Education, Jobs, and the 99 percent. Who Occupies What? Who to Blame?

I’m visiting in New York this week, and yesterday I ran into two different “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. And was sent by a friend to this we are the 99 Percent site, an eloquent and disturbing look at that movement. screen shot. I know I don’t know what’s really going on there. And I know that what I see on that site is just one image of truth. But damn, those stories are painful to read. There is real hurt there.

And the recession lingers on. We have all those unemployed people who don’t have money to spend, the economy is still dragging downwards. House prices are still low. Sure, we have bright spots, like the startups.

It makes me wonder about the overriding desire to have somebody to blame. These are sad stories. The underlying theme is people who have followed the rules, gotten the degrees, and ended up having no jobs and no money.

And then they get to the blaming. This is typical:

Now, I struggle to pay my student loans and health insurance, while the criminal bankers and traders who ruined our lives are busy laughing and collecting their bonuses.

There they lose me. I just can’t believe that things are that simple. Because today’s protesting unemployed lawyer might be yesterdays banker and trader. And today’s banker and trader might be tomorrow’s occupy protester. How simple to just blame criminal bankers and traders, but how quickly that idea goes cascading downwards into the nooks and crannies of technology, partisan politics, and the search for the common enemy. There’s the human craving for explanations, combined with the power of simple concentrated ideas, but where does it lead? What, specifically, do they want to change? And who has the power to change it?

I can’t help contrasting the little I know of this with what I remember of the anti-war protests I was part of in the 1960s. I was in the group that occupied the administration building at the University of Notre Dame in the Spring of 1970. How much simpler that was, compared to this seemingly infinite maze of problems today. We wanted out of the Vietnam War, we wanted to stop the draft, and we wanted the university to pull its endowment investments out of the companies we thought were profiting from the war. We had a cause, and we wanted specific changes. Most of us could have explained that in 25 words or less.

And in this case? Not hardly.


  • Tim S. McEneny says:

    Fellow “Child of the 50’s and 60’s”,

    I was in New York last week too and had several conversations about the “occupy” movement. Unlike our protests of the 60’s, this movement has no clear message and no call-to-action. I think they will fold-up their tents and go home once the weather becomes unbearable.In the meantime, I fear someone will literally get burned trying to stay warm.

    My sugestion to the protesters is to rally around a specific call-to-action that may not solve the whole problem but will at least allow them to gain some credibility and momentum. Perhaps they could do something about campaign finance reform , getting out of Afganistan, closing tax loopholes, etc. There are any number of causes and issues. That would make this a serious movement and help start a dialog between the 1% and the 99%…..just like in the 60’s.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Tim, yes, you and I agree. Its rebel with a collection of loosely identified causes. Nothing like “hell no, we won’t go.”

  • Stephanie King says:

    I think it’s important to realize that depending on someone else’s company is the logic behind self blame also. No one wants to blame oneself after working for someone else because they depended on their own work for that other person’s company. This is actually a great time to be starting a business, but some people just don’t think about doing it. Are they after employment, and are they not interested in entrepreneurship? I realize people severely affected by the crisis and recession cannot begin to think about it, but maybe they should just start imagining what their lives would and could be like if there is some way for them to make it happen and find that way.

  • Sandy Cutler says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful insights. Like you, I’m conflicted regarding this movement. We have a son with a Masters degree and huge student loan debt – who can only find work at large box stores at minimum wage. This morning when I was activating my credit card, I was speaking to someone in India (who was hard to understand). We’ve lost a significant amount of middle class jobs – jobs that will never likely return to the USA. Who is to blame? I don’t believe there is any single industry, business sector, or class of citizens who can be held responsible for our current financial crisis. Rather, I believe the crisis is a function of multiple economic forces converging (over time). This includes the shift to a global economy (read Thomas Freidman’s books,, spending billions fighting two wars, disinvestment in education and infrastructure, a growing dependence on government to fund basic health and welfare services, and the growing disparity in wealth between those in the top ten percent of the economic strata as compared to those in the middle and lower economic strata. I also believe that the solution to our problems will come from excellent leadership (sorely lacking now) and a willingness by everyone to set aside personal differences and agendas and seek solutions that ultimately benefit our American society, not just segments of our society.

  • Fred @ says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts Tim. I, like you, sympathize with the millions of people hurt by the current recession. In fact, I think almost all have been hurt only some more than others. All of our lives we have believed that prosperity comes from hard work, but today our confidence has been shaken in this principle.

    While I sympathize with the complaints of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, I fear the outcomes they are promoting. Utopian endeavors and collectivism almost always destroy societies and individuals. Socialism is the antithesis of human freedom, and where individual freedom is infringed real people are hurt.

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