I presently live in a remote and cold (-24 Farenheit Saturday evening) place inhabited largely by people who wear camouflage utility jackets and workboots. Their hats are old and beat-up because they’ve worn them for fifteen years, not because they bought them that way. They hunt deer with high-powered hunting rifles and haul them home, dead and bleeding, in the beds of their pickup trucks. I have no first-hand experience with the Occupy movement, aside from an old friend who has lent them some pro-bono legal advice.
But thanks to the wonders of the information age and 24 hour news cycle, I get to see and hear about them every so often. Not as much as I did a few months ago, though, which made wonder if the movement has lost steam. From what I glean from reading about them, Occupy’s message seems to me to be something like this:
“The wealthy have used government to radically realign the structure of society in their favor over the past thirty years. Look no further than America’s economic inequality coefficient, which places us in the company of the late Roman Empire, to see that there is cause for concern. All Americans are better off if the middle class is better off.”
Again, this is my admittedly basic understanding of this movement’s message. Based on the limited conversations I have overheard in truckstop diners, auto service center waiting rooms, and gas station checkout lines, this is what Occupy’s message sounds like to my neighbors:
“Wealth is bad. As an aside, we are college graduates from relatively affluent backgrounds who feel entitled to well-paying white collar jobs.”
This greatly frustrates me, because in essence I agree wholeheartedly with what I read Occupy’s message to be. Why have I been hearing so much less about it from my vantage point 26 miles south of the Canadian border? I thought back to the long summer of 2010, which I spent in the strange brick-and-candelabra town of Richmond, Virginia. Capital of the C.S.A. I had lots of opportunities to sharpen my understanding of the TEA Party movement, not the least of which was visiting Glenn Beck’s circus on the National Mall: http://www.supermindquest.blogspot.com/2010/08/yellow-flags-with-snakes-on-them.html.
And then the obvious became clear to me: it’s a matter of branding. Why did Nike leave British Knights in the dust?
The TEA party crowd spun their tired yarns about balancing the budget, lowering taxes, keeping Christ in Christmas, reclaiming America’s dominance overseas…you get the point, they were a vast conglomeration of the wildly inconsistent and misinformed. But one very clear message was distilled from their collective unconsciousness that stuck with the media and with the American people:
“BARACK OBAMA IS THE F*CKING ANTI-CHRIST!”
This is what got them the staying power, shock value, and momentum that from my perspective Occupy has lost. So how does Occupy rebrand itself? My first thought was this:
“SOCIAL UNREST AND UPHEAVAL OCCUR IN SOCIETIES WHOSE INCOME INEQUALITY RESEMBLES THAT OF THE U.S.!”
But then I realized that wouldn’t go over well with the crowd I see hanging out around me. And I returned to a very simple question that I used to ask the TEA Party types during that uncomfortable summer in Richmond, whenever politics came up:
“What do you think was America’s golden age?”
When confronted with this simple query, the target usually senses a trap and refuses to offer a clear answer. It’s the first time anyone has actually asked them to specify what America has drifted FROM to become the post-apocalyptic socialist wasteland they are trying to TAKE BACK in the early 21st Century. From their stammer and generally glazed appearance, you can sense the realization that they should have actually read some American history before cleaning Wal-Mart out of American flag-print T-Shirts and folding camping chairs. This is generally when I tell them what the correct answer is, in an exchange which I will summarize for your enjoy:
I: “Wouldn’t you say it was the fifties?”
They: “Leave it to Beaver! Ike in the White House! Reds on the run! Yeah, I’d say it was the fifties alright!”
You see, there really are only two possible answers to this question that carry any analytical weight. The most credible answer in my opinion being the 1950s (yes, I know about the weird gender roles and how bad Civil Rights were – no free passes there, just hear me out), the wild card answer that’s kind of interesting to discuss being the 1990s. Occasionally a diehard Reaganite will throw in the odd 1980s, a decade whose conservative credentials are quickly trumped due to budget defecits, selling arms to Iran, and if you really want to play dirty, by having a President who was too friendly and naive in dealing with the Kremlin despite his rhetoric.
Now you can begin your conversation partner’s path to enlightenment.
You: “I agree completely. No society in the history of the earth has enjoyed as much across-the-board prosperity and growth as the United States did in the 1950s.”
They: “Yeah! It’s because Ike kept taxes low and kept government out of everyone’s lives.”
You: “Your response reveals a shocking lack of insight. Eisenhower was indeed a wise President, but he lived entirely in FDR’s shadow domestically. The top income tax rate was 90% at the end of Eisenhower’s second term. Moreover, he committed the country to tremendous infrastructure and public works projects such as the Interstate Highway System and St. Lawrence Seaway, both of which are readily comparable to building high-speed rail and overhauling America’s energy sector and power grid in today’s society. Strong labor unions ensured the existence of a middle class that could buy the products the wealthy were financing and vacation time ensured they could travel to other locations to inject their income there. And lastly, the financial sector enjoyed stable post-war markets due to the creation of the SEC and passage of the Glass-Steagall Act.”
They: “But the Great Depression only ended because of World War II!”
You: “So what you are saying is that in strictly economic terms, a complete federalization of all aspects of American life, unprecedented centralized economic planning and investment in research and development, and federally-insured home loans and educational grants for returning veterans is what it took to create the prosperity America enjoyed in the 1950s.”
The World War II thing usually ends the discussion. At this point, they become too flustered to speak. Consider buying them a drink and shifting the conversation to sports, allowing them time to decompress and realign their worldview following it’s complete demolition. It’s the decent thing to do.
Because thats what this entire debate about the soul of America really comes down to:
FDR’s America versus The Gilded Age. It’s that simple (if you find an investment banker or railroad titan who very casually espouses his belief that the 1890s was America’s golden age, make sure you record it and put the clip on youtube.) And by the way, this debate is not ongoing. It was settled decades ago. That’s what makes this entire historical moment – we’ll just call it the end of the Reagan era – so damn frustrating. I wonder why everyone always says Americans have no historical memory?
So back to Occupy. If the Occupy movement is to remain relevant, I think they need a name change. Occupy is hostile and vague, and to my knowledge is something that just happened to stick from the Zucotti Park days. Perhaps “Middle Class Movement” would work? Maybe it would.
My recommendation is very simple: “The Golden Age Movement.”
They: “But why the Golden Age Movement?”
You: “Let me ask you a question. What do you think was America’s golden age?”
And there you have it.
Oh, and start finding more guys who look like Joe the Plumber.