Participants in the Occupy $LOCATION protests are generally being identified as fairly young — twentysomethings, mostly — with a few older folks, and an unknown percentage of Professional Agitators who will come out for the opening of an envelope. Despite these demographics, I tend to think of it as primarily a baby-boomer phenomenon: most of the youngsters had these ideas planted in their heads by a series of boomers, from grade school to graduate school, and the basic demand — Gimme! — is pure, unadulterated boomer.

Inevitably, therefore, there is some sort of nostalgia component, given the fact that boomerdom cut its teeth on street protests and still believes in "making a difference," choosing to disregard the fact that somewhere around 50 percent of the time, things will be made worse. Certainly it took years of indoctrination to come up with that risible list of demands, largely indistinguishable from the average labor-union wish list. (I posted an alternate set of demands, which in retrospect don't seem any sillier than the original ones, linked therein.) And that other boomer watchword, narcissism, is very much in attendance: cf. "The Whole World Is Watching," a chant from outside the 1968 Democratic convention, recycled by Todd Gitlin in the title of a 1980 book and appearing (briefly) in the showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge earlier this month.

Not that I'm complaining about there being protesters in the street or anything. The First Amendment is quite explicit about "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," and for the most part, the Occupiers are pretty peaceable; it's not too easy to tell from the various bits of video that have come out, but I'm thinking it's a fairly safe bet that any roughhousing can ultimately be traced to either the aforementioned Professional Agitators or to an occasional misjudgment by police. If things get to the point where, say, cars are set ablaze, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Nor am I going to complain about that "99%" business, either:

Yeah, that would be you, me, J. Neric Angry Student, the homeless wino over there on the park bench, the manager of your local grocery store, the gal who owns the fast food joint and the manager of the local manufacturing plant -- also, the guy who mucks out the toilets in that plant. Probably everyone you can see from the top of your dwelling, too. I'm sure we've all got a lot of things to talk about that the family with the private island couldn't possibly understand or relate to.

On the other hand, I'm long since overdrawn at the Sympathy Bank, for the simple reason that I had to learn, courtesy of the School of Hard Knocks — don't even ask about the tuition — that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you haven't learned this basic law of the universe, you have no business calling yourself an adult, whether you're twenty-three or forty-three or a hundred and three. It is, you may be sure, something of a downer to discover that life requires effort, usually rather a lot of it, regardless of whether you've planned for it or not. But not only were you never promised a rose garden, you're still going to have to spend time pulling weeds. If that sounds unfair, well, life is like that.

Still, it would be unreasonable to assume that every last person camped out downtown is at heart an indolent layabout who will never amount to anything. Some of them, I'd be willing to bet, will eventually be struck like Saul on the way to Tarsus, and set themselves on the path of righteousness — or at least off the path of covetousness. We can think of the protests, therefore, as a learning experience, and you like learning experiences, right? Oh, you don't? Sorry to have disturbed you, Senator.

The Vent

  17 October 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill