Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And another thing

Another thing about the OWS movement that bugs me, and I swear I'm going to let it go after this, is what they call themselves - the ninety nine percent. They're not the ninety-nine percent, they're a very tiny subset of the population who speak not for all of us, as near as I've heard, but for themselves. If they were truly speaking for the people most affected by corporate greed, we'd be hearing a lot less about student loans and a lot more about the predatory lending practices of the cash 'til payday loans places, virtually every major credit card company, and most credit "counseling" services. 
Yeah, student loans are a bitch and it's pretty unfair when people work their tails off in school on the promise of success when they get out, only to find jobs that don't even cover the monthly cost of their loan payment. Believe me, I know. Once, some years ago, I got way behind on my student loans; it was partially my fault, but all the debt was piling up, I had so many bills I couldn't see straight, and I got into trouble from which I didn't think I could ever dig myself out. There was this one company, they were associated with a loan I didn't realize I had, and when they suddenly noticed I existed, they came after me like pirranahs. They wanted all their money NOW and I didn't have it. All of a sudden they were calling me five, six, seven times a day. They were calling me at work, they were yelling at me, they were cruel and mean, calling me names, calling me a liar and a bad person, and it was horrible. I lived in a fear so bad that to this day, I feel a tiny swelling of panic when I get a call from a blocked phone number. But the thing is, I had an Internet connection, and a college degree, and that gave me the opportunity to get educated about my rights; to know what kind of tactics bill collectors were and weren't allowed to use. I was able to assert those rights and cut back on the harassing behavior. I was able to sort the situation out, borrow enough money from loved ones to shut the collectors up, and go back to my life. On top of all that, my interest rate on those loans is still in the single digits, and I was able to get back on track and even ahead of the game within only a few years. 
Folks who are dirt poor and uneducated, who were never even taught how to turn on a computer, they're not going to know how to find these things out. And they don't get nice kushy government-subsidized rates. They get tricked into borrowing at rates as high as freaking 800% at many payday loan places, and either they never got the educational opportunities to understand that, or they're too desperate to care. I'd guess a good ninety nine percent of the kids protesting on Wall Street have never known what it's like to have a sick kid who can't afford a doctor - to take a credit card with a 30% interest rate or borrow at 800% because they've got no other choice. And many - I'd guess most - never will. Because the economy's going to get better and they're going to get the jobs their degrees promised them and in ten years their student loan payments are going to get direct-withdrawn and they'll never have to worry if they'll have enough money in the account to cover it. Trust me, I know that too.
So what I'm saying is, if the ninety-nine percent were speaking for the entire ninety nine percent, they'd be speaking about entirely different things. Most are white. Most, according to The Demographics of Occupy Wall Street, an article in The Week, are under 35 (meaning crashing with mom and dad, for many, isn't out of the question as a last resort). Most resources I consulted indicate that about 90% of the OWS protesters have had the good fortune of having been to college, far higher than in America as a whole. Only 46% of them, according to The Society Pages make less money than I do (though I should note I haven't been able to independently verify this). They're really not a representative sample of the ninety-nine percent, as a whole, and I believe that qualifies very few of them to speak for all of us. I don't think, based on the percentages and what I'm hearing in the news, that these guys are in touch with the real victims of corporate greed, and I've not heard a one of them indicate that they've educated themselves on which corporations are the real bad guys.
I want to make it very clear that I think corporate greed is rampant. I think that the excesses of the really rich are often unconscionable in light of the suffering of the poor. I think consumers should hold corporations accountable for their evil deeds and yes, I think that the government should step in when a corporation gets truly out of line. I'm angry at the way corporations have screwed Americans. I'm angry at the wealthier people who sit in their cushy office chairs and dismiss the poor as lazy, dishonest, and overstating their poverty. I'm angry at people who think that the suffering of innocent people who can't afford food, education, or medical care isn't their concern. I'm angry at America's complacency and apathy when it comes to the poor and I'm supremely angry at people who refuse to put their own problems in perspective. I'm angry that schools aren't better, I'm angry that my mom's students have to dodge bullets on their way to school, I'm angry that good students who work hard can't go to college just because they were born into poverty. I'm angry at the state of health care, and yes, I'm angry at conservatives who would rather blame the victims than work toward compromise. 
Damn corporate fat cats, laying around while others do all the work.
I'm angry that I live in a country that's boiling over with discrimination, poverty and injustice and I think every person of conscience should be out there doing something. I just don't think that the OWS protesters are doing the right thing, fighting the right battles, or targeting the right enemies. Rich people aren't the enemy; in fact, many of them have the resources to be great allies if we'd stop blaming them and start asking them instead to pitch in.


B said...

Damn good post, Brigid.

However, I'm pretty sure there are a sprinkling of OWS protesters out there who are dirty poor and fighting for their rights like they should. The optimist in me wants to believe it. I think the OWS movement is the right idea, but the point of it all is starting to get lost in all the hype. A movement should never be based on popularity and hype. It should be based on the needs of those who need it most. If you need nothing, then protesting doesn't make much sense, does it?

And I'm not college educated, and I still knew enough to hit google and find out about predatory and harassing behavior from credit card collectors. Anybody can be knowledgeable about anything they want. People just choose to be stupid about everything nowadays. And THAT makes me really angry.



Brigid Daull Brockway said...

B - thanks for reading and for the compliment!
I will say while you're right and don't need a college degree to know how to Google, it's also true that there's an educational poverty in this country that's hard to imagine until you see it face-to-face. I'm not a terrible teacher, but when I worked at a group home with formerly homeless folk, there were a significant number of folk whom I _could not_ teach how to use Google independently. Plus there's the fact that a great many of the search results when you search "bill collectors" are a scheme to take more of your money. I've rarely succeeded in teaching a novice computer user to avoid these. Plus lots of folks don't even know that they _have_ rights when it comes to bill collectors.
So I guess that while it is a fact that many people choose to be ignorant, not everyone who is ignorant is ignorant by choice.