Nation’s youth fight to regain American Dream

As the Occupy movement enters its fourth week of protests, it is beginning to cement its position as a legitimate political movement.

What began as a rag-tag band of disenchanted youth protesting the sins of Wall Street has evolved into an inter-generational movement spread across the country. Protests have surfaced in most major cities, from the southern tip of Florida to the northern shores of Washington state. We have even seen demonstrations right here in good old Champaign.

But despite the abundance of media coverage, the protests have resisted attempts to be painted in overly simplistic terms. Pundits of all stripes have chimed in with their own pet theories, and much to the consternation of the mainstream media, the resulting chatter cannot be easily grouped into a neat, cohesive narrative.

Instead of a one-dimensional historical struggle — like that of David and Goliath, where right and wrong are clearly defined — the Occupy movement is shaded in various hues of gray. In many ways, it can be seen as a living, breathing Rorschach test, onto which groups across the political spectrum have projected their own hopes, fears and biases.

First out the gate was the Republican establishment, whose response was as predictable as the sun’s rise. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, denounced the “mobs” as “pitting … Americans against Americans.” Former Cheney advisor Ron Christie had a different take altogether, focusing his ire on public urination and jobless “college students who are out having sex” on the non-existent lawn of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Democrats sought to embrace the main message of the Occupy movement, while distancing themselves from some of its more eccentric quirks. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of the movement’s youth: “God bless them for their spontaneity. It’s independent … and it’s focused. And it’s going to be effective.”

Last were the bankers who responded with an unsteady mix of overconfidence and hypochondria. In a flip jab to protestors, who claim to represent 99 percent of Americans, those at the Chicago Board of Trade taped signs to their windows that proclaimed: “We are the 1 percent.” Other bankers were not as jocular, however, and took to CNBC to explain how the protestors were “aligned with Lenin” as they “let their freak flags fly.”

Given time, you would likely be able to find evidence to support any of these descriptions. Yet each falls short in its own way.

While leaderless and young, the Occupy movement is not an incompetent band of College Democrats prone to copulating in public. Nor is it the second coming of Leon Trotsky, as some would suggest.

Rather, the movement is the natural response of a generation that has seen the American dream grow dimmer with each passing year. The promise of upward mobility has taken a beating by entrenched interest groups that have helped the rich get richer, while the poor and middle class have had to fight an increasingly uphill battle to make ends meet.

It’s true that some of the protestors hold anti-capitalist or, perhaps more accurately, anti-bank sentiments. This should come as no surprise, given the track record of our nation’s largest banking institutions, which over the last few years, engaged in increasingly risky speculative games that privatized profits and socialized risks, with few strings attached.

But the majority of the protestors recognize — as I do — the crucial role banks play in moving capital and helping promising ideas become successful enterprises. When functioning properly, guided by certain rules of the road, banks can empower small businesses, the engines of job creation and provide them with the capital they need to hire new workers and open new factories.

The key is finding the appropriate regulations that temper risk and reward, one of the central pillars of the Occupy movement.

Aside from banking regulations, the protestors are seeking equal opportunity. Nowhere is this more needed than in our political arena, where the splash of corporate cash is now able to drown out even the most persistent trickle of individual voices. And, in a society where the top 1 percent of Americans now possesses a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined, policies influenced by unlimited campaign contributions are only likely to perpetuate trends toward inequality.

At protest sites, which seek to channel populist frustration against such downward trends, there’s a certain charm to the disorganized jumble of tents and hand-made posters. It is a sign of the amateurish authenticity that has yet to be polished — and ultimately corrupted — by powerful unions, corporate interests, or other veteran political organizations. To borrow a phrase from Lincoln, the movement is truly of the people, by the people and for the people.

Explicit demands from the protestors have yet to be made. But that is how things should remain. After all, the Occupy movement is not so much about timetables and short-lived political victories as it is about an inclusive, sustainable and gradual groping toward political consensus.

_Jason is a senior in Engineering and Business._