On Friday, Oct. 7, I’m going to grab my sleeping bag, pack a change of clothes, buy a few protein bars and head to City Hall to camp out for the weekend.
I’ll be tagging along with Occupy San Diego, a local spinoff of Occupy Wall Street, a grassroots activist group that kick-started a national movement when it commandeered a park in New York City’s financial district three weeks ago. At 4 p.m., Occupy San Diego will lead a march from Children’s Park, Downtown, to the Civic Center Plaza, which they’ll occupy indefinitely as part of a nationwide, grassroots effort to call for an end to deep-seated economic and social inequality.
Occupy San Diego probably won’t smash the chains of injustice any time soon—I counted only about 100 people at the group’s march through Downtown on Sunday. But what’s important is that the group is joining thousands of Americans across the country to make a stand.
Because, well, let’s admit it: America is screwed up.
The income figures that the U.S. Census Bureau released last month offer a dismal view of the financial situation for many Americans. While 1 percent of the population owns 40 percent of the country’s wealth, a staggering 15 percent of the population—or 46.2 million Americans—live below the federal poverty line. To be clear, you’re officially poor if you’re a family of four that makes $22,314 a year. As The New Yorker’s John Cassidy recently pointed out, in 2010, Census figures show, the median earnings for a full-time male worker were slightly lower than they were 37 years earlier—$47,715 in 2010 compared with $49,065 in 1973. Adjusted to 2010 dollars, that’s a pay cut of more than $25 a week.
While Americans have scraped by, President Obama has been seriously lagging in the “hope” department. Last month, he proposed a new tax for millionaires called the “Buffett Rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett. But supporters of Occupy Wall Street think the tax doesn’t go nearly far enough. Last week, the group posted a detailed list of demands on its website, occupywallst.org, that included a full criminal investigation of the 2008 financial crisis, an overhaul of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and an end to “corporate personhood,” the Constitutional loophole that affords corporations the same rights as individuals.
It’s no wonder that Occupy Wall Street managed to rally 1,500 people to take the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday, leading to massive traffic delays and more than 700 arrests (not to mention lots of media coverage). Here’s a movement that actually talks some sense.
The problem is that Occupy Wall Street’s objective is starting to look too broad for its own good. The movement’s list of demands includes pretty much every injustice under the sun—on the website coupmedia.org/occupy-vote.html, you can actually vote for the official demands, which include everything from repealing the PATRIOT Act to reinvestigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A broad message doesn’t equal broad-based support. The wildly successful protests in Egypt this year called for one specific thing: the downfall of then-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
It’s unknown where the Occupy movement will go from here. There are currently no leaders, and all decisions are made by consensus, a process that requires general agreement from the group. That might help ensure that everybody’s voice is heard, but it’s also a notoriously difficult and frustrating process. This movement might benefit from a few charismatic leaders who can articulate an inspiring message to a wider audience.
But for now, I’m just eager to see what happens when Occupy San Diego sets up a volunteer-run camp from scratch at the doorstep of city government. Anyone’s welcome to participate in the decision-making process and offer their skills, whether that means banging out a few labor songs on an acoustic guitar or leading a study group on Marx’s Capital. I’ll be the one in the horn-rimmed glasses, scribbling in my notebook. Maybe I’ll see you there.