Trying on Some Moccasins

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Life, living
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

You know, when the news first came out about the Occupy Wall Street protests and demonstrations, my cynicism kicked in.

There were no clear demands.  I didn’t know what they wanted.  They had lots of complaints, but little to no information on “what should we do about it?”

In the 60’s, the protesters demanded peace.  They wanted the soldiers to exit from Vietnam.  The recent Arab Spring protests were pretty focused too:  they wanted the dictators to step down or die.  The Tiananmen Square protests were all about basic freedoms.  The freedom to speak.  Those protesters died for their efforts.  Now there was a protest I could get behind.

So what the hell were these Occupy Wall Street protests about?  My jaded perception painted the protesters as seasoned agitators, all talking about “The Man”.   Unionists, and rebel groups with too much time on their hand.

Even now, there are lots of news commenters and bloggers, columnists and commenters saying pretty much the same thing.

These guys just want something for nothing.  They don’t want to work for privileges.  They think rich people are evil.  They want a communist state.  They want the government to come in like Robin Hood:  take from the rich and give to the poor.

Still, I’m old enough to know the value of holding my breath until the information is clear.  The only available information was conjecture.  Opinion.

I’m of the firm belief that no PR firm will ever go broke underestimating the willingness of the masses to accept the simplest and most sensational opinion as fact.   The temptation to put on the mantle of xenophobia is compelling for many of us.  It comes from a distrust and fear of change.  We are at our most comfortable when we can point to a group of people and describe them as “them” and us as “us”.  We value clear distinctions.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.

Lest you are left with the impression that I’m preaching here (making me “me” and you “you guys who are doing all this horrid stuff”) I’m not.  I have my own prejudices, some of which are wrong, and a few that I’m working on.

Here’s the thing though.

Upon looking at some of these crowds, I was a little startled to see many middle-aged folk, and some grandparents – out there with signs.  These weren’t hipsters or hippies (and someday, someone can tell me the difference between the two).  They weren’t radicals, looking for a free ride.

I began listening to their stories.  What they had to say made me uncomfortable.  Mostly because I identified too strongly with them.  I’ve been where some of them are right now.  It’s not fun.

One time I found myself out of work, when I had a wife and kids to support.  It was scary.  I quickly found another place to work but for a while there it looked pretty dicey.

We were the recipients of charity.  While we were grateful for the groceries that were brought to our door, I have to tell you: it was pretty humbling.

I grew up relatively poor, too.  Food was scarce, often consisting of meal after meal of peanut butter sandwiches.   We ate lots of macaroni and cheese too, because it was the cheapest item in the grocery store.  The sheriff came close to kicking us out of our house because my dad missed so many mortgage payments.  I remember staying up late nights, back when I was still a young teenager, because of the burden of that worry.

Many of the Wall Street protesters are in that boat right now.  Many have lost their homes and their jobs.  They don’t know what to do.   Jobs aren’t plentiful.  Some are living in cars.   I heard some advice on a TV drama tonight:  “if the time ever comes and you have enough money to either make a mortgage payment or make a car payment,  make the car payment.  Because you can live in a car, but you can’t drive a house.”

For many people, that’s exactly the point.

So we come full circle:  what do the protesters want?

They want things to go back to normal.  They want to work for a living.  They want their dignity back.  They don’t want handouts.

The problem is:  they don’t know how that can happen.  So they rage, helplessly.  They know how things got to be bad.  They know about the sub-prime mortgage nonsense – which really was an elaborate Ponzi scheme.  Their bankers told them the mortgages they were signing for so little down was all legit.  It never occurred to them to question it.   I recall a conversation here in Canada where someone bragged about how good the States had it with housing, and how property could be obtained for almost a song.  America was the land of golden streets and big luxury cars.  I envied their standard of living.

I’m not envying them anymore.  Not on your life.

I think we need to conclude that the Occupy Wall Street protests aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be.  Participants reflect our own demographics.  People for whom we can say “there but for the grace of God, go I.”    The only separating “them” from “us” is the fact that our employer hasn’t yet decided to close up shop just yet.   Some of us are hanging by a thread though.

  1. Shelli says:

    As an American, who IS hanging on by a thread, I want to say thank you for this post! It always makes me smile when I see that someone “gets it”.

    I am the 99%


  2. Why is it that everyone now relies on someone else (i.e., an ’employer’) to provide enough work to make a living? Whatever happened to the notion that each person has not only the right, but ultimately the responsibility to work–and thus make a life–for themselves?

    In other words, shouldn’t ALL protests begin first with a good hard look in a mirror?


    • wolfshades says:

      I can imagine many who are now out of work will do exactly as you say. Quite a few (the majority) have no choice. They have to find a way to make a living. Some will become entrepreneurs because it’s the only thing that’s available to them. Many don’t have the requisite schooling or experience to do anything other than work for someone else. Many don’t have the personal confidence to sell ideas. And many are looking down the barrel of bankruptcy, with wives and kids, and quite frankly don’t know what to do.

      Many – particularly men, whose self-worth is tied up in their ability to bring home the bacon – will commit suicide. Blasé quick-fix notions about supporting themselves have passed them by.

      I also have no doubt – none whatsoever – that most of these folk have looked at themselves in the mirror, probably first, before anything else, asking themselves what’s wrong with them. I don’t pretend to have answers for them, and frankly – I doubt the protesting will do much good. It seems to serve as an emotional outlet. Bankers and investors will go on doing their thing because that’s what they do. Government will continue to want to do something under the assumption that they can (I believe they can’t, and that folk who think the government has much say in the world economy are fooling themselves), but the partisan fights will continue.

      Wish I could say there’s much hope here, but I’m not a fan of lying to myself.


  3. contoveros says:

    You touch my heart with this one, Amigo. I felt the same way until going to a protest site and talking with people there. Initially, I thought it would contain nothing but college kids with too much time on their hands and too little street smarts to connect with the average man and woman. I was wrong, and am glad to see more and more people disregarding some of the negative spin and forming their own opinions based on good old common sense.

    By the way, I could not help but chuckle when I read the following line, wondering if you had gotten a new wife and kids after losing the old ones:

    “One time I found myself out of work, when I had a wife and kids to support. It was scary. I quickly found another one but for a while there it looked pretty dicey.”

    Thanks, Wolf.


    • wolfshades says:

      Interesting how so many of us have the go through the same thought process isn’t it? It makes me wonder about all of the other protests I’ve seen on TV too. Actually it makes me question my own willingness to categorize groups of people so quickly.

      It’s also quite apparent that many people, having adopted similar initial assessments of the protests, have dug in their heels, adamant at holding onto those opinions, however arrived at. I find that fascinating too. I know they won’t be swayed by this particular blog, or a host of others.

      Thanks for noticing the weirdness with the line contoveros! I’ve made the correction. :)


  4. I was skeptical at first, remembering the 60’s & 70’s and how idealistic we were then. But, as I delved into the OWS matter, I came quickly to understanding the current situation cannot be labeled idealism.

    I look around at the jobless situation and wonder how on earth will some of these families survive? It’s not like the recession I lived through in the 70’s. As bad as it seemed, the cuts were not so deep, nor did they leave scars.

    With jobs going to other countries and corporate greed, many are left without hope. I am sad to see the attitudes of the more fortunate who think the answer is for the less fortunate to get a job and quit whining. What part of this whole debacle have they missed to think it is that simple?


    • wolfshades says:

      That simplicity of thought is fairly traditional isn’t it? The willingness to lump a group of people together so that they can be categorized and dismissed comes too easily to many of us I think. It might start off with members of the media presenting their opinions on these issues, but we’re all guilty of buying it at one point or another I think.

      It’s the adamant insistence on the maintaining of the prejudices that intrigue me, even after the facts are known. I wonder if a lot of that involves fear. We all fear the precipice – many of us would rather delude ourselves into thinking it doesn’t exist.

      I was fortunate enough to have a job which entailed interviewing people who had lost their jobs as a result of employers pulling up stakes and moving to other countries. The stories they told pretty much ripped my then-conservative prejudices to shreds. I was interviewing equally-conserviatve men and women who had worked for twenty years or more. People who lost their houses, and their nest eggs. People who still had kids living with them. People who were proud – who disliked seeking help for their situation but were forced to because of the reality of the mess they were in. It was depressing and scary. And it made me so grateful to have a job at the time.

      That experience was renewed when realizing that some of the OWS protesters ware comprised of people with similar stories.


  5. contoveros says:

    Hey Wolf,

    Just read a post about the wolf in comparison to the dog. Check it out. I think you’ll like it:

    michael j


  6. I try to ignore the ‘news’, but I’m pretty sure we had similar here – only they were called ‘Anti-Capitalist Demonstrations’.

    That’s really as much as I needed to know or see. Yeah, so if we protest about people making money they’re bound to put their hands up and say “Damn, you caught us! Here – have some of our wealth! Sorry!”.

    Sometimes I wish I’d gone into banking as a career…. Then I realise that it’s actually a bit of a reward for all the Maths Geeks who nobody liked and probably still don’t. Fk ’em. I don’t agree that the Government should have bailed them out (when they immediately h=gave themselves huge pay bonuses that no doubt could have paid themselves out of trouble), but politicians do whatever they want, so it stands to reason they’d help bankers do the same.

    I’m all for protests and making a difference, but I’m also a jaded realist. I could blame the bankers – I could just as easily blame everyone who’s got children that they can’t afford to pay for without Government hand-outs. I should probably have a rant about it myself…


    • wolfshades says:

      More and more I’m seeing pictures of middle-aged folk and older: people who are typically “sal of the earth” types, rather than radicals who just want handouts. I doubt any of them truly expect the government or business to change….I really think many of them are just at their wit’s end, and don’t know what to do other than rant. Maybe that’s a valid end in itself: just being to enjoy the catharsis of “letting it out”. But somehow I don’t imagine that to be enough either. If you ask them what the answer is, they’ll all respond differently. Some will shrug their shoulders, and say “there is no answer”.

      I understand it, and empathize. But like them, I don’t have any real answers either. Something about the fires of hell and something else about a hand basket comes to mind…..


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