Noreen Malone, in writing for New York Magazine, has a wonderful image in describing the post-recession world our generation finds ourselves in:
“A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents. And so we find ourselves living among the scattered ashes and spilled red wine and broken glass from a party we watched in our pajamas, peering down the stairs at the grown-ups. This is not a morning after we are prepared for “¦ “
She paints a picture that is bleak: young people without stable or high-salaried jobs, no disposable incomes, no safety nets. It is a feeling also captured in the Occupy Wall Street-related Tumblr We Are the 99%, where there are posts like this: “Went to college for my last two years of high school and worked my ass off to graduate college at the age of 18 with TWO degrees. Graduated into a flooded market and never got a single call back or interview. Work at a shitty job living paycheck to paycheck, and usually have to borrow money for food.” There is a loaded implication in these statements. “It shouldn’t be like this.” This isn’t fair. It isn’t just.
No, it’s not just. And yet this is what life is like for just about everyone else in the world.
In writing her “post-party hangover” metaphor, Noreen’s intention was, “Doesn’t that suck? We missed the party.” But the thing is, it’s not that we’re unlucky to have missed the golden era. It’s that our parents were lucky to have been there for it. Perhaps lucky isn’t the right word. They were lucky they had the opportunity to blow all their cash and mindlessly fuck things up like they did.
Which is why I say to every young person today, do not, do not, do not look nostalgically to your childhood or the lives of your older cousins or your parents. Because the “good times” were just the cream off a rotting, souring bun. While your parents were partying it up, someone was footing the bill. Guess who? The rest of the world.
You shifted your factories to Asia and other developing countries. You paid them shitty wages. You were happy to make use of their lax environmental and labor laws. You mined their natural resources. You dumped your waste there.
Yes, in some cases this helped grow their local economies. But have you seen these countries? You trashed the living hell out of them. The air is polluted, the rivers are polluted, the earth is polluted. You blasted away silent mountains that had, until now, seemed so eternal, so much bigger than our own short lives. You sucked the gushing, powerful rivers dry until they were nothing but barren dust. You poisoned their earth and water supply and made the people sick. You made a devil’s trade and took from them fish, animals, trees, soil, sand, minerals. Name it and you probably took it. Then you returned it to them as hazardous waste. But what did it matter? You didn’t have to live there.
You were too busy living on buyers’ high. Life was good. Going offshore meant you were making a shit load more money without having to do (or live in) any of the dirty work. And the goods were so cheap so you could buy sooooo much more stuff. Just about every person in the States had more stuff than any generation EVER before it.
But a system is never static, and the sands are always, elliptically, shifting. Suddenly that world in which life was getting better and better for all Americans, was only getting better and better for some Americans. That some has been getting smaller and smaller. Now, young people of today, too many of you have found yourself outside of the some. But think of this. You just joined the rest of the world.
America, your Disneyland is dissolving like sugar in the rain. But it was never going to last. What’s tomorrow going to look like?
I don’t want Occupy Wall Street to present a list of demands, or develop a cohesive strategy. That wouldn’t just defeat the purpose, it would totally annihilate it. Because we don’t even know how to think outside this sticky, sweet dream world yet ““ it’s all we’ve ever known. Any list of demands hastily proposed would only reflect existing structures, the same structures that we need to think beyond.
Occupy Wall Street is about a reawakening. We’re addicts, and first we need to stand up and say, “We have a problem.”
And we need everyone standing up and saying, “Yes, we have a problem.” It’s about having a space to be able to say out loud, “wait, you thought this was bad too? Thank god!” Occupy Wall Street is about all those little, niggling, troubling thoughts that you’d been harboring when you saw how much the system you were living in was fucking over you, your nearest and dearest, those in the neighborhood over, or those in other countries mired in problems stemming from exploiting the developing world. It’s about choosing not to read stats about global warming and overconsumption and simply going, “Well the system’s too big, nothing can be done.”
Yes, we’re nursing one hell of a hangover, but the clear, morning sun is peeking through the windows because it’s a new day. Occupy Wall Street is calling on us to foster a new environment where new ideas can be born. In the years to come, maybe our best and brightest won’t work on Wall Street or become multi-national execs fueled only by the reckless pursuit of profit (and there will be less of you who will laugh so cynically at such a statement). They will think differently, and make different choices. They will come up with new ways for us to live. And then, one day, we will discover the sands have shifted again.