I've been closely following the "Occupy Wall Street" protests with fervor and wonderment. It's been somewhat of a restorative to my faith in people to organize and protest, and somewhat of a detriment to my hope that we're being honest with one another.
I read through a bunch of the hard-luck stories on wearethe99percent.tumblr.com and they made me really think about what we're asking for in America. I see people begging for health care coverage. I see people demanding to have wealth redistributed. I see people asking questions of our government as to why corporations get first dibs on the spoils of our society while we as individuals get little to show for it. And then I read this:
Now, first of all, I'm going to say that I have no position on the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors. As a matter of fact, the closest I came to holding an official position was making a sign in crayon at work with "Occupy Ops" (our timekeeping/leveling/scheduling people who never fail to fail us). I thought it was humorous, even though it might be "too soon." Needless to say if comedy is my only resource and position in this protest, I am seeking to find facts on both sides of these arguments and to weigh in on my own experiences as both an American and an individual.
This guy holding up this sign makes the claim that he will be graduating debt free. That's wonderful, because 64% of people graduate with student debt. Another 41% have credit cards. There's a dual edge to this sword, though, and that's in having and building credit. If credit is managed wisely, building credit can be done in the formative college years out of high school and one can graduate with a positive credit report to present to employers, showing responsibility.
The other side of this assertion is in my experience. I'm a 25 year old college student whose high school transcripts do not afford me any weight in bargaining any scholarships, nor do I make enough on double minimum wage to pay for my "moderately priced in-state public university". I've been unfortunate enough to buy a house, to have a fiancee, and to have transportation, as well as the responsibilities of such upkeep. All of which is contributing to the economy, mind you. And on top of all of this, I have a medical condition that's not able to be determined and causes unpredictable upswings and downward spirals in my health and vision, all of which have caused me to have to purchase prescription medication and visit health care practitioners of various specialties. Money I cannot then send back to my college to pay for my chemistry classes that are going to be able to teach me the fundamentals of my chosen profession.
There's another question I have for this fellow, and that's in the working 30+ hours a week and still making a 3.8 GPA. I would like to know how this is accomplished. I work 45+ hours a week, go to school full time, and I'm squeaking by this semester. I have no time to be able to study enough, nor do I have time to take away from work to be able to afford better grades. This will eventually keep me out of the desired program in my "moderately priced in-state university" because I cannot quit my job in order to afford the luxury of being housed and fed.
This idealistic guy tends to place the onus back on the "99 percent" (which, by the way, is not an accurate portrayal of the idea--the top 1% are not the holders of most of the wealth who get all of the spoils... benefits are provided to the poorest of us as well) who are struggling to make ends meet. He seems to say that just because he did it, everyone can do it, and if you didn't do it, you're weak. He seems to present himself as a shining example of hard work and dedication that will keep him safe from debt and despair for the rest of his life. He wants to believe that the real world doesn't exist.
The truth of the matter is that homes happen. Cars happen. Children and health problems and death and disaster happen. All of these things can clip the wings of such idealistic and presumptuous fellas and before you know it, you've got credit cards and medical bills, a job you hate but can't quit because of the benefits, and back taxes to the IRS.
Sadly, the other side isn't all clear, either. As I mentioned, the top tier of individuals are not the only holders of wealth, and if it were redistributed, who would you trust to do it? The government who can't keep its head out of the sand for two weeks before another scandal? And do we really want more government oversight? While I feel it is a basic fundamental right to health (and healthcare) and other "happiness" services (and I mean that in the philosophical sense of "absence of pain," not hedonistic pleasure), in trying to create a better system, every single company and employer has exploited ways to get around having to provide the better services called for. As companies with a bottom line, everyone wants to do less. That's what we've been programmed to do in the USA. The worst part is that it's not going to get any easier with legislation. Our senators and representatives can be easily bought and sold, their votes purchased, their re-election on the line if they do not secure the funding they so desire to campaign and run successfully. And who do you trust to help us?
Should we be looking to the government as the adversary or the advocate? Should we be placing the blame on each other for this economic downturn? Should we just "work (our) asses off" a little more so we have everything we want? And if students don't learn lessons about credit or about real life in college, what are they going to produce when they enter the real world?
Not every debt is a bad decision. Not every protest is a good idea.
Ask the nurse who helps heal on a daily basis who is in debt up to her neck, but saves lives every day. Ask the people who stood at the Bank of America in my place of residence (a mid-sized midwestern city)--all five of them--in protest of the bailout.
At this point, we need a new plan. I'm just not funny enough or resolute enough to find one or to create one. And I just don't have enough time. It's back to my workweek and schoolwork, making ends meet, paying bills (credit cards, even!), hugging my fiancee, feeding my cats, grocery shopping, and generally being an American citizen racking up debt trying to better myself and the lives of my family members. If someone wants to think I'm less of a hard worker or weaker than a conceited student who feels the road to success is paved with unopened credit card applications, I'll let the idealism and naivety remain. I have no use for argumentation with those who do not understand that occasionally you'll trip and fall. Sure, if you don't remove the stones blocking your path that you clearly see, you're going to be seen as an idiot. Otherwise, that stumble is an accident, one that you address and move on from. Last I recall, Americans are pretty resilient. We can put some triple antibiotic on it, bandage it, and walk on. We may have a scar, we might feel it for a while, but we live life. We keep moving.
I will. And whether or not I choose a side (which looks unlikely at this point), I still feel pretty good about us showing that we have a voice. That's a step in the right direction.