October 13th, 2011

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#453 – Dick Bernard: Occupy Wall Street

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

As I write, October 13, the Occupy Wall Street initiative seems to be gaining momentum.

Two weeks ago, September 30, I submitted an opinion piece on the issue to my local newspaper at a time when the metro newspapers were ignoring the happenings in New York. I was motivated by the video clip of the folks on Wall Street balconies sipping drinks while overlooking the protestors below. You can view the clip here.

My op ed, “Wall Street Protests Matter to Us”, appeared in yesterday’s Woodbury Bulletin, and speaks for itself.

Tomorrow there is a demonstration in Minneapolis which I will likely try to attend.

The protests are spreading.

But I am reminded of some cautionary thoughts, which seem different, but to me are very directly related.

1) Right or wrong, the Wall Street folks feel that they deserve their excess wealth. This time of year is bonus time “on the Street” and (I hear) $1,000,000 bonuses or more are not uncommon. Folks who get these bonuses are slaves to making money, and labor very hard to make that money for whomever, and have come to expect this wealth, whether deserved or not. If the bonuses are cut somewhat (a likelihood this year), you will hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth all the way out here in the hinterlands.

I recall conversations with a woman about my age at a workshop thirteen years ago. Her daughter was a young analyst on Wall Street, and the previous year had made $800,000. The number sticks in my mind because I was a hard-working guy, in what I felt was a pretty well paying job at the time, and this young woman’s annual take was ten times my own annual salary.

The Mom got some benefits from her daughters success, and who of us can argue when one of our kids makes good? And in our society, the almighty dollar is the usual evidence of making good.

As I say, “right or wrong, the Wall Street folks feel that they deserve their excess wealth.”

(There is nothing intrinsically wrong with money, in my opinion. The ‘devils in the details’ are abundant, however. First is greed, which affects not only aspiring billionaires, but can take root far down the economic ladder as well. As important, if not more, is the lack of long-term vision when it comes to money policy. Wall Street has come to look on this as short-term (annual bonuses for performance, for example); and has imposed even more harsh markers on Business. Talk with anyone in big business, and the “quarterly numbers” will come up. One doesn’t achieve long term goals by being stuck on short-term thinking….)

2) As for protests, they can be good, a means to an end, but they cannot be the end in themselves: (Here is a fascinating column about the New York City Occupy Wall Street group.)

As noted it is possible that I’ll be at the event in Minneapolis tomorrow, but it is unlikely that I will be there for more than that single event. It is a big commitment to drive a distance to such things, and there are competitions for one’s available time and resources.

The protests, which were largely invisible in the national news media when I wrote the op ed two weeks ago, have now become very visible, and they are spreading, and that is good.

But sooner than later they will ebb and once again become invisible on the national media screen. The opposition – the rich 1%ers – know this reality: you simply have to wait out the protests and go on with life as usual.

If the organizers and supporters of these protests are wise they are already planning the next steps beyond the protests.

Next steps include things like I did: submitting a letter or an opinion to the local paper; communicating with others we know, including lawmakers, etc., etc.

The reality is that the ‘system’ we love to hate will ultimately have to create a reasonable solution. Anarchy or the like isn’t a viable option, even though it’s fun for awhile.

3) Finally, there is an argument about “class warfare” out and about.

I don’t doubt at all that there is such a war, and it was a preemptive strike by the privileged 1% against the rest of the population.

But it is important to remember that those 1%ers are not a monolith, all thinking alike.

Always keep in mind the folks like mega-billionaire Warren Buffet who are out there, doing their part as well, and moderate views are an extremely important part of this struggle.

Protests are good, but they are only one tactic in what is a very long term struggle.