I must admit that I am not much of a marcher. I soured on the whole marching around with signs thing back in 2002 when it seemed like the entire universe protested the war in Iraq to no avail.
I wondered, what good is standing in a park and beating a tambourine if it doesn’t have an impact? It was so pre-internet, so 1960’s, so hopelessly old school. Cheney’s heart beats on. The end. Move along.
So I was a bit reluctant to completely buy into Occupy Wall Street when it started. Mostly, I was afraid that the political left would get smeared by the media who would portray us as either a) a bunch of latté-swilling liberals with Apple computers or b) a group of aimless drifters who refuse to make specific demands, appoint leaders, or take a shower (well, I was down there today, and the shower part is actually true).
In fact, all of these caricatures did emerge in media accounts of OWS. But the protesters endured anyway. They have stayed in Zucotti Park long enough to make most critiques seem silly and petulant. (Malcolm Gladwell basically harrumphed, “You youngsters realize that Facebook friends are not your real friends, right?” And everyone who doesn’t write for the New Yorker for a living just ignored him and kept on marching.)
So I went down to Wall Street today to, you know, occupy the place. And I must admit that a sliver of joy and hope penetrated my cold, cynical, postacademic heart.
The first thing to know about OWS if you haven’t been there is that it’s big, really big. This thing is loud and absolutely bursting at the seams with energy. It made me believe that marching around with a sign (along with thousands of other people) might actually be something. Go, sign-wielding people!
And there is a post-academic angle here.
I noticed today that a lot of folks were protesting student loan debt. One young man held a sign that said, “Fifty thousand in student debt and no job.” Another’s sign declared: “Two jobs and still can’t make my monthly student loan payment.”
Why aren’t more people talking about this aspect of the economic crisis?
A lot of people are aware that housing foreclosures have plunged millions into poverty. But we don’t hear as much about the scourge of student debt. The banks financed those loans too. How nice of them to help us all invest in our futures, right? They are such nice old white dudes.
I have student loans to repay. I almost don’t know anybody who doesn’t. It’s a trap that ensnared so many who believed the lie that education was a path to the middle class.
We were bamboozled, hornswoggled, hoodwinked.
Another sign at OWS today demanded that the government “Cancel All Student Loan Debt NOW.” Why not? When the banks got into trouble in 2008, their politician-helpers stepped in and rescued them. Don’t the millions of students, graduate and undergraduate, currently being crushed by massive debts they took out to educate themselves for non-existent jobs deserve the same?