The thing about the "Occupy" demonstrations - and really all of the Tea Party demonstrations as well - is that they make a lot of noise... but what do they do?
To some extent, I salute participants on both sides. I may agree and disagree with portions of their views (or entirely... just depends), but I can hardly argue that both groups' efforts have done much to raise my awareness of their issues. I've done some of the background reading on their topics as a result.
The thing is... well, a number of things.
Let's hit the obvious: lots of ignorant people in each group. For every well-read, thoughtful person, it seems, at least as the news shows via interviews, there's someone who has a lot of hyperbole and no grasp of how the world actually works. A stack of good intentions doesn't change the government, nor does it make a dent in our economy. This is at its worst when people oversimplify.
Prime example: the obsession of some Tea Party members (at least that's how they identify) with illegal immigration. I have yet to hear one person discuss how their wishes to deport everyone would affect produce prices at Safeway. Truth is, if you're not ready to discuss that outcome as part of your view, then I'm not going to give you the time of day.
That, however, is an easy problem to spot and I think (hope?) many Americans can see right through the ignorant opinions and say "Now, now... it's not that simple."
The bigger issue for me, and it is on grand display with the Occupy rallies, is that other than getting some attention, I see no tangible outcome.
A few years ago, a friend was considering becoming a vegetarian based on some moral beliefs. I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic. Personally, as a closeted hippie, I'm content to bow to the will of nature. And nature gave me stomach acids that are only used to digest meat. But I digress...
This friend wanted to be a vegetarian to make a point. She felt that factory farms and other practices were destroying a healthy food chain. That the way we treat food animals is cruel.
She is right. But she wasn't going to change a thing by not eating meat.
The thing is, I am one of about 7 billion people on the planet. If you want a boycott to work, you need some serious numbers.
What I mean is, if I'm an industrial provider of chicken and I have 35% of the chicken eating market share, I want to maintain - or increase - that share. And I will cut whatever corners I legally can to do so. If you stop eating chicken, that's fine and dandy, but in the universe of chicken eaters, I still have 35% market share and am making money. If anything, you stopping to eat my product helps me lower overhead costs, because I need to produce ever-so-slightly less chicken.
If, instead of becoming a vegetarian, you start eating only locally grown, organic chicken - free range birds that got to "live like a chicken" as Michael Pollan would say - well... now you're giving market share to a competitor.
And if my market starts to demand I do business a different way in order to stay competitive, I'm going to have to start raising chickens differently.
In a capitalist system, which despite what some say we most definitely still have, that is how you forge change.
So, as we head back to our Occupy demonstrators, my question is: why are they talking about a new way of life instead of living it? If you think a corporation acts unethically, then take the time to figure out how not to support that company with your dollars. If you don't like the way the banks conduct themselves... get a new bank. If you don't agree with the hedge fund folks, don't hand your money to them to invest.
It seems people love to talk but get hung up on the action part of things. Big surprise, I know, but this is why the protests ring hollow for me, well-intentioned as they may be.
It's become cliche, but Gandhi was right: you must be the change you want to see in the world.
Nearly two years ago, my wife and I made some simple changes to the way we eat and have been heartened to hear we're not the only ones. It hasn't changed the world... yet. Change takes time. But I can take heart knowing that the local farmers, brewers and ranchers are getting our help in maintaining their businesses as we give them our dollars.
I can assure you even though I am just one person, those folks appreciate my dollars more than if I were to march for change while scarfing down a big-industry burger.
Simply put: we have a right to freely assemble and demonstrate. But if we want to see change in our world, we cannot simply ask companies to change or for governments to intervene.
We need to make the changes we want on our own and let the world deal with the outcomes.