Never one to miss a chance to see a good DC protest, my wife and I took the opportunity to check out one of the #occupyDC camps on Monday night. We spent a good two hours with a close friend walking around, listening, observing and getting a first hand feel for the occupy movement in America’s Capital.
I’m just going to assume that everyone has basic understanding of what’s going on and has a general idea how the the occupy wall street movement in New York has spread across the US. I’m sure everyone has already formulated some opinions on what’s going on. But I just wanted to post with some first hand insights and my own two cents.
For those unfamiliar with the movement in DC; there are actually two separate occupy factions in the city. The one we walked around is centered in MacPherson Square on K Street, which is of course right in the heart of the lobbyist row. This group is a far more subdued version of the more active and confrontational group situation in Freedom Plaza. The Freedom Plaza occupy movement has been the one corralling the headlines with daily protests and alignment with other movements. If you’ve heard of arrests in DC at various protests, it’s coming from the Freedom Plaza group rather than the MacPherson group.
As mentioned, our little group spent the evening watching the MacPherson Square General Assembly. We also spent time walking around and listening to the protestors.
Contrary to what the media spin is, it was pretty clear that the occupyKst group was made up of a pretty diverse mixture of people. Of course, there was a handful of anarchists and what I would call professional protestors. You also had a few homeless people hanging around for a bit of free food. But on the most part, of the 200 or so people there that evening, most were made up of disenfranchised youth. And when I use the term youth, I mean educated and working professionals between the 24-33 year old range. Yes, this isn’t just a bunch of squeegee kids. The people hard at work, trying to build some sort of open organizational structure and to help craft a specific message were from a big swatch of very professional minded people. They were all working within the organize and group structure to establish a direction. (By the way, massive kudos to the amazing IT brigade of 5 dedicate nerds live streaming the entire process).
One of the biggest criticisms of the whole occupy movement is that there is no clear message and doesn’t seam to be an end goal. And from watching the Occupy K street General assembly trying to forge a structure and hierarchy, there are some issues. It’s clear that there are some leadership holes in the structure, but for the most part they were really trying to establish a collective direction. Which in the context of the who event is a pretty difficult task given the diversity of the stakeholders.
And while I’ll agree with many pundits, that the most glaring criticism of the protests is that they don’t necessarily have a concrete objective or even an end goal; it is easy to see why people are heading there and becoming involved.
Coming from Calgary and being a professional within the 25-30 year old range, I never felt like I was behind the eightball in career options. I also personally don’t have patience for people who believe that just by getting an education, whether it’s high school or university, they are instantly entitled to a 50k salary, the big house, five cars and the ability to live large.
But at the same time, I honestly never felt like I was ever going to be pinned behind crushing health insurance debt, student loans or a lack of job opportunities – in Calgary at least these issues were never something that crossed my mind. The tables never felt slanted against my ability for upward movement in society. As long as I worked hard and made connections, things will eventually work out.
But in DC, when I chat with my wife’s cohorts, there is an underlying sense that this generation of Americans are not getting that same sort of opportunity. The playing field isn’t even remotely level. Either crippled by the insane costs of health insurance, crushing student debt (3-4 times what the average Canadian takes on), stuck in the cycle of the unpaid intern culture, running two jobs (a professional job during the day and service job at night), or not being able to purchase property. There seams to be a disconnect with the potential for success that was available to previous generations. The question becomes, is the playing field really level anymore or is it stuck in an upward slant. In America, at the current moment, I’m inclined to say that things aren’t remotely level – and that in my opinion is the essence of these movements.
From the time I spent watching and observing the #occupyDC group last week, it’s pretty clear that their biggest challenge is changing the public opinion of their movement. To switch it from what seams like a disorganized bunch of radical left-wing hippies to a focused generational movement against what seams like a hopeless and daunting system. But until these groups are able to specifically channel that idea, they’re going to continue to face an uphill PR battle.
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