Crossing the Transom: Will Occupy Mobilize a Generation?
I am honored, really, to have access to brilliant minds attending universities here in California. These students have shared their experiences with Occupy Oakland, Occupy Berkeley and Occupy Davis. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think they are motivated by the idealization of protest movements more than the moral reason for protest.
For nearly eighteen months as we have watched students riot in other countries such as Greece and Iran I have wondered whether we would have protests. Other than brief gatherings over tuition hikes there hasn’t been much student movement.
One reason for this is that our students are not the 99%. Parents who pay the tuition to send their child to the UC system know that while it stretches their wallet, sending their child to university will give that son or daughter future opportunity to make 3.7 million dollars in the course of their lifetime. Our student protestors know they are actually the 1%. If they don’t know their place in this world, they should, otherwise they are making their protest a shallow mimic of a real problem. Perhaps this unwillingness to accept their priveleged status is why it is difficult for Occupy’s university students to develop a moral message about the effect of the global economy on the underserved population?
These students are too removed to fathom what it felt like to be the Latino family of four living on Alpine street in San Pablo, CA. They bought their first 900 square foot home, put up retaining walls and laid down sod for a yard - only to lose it all in less than a year because they didn’t understand amortized payment schedules. This is reason for outrage. People have lost their life savings, their homes, and the security of believing that in America we play fair.
The lenders and legislators who allowed this to happen have not engaged in the moral call to humankind to work with the interest of advancing our world forward. Instead, they bowed to their own avaricious tendencies and their persistent will to survive. They are chewing on the bones of the American dream.
Similarly, those who oppose the Occupy movement without acknowledging that this conversation must be had are holding onto their part in the status quo against any slippage of their own circumstances.
Fifty-five years ago a movement began, indeed had started before it hit the streets, when the black citizens of Montgomery stopped riding the bus and began to change the world. Maids and janitors and gardeners walked to work and the economic impact on the transit system was real. The bus boycott began in 1955. It began in the community and grew. After time students and artists and white religious leaders joined the movement. These are the sons and daughters of the status quo. Against vicious dogs ripping open human flesh and black boys dangling dead from tree limbs, bombs thrown into homes and white students murdered for registering blacks, these people changed the world. As time passed and the media showed these images, middle class Americans who stayed home were swayed enough to let the status quo be changed so that others could sit beside them at the counter.
From 1955 to 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, to 1965 when the voting rights act was passed and then to 1972 and 1990 when Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, these were the people who left a legacy that changed this nation and the world. Wherever you want to start the count, whether in nine years or ten, seventeen to thirty-five, civil rights were gained through diligence.
Can Occupy be a movement that mobilizes real change? Will the students who have more advantage than 99% of the world look to history, religion, economics, political theory and philology to develop rhetoric that will shame us into playing fair once again? And if so, is there the persistent will to endure against the current system that always has and always will fight to exist?
If you who are Occupiers want to succeed there should be studious attention to the problems you are trying to address. Link arms to work with those currently in business, law and government to bring forth a movement that can sway public opinion.
A protest movement is more than a campout; adversity will mean more than having your eyes irritated. If you are about something real then put away childish things, look through the glass darkly to see the things you cannot yet see. Your generation is crossing the transom to an age of national economies growing global communities. The conversation will be challenging. This is not an easy task, but it is yours.