Thursday, October 20, 2011

An open letter the Occupy Wall Street Protesters:

Dear Protesters:

I get it. I really do. You are angry and fed up and unsure of the future.  You showed up on time everyday. You never took a sick day. You missed your kid's violin recital to meet that deadline. You did everything right and where are you now? Nowhere.  Or at the very least not where YOU think you should be.  And on top of everything, it seems like nothing will make the slightest difference in the amount of indifference the world has for you.
I am frustrated too. While I am lucky enough to have a job, there are several people in my family who do not. They were not bad employees or lazy, they were just victims of the financial state of their employers. I am sure that they wish that they could be the ones who kept their jobs, but sometimes staying on is just as difficult.  When the economy started to tank,  many employers did what was necessary to cut costs in the most direct way possible. For most, they got rid of their most costly expense: employees. Some companies had no choice but to severely cut their workforce by half or more. I saw it happen at competing firms.  "Oh did you hear that So-and-so is down from 50 to 22 people?" "Well I heard that they were going to a 4 day work week and taking a 20% pay cut."
And at first, as a surviving member of your company you are thankful for your job, period. You might take a pay cut and you might work more hours but you will be making more than unemployment and you will still feel like a positive member of society.

Eventually, even productive members get tired. Soon, the secretguilt and happiness that you felt for keeping your job gives way and the 12, 14, and 15 hour days begin to take their toll. You feel angry. You're angry because now you are doing twice the amount of work for 20% less money. It's like eating at a restaurant.  A fully staffed company is like the complete dinner: t-bone steak, potatoes, veggies. But once you start laying off people, quality suffers. Sure, you remain profitable, but now your dinner  looks more like scraps than a complete meal. No filet for you, only chicken fried steak. While the unemployed are tearing their hair out at home because they can't get a job, employed people are tearing their hair out because they can't leave their job. I looked at one of my colleague's timesheets and it said that he worked 64 hours- 13 hours a day, 5 days straight (it didn't include the time he spent on the weekend). When I commented on it, he said he was glad to have only worked that amount. Everyday, I hear spouses calling home to let husbands/wives know that they will not be home for dinner or playtime or bedtime. Everyday. They come in beat down, exhausted, and are expected to produce top quality work while under tremendous deadlines with no help at the office and little support at home.
So, if you are unemployed you are unhappy and if you are employed your unhappy. So what do we do? We stand outside of buildings with signs and shout? We give up on looking for jobs to show Big Business that they aren't getting away with it??? Protester, I see you. You are resilient and powerful. Unfortunately, I think you may also be ineffective.  The "businesses" that you are protesting do not care about you or your family. They do not. They don't care because they don't have to. You probably pay rent or have a mortage, use your checking account every day, and buy things with credit. They already have your money (and your debt), they don't need you.

And while I am sad to hear the cynical tone of my letter, I can't help but feel like its the truth. Until you actually have a defined message and listed goals, I don't think any of you will be in a better position. You may feel better because you get to make your plight known and feel like you are on the offensive, but for every moment that you are out there holding a sign, someone else is applying for  a job. 

So, come up with something. Protest increasing tuition rates for state schools. Protest the additional fees that banks are adding to "free" checking accounts. Or protest high oil prices (especially BP's).  Seriously, if you don't get some concrete goals, I am worried that you will have spent all this time and energy accomplishing nothing.

How will you feel then?


EDIT 10/27/11: I would like to add a disclaimer that while I don't think that the Occupy "wherever" movement is the best use of time, I completely disagree with tear gassing and rubber bullet shooting. Oakland Police need a little more training.

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