What are we #Occupying? The What and Why of the Occupy Movement

by Timothy E. Hoagland, motuscompos.wordpress.com

Egalitarianism. Not full-blown socialism or communism, but a light dusting of egalitarianism.
At least that’s what a post-graduation legal philosophy major sees in the protest posters, tents, and American flags – but I shouldn’t speak for everyone.

With all the of the media buzz around the Occupy Wall Street Movement: the breaking news updates, the daily reports, the recent proclamation of a national general assembly/ list of “demands,” it is understandably easy to get lost in.  Few thought the movement would have the lasting power it has shown up until thus far – but it is certainly one of the most interesting social endeavors that we as Americans have taken on lately, on a multitude of levels.

So, for all of you out there needing the nitty-gritty, here is the obvious: Occupy Wall Street is a non-violent demonstration of the American people’s argument that Wall Street, and all of that which it stands for (the higher echelon of the tax bracket; the CEOs, corporate presidents, general millionaires, etc.), is part of the reason why the American economy has been so sad lately (the argument can be made for roughly the past three years).  Essentially, they believe (and are correct) that companies, corporations, and a select group of individuals possess the majority of American income growth, and that this economic income (or more appropriately, social mobility) disparity is inherently unfair.  This is the 99% vs. 1% you are hearing so much about.

Now, this ideal, from square one, is one of rights.  It invokes phrasings we were all taught in elementary school, ”All men are created equal,” ”certain unalienable Rights,” and it is here where egalitarianism comes into play.  Egalitarianism is centered around the idea that we are all created of equal fundamental worth and/or status, and that this is our naturally occurring (birth-given) state.  But when this balance between individuals in a society is thrown off, and a social and/ or economic hierarchy ensues, the philosophy calls for the removal of such inequalities from the system, or the decentralization of the top’s power.

Sorry, but I told you: philosophy/ psychology major.

The Occupy movement is based on the idea not that we all should be cut checks for a stake in the wealth which sits at the top of the Forbes list, but that the cause of our nation’s problems (unemployment, recessed economy, high debt, poor credit rating) is that the top of the social “food chain” is accumulating $$$ too easily.  There’s no (or limited) measures that keep excessive growth in check so that those with the least amount of growth (entrenched poverty, homelessness, general low-to-mid-level families) are capable of surviving and balancing out our capitalist system.

It is here where the movement begins to inspire comparisons to revolutions of centuries past, and why average citizens, students, employees, and community members are willing to go to such extremes to have their voice heard: the Occupy movement is attempting to fix the problems of capitalism.

Okay, let me delve a bit deeper:  For most of us, American capitalism is equitable to the “American Dream.”  You know, the every-American-can-build-a-life-and-home-out-of-meager-beginnings, doing-what-they-want-to-do, being-what-they-want-to-be Dream.  The ‘ol “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” Ellis Island type of story.  To be blunt, the one that can be misconstrued to say that every American should be able to make as much money as they want, so long as they have the motivation to do so.

This is what Occupy is attempting to fix – its attempting to bring to the public conscious the notion that THAT (up there) isn’t true; not every American has the same chance as the next man to grow and accumulate wealth, and though many or most may be able to eek out livings that are better than our varied third-world origins, this inequality of capacity is a huge strike against one of our founding tenets…”All men are created equal.”  In realizing this, one could make the argument that the Occupy movement is essentially espousing un-American ideas.

BUT.

Look how they’re going about it.  Look how they are spreading their words and their ideas. The American people are doing exactly as their forefathers would have asked of them: they are talking, discussing, arguing, sharing (and mostly respecting) each other’s opinions, using their voice to keep their government in line.  They are making sure that the issues that are at the forefront of their minds are also on the top of the government officials’ dockets. They are voicing the flaws of the American way by using their inherent, government-supported rights.  They are fighting the Declaration of Independence with…the Declaration of Independence.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
We have come to the realization that though “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” may be our inherent rights, they are not being delivered by our capitalist system — and so we “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”  So really, the Occupy movement isn’t trying to rewrite American ideology.  It’s just trying to add a bit more than a pinch of egalitarianism to the Red-White-&-Blue-melting-pot.  Do you get it now?  It’s an incredibly beautiful thing to see — our founding fathers were right, and true, in their trust in the American people.  We are capable of righting injustices and acknowledging mistakes; not just everyday judgments, but large, expansive, societal complexities.  We are capable of making the right decisions, when those that we elect are not so capable.

It will be interesting to see how the Occupy movement separates itself from the other social-fads that dot our headlines, but they certainly have the foundation with which to draw a lot of attention, open some minds, and even create some change.

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