When I add up the man-hours wasted on the "occupation" of Wall Street (and other sites around the globe) over the last couple of months, I fear for the future of a nation growing more impoverished by the minute.
How many Habitat for Humanity homes could have been built in that same amount of time by the same amount of people?
How many boxes of food could have been packed at food pantries?
How much Hurricane Irene damage could have been cleaned up in Vermont, where there is still plenty of mud to shovel and roads to repair?
How much furniture could have been cleaned out of their own homes and donated to transitional housing programs for the homeless?
How many suits could have been collected out of their own closets and donated to Dress for Success?
How much could have been done to actively fight poverty in America?
All of the above are things that cost no money at all and are things that most of the entire 100% of the people involved in this occupation could do to alleviate poverty in our backyard. If this "occupation" is at all about 1:6 Americans living in poverty, shame on every damn person who has stood there holding a sign when they could have used their own two hands and the same amount of time actually doing something about poverty.
I believe in the power of protest; I really do. Most recently, during the last major election in 2008, I stood on a corner with my kids for hours demonstrating against Propostion 8, the proposition which, unfortunately, passed and, therefore, ended gay marriage in California. Many people worked for months fighting for civil rights for all Americans, and I was proud to be among them.
But this, this "occupation," what is its goal? To end corporate greed? To change tax code? To demand a distribution of wealth? Does anyone believe that Wall Street itself is going to do anything about that at all? Or might Congress actually effect some changes -- in which case, shouldn't the protest be there?
Shouldn't the protest be directed at a government which continues to fund costly wars while 1:4 children in America go to bed hungry every night?
Shouldn't the protest be directed at a government renowned for wasteful spending, where the cost of one state dinner is rumored to be close to half a million dollars? How many soup kitchens could open and operate with half a million dollars in the bank?
Shouldn't the protest be directed at a government that promised universal healthcare, where the option to buy-in is still years away -- unless power shifts again, and that right disappears again?
Shouldn't the protest be directed at a government that is elected time and time again over promises to improve education in America -- then systemically panders to the interests of unions that protect workers, while children have no union to defend their interests?
The list could go on and on and on. I understand this "occupation," I really do. I understand that it is "showy" -- and it shows our children that when one is angry, one can show that anger. If you want to have more money, you can ask the government to redistribute wealth. You can blame the millionaires, for, if they paid more in taxes, little Johnny wouldn't go to bed hungry tonight. You can believe in social revolution, in a world where there is no top 1%. You can kill the American dream like that, just by waving a sign.
Does anyone really believe that any of that is going to come to pass? Does anyone believe that if millionaires suddenly pay more in taxes, fewer children will be hungry in America?
When I donate soup to our school's food drive for the local pantry this week, I know that fewer children will be going to bed hungry in my backyard. Instead of going out and buying food for this drive, I used what was in my pantry and made cutbacks to my own grocery budget, so I didn't end up spending a thing "extra" on these donations. (The point of that will follow, below.)
When I cleaned out my closet and gave dozens of suits to the local transitional housing shelter for borderline-homeless families last week, I knew that some ladies and gentlemen would look pretty spiffy for their next job interviews. It cost me the gas to drive to the shelter.
When I volunteer this weekend for a group rebuilding a playground at a low-income school, I will be putting my two hands to work and expending a lot of energy, but not a dime otherwise. The cost to me is just time and, again, gas money.
Look, I know I sound preachy, morally indignant, even. While I apologize if that offends you, I don't regret it. I proudly refuse to participate in this Occupy Wall Street movement, for if I had the time, the talent, or the treasure, there are other ways to effect change in this country -- ways that don't involve Wall Street, the government, or a single picket sign. If you really care about poverty in America, I urge you to do something about it in your own backyard. It may not cost any money at all (see above). The way out of poverty is through working together to do what we can do to care for our own neighbors. No picket sign will ever have the same effect as a Habitat hammer.
I'm done looking to our government for solutions, and I'm ready to work. I'll be occupying a local playground this weekend with my hammer. What will you do to make a difference?
cross-posted on Rox on a Soapbox