Occupied.

Up from the basement to my best friend’s farm
Where we’ll work so hard, we can do no harm
We’ll till the land and duck our debts
Underneath soft sun, chewing Nicorette
This will be a better year
This will be a better year
Make a little money, take a lot of shit
Feel real bad, then get over it

This will be a better year

Early on in my time Hong Kong I went out with an Aussie guy who fancied himself a real local-style ex-pat in the 852. He was a musician who had found me on Myspace (hey, it was 2005, don’t judge) and he was pretty cute. Except for the name and the wanna-be-scenester element, but anyhow… Most of our time together invloved required a good amount of lager and me trying not to pay attention to a lot of his rather transparent dialogue. One night while we were out at the Fringe Club, having the requisite beers, we were talking US politics. This was the onset of the second term with W. and he asked me, with total sincerity, why Americans were not rioting in the streets about the political situation under which we certainly were feeling the suppression of our civil rights, liberties and  sovereignty.

Taking in his earnest tone, I had to tell him the only truth I knew – that even the most liberal, socially conscious and politically active of my friends, when faced with the choice of getting out in the streets versus feeding their families and paying their mortgages, were most certainly going to go with the latter. He tilted his head – a good look on him – and then shook it. What? I said, Like you Aussies would be out there?

“In Australia George Bush would have never gotten through the door in 2000.”

Weeeellllll…. to give him his due this was the height of all that “Yee-haw = Foreign policy” garbage, Bush had just had that *super* awkward moments with Premiere Hu, because apparently the Chinese wouldn’t let him through the door either… (and it was running non-stop on Hong Kong t.v.) and it was pre-John Howard anti-Muslim accusations, Kiv-vin Rudd implosion and the least popular Australia PM ever in Julia Gillard. Also, I have to credit him for preempting one of the best moments of Russell Brand’s career that would come three years down the road at the VMA’s:

Some people, I think they’re called racists, say America is not ready for a black president. But, I know America to be a forward-thinking country, right, because otherwise, you know, would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years? We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors.

Anyhow, my long-lost point is that I think of that moment often (the conversation far more memorable than most of the evening frankly…) and I do wonder: why aren’t Americans rioting in the streets?

My answer has always come back to a couple of general principles. 1) that Americans have become sated (á la Aldous Huxley) to the point of dullness akin to some sort of drug induced stupor preventing the majority of the population from actually taking in any new information in a critical or analytical way, and 2) that until people literally go with out, and actually feel the poverty under which most of the world lives, they will not be motivated to make any sort of change. And by motivated I mean scared shitless.

Fast forward to the second week of September 2011. I am in my American Government class and one particularly precocious student asks me, “Why don’t Americans get out in the street and demand that this country change? Why won’t people do it?”

Immediately I was brought back to that evening at the Fringe in 2005. Another student at the table says, “They have too much to lose.”

“Yeah,” says another. “I mean those people in the Middle East and Africa and stuff don’t have anything so there’s no risk.”

I consider what this means, that the children of our country think the only things that can be lost are tangible before I interject. “Well, I think you guys are kind of right – but I also think that anyone who dares to speak out against the status quo that envelops them is taking a risk, regardless of their financial circumstances…” I explain my two general assumptions. They listen.

“Well, I guess people are going to start rioting pretty soon then, huh?” one of them suggests.

Five days later, people take to the streets in New York City.

Well, my young, thinking friend, I guess you were right.

The East Coast kids, man, we just don’t know
Singing wait, wait, stop, drop me, go, go, go
But I’m taken by the hand to a blue pay phone
We can break blue laws with our skin and bones

This movement is unlike any I have ever seen, if for no other reason than the fact that the people have stayed out there – even when it has not been great “television” – our local media seems positively disappointed that the protestors are decent, well-behaved people. And the message seems to be resonating with all sorts of people, nearly 99% one might say. I am fascinated and impressed by the interest my students are developing in the situation and that they may be living on the precipice of total paradigm shift. And if you can’t win them over with Josh Harkinson, The Nation, Matt Taibbi, Paul Krugman and Amy Goodman, you can always get them to see the light darkness with numbers:

After reading them a piece by Matt Taibbi the other day the economics started to really sink in: 62 million Americans have a zero or negative net worth. Tuition for public universities in California has increased more than 20% in the last year. We are educating them for a world that won’t employ them or provide the opportunities for to create a new halcyon age.

Make a little money, take a lot of shit
Feel real bad, then get over it
This will be a better year
Oh I keep pushing boulders
I stay game till sun’ll shake my shoulders
Oh, I keep feeling older
I stay game, stay game, stay game

Right in their own backyard, the Occupy Oakland movement has become world news. Add to that the continued inclusion of social media in all of this (there’s an app for that!) and you suddenly have a much more aware (if not always informed) public. The hypocrisy abounds. And if there is one thing that gets a teenager furious, it is hypocrisy.

We have let this generation down and they are right to be angry. I hope their anger will translate to action and that action will translate to change. This is the class of 2012… a year of prophetic significance, after all…

Last week the same precocious student who had asked about rioting in the streets asked me if he could get extra credit for organizing a protest movement.

I guess I am glad that some things don’t change.

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About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Life, Philosophical Underpinnings, The Future and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Occupied.

  1. Kelly says:

    Well, can he?

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