After more than a month of demonstrations that have cost millions, deflected local governments from vital matters, inconvenienced and clogged cities across the country, invigorated anarchists, communists, fascists, free-loaders and loonies, suckered desperate Democrats into declaring common cause with a mob, and exposed the worst of Left-wing punditry as the embarrassing demagoguery society that it is…and after well-intentioned demonstrators have been robbed, arrested, and injured…the Occupy” movement finally is finally ready to declare what it wants.
It’s about time. Large-scale demonstrations to express “frustration” are the advocacy equivalent of humming, or maybe belching: speak clearly, or get off the street. On October 9, Ethics Alarms described the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, in the context of pointing out the friendly mainstream media embrace of a left-ish, anti-capitalist mob in contrast to its open contempt for the peaceful, focused and conservative Tea Party, as “incoherently chanting anarchists, radicals and unemployed youths…advocating nothing constructive whatsoever.” Many of the site’s distinguished readers objected to that characterization, with one, blogger Jeff Field, promising to produce an articulation of what the protest really wants to accomplish. Today he fulfilled that promise by sending me a statement by an “Occupy” supporting group, with his introduction, “This is what we want.” I am genuinely grateful to Jeff…especially since it shows that I was correct in my assessment, however harsh.
To begin with, it is telling and ominous that the simple task of finding out what the “Occupy” demonstrators want would take three weeks. It is also revealing that while this particular version is being presented as representative, it doesn’t come from the demonstrators at all, but from a simpatico organization, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. That means, of course, that the statement doesn’t speak for the movement, but like all of its so-called “supporters,” including Barack Obama, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Al Sharpton and the Communist Party, it is using the very blobbiness of the effort to read what it wants to into its Rorschach vagueness. No one speaks for the movement, which is, essentially, a dodge. If nobody speaks for the movement, the movement has no accountability, and can be all things to all people—all people, that is, who want to command attention without meeting the ethical requirement to use that attention responsibly.
But never mind: some articulation of purpose is better than nothing. Here is the statement, which is in the form of an “open letter”:
“I stand with people around the country and the world who are calling for economic justice.
“My values affirm that each person has inherent worth and dignity; that justice, equity, and compassion should be the guiding principles for human relationships; and that all people deserve access to the democratic process.
“My recognition of the inherent worth of every person compels me to speak out against policies that privilege the demands of corporations over the human rights of people. I support the Occupy movement in its affirmation that protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that basic human needs are met must take precedence. All people have a fundamental right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families.
“I also join the Occupy movement in decrying the wealth disparity that leaves millions struggling for economic security. Policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to a government that recognizes and promotes basic economic rights. Justice, equity, and compassion should be foremost in our government’s decision making.
“Economic oppression is not only a violation of fundamental human rights, it is also a blow to democracy. When economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few and when corporations are awarded the same status as actual human beings, the democratic process is fundamentally compromised. Basic fairness requires that all people have equal opportunity to participate in political debate and to be represented in government.
“I envision a powerful and radically inclusive movement for economic justice. I recognize economic justice as a right that is due to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, immigration status, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status or distinction.
“I sign this letter as an expression of gratitude to all who are working for economic justice in the United States and around the world, as an affirmation of my hope for fair and compassionate economic reforms, and as a renewal of my commitment to help make it so.”
That it would take three weeks to produce this dog’s breakfast of moldy clichés, buzz words, generalities and ambiguity is, in a word, sad; in two, an outrage. The description could be used to describe every counter-capitalist, socialist, communist, anarchist, or radical interest group’s manifesto ever launched, and has. It is almost completely devoid of specifics, because specifics can be measured, judged and found lacking; platitudes, on the other hand, are unassailable. Among the words and phrases subject to infinite and diametrically opposite interpretations are economic justice…inherent worth…dignity …justice…equity…compassion…access to the democratic process…human rights…workers’ rights…basic human needs…precedence…fundamental right…standard of living…well-being … economic marginalization …morally unacceptable…economic oppression..basic fairness.
Let’s take fairness. I might believe that fairness means that people should get to keep as much of the money that they earn with their talents and hard work as possible. I think that people who work hard, obey the laws, and live ethically and responsibly shouldn’t have to involuntarily sacrifice so that those who do none of those things (or not enough of them) don’t have to suffer the consequences of their own character deficiencies and poor choices. I think it means that when parents work and save for their entire lives so that they can pass their estate on to their children, and help them advance in life with advantages the parents never had, that estate shouldn’t be confiscated by the government to give to the children of parents who saved nothing. I believe that fair means that a family that has only two children because that is all it can afford would not have to give money that they earn to care for those children to single mothers who have six children by different fathers, and only a low-paying job to support them.
I might reasonably think that when Lindsay Lohan, having been given beauty, talent, a high-paying career and more chances in the legal system than I would have believed possible, finds herself in debt, her beauty and youth lost, without income or a home as the direct result of her own foolishness and arrogance, Americans who have worked hard all the time that she was snorting her future up her nose should not be forced to come to her rescue as an act of “social justice.” You may disagree. It is still a reasonable definition.
And that’s just “fair.” Similar arguments can be mounted regarding any of those words and phrases, which means that the statement, soaring and inspiring though it is, means nothing. It cannot generate legislation or reform; it cannot even support a coherent debate. It is intellectually lazy and not worthy of respect. It is, like the entire “Occupy” effort, a waste of time.
America has problems. It needs bold and thoughtful measures, devised by wise, objective, and serious people who know what they were talking about.* This parade of generalities doesn’t help, and for Occupy Wall Street to have produced nothing more constructive with all of its anger and indignation represents a rank failure of diligence, competence and responsibility.
I do not blame the sincere and intelligent Ethics Alarms reader who settled on this statement after three weeks; it’s not his fault that there is nothing better. Still, the key issue is fairness, and it is blindingly fair for a protest that has taken up this much time and attention to produce this little in substance and coherent recommendations to be rejected and ignored.
*Fox News has been showing video of a Wall Street CEO debating angry demonstrators on the street, trying to get an answer to the simple question, “What do you want?” One of them can be heard saying, “I want you to pay as much in taxes as I do!” Of course, the executive probably pays more in taxes than all the demonstrators confronting him, combined. This is the level of comprehension at the center of the “movement.”)