Occupy Boston

I promised to post a spiritual meditation on Mondays; and yet it’s not Monday.

I promised myself never to express my political or economic views here; I had a whole separate blog domain set up for that. This was, after all, supposed to be the “nice” blog. I was going to be obnoxious in the other one.

Well folks, it looks like we’re all about to be very disappointed in about another thousand words. The fact that it’s not Monday is only the beginning.

I found myself stranded in downtown Boston yesterday, a victim of suburban train schedules. Apparently no one but me wants to venture past Quincy during mid-day. At any rate, in search of inspiration and as a show of support, I decided to go take a look at Occupy Boston.

Ever since these young people assembled themselves in Boston, I have felt a deep sense of gratitude that they fight on the front lines of a battle where I cannot go. Personal responsibilities keep me home where I must fight for the welfare of the ones I love.  That being said, I’m painfully and well acquainted with the Corporate Financial industry. I have an insider’s view from the bottom, and we all know the first thing you see coming out of someone’s bottom. (A corporation is legally a person, you know.) I’ve seen and felt first hand not just the greed, but the hateful social bigotry, the antiquated misogyny and even latent racism. Believe me, the social havoc corporations have wreaked in the past few years (wait, or is that decades? Centuries? Any historians out there can just chime on in anytime) are as much the symptom of something more sinister are they are the disease.

I am on the protesters’ side. So I was very happy to get a chance to walk down there, show my support, and write later about their efforts.

When I left there, a small part of my heart was broken.

I strolled through the mid-day sun as a slightly nippy breeze blew over my arms. My shoes crunched under the gravel path that separated the multi-colored canvas domes from the stalks of an urban garden.  I took time to read the small hand-painted signs and posters expressing the justifiable frustration with both the private sector and our government.

But where were the impassioned protesters organizing and working for the change we so desperately need? A haggard and stumbling beggar asked me for a quarter in a soft slur. I said I didn’t have one, as did one of the protesters sitting and chatting with his friends. As I walked on, another few disheveled protesters stood around a cluttered food tent chatting next to the filled bin marked “dirty dishes”. Haphazard messages scrawled on scraps of cardboard lay propped on the ground, or duck-taped to tents just below the Coleman logo. A tall, bearded young man walked past with his microwavable meal as if I weren’t there. Another sign on what I thought was a vacant tent gave the group’s email address @MIT.edu.

Finally I came to what must have been the makeshift podium and central information center, with its large erasable board and hand-written multi-colored posters, photocopied photographs (of whom I don’t know) and information. A women’s caucus had been posted. But with sadness I realized, these and other meetings would amount to more than preaching to the choir, followed by hotdogs and tabouli salad.  I emerged from the maze of orange, blue and grey tents with a very disheartening thought: this is not going to work.  

When it comes to Corporate America, we are choking at the hand of a monster we cannot live without. Corporate America knows it, our government knows it, and we have to admit it. Our nation itself was built on the premise of economically exploiting someone – many someones – for economic growth. I’m sure somewhere there are more than a few Native Americans who define their Reservations as the land invading Europeans agreed not to steal. Those Coleman tents and prepackaged foods and warm clothes are affordable to those protesters only because someone somewhere made something for ten hours a day for very little money. There are studies on how much things would really cost, and how middle-class couldn’t afford them, if everyone made a fair wage.  And somewhere someone down the line had to provide a job – even a well-paying one – to pay tuition for an institution like MIT. And that employer could not stay afloat without the help of banks. Yes, those banks. Evil little scourges though they may be, they are for the time being necessary evil little scourges. Because I like having warm clothes, I’m sure you like having affordable food, and those tents, that camping gear, the disposable lasagna pans, durable storage bins, well, they came from large corporations who funded their enterprises from banks.

As noble as I find Occupy Boston’s cause, and I do, I’m afraid its mission is futile for many reasons. And I am afraid it is being so well tolerated in Boston because some of us older and wiser realize that these young people, as well meaning as they are, pose no real threat to our economic infrastructure. Protest is important: we need to call for change. An insular group meeting amongst itself to discuss its objections isn’t fighting for a change. The call for a change is important; it’s a great first step. But then we need to fight for it. And I’m afraid that a small group of huddled tents with hand-painted signs on scraps of cardboard isn’t going to generate change. It’s a call to arms, but now let’s pick ourselves up and fight and fight to win.

Go back to school kids and dig your heels in for the long haul; don’t just make the call to battle, but start training and arming yourselves for revolution you want. It took us centuries to get into this mess; it’s going to take a while to dig ourselves out. We need economists who understand the economics and dynamics of poverty and exploitation, who aren’t blinded by their own limited experiences of elitist privilege. We need corporate leaders who can temper their love of success with a sense of social duty and responsibility, and a commitment to fairness and justice.[1] We need politicians whose ambitions are aimed at public service, not just private entitlement and self-aggrandizement. We need bloggers willing to write the not-very-sweet stuff knowing if family and prospective employers ever found out her life would make the Hollywood Blacklisting look like a frat hazing. We need as many votes for Elizabeth Warren as we can possibly get.

I believe there is a class war going on, and I’m not afraid of that phrase. I don’t think you can attack the economic well-being of thousands, almost mortally wound a national economy with repercussions across the globe, put people homeless and destitute out of mere greed and not call that a hostile attack, however much you tell yourself that’s not what you meant.  If anyone outside our borders had done that to our economy, we would call it war. But the time to sound the trumpet is over. The time become involved to defend ourselves and win is now.




[1] On that note, some scientists to clone Warren Buffet a few hundred times would improve our odds. Yes, I have a crush.