It’s a sad fact that a bad situation usually has to get much, much worse before it can start to get better. Ninety-nine percent of this planet should be really pissed off right now, if only there wasn’t so much other stuff that gets in the way. If religion is the opiate of the masses, then so are radio talk shows and opinion columns, political pundits and proselytizers. All that noise, all those petty disagreements over social issues and divisive politics. What commentators call the “wedge issues” that cause people who have more in common with each other than they realize to bicker endlessly, while they lose sight of the main plot.
The image of crabs in a barrel frantically climbing all over each other to get to the top remains stuck in my mind ever since Reverend Al Sharpton brought up that great analogy during his recent MSNBC interview with Michael Moore. The interview itself made me grimace, though it was a classic pairing, and a surprise that they hadn’t crossed paths before. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Michael Moore and his hard-hitting documentaries and stinging social commentary, but his trumpeting of the Occupy Movement might have come off as more genuine if it hadn’t conveniently coincided with his book tour. For god’s sake man, just support the cause without having an agenda! Though it’s great to have him – and many others – on board.
Nothing Ever Trickles
Yes, the bad situation has gotten worse. It’s no longer just poor people in the inner cities who don’t have jobs, are becoming homeless, can’t feed their kids, and are losing hope. We’ve known for a long time that a small percentage of the world’s population (make that 1%), through their stockpiles of wealth and purchased influence, control the lives and livelihoods of everyone else. But up until just recently, enough crumbs have fallen from the overflowing mouths of the corporate elite to at least keep the unwashed masses reasonably subdued. Personally, I’ve never believed in the theory of ‘trickle-down economics’. While it’s a charming concept, there’s just one small problem… greed.
So what exactly happened? As Reverend Sharpton said in that program, the card sharks “overplayed their hands.” In this age of out of control poverty and equally out of control opulence, we now talk about billionaires instead of just millionaires, and they’ve pushed their luck a little too far.
The real roots of the Occupy Movement can be traced back to the Spanish protests in
May, though most cite Occupy Wall Street as their inspiration for getting personally involved. It goes beyond symbolism. This is the very heart of the banking industry and corporate America, and the wealthy’s schoolyard sandbox. This is where a rich tycoon’s “bad day” could, for the vast majority, translate into the loss of a lifetime of retirement savings. Appropriately then, in this country, it began here. But the reason this one protest has been able to spread to nearly 1,000 cities worldwide is that there are increasing numbers of people who, without jobs, find themselves with enough time on their hands (and enough anger in their hearts) to set up camp.
It isn’t just for students, hippies and anarchists. Not anymore. In downtown Boston last Saturday, in addition to the usual suspects and those who just enjoy this sort of thing (i.e. the LaRouche gang), I saw older folks in fear of losing their retirement savings, and deeply concerned parents with their kids in tow, carrying their own signs. From teachers to office workers, blue-collar laborers, students and retirees, young and old, most of us have a stake in this fight, but my heart goes out to the children who will be inheriting this mess.
In my own current financial crisis, I’m acutely aware of the plight of the middle class – too wealthy to receive benefits; not wealthy enough to pay the bills. I’ll address just one example of this that directly affects my family: the healthcare
debacle industry, and long-term facilities. If you’re unfortunate enough to have to place a family member into a nursing home, I have news for you: if you’re not rich, then it’s best to be poor.
Quite apart from the fact that I can’t find a single person without some horror story of inadequate or incompetent care, these places are stupidly expensive. However, if your assets fall below $2,000, congratulations, you’re poor, and the state will pay for room and board. If you happened to squirrel away a few dollars but still can’t afford the approximate $10,000/month bill, the nursing home will simply suck you dry like an incubus until there’s nothing left, and will then move away from your dry carcass towards state funding, where it will continue its ravenous feeding frenzy.
There’s a breed of lawyer that specializes in “Elder Law,” and one of their primary services is a kind of “wealth hokus pokus.” For a sizable fee (of course), they’ll help you move your money around to make you appear, for all practical purposes, poor. All entirely legal, I might add. If you’re not poor and not rich, you should look into this. Though if your family’s situation is like mine, with one spouse taking care of the other, you’ll have to make a bet as to who’s going to die first. You might want to consult a psychic as well.
Why should any of this be necessary in a country that can afford to bail out major financial institutions and car companies to the tune of $2.5 trillion (as of April 30) and spend over $799 billion in Iraq?
That’s my rant. And here’s my review of the march and rally in downtown Boston last Saturday, as part of the global demonstrations: awesome.
The Music Connection
Music has always been an integral part of social movements and demonstrations. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier,” John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War,” Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger… just a few shining examples. Though the idea to fight injustices with song dates well before all that (one early mention is from 1795, in support of women’s suffrage), and it’s universal. Boston-based Sleepover Shows (who films acoustic sets of bands living in and passing through our city) have put together a wonderful documentary about the Occupy Movement and its music connection. Read more about this and watch the doc below.
If you’re lucky enough to have gainful employment and can’t yourself be an occupier, you can still make a contribution, which would be greatly appreciated. If not money, there’s also the need for material donations. Occupy Boston’s list of requested items changes, so for up-to-the-minute requests, check their logistics twitter feed. It’s best to just drop things off at their camp in Dewey Square (across from South Station), and then you can be amazed like I was by their organization and dedication.
Live blog of international protests: Al Jazeera