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Nov 15

My Day Amongst The Heathens: A Visit To Occupy Wall Street

There are three things in life that I truly love: Starcraft 2, my family, and drum circles. I’m not listing those in order, of course. (If I were, drum circles would be first).

This is the kind of happiness that a family could never even hope to bring you

Due to my fondness for drum circles, I decided to head down to the city to get in on the biggest drum circle of them all- Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is a lot like your great grandfather after he’s had too much to drink at your family’s Christmas dinner- a little on the crazy side, but mostly just incredibly incoherent because he threw his false teeth into the fire “gusth thu see what would appen.”

Although as you can see from the demands above, Occupy Wall Street is probably more than just a little crazy

To gain a stronger insight into this fascinating, if not confusing, sociopolitical movement, I decided to interview a leader of the movement in the quasi-organization’s very own stomping grounds. Unfortunately, in my pursuit of a leader, I ran into a bit of an obstacle. There are no leaders of OWS. At first I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I guess this is still a young movement, maybe they haven’t had time to organize and find some leadership.” That, however, is not true. OWS has now existed for nearly two months. They’ve had the time to develop a leadership structure. This begs the question, “Why don’t they have a leader?” Is there no one in the movement capable of leadership? And that’s when I realized it. OWS is so populistic, that their philosophically incapable of having a leader. No one wants to proclaim themselves leader, because that would mean taking the movement away from the people. It would, essentially, mean vaulting oneself into the 1%, not socioeconomically, but sociopolitically. Upon coming to this realization, I almost lost hope. Never fear, though, I came up with an alternate position. Rather than interviewing a leader of the movement, I instead decided to interview a recent NYU graduate who has been spending the last week demonstrating.

Me: Thanks again for meeting with me, I just have a few questions if you wouldn’t mind answering them.

Godless Hippie: Sure, no problem. What magazine did you say this was for again?

Me; Time.

Godless Hippie: Ah.

Me: Yeah…So, what first drove you to come to the OWS protests?

GH: Yeah, well, I graduated in June of this year (2011) with a degree in film from NYU,

Me: Very good school

GH: Thank you. Yeah, so I graduated with a film degree, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding a job. And so here I am.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that. And what is it exactly that you hope to achieve here, both individually and collectively.

GH: Well I think that we feel frustrated with the fact that we went to school and worked hard and did everything we were supposed to, and are stuck out here while all these fat cats are filling their pockets with money.

Me: Well in all fairness none of them are fat, those guys take awesome care of themselves. Dudes are sharks.

GH: Right…well, you know what I mean.

Me: I do. Did you study anything else in college other than film?

GH: Yeah I had a double major in Art History and a minor in French.

Me: Oh wow, so you essentially chose this for yourself.

GH: Excuse me?

Me: Nothing.

GH: Ok. Well, getting back to your original question, I think what we really want is to try and advocate for a more equitable society, one in which people come before profits, you know? I mean, I look at all of these people going back and forth like ants and I just think to myself, “What’s the use? Why does it matter?” These people run around trading products that they don’t understand, while good people go on without means of supporting their families. Finance never did anything for anybody.

Me: Interesting. So where are you from originally? What do your parents do, and what do they think of your presence here?

GH: Well I grew up in Rye, and I went to Rye Country Day School, which was pretty chill. My mom was a high school French teacher, and my dad ran a hedge fund.

Me: Your dad runs a hedge fund?

GH: Ran a hedge fund. He’s an independent venture capitalist now, just goes around investing in different things that catch his fancy.

Me: And he’s ok with you being down here?

GH: Well he doesn’t actually know I’m down here. He rents me an apartment in the Upper East Side and sort of just leaves me alone while he’s off flying around the world.

Me: He pays for your apartment entirely?

GH: Yeah, and some of my other expenses.

Me: So as much as your lamenting not having a job, it seems as though your in a position of relative financial security.

GH: Oh yeah sure, I don’t need money. I’m here for the people. The people need to be heard.

Me: And what is it that needs to be heard?

GH: Well, that we’re not going to simply sit by and watch as we become a stratified nation. We don’t want a caste system here that’s determined by what school you go to or what job you have. These people get compensated so handsomely, and for what? Being “talented?” For choosing to work in an industry in which successful businesses are highly profitable? Just because economics say that something is valuable doesn’t make it valuable. If it were up to me, not a single person would work in finance. It wouldn’t exist in my world.

Me: Good to know. Well, thank you very much for meeting with me.

GH: Thanks, good luck writing the article!

Me: And good luck finding a shower.

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OWS is such a tricky subject. While it is impossible not to sympathize with the protestor’s position, one has serious reservations with blaming the successful for what’s going on in the economy right now. While irresponsible investing practices led to this downturn, we can’t blame the entire financial sector as a result. When we have a strong financial sector, it benefits all of us. Our economy grows as a result of investment. Investment creates jobs, capital, and opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. And yet, one has to wonder whether this inequitable growth is worth it. Should we be doing more to help grow middle class jobs in this country? Or should we simply let the economy take its natural course?

On a perhaps more taboo note though, it raises a greater question. It’s fair to say that many of our best and brightest go into finance, and it raises  a general question about compensation, stratification, and egalitarianism. We think that it’s important that everyone receive a vote, that everyone receive food, water, and shelter. We argue that there are inalienable rights of men that belong to us simply because we have been birthed. The circumstances of our births are beyond our control, and so we think that we should not punish others for their circumstances. However, we don’t necessarily carry that thinking into compensation for working. If someone was born with more natural intelligence or talent than someone else, does that mean that he or she should be compensated for doing a job that they can do simply because they were born that way? Is it fair to relegate people to lower income levels simply because they weren’t born the same way? We often counter this argument with, “well it’s not about talent, it’s about work ethic.” And while work ethic is vital to success, it does not necessarily bring success without natural talent. And even then, is work ethic not also an attribute that we’re born with? I’m not assigning positive or negative values to the way we perceive compensation or talent, I’m simply pointing out that our logic doesn’t necessarily hold throughout all facets of our thinking on what is “fair.”

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