The Internet-driven protest that has brought legions of the oppressed and their iPhones to the streets of New York’s financial district is beginning to make waves. Many of these people suffered terribly when the financial crisis modestly dented their trust funds. Now they insist that some sort of thing of an as-yet-undetermined nature must perhaps be done about it. Or not. They haven’t worked out all the details yet.
The complaints coming from the streets of Lower Manhattan about Wall Street fat cats, Republicans, and the financial bailout sound familiar enough to inspire some confusion, or even envy. To clarify, the Occupy Wall Street protest has no connection to the Tea Party Movement even though the slogans are pretty much the same. Both say they want to ‘take our country back’ and neither of them make much sense. Both groups hate everything about Global Capitalism, though the Tea Partiers don’t seem to know it. There are, however, some clues that can help you tell them apart.
Tea Party rallies use country music. Occupy Wall Street uses the same music but they call it ‘folk.’ Tea Partiers pray while OWS’ers meditate. Both will spin outlandish stories about secret conspiracies that undermine democracy. They both complain endlessly about bankers, politicians, the financial bailout, and rapacious ‘fat cats’ of all varieties. But, OWS’ers seldom dress up as Ben Franklin and are much more tolerant of nudity. Tea Partiers on the other hand are 94.3% more likely than OWS’ers to protest runaway government debt from the swivel-seat of a Medicare-funded scooter.
Missing from the streets is a forceful, rational movement that represents the interests of ordinary Americans. The Tea Party is too close to the left in its tactics, tone, paranoia, and lack of broad public support to act as an effective counterweight. All things converge at the extremes. Maybe we need to show the world what an authentically conservative protest would look like.
It’s time to Occupy Berkeley.
We would begin by setting up cubicles wired with phone and Internet service. Unlike other protestors we have to continue get our jobs done. A phony doctor’s note won’t get us off the hook. We’d collect our own garbage to keep the workspace tidy and decorate our cubicles with adorable knick-knacks and photos.
The revolutionary symbolism of our ‘work-in’ would halt all bicycle traffic on Telegraph Avenue, creating a spoke-twisting snarl that would force the establishment to acknowledge our oppression. But there would be free donuts and casual dress on Fridays. Our work-in would express the goal we hold so dear (and too many still live without) – a meaningful job.
What would we demand from our oppressors? If you still think protests need demands then you obviously don’t get it.
Having a narrative is so ‘90’s. We would engage in a conversation to raise our collective consciousness on a time frame of our choosing. It wouldn’t have to end, at least not until it’s time to go visit the in-laws for the holidays.
Our movement would organize a mass resume jam, awarding prizes for the most artistic recasting of the phrase “great people skills.” In the evenings we’d grill delicious farm animals over charcoal and share our tofu-free bounty with all who pass by. We’ll play games that have actual winners and losers. For artistic enlightenment we might compose haikus celebrating the miracle of compound interest.
We would set up big screen TV’s and watch college football. We could stage a mass, revolutionary ‘bathe-in’ where we shave off the metaphorical shackles of our scragglyness and clean ourselves so that we don’t smell like the animals we eat. And then we would go to bed at a reasonable time so as to be ready for productive work the next day.
It would be like Burning Man, but solely with prescription drugs.
Obviously, the kind of people who hold these values lack the free time required for mass political theater. Real conservative ‘political expression’ happens every day, away from the cameras, as we struggle support our families and our communities.
And our influence matters. No Wall Street tycoon, no matter how greedy, rich, or devious, gets more than one vote. That’s why the great American middle continues to hold so much power. The media-hungry characters on both extremes who take to the streets for attention most often do it because they lack the political appeal to match their noise.
Despite how frustrated we feel, it’s the shape of our day-to-day choices that decides what becomes of this country. We can be counted on to keep America functioning while the neo-hippies sleep outside and paint each other’s faces.
We work or look for work, not just for the buying power we earn, but for the vital sense of satisfaction and accomplishment it brings. We start businesses and hire people. We weigh issues and vote. We volunteer at our schools, our churches, our community centers, and our food banks. We struggle every day to make a better life for ourselves and for those around us, regardless what happens in our politics.
That’s the shape of our protest. The streets belong to someone else. They’re welcome to it so as long as can still get past them on our way to work.