Rodney D. Coates*
Occupy Wall Street, now rapidly spreading across the U.S. and even Overseas, seems to have caught both the press and politicos off balance. Now, in a strange attempt to play catch-up or to just stay abreast, the news seems obsessed with this latest democratic permutation. What's interesting is what appears to have been first disbelief and now strained acceptance as the media and pundits scramble to understand, deconstruct, and otherwise explain this phenomena. Unfortunately, those who dismiss or overly romanticize this movement fail to not only understand its complexity but fail to connect it to the core values associated with the American Dream. Alternatively, both responses reflect a sort of political cynicism while the actual movement reflects critical responses to myriad concerns that lay at the heart of our democracy.
Cynicism, derived from the early Greeks, originally meant one who rejected the objectively decreed value of opulence, property and power and chose instead a life of simplicity with few actual possessions. Now cynicism has risen to high art, often masking as critical thinking, but in reality representing the absolute rejection of any hope. Such fatalistic viewpoints, politically deriving from both the left and the right, often reject any position held by those it deems its opposites. Binary opposites reflected in such terms and phrases as conservative and liberal, atheist and Christian, male and female -seldom produces anything but confusion, obstruction, and delusion.
In its purest form, democracy is devoid of political extremism. Democracy, a critical thinking enterprise, encourages radically different visions while it seeks to navigate the ship of state. Hence, there is an absolute need today for a critically, reflective, and analytical political process. One that encourages extreme views, is willing to examine alternative realities, and is free to debate the unthinkable. If indeed this is what the Occupy Wall Street is all about -then it is indeed a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stale discourse that goes for politics in America today.
Let us be real! Empowerment and rejection of oppression has never emerged from those who are most oppressed, most victimized, and most likely to be humiliated by extreme poverty, neglect, and want. All too often it is the poor, the abused, and the oppressed whose very existence becomes the focal point of others who claim to represent them. If indeed Occupy Wall Street is about representing the 99%, then it would entail both conservatives and liberals, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists and Jews, middle class and lower class. It would entail the veteran and the pacifists, those who are anti-war and the hawk. Those poor huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, whether or not they had a green card would at last be welcomed on these shores. Maybe, just maybe, we will discuss the really important things such as how do we garner livable wages, environmental sustainability, universal health care, affordable education and vocational training, honorable retirements and respectful deaths. When will we get out of peoples bedrooms and wombs? Can we guarantee to our children that they will be loved and protected, while we age with dignity? I am not sure any movement can be so encompassing, but if, just if it can then we might just breath freedom's air for the first time in these United States of America. Me -I am optimistic, and willing to take the long road to democracy -what about you?
*Note: Rodney D. Coates is professor of sociology, social justice and gerontology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.