off of huge bonuses to the AIG execs with the bailout money they received. That was not capitalism – that was corporate anarchy
The difference between capitalism and socialism is very simple – the former ties wealth to output – the more you produce, the more money you make.
Socialism believes in equal distribution – no matter how much you produce, the money will be equally divided amongst the populace.
AIG however introduced a new concept – Corporate Anarchy – no matter how much you produce, the execs will still get the wealth – even when they may have driven the organization to bankruptcy. With this structure in place, who really would have the best interest of the company in mind – not the execs for sure. I was suddenly reminded of the Kamani Tubes case in Mumbai (India) from 1989 when a financially sick Kamani Tubes was dramatically turned around after the management of the company was handed over to its employees.
However, the more disappointing element of the protest is not the stance of the big Corporations, but the politicians. The protests in San Diego alone are now entering the 4th week and no elected official has considered it their duty to understand the grievances of their constituents? Is it because they can’t yet figure out if the protestors are Democrats or Republicans? Or is it because, they are still unable to fathom the concept of folks coming together solely on economic grounds?
It is probably the latter. Politicians still don’t seem to have come to terms with the new generation of voters connected through social media. As Tom Brokaw pointed out this Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press – “We have an analog political culture in a digital world.”
So the question is – will this movement eventually lead to the evolution of the current political system into a digital one, where the constituents and their representatives are well connected – a system which promotes transparency and holds the elected representatives accountable for results? It is a possibility, but it is too early to tell. The movement is still in the first stage of group development – forming. Once it moves into the next stage, a more consistent and specific message, along with leadership will begin to emerge. It is possibly this reason that both the politicians and media have ignored it till now. As one of the occupants pointed to me – “We’ve historically voted for Democrats, but now I would like to see a candidate emerge from amongst us, to represent us.” It seems a far-fetched idea now – but the seed sure is getting planted!