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A movement going nowhere

John Sandberg | Sunday, November 6, 2011

I write this column with great hesitation. Publication in The Observer and the attention of the Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s community is far more recognition than this nonsensical demonstration deserves.

For all that Occupy Wall Street (OWS)possesses in enthusiasm and numbers, it lacks in acumen and brainpower. Some have compared OWS demonstrations with the Tea Party or even the Civil Rights protests. I suppose this observation is accurate, in the same way that the ninth batter for the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Albert Pujols are both baseball players.

I do not entirely dismiss some ideas behind OWS. Corporate greed and the titanic gap between the richest and poorest Americans is a growing problem that must be addressed — now.

I do dismiss OWS’s juvenile tactics. Standing outside of the city capital with cardboard sign in hand, chanting a factually inaccurate slogan, waiting to be tear gassed and arrested does not make you a martyr of the lower class, it makes you a buffoon.

Inequality is not inherently evil. Capitalism, a hallmark of this country, breeds competition; in any competitive environment, there are winners and losers. While some have earned their fortunes in less than reputable fashion, many of the wealthiest Americans are in that position because of ingenuity and hard work.

There are certainly many members of the lower class who are extremely hard working and creative as well. But the financial success of some individuals should not lead to painting every corporate executive as evil and insensitive. As Bank of America CEO (and Notre Dame alumus) Brian Moynihan said: “We have a right to make a profit.”

There is certainly something to be said about moral leadership and using one’s money to help those who need it. Everyone deserves a decent standard of living, and perhaps more exact public policy needs to be enacted to ensure that this happens in the United States.

So to the demonstrators in the OWS movement, I ask, how is your current strategy (if you can even call it that) progressing toward real change in the system?

I hear your screams and sense your zeal yet I am unaware of concrete ideas that you have put forth toward bringing justice to corporate America.

Last Wednesday, some 40 to 50 Harvard students in an introductory level economics course of 700 kids walked out of the class, citing unity with the Wall Street protestors and bemoaning the “clear conservative ideology” inherent in their curriculum.

There are multiple puzzling aspects to this story, number one being the protestors, who align themselves with the “99 percent,” constitute roughly 5 percent of the class. The rest of the students seemed to be more interested in that day’s lesson, which was (ironically) income inequality. Also, I’m sure there are thousands of citizens who would love to receive an Ivy League education, so can the course instructor bring in 40 to 50 of them to fill those empty seats?

Standing in solidarity with a sloppily constructed coalition will not fix big problems. Getting an education will. Constructing picket signs will draw few people to a cause, but crafting concrete ideas will draw many more.

So, while thousands of young citizens continue to promote the efforts of OWS this week, I will continue to go to class. I will continue to read the news and ask questions, listen to my teachers and discuss ideas with my peers. And though we won’t come up with the answer to rising poverty and corruption on Wall Street overnight, I can go to sleep knowing that our quiet discussions are closer to a solution than those screaming voices that say nothing at all.

John Sandberg is a sophomore English major. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.