Ever since the Egg relocated its production facility overseas, it has been a little hard to keep up with life back home. We still know the obvious things -- the name of the president and six Supreme Court justices; that Breaking Dawn is in the theaters now -- but we're fuzzy on the nuances. (What's a Glee? Who played in the World Series?) The upshot is that we don't really know what's going on, either at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, in Oakland, or at the seemingly hundreds of other franchises nationwide and in Canada.
Some of our muzziness reflects the deliberate muzziness of the protesters themselves. To be sure, income inequality is at the heart of the matter -- and inequality is made even more unequal when unemployment rates are so frighteningly high. (An old friend, a paralegal with many years of experience, was just laid off from her job at a foreclosure firm. Nobody is safe!)
But a complaint is not a prescription. There's no OWS platform as simple as, say, "America out of Viet Nam" or "End Apartheid Now." One gathers that this is the point; the movement has been purposefully decentralized and multifarious, a sort of big tent enclosing many shades of disenchantment.
Fr. William of the Beach has forwarded us several fine home videos of the scene in Manhattan, the most recent of which is posted below. Both the protesters and the police seem well-enough-behaved. (This is what we love about America, by the way. Cuz it ain't that way everywhere.)
But did you see the placards? A lot of somewhat general insistence upon liberty (which makes sense, when the protesters have been required to vacate the park, thus endangering their freedoms of speech and assembly), coupled with agitation around schools, the public library, and ... hormone replacement therapy?
As we said, multifarious. Hard to pin down.
Anyway, it all has us thinking about the place where we live. Romania has the fastest internet download speeds in Europe, but only about half the population has indoor plumbing. Economic inequality here is far more extreme than in the US. Unemployment is lower than the US, at least on paper -- but many "employed" people can't collect their paychecks, which would be pathetically small even if they could. The government is widely held to be both irresponsible and incompetent; the mayor of our own city was taken to jail last week, where he is awaiting trial on corruption charges. As for civil liberties, citizens of our own age and older were effectively raised without them, during the grim, repressive days of Nicolae Ceaucescu.
In 1989, there was a revolution. It wasn't the bloodiest revolution in history -- more like Tunisia than Syria, at the moment -- but it was bloody enough. People were shot down in the street. Flushed with optimism, people imagined that their world would change overnight. The name of our main street was changed from Lenin to the date date of the uprising. The world seemed, briefly, full of hope. And, twenty-one years on, things are certainly far better than they were; yet many of the promises remain unfulfilled. Frankly, a lot of the same people still hold power, either economic or political -- and a lot of the same people are still poor and powerless.
All this suggests to us that, for all the organizational wisdom that keeps the OWS movement free-form and many-headed, it must eventually lead to something more pointed if it is to have a lasting effect. It will need to produce policies and leaders; it will need to actively transform a broken political system, rather than settling for the observation that it is broken. Such things are possible, but they are very difficult, and comparatively rare.