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Dispatches from Dewey Square: A response to Michael Graham

Posted by Alex Pearlman  December 12, 2011 05:57 PM

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occupy boston trash.jpgBy Max Chalkin

The dismantling of camps across the country -- including Occupy Boston's Dewey Square encampment early on Saturday morning -- has prompted many to declare the Occupy movement over. Take, for example, an op-ed by Michael Graham in today's Boston Herald, entitled “Occupy history’s ash heap,” in which the author delights in polls that suggest support for the Occupy movement is waning.

Upon quoting Ryan Cahill, an Occupier who questions whether it’s necessary for the movement to have a unified message, Graham concludes that, if Occupy has no unified message, "what was the point? To trash Dewey Square? To leave literally hundreds of dump trucks full of garbage strewn about public parks across America?

“The brutal truth," Graham writes, "is how quickly they’ll be forgotten once the tents are down. The word ‘Occupy’ will only exist as part of a punchline.”

What strikes me much more than the content of Graham’s piece is the tone he takes: Occupy is dirty and terrible. It’s stupid and gross and ugly. He sounds like a 7 year old, and his vitriol is disproportionately harsh relative to his stated grievance -- trash.

That’s right, the only thing Graham mentions as a reason for his negative opinion of Occupy is trash and the cost of removing it. Beyond the name-calling, where is the substance of his criticism?

“The only legacy of the Occupation will be the millions they cost taxpayers, and the lingering fear they leave behind that we have raised a generation of entitled spoiled brats," Graham writes. But something doesn’t add up; he's too angry.

Just because people generate garbage doesn’t mean they're “entitled spoiled brats.” Every major gathering of people in the modern era generates trash, and the “millions [Occupiers] cost taxpayers” pales in comparison to the billions of dollars the federal government forked over to banks and auto companies.

To the claim that Occupy is going to be forgotten, I submit the following facts: The term “income inequality” is now mentioned in the media over five times more than it was before Occupy Wall Street began. Additionally, according to the Global Language Monitor, the most commonly used English word on the internet and in print in the past year was “occupy.”

Since Occupy has taken off, I’ve read and heard many puzzling criticisms that take a similar form to Graham’s op-ed: The critics say that occupations are dirty. They say Occupiers are spoiled and should get jobs. They say the movement has no message. But Occupy is about taxpayer money. Occupy is about jobs. Occupy is about a financial system that has gotten too bloated and complicated to address with a single message. Occupiers are saying, “Listen up! There are complicated problems that we should talk about,” but the Grahams of the world are responding, “I won’t talk to you, you spoiled, dirty bozo!”

People are losing homes, Europe is falling apart, small businesses cannot get loans, and hardworking people can’t find work. The top 1 percent takes a quarter of the whole pie, and the rest of us get screwed. Greedy rich people caused a lot of problems, and Occupy just wants to draw attention to that. It may be easier to simply disqualify the movement and disparage the individuals involved, but that only creates bad blood. At some point, if we’re going to get out of this second Depression, we’re going to have to talk.

My message to you, Michael Graham, is to consider the issues. You might find there’s more to the Occupy discussion than talking trash.

Max Chalkin is spending time "in the trenches" at Occupy Boston, speaking with occupiers, attending general assemblies and marches, and learning what camp life is like. His thoughts and observations will be published twice each week as TNGG Boston's “Dispatches from Dewey Square” series.

Photo by Courtney Sacco

About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.

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