“Losing money” doesn’t cut it anymore

November 17, 2011

money, cash, down the drain

From motivations unknown, the last week of local online and TV media concerning Occupy Oakland has begun to focus on the financial burden the encampment has placed on the city – both in terms of business investment/revenues lost, and cost to the city. While pinning blame for the city’s already lackluster economic activity on Occupy Oakland is questionable at best, the issue of the group’s cost to the city raises an important point.

It’s one of the go-to jabs against OWS. All this pesky exercising of the First Amendment is costing money, resources, and allowing “real” criminals – the ones created by the same skewed value system OWS is protesting – to run amok. The fact is, the most egregious incident that gave Oakland police the political capital needed to evict the camp – the fatal shooting of a young man – happened on a Thursday evening, a time of day when there is no ambiguity about the legality or the right of anyone to assemble to air any grievance they wish. Sure, protests are expensive and maybe a bit of a hassle, but they’re also fairly important, responsible for civil rights, the formation of this country and pretty much any other notable event in history relevant to the populous. Today, most people would agree that the benefits of ending segregation might outweigh the inconvenience that was felt from the authorities having to dole out overtime pay back in the day.

The argument is similar to a comment I see in online forums a lot, the latest variation of which had to do with the NBA lockout. A commenter blamed the players for rejecting the latest labor proposal by the owners, claiming the ones who would really suffer are the fans, who will have to pay higher ticket prices to compensate for the lost revenue when play resumes. For some reason, the commenter assigns no culpability to the owners, who aren’t being forced by anyone to raise prices. At the same time, the players are entitled to negotiate for their interests. If a stalemate arises, the owners are just as responsible for the fallout, and just as responsible for baring the brunt of any sacrifice that must be made as a result. (Please note, this is just an analogy and not meant as a defense of NBA players or professional sports in general.)

But if there’s one generalized idea starting to crystallize in the OWS movement, and hopefully soon amongst the still bewildered outsiders looking in, it’s that the old lines of thought are starting to ring more hollow. The reflexive appeal to “lost jobs” and “lost money” only reaffirm the true nature of the problem – the misplaced tendency to see everything through the lens of money, or in other words, the inability to see beyond the constraints of an inherently compromised economic system that is itself the cause of all the problems being protested.

This isn’t about jobs or income equality anymore, it’s about equality itself. Really, it’s about increasing the collective awareness of a society to the point where we’re empowered to do things that are beneficial FOR THEIR OWN SAKE, as opposed to now, where we can only do those things if they are profitable to the establishment. Is this pie in the sky stuff? Depends who you ask, but I tend to agree with the oft-repeated Einstein quote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

When thinking about things in this way, it’s easier to understand why someone might take a view that could be considered radical, such as a desire for the entire global economic system to collapse. Aside from the varied injustices – Chinese sweatshops and the like – some of which may or may not be able to be solved with legislative tweaking, the recognition that the incessant need for profit and consumption is in direct conflict with a society’s ability to act unilaterally in its own interest, is the main driver of a view such as this.

If the economy were to collapse, what would happen? Maybe pandemonium. Or, maybe, it would force us to come to the realization that nothing has actually changed. All the resources and physical comforts would still be there, the only difference would be some slightly lighter wallets and some numbers on computer screens telling us we’re SUPPOSED to be freaking out. Maybe it would be the turning point we need to finally see how individual benefit really is tied to collective benefit, and to build a system that truly is for everyone. Maybe then we could make the desperately needed transition to, say, renewable energy, not because we maneuver our way to more funding or a new regulation passes that makes it more profitable, but because it actually is an important thing to do.

As unrealistic as a fundamental change like this may seem today, more people are recognizing it will have to happen at some point if our kind plans on sticking around for the future. Is the OWS movement the beginning of that shift? I don’t know yet. I do know, however, that in the meantime, I won’t lose any sleep over the lost “jobs” and “money” caused as a result of the protests. I’m losing a lot more sleep over the cause of the protests themselves.

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