Image design by Rha Bowden.
I was on the phone with my dad, mostly talking about the weather. And not in that humdrum pass the time kind of way, no, we actually like to talk about the weather. Even when we don’t mean to, our conversations drift toward storm patterns and new measuring instruments. This time I was talking about the Occupy tent cities in Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle, and my dad brought up the weather systems in each city.
“Oakland is great for a long term outdoor occupation, look at the weather right now!”
“That is true.”
“San Francisco and Seattle, though, that’s a lot of sea air, lot of cold moisture.”
“Mm-hm, well that’s part of the reason why the police are so determined take the structures down in the middle of the night. The people need them.”
“Sure, sure, I understand this Occupy Wall Street stuff… it makes sense you’d be supportive, with all your student loans, and single parent with young kids, you’re the 99%!”
“Uh, Dad? You’re the 99% too.”
“Oh. Er, right. I uh guess I am.”
I’ve written about the world of privilege my father moves through. He’s got them all. He’s the right gender, the right color, the right body, the right family, the right mind, the right sexual orientation, right legal status, right language, right generation, ect.
I don’t want to go into my dad’s finances as they’re not mine to share, but he is firmly deeply truly not anywhere near the 1%, in fact, economically speaking, he’s not even middle class. He doesn’t own any property due to a foreclosure from being laid off from the large firm he was a HR director at. He’s back to scraping by through self employment. No retirement, no substantial savings, no health insurance. And yet, he doesn’t identify with the individuals involved in Occupy Wall Street.
The Occupy Movement is one month old today, and it is indeed a global movement: “951 cities in 82 countries”. There are the most amazing multi-media maps at sites like Mother Jones and The Guardian UK if you’re a data and/or media geek it’s really really impressive to see these live action data sets compiled and made available to the public.
But back to my dad, I think for him, it is all about perception and privilege. He can’t possibly be that bad off, he’s white! and college educated! and a US citizen! and tall! Really tall! He’s the same as the men in charge, right? They’re his people. All those bastard ass CEO’s and corrupt politicians, slimey, smarmy, selfish to the point of sociopathy hedge fund managers and bankers, they would surely invite him to a round of golf, no?
No, Dad, they won’t. I’ve met a few billionaires in my time in the Bay Area, and no, Dad, as much as you may think you have in common based upon your shared societal privileges, they actually want nothing to do with you.
My dad believes he just hit a rough spot. He’ll be back on his feet in no time. He must have done something wrong. Sorry, Dad, this is a large scale economic global catastrophe. Bigger than any one individual’s bad decision. Yes, you did something wrong, you’re not in the 1%.
Welcome, Dad, to the land of the other.
Some of us have been here for a very long time. Born into a legacy of not being right. Most of us are in the wrong. We are the wrong legal status, we are the wrong gender, the wrong color, the wrong sexual orientation and sexuality, we speak the wrong language, come from the wrong family, have the wrong body, the wrong mind and we make all the wrong decisions all the time. That’s why we’re all not millionaires right? Why we’re not all upper middle class, why we’re not all middle class, why we are barely above the poverty line, why we are living in first world poverty. Why we have no security or stability, right? Because the billionaires are right and we, the 99% are all somehow wrong.
For the people who are just now seeing that their privileges aren’t protecting them to the degree they once were, I hope your awakening imparts a deep empathy towards those who’ve never had the luxury of that ignorance.
I hope we are questioning the values and confronting the inherent inequity that have traditionally supported our own domestic legal and global financial systems; ie colonialism.
I sincerely hope that this movement is not, as some have said, simply a demand for the return to the social hierarchy where your average 55 year old white male was secure and rewarded for his rightness and the rest of us were paying dearly for our inability to be just that.
To me, the Occupy Movement is calling ourselves out for that cruel, unjust and unsustainable plan of economic action. We arrived at this place because enough people buy into the idea that the poor deserve to be poor. That the disenfranchised are at fault for their disenfranchisement. Hell, the fact that we even have a term for the systematic deprivation of civil power is a big fucking hint. Enough people in the US believe that the only way for their bread to get buttered is if they snatch it out of the hands of somebody else. I guess it’s worked up until now, but then again, we’re all pretty much fucked unless we stand together for some serious, paradigm shifting change.