What Occupiers Want
The Criticism of Occupy Wall Street
"They don't have a clear message." "Ask twenty protesters, you'll get twenty different answers." The message that the media sends us is that the protesters at the various Occupy camps and demonstrations are unfocused, or that they themselves don't know what they want. However, there is a very simple, clear reason for this, and it can best be described by likening the issues to symptoms of an illness. What, in essence, the protesters are saying is, "Society is sick, and here is our proof that it is sick."
When you go to the doctor, you don't diagnose the illness yourself. You tell your doctor, "I have a fever, a rash, and I'm throwing up and tired all the time." The doctor takes some measurements, or runs some tests, and then tells you what is wrong with you (diagnoses the illness). In some cases, you may already have a pretty good idea of what is wrong with you (if your three children have chicken pox, and you break out, too, there's a pretty good chance that you can guess what is wrong). Some protesters are trying to self-diagnose society's illness; others just know what symptom they personally experience.
Anti-Capitalist? Not so much.
Those protesters with signs addressing the issues with the banks and large corporations are not anti-capitalist. One might almost liken them to the character of George Bailey in the film, It's a Wonderful Life. Mr. Bailey goes to get a loan from the man in town with the resources to give that loan, offers to pay any interest, or give any security, and Mr. Potter refuses to give it to him (even though the refusal will almost kill the town), just in order to get back at Mr. Bailey for something he once said. In that case, Mr. Potter is not a capitalist, and is not obeying the rules of the free market; this is crony capitalism at work.
Well, you say, Mr. Potter should not be forced to lend money to someone he doesn't like. When petty personal revenge comes at the expense of hundreds of people, perhaps something greater than revenge ought to prevail. In the same way, providing business only to cronies, regardless of their worth, is not for the benefit of society at large, or even the free market. Perhaps business applications for credit, investment, etc., should be done like musical auditions: with the identifying details removed.
Poverty and Other Social Ills
Something else that the Occupy protesters often claim as a symptom is poverty, unemployment or underemployment, discrimination, homelessness, lack of treatment facilities for the sick or mentally ill, and other related problems. Again, these are symptoms of larger social ills and point to violations of the basic social contract. The protesters are not unfocused, but reporting symptoms that they themselves are experiencing (or they know someone who is experiencing them).
The Mainstream Media
Many Occupy protesters are protesting the role of the media in our lives. They perceive that mainstream media outlets (television stations, large newspapers and websites) are beholden to the interests of the corporations that own them, and that therefore the news and other information is biased towards increasing the profits and positions of those corporations, rather than presenting facts in a fair and unbiased manner.
Environmental Issues, Food Safety, and other Health Issues
Closely tied in with social ills are environmental ills. These include foreign wars for the purpose of acquiring oil, pollution, factory farming, animal cruelty, solar and wind power, climate change, and many, many other issues. These are all symptoms of a system seriously out of balance. The protesters realize something is very wrong, and they are once again calling attention to the symptoms, even if they cannot diagnose the disease. In many cases, large corporations are misusing environmental resources for profit, and the taxpayers are paying to clean up the mess while the corporations are getting off scot-free or with a slap on the wrist.
Debt, Foreclosures, Student Loans
One common criticism I hear of the Occupy protesters is that they want stuff for free: in other words, to have their debts paid. This is simply not true. What they want is fair lending practices. Homeowners and students have been subjected to unfair and discriminatory lending practices, and especially with the robosigning mess, there may be no way to determine whose mortgages have been subject to predatory practices. Even someone I know, who was a former mortgage official, signed a document which she read carefully, but which turned out to have been "missing" several pages that were added later. Since the pages were not numbered, there is no way she could know they were "missing."
As far as student loans go, employers are not hiring anyone without a college degree. Most colleges are so expensive that there is no way to obtain a college degree without taking out a loan, but those loans are quite often made at predatory rates and are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
So, no, these people don't want their debts discharged except that the mess is insurmountable and unfixable, and in many cases they were hoodwinked.
The U.S. ranks behind Cuba in health care outcomes, yet many people in the U.S. have been priced out of the health insurance system and therefore have little or no access to health care. One medical emergency, even with insurance, can bankrupt a family. And enough people have lived and worked in other countries where they see citizens of those other countries who pay far less, and have far better health care than the citizens of the U.S. and they wonder, if America is the greatest country in the world, why do we live worse than those other countries? While the Affordable Care Act is a beginning, we still lag behind almost all of the developed world.
Taxes and Regulations
Another item the protesters at the Occupy movement are calling for is progressive taxation. Progressive taxation is simply that if you have more resources, it takes more resources to maintain those resources. (A simple way to think of this is that the larger yard you have, the more water and mowing it needs.) When people have great wealth, they use more of society's resources (courts, law enforcement, etc.) to maintain it, and therefore, they should pay at least the same share as people who have fewer resources (and probably owe more). A person in poverty doesn't need the $250,000 FDIC insurance; a person of great wealth probably does. That insurance costs money, and so the wealthy person should bear more of the cost of it.
The Court System
The court system in the United States, if you study enough cases, clearly shows a bias towards rulings for the wealthy and powerful against the poor and powerless. In fact, this is the very opposite of what the Founding Fathers of the United States intended; they wrote specifically that the courts should side with the poor and powerless when in doubt!
Elections and Campaign Finance Reform
Buying votes has always been wrong in the United States. Yet, when politicians can promise anything and then, once elected, act only in favor of their donors, what does that say about the representation of that politician's district? Is he really representing the people who cast their votes for him, and doing what is in their best interest, rather than in the interest of the people who gave him enough money to get elected? The Occupiers often call for fair elections (meaning a verifiable paper trail of votes) and to get private donations out of elections, or establish stringent limits on campaign donations and lobbying.
What Do All These Complaints Have in Common?
Here's where the doctor steps in and begins to diagnose the problem. We have a host of symptoms: environmental pollution; lapses in food safety; banks either not lending or betting against the people they lend money to; corrupt government officials; unfair taxes; wealth disparity and income disparity; and many others. But at the back of all these problems is the role of large corporations and their powers. The protesters are not anti-capitalist; they are against the CEOs and the wealthiest people rigging the system in their own favor, against the good of society as a whole. Now that we have at least a partial diagnosis, we can begin to work on a treatment, and perhaps, eventually a cure.