Occupy and the Boomerang Effect

By Don Rollins

The seventy-something, proudly progressive man sitting next to me is conflicted. He hiked down to Occupy Raleigh yesterday. The kids were impressive and impassioned. It brought back memories. Says it felt a little like an anti-nuke vigil with tents and Coleman lanterns. Says it felt good.

But there were those street people hanging around. Dirty. Missing teeth. Some of them interrupting his conversations with the actual Occupiers. Panhandling, too.

He doesn’t know if he’s going back.

Old and young, Occupy continues to fascinate. It’s still news. And that’s encouraging for our side. Paucity of consistent mission and message noted and be damned, if this mostly Millennial phenomenon survives the cold of winter, it just might crank up leftist morale, turn out some votes and cause more of us to take it seriously.

Then again, maybe not. Not if the boomerang effect sets in.

The thing about progressives rooting for the Ninety-Niners, and against the Ones, is that a lot of us are a whole hell of a lot closer to the latter than the former. We’ve roofs between us and the stars, jobs with health insurance, fridges full of holiday vittles and cars that start every time. We’re flush.

And we’re flush because we learned how to work our corner of the very system we shrilly decry as financially unjust and morally bankrupt. For real, if we were to wake up tomorrow morning in the world the Occupiers imagine, do those of us of relative means really think we’d get a pass? That economic justice in America shouldn’t be prorated?

Financially secure Progressives seem to revel in Occupy’s staying power every bit as much as those with more to gain. So long as nothing more is asked of it, the progressive middle class is comforted to know that the art of organized, sustained, youth-led liberal protest yet lives.

But Occupy is not about salad days liberal peace of mind. We can’t have it both ways, we of the right-side-up mortgages. We may not have run this economy in the ditch (and made serious jack doing it) but we are no less beholden to the collective good just because we count our money in thousands, not millions. And that should not be lost in all our righteous indignation about high roller loop holes and corporate tax breaks.

Don’t look now, but there’s a boomerang effect to Occupy. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would spread the pain for reversing the greatest disparity of wealth since we started keeping score.

If the young idealists out there in the night can’t get that across, maybe those with the dirty clothes and the missing teeth can.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Raleigh, N.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2012


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