To be honest, I haven’t really been following the Occupy movement very closely. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, living in New Zealand, you don’t so much notice the disparity between the rich and the poor. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but it’s not as noticeable. Maybe because of NZ’s close economic ties to Asia, the recession hasn’t hit as hard here as it has elsewhere. Whatever the reason, most people don’t really have a reason to complain here. Tertiary education is affordable, students get paid to study, people can live on unemployment benefits, and get healthcare. I’m not saying it’s perfect here, and the current recently re-elected government is a centre-right majority, in favour of cutting many social welfare programmes. However, overall, I would say the people who are bad off here, are still a lot better off than the bad off are in other places, like the USA.
Regardless, the Occupy movement does exist here, and the Occupy Wellington movement is located right behind the library near Civic Square. I passed by it on my way to a kayaking lesson on Sunday and was surprised to see all the tents, which I somehow hadn’t managed to notice before.
Perhaps part of the reason why I don’t feel implicated in the Occupy movement is simply because I feel so politically powerless. I live in New Zealand, but can’t vote here. The only place I can vote, the USA, I haven’t actually lived for more than a decade. So, I don’t particularly feel engaged in politics or economics on any level. I know this is a self-imposed ignorance, but I feel so overwhelmed trying to understand the situation, I just want to avoid information overload and bewilderment and the feelings of angst and helplessness I have when I try to understand.
However, that being said, I hold very liberal political views, and would even in some ways consider myself a “left-wing progressive” or whatever pejorative term conservatives like to use for people who believe that things like human rights and the environment are important. Therefore, naturally, I support the Occupy movement. In addition, several of the Occupy sites have libraries, so clearly I am in favour of them.
I like to let people like Greg Proops inform my political opinions, since I think in general I agree with him on most points, certainly regarding the decriminalisation of Marijuana, and a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. So, I usually just ascribe to whatever political sentiments he shares via his entertaining and informing Smartest Man in the World Podcast.
Recently he described a situation in which an Occupy protester handed Barack Obama a note. The message can be clearly read in the following photo:
Which, surprisingly, seemed to go under the radar for most news sources.
I have already admitted to a fear of information overload, however, I do try to follow the news. On my Google homepage I have, in the following order, the headlines from BBC Asia Pacific, Montreal Gazette, Chicago Tribune, Stuff.co.nz, and BBC world news. I read the headlines everyday, and usually 2 or 3 different stories, if anything piques my interest. I also listen to the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast, which research has shown, is better than not reading any kind of news, so it’s not like I live in a vacuum. I try to stay at least some what informed about current events. So, I was surprised to have completed missed hearing about this event. I wanted to share this image and say that I found it strangely moving, and found myself really identifying with the language used to describe how “99%” of people are feeling. What I found even more moving was the fact, pointed out by Mr. Proops, that the police had/have no right to arrest peaceful protesters in the USA, as it is clearly part of the first amendment’s right to assembly. The text of which reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I found that the Cornell University’s Law School provides the full text of the constitution with detailed annotations. In my opinion, the protesters involved with the Occupy movement are doing exactly what is protected under their first amendment rights – peaceably assembling and petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances. Therefore, the fact that they are being arrested, libraries being destroyed and books being thrown away (umm… Nazi Germany?) is just one step away from some Orwellian nightmare. The reality is that we we cannot peaceably assemble or petition the government to address our grievances, and our freedom is only freedom in the sense that we are free to continue participating and consuming within our global capitalist economy. However, I can only hope that sooner or later, people won’t be content with new pieces of shiny plastic or cars to drive us back and forth to the mall, and will wake up from the catatonic stupor of materialism and realise shit has to change.