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The problem with Occupy Wall Street

On Twitter, the only coherent and oft-repeated sentiment is the need and desire for more pizza donations.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 26, 2011 9:18AM

This post comes from Caitlin Dewey at partner site Kiplinger.


Kiplinger on MSN MoneyI went to the Occupy D.C. protests expecting to find enormous meaning.


Just that afternoon, I had received my first student loan bill from Sallie Mae -- a slim, sinister white envelope that promised to strain my paycheck for the next 120 months.


My roommate and I stood in the kitchen of our little basement apartment, comparing interest rates and repayment programs and wondering if this spelled the end of our modest social lives. We had a similar conversation when we got our first paychecks and saw the chunk that disappeared to taxes. And we had commiserated when we looked at apartments -- dozens and dozens of apartments -- and, at 22 years old, never seemed to have enough credit to sign a lease.


These, of course, are relatively small concerns. Half our friends don't even have jobs. Of the employed half, many work at cafes, bars or pawnshops. Their parents pay their rent. On Gchat and by phone, we talk about the slow progress of their searches: the endless applications, the dead-end interviews, the infinite, overwhelming frustration. Sometimes I feel guilty for having a job.


But while signs on the perimeter of D.C.'s McPherson Square seemed to indicate that the Occupy protesters share my fears and concerns, I couldn't figure out exactly what they want. The diffuse crowd of 150 occupiers represented a wide range of ideologies and political parties: socialists, libertarians, Tea Partiers, people who do not or cannot vote.


A 25-year-old guy on a fixed-gear bike told me he didn't go to college because he hated banks too much to take out a loan. ("Where's your money?" I asked. "A shoebox," he fired back.) A hyper college kid named Anthony saw me taking notes and offered to find me an authority to speak to.


"Just one thing," he said. "Don't write about how disorganized this is."

But as I told Anthony then, and still believe now, disorganization seems like the hallmark of the Occupy movement. There exist no spokespeople, no leaders or organizers, to articulate the movement's direction. In D.C., as in other parts of the country, occupiers make decisions entirely by consensus. One person (a "facilitator," never an "organizer") stands up and addresses the crowd, who make hand gestures to indicate approval or dissent. As a result, everyone has a literal hand in the process -- and the process is excruciatingly long.


To protesters, this faux-Athenian model sounds fairer and more representative than a representative system. But while consensus may work for 50 people sleeping in a park, there are a few key logistical differences between a modern social movement and a tribal village. Let's imagine that the Occupy movement decides to draft an actual set of policies or goals. Will they convene protesters from all participating cities to weigh in on the process? Will they crowdsource it online? (Is that fair to the tens of millions of people in the 99% who can't afford to access the Internet?)


Then again, the lack of specificity -- and the contradictory motives -- also serve as markers of the movement. Note the slogans that occupiers unite behind: "We are the 99 percent." "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out." They share a common frustration and the obvious, uncontroversial belief that the American financial system does not work for everyone.


Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney called it a "generic liberal" agenda, a set of beliefs so vague that anyone can get behind them. Gregory Djerejian, writing on, lauded the movement for its lack of concrete demands, which "might risk ideologically ring-fencing them." But in the absence of both demands and political ideology, Occupy becomes a loose conglomeration of unlike-minded people, more a bandwagon than a unified movement. Post continues after video.

In some respects, of course, that's fine. If Occupy wants to be a "space of radical imagination," in the words of one liberal blogger, where people can vent their collective frustration and disappointment, than it already succeeded.


But when I went to McPherson Square, I hoped to find a group of united, articulate, organized people who could actually address my student debt and the unemployment rate that keeps my friends from finding work. I found nothing of the sort. Without effective leadership and concrete demands, the Occupy movement -- at least in D.C. -- looks less egalitarian and more anarchic.


On Twitter, the only coherent and oft-repeated sentiment is the need and desire for more pizza donations. In the square, people hold signs, some of them more intelligible than others, and chant about banks and big business and structural inequality. As much as I might sympathize with them, I can't get past the sense of futility.


"So would you describe the mood here as more socialist or libertarian?" I ask the petite, blue-eyed authority Anthony procured. "Do the occupiers want more government or less?"


"We want both," she says.


I pause. We just finished marching and it's still hot outside, so maybe I misheard.


"Sorry," I say. "I don't get how that's possible."


"Well, it's not possible under the current system," she explains, patiently. "But we're interested in a new system where that would be possible. We want none of the bad and all of the good, basically."


"Oh. I see." I don't know what to say. "Well, that makes sense, I guess."


And as much as the sentiment does make sense -- because we all want "all of the good," don't we? -- it doesn't make sense at all.


More on Kiplinger and MSN Money:

Oct 26, 2011 1:17PM

Hard times, these...  College students being forced at gunpoint to take on immense amounts of debt, while driving ancient two-year-old SUVs to the protests, mobilizing their friends by calls and texts via last year's iPhone model and receiving only modest care packages from their parents.  Protestors having to hang out in cheap shelters while having food and movie stars only periodically bused in--next to no on-site catering or meet-and-greet celebrity opportunities!  So many would-be workers irritated by the ridiculously out-of-date notion that if there are 5000 local jobs available, only 5000 people can be hired.  All these folks who are so anxious to be upwardly mobile--will no one take them by the hand, lift them up, clothe and feed them, wipe away their petulant tears, and take care of all their future needs and desires? 


Here's a free dose of education more substantial than anything you learned while accumulating your collegiate debt: 

1) Pay as you go.  Franklin's simple advice for avoiding poverty still holds true today: if you can't afford it, don't buy it--that includes "education". 

2) Read up on the Great Depression--far worse times than the present, and more dire personal situations.  Incidentally, many of the jobless folks of that day migrated throughout the country following the harvest cycle and sent the money home.  Illegal immigrants now have that job sector covered...

3) The economic principle of "Supply and Demand" holds true everywhere.  If there isn't the demand for certain services in a certain area, it doesn't do any good to complain about the lack of such jobs--go ahead, nag a politician into creating them...where's the actual business cash flow going to come from? 

4) You're responsible for your own success.  If you're not succeeding, don't blame someone else, blame yourself.  Have you really thought hard about what you're doing, why and where and how you're doing it, and whether it's truly worth your while?  It's not an easy process, but it's an essential one.  No one owes you anything.  Are you focusing on refining your work ethic and work habits, or are you really just watching your favorite viral videos and texting all day?

Oct 26, 2011 12:28PM
Those protesters that hate capitalism are drinking Starbucks every day and spreading the word on their IPhones and IPads. Starbucks and Apple are the epitome of corporate greed by charging usurious prices for their commodity products.

It seems capitalism and corporate greed are okay for “cool” companies.
Oct 26, 2011 12:53PM
So they want all of the good (free housing, food, education and healthcare) and none of the bad (having to work for it).
Oct 26, 2011 12:04PM

"Well, it's not possible under the current system," she explains, patiently. "But we're interested in a new system where that would be possible. We want none of the bad and all of the good, basically."


Well, DUH! Wouldn't we all!. This foolishness will fizzle out when the weather gets cold.

Oct 26, 2011 12:05PM
I recently visited Seattle, WA for vacation.  In downtown, the "Occupy" movement seemed to be a bunch of hippies and losers camped out in the park where no one, absolutely no one, would want to walk or even be able to walk through such a dirty, tent-filled night mare.  What a way to ruin a beautiful park.  Disorganization, dirtiness and no one speaking about anything other than camping is a great way to ruin your "cause".  I don't think the majority of the people camped out even knew why they were there other than to squat.
Oct 26, 2011 12:22PM

And they have the support of Nancy Pelosi, George Soros and guess who else?

Doesn't this tell you something? Aren't they directing their protest the wrong way?


Who will foot the bill for all the clean-ups? Us stupid taxpayers of course.

Oct 26, 2011 1:05PM
And isn't a coincidence that ACORN has been linked to backing this movement. Didn't take them long to resurface. We need more community activists ......... NOT
Oct 26, 2011 1:00PM
For CharmingGuy921,

I appreciate your research.  I can be somewhat in the center of politics.  However, your first line in your statement is paramount of why my opinion is what it is.  I have the experience of being first-hand at both the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement.  About two years ago, I had my first aforesaid experience with the Tea Party at a local park in my home town in California.  I saw the attendees waving at spectators with signs, smiles, organization and cheering.  Remind you, still on the fence as far as not knowing their exact political stances.  The very next day, the park was clean and not damaged in any way.  This continued for about two weeks.  After that, I went online and investigated the Tea Party a little further and for the most part, sided with their views.


When I had the misfortune of going to the Occupy event, what I saw was mayhem, fires being burned in the local park in downtown Seattle, tents door-to-door and half naked people walking around.  It was apparent from the filth that these occupiers had been there for a long time.  What a terrible waste of police power and overall costs of cleaning and restoring the park once the party is over.  The taxpayers are going to eat it.  I couldn’t even stop in downtown Seattle to enjoy it because I was too frightened and disgusted.  I am not listening or investigating any cause when I have had an experience like that.  Ironically, they complain about corporate greed and spending money when their costs are going to be astronomical as opposed to the overall costs of the Tea Party’s policing costs.  Granted, they have organizers that truly care about the core beliefs that are listed on their website.  However, I don’t see this on the ground and it just destroys anything good that the cause stood for and no “organizer” is doing anything about it.  Again, I’m not listening.

Oct 26, 2011 4:16PM
protestors forget that these last 45 years have been years of plenty...never before seen and never again to be seen.  I am one of the very fortunate Baby-boomer who had plentiful jobs at good pay.  I thank God for the privilege of being born in that era.  However, I do not forget the hard time my parents had, eating whatever they could find, working two or three jobs at a time to put food on the table.  We couldn't afford TV (much less cable) a new car, big screen TV, cell phones ( my poorest clients..even unemployed have cell phones).  I had a two line phone and had to wait for the inconsiderate 2nd liner to get off.  We didn't have air cond in the homes, much less in our cars.  The youth of today demand the right to go to college.  We went a class at a time, paying as we went and could afford, not running up huge college bills impossible to pay back.  Maybe America needs to wake up and realize we are going to have to live on less and enjoy what we have and not complain because we cant live the life of the rich anymore.  Compare ourselves to India where I was born on a Mission field.  The poorest here in America are wealthy compared to the well to do Indian.   We are spoiled brats.  If you have a house over your head and bread to eat (even without meat) you are blessed more than the majority of the world.  This Roman Empire was not meant to last never does. Look in your history books.  Capitalism fails because of greed...socialism fails because of greed.  Our only hope is to watch out for each other and make the best of what we have.  Fat cats have and always will exist.  There has never been a country that found an answer to rid themselves of the greedy.  Thank God for what you have and work a little harder.  Maybe you may have to share a home with another family, but do what you can and eventually life works out.  My aunt of 92 yrs. worked hard raised 7 kids went through the depression but always thanked God for what she had.  Get out there take whatever job you can find no matter what the pay and quit your whining!
Oct 26, 2011 2:30PM

@bigelhad... I don't think your comparison draws an accurate analogy, nor do I think your solutions are viable and fair. Why do you feel that the 99% you all claim to be a part of have no chance of winning? It isn't like people with money are malevolently conspiring to keep you earning a middle class salary, with a mortgage, 2.2 cars and half a dog. Is there a lack of regulation in corporate America? When the lack of regulation causes corporate collapse, should taxpayers foot the bill for bailouts? Absolutely not. This message I agree with. However, I don't feel that "robbing from the rich to give to the poor" is the answer. I would think that someone from your generation would agree that the optimal method for getting ahead in life is hard work. The problem is that in conjunction with legitimate demands from the OWS folks, I also hear a resounding sense of entitlement that devalues any legitimacy in their claims.

Oct 26, 2011 4:06PM

If these people really want to fight big corporations, they would put down the i-phones, stop eating Dominos, and start supporting the little guys. The only way they or anyone else is going get there message accross is to hit them in the pocket book. Stop shopping at wal-mart and support your local mom and pop shops that buy locally, pay decent wages and care about people and community. The more people that supprt the companys that operate with integrity the more power we have. Buy American when possible, buy locally when possible, support the small businesses. Dont give your money away to someone who sees you as only a dollar sign, give it to someone who is happy to have you as a customer.   Look at what happened with netflix, that message came across loud and clear, they dont care what you say or if you are hanging around some park they only pay attention to the bottom line. If their profits take a hit then they start to listen.  The only voice you have with big business is where you put your money.

Oct 26, 2011 3:35PM

We are the 53% that pays for

the handouts.

They want: No profits.

No profits, no business, no jobs.

We can't wait

until 2012.

We tried big Govt,

it failed.

And all we have to show for it is a mountain of debt in our names.


Oct 26, 2011 2:21PM

Never mind the pizzas...somebody should bring these hippies a large supply of soap, shampoo and deodorant.


Oct 26, 2011 4:26PM
This guy bemoans his student loans.  You want to know why colleges are sooo expensive?  Supply and demand.  The more loans/grants there are available, the higher colleges will raise their costs as they know people will pay it.  Cut all student loans, shrink the supply of money available and the cost will go down.  In addition, get rid of all the BS classes offered, mostly which can be learned online and get back to offering career classes.  Truth is, most classes offered at the college level dont' need to be taught-the information is available online.  People used to go to college to get educated about a career.  Now they go just for the heck of it, because everyone tells them, "You cannot be successful without a college degree".  BS.  I have several business associates who went to comm/junior colleges and they make 6 figures and live nicely.  The secret, they worked hard, were disciplined, and motivated.  Not like most youth now who think, I have a degree, now where is my high paying job. Doesn't work that way. 
Oct 26, 2011 4:55PM

They want to "Occupy" your wallet.

Over 2000 arrests and counting. Compare to ZERO by TEA PARTY MEMBERS at Tea Party Rallies.

So they want more Gov't rules and regulations, but won't follow the simple Gov't rules themselves. (Such as no camping in public city parks - the same rule for all the other bums. And throwing rocks at the police is a major crime - not a protest!)

They want their debts forgiven - but who would pay for that? The rest of us.

We are the 53% who actually pay taxes.


Oct 26, 2011 5:19PM
I would not even call these lost people protestors for one.  For having a protest rally you need to have a single major concern.  What I find is people milling about with no direction.  some are concerned, but they can't even tell me what the concern is.  They just rant away.  Others just are there because, just because.   And the stupid media has this as a major rally.  I don't know whether the media or the "protesters" are more lost...
Oct 26, 2011 5:56PM

We all have an obligation to society.  The obligation is to provide some service, pay taxes, be self-supporting and others.  While we all hit bad times in our lives, therefore we all should be responsible enough to prepare for these times and not be totally dependent on others.  By depending on the government you are depending on everyone one else in the country.  The government is just the administrator of the funding.  Really who should be upset?  The 1% that is getting protested against goes to work every day, provides their obligations to society and helping support the ones out there protesting.  If anyone thinks this isn’t true just consider what the 1%'s tax bill would be if everyone in America had to paid an equal amount in taxes and the government stopped the programs the protester are living on right now.  That 1% would be paying a very small amount compared to what they pay today.  It is almost like hating the people that are feeding you!

Oct 26, 2011 3:52PM
I like this article, but I disagree with throwing "Tea Partiers" in there... if there is a self-proclaimed tea party member in the crowd, one of two things must be true:

1) they're lying
2) they have no idea what the tea party is; even the media casts the tea party as being violently intolerant of the OWS types.

But alas, journalistic integrity is a premium, so we're just supposed to swallow that "a range of  ideologies" make up OWS, when it's not. Most of those protesters have no idea about detailed, historical political science or philosophy, so why are we trusting them to even describe their own political identity?
Oct 26, 2011 5:09PM

The flock of the disorganized majority make up the sheep of the organized minority. Ask Lenin, Trotsky and the Muslim Brotherhod,


Oct 26, 2011 6:29PM

Oh Victoria959, trust me I get it.  Thank you for making my very point.  Instead of sitting out there fussing that they can’t pay their bills and they need a bail out.  Why are they not out looking for a job or even better starting a new business?  I started my business 20years ago on less than $1,000 and it has supported me and my family plus I am paying the taxes that the protesters are living on.  If you can’t help yourself why should anyone feel like they should help you?  What they are asking for is no more than going door to door asking for a hand-out just wanting the Government to do it for them.  No pity from me unless you are out there truly using every hour of the day and every muscle in your body to help yourself.  I am speaking from experience not just shooting off at the mouth. 

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