So my curiosity got the best of me today, and I went down to see the folks participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests. It was like a shanty town, with inflatable beds, sleeping bags, and tarps used as blankets and waterproofing. Only it was better than a shanty town because donated food seemed to arrive in a constant flow. There were photographers and members of the press, and many occupiers seemed eager to be photographed and state their case.
"I don't get it," a friend of mine said as we walked away.
"What don't you get?"
"Any of it. What's the purpose?"His point is well taken. Are they trying to bring down corporate America, as represented by Wall Street? This would seem like a flawed strategy if their ultimate goal is to secure employment. The very firms they vilify are themselves large employers. By eliminating these firms, the unemployment rate would increase geometrically while spending -- that big economic driver -- would simultaneously decrease. These newly unemployed workers would not only decrease spending, but also be competing for the same jobs sought by the Wall Street occupiers, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that they are better qualified candidates than the typical occupier.
"So what have you been doing since graduation?"
"I've been living in a park with strangers...and we dressed up like zombies one day and marched down Wall Street with signs we made up ourselves."
As we've seen in North Korea and Cuba, this type of thinking does not elevate anyone. Rather, it brings down everyone. If the goal is to make everyone poor, then they may be on to something.
But I don't think that's what the Occupiers are after. I think their purpose is simply to have a purpose. In other words, many are recent graduates who have not been able to find jobs, perhaps for years now. They are probably tired of sending out resumes only to hear nothing -- not even a rejection. They are invisible casualties in this lost generation. By gathering, by giving voice to their frustrations, they are achieving an end in itself.
But is anybody really listening?