Rebels without a cause: the reality of Occupy Wall Street

So, there’s been a lot of talk about the Occupy movement that is spreading through cities across the nation and world. It’s a great movement in theory, and it’s needed to happen for quite some time. The whole movement is based around the socioeconomic inequalities between the “1%” elite and the so-called “99%”, the victimized proportion that the protesters are representing. Their website is constantly updating and the whole movement started when the hashtag #OCCUPYWALLST called for 20,000 people to assemble in lower Manhattan in September to protest the elite moneymakers in Wall Street and to get Obama to regulate the outrageous economic inequalities.

Yes, I agree with what they’re going for. And maybe I’m about to be highly hypocritical, because I have always complained about the socioeconomic problems in this country, particularly after the recession of 2008 and more recently after I saw the documentary Inside Job

Inside Job went deep into the minds and ways of the top %1 of earners in U.S.

But honestly, there’s something about this movement that I just don’t like. Maybe it’s the excess of contrived young adults who are in attendance (or at least who I assume are in attendance). Maybe it’s the lack of an all-encompassing goal. Maybe it’s just the fact that I think the whole movement is futile. One of my colleagues traveled to NYC to cover the protest, and maybe I’m just subconsciously jealous, but I just can’t seem to get on this bandwagon.

One of the questions I want to ask the movement is: who exactly are you attacking? The “freeloaders” of the assisted care community, aka the 47%? The top 1%? The corporations? The stock brokers?

The protesters are primarily demanding change and upheaval. Yes, change is necessary. But one of the things these protesters are calling for is the uprooting of American capitalism. Yes, capitalism has its failures. But so does every other economic system. Moreover, what do they expect to happen once the hated capitalistic society falls? Introduce a shining rainbows and unicorns society that embraces socialism? Communism? Anarchy? Do they want a stock market? Power at the state level? The local level? No power at all?

Screenshot from V for Vendetta.

This leads to another issue I have with the movement: its proclivity towards the “anti-system” movement. Don’t get me wrong, V for Vendetta was a great graphic novel and movie. But, using the visage of Guy Fawkes is not going to help the Occupy movement any more than the media’s portrayal of the protestors as dirty hippies (which they’re not, I understand that) is. If anything, it would hurt the movement. Unless the movement really wants its figurehead to be the guy who wants to kill the leader of the country and burn down all the government buildings. Seriously?

Then there are the people who have “proven” themselves and have personally become the 1%. Here’s what one person said on the Occupy website:

“I am the 1%.

I am the 1% that has my shit together. I am the 1% that doesn’t expect the government to take care of me. I am the 1% that believes in personal responsibility. I am the 1% that got a degree in a profession the market wants, instead of a degree in something useless that I enjoy. I am the 1% that worked my ass off to get good at that profession, allowing me to demand a high pay for my high skill level. I am the 1% that spent my whole life working while the other 99% fucked around or followed their dreams or indulged themselves at useless protests. I am the 1% that won at life. And in America, anyone can do the same just by working hard.

And I don’t owe any of you fucking failures anything.”

Expletives aside, it’s a pretty good argument. At least, in the capitalist mindset. Now, our society has problems and the socioeconomic divides are outrageous and are leading to a trend that needs to be addressed. But I just don’t think 70’s-esque protests are going to cut it. Our society has become so used to “alternative” ideas—the “indie” scene, new types of music, the internet age, the decline of traditionalist values—that a protest simply becomes another bandwagon, another story to cover, another act. After the 50’s, American alternative society was very controversial and it was the perfect time for the war movement, civil rights movement and other movements to occur because people were genuinely shocked. People just aren’t shocked anymore. And more importantly, the corporate entities know what they’re doing is wrong. A bunch of kids in south Manhattan isn’t going to make them ask for the washing away of their transgressions. Getting them to get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness will take a lot more than a few cardboard signs.

If anything’s going to work, it’s going to be a movement within these corporations. The age of protest in America is over. The protests across the world, particularly in the Arab Spring, have been awe-inspiring and exhilarating. But the sad truth is that it just simply can’t work in America.

If corporations don’t get their own act together (and let’s be honest, they probably never will because the essence of capitalism is to be self-centered), then maybe executive action needs to be taken. But because of political ties, that probably won’t happen either. Legislation addressing commerce would be inefficient, so that wouldn’t work either.

Clearly I have no golden key solutions to the socioeconomic disparities and inequalities in America today. I’m not a conservative. I’m not a liberal. I’m not a money-hungry capitalist. I’m just being realistic. That being said, I think that the Occupy movement is similar in that it doesn’t know exactly what it wants, and that will soon become a problem that could potentially fracture and breach the movement until they address it.

I want to talk to a majority of the protesters. I want to know exactly what they would give up to actually protest against the corporations. Their iPhones? Their Nikon/Canon cameras? Those nice warm tents they sleep in? The information they send to Huffington Post, the most corporation-ed out “news agency”?

Moreover, what do these protesters contribute to society? Did they vote in 2008? 2010? Will they vote next year? Would they have been willing to contribute as much time to volunteering at the local food bank or homeless shelter before the movement? Did they get a degree? Did they read both things they enjoyed and disagreed with, including the Wealth of Nations or the Bible or Quran or even the New York Times? Did they stay informed and keep up with the news, with current events? Did they hold doors open for others, pick up pens that strangers dropped? Call their parents? What do they do that gives them a right to defend their moral high ground?

The movement’s just one big messy bandwagon. I agree with what they’re fighting against, but they’ve gotta figure out a counter-argument based on what they’re fighting for. Do more than fight fire with fire. What I want to describe, the Elegance in the Details tumblr stated perfectly: be self-sufficient. Vote. Learn. Read. Just because the 1% doesn’t contribute to society doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Burning buildings and occupying a park simply won’t get the movement anywhere close to where it should be.

Conflict journalism and its repercussions

So, my mom was here for the weekend (it was her first time visiting ever — so excited I finally got to show her around!), and we were sititng in the hotel room and decided to watch a convenient (yet ridiculously expensive) movie on the TV. We scrolled through the titles and came across one, “The Bang Bang Club”.


Now, I had heard about the real bang bang club – a quasi-club of photojournalists in Africa in the early 1990’s — when I was really into photojournalism in high school. This club included four men: Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva. They also worked alongside other photojournalists like James Nachtwey. So, we watched the preview for the movie, and of course, it was a – reflecting the actions of the club during the volatile 90’s in South Africa. I’ve always been fascinated with war photography.

I mean, seriously, how cool do they look?

The first thing that ever got me into journalism was an exhibit in New York City of famous war photographer Robert Capa’s photos. They entranced me and pulled me into wanting to do the same thing. Now, I’ve been branching out into the written side of journalism, but as soon as I saw this movie preview, my inner photojournalist was pulsing and getting pumped up. I almost fell off the bed when the preview alluded to a moment in the film where they reenact a moment where Kevin Carter takes his Pulitzer-winning photo of a starved African girl being stalked by a vulture:

Kevin Carter's controversial Pulitzer Prize winning photo.

Now, I’m not about to review the film. It had its failures and its great moments, and I think it overdramatized some parts, but overall, it was a great summary of what these photographers went through. Over time, the mental status of these guys dwindled into a terrible black hole, ending with one suicide (Kevin Carter) and the injury of another (Greg Marinovich). It got me so excited and reinforced my love for journalism that had recently cooled down lately. I read a book, War, by war photographer Sebastian Junger, recently and it also invigorated me and made me fascinated with documenting war almost as successfully as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried did several years ago.

What was interesting about watching this movie was beyond my excitement for conflict journalism and journalism in general. It was my reaction to the gruesome images portrayed in the film. Watching it with my mom, I knew it would be very hard for her to watch. She said she slept terribly the same night after thinking of the movie. However, I was not affected by it. Now, that’s not to say that it didn’t make me emotional. It definitely did. But it affected me in a way that’s different from, I suppose, regular movie-watchers. I almost felt like I was one of the journalists, or an aspiring one, while my mother seemed to be an onlooker, as I expect many viewers felt. The movie pumped me up and made me emotional and excited me all at the same time. It’s very true to say that there are MANY graphic scenes in the movie, and maybe it’s because I’ve seen many gruesome journalistic images or maybe it’s because I’ve honed my ability to separate my journalist side from my emotional, human-oriented side (that sounds bad, but it’s hard to describe), but I reacted to the movie in a very different way. If anything, it makes me want to cover these issues even more. They’re filled with tragedy, sadness, horror and unbearable inhumane acts, but someone has to tell the world about it. And this movie made me want to be that person. I’ll just be sure to bring a bullet-proof vest.

But honestly, this movie was beautiful in its ability to so powerfully impact me. It’s moments like this where I realize that I’m doing what I love.