Have you seen the new Occupy Wall Street ad campaign?
Yes, I said the “ad campaign!” In a slick thirty-second video commercial, eight activists appear on camera, presumably gathered outdoors at an OWS event, and each describes in a sentence what they want from their country.
Ironically, the OWS folks paid big bucks for their ad to appear - gasp! – on the Fox Newschannel. Funny how capitalism works, isn’t it? The presumably evil Rupert Murdoch-owned enterprise collected the occupiers’ cash, and in return the occupiers got what they wanted – access to FNC’s huge audience.
The “encampments” may soon be winding-down, given the death and disease that is proliferating. But the rhetoric remains, and it’s worth examining. Here’s what they said in their commercial – and some of the implications of it all.
Occupier number one, a casually dressed, twenty-something African American man: “…I want to see more serious political conversations starting to happen…” Serious political conversations are always happening in America, but they’re not found in soundbytes and protester chants. And if one is serious about conversation, one must be prepared to dialog rather than just “emoting,” and to have one’s assumptions challenged.
Occupier number two, a casually dressed 20-something Caucasian man: “I want corporations out of the government, and I want people back in…” This is a heart-felt way of expressing frustration over the influence that large companies have over our nation’s public policy. This is a legitimate problem, for sure, and it’s a concern that resonates with a lot of Americans – even many non-occupiers.
There are also a couple of logical errors here. For one, people don’t need to get “back in” our government – they never “left.” In fact the most important component of any government – or any corporation for that matter - is the people. Without people, there is no government or corporation. There is only material matter.
Secondly, this expression fails to acknowledge how corporations get “into” government in the first place: politicians allow it to happen. This is not a problem with our economic or political system, but rather, it’s a matter of bad government policy makers making bad decisions.
Occupier number three, a casually dressed middle-aged Caucasian woman: “I want peace, rather than militarization…” It’s not difficult to imagine this lady saying much the same thing some forty years ago in the face of the militarization of Viet Nam. But our nation’s peace was threatened then, and it still is today. Thus we need a military, whether anyone likes that or not.
Occupier number four, a casually dressed 20-something Caucasian woman: “I want the top wealthiest Americans to be taxed higher and that money to go to education…” At least this woman is honest with her feelings. Instead of couching it in pejorative ambiguities – “rich people need to pay their fair share,” for example (what a great way to imply that rich people don’t pay their “fair share,” without defining what “fair share” means), she’s being straight forward. She wants other people to have more of their money confiscated by government.
What she is not so honest about is how public education funds are currently being spent. Six-figure salaries, and tax-payer funded car allowances, travel and dining accounts and mobile telephones are common expenditures for public school district office personnel (not so much with the teachers themselves). It’s difficult to say that this kind of “education spending” is all “for the children,” and this kind of selfish waste should be an anathema to the occupiers, if only they’d care to learn about it.
Occupier number five, a middle-aged Caucasian man in business attire: “I want economic justice…” Yes, and don’t we all? But what does this mean?
Occupier number six, a thirty-something Caucasian man in casual clothing: “I want greater regulation of the banks and the markets.” Okay, but how much is “greater?” President Obama has significantly increased governmental regulation of banking and financial institutions, but it doesn’t occur to some that this has actually caused higher banking fees and less lending. Shall we do more of the same, and expect a different outcome?
Occupier number seven, a middle-aged, possibly Hispanic- looking man in casual dress: “I want my kids to have a job, and healthcare.” Probably most American parents would want these things for their kids. The real question is how one obtains them: are we “entitled” to “a job” and “healthcare,” or must one “earn” them? What level of a job, and what level of healthcare, is anybody “entitled” to?
Occupier number eight, a middle-aged Caucasian man dressed in construction worker garb: “I want true democracy for the ninety-nine percent of us that don’t have it anymore…” This is a common refrain from the occupiers. But I’d like to ask this man “who represents you in the Congress and in your state legislature? Or how about in your city council or school board?”
Sadly, many of the occupiers seem to have very little familiarity with how our system of representative government works, and they don’t seem interested in learning.
What becomes of the OWS encampments and their commercials is anybody’s guess. But the questions and the rhetoric remain – and they warrant a response.