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Ok, so before I really get down to business, Scooter’s counter-post about the violence associated with the Occupy movement vs. the apparent pacifism of the Tea Party movement made me think of this photo below of the Boston Tea Party.  Disenfranchised by unfair taxation systems which don’t seem to represent them favorably?  Violence, looting, illegal activities?  Wearing costumes (no, those are not actual Native Americans in the photo), disrupting a large and busy marketplace?  Sounds a bit familiar.  Just a friendly jab, Scooter.  😉

Colonialists attack,tar and feather a hapless tax collector. Image from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/teaparty.htm

"They were clothed in blankets, with their heads muffled and copper colored faces. Each was armed with a hatchet or axe or pair of pistols." From http://www.boston-tea-party.org/pictures/picture1.html

However, I do resonate with Scooter in some regards.  One of the criticisms I’ve heard most about the Occupy movement is their seeming lack of any agreement or agenda as to how to move forward. Yes, they could continue to occupy cities, county court houses, parks and other establishments until something changes. But what exactly would that “something” be? What would have to happen to send everyone home? How will they know when they’ve achieved what they’re hoping to achieve?

I admit, I’m one of those Americans who tends to agree with them that something needs to change about our economic system. It’s been quite a few depressing years of lay-offs, home foreclosures, and questions as to whether or not we will be seeing the first generation in US history who will not fare better than their parents. I feel naturally drawn to the questions of what we could do about living in a culture of plenty that seems absolutely and inextricably and almost literally built on the backs of other people and environments only growing more and more burdened. The era of social media combined with the bleak economic times leaves more and more of us aware of the problems and wondering how to turn things around. Few seem to have escaped the impact of the economic slump…except the very rich.

As I noted in an earlier post, the Congressional Budget Office recently found that between 1979 and 2007, income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households.

In a May 2011 article in Vanity Fair Joseph Stiglitz, economist and winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) told us that, “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

To anybody struggling to make ends meet, this can feel like a slap in the face. How can this be happening? How are they weathering this economic storm, in fact soaring above it, so much better than the other 99% seem to be?  I’m not an economist, so I won’t pretend to understand exactly  how this all works, but it does seem that there are certain protections offered to the rich which we’ve all seen highlighted recently:  Investors pay a lower rate of taxes than workers (favoring the rich), government bailouts followed by CEOs making insanely huge bonuses while the rank-and-file are laid off or small businesses are denied loans. Throughout human history, we’ve seen this tradition of externalizing cost (which I’ll save for another discussion). And maybe it’s because we have a political system married to a campaign finance system that seems to make election dependent on having a lot of very wealthy friends and keeping them happy in order to get re-elected.

I know this issue is much more complicated than I’ve expressed in the last few days, but I am simply trying to establish that I find myself sympathizing with some of the concerns and some of the methods the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be built on.

So Occupiers, you’ve got my attention! In fact, the eyes of the world are on you. You’ve made us think. You’ve got us talking. We’re all waiting to hear what you want to say! Now what? How will we know when to celebrate with you? After all, if you’re representing the 99% of us, we all want to be part of the victory party.

I understand that, given the nature of your concerns with the powers-that-be, you’re fundamentally opposed to (or at least concerned with) a hierarchical system and so electing some leaders seems counter to your message. But while I can name many movements that achieved great things with leaders, I can’t name any that did without leaders. Most certainly it’s difficult to make change if no one is empowered to articulate what that change would be. I’ve been involved in a few movements and my personal experience has been this:  Empower nobody and you may find that either nobody will speak or you may find that everybody will speak. Either way, the message may get lost in the confusion.  Empower everybody, and you may get somewhere but you’ll need to give each a clear map (guiding principles, at least?) or you may see the movement wander easily off course.

It’s not that movements need figureheads to be successful, it’s that others actually don’t know how to determine what you as a group need or want unless they know who can accurately and fairly represent you. We don’t need it to be a single person or even a small group. Appoint and train hundreds and send them out to various communities around the country to get others excited! But give someone some power to get something done.

Along those same lines, electing a dog as leader in Denver sort of lost confused me. I get that you were making a larger point about humanity and corporations and perhaps you were trying to do it in a whimsical way. But it sounds like the city of Denver, practically speaking, actually just needed someone to talk to about common concerns you and they might have, like public health and sanitation. And if that’s hard to find, then I think it might be hard to find someone who might be able to help us understand the larger message.

I defended the value of protesting and recognized the difficulty of having a message clearly represented by today’s media. But I heard this dog leader story first on National Public Radio. Surely they are not an unfriendly media source. Yet that’s all I heard them report on the movement that day.  I’m wondering if even media sources friendly to your cause are having a lot of the same difficultly I’m hearing many other people articulate.  It has been a challenge to sift through everything that seems to be going on to get a clear and cohesive message from the Occupy movement.

I know how hard it truly must be to reach consensus on this kind of complex issue with so many different stakeholders involved, but I’m afraid that if you don’t take your moment then it might pass. Afterall, Americans today may have the shortest attention spans of any group in human history. And right now, with a lack of anything else to chew on, the public is getting fed a lot of tasty stuff about violent actions and a lack of basic sanitation that seem to be distracting from what otherwise might have been a pretty amazing picture of people getting together to start something exciting. Without vision people perish. Give us some vision! Just a sneak peek?

Along those lines, I have heard some speculation that the movement will be focused on a solution akin to a sort of “Robinhood” tax, essentially calling on the rich to pay more to help the poor. Even some of the rich have said this would be fair and reasonable.  Additionally, there’s fairly widespread agreement that taxes on investments disproportionately favor the rich.  Certainly, there’s a place to call upon those more fortunate to help those who are less fortunate.

Yet there is a simple truth I think we need to acknowledge:  I’ve found it often difficult to demand others change and easier to start with changing myself. Furthermore, an increase in generosity among us 99% may counteract the perception that Occupy is made up of spoiled 20-somethings, tweeting from their expensive smart phones, disillusioned by the simple fact that student loans must be re-paid, drinking expensive coffees as they complain about why people at big companies like Apple (thanks for the iPhone) and Bank of America (thanks for the student loan), and Starbucks (thanks for the latte) are making so much money.  Truly these kinds of reminders, this one featured on Forbes’ blog by E.D. Kain, have been convicting.

What if we gave up a few luxuries to lift up the poorer than us?  I know some among the 99% have already given up those kinds of luxuries, either out of necessity or sacrificially.  But for the vast majority of us, there’s probably more we could do.

Both liberals and conservatives, and even those most radical who don’t want to work in “the system”, can certainly agree on some of these:   We can vote with our dollars by buying less (give up a latte, a meal out or a 6 pack and use the money to donate to a favorite charity) or buying things produced more responsibly and locally.  We can work to build up communities by donating time or resources to local non-profits.  We can educate and advocate in our places of live, work, worship and gather.

Maybe that’s a little too touchy-feely for some of you. So for the practical among you, with the attention of our nation turning to the holidays and with the cold of winter drawing around us and creating additional logistical issues for protestors, perhaps preparing for the start of a new Congressional session in January by coming up with some ideas and concerns for our representatives might be a start.

And for those of you who truly feel called to continue in direct action outside of the established political and social channels, if those of us 99% willing to hear your message might just get some regular, clear communication with some inspiration from the field, I think that would go a long way. Some are called to sit-in and agitate and disrupt but some are not.  Give us all a role, wherever we are–occupying the places we live, work and worship! If this is really about 99% of us, give the rest of us an idea of what this movement is moving towards.

If you refuse to give any form to what you are doing then I worry it may be crushed by the weight of what already is.  If you don’t shed any light then the darkness may continue to press around. Whether you consider the story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1 a myth or fact, what it teaches us is that order and light are the antithesis of a dark, formless void. Speaking into that and beginning to designate boundaries and structure are where beautiful, verdant and productive things begin.

For today’s recipe, I thought it might be appropriate to share something brunch-worthy for the weekend.

Cranberry Walnut French Toast Casserole

1 lb Italian bread (1 loaf)
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar (divided in half)
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. walnuts
1/2 c. craisins
4 eggs
2 c. milk
1 t. cinnamon
2 T. butter, melted

Cut or tear bread pieces. Place 1/2 in a greased 9X13 pan. Melt the cream cheese (microwave) stirring middway. Once melted add 1/2 the sugar. Spoon mixture over the bread cubes. Sprinkle the nuts and craisins over that layer. Spread out the last 1/2 of the bread pieces over it.

In a bowl, beat the remaining vanilla, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and melted butter together. Pour over bread cubes. Allow the pan to sit in the fridge overnight. Bake at 350 for 35 mn.
Approx 8 servings.