Mr. Noodle

Mr. Noodle
Mr. Noodle

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Am I 1% or 99%?

Normally I don’t like to write about political issues. Not any more. I spent a lot of time in the 1990s as an activist, first as a student and then later when I got involved in the labour movement. I was all wrapped up in my activism and found myself simply being tired and angry all the time. When I discovered rampant hypocrisy and utter lack of integrity by leaders of these movements, I walked away. Life is too short to spend all my energy on negativity.

I can’t ignore this Occupy movement. I mean I can, technically, by simply not physically going by Centennial Square in Victoria. But I do think about it. A lot. I suspect that if I went down to the #occupyVictoria site, I would see a bunch of people I used to attend protests with a decade ago. Well, maybe not now, maybe in the early days of this Occupy movement I would have seen those familiar faces of people who just show up to every protest, but rumor has it the demographic of the people at the site has changed. 

Victoria and Vancouver have issues of homelessness and safe injection drug sites, as do many major cities. When the Olympics came to Vancouver last year, the city of Vancouver proposed to ship all the homeless somewhere else (read: Victoria) to sweep them under the rug and away from all the tourists coming here for Olympics. There has long been a call for more services to this disadvantaged set of individuals.

From the beginning I have been puzzled by the Occupy movement. I mean, Okay I get that people are angry about the rich not being taxed fairly while the middle class and lower have suffered greatly. But you know what? That is a trend that has repeated itself historically ever since humans could build. One group oppressed another*. One group enslaved another. Ever seen St. Petersburg? That entire city was built on slave labour. So were the Pyramids. North America’s early railroads (mostly Canada, but probably at least in the western US too) were built by Asian immigrants looking for a better life but were instead treated as expendable.  I’m not saying that slavery is good or something we should continue (thanks to @idreamnsweaters for catching me on this), but just that it’s not new. Read any Jared Diamond and you'll see how societies come and go, usually at the hands of this kind of movement from an egalitarian to a huge chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The way our current global economic situation is moving will probably lead to collapse eventually. But it is not just the result of our economic and political systems. (Hello overpopulation!)

I’ve been reading lots of the links that people have been posted on Twitter, with opinions on either side of the Occupy movement. One interesting YouTube video posited that the people behind the Occupy movement are some whiny poor-me Gen Yers who have a sense of entitlement and don’t know where their food or their IT gadgetry even comes from (i.e. the corporations they rail against). I have also been reading the comments of the news stories that are posted on my local media sites. The people who are largely against this movement, in Victoria at least, seem to be those who are supposedly in the 99%, that is, average people. When the City of Victoria turned off the power and water that the Occupy protesters were using, there was public outcry from both sides. What? The city was providing water and power for these people who claim to represent the 99%? No, more like they just took it without sanction. 

We have municipal elections coming up in a few weeks in British Columbia, so the Occupy movement in Vancouver and Victoria have turned into what the Vancouver Mayor calls a “political football” because it is no longer about “sticking it to the man”. The Occupy movement in British Columbia has turned it into yet another platform to draw attention to the issues of homelessness and drug use on our province’s streets. For this reason, both Victoria and Vancouver want to shut the encampments down and I have to say I can’t blame them. This is supposedly drawing criticism to both Vancouver’s and Victoria’s mayors and council. So says the media. We’ll see what happens on Election Day, as this is like to be the largest issue on which people vote. 

A woman at the Occupy Vancouver site died yesterday, allegedly of a drug overdose. Two days ago, another man from the Vancouver site was treated for a drug overdose. What the media hasn’t reported is which kinds of drugs were responsible, prescription or illicit, but it is largely assumed that it is street drugs that are the cause. This is the reason the people, the 90-97% (a number I made up) of the 99% can’t get behind this Occupy movement. So many people who are not the 1% have said “these people do not represent me”, and I think that is an interesting thing to consider.

Ah, percentages. As a scientist, I am very interested in statistics. Not only the numbers themselves but just how the numbers were arrived at. As someone who studied Humanities early on, I have a loathsome disdain for simple dichotomies, such as the proposed 1%/99%. In my brief foray into feminism, and other minority labels, I grew to dislike labels, which coincided with my growing away from being a political activist altogether. So if you ask me or label me as being on one side or other of these issues, I will tell you I fall into neither category. I don’t question whether “one percent” is representative, because I think it is. And 99 percent may be representative if we are only talking about monetary wealth, BUT, that does not mean my ideologies fit within the framework that the originators of the whole Occupy Wall Street movement envisioned. So this is where I get annoyed, because I hate being lumped into a category against my will.

I expect a number of books will be written about the Occupy movement in the coming years. It will be an interesting thing to look at all this in hindsight, and to see from which vantage point this hindsight will come from. Will there be a further breakdown of the 99%? As in 37% of the 99%ers are behind the cause, 54% aren’t, and the rest couldn’t care less?  How will this data be gathered? Who will be the objective independent third party responsible for collecting, analyzing and reporting this data? We will never know, and we must be content with never knowing. That’s the problem with history – like it or not, we are in an age where multiple histories can and will be written and sorting out who is right or wrong is too nebulous to comprehend. 

I do believe I am rambling now. I will summarize by saying I do not support the Occupy movement because it does not make any concrete specific realistic suggestions about how our global society can achieve financial equity. Trying to guilt the corporations and the rich will simply not work, and, as I see it, that seems to be the only tack the protesters are taking. I do not support the Occupy movement because, while it thought provoking, it is also causes people like me (who have had all kinds of bad luck and shitty things happen despite my best efforts to get out of poverty and debt, and who is also highly educated and motivated to improve myself) to resent any sort of political movement that claims to want to help people like me. I’ve been a part of a union and I’ve seen how unions as a whole protect the mediocre and the lazy (I’ll save that diatribe for another time, when I’m feeling sufficiently mad enough again), and the whole Occupy movement seems to me to be like one large union that forces you to sign the union card and take the oath, even though you absolutely disagree with every word of that oath. I also think that if the Occupy movement had any real teeth, you would see WAY more people out there on the streets. Since it doesn’t, I will continue to bust my ass to make ends meet, to get ahead, and to be the best human I can be.

 This post will no doubt piss some of my readers off (see, I'm even using expletives, which I abhor doing on the Internet, but this a highly charged issue), but I am tired of being silent on this issue. And I want it to be known that I don't support the Occupy movement. If I'm "missing the point" of the movement, that's not my fault. It's the fault of the people behind it for not making it clear for an intelligent person to comprehend. Even then, I might not agree. Gotta love free speech.

* An immediate response from a Twitter follower challenged me on this point. She said "Also you said for any other group to get ahead is to "oppress" another group. That isn't true." I don't think I said or implied this. I believe it is true that one group oppressing another has happened historically.  I am very careful in my choice of words when I write. I said "I agree. But it also happens that some groups often do get ahead by oppressing others, which is the point of Occupy, no?" And she replied "NO that is not the point. I think you need to do more reading because by your blog post I see you haven't."  So there you have it. Flack. I was expecting that. And this is all my opinion anyway, which I have a right to.


  1. Finally! Another educated, frustrated so-called member of the 99% who thinks all this occupy business is more than a little bit ridiculous. Unfortunately, as long as there are humans there WILL be inequalities. If we stopped glamorizing the lives of celebrities & stopped promoting a sense of entitlement, and instead focused on being a productive member of society. . . It wouldn't cure the world's problems, but it sure would be a step in the right direction.

    I hope you get to the States ASAP - we need more of your kind.

  2. Thanks Aimee, for your comment. After getting the flack from another reader earlier, I admit to feeling a bit deflated. I'll get there as fast as I can!

  3. Very interesting. I believe you are correct, than humankind has been oppressing each other since time began. "If you don't think the same as I do, you are not worthy, so I will take away all your rights." I can't see any end to it at all.

  4. I really haven't formed much of an opinion on it. On the one hand, I can sort of get behind it, but on the other, I see people who I know have been following it more than me and who I respect with conflicting opinions on the matter to. I suppose at the end of the day I'm really undecided.

    I just get so frustrated with both sides, really!