I want to preface this rambling piece by saying that, in over three decades of my existence, this is the first and only year that I’ve been genuinely interested in where America is going. Sure, seeing Obama get elected was great, but it was still the usual game of token democracy trotted out with Leap Year regularity, and I don’t get involved in that (and I didn’t). This year, I suddenly found myself bearing an overabundance of newfound pride in Wisconsin as hundreds of thousands of my fellow Midwesterners rose up to tell their tin pot dictator to go to hell. And then, I’d say almost as a direct consequence, the Occupy Movement turned the greedhate nationwide. It is simply breathtaking to see Americans get so pissed off that they’re willing to inconvenience themselves to pay more than the usual lip service to our ideals of freedom – and no, joining the Tea Party and trolling the rest of the country doesn’t count as this.
I hope we’re seeing the dawn of the next economic civil rights movement, but I have one pretty big problem with all the uprisings I’ve seen this year. Okay, two; the coordinated police brutality of recent times has been pretty upsetting. And while we’re on that subject: who the hell gave bike cops the authority to pepper spray protesters? Has the world suddenly become a mad version of Pacific Blue? Is Mario Lopez the new face of the modern police state?
Deep breath. Back on topic. Just about every time I hear otherwise wonderful economic insurgents discuss the menace of the current climate of unchecked corporate greed where damn near everything under the sun has been made for-profit, the fears and worries usually end up in one place. The problem, they usually say, is that the middle class is in danger of disappearing.
I don’t know about you, but my heart doesn’t exactly bleed for the middle class. It’s a nice enough concept, a subtle endorsement of share the wealth that we peasants could use a lot more of. It’s also a pretty meaningless term. In a parallel reversal of the truism that none of the insufferable hipsters think that they are insufferable hipsters, a whole lot of Americans seem to regard themselves as middle class when they aren’t even close. I’d say that middle class ranges between affording a house and a quarter million dollars, but I think the popular definition has become being able to sleep in your own room, no matter how large or small that room may be. I disagree.
More importantly, when I think of the victims of capitalism, my first thoughts aren’t of people who can (or who used to be able to) afford a house. It’s of people who everyday are starving to the brink of death, who can’t afford even the most basic of health care, who live in Third World conditions in a First World country. It’s the people who live under bridges because the government refuses to divert a cent of defense spending toward feeding and housing the people supposedly defended. You’ll forgive me if my sympathy for the so-called middle class comes a bit late.
As one of these broke-ass people who live one disaster away from financial collapse, I can say that when I see these well-meaning people wringing their hands and loudly wailing about the gloomy future of the middle class, I get a little pissed and I feel a whole lot left out. This is, of course, unless we’re fighting to expand the cushy middle class to encompass everybody, which would be a very comfortable brand of communism. (We are the 100%!)
I know – and yet, still, I hope – that the American protests of 2011 are based on community and kindness and wanting to help out one’s fellow man. Yet every time I hear the term “middle class,” my certainty fades a bit. I wonder if these aren’t movements based on social justice but on envy. I wonder if the suburbanites are just using the proles to skim more off the top of the pyramid. I wonder whether the poor will once again be the dupes. In the same vein, imagine bitching about the cost of your rent in front of a person who hasn’t lived indoors for years. Could the homeless become the dupes of the minimum wage slaves?
One of the genius rhetorical moves of the Occupy movement has been moving past this potential class infighting to paint the conflict as everyone against the super-rich. “We are the 99%” is a much more inclusive catchphrase than “Save the middle class.” And as much as people think they’re unwavering bastions of conviction, well, they aren’t. We’re usually stupid, malleable sheep in public, and as such words and tone matter big time in a mass movement.
Side note: As much as I love the idea of a horde of people shouting down public displays of aristocracy, I still cringe every time I watch a repeat-after-me Mic Check, even as I cheer. I suppose synchronized disruption is better than blind obedience, but still.
Deep breath. Back on topic. Summation: If you say you’re going to stand up for (almost) everybody, then stand up for (almost) everybody, even the middle class. In America alone, that includes the millions of people that you don’t know, have very little in common with, and may in fact dislike intensely. It’s damn near impossible to maintain that level of idealism. If you want to get anything done, attempt it anyway.