Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Welcome to the Occupation

Last Thursday I went to lunch and found myself amidst the protesters who'd assembled in downtown for the "Occupy Los Angeles" event. I didn't realize that was happening before I left the office, but as soon as I noticed the presence of security personnel outside each of the nearby buildings I put together what was happening before I actually saw the protesters.

By the time I was walking back from lunch they'd pretty well taken over a good portion of the Bunker Hill part of downtown, streaming across streets and marching in front of the entrances to buildings with the large letters spelling out "Wells Fargo" and "Bank of America" at the top. They carried signs and chanted "Make banks pay!" as they marched. I don't know how many there were but it was easily hundreds just from what I could see.

The buildings went into a sort of lockdown prior to the arrival of the protesters, in some cases barricading their entrances with security, and only allowing those with proper employee IDs to go in. By and large the protesters seemed unthreatening (at no point was I worried when I was walking somewhat near them); the closest to any modicum of vandalism I saw: a few of them at the start did wrap some sort of "caution" tape around the handles to the outside doors of the B of A branch in the building named for that bank (undoubtedly those doors had been locked from the inside prior to those protesters arrival).

By the time I returned to work I saw the media assembling, with hovering helicopters overhead. I had no interest in sticking around—that's not a comment on the protest; I simply have way too many projects right now.


The thing about all of this: Although I do find myself generally empathetic toward the sentiment of the protest, and take no pleasure in knowing that irresponsible greed on Wall Street had to be rescued by my tax dollars, I must admit that watching the protesters I wasn't particularly moved; I observed with a certain ambivalent fascination of the spectacle. I'm not saying that's in any way laudable, but if I'm being honest that's all it was. In theory I grasp the power of the people uniting against injustice is more or less the story of how our country started—even though I'm pretty sure it was that a bunch of rich guys didn't want to give so much of their wealth to the British crown. (In a way, Wall Street was carrying on the underlying origins of our nation, despicable as it was.)

Do I think that the institutions that got bailed out two years ago should have to pay back the American taxpayer? Absolutely. Do I think there's a chance in hell they'd do that without merely getting their customers—many of whom presumably are those same taxpayers—to foot the bill? No.

So, I have no idea what any sort of solution is.

Have everyone pull their money out of the banks? As much of a message as that would send, that would bring about more chaos than the system could handle.

Conceivably the only way to address the situation would be: time travel back a few years and somehow convince these institutions not to be so greedy (and I suspect perfecting time travel would be the easier of those two steps to achieve).

If the American public could to be convinced that carrying so much debt that they cannot possibly afford is a bad idea that might stem their part of what brought on the previous economic collapse, but it would be unlikely to ever raise their standard of living again. Can we be shaken from the delusion that everything has to keep getting better—and more important, to be okay with that?

I suppose what I'm admitting is that when it comes to the power of the people united to stop injustice I grasp in many cases it's at best a cathartic gesture; any lingering idealism cannot best my pragmatic cynicism.

But we can all make individual choices to be more realistic about our money, and little by little that may amount to something.


If the protests convince the politicians who can do something (assuming those aren't merely theoretical) to do something that's more than lip service it will prove worthwhile. And when that doesn't happen…

If the occupiers can get themselves organized into a group with the same sort of clout that the Tea Party garnered then that would be a tangible result. (How they expect to get there without any wackjobs in their midst comparing anyone to Hitler during these protests is beyond me, however.)

But hey, if all that comes of this is the folks involved vent some steam, I suppose that's not completely a waste.


Anyway, for those who have strong feelings (one way or another), there's the comments field below...

1 comment:

  1. Most of the protesters I've seen on TV have no idea what they want. They're just protesting because they have nothing else to do. Some of the protesters are even illegal aliens who barely speak English, being paid by the protest organizers to carry signs. Talk about astroturf. "99 percent"? I think they mean "99 percent useless."


So, what do you think?