Here is my view on the Occupy Movement as of right now:
From David Weigel at Slate:
- We're hearing about the arrests, and passing around meme/photos of cops shooting pepper spray at kids. Matt Taibbi does yeoman work tying these stories together.
- Not to belabor the point, but the person who commits fraud to obtain food stamps goes to jail, while the banker who commits fraud for a million-dollar bonus does not. Or if you accept aid in the form of Section-8 housing, the state may insist on its right to conduct warrantless "compliance check" searches of your home at any time – but if you take billions in bailout aid, you do not even have to open your books to the taxpayer who is the de facto owner of your company.
- The state wants to retain the power to make these subjective decisions, because being allowed to selectively enforce the law effectively means they have despotic power. And who wants to lose that?
- This makes sense, and given what the protesters are facing out there, it would be crazy if they didn't focus on it. [David Weigel, "The Occupy Drift: From Wall Street to Police State," Slate, Nov. 23, 2011.]
- . . . in a larger sense, the furor over the eviction of protesters in New York, Oakland, Portland and other cities is a sideshow. Occupy Wall Street isn’t about real estate, and its signal achievement was not assembling shivering sleepers in a park.
- The high ground that the protesters seized is not an archipelago of parks in America, but the national agenda. The movement has planted economic inequality on the nation’s consciousness, and it will be difficult for any mayor or police force to dislodge it.
- A reporter for Politico found that use of the words “income inequality” quintupled in a news database after the Occupy protests began. That’s a significant achievement, for this is an issue that goes to our country’s values and our opportunities for growth — and yet we in the news business have rarely given it the attention it deserves.
- The statistic that takes my breath away is this: The top 1 percent of Americans possess a greater net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
- A new study by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University polled Americans about what wealth distribution would be optimal. People across the board thought that the richest 20 percent of Americans should control about one-third of the nation’s wealth, and the poorest 20 percent about one-tenth.
- In fact, the richest 20 percent of Americans own more than 80 percent of the country’s wealth. And the poorest 20 percent own one-tenth of 1 percent.
- It would be easier to accept this gulf between the haves and the have-nots if it could be spanned by intelligence and hard work. Sometimes it can. But over all, such upward mobility in the United States seems more constrained than in the supposed class societies of Europe.
- Research by the Economic Mobility Project, which explores accessibility to the American dream, suggests that the United States provides less intergenerational mobility than most other industrialized nations do. That’s not only because of tax policy, which is what liberals focus on. Perhaps even more important are educational investments, like early childhood education, to try to even the playing field. We can’t solve inequality unless we give poor and working-class kids better educational opportunities.
- The Occupy movement is also right that one of the drivers of inequality (among many) is the money game in politics. Michael Spence, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who shares a concern about rising inequality, told me that we’ve seen “an evolution from one propertied man, one vote; to one man, one vote; to one person, one vote; trending to one dollar, one vote.”
- James M. Stone, former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said in a recent speech that many members of Congress knew that banks needed to be more tightly regulated, perhaps broken into smaller pieces.
- “So why was this not done?” he asked. “One obvious piece of the answer is that both political parties rely heavily on campaign contributions from the financial sector.”
- The solution to these inequities and injustices is not so much setting up tents at bits of real estate here or there, but a relentless focus on the costs of inequality. So as we move into an election year, I’m hoping that the movement will continue to morph into: Occupy the Agenda. [Nicholas Kristof, "Occupy the Agenda," New York Times, Nov. 19, 2011.
For example, Lister claims that "The bonus marchers purposefully kept out anarchists and troublemakers. The Occupiers embraced them." This comparison is ridiculous for at least four reasons:
1) The Occupy Movement's core principles include an unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion, so purposefully keeping out an entire group of people simply because they call themselves "anarchists" (or "capitalists," for that matter) would violate one of their fundamental values. Lister here commits a straw man fallacy.
2) Certainly, some anarchists are troublemakers, but "anarchist" does not equal "troublemaker," as Lister insinuates. Here Lister attempts to denigrate the Occupy Movement using guilt by association and by implying a connection between "anarchist" and "troublemaker" that doesn't necessarily follow. The fallacy in Lister's thinking here becomes apparent when one reconstructs Lister's sentence as ". . . purposefully kept out police and troublemakers." "Police" does not equal "troublemaker," in spite of what sometimes seems like an abundance of evidence to the contrary.
3) Lister's argument comes up short because it's also based on an appeal to fear: if one follows the false proposition that the Occupy Movement has no core values worthy of consideration, and the false claim that movement embraces "anarchists" who are all "troublemakers," then it would certainly follow that one need not attempt to understand the Movement or engage with the Movement's critiques because they're all just barbarians who want to tear our society down. Based on his false reading and his superficial comparison to the Bonus March of 1932, Lister implies that police are perfectly justified in using their clubs, pepper spray, and tear gas, before the unwashed heathen masses burn our crops and take our daughters away.
4) Even if one aggregated all of the "troublemakers" ("anarchist" or otherwise) within the individual Occupy Portland, Occupy Wall Street, etc., movements, one would find that this group represents an extremely small fraction of those involved. News outlets gravitate to "troublemakers" like moths to a flame, and ideologues salivate whenever they can point to the actions of "troublemakers," but the simple truth of the matter is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of perfectly peaceful, nonviolent, protesters for every one "troublemaker." Just as the core arguments of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle have been obscured by the actions of relatively few "troublemakers," so does mainstream media and certain groups with power and privilege seek to denigrate the entire Occupy Movement by associating it with a fringe and very, very small fraction of participants. They do so because it's much easier to come to a knee-jerk, reactionary opinion about something than it is to try to understand the issues; for people and institutions fully invested in the current system of inequality and injustice, it's also beneficial to misrepresent critics so as to remain in power and privilege. Lister takes this approach in his op-ed.
Lister then concludes his piece with another example of the straw man fallacy so that he can provide we readers with what he feels to be An Important Life Lesson. Lister's concluding paragraphs illustrate how obtuse he is. His words prove how little he knows about the Occupy Movement's goals. They also prove how little he respects historical research generally. His comparison of Occupy with the Bonus March is supposed to impress readers, who might be led to conclude, "oh, Lister has called upon historical evidence, he must know what he's talking about," when, in fact, Lister merely cherry-picked a history-like meme that came across his transom because it seemed to support his preconceived ideas.
The irony of Lister's concluding paragraphs is that he identified precisely what the Occupy Movement is all about, without trying to do so or understanding what he'd done (in my bold sections below):
- If you could synthesize their multiple messages into a theme, it seems they are saying, "We were promised the American dream, and we haven't received it."
- I am unsympathetic. . . . The American dream is not a promise; it is an opportunity. The American dream cannot be given; it can only be achieved. And in America, unlike most of the rest of the world, it is achievable. The only thing standing between any person and the attainment of the American dream is that person himself. [David Lister, "Protest without purpose: Unlike Bonus March, Occupy goals are nebulous ," Oregonian, Nov. 24, 2011.]
I could spend much more time finding examples, but that, in a nutshell, is what I think of the Occupy Movement.