I'm not planning on occupying Wall Street anytime soon but since it's the current cause of celebration among the activist crowd and seems to have captured the meager attention of Democratic leaders in Congress attempting to revive their own efforts at principled leadership (the Republicans have their Tea Party, after all) I figured it worth the effort to share a few thoughts.
1. Wall Street is not what's wrong with America; consumerism, run-away self-aggrandizement, an eviscerated core ethic of national service, and a radically digitized, virtual world where we can be who we want, when we want, how we want, has as much to do with the collapse of American Exceptionalism as anything the guys and gals on Wall Street have done in partnership with a political system that partnered with them and a willing population--don't forget the willing population! as long as iPhones and Androids were cheap and a sale at Abercrombie and Fitch was always just around the corner.
2. Call me boring but I believe that the prosaic efforts of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to strengthen the prosecution of illegal and unethical business and banking practices is more productive than occupying a public/private park. Call me out-of-fashion but as an early proponent of the Living Wage here in New York City, I mourn the eclipse of that important issue by the vague and vainglorious nonsense of the Occupy Wall Street Clergy statement that calls for a "revolution" in America. We had a revolution in America 235 years ago and we're still trying to get the principles of equality and justice heading down the right path. I'm outing myself as a hedgehog: changing history takes a long time.
3. Where were these high-minded activists the past three years? Waiting for Obama to do something? Blogging about the horrifying Republican political tactics? Making fun of Sarah Palin? Admiring their own reflections in the latest app? Meanwhile, statehouses across the country are re-drawing political maps; Congress sits in the mud; ennui sets in for some; anger builds in others. But dancing the Hora in Zucotti Park? No thank you. Our own Arab Spring? Are you kidding me? The Egyptians just killed 27 Christian Copts; we seemed to have stopped paying attention to the slaughter in Syria; and that U.N. vote for Palestinian statehood has, like all other things, ground to a halt of the usual dysfunction.
If anything, as some have pointed out, the Occupy Wall Street protests mirror the street protests in Tel Aviv this summer, but God forbid the organizers identify with the Zionist Occupier. Wait a minute...*Occupy* Wall Street!
In Tel Aviv, the rallies were mostly the bourgeois, the educated middle class as organizers, building coalitions with the working poor, questioning certain values assumptions about the direction of Israeli society. A worthy series of sit-ins and rallies has given way to the demanding, difficult and tireless work ahead for a the long slog of changing government policy, one law at a time. In Israel it has a better chance of succeeding, actually, because the polity still demands of its citizens allegiance and service to the state.
Here in America we're not so lucky. While one generation ended the draft in order to prevent induction to the U.S. Armed Forces in the event of an "unjust" war, nothing replaced the privileges and obligations of citizenship accept an unrestricted devotion to one's "self-fulfillment." Not bad for a diary entry; and maybe even a good book deal on the occasional memoir. But 350 million people doing their own thing?
That's why we're in this mess.
Instead of occupying Wall Street, these people might consider occupying themselves with the task of transcending their selves, rolling up their sleeves, walking the halls of government, running for office, and making the changes they want.