Thursday, December 15, 2011

Responding to Occupy Maine Critics

Reading the editorial section of today’s Portland Press Herald brings to mind Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous maxim, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Readers sounding off in Wednesday’s issue (Dec. 14, 2011) on Occupy Maine rely on the same misguided arguments and uninformed accusations of the movement. Being the polemicist I fancy myself, I figured I should set the record straight.

In his letter to the editor, Richard Prince of South Portland calls the Occupy protesters “entitled,” and accuses them of leeching off their “fellow Americans’ tax payments.”

“What we have now can be called ‘the entitlement generation’,” Prince writes. “It is Americans who believe that by merely existing they are entitled to a host of unearned benefits…”

Prince clearly does not understand anything about either the Occupy movement, or the social ills our nation currently faces.

Occupy Wall Street protesters are not selfishly demanding money for nothing. They are calling attention to the vastly unequal distribution of wealth in this country—most of which is currently held by the wealthiest one percent of the nation. When all of the nation’s wealth is held by a small minority of super-rich, that is money that is denied to public schools and universities; to repairing decaying roads and bridges; to local businesses; to the elderly, disabled, or poor; and to Americans who cannot afford health insurance.

If anyone exhibits this sense of entitlement Prince decries, it is the super-rich. They are the ones who, due to their immense wealth and power, believe the world is literally theirs for the taking. Indeed, Mr. Prince would do well to read Chrystia Freeland’s excellent Atlantic story, “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” from earlier this year.

A similar letter, by Robert W. Brandenstein of Buxton, echoes Prince’s “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps” mentality.

“From what I can gather,” Brandenstein states, “[the protesters] are upset that some in our country are better off financially than others, and they don’t think this is fair.”

This is a gross over-simplification of what they are protesting, but let’s explore his letter a bit more, first.

“My wife and I have been married for more than 50 years. When we were first married, I worked three jobs to provide a good living for my family… We’re not rich, but comfortable. Not because we took from those who were better off than us. And not because things were more fair [sic] for us than others.”

He finishes with this: “We worked hard for what we have, and if those who stand with their hands out and cry that things are not fair would follow the example we, and others like us, have set, they just might find things get more fair the harder you work.”

Wow, I don’t think Horatio Alger could have said it better, himself, Robert.

What Mr. Brandenstein does not seem to understand is many of the Occupy protesters are also working three jobs—not out of some holier-than-thou, protestant work ethic, but because it is the only way we can make ends meet. Not to mention the fact that he is speaking from the luxury of retirement. If Brandenstein were attempting to provide for his family in today’s economy, he would find an anemic job-market wherein employers simply refuse to hire people, having decided a solid, reliable work-force is simply not a financially feasible investment.

I find it, frankly, offensive when gainfully-employed, Baby Boomer-aged individuals decry Occupy Wall Street’s demands. These people speak from the comfort of a steady, full-time job, often with benefits, health insurance and a decent lifetime savings. What further infuriates me is many of them do not realize they will likely be the last generation to enjoy those luxuries for some time.

Finally, we have Howard Spear from Westbrook, who contributes the sort of rambling, inarticulate opinion-piece the Portland Daily Sun’s Bob Higgins routinely produces.

I cannot really follow Spear’s argument, but perhaps others can do better. First, he applauds the Portland City Council for its ruling last week denying a permit to the encampment. “It is baloney that they [the protesters] claim they are an ‘amazing community of self-government’,” he writes.

Why, exactly, Spear believes this claim is “baloney” is unclear, as he offers zero evidence to support his assessment. Has he personally observed the site at Lincoln Park, or does he just criticize from afar?

He then goes on to criticize the protesters’ creation of a “police raid support team,” page on Facebook, which he claims (again, with no supporting evidence whatsoever) is a call to violence against the Portland Police Department.

He writes, “So now they are going to turn their peaceful protest into a violent one? They really are the 1 percent. Perhaps someday they will smarten up and when/if they do, they will then become part of the 98 percent.” (That is funny: I cannot find anything threatening any use of violence on the Occupy Maine Facebook page.)

Huh…? Sorry, I don’t follow. Is Spear implying the majority of Americans are smart and informed, while the Occupy protesters are not…? Or, are we just all going to become suddenly rich in our sleep?

In fairness, the Opinion page does feature two pro-Occupy letters (although, at a ratio of four-to-two, the paper’s editors cannot really claim to be making serious strides toward a “balance” of views). And the PPH has featured two surprisingly favorable staff editorials on the encampment recently.

Still, my general impression from these three letters to the editor is many residents are simply uninformed about both the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the destructive economic realities that have afforded them comfort and financial stability while leaving the rest of us to fight over the table scraps.

No comments:

Post a Comment