College is a lot of fun, peppered with iconoclastic activities that establish emerging adults in their own not-our-parents identities. One of them is protesting the establishment, a time-honored college pastime now continuing with its second, or even third generation.
Oh yeah, matriculation also means studying, drinking, sororities and part-time jobs. And finally, there's graduation.
But kids who graduated in the last three years, during the "economic crisis," have found a new post-college occupation: Wall Street, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Boston. Instead of finding jobs, these youths, at their physical peaks with revved up energy and ready-to-pounce pent-up ambitions, are largely stymied. A huge percentage must settle for limited-future positions beneath their capabilities, or can find no job at all.
Though college grads overall enjoy a low 4.2% unemployment rate (compared to 9.7% for high school grads), recent degree-holders face 10.7% unemployment. What's worse, these kids often then endure the indignity of staying the child in Daddy's house--according to a Wall Street Journal piece today, "More than 14% of Americans between 25 and 34 (5.9 million in all) are living with their parents, up significantly from before the recession."
So they're "occupying" cities across America to express their frustration and ennui, their feeling gypped by a system that promised them a reward at the end of their academic persistence, or at least some path to pay back the staggering loans so many students or their folks took out to foot the tuitions tall as the Ivory Towers and Halls of Ivy they recently inhabited.
One such recent college grad, a dynamic, attractive young woman whose stellar academic achievements at a top-20 university should have allowed her an array of options felt lucky to beat out 200 others for a job working with kids at $13 per hour.
Many in her cohort have no employment at all.
Equally disheartening is the plight of her friend, another high-GPA grad from the same university, whose years of experience part-time in the financial field gave him no advantage for finding steady post-grad positions. After months taking temp work, he finally landed a low-pay slot at a six-employee business; he's now considering law--though new attorneys too face poor employment prospects. I must clarify that college grads earnestly seeking careers don't have time to sit in urban plazas. But their difficulties form the backdrop for a general malaise that fuels those who do.
If you look at Occupy Wall Street, which now like a spilled glass of milk has oozed out across the nation, you'll see one thing: class envy. Like early 1970s Boomers who "occupied" university campuses, they want the rich not so rich, and the poor made less so via the government taking some from the rich and giving it to them. An "unofficial" website called Occupy Wall Street describes its goals as "fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future."
I'm not sure I completely understand those flowing prose, but here's what I get: Banks, "multinational corporations" and stock market investors conspired, creating self-serving "rules" that caused the US economy to collapse. The "richest 1% of people," (presumably banks, corporations and Wall Street?) colluded to create "an unfair global economy" that bars everyone but themselves from getting wealth. Right? Makes sense?
Interestingly, when my Fave Radio Host asked participants at Occupy Seattle their goals, several responded with long silence. When asked by Host what they wanted to do to the rich, corporations and banks, protesters were at a loss--or said to tax the rich, spread the wealth.
Apparently when word got out about the gourmet grub the elite Occupiers were enjoying for free, "vagrants" from other parks invaded--to the consternation of the more genteel demonstrators. Disgruntled chefs showed their ire by refusing to serve food for two hours "to show they mean business," and dispensing only peanut butter sandwiches and chips for a time after the staff meeting where volunteers aired their grievances.
In addition, the "unwelcome guests" have created a climate of danger at Zuccotti. An understood "no snitch" rule kept much of the unpleasantries quiet, discovered the Post reporter, though "overall security at the park had deteriorated to the point where many frightened female protesters had abandoned the increasingly out-of-control occupation, security- team members said."
If you can't take the heat, get out of the Slow-Food kitchen.
What is this "movement" but a redeux of 70s-style liberal self-interest? Its goals are vague platitudes. It's easy to say the poor should be given some of the money earned by the rich. The underlying politics of envy decrees that the limited "pie" of wealth should be sliced in equal pieces, and that those who "have more than they need" should provide their excess--which is implicitly ill-gained--to those who have little. So why can't the volunteer chefs share their roasted beet-and-sheep's-milk cheese salads with their fellow unfortunates of Zuccotti Park? Don't the homeless, who are surely as much victims of Wall Street and multi-national corporations as they, deserve some of the culinary wealth they're distributing?
No, the "derelicts" don't deserve the fancy comestibles, because the protesters sincerely believe that corporations are bad and bankers are hoarding wealth for their cronies, and so they're the ones entitled to the organic chicken and vegetables--while the freeloaders don't even care. To earn gourmet fare, Occupiers hold the "we're the 99%" signs for hours, especially when news photographers happen by. The others, the ones who just come for the efforts of professional chefs like Chris O'Donnell, 24, who "used to cook at Mario Bateli's restaurant Lupa" in the West Village, will now be directed to local soup kitchens.
I well remember the days of anti-Vietnam protests, when we or our boyfriends were subject to conscription into the military. There's far greater urgency to protest when your very life may be on the line, torn from your personal plan for two years for a miserable Asian war. You may recall that once the lottery removed most 19-year-olds from draft vulnerability, the protests (though not the war) petered out.
Occupy Wall Streeters don't like the economy, don't like that others have more than they do, and may be frustrated they can't easily address their own financial woes. They also have drivers honking support and showing thumbs-up, plenty of interesting people to talk with, and free victuals worthy of any connoisseur. Even with all these perks, the scene is winding down as cities tire of providing expensive police supervision and sanitation, not to mention the traffic and logistical headaches of hosting crowds of protesters and gawkers in congested areas.
On Tuesday, Oakland police and protesters battled over City Hall plaza, resulting in more than 100 arrests and one injury, perhaps the most visible of several cities' efforts to clear protesters from central locations, after days or weeks of easy-going tolerance. The New York Times reported on police-protester conflicts in a handful of cities, including Chicago, where Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office was the site of demonstrators demanding the city drop charges against 300 arrested protesters.
noted, "Still, the scenes of tear gas in the streets and provocative graffiti--including one spray-painted message reading 'Kill Pigs' in Oakland--has been seized on by some Republicans to try to make the protests a political liability for Democrats."
While normal Americans watch the youthful outpourings with amusement, alarm or boredom, the Occupiers create their own embarrassing political statements, neither sacrificing anything personally, nor standing to gain much more than 30 forgettable seconds on the evening news.
Yes, the economy is frustrating, the camaraderie of demonstrating exhilarating, and the whole Occupy thing is cooling off with the weather (or freezing in the snow). However, the flailing of new college grads unable to find appropriate employment remains, and unless that real problem is solved, Barack Obama and Democratic candidates will find youths' continued distress expressed not in plazas and parks, but on ballots across the land.