Monday, October 24, 2011

What Occupiers Want

Any number of commentators have complained that the Occupy protesters have not set out their demands in sufficient detail. These commentators are not satisfied with the one-page lists of demands that have been adopted in New York and Chicago and other occupied areas. They want action plans, legislative proposals, lobbying briefs. Or so they say. What they really seem to want is to make the protesters look unsophisticated, unrealistic, disorganized, uninformed, and generally not worthy of the attention they are getting.

I have looked over some of the protesters' proposals, and they seem clear enough. They want more effective regulation of the banking and financial service industries, to prevent future catastrophes. They want criminal prosecution of criminals who have stolen millions of dollars. They want an economic stimulus package that will help young people enter the workforce and become consumers, in the form of student loan forgiveness. These proposals are at least as concrete as the ones that were in the original Declaration of Independence. King George was able to figure out what those protesters wanted.

But the written proposals don't really capture the flavor of what the Occupy protesters want. Listen to them and you will see that they really only want one thing: justice. They want their government to treat them fairly. They want the laws to be enforced equally. They want a chance.

The critics could probably figure out what the protesters want, if they would simply listen. But they don't want to listen. They'd rather not hear the message, and they'd rather not treat the protesters as if they deserved to be heard. They'd rather feel superior to the protesters, so they mock the protesters, call them names, and tell lies about them.

Our senator, Mark Kirk, even joined in the chorus of disrespect, suggesting on radio that the protesters were all on drugs, and laughing along when the radio-show host guffawed that the protesters smelled. There was no basis for these jibes, but the senator was having fun at the expense of his constituents. It was reminiscent of politicians who laughed as they unleashed dogs on civil rights protesters many years ago. That a U.S. senator would engage in such repulsive behavior would have been shocking, if the senator wasn't Mark Kirk. But, like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond and Bull Connor, we know what to expect from Mark Kirk. We know that when people are protesting because they are frustrated with their government, Mark Kirk will be smugly chortling with the defenders of privilege, showing disrespect for the very people whom he is supposed to represent. If the critics want to understand what the Occupy protesters are upset about, all they have to do is look at the way they are being treated by their own senator.

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