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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Occupy Hope

December 30, 2011 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

It’s been a tumultuous year filled with conservative public policy initiatives that block progress and direct public resources into the hands of fewer, wealthier people. This could really get me down but looking back, I find not just a sliver of hope but a genuine ray of sunshine in the Occupy movement.

Occupy was 2011’s most interesting, inspiring, and hope-inducing moment. I can’t say that things are uniformly looking up for 2012 but, thanks to Occupy, I feel optimism.

The Occupy movement brought popular frustration full-circle. Last year, Tea Partiers laid sole claim to Minnesota’s and the nation’s economic and social disenfranchisement. They offered a simple, extreme solution to a complex problem.

Where the Tea Party was astro-turfed activism, manipulating a marginalized middle class, Occupy is genuine. Warts and all genuine.

We observe the difference in their media relations strategies. The Tea Partiers produced leaders and experts, seemingly created from thin air but really drawn from the right-wing conservative movement’s carefully cultivated ranks. Occupy couldn’t produce a single spokesman presenting a unified perspective because, by its very nature, a unified Occupy perspective doesn’t exist.

That’s Occupy’s strength. Where the Tea Party is narrowly, ideologically conservative but pretends to be broadly mainstream, the Occupy movement is a big tent. It’s bringing lots of different people and issues together, making no bones about its chaotic base. But, that base is Occupy’s strength.

Occupy gave us “the 99 percent.” It’s both a catch-phrase and a population demographic that highlights the unjust nature of conservative public policy concentrating wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It creates identity, distinguishing between “us” and “them.”

Roughly one percent of American income earners make more than $350,000 yearly. In contrast, 99% earn less than that. The median US household income is, roughly, $50,000 per year. The 99% have much in more in common economically and financially than they have with the 1%. Conservative persuasion has done a remarkable job of convincing people who should be bound by common fiscal perspectives and experience that the reverse is true.

The real enemy, conservative policy advocates would have us believe, is the guy getting a little help with his healthcare bills or receiving a partial lunch subsidy for her school-aged children. It’s a masterful illusion rooted in aspirational slight-of-hand. Someday, in other words, I might be rich and I’ll want policies to preserve and expand my wealth. Therefore, I’ll side with concentrated wealth’s interest over my own.

Most people are best served by combining their limited resources and deploying them through government to improve their lot in life. Public schools are the great shining example of transformative community investment. We are best served by raising everyone’s educational level than by only educating a few. Conservative policy advocates, seeking to reduce their tax burden, attack community investments, hoping to divide and conquer. Given that Minnesota spends 13% fewer state dollars on Minnesota’s public education than it spent ten years ago, we must conclude that conservatives have done a masterful job of persuading moderate and low income people to turn against their own best interest.

The Occupy movement is messy and poorly focused. It’s not sure what it wants and it’s had a hard time adequately expressing its perspective. Yet, we get it. We understand that the deck is stacked against middle and low income people. We understand that conservative policy is subverting the American dream of equal opportunity.

Conservative ideology, translated into policy, denies rather than creates the chance to get ahead. It narrows path and closes the gate while creating a separate ez-pass lane for the one percent. The Occupy movement seeks justice, however ill-expressed, because justice is Minnesota’s and America’s promise.

Where conservatives try to distract us from focusing on what really matters—schools, affordable healthcare, jobs—Occupy confronts the broken promise. Occupy gives our shared frustrations a voice and, in standing together, whether at the Hennepin County Government Center or through social media, creates an alternative to self-serving conservative policy.

The Occupy movement moves Minnesota forward.

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  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Occupy members remind me of the 20- and 30-something young people I worked with as a campaign volunteer last year.  In spite of things like the lack of jobs, horrendous student debt, the constant erosion of our civil liberties, and the violence they face from militarized police forces in many cities, they inspire optimism by remaining hopeful themselves that people working together and helping each other can make things better. 

    Thanks for this essay.