After weeks of more or less placidly banging drums and holding intensely serious committee meetings on purchasing sleeping bags, it would appear some “Occupy X” protests (wherein “X” equals wherever the protesters lay their heads at night) may be headed for more troubling turns.
Occupy Oakland was removed from a public park, attempted to reclaim the space, and was met with violent confrontation. Occupy Baltimore may be headed to a similar fate if it fails to reach a détente with city officials.
All of this, even the haphazard shelters recently sprung up at the Inner Harbor, seems far from Howard County. We’re concerned with what high school is granted turf fields based (maybe) on political favoritism stemming from votes to increase taxes on what could loosely be defined as a vice and may be what keeps protesters (to say nothing of the unemployed) warm at night.
We’re (or not) and trying to figure out what we’re now in.
Although the rise and fall of the unemployment rate in Howard County essentially tracks with the rest of the United States, our actual percentage of unemployed is just over half the national average. (This is not to discount the approximately 9,000 of our fellows out of work. It’s just that Howard County is a good place to weather the recessionary storm.)
If those numbers don’t raise your eyebrows, how about a median income more than twice that of the average American family? Or a poverty rate less than one third of the country at large? Our community is not the one percent, perhaps, but we’re pretty darn close. If you’ve been dismissive of the Occupy protests, as I’ve been, it might be time to reexamine your surroundings and decide how they’re affecting your judgment. (Also, if your dismissal includes the words “hippies,” “longhairs” or “layabouts,” you might want to reassess your built-in biases, to say nothing of your sorely dated lexicon.)
The inchoate demands of protest, to say nothing of the underlying absurdity of sleeping in a well-maintained park just outside a Hooters, may have contributed to the myopic view from our heavily insulated Money magazine-ranked fortress. However, as voices escalate and battle lines drawn, it might be time to remove our blinders and decide if the burgeoning movement has anything to say within our privileged borders.
It bears remembering that the type of corporation recently granted the right to free speech would be a wholly foreign concept to our oft-misquoted Founding Fathers. And yet many of our politicians, both nationally and locally, traipse blithely on, proposing regressive triple-9 or fuel-based taxes while promising to release the bonds supposedly holding back corporations, who, it should not go unsaid, continue to sit on previously unimaginable piles of cash. (The argument is made that businesses will not invest in hiring until consumers start spending again, but those consumers, who have seen what happens to their dollars in the hands of these same institutions, are rightfully wary to pass them back a buck. Moreover, the less said about the circularity of that argument, the better.)
It’s not time to Occupy Howard County, but it is time to look at the systemic issues nationwide at the root of historic mistrust in the government, causing deeply angry protests from both sides of our woefully linear political spectrum and start talking about solutions.
Most “solutions” so far proffered by everyone from quasi-credible candidates to the current sitting President have failed to address the deep systemic problems that reward an endless, and mindless, need for preferred treatment to corporations over citizens. A system has developed that rewards private stakeholders on a quarterly basis while preferring a government that provides massive social welfare without extending the burden of supporting that system to the largest holders of wealth—which, for the record, may not be people at all.
America, more than anything else, has been about opportunity. I think, in the relative largesse most experienced over the past decade, that has been largely forgotten. Opportunity does not equate to government hand-outs, be they in the form of a free higher education or guaranteed retirement benefits, swinging from the desires across the age spectrum. Opportunity (coupled with the accelerated delivery of a promised bonus) was what brought swarms of veterans to D.C. under similar circumstances 80 years ago. The ultimate aim of the Occupy protests should have nothing to do with who pays what individual income tax and more with the societal structures that reward the biggest conglomerations at the expense of the individual.
It has become increasingly likely that the Tens, or whatever this nascent decade is going to be called in the increasingly important pop-culture histories, will be defined by three things: the deep economic hole at the beginning, dug during the proceeding twenty years; the government’s frequently fragmented and, ultimately, insufficient response in the middle; and finally, The People either becoming, once again, a major player in American politics, taking back the reins from corporatized interests, or, conversely, the people’s confirmed servitude to those same corporate interests.
Although we here in Howard County are far from the front lines, it would behoove us to begin to pay attention, preferably after putting down the calcified constructs we all tend to approach issues with. The trends that have been set in motion are likely to wash up on our shores soon enough. We can either be part of a sea change in American politics, or watch the opportunity flow by, unheeded.