I have a cousin who used to work for the World Bank, back in the day when most people thought highly of that institution. His specialty was bringing potable water into urban neighborhoods in Africa, which is a noble pursuit, in my opinion. My cousin has a good understanding of “the big picture,” and thus it was that he asked me a question, thirty years ago, that still rings in my ears, because it seems more and more relevant. We were talking about The Farm, which at the time was a bustling and vigorous community of 1500 dedicated spiritual and cultural revolutionaries and our children. The question my cousin asked me was this: “What are you doing to make sure the younger generation has ways to fit in and take responsibility?” At the time, his query brought me up short–I didn’t know what to tell him.
The question about the Farm became moot in just a few short years as the community imploded, scattering most of its young–and old–members far and wide. Reduced now to a much more manageable population of a couple of hundred (at 1500 residents, our population density, and ecological problems, were on a par with Bangladesh), the community seems to be making the transition from one generation to the next fairly gracefully. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now.
What I’m here to talk about is that somebody should have asked my cousin’s question–“what’s in it for the next generation?”– to the vast array of politicians, business “leaders,” and Wall Street banksters who have systematically dismantled this country for their own benefit. They have saddled young people with enormous debts for their education–debts which, for most, cannot be shed through bankruptcy–while at the same time they have eliminated the jobs that could have paid back those loans.
The election of Barack Obama–who has turned out to be a Trojan Horse for the banksters and other forces of greed and repression in this country–served to destroy young peoples’ faith in the political process. The unemployed and unneeded are refusing to accept the Republican idea that it’s somehow their own fault that they have been dealt out of the economy, There is nothing left for them to do but take it to the streets–they rightfully feel that they have nothing left to lose, but everything to gain.
And the banksters have good reason to be nervous. Everybody knows they’ve ripped off everybody, including the police on whom they are depending for defense against the mob. The army? The army is full of young people who joined because they couldn’t find a job anywhere else. They have plenty of grounds for sympathy with the protests–indeed, many veterans are joining the protests. And everyone in the military is aware of the increasingly shoddy treatment of disabled veterans. Even the army could get shaky. Polls show that, unlike the “Tea Party,” a majority of Americans support the Occupiers.
The biggest complaint heard about this movement is that its demands are not clear–that the manifesto issued by Occupy Wall Street wanders all over the place. In my opinion, the same charge could be leveled at America’s Declaration of Independence. If i had time, I’d compare the two–maybe next month. What is happening here is a truly populist, bottom-up driven movement that is still finding its voice, as it rises up against a system that may be too far gone for mere reform.
As an aging counterculturalist, I feel both happy and sad when I see what’s going on in America now. I feel happy because the Occupy movement is so much more widespread and appreciated than the efforts of my generation. We have been warning of the dangers of unfettered aggression, greed, and growth for decades, and we have been ridiculed, trivialized, or ignored, while things just got worse and worse. I feel sad because the desire for rootedness and self-sufficiency that drove my generation to “occupy” the back country is not really an option for this wave of our movement, at this point. In the East, the forests have been clearcut and the mountain tops removed, while the West has been despoiled by oil seekers and the vacation homes of the1%. Land is too expensive, time is too short, and the social regulatory mechanisms are still too controlling for this new generation to take the rural, communal route to freedom that my generation traveled. But the money and the regulations will fade away over the next decade or two, and the land will fall into the hands of those who can–occupy it. Not only is a saner future possible, it seems to be a-borning.
music: Gogol Bordello, “Rebellious Love“