If we truly desire that our government be by the people and for the people, then accountability must begin with the people.
Whether you support them or not, there has been a new dialogue created by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. If my own colorful circle of friends is any indication, the reactions to the ongoing protests are anything but unanimous. While some commentary is fairly predictable of those standing stubbornly behind their elephant or donkey (respectively), I couldn’t help but notice that despite our seemingly enormous differences, there is – believe it or not – a thread that seems to unify the dialogue of supporters and detractors alike. An actual patch of common ground. We all – except maybe for that one guy in Zuccotti Park getting too many hits on YouTube for yelling that the world owes him stuff – believe in the idea of being responsible for our own actions – and holding other people accountable for theirs. It seems that everyone weighing in on both sides speaks to this idea of accountability. The trouble is that no matter which side you are on, the fingers are always pointing in the wrong direction. Because accountability is not a justification for placing blame. In fact, it’s the opposite. It is an onus – a duty of each of us as citizens of a democracy – to know (at the very least) what the hell we are talking about.
A Strategic Shift
So let’s start from scratch for a moment. Because this is important. For the first time in a very long time, people are talking seriously about something other than the impossibility of change within our system of government and the financial system it is so closely tied to. The very fact that people believe in the possibility of change is what makes change possible. That’s a big deal. We cannot afford to waste this moment in history – this extraordinary opportunity – having the same ideological arguments that got us here. If we can all agree that we are each responsible for our own actions – held accountable for them – let’s start there. That can be the first thing we ALL have in common. That “American Dream” we were all raised on is based on that idea – that personal responsibility and hard work make all things possible. We believed that long before the grownups taught us how to divide and resent each other. Whoever you are and whatever you believe – republican, democrat, fed up or just freaked out – you are probably both right and wrong about things. We all are. Not one of us is right about everything. And, more importantly, we are each personally responsible for our own education. It is no one elses job to keep you informed. Education – just to be clear – is more than school and degrees. It is perpetual learning. Let that be the place where our accountability begins. If there is something you don’t know or don’t quite understand – you are responsible for learning about it. Informing yourself. Seeking out new ideas with the understanding that what you know today is not enough for tomorrow. There is always more. If we want our country to change – to listen and to evolve with the will of it’s people – then we must each be willing, at the smallest person-to-person level, to do the same.
It starts with the smallest thing. Conversation. By altering – ever so slightly – the way we relate to each other in conversation, we can learn volumes. That’s important. We can effect enormous change. We are powerful. It starts with a small shift in perspective. We can demonstrate our belief in personal responsibility by changing our objective in each conversation we have. Instead of aiming to be right, aim to end every conversation smarter than you were when it started. That is personal accountability (and social responsibility) at the most basic level. Don’t expect to ‘win’ – expect to learn something. In order to really take responsibility for our beliefs, we have to be willing to take in all the available information to base those beliefs on – and the information available to us changes with every moment, every interaction – every conversation that we have, and every new person that we meet. Our belief system has to be an active thing. Open to every new experience that will either change or reinforce what we think.
It is that shift in the focus of our conversations that has begun to allow for change. It is happening because the beliefs (judgements, cynicism and apathy) we have held onto for so long are destroying our country. But now, people who have found themselves homeless and unemployed despite hard work and expensive educations have become so desperate to find a solution that they have begun listening to each other. Imagine that. To share their experiences. To look to each other for ideas, solidarity, and a means of changing their conditions. Because they have to. Conditions have to change. More people every day are being forced to reevaluate what they believe – and what (or who) they are willing to believe in. The validity of our blood feud political system is very much in question. And perhaps it took having our TVs repossessed to finally get our attention, but here we are.
Clearing the Air
When we don’t listen to each other, we are easy to manipulate. Ignorance and misinterpretation spread faster than a celebrity sex tape. In the world of sound bites and short attention spans, we grab at clever sarcasm and ill-informed, out-of-context rhetoric so that we can pass judgement quickly and go back to bashing Twilight. It’s not news to anyone that most people would rather read about misbehaving debutantes than educate themselves about electronic voting fraud or corporate tax laws. And – conservatives and liberals alike – we are all guilty of not paying much attention to what the other party appears to be ranting about – unless we can use it against them to prove one of our own points. But before we can point fingers across the aisle we at least need to know what we’re arguing about. What BOTH sides are arguing about. Not with sound bites, or by copy/paste quoting your favorite political commentator onto Facebook. Be responsible. Be educated. Whether you’re sporting business suits or Birkenstocks, this is your problem. This is accountability.
There are misconceptions on both sides of the Occupy Wall Street debate. And again, it’s because this dialogue is so important that it’s worth taking the time to clear them up. There are a lot of people out there with a vested interested in keeping the waters muddy. In keeping we-the-people divided. Sadly, we live in a time with such obvious corruption that you no longer have to be a conspiracy theorist to know our government is bought and sold. If you had any lingering doubt about who our politicians work for, it was surely erased when they decided that chemical-rich pizza was a vegetable – for our children. It would be a bad joke if it wasn’t indicative of something so devastating. So when we watch the news or listen to politicians and commentators, it’s essential that we always consider the source – what that person or organization has at stake. Why let someone you have never met – with their own opinion, angle, and bias – tell you what to think? Sure, it’s easier. But in doing so you ignore your personal responsibility to educate yourself. To learn what is true. To have an opinion that is informed as opposed to convenient. Think of it this way. If you walked into an umbrella store on a sunny day and the clerk told you it was raining, you wouldn’t think “hey, maybe it’s raining now,” you’d think “hey, this asshole is trying to sell me an umbrella.” You would recognize that he was trying to sell you something. At the very least, you’d walk back a few steps and look out the window. You have to look out the window. News networks are no different. Accountability is informing yourself. Be accountable for your thoughts. Don’t ever let anyone (including me) give you your opinion. It’s yours. It matters. Be responsible for it. Gone are the days when we can hide behind the idea of being ‘misinformed’. There is simply too much information available out there. Yes, it takes work to understand and consider several viewpoints, but it is your social obligation to do so.
Do you remember what our parents taught us about what happens when we “assume” things? Well they were right. And it’s even worse to use an assumption to form an argument. If you think that the Occupy Wall Street protesters hate rich people, believe they are owed something for nothing, or are made up primarily of spoiled young people and aging hippies, you need to take a closer look. Those things are categorically untrue – perfect examples of false assumptions being used to form arguments. I know the press enjoys interviewing the dirty, pajama-clad revolutionary demanding the rich people give him some of their money, but he is no more indicative of the movement than a gay-bashing, openly racist wife-beating car salesman represents republicans just because he shows up at their rally. It’s absolutely true that if you only watch network news, it’s hard to know what to make of these folks. They are often presented as vague, poorly organized kids and crazies with no objective beyond some irritating urban camping. But why not find out for yourself? Do some research? Drop by the local occupation? Whatever your opinion, nothing makes you look more like an ass than basing your argument on something that was never true in the first place.
Here are a few things that are true. All walks of life are represented within the movement. Yes, lots of young people – but plenty of everyone else. From bonds traders to police officers. Real estate agents and artists. Employed and Unemployed. The whole spectrum of their 99% mantra. OWS believes that the wealthy should be subject to the same tax laws as everyone else. They are part of the same society and therefore should be subject to the same rules. Currently, they are not – thus the protesting. They believe our political process should be based on the vote of the populous – as opposed to being bought and sold by special interest groups and corporations willing to buy or bully anyone that might get in their way – even if it means poisoning our children. That if you still believe your vote counts (if you vote at all), you’re really not paying attention. The illusion of democracy is unacceptable to them – thus the protesting. They are not asking for hand outs – they are demanding that hard work and education will bear fruit beyond eventual layoff and perpetual debt. They are demanding, and attempting to create, an actual democracy to replace the current pretense of one. It is messy, it is dangerous, and it won’t look like the roomful of organized, well-shaved suits on C-span, but it is far more patriotic.
A Decade Brought to You by the Letter “A” (and the number 99)
We cannot dismiss this movement because they are gathered in the streets. To do so is to surrender your voice – to acknowledge that the individual does not matter. When our system of government ceases to represent us, what other choice is there? We support such movements in other countries. We applaud their demand for democracy. That’s why I find the backlash to Occupy Wall Street by fellow citizens so odd. They are demanding democracy. If you think they are messy and disorganized, help them get organized. If you feel they don’t represent you, go to the next rally and use your voice. They are fighting for YOU. Perhaps that’s what most of their detractors don’t realize. The beauty of the movement is that all are welcome. Every belief. Every voice. From left to right. They don’t care how much you make or what you worship. They practice a rough democratic process in their meetings because they are living their only demand. That each voice matter. That each person be educated and informed. That personal responsibility be rewarded with opportunity. That ALL are accountable. Whether Occupy Wall Street ultimately succeeds in changing our government remains to be seen. What is true right now, however, is that the movement has already begun to shape the direction of this new decade. It has challenged our cynicism, our ignorance and our apathy. It has inspired the support of thousands by insisting that change is possible. It has made us hopeful. And make no mistake – hope is powerful.