Last weekend, my son and I sat by the window in his bedroom and watched a swarm of skateboarders head towards Wall Street. We talked about their signs, their right to protest, and how lucky he is to live in a country where he can speak freely and march for (or against) anything he believes in. I got teary trying to explain the incredible rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of a country as special the United States. He asked if Mama had a boo-boo.
He's two. But hey, you can never start this stuff too early.
I'll come right out with it: I haven't been sure what to make of Occupy Wall Street. I want to get on board, but scrolling through the speeches on their website and the pictures on their Tumblr account, I'm genuinely confused. On the one hand, a transcript asks protesters to envision a brave, new world without capitalism. On the other, there's a picture of a little boy holding up a sheet of paper that says: "I'm almost 6 and my mom can't afford birthday presents for me this year." And while his sad face certainly pulls at my maternal heartstrings, a child's right to toys does not a revolution make.
Here's another sign I had trouble placing in the context of uprising and rebellion: "I graduate college in seven months with a useless degree in Classical Studies. Job prospects: zero. I am in the 99%." While I sympathize greatly with this young student (and her parents who probably saved a bundle to help send her to school), a struggling classics major doesn't exactly evoke images of Tripoli's Martyrs' Square.
Maybe it's time for a quick refresher. Arab Spring wasn't about the major you chose to pursue for college or the inalienable right to something gift wrapped on the day you were born. Protesters in Libya were fighting for (and many of them died for) life, liberty, and democracy. I'm teary just writing it.
Honestly, I wish Occupy Wall Street had smarter leadership. Things like the right "to birthday gifts" and "a job seven months before graduation," make it so easy to pick apart the movement, and that's the real danger. Because under all of this signage, there's a fundamental truth we can't afford to ignore: the growing income gap in this country is a big problem for everybody. Without expansive policy changes, the spread is only going to get worse. I, for one, do not want to leave my child a legacy of excessive inequality and instability.
Yesterday, though, they crossed a line in the sand. Taking to the Upper East Side for their "Millionaire's March," they protested at family homes of the super rich -- big names like Rupert Murdoch and JP Morgan chief exec, Jaime Dimon.
Despite the polarizing wealth distribution in this country, these businessmen (billionaires or not) still have a fundamental right to keep their public and private personas separate. Again, this is no Arab Spring, and Jaime Diamond is no Muammar Gaddafi. We aren't talking about someone who blew up a passenger jet. We aren't talking crimes against humanity or a dictator's stronghold. No matter how large and well furnished these townhouse may be, we're talking about family homes -- and they should be off-limits to protestors.
At the end of the day, this is where these people's kids return from school and gather for the holidays. This is where parents and grandchildren come together to celebrate and to grieve in private. Nothing these guys have (or haven't) done justifies this intrusion of personal space.
Everything I told my toddler on Sunday still stands. We all have a right to protest for (or against) anything we want. March down Broadway. Go to their offices. That's what makes living in this country so great. But we don't have the right to assemble on someone's front doorstep.
So here's my sign: Occupy Wall Street, just stick to Wall Street.