What’s this protest all about? I’m sure that most of us have wondered. I am no stranger to dissent and to protest. I was actively involved in the 1960’s in the student movement protesting the War in Vietnam. So I believe it would be fair to say that I am approaching this latest protest with an open and inquiring mind as to what it’s about and what the protesters hope to accomplish.
Unlike the anti-Vietnam War Movement – which was a single focus issue – the OWS protest seems to attract people with different objectives. If there is one underlying issue – it seems that there is a sense that the “99%” – feel financially dis-enfranchised as opposed to their nemeses – the “1%”. Recently, a mini-version of this protest came to the Las Vegas Strip and I made a rare foray down there in order to gain a better sense of what the participants were thinking.
I had the opportunity to speak with two members of the Las Vegas protest. I asked both of them what they were protesting. Both responded the same way. “It’s unfair that there are super-wealthy people at the top of the ladder and then there are all the rest of us at the bottom.” (For some reason – not supported by fact – they seemed to feel that Wall Street “fat cats” were the ones at the top. The facts suggest that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, sports and Hollywood celebs and quite a few Members of Congress are actually at the top of the heap). Nevertheless, I asked each of them the following question.
“If, by some miracle you happened to find a magic lamp, you rubbed it and the genie said that if you wanted to – you could be one of the “super wealthy” – would you accept his offer?”
The first person with whom I spoke was a young woman in her early 30’s. She had been laid off by the Board of Education from her position as a teacher and was struggling to get by. Her answer to my question represented what I took to be a deeply-felt sense of ethics and what is right. She said, “Absolutely not.”
I responded, “As I understand it – you see the world as a “them” and “us” contrast. You feel you are part of the “us” contingent and, based on your answer to my question, don’t want to be part of the “them” group. So you are, in essence, just where you want to be. I don’t understand, therefore, what it is that you are protesting.”
Apparently she didn’t like that comment because she walked away.
The second protester was a young man whom I guessed to be in his early to mid 20’s. He didn’t choose to share his background with me so I don’t know about his education or work history. My only observation about his appearance was that he must have invested an extensive amount of money and pain in body art. I asked him the same question about the genie.
He thought for a few seconds and said, “Of course I would. You’d have to be stupid not to take that deal.”
I responded, “So as I understand it, you don’t really have a problem with the super-wealthy – as long as you’re one of them. It’s only the fact that you aren’t and perhaps don’t have enough self-confidence to try to become one – that is the basis for your protest.”
Apparently he didn’t like that comment because, like the young lady with whom I had spoken earlier, he also walked away. (I guess I need to improve my interviewing skills).
So what’s the takeaway from these two interviews? Well to be honest, I am not an experienced pollster and I think it is foolish to assume any absolute understanding of what the protesters are upset about based on two random interviews, but here’s my feeling.
I believe that one of those nasty “seven deadly sins” – ENVY – is at the core of all of this. “I don’t believe I have the ability to be a big success – so I’m going to throw stones at those who have demonstrated that ability and have become successful.” Frankly, this attitude amazes me. It is the exact antithesis of the optimism of the immigrants who flooded into America – thinking, hoping and most importantly, believing they could make it big in this new country.
You don’t have to have a PhD or be a genius to make it big in the USA. I can think of no better example than the guy who invented the “Hula Hoop”. It was a huge success and the inventor became wealthy – with an incredibly simple product. Surely there are more “Hula Hoop” stories to be written. But those stories will only be written by people who make the effort.
When we’re born most of our physical characteristics have already been determined. Sure, we’d all like to be super models or brilliant athletes – but in large measure – whether we have that potential is largely out of our control. We are dealt a hand. We have two choices in playing our cards.
We can bemoan our fate that we didn’t inherit super athletic genes and complain about how unfair life has been to us. That’s a very sad and unproductive way to spend your time on planet Earth. It’s hard to be happy if you think you’ve been cheated by nature and your parents.
The alternative is that we can analyze our hand and play it to the very best of our ability. Most of us are not going to make it into the “Super Wealthy Club” – but at the least we can take pride in the fact that we have done our very best – and that is quite an achievement.
Is there a better example of a person who was unlikely to succeed because of her sex and race than Oprah Winfrey? What a terrific beacon she has set ablaze – a beacon which can light the way for the rest of us. I congratulate her and applaud her story – and don’t begrudge her a penny of the empire she has forged. She earned it! And that may be the most important lesson that the OWS protesters need to learn.