By Douglas O’Bryon
As a middle-aged-working-professional (with a wife, two kids, and leaves to rake), I found the ambiguous, leaderless, shape-shifting, “Occupation” movement to have all of the appeal and intrigue of a Madeline Albright comedy tour. However, as a rogue cultural anthropologist and designated “speaker of the truth,” I had no choice but to weigh in on this landmark uprising playing out across America and the world. I resisted joining the conversation until I had solved the problem, but now firmly believe I have uncovered the source of these global grievances — and it’s found in the Bible.
Matthew 18 verses 21 – 35 records the “Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.” To paraphrase in a nutshell, a king decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. One of his debtors owed him MILLIONS of dollars and couldn’t pay, but the man begged and pleaded so earnestly that the king decided to forgive his debt. When this same man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few THOUSAND dollars and demanded instant payment, but when he begged and pleaded for more time he refused to wait, and had the man arrested and put into prison until the debt could be paid in full. When the other servants saw this, they told the king, who then called in the man he had forgiven and said, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” Then the angry king sent the man to prison.
While many people can’t articulate it, the organic groundswell of this protest movement can be traced to a universal sense that a great injustice has been done to “the 99%” since the recent financial collapse. As in the parable above, both Wall Street and Main Street had enjoyed several years of easy credit, and subsequently both found themselves on debts door. In the years leading up to the collapse, many homeowners had refinanced their property and received thousands of dollars to spend, while the biggest banks and financial institutions had splurged on 50-to-1 leverage to make huge bets and receive huge bonuses. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, “The market for credit default swaps exploded from $632 Billion in 2001 to $62 TRILLION in 2007.” So, while Joe Consumer was enjoying $10,000 a year appreciation on their home, Wall Street employers were regularly doling out $10,000,000 a year in compensation. When the party ended and the real estate house-of-cards came crashing down (along with the incestuous bubble of high risk asset bets and enabling rating agencies), both Wall Street and Main Street were in big trouble.
Over the past three years, we have watched helplessly as Wall Street has been bailed out, their debts (billions/trillions?) have been forgiven, and their high-spending lifestyles have been restored, with bonuses reportedly EXCEEDING those of 2007. TARP, TALF, QE1, QE2, discount window – the acronyms and specifics are merely obfuscation. What DOES matter is that Washington has used the money from the 99% to bail out the 1%, and return them to “Business As Usual,” while the 99% – many for whom “living paycheck to paycheck” would be a step UP – have NOT been bailed out, as the money given to these banks has largely NOT trickled down to help forgive debt, write down mortgages, or refinance loans, but rather has remained on their corporate balance sheets to shore up their capital ratios.
Hijacking Principal and Principles
If there’s one unifying hallmark within America’s DNA, it’s a sense of FAIRNESS. The American colonists weren’t against taxation; they were against “taxation without representation.” The original Boston Tea Party was the result of a new tax on tea, after which Great Britain passed a litany of new laws, which became known in the colonies as the “Intolerable Acts.” The revolt over the past three years has been a response to a similar list of Intolerable Acts. While the grassroots Tea Party movement has been in response to the governments’ hijacking of the PRINCIPLES on which this country was founded, the recent Occupy movement has been in response to the nationwide hijacking of our PRINCIPAL – where the largest financial institutions have “Privatized profits and socialized losses” on a scale never before seen in the history of civilization.
Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
From what I can see, the Occupy movement isn’t AGAINST capitalism, but rather is passionately FOR capitalism. TRUE capitalism is based on a very basic premise of Risk and Reward. If you take a risk and succeed, you are rewarded. If you take a risk and fail, you fail. The hijacking of American capitalism was complete when the phrase “Too big to fail” was concocted as a loophole to enable the money-addicted Wall Street establishment to continue their financial tyranny and inbred dependence on the “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” gambling odds at the Capital Casino, where the deck is stacked, the dice are weighted, and the House (and Senate) always wins.
At the heart of the Occupy movement is a rage against hypocrisy. Wall Street and Main Street both failed, but the 1% on Wall Street used their power and connections in Washington to get bailed out, while the 99% on Main Street got left out. As capitalists, Americans don’t believe in bailouts, and yet we’ve just watched as the wealthiest 1% got theirs, while we stood by and were powerless to do anything. Sounds a lot like, “Taxation without representation,” and I predict the ongoing Occupy movement will continue until Election 2012, when their voice will finally be heard and demand an end to the hypocrisy. Until then, I hope the Tea Party and the OccuParty movements organically succeed in returning power to the people and “Takin’ it to the Street” through the peaceful pursuit of justice without violence.
Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors
As in the parable above, the fair, the prudent, and appropriate response from Wall Street SHOULD have been, “I have been bailed out and forgiven of BILLIONS/TRILLIONS by the American tax payer. To show my gratitude for avoiding bankruptcy, I will be generous to them with a few THOUSAND dollars to help people stay in their homes, and work with those struggling to pay their bills during these hard times.” Instead, their response has been just like the Unforgiving Debtor above and aggressively pushing forward foreclosures, which topped 1 MILLION for the first time in history last year.
Explanation For the Occupation
The American people have forgiven and bailed out Wall Street, and instead of responding in kind with generosity, a tone-deaf Bank of America just announced a new $5 monthly debit card fee. You now have an Explanation for the Occupation.
[Photo of Occupy Cleveland by Kim Yanoshik.]
Douglas O’Bryon’s sanguine Soundbite Laureate moniker paints a poetic self-portrait of this adult prodigy, who enjoys nothing more than pitting man versus metaphor in a continuing fight for justice from his vantage point high above Strongsville’s suburban Serengeti.
Author and artist, bodybuilder and businessman, cereal entrepreneur and everyman, soccer Dad and MBA grad, he is a realist, idealist, and surrealist, who considers his job done when he has blended high tech with high touch into an easy to swallow Digital Casserole, which is, ironically, also the name of his blog. He is currently working his new novel, a sequel to The Titanic.