At first not more than a handful came, dreadlocked dropouts and Birkenstocked bandits and they parked themselves on the richest street in North America.
A bold move considering their message was muddled and their signs even more so: “Sh*t is f**cked up and bullsh*t,” and “We Want Our Country Back, Bitche$,” they read.
I was skeptical. It seemed a waste of time and energy and I’m not a fan of crowds—especially not ones with an axe to grind and who call themselves the vast majority, (even though 99 per cent would include people with annual incomes up to $500,000 and there certainly didn’t seem to be a lot of them out on the street).
They were unorganized and, to many conservatives, “un-American.” Needless to say, they weren’t a threat—they were nothing.
That is, they were nothing. But desperation, it seems, is a universal virtue.
And desperate times call for desperate measures: could the 99% and Occupy Wall Street movements be on to something? Are young people primed to be radicalized because of the current economic and world outlook?
It may not be too far a stretch.
Some of us are lucky enough to graduate without any debt while some of us are swimming in it. The average student in Atlantic Canada graduates roughly $37,000 in debt and with few job prospects. In 2009, Maclean’s magazine reported that the total Canadian student debt had surpassed $13 billion.
Professor Robin Vose supports the 99% movement.
“Students, I don’t think have quite come to terms with just how bad the debt issue is going to be if something is not done,” said the history professor and president of the faculty union at STU. “I’ve been teaching here for seven years and I’m still paying off student debt. My daughter graduated high school last year and she can’t go to university because I’m still paying my student debt.”
Students and recent graduates played by the rules. Those who couldn’t afford the rising cost of tuition took out loans with the promise they’d be able to pay it off with a good career opportunity just around the corner. They took out more loans to go to grad school and better themselves further. But the jobs aren’t there and the economy just isn’t doing what was promised.
“Nothing radicalizes people more than being directly affected by events,” said poli-sci professor Shaun Narine.
“When you look at the 1960s, one of the reasons the youth movement was behind so much of the change that went on was because, in the United States in particular, the youth were the ones being directly affected by things like the Vietnam War. So that gave them a reason to rise up and protest, literally their lives were at stake.”
Of course OWS isn’t just about us; it isn’t only young people whose livelihoods are disappearing or whose middle-class aspirations are falling beyond their grasps.
People of all ages are setting up camp in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. The movement has spread throughout the United States and Canada. It even hit Fredericton on Saturday.
“It does affect people in different ways,” Vose said. “But I would certainly agree that young people in this generation probably face more of a raw deal than young people have faced in a long time. It’s almost a perfect storm of really bad things coming together.”
Perhaps we should lower our expectations. Kill our dreams and the hard work we put into achieving them — it builds character anyway, right?
“The system is working to benefit some people but to the disadvantage of a great many others,” said Narine. “It may be one thing to say you need to alter your expectations, then at the same time, why there are a very small number of people whose expectations are getting more and more extravagant and they’re living basically off the blood of everybody else?
“That’s particularly true of Wall Street because when you look at the Wall Street bankers they’re actually parasites; socially they’re completely useless.”
Adds Vose, “The chain has got to be broken because it’s just getting worse and worse.”
But they’re big and we’re small and winter is coming. However, we have much less to lose. And let’s face it: you’re not going to pay off that $37,000 working as a barista.
But does that make us radical? Just a few weeks ago we were called entitled. Does a protest at Fredericton’s City Hall prove we’re willing to do anything to make things fair and even? No, I don’t think so; I think we just want to be all right.
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