Without scrutiny or much thought, I can tell you that the Civil Rights movement fought for socioeconomic and legal equality for African-Americans. I can also tell you that the Arab Spring was the mobilization of citizens of Middle Eastern countries with the goal of overthrowing oppressive regimes. I can even tell you what the hippy movement stood for: harmony, cooperation, brotherly peace, and a bond with mother earth.
Most people could tell you all that.
It would take me a bit longer to explain what Occupy Wall Street is all about. About a month ago, a group of people who call themselves “the ninety-nine percent” began protesting in Manhattan. They’re still protesting, and they’ve permeated the country.
Movements for peace, for action, and for necessary, pragmatic, valuable, or morally imperative social change deserve support. A Steve Jobs truism has been playing on a loop on television sets all across the world throughout the past week: “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” And he was absolutely right.
But all of the people that Jobs was referring to – namely Einstein, King, Lennon, Ghandi, among other movers and shakers – were able to articulate the change that they were so vehemently pursuing. “We want change” will always ring hollow if it isn’t made clear what “we” want changed.
Occupy Wall Street’s website says this:
“Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”
“To achieve our ends.” What are its ends? The above description of the movement is merely an explanation of its medium. And, moreover, what is it resisting? Social change in this country comes from an articulation of wants with the hope of reaching cooperation with the powers that be. Little can be built on the grounds of the inexplicable. Average citizens – others in the “ninety-nine percent” – are confused by Occupy Wall Street. Those in power who might affect change can’t, because the people on the ground aren’t meeting with them. Even the president himself, last week, struggled to answer a question about the movement’s motives because they are so ambiguous.
Read some quotes from OWS’s literature, its website, and speeches delivered at rallies:
“We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire.”
“The problem is the system that pushes you to give up. Beware not only of the enemies. But also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process.”
“The 1% has stolen this world. We will not allow this to occur.”
“I spent ten days in Liberty Plaza and all I got was this lousy democracy.”
By no means should we rule out Occupy Wall Street’s intentions, nor by any means should we deem it illegitimate. It very well may be an important movement, or at least an important outcry. But it is difficult to support something that you don’t understand. If their goal is to persuade lawmakers to pass legislation that will help shrink financial disparity, protesters should say so. If their goal is for banks to be regulated more stringently, protesters should say so.
Until Occupy Wall Street is able to articulate its goal – or even goals – beyond the bounds of being aware of “false friends,” not being afraid of really wanting what you desire, and not allowing others to “steal the world,” little will come of it, and those in power will continue to look upon it with bewilderment, confusion, and apathy.