An Afterthought No More – How the Occupy Movement Can Become Politically Effective


Just after arriving at Union Station this afternoon, on a return trip from San Diego, I was driving through downtown Los Angeles. My parents, younger brother and I sped away from the train stop. Past Disney Hall. Past the Colburn Music School. Past Olvera Street. Then past City Hall ––

“Wait, what is that?” my brother asks.

The polychrome slew of grimy tents, crumpled signs, and piled sleeping bags is Occupy LA.

“They’re still there?” he asks.

Indeed, they’re still there, but my brother’s response is indicative of a pervasive, perhaps nationwide impression of the movement: Occupy isn’t so much a wakeup call anymore as it is a nuisance – or, at best, an afterthought. It hasn’t been three months, but the Occupy movement is slowly emerging a footnote on history, a “remember when…” for old friends reminiscing on incidents they’d thought each other had forgotten.

Its causes are hardly an afterthought. Almost a tenth of Americans remain without work – thus, without an income. Even more have become impoverished. Income and wealth disparity hasn’t disappeared. The sundry and eclectic issues that the Occupy movement calls attention to haven’t diminished. Protesters have endured evictions, condemnations, and a good deal of mace, but the movement is dwindling in the public eye.

Why is it dwindling? The movement has yet to attain any sort of conscious or meaningful focus. Its powers of organization barely extend beyond the microcosms of protesters’ individual urban settlements and 130-character Twitter messages.

The following is a proposal: a means of transforming the Occupiers from seemingly parasitic complainers into a cohesive and effective mechanism of policy change. Mine is far from an original concept; only a reiteration of a tried and proven process. It could, perhaps, create real, large scale, lasting change.

Most are familiar with the Occupy movement, but few know about the beckon-call that triggered it. Adbusters is Canadian advocacy group that portrays and publicizes its undertakings through graphic art. In September, the Adbusters blog published a piece of art – emblazoned with a black-and-white image of a dancer atop Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture – that implored its readers to “Occupy Wall Street” on September 17th. The call was picked up by several other online groups, and a few days later a cluster of mostly twenty-somethings organized, found its way to Zuccotti Park, and “occupied” it.

“Occupy” protests have, of course, swept the nation and the world in the same vein. That original art piece – that call to “occupy” – pervaded indirectly from the homepage of a blog to the humid streets of Greece, the withered plains of Texas – even the manicured lawns of the campuses of some of the nation’s most selective universities. The movement is a feat of human spontaneity and an illustration of a deep and resonant yearning for equity.

To ensure the clout and efficacy of the Occupy movement, a new call must be issued: a time to convene. A national convention – an assembly – of all who dub themselves “Occupiers” is a organizational necessity. Under the same laws and procedures that currently govern the urban settlements, convention participants should put forward proposals that can comprise a platform. The convention should vote on the issues, and those that win by a majority should be added to the Occupy platform.

It may take hours – even days or weeks – but the result will be invaluable and constructive toward the future of the movement at the issues on which it has grown: an effective, explicitly defined political platform.

From a platform – as we have learned from the Democratic party, the GOP, the woman’s suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, and even the Tea Party – come candidates, policies, political action committees, and palpable, thorough change. As results of the above mentioned assemblies and solidified platforms, women now share equal electoral influence with men, black Americans study in the same school libraries as white Americans, a pre-existing condition can’t bar you from health insurance, and that precise health insurance law is under tremendous judicial scrutiny.

“They’re still there?” my brother asks. We’re still here, will answer the representatives of the movement who are running against governors, assemblymen, presidents, offering legislation aimed at building infrastructure, creating jobs, and reforming trade and big business. We’re still here, will answer a country bereft of a nauseating financial disparity. We’re still here, will answer the ninety-nine percent.

The Irony of Framing the Debate – How Extremism Puts Things into Perspective


This piece won’t be as long as usual; it’s just a thought I had.

In the wake of recent debates and campaign stops, it has quickly become clear that the Republican presidential field generally errs on the side of political and religious extremism, or at least make statements that rely on acute (and often blind) chauvinism. Those of us who listen closely – even those of us who don’t – have watched as candidate after candidate vies for the hearts of the GOP base.

Rick Perry, in a blend of visible one-eighties and glaring political opportunism, has stated his belief that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme and “a monstrous lie,” and has set out to eliminate it. Michele Bachmann has mixed church with her stately undertakings, and has even called into question whether or not this country needs a Department of Education – it is, perhaps, too rooted in centralized government to work, she claims. Newt Gingrich has promised to repeal the healthcare bill that has already insured upwards of thirty thousand previously unqualified Americans. Mitt Romney has vowed to cut federal spending and cut taxes drastically, for all segments of the population, which would put at risk our economy’s growth. Rick Santorum’s “social” policies are simply a mandate for prejudice. The field is chock-full of radicalism.

We’re being inundated with anxious, daunting flashes of “what would Rick Perry do on his first day?” and “could Michele Bachmann really get elected?” “President Gingrich,” we think, shuddering, or “President Romney.”

Watching the GOP debates helps me put things in perspective. Because, after all: how relieving does “President McCain” sound right about now?

The Politics of Being a Camp Counselor – Why There’s No Such Thing as a One-Sided Deal


For the past nine weeks, I haven’t posted on Truth Be Told because I’ve been working as a counselor at a prominent Jewish sleep away camp in Southern California.

In the coming days, I will dive into what I’ve missed – Washington’s über-political debt machinations and the rampant corruption that plagues the business world. But before I comment on those, I’d like to offer a simple (and what, to me, is a meaningful) reflection on a universally applicable lesson I derived from being an educator in a place that has given me the ultimate education.

This summer, I spent my days leading services, clearing tables, planning overnight trips, teaching songs – the works. I was constantly engaged and always busy with campers in a plethora of different settings. But one afternoon stands out in my memory.

On this particular afternoon, I trudged up a hilly knoll and found myself in the bunk area, where the younger campers live. The day was rolling at its normative brisk pace – everything moved and nothing stood still. Ecstatic pairs of feet paced back and forth, from lawn to lawn, as frisbees flew and the leaves of a thick oak tree cast an ephemeral shadow on the grass.

“Ami!” The comfortable commotion briefly stopped. I looked up – past the trees, past the frisbees – at another counselor’s sweaty, exasperated face. “Ami,” – he was almost panting – “What do I do?” He launched into an exhaustive tirade about a twelve year old named Michael who hadn’t showered in days.

Michael just didn’t want to take a shower. That was it; he simply wasn’t into it. Being wet made him uncomfortable. Water wasn’t his thing.

Michael’s pathological aversion to showering made the bunk’s slated “shower time” a difficult hour for his counselors. On this day in particular, Michael had decided to up the ante; he would not shower, no matter the cost.

When the counselor rushed me into his bunk, the scene was a strange one.

Michael had thrown himself onto the slimy tile floor of the bathroom and, like an iron pretzel, had artfully attached his arms and legs to a pipe that held up the sink. His body wound itself over the floor in a way that only a twelve year old’s can. Tears streamed down his face as he begged, glued to the sink, for some solace. He had remained there – a staunchly seated pretzel – for about an hour.

It often seems that the walls of our lives are plastered with notions of stubbornness. In our internal lexicons, “headstrong” is synonymous with “angering,” “irrational,” or “unreasonable.” Time and again, we see the intentions of those with whom we disagree as groundless and unfounded. We perceive the manifestation of their frustrations as a personal effrontery upon ourselves.

Michael’s unbending will was no different. We – those who strove to help him – were blinded by the irritations he projected onto us.

We were all frustrated. Why wouldn’t this kid just move? Why did he have to be so difficult all the time? I scanned the scene again: a group of tall, mature young adults standing above a terrified and uncomfortable child, boldly and loudly insisting that he do something that made him cringe. The problem was evident; there had to be another way. Hesitantly, I situated myself on the slippery floor, latched myself onto the sink, and looked at Michael.

“I don’t like taking showers, either. They don’t feel good on my body.”

Michael looked up at me.

“You know what does feel good, though?”

“What?”

“Being clean. Doesn’t that feel good?”

Michael couldn’t help but agree. I told him that I was going to wash my face and that he could join me. Slowly, Michael stood up. We lathered up our hands in warm water and gently doused our faces in soap.

“Didn’t that feel good?”

“Yep.”

“Being clean is cool, huh?”

“Yeah, it is.”

Then we made a deal: to be able to feel clean – but to not feel too uncomfortable – Michael would take a brief hundred and twenty-second shower. Miraculously, he agreed.

I realize, now, that I have been trying to quash others’ stubbornness for years. We all have. We look for ways to out-Machiavelli those who irk us – in school, in work, and in our most significant relationships. People spend decades studying and researching ways to master human interaction (the kind that are laced with inflexibility) and come out “on top.” In the end, though, it doesn’t take a doctoral degree to grasp the key to understanding another’s intentions.

What does he think he needs right now? Is she feeling some sort of external pressure that has led her here? Just as people don’t ball up on the floor of a dirty bathroom without reason, so too don’t people decide to vote against a bill, sell stock, or cast a vote groundlessly. Dealing in politics is often no different from dealing with a small child’s pathological fears. After we have clarified our own beliefs and expectations, to make any sort of deal or come to any relevant consensus, we have to be on their level, see through their eyes, and establish a solution suitable and sensitive to their needs and desires – no matter how silly or outlandish.

For years, I’ve been taking glimpses into the political world – a place of unwavering inflexibility and an abiding accusatory nature. I’ve taken glimpses into the finance and commerce world – a place of duplicitous intentions and ever competing calculations.

But this summer, I finally got it: their tactics are impotent, as long as you start at their level. And all it took was a glimpse into the world of a very clean twelve-year-old named Michael.

Back to the Basics – What Boehner is Forgetting at the Negotiating Table


In Washington, a temporary budget has been agreed upon, but the debate is really just beginning. No matter what happens at the negotiating table in the weeks and months to come, conservative rhetoric – “cuts, cuts, cuts” – will not cease; because they just don’t get it. A middle school teacher of mine put it simply: you’ve got to spend money to make money.

John Boehner and his cronies missed a critical lesson in their college Econ classes: the one in which the professor taught the ABCs of basic fiscal policy. Just as you can’t start a business without buying the capital necessary for it to thrive, Boehner can’t expect to reinvigorate the largest economy in the world without a willingness to invest in the programs and resources that will lead it to flourish down the road. The Speaker is wrong because the spending cuts he’s demanding – to the degree at which he hopes to pass them – will fail to fish the American economy out of the deep and opaque waters of recession.

When a country has plummeted into massive, debilitating debt – say, hypothetically, our country – it is reasonable to view deficit spending as a puzzling choice. But now, as Washington’s politicians become desperate and some of the United States’ most critical social programs hang in the balance, this is a question finding the lesser of two evils.

Expansionary fiscal policy pumps money into the public’s reserves. And as the government spends more, employment in domestic industries rises – and so does the productivity of those industries. Investment becomes cheaper and more people are opting into business deals. You can’t knit a blanket without the yarn, you can’t write a paper without doing the research, and you can’t grow an economy without capital investment.

There’s a name for John Boehner’s approach to the budget negotiations. Severe and tangible budget cuts are hallmarks of a contractionary fiscal policy – which is used to shrink the economy when it is being overproductive or when it begins to run the risk of creating dangerous bubbles. And in a country whose populace has a profound fear of the implications of China’s ever accelerating rise, that type of policy is far from appropriate.

The people who get the Republicans elected year in and year out – trade moguls, successful business owners, bigwig executives – have built their careers through financial investment. If the Koch brothers (or their like) treated the country as their business, they would advise their representatives to seek investment for future growth, not slice and dice the federal budget until it’s spread so thin that nothing substantive can be built upon it. It is in the interest of American industry – and the American employment rate – to continue to expand the economy.

When Republicans stand up in town meetings, or on the floor of the House and Senate and wag their fingers at the big, bad, hasty Democrats, they’re simply using scare tactics. The claim that (in a recession or deficit) all spending is disadvantageous is an infantile one. Spending cuts can be helpful in eliminating waste, but it isn’t wasteful to underwrite the American future. If we want lasting positive economic change – if we want to make money – then we’ve gotta spend money.

When the Numbers Don’t Add Up – Why Man Shouldn’t Decide Woman’s Fate


Yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 240-185 to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, “The time has come to respect the wishes of the majority of Americans who adamantly oppose using taxpayer dollars for abortions.”

Men have unwaveringly set history’s political agenda. In too many places, for too many years, on too many separate occasions, man’s superiority complex has superseded woman’s unshakable humility. Of course, there are exceptions. But in the grand scheme of things, men have suppressed or out-shouted the female voice.

In Biblical times, men set the rules. In literature, male authors set the scene. In the workforce, men set (and collected) the salaries. But a woman’s job in America shouldn’t be – and isn’t – to stand by and set the table; it’s to set the agenda.

Since Cantor brought up the topic, let’s discuss majorities. At the risk of detracting from the essence of the argument, I won’t even take into account outside social, religious, or political arguments. Simply consider the following.

Women make up the majority of this country, and men make up eighty-two percent of congressional representation. The majority of women who opt to abort their pregnancies are black and Hispanic, and eighty five percent of congress is white. The majority of women who choose abortions are are in their twenties and thirties, and the average age of a senator is sixty, and that of a congressman is fifty. The majority of women who choose abortions make low incomes and cannot afford the economic burden of another child, and the current salary of an average member of congress is $174,000 a year – out of the pockets of Mr. Cantor’s oh-so-coveted taxpayers. (Cantor himself nets a whopping $193,400 annually.)

Sound like a crowd who should be markedly narrowing women’s options,  deciding women’s fates, or determining the extent of women’s rights?

For a gang whose principle goal is to take issue with government involvement in the personal lives of ordinary citizens, these people are wading into dangerous waters. ‘Pro-Life’ politicians like Eric Cantor and Mike Pence drip with the kind of sanctimonious hypocrisy that is otherwise reserved for quixotic Disney villains.

Every woman in the world – and certainly in the freest nation on earth – has the God-given right to decide the fate of her own body, look out for the welfare of her own family, and make decisions that are influenced and exercised by her own free will. The decision simply does not belong to the Republican leadership – or any political party, for that matter. In actions like the one taken on the House floor yesterday, these men verge on territory that simply doesn’t belong to them – territory that belongs to the individual woman. And no one else.

An Electorate on Edge – The Role of Patience in the Healthcare Debate


I drove to a coffee shop earlier today in an attempt to seclude myself from the minute-to-minute shuffle that accompanies the process of moving houses (that my family is currently wrapped up in). I had pages and pages of history notes to sift through — so I just needed a place where I could clear my head and forge forward.

A few minutes after I’d sat down at a table and started looking though my notes, I realized that I’d forgotten to retrieve one last bit of information on the North’s Civil War strategy. So I opened up my laptop, dragged my cursor down to the blue ‘Safari’ icon, and waited as the tiny clock-like pinwheel on the URL bar twirled and twirled.

But I quickly became impatient and within seconds found myself wearing out my index finger by tapping incessantly on my keyboard’s ‘enter’ key. I couldn’t stand the seven-second wait for my browser to load. I needed immediate gratification at the risk of my own sanity.

And then I had one of those ‘a-ha’ moments (the ones that used to be depicted in old Tom and Jerry reruns when a giant lightbulb would appear above a character’s head): I realized that my agitation wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m a junior in high school, so it’s no secret that patience isn’t my forte; but neither is it that of the American populace. We’re an electorate on edge, a country whose thirst for instantaneous indulgence usurps any bit of willingness to roll with the punches when the going gets tough.

Last week, the House — sporting its fresh coat of red — voted to repeal the landmark healthcare bill that promised to to insure over thirty-two million additional people, end health insurance companies’ implementation of lifetime coverage limits, forbid discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions, and — in essence — overhaul the broken healthcare system and its tired regulations.

Healthcare was (as most issues in this presidency are) a highly partisan battle. It further polarized Washington. It created enemies out of friends. But, of course, one side won, and the bill’s policies began to take effect in the weeks and months after its passage. The White House website says that all of the aforementioned policies among “other changes including new benefits, protections and cost savings will be implemented between now and 2014.”

Hold on a second. So does that mean we have to wait?

And now America’s fuse is lit and Congress’ spiral of reverse gratitude is already spinning. Republicans have long been tapping their feet and anxiously looking at their watches; and as soon as they got into power, they pounced.

Michele Bachmann wants to “repeal [the] president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill.” Despite the gravity of that demand and — in my opinion — its breach of both civil and human rights, Bachmann represents a growing mass who expect something from nothing. It’s the same portion of the population who expected the economy to be “fixed” within months of Obama’s election and are “shocked” to find out that he’s done “nothing” to repair the economy.

Things take time. Long-run investments are what sustain economies. If the United States (or even my family, for that matter) only made short-term economic choices and divested from every stock or venture that didn’t immediately yield a massive positive result, it would be in a much downgraded position. When healthcare hasn’t finished coming into effect and Republicans already decide that it hasn’t quite done the trick, that’s an irresponsible decision.

Patience.

The Potency of the R-Word – As Featured on the Huffington Post


As featured on the Huffington Post:

It hardly comes as a surprise when Ann Coulter makes an offensive comment. The conservative commentator seems to make a career of spewing language that denigrates a different party practically each week. This week’s off-color moment came when she tweeted about a cable news appearance by Christopher Barron of a Republican gay rights group called GOProud.

Wrote Coulter: “Great video: head of GOProud interviewed by retarded person on MSNBC.”

She is hardly the first public figure to cause offense with the R-word. Earlier this year, Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, called conservative Democrats “F—-in’ retarded.” Rush Limbaugh piled on, calling Emanuel’s subsequent make-up meeting with mental health professionals a “retard summit.”

It’s not just celebrities, though. As a high school student, I hear the R-word thrown around in offensive ways daily.

I’m in my trig classroom staring at a whiteboard that’s crammed with brackets, exponents, and an array of colorful digits. I’m trying to understand the problem on the board, but I feel like I’m reading a foreign language. My classmates are just as puzzled. One, realizing the problem’s complexity, sighs and lets out two words: “That’s retarded.”

Retarded. It’s ubiquitous. I can’t escape it. But I have never gotten used to hearing it. In fact, each time I hear “retarded” misused, I feel as though someone has stabbed a piercing blade into my neck. But as much as “retarded” pains me, something holds me back from confronting my classmate. The word renders me helpless and impotent. I can’t challenge him because he’s not out of the ordinary; everyone says it.

And not just kids. I’m standing at the checkout counter of my high school’s student store, Rice Krispies in hand. As the register stubbornly refuses to dispense a receipt, a mom volunteering behind the counter becomes more and more flustered. Irritated, she expresses her frustration: “This thing is retarded.”

Apathy has a major influence on the way my contemporaries use language. “Retarded” has become one of the go-to negative adjectives the Internet generation (alongside words like “gay” and “lame”). And while “retarded” is not usually spoken from a place of deliberate insult, it carries an insulting connotation: “Retarded” is used at the expense of a vulnerable group.

I’m at cross-country practice looking out at a long, rigorous course the coach has just ordered us to tackle. I turn hesitantly toward my teammate, whose exhaustion has clearly been exacerbated. At a loss, he resorts to the only adjective he can attach to his disappointment: “This is retarded.”

The R-word is a blade in my neck. My body stiffens and my fists clench at the mere mention of the word. But hearing it is unavoidable. So I’ve developed a sort of sympathy toward the ignorant, an assumption that people don’t know how their words hurt; that they’re simply in the dark.

But it isn’t sympathy alone that holds me back from the treacherous brink of confrontation. There’s another layer–something simpler that moves me to evade saying “please don’t,” or “that hurts”: 16-year-olds don’t have much of a platform to stand on in the arena of language use. And, furthermore, I run the risk of seeming almost sanctimonious; lecturing my friends and family on their choices of words when I’m still trying to discover my own voice.

Nonetheless, I’ve had no such luxury of darkness. Down the hall from my bedroom, my autistic brother struggles to carry on a conversation, getting stuck repeating the same phrases over and over again. (Granted, there are differences between autism and the other sorts of developmental delays that once fell under the umbrella of “retardation.”) Most of my peers have not witnessed the deeply rooted frustrations of missing out on a typical childhood. Few of them hear pleas like my brother’s to “go to school with the other kids.”

Sometimes I do leap abruptly at the opportunity to wag a finger. “Do you have a brother with a neurological disorder?” I’ll ask, my tone dripping with disdain. “Tell me, what is it about that math problem that’s mentally delayed?” But my discomfort with a generation’s forceful linguistic trend has changed the way I’ve chosen to express my displeasure. Public scolding, I’ve learned, rings hollow and elicits little more than an awkward blank stare. It’s not that I’m afraid or timid; but sometimes–even when I feel like my “retarded” bubble is about to burst — I just have to ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

Like it or not, it is.

I wish my generation (and their moms, where necessary) would realize something: words can be both powerful and toxic. Some serve a variety of purposes; but some are meant to be attached to one exclusive definition. Those words aren’t fit to be taken out of context and attached to scenario after scenario, ad nauseam. The movie you saw last night isn’t retarded, the Christmas sweater your Great Aunt Gertrude knit you isn’t gay, and your Monday afternoon SAT class isn’t lame. The more often we hastily slap one of those labels onto something, the more often we denigrate, disparage, belittle, and inevitably rule out a magnificent portion of our population.

The math problem was challenging, sure. The cash register wasn’t working and the cross-country course was disheartening. That MSNBC host may have asked some questions that Coulter didn’t like . But do any of those scenarios entail any sort of neurological delay? Most certainly not.

To preserve the sanctity of language and defend the integrity of another population of otherwise easy-targets, thought should always precede action and compassion should inform language. The next time you want to express how awful, offensive or frustrating something is, try coming up with another word. My suggestion: Coulterish.