A group of bold Americans who proclaim that they are part of the 99% have taken to the streets in order to demand a departure from the American system. The participants hold signs declaring that they could lose their jobs for participating in the protest, or that “a job is a right: capitalism doesn’t work.” Images of the sad and angry pervade the media as more and more attention is given to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. As I look into their faces, I see their pain clearly, and my first response to the work that they’re doing is one of sympathy. I know firsthand the problems of living in our downward spiraling economy. My family’s home was foreclosed on, my mother is unable to work due to injury, and both my brother and I are struggling to pay the bills at home – let alone our tuition. Yes, I know how tough times are.
My feelings of sympathy, however, do not occupy the stage of my mind all by their lonesome. They are met there by a serious consideration of their demands and actions. Sure, the protestors have proved themselves to be a spectacle again and again, but, more importantly, they represent a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. Though it may be more obvious to laugh at their misspelled signs and their blatant displays of privilege (think Twitter updates via iPhone), we must acknowledge the seriousness of their idea and what it says about the current egalitarian mindset that seems to be so very prominent in our nation today.
When we consider the state of not only our economy, but also the world’s economy, it’s really no wonder that arguments are being made in favor of redistributing our nation’s wealth. Though those watching the protests from home are more likely to criticize the Movement than they are to join it, it is undeniable that Americans, over the years, have seen the appeal in sharing the wealth. Social programs are more and more popular, and taxing the rich is often offered as a solution to our nation’s problem with debt. So, even if the Occupiers are a fringe group on the American political scene, the ideas that they seek to promulgate are continuing to take root in society: they are influencing the People and are slowly, but surely, being accepted.
Each person who accepts an idea as true gives that very same idea power: an idea without support is nothing more than a fanciful dream of the person whose mind it first crossed. But, an idea which has gained acceptance, well, it begins to function like a living breathing thing with a force and a power all its own. Soon, frightfully soon, it is the idea itself which must be fought, and those who support it are no longer seen as its originators or its propagators, but as pawns fallen in its wake and overtaken by the idea itself. A movement, which is spreading the world over and which is based on a very simple complaint that attacks the existing order, is a serious force to be reckoned with.
It is important to realize, however, that it’s likely we don’t have to fear serious political upheaval from these protests because those who are so dissatisfied with the status quo still rely on it to fulfill their demands. They believe that if they yell loud enough, if they scream hard enough, and if they demand often enough, then eventually the boys in Washington will meet their demands – and they’re probably right. It’s incredibly telling that those who express the deepest resentment towards our system still set their eyes on the system to make it right. Now, this does not speak to the efficacy of our system; rather, it speaks to its degradation.
When our political system was first instituted, and for some time thereafter, it was nearly unthinkable that the citizens would turn to the government when they wanted to accumulate more wealth. Instead, entrepreneurial spirits invested in government bonds, securing an annuity and maybe even a piece of land out west, and embarked upon an adventure to earn the wealth their government secured their right to pursue. Today, we don’t want the government to clear the way so that we may exercise our God-given liberties in order to sustain ourselves; instead, we ask the government to hand us a check so that we can say we made it. We’ve done no such thing.
Americans used to be all about the selfmade man. We loved to hear stories about men who grew up poor, struck out on their own, and through lots of hard work and maybe just a little bit of luck, made their fortune, or at least a comfortable life, for themselves and their family. And, for the most part, the “American Dream” is still a salient fixture in our society today. However, the temptation is certainly there, especially when hard times seem unending, to rely on the government for our sustenance and our livelihood. And, too frequently, we begin to view the advantages that we’ve been long familiar with – a multitude of employment opportunities, a growing economy, a wealthy nation, superpower status – as rights in and of themselves.
It gives a new meaning to the term ‘American Exceptionalism’ – we’re no longer exceptional because of our powerful ideals and incomparable regime; rather, we think we’re exceptional because of the stuff we have. So, when we see a small sliver of the population in possession of that which supposedly makes us extraordinary (whether it be wealth, jobs, or the newest gadget), we view it as an upset of the political system which we’ve been taught to guard so jealously. Little do we realize that what we seek to preserve is all but lost to the overwhelming influence of a vain idea. So the Occupy Wall Street Movement continues, and many more like it will spring up, so long as the People continue to mistake that which makes America strong for that which makes America great.