Ed. Note: This post is by @BlackCanseco, a twitter friend. Follow him, please.
Dear Occupy Wall Street,
For 45 days and counting most of you have braved weather, media scrutiny, and lately, police opposition to boldly proclaim yourselves “The 99%” and stand up to the 1%. Just one problem: You are not the 99%. Not even close. You don’t speak for the masses of America.
As part of America’s 99%, allow me to explain:
According to the US Census Bureau, as of November 1, 2011 there are an estimated 312, 540,000 people in America.
Now given the perceived bias of corporate media and other forces possibly at play towards OWS, let’s go only by #OWS numbers for discussion. Based on info and estimates directly from #OWS participants that I’ve regularly spoken with from #OWS encampments in LA, Oakland, NYC, Chi, ATL, there are, at best, about 5,000 participants at any given time at any given #OWS encampment. But also for discussion’s sake, let’s assume that even these first-person anecdotal estimates are low—by half; let’s say that there’s actually about 10,000 OWS folk encamped/publically protesting in each of our 50 states. Or better yet, let’s again double the estimate and assume there’s 20,000 people in each state marching, sitting, camping out in the name of all movements, “Occupy”.
So 20,000 folk x 50 states is roughly 1 million people. That’s 1 million out of America’s population of 312 million-plus citizens. Folks, that’s not 99%. That’s not 9%. That’s not even 0.9%. In fact, 1 million out of 312 million is exactly .0032% of America’s current population as of this November. So yea… Zero Point Zero Zero Three Two… Percent. That’s what Occupy Wall Street really comes down to: Thirty-two thousands of a single percent of American people. But then again, “We’re the 32thousandthsOfAPercent!” doesn’t look as good as a URL or twitter handle. Definitely doesn’t look as sexy as “99%” does on a t-shirt, either.
In contrast, Apple just sold 4 million units of the iPhone 4S in its first week of release. Adele has sold over 2 million copies of “21,” her latest album so far. “The Mentalist”—a CBS show no one I know has ever watched and I’ve barely heard of and isn’t even in the Top Ten pulled over 12 million viewers for its most recent episode alone. Justin Bieber has 14 million followers on Twitter. Justin Effing Bieber has 140 times as many followers as @OccupyWallSt—the biggest official account dedicated to Occupy Wall Street (roughly 100K followers as of this writing). Hell, I’d be more accurate numbers-wise in calling American Idol’s voting base ‘The 99%’ than conceding that title to the #OWS movement.
Now to be fair, maybe my math is faulty. Maybe Occupy Wall Street’s participant numbers are bigger than anything I’ve seen online, bigger than anything being reported by the co-opted press, and bigger than anything I’ve seen live. But even if you doubled the most generous of accepted calculations a couple more times, one thing’s empirically certain:
A good 99% of the country isn’t out occupying anything beyond their own daily lives. And one big reason for that is OWS hasn’t engaged the actual 99% much at all.
There are 311 million people out here. WE are the real 99% and OWS has largely ignored us in favor of coalescing with each other and yelling at three comparably smaller albeit exponentially more influential groups—i.e. the Obama Admin (roughly 100 members deep) & The US Congress (about 538 deep) and “Wall Street” (a few thousand folks at best) about how you’ve finally had enough of all of them. It’s like the old 300 movie—a few noble souls vs. the savage gluttonous hordes backed by their foul masters. But lest we forget: The Spartans didn’t actually win it themselves. In fact—all other historical conflations aside—it wasn’t until an additional army of reinforcements joined the fight that the Spartans won.
So instead of camping outside of office buildings—where OWS’ presence has not altered, delayed or impeded one single business transaction—why not focus on the actual 99% out here? Why not hit up neighborhoods, churches, schools, townhalls, etc. and physically recruit the average American? Why not knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them to join OWS; and when they say “why?” make your case.
Three different and completely unrelated events today converged into one theme — how unexpected and arbitrary loss is and how the fallout scatters itself across the landscape in tiny shards, lodging in spots you thought were shielded and covered. It disrupts, alters, shifts realities known into the unknown — a surreal, never-trivial shift like an earthquake that doesn’t destroy everything but there’s a crack where the smooth road used to be. Or a silhouette in the negative spaces.
Steve Jobs passed away today, and it seems as though the whole world is in a rush to express their profound grief. For me, it was certainly a sad, but also expected kind of news flash. No one could have read the announcement of his resignation as CEO without also understanding that he knew exactly where he was headed. The only remaining question was when, not if. Jobs understood that while he might be able to design and manage Apple’s vision, he had no control over when the cancer would finally overtake him. He only knew that it would.
I remarked to Ms. Dancer tonight when I gave her the sad news that his life was one well lived. If you’re going to die at 56 years old when your kids are still young and you don’t have grandkids yet, at least be able to look them in the eye and say you did as much as you could in the time you had and had a great time doing it. And if there’s one thing I think we can all say about Steve Jobs, it’s this: He loved what he did, he did it well, and he had a great time doing it.
Love what you do, do it well, have a great time doing it.
Taking the macro down to the micro, I watched Ms. Dancer choose to sacrifice her single free hour in her school day — a time she spends doing what she truly loves, does well, and has a great time doing in order to satisfy the final remaining requirement for admittance to her desired universities. It was a hard thing to watch. It may seem trivial to you, but you have to understand her. She creates. She lives and breathes and creates. It’s what she does. She doesn’t finish math tests without adding her own artwork to the finished product. She makes new pictures on her nails at night. She doesn’t know how not to create. So asking her to give up the one free hour in an already insane school schedule wasn’t a trivial thing. It was loss, and loss that she felt detracted from her resolve to love what she does, to do it well, and have a great time doing it.
Like Steve Jobs, she takes great pleasure in the design of things. Perhaps one day she will use her talent and her joy to create beautiful and accessible tools for everyone to use, too. But right now she is in the dues-paying stage, and that means sacrificing the art for the Spanish. Still, she wept.
Love what you do, do it well, have a great time doing it.
Finally, there are the growing protests and unrest around the nation. The Occupy movements spreading to all cities, including mine, are an expression of weary frustration of young and old alike, an expression of grief and outrage that they are confronted with a life where they are unable to live their dreams because there are no toeholds for them to cling to. Don’t believe the news reports making it sound like they’re a bunch of spoiled college kids. They’re not true. There are young people, yes. But there are also people like me, who have battled upstream for 30 years or more and still found themselves without a job and no prospects for one, no pension, and in many cases, no health insurance.
They’re mourning a dream, whatever that dream was. I remember thinking I would have made it when I made $50,000 per year. Later I revised that to be something less and different: contentment to do what I could in the time I had that I was passionate about. Like some of those folks out there in New York and Los Angeles, I worked hard and did the very best job I could. I was a single mom who counted out the change in the drawer to stretch to the next payday, and I was one of those caught in the net of the first mortgage meltdown in the 90s.
Each time I’d start to climb back and get to the next rung, I’d get shoved down again, either by a crummy economy or some other setback. Still, I can honestly say that each one of those setbacks has been the catalyst for me to stretch and tap into what delights me and gets me passionate — writing, reading, learning, helping.
I share those protesters’ sense of loss and frustration. Yet I still hope, and look for contentment in small corners — whether it’s just writing something that I like, reading poetry, or getting lucky enough to catch a great lake shot with my phone — the phone Steve Jobs made. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Spain or Italy or Ireland in person, but I know I can imagine what it would be like if I did. I know my dreams and aspirations are scaled-down versions of what they were once, but they are no less meaningful and give me a reason to get up and start it all over again the next day. In my own way, I’ve learned still to love what I do, do it well, and have a great time doing it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a bittersweet taste of regret at what might have been possible, but the possibility rests with the younger.
Loss spawns grief; grief spawns change, a restlessness, a revision. That disconnected feeling that things are never the same again but still with a sense of possibility that they can be pieced back together into something worthy, like driving on the left when you’ve always only known what it is to drive on the right.
Driving on the left is complicated by the lack of context; you aren’t yet comfortable with the intuition you’ve grown used to, the sense of danger and limits, of detaching from the road with the illusion that you’re the only mind you need to tend. The signs are the hardest part, crossing over from right to left brain or whichever it is, from the rhythm of the road to the logic of the structure, the mission of the directions, the choices that loom and then are replaced by recalculation and another rush to that same decision point. But as you collide with not enough time and not enough listening, you begin to learn how to distinguish the underlying rhythm of decisions, immutable in their logic and Darwinian in their implications.
And then, suddenly and without any real announcement, you get it. You get the dance of the roundabouts, the coursing flow of living in the stream. It’s as though you were there all along but waiting for the hindsight to see it for what it is. And when you come back to the right side, it’s so familiar that you don’t lose what you’ve gained from finding that magical land, the one where you learn to hope for rain so that you can find the rainbows.
DC Douglas, as you might recall, was the Geico voice-over guy who was fired after ranting about the Tea Party’s opposition to health care. He’s been making his own videos since then and while they’re all quite good, this one is definitely his best.
From his post:
I attended Day 1 of #OccupyLosAngeles on Saturday. But after loving some signs and finding others antithetical to my world view, I decided to embrace the tangible goals I saw there. I found three that I think could be effective in partly reversing the inequity of the last 30 years.
In that post, he also articulates the parts that bother him. They’re similar to what bothers me. But I agree with him that there are other parts which we all should agree on, and he’s laid them out pretty well in that video.
Howie Klein’s post today about having an inside/outside strategy is one worth paying attention to as well. As I said the other day, all of this translates to discontent with no change unless the inside game is played alongside the outside game. Meanwhile, digby finds some bankers who just don’t understand the discontent all that well. They’re actually surprised?