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Occupy's Unspoken Contributions

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OCCUPY
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The Occupy Wall Street movement drew battle lines on a number of fronts, not just between the rich and the rest of us. The movement -- perhaps unintentionally -- spurred comparisons over who has suffered the most in this recession: baby boomers or their offspring?

Studies have abounded over which group is the most employable, which group has the most wealth, whether boomers will ever fully recover from the recession's left hook and whether a lost generation has been created who will never have what their parents had.

I'm not sure any of it matters. The Suffering Scale is plenty big enough to accommodate everyone, right down to the last 30-year-old son still living with his laid-off parents. So if the tide ever does come in for the middle class, the boats that will rise may be side by side in the same port.

But to those bloggers who say the Occupy movement defined a rift between the ages, I'd have to say: Not in my world. I'm a Boomer who not only marched in solidarity with the Occupiers, but brought my family along for the ride and let my 14-year-old daughter blog about the experience for the Huffington Post.

And while I admit that I'm personally a little burned out on Occupy occupying the news, I do have two things I'd like to thank them for before the movement rides off into the sunset or starts occupying foreclosed homes or whatever it is they have planned next that hopefully won't impact my commute too badly.

I seriously want to thank the Occupiers for giving us visual images of the Great Recession where none existed before, and for giving us the human "mic check."

Every major event in our country's modern history has had an iconic photo that became etched into our souls: The photos of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11; the grainy black and whites of the Depression's bread lines; the Vietnam War photo shot by AP's Eddie Adams of police chief Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon. That last one changed the tide of public opinion on the war and is credited with hastening its end. Yes, just one photo was powerful enough to do that.

Yet until Occupy came along, the Great Recession had no visuals. After all, what image could adequately capture the pain and indignity of joblessness or of people losing their homes to foreclosure? While suffering was palpable wherever you turned, it could hardly be expressed by a photo of a row of "for-sale" signs on front lawns or a 55-year-old guy with a pink slip in his hand or a 24-year-old moving into his mother's basement.

Then Occupy came along and gave us photo images of tent cities, angry and distraught faces, and some of the cleverest signage to come down the pike since Mad Men's Madison Avenue. Suddenly, there was visual evidence of the recession's human toll -- along with a voice of the nation's collective anger at the banks, government and corporations that created a wealth gap the size of an ocean.

The Occupiers also gave us something else: the lowly mic check. Without the benefit of a public address system at their disposal -- remember, Occupiers were encamped in public parks and city hall lawns without access to electricity -- they introduced the concept of the human microphone chain. The chain would begin with the shout-out of "MIC CHECK" to get everyone's attention, a call that was repeated by the closest dozen or so people who responded MIC CHECK in return. And so the message would be delivered, spreading out its tentacles through the Occupy camp in soundbites of a few words at a time. THE FOOD BANK. NEEDS HELP. COME VOLUNTEER. NOW.

It not only worked effectively, it humanized the experience of communication -- quite literally. It was an equalizing force that underscored the sense of community. It also communicated the idea that the message -- the message of the suffering unspoken of for the years of the recession -- could not be spread if you remained silent. Your participation was necessary; no more sitting on the sidelines. Now how much more '60s do you get than that?

Say what you will about the Occupiers and their impact, they gave us something that no one can sweep back under the rug. The silence has been broken and we have photographic evidence to prove it. And as for whether boomers became demonized in the process -- admit it, how many bank presidents aren't boomers? -- I deny guilt by age association.