I should be a huge, unquestioning advocate of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In the autumn of 2009, my career abruptly came to an end when my company, about to wrap up yet another unprecedentedly successful quarter, announced that it was going to ax my entire department for reasons unknown. A regional manager promised my coworkers and I that he would do everything possible to find us other positions within the company. This never happened. Six weeks later, all but four of us were out on the street.
And with that, seven years of my life was gone in a flash. Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that the average American worker will change jobs up to seven times over the course of his or her adulthood. Regardless, I naively believed that I’d be sucking from the teats of my company until retirement and that no matter how dull my daily drudgery became it would all be worth it when I retired in my early 50s.
All of this happened in Portland, OR., a city that has ranked among the most difficult in the United States to land a gig since the early 2000s. I spent a few fruitless months searching for a job. I tossed in the towel after receiving a single phone interview. With nowhere else to go, I opted to return to school for a second degree and, 16 months later, I made the bittersweet decision to relocate overseas.
So, yeah, I’m still bitter about the whole thing, especially as I read stories about my former employer exploiting tax loopholes as its CEO misuses resources and executive privilege to blast off to Martha’s Vineyard on a corporate jet whenever the mood strikes. Then, when I heard that a group of frustrated Americans had rallied together to face down the goons that had pulled off the “Too Big to Fail” boondoggle on Wall Street, I applauded their efforts. The cynic in me assumed their efforts would prove fruitless but, at least, they weren’t licking their collective wounds in studio apartments and foreclosed houses. They had quickly twisted the country’s ear.
Even better: smaller Occupy movements soon began popping up all over the country and all over the world. Together, thousands were shouting “enough!” Enough to the ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor, the rampant corporate greed and the lay-offs that had ransacked both the United States and points abroad. Then headlines like this started rolling in. Somewhere along the way, the message of these protesters had become muddled. Others pondered if they’d had ever manage to convey a coherent message in the first place.
Anarchists, cop-haters and racists had poisoned the waters of a movement with the noblest of intentions. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog even rolled down to Zuccotti Park to recently “poop” on both demonstrators and bankers alike. Meanwhile, back home in Portland, the Occupiers there are thinking about actually leasing a few floors of office space so they won’t get cold this winter. Who can blame them but at what point does an epic, months-long protest turn into a group of wannabe political lobbyists hanging around a water cooler?
Granted, the situation these demonstrators are up against is infinitely more complicated than the ones faced by similar movements in the past. The Civil Rights protests of the ’60s had clear goals with clear solutions. The same with the anti-Vietnam War rallies. The Occupiers…not so much. It’s easy to cry out for an end to economic disparity, behind-the-scenes political manipulations and other malevolence but these are all things that have dogged societies, great and small, since the dawn of civilization.
So, yeah, good luck with all of that, protesters. The socio-political monsters you’re facing are beyond all of you. They make that giant fire monster/thing Gandalf the Grey faced down in The Fellowship of the Ring look like a pissy Chihuahua with irritable bowel syndrome. If you didn’t know already, the robber barons of Wall Street, the CEOs of banks big and small, and the powers-that-be don’t care about you and they never will. Collectively, they’re like a big, dumb, rabid dog and they’re going to do what big, dumb, rabid dogs do: tear apart anything and everything that crosses their path. They’re like the Terminator or “The Nothing” in The Neverending Story. They have no morals. You can’t reason with them. They consume and they destroy. Period.
So what’s changed in the last ten years? Companies have always been single-minded, greedy and eager to get away with everything they can. Was it the rise of off-shoring? The impact of technology, which makes more and more employees obsolete with each passing day? The government deregulations that began in the Reagan-era? All that “trickle down” nonsense? How did things get this bad?
While walking through the encampment at Occupy Amsterdam on Monday, the faces I saw resembled entrenched troops in an old war movie. They looked haggard but determined and I couldn’t help but wonder why all these Dutch people are so heavily invested in concerns that have yet to fully impact the Netherlands. That said, recent news that ING, a large bank over here, is about to lay off 2700 workers in the middle of a period of record-breaking profits is enough to make even the Dutch, a nationality that has become synonymous with political lethargy, take to the streets.
I fear for the Republic. I’m obviously not an economist but what I’m picking up on my crystal ball isn’t a bright, shiny, happy forecast for the future. Let me break out another cheesy, pop-cultural analogy here: it’s going to take a hell of a lot of Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future to get the people who actually run things in the United States to change their wicked ways.
So that’s my solution to the woes of America: ghosts. Lots of ’em, sneaking into the bedrooms of America’s elites on Christmas Eve to guilt-trip them all into pulling their punches and taking it easier on the 99%.
Rattle them chains, guys! Rattle ’em loud!