When the son and I left for Chicago on Thursday, the Occupy movement still seemed to be very much a creature of social media. Saturday morning, I heard reporting on it on CNN while we were waiting in the departure lounge at O'Hare, and then when I actually got home there were some articles on Yahoo News and in the local newspaper, along with some stories in larger newspapers. It's grown from there, and yesterday's New York Times included a very cogent opinion piece on the protests. Also an opinion piece on why the plutocrats are panicking. As author Margaret Atwood rightly noted on Twitter this morning, echoes of the French Revolution.
CNN seemed to go out of its way to find some of the most incoherent individuals it could to speak with. I am not surprised; I've no doubt the 1% wants to portray the protesters as crackpots to the extent possible. I've seen them referred to as "mobs" and "the great unwashed." And no doubt, some are crackpots, some are opportunists, and some are troublemakers but most are just really angry, disenfranchised citizens. In fact, some of them look a lot like me.
Everyone has a story, and while there are common threads--unemployed, under employed and uninsured--a good deal of the rage is directed at the banks and financial institutions that taxpayers were forced to bail out and that are now stealing, quite literally, the rest of our money. Plenty is aimed at the large corporations that also got bailouts at our expense.
Like so many others in this country, I was raised with the notion that if I worked hard, played fair, and saved a percentage of my salary, I would earn my way to financial stability. So I worked long hours, and saved money. I've never been afraid of hard work, and no job has ever been beneath me. I can't tell you how many children I've cared for, how many toilets I scrubbed for the privilege of higher education. And though the only toilets I presently scrub are my own, we live modestly and we've been careful with our means and our resources. In short, we've done all the right things.
At the same time, we saw our health insurance premiums skyrocket to $24,000 this year. We made the scary decision to go to a high deductible plan. We're watching our retirement plans shrinking. The banks feel that they no longer need to pay us for the privilege of using our savings. The best interest rate we see? 0.01% I am trying to teach my children the value of saving...why? Oh no, wait. I'm supposed to be teaching them to spend their money to continue shoring up the corporations I've already shored up. Buy more useless garbage. While I search for more ways to cut the weekly grocery bill that just seems to keep climbing.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm mad as hell.
Since I was in Chicago, after my pressing chores in the city, I decided to take a walk down to the Federal Reserve Bank there, and the Chicago Board of Trade. You can read more about that here. It was Friday afternoon, so while there were protesters about, it was all pretty quiet. But I took some photos and spoke with some of the people on the street. Some were young, some a good deal older than me. Some evinced a sense of theater, some just wanted their voices heard.
No one declined my requests for photographs.
"Why don't you get your press credentials?" the spouse asked me impatiently when I showed him the fruits of my labor after I got home.
"I'm not press," I told him. "I'm just a woman with a camera."
And for the moment, I don't want to be aligned with any group. Freelance has always suited me well, and it allows me objectivity, observer status. But I'm similarly not interested in being silent.
And I won't be silent because I'm mad as hell.
I'm mad as hell at the 1% who are destroying my life, expecting me to bail them out, expecting me to enrich their bonus packages, expecting me to keep them solvent. I'm mad as hell at the Republicans who think that I shouldn't be complaining that I'm not in the 1% because I haven't worked hard enough? That assumption is so deeply fallacious that I can't even find the appropriate words to address it. And no, I don't want your Mercedes or BMW. I could have your Mercedes or BMW, but I've got far better sense.
But there is another facet to this as well. I'm mad as hell at whatever the percentage of the 99% partied like it was 1999 on what they decided was free credit, living like they were the 1% until the bill came due and they couldn't pay it. I'm mad as hell at those who serially file bankruptcy and think it's ok. I'm mad as hell at the people who ran property values into the ground, partying like it was 1999 in mansions they couldn't begin to afford on no-down payment loans that the banks had no business giving them. I'm mad as hell at the people who used their houses as piggy banks--let the good times roll! And now they've been foreclosed, upon or are in danger of it, they, too, expect me to bail them out.
You see, I'm stuck in the middle. Here I am, between the devil and the deep blue sea. I've got all the liars and the cheats, the Democrats and the Republicans, the rich ones and the newly poor ones, whether they live high on the hog on Wall Street, or formerly lived high on the hog in Irvine and Newport Beach looking to me, stealing from me, the person who worked her ass off for financial stability, has always paid her bills, doesn't live above her means, has no entitlement issues.
How dare any of you--rich or the victim of your own bad decision making--think that I owe you my hard-earned money? How dare any of you think that you are entitled to anything that I have worked for?
So, no, for the moment, I align myself with no one. And yes, I feel for those who didn't bring this garbage down on their own heads, who worked hard and played fair and tried to earn their right to financial stability.
It's you that I'll fight for.
The rest of you? What are you going to do when I pick up my toys and go elsewhere? You think I can't?
Go listen to some good music: "Uprising" from the album The Resistance by Muse.