Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the Occupy Movement, as answered by a humble occupier in Los Angeles. Each paragraph will be followed by a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) for those who prefer abridgment.
Please note that I am in no way a representative, official or unofficial, of the Occupy movement. Please also note that no one is, even if they say they are. We did that on purpose. Those who claim to represent us are often the same people whose personal agendas would never pass consensus at an Occupation General Assembly.
Why do you “occupy?”
The short answer you may have heard: We’re dedicated to protesting the vast injustices that have been committed by a powerful few, and ignored by our corporate-sponsored government. Corporate criminals ought to be held accountable for stealing homes, money, jobs, committing major fraud, and taking advantage of government bailout loans. We’re tireless because every day, we see and feel the pain of the poor financial decisions made by those powerful few while their profits are higher than they’ve ever been.
The more explicit answer:
The U.S. is a constitutional republic, wherein the democratically elected representatives of each district are tasked with representing the interests of their constituency. The motivation behind the Occupy movement is based on the belief that our legislators are no longer representing the interests of their constituency, but rather the interests of whomever funds their campaign most heavily. Since money is now considered speech by the US government (see the Citizens United ruling), and there is a gross wealth disparity here (38th worst in the world, going by our GINI coefficient), the system is currently functioning so that our votes very often mean nothing. We decide the winning candidate, but regardless of who wins any election, politicians must be bought, if they haven’t already, by corporate or union interests: whichever has more. In the U.S., 85% of the time the candidate with the most campaign funding will win the election. It’s no longer practically possible to win an election without huge amounts of money, and most of that money inevitably comes from the same corporate interests that benefit from legislation passed by those to whom they contributed huge amounts of money. This is against the very foundation of a representative democracy, and since voting no longer works, the only remaining form of democratic participation provided to us by our founding fathers is the right to assembly in peaceable protest. It was afforded just for cases like these.
This idea transcends partisan lines. Both major parties, frankly, suck at representing American interests. We’re angry. We tried voting, but since they’re all corrupt, that didn’t work either. So we’re doing the other kind of democratic participation thing. We’re protesting until we’re heard by those who have ignored the people for a disturbingly long time.
tl;dr: The government is terribly corrupt, ignoring the people, and our votes (on either side) aren’t changing anything. We’re protesting because we love our country but hate what they’re doing to it. And we’re staying in tents because that’s difficult to ignore, and makes it much easier to collaborate with each other on solutions, consensus, and fact-based knowledge.
Why do you hate rich people?
We don’t. I respect and appreciate every honest businessman who works hard to succeed and grow their business. If you’ve earned your massive wealth through honest means, you are a testament to our nation’s innovation and I thank you. But not every extremely wealthy person in America worked their tail off to get there honestly. Some were born rich, and some broke a lot of rules to get to where they are. It’s these people who buy off the government so that the very rules meant to prevent financial abuse can not be used against them. These corporate greed-hounds and their lobbyists are some of the biggest criminals in this nation, and their malpractice has led to thousands of illegal foreclosures on now-homeless families, millions of pre-planned loan defaults, and a country of people feeling the burn of an economic recession. There are two types of human greed: one provides ambition to make a company greatly successful, and the other prompts already-wealthy people to manipulate hoards of people, their families, their homes, and their media, to make themselves more wealthy at any expense. The first kind is okay, and can perhaps be credited with many of America’s previous Capitalistic successes. The latter is Disney-movie-villain disgusting. If we can agree that thieves deserve to be jailed, let’s agree that thieves on a much larger scale deserve the same. If you can’t get rich by playing fair, you’re probably not that great at business anyway.
tl;dr: We aren’t mad at rich people, and we’re not jealous of rich people. What we are is outraged at those few people who use their wealth to control the government, manipulate the public, and bastardize the legal system to allow them to constantly get away with committing outrageous large-scale crimes and business fraud at the expense of the American public. Why aren’t you mad?
What do you stand for?
A return to democratic representation. Members of this movement have all kinds of ideas — good, bad, and downright crazy — for how to fix this economic mess we’re in. But the one thing we can all agree on is that the people deserve to have a say in how their government is run. Most Americans are struggling financially at the same time that money is being proven to speak louder than words in our legislative arenas. A quick look at publicly-available campaign contribution data, compared with each politician’s voting record, will show an obvious relationship in how laws are being passed and interpreted. Both Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty of accepting contributions, support, and lobbyist perks from the most crooked of all corporate money. Politics should be about people, not money. Despite previous court claims, corporations are not people. People are people, and our system was designed so that the peoples’ votes matter. We can disagree on everything else, but once we (all of us) reclaim the representation we deserve in our government, we can stop duking it out and just vote it out. The candidate with the most votes should win based on merit — not money. If we can agree on that, we can disagree on everything else and still work together to fix things. This economic standstill is helping no one. United we stand, but divided we fall. Which do you think is happening right now?
tl;dr: We stand for the freedom of Americans to choose representatives who legislate in the best interest of those who elected them. That’s it.
Do you have specific demands?
Not currently. Several weeks ago, the Occupy Wall Street GA released a Declaration of Occupation here: http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/ . It was passed unanimously by many other occupations around the country, but it is not a list of demands by any means. It’s more of an official answer to the “Why?” we kept hearing. This movement is unique in that it is not made up of a group of like-minded people. We are all extremely different, and disagree on so many things. But we’re here because we’re frustrated. We all have different things to say, and none of our elected officials are listening to any of us. Those we’ve given power to simply don’t care about what we have to say anymore. It’s the very fact that our differing opinions aren’t being heard that has brought us together. And decades of biased American media aiming to sell news instead of reporting honestly has succeeded in separating us even more. We recognize the danger in a system that lies to its people in order to further separate them. Those in power recognize the danger in a system that unites the people, providing them the power to vote on issues that may strip the powerful few of their privilege. The more we bicker amongst ourselves, the longer the government/corporation collaboration can keep its power and wealth. To have the small groups of occupations decide how the country should fix its problems would be wrong. We’re protesting for an America that allows each person one equally-valued vote each, and makes decisions based on what the people want. Like I said before: If we can stop bickering for just a little while, we can vote it out later. All of it.
tl;dr: No. We’re just groups of citizens. We’re supposed to elect representatives who put practical demands to vote, in the interest of the people who elected them. We just want the ability to do that again.
What is “the 99 percent?”
I am, and by the laws of statistics, you probably are too. Wealth disparity is an interesting thing that means the amount of difference between how much of your nation’s wealth belongs to your rich people, and how much belongs to everyone else. Our wealth disparity as calculated by the CIA is, I kid you not, somewhere between Bulgaria and Cameroon. See for yourself: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html . It’s an unfortunate fact that right now, 1% of Americans own about 43% of the money in America. At first, it may be tempting to tell yourself that they must have earned that money or they wouldn’t have so much of it. But is an America where roughly 400 people own more wealth than half of the entire nation COMBINED (that’s 175 million people. Combined.) really considered a success? We feel that in a nation where 99% of us are considered poor compared to the wealth of America as a whole, something must be wrong. And as it turns out, the reason the rich keep getting richer is because so many of them have realized that their money speaks louder than our words, and they can use their wealth to pass laws that benefit only them. We don’t hate the player — we hate the game. And we’re out here to change the rules of this grossly disproportionate game so we can all have a chance to get off the unemployment bench and show some hustle again.
tl;dr: 1% of Americans own 43% of America’s wealth, and the decisions they’re making with that wealth very clearly are not helping anyone but themselves. We (you too) are the remaining 99%, and we recognize what a ridiculous proportion that is. It’s the reason we keep saying it.
“Okay, so I agree that the government is corrupt, corporate crimes should face punishment, whatever. But I’ve seen these occupations on the news. Maybe there are a few reasonable adults out there, but to me it looks like a bunch of kids who don’t feel like getting a job sitting outside, playing the victim card, blaming the rich, and not wearing shirts. How is this going to help draw attention to your cause?”
You’re reading this now, aren’t you? None of us has any authority to accept or reject members of our movement (barring those who blatantly create a dangerous environment for other occupiers), and that means you’re going to see a lot of people you normally wouldn’t hang around. As for what you’ve seen on the news, I can explain the following firsthand as a part of the Occupy LA media team: There is nothing more frustrating than watching a powerful media machine carefully construct a presentation that frames a logically reactive political movement, something to which you’ve dedicated your livelihood, as a group of entitled college kids trying to live off the taxpayer’s dime. If you can admit that America’s mainstream media is a corporate-controlled mess, then you should know better than to believe what they’re trying to sell you. The news you see on television is tasked with making a profit, while independent media on the internet won’t stand to benefit at all from whether or not you watch their YouTube report. Caveat emptor. Be very cautious when a snake-oil-selling reporter tells you that the Occupy Movement, a movement which would threaten their control over the way the game is currently played, is nothing but a bunch of hippies creating a nuisance. We never planned to create a counter-media committee within these occupations, but in light of how the mainstream media has been portraying us to the rest of America, we’ve had to. To see media from the source, take a look at our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages. Links are below.
tl;dr: Mainstream media news outlets will gladly report anything they think might help them profit. The very foundation of our movement goes against their power to decide what the truth is in an attempt to manipulate you, me, and both our neighbors. They’re lying about a lot of what’s going on at these occupations, mainly because if they made us look good, people would support us, and they’d lose their power. Beware of that before you decide if you’re against what we stand for.
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. But remember that we have no time to bicker. Now is the time to patiently discuss with other Americans our shared frustration of this mess we’re in.
A green tent
City Hall South Lawn
Occupy Los Angeles
Live updates on the movement: