In the analysis I’ve been seeing lately on the Occupy Wallstreet movement – while they all offer the disclaimer that only time will tell how effective it is – there’s been an underlying idea that a protest started by internet culture is fundamentally unique from those that came before it. Instead of offering one solution to one easily identifiable issue, their nature is more of a hydra. Instead of starting with a solution, it’s the people’s attempt to engage in the discourse of government when political power is no longer locally-based, and whose language is stubbornly lofty and stodgy in the age of Wikipedia and the mouse-over definition. Government communication with its people feels nonexistent or insufficient. The endgame, of course, is getting to the bargaining table with the people in charge.
In the meantime, can’t we all agree that people should be more involved with our constructed rights (and lack thereof) as human beings? In an age where we log how far we run, our thoughts in 140 or less, shouldn’t the government be more interactive and informative with the people it claims to represent?
It needs to work out ways to reach us, not rely on us to reach out to it. We have abysmal voter turnout, and everyone I’ve spoken with who refuses to exercise this right does so because they don’t think it matters. The language is unintelligible to the people, they feel they can’t devote the time to research every detail, they feel the policy makers are so out of touch that the access points allowed to them are worthless compared to a lobbyist, who likely worked in politics writing legislation pleasing to corporations as they aspired to their position.
Now that everyone has a blog and a tweet, and is a solid statistic recorded by the internet… there is a sense that maybe it should be difficult to ignore them as forms of political expression. A sense that those services and sites can be utilized into a new sort of dialogue between individuals and the federal government. Peaceful protest to create change in government seems like a founding father’s wet dream to me. They created a whole new country. We just want to feel as though we have access in its refinement.
Here are my unsolicited ideas for the direction of Occupy Wallstreet’s demands:
1. Have an honest discussion about regulation, and the disastrous effects deregulation created, such as CDOs & CDSs. Inside Job, which won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary, should be mandatory watching for anyone who would like to claim that deregulation has been somehow beneficial instead of directly responsible for both the burst and the bubble. The truth is, what needs analysis is whether there should be regulations but how to keep the revolving door between regulator and regulated from creating a massive conflict of interest for the American people.
2. We need to admit that television/media is where we spend a huge portion of our time, and that it has profound effects on our minds. Isn’t it then a little pathetic that we attempt to educate our children through tv programming, but not adults (we should be constantly learning and re-learning the world; knowledge fits the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’)? The national news in America is only half an hour long (and supported by concepts like ‘ratings’, which means playing the basest human interest instead of giving us what we need), and local news is just as beholden. Stories get exaggerated, repeated, recycled to create viewership on days when nothing much that is genuinely newsworthy occurs. Perhaps we should be devoting this air time instead to what’s going on politically. I rarely see clips from city council meetings, or news about legislature. And those meetings that do air on local stations? Few know the schedule and there is not even an appearance of academic commentary there to attempt context or nuance. If I want to learn something or see something non-sensationalist, I have to turn to Al Jeezera English or BBC A—‘s news.
3. Our government needs the link between persons and policy to be more tangible, both at local, state, and federal levels. We pay for them to have websites. Why can’t I go to the sites of my congressmen and see their exact voting record? I’d even love a space for them to explain their reasons for their votes. I could put the feed into my RSS reader and stay updated. I realize there are websites popping up now that have similar functionality, like Open Congress, except these outlets for constituent reaction are totally removed from the person actually making the decision, unless they choose to monitor the site. It’s harder to ignore dissenting opinions when they are made public and can be engaged by others. What this ultimately means is finding ways to utilize the internet for government, like increased transparency. This would lead to more accountability. Government entities should work together to provide a system where citizens can easily get emails of user-specified frequency on summaries of debates, votes, and upcoming events.
4. Better communication of statistics and laws from the government. Hey, A—. We have a lot of unemployed, talented people who studied how to communicate, gather, and sort ideas and information. There must be a way to employ their skills and knowledge into government. We need infographs to complement hard statistics; or have those in our government not understood academia when it says that when concepts and ideas are translated into visual or spatial information, there is an increase in both comprehension and retention? We need to have emails about when local town hall or city council meetings are, laws & contracts need to be comprehendible by every citizen whose lives are bound to them. We need design to smash together with communication, not just in magazines and brochures, but in government as well.
5. Campaign finance reform is obviously another issue swirling around Occupy. When someone is beholden to someone’s financial support for their position, it is not in their best interest to lose that financial support by supporting and voting for laws that their benefactors may dislike. This is simple human nature. Why do we expect our politicians to exist in a climate where elections require so much money? Let’s change our election process, and the rules of contribution. No corporate donations, none.
6. Un-legislate the concept of corporate personhood. A corporation’s only interest is staying financially viable. Human interest is so much more than that.
7. The idea of corporate interest leads me into healthcare reform. National Healthcare Systems cost less than what we’re doing and cover every single citizen. The uninsured get paid for by the state; no one in the ER is going to let a dying human die because they don’t have insurance. The burden of cost spread out amongst so many means we would be paying less, and it does not mean that for-profit healthcare services would shut down. There would be always be the out-of-pocket option if you want to go somewhere you feel is superior to what the state provides. Cancer is bad enough without having to lose the rest of your life because you can’t pay the hospital bills.
8. Society has not had a good relationship with education lately, and it really should. As a whole, we need to encourage it, and really analyze how to make it more fun and effective (things that will increase our students’ desires to perform). We also need to encourage spatial education. What I mean by this is working with hardware, and applying maths & sciences to something creative and concrete in reality the way that writing and history do. We need to employ more teachers and educate as many people as possible as broadly as possible. Our educational infrastructure should be a far more complex root-system than it is today. Many degrees are obtained with the hopes of in turn becoming an educator. I’d love for some legislators to come out and try to draft some solutions and debate the pros and cons. Also, we need to stop perpetuating the concept of home economics and shop being ‘Easy A’ courses. Theoretical knowledge should constantly try to be related to physical results in the real world. We should encourage social studies, critical thinking, and research.
9. Stress debate at a younger age. Political debates should be supported by statistics, and those statistics sourced and analyzed by the media. However, we need to foster concepts of logic and fallacies the closer we come to government. Increasing our abilities to pull apart issues and arguments will help us find common ground and analyze where and why we disagree. It will also help our critical thinking as it applies to legislation, and application of the Constitution and laws we have governing us. In this vein, we should always be identifying and considering the ‘spirit’ of a law, not just the less accessible ‘letter’ of it.
10. The balance of power between state and federal government. C— is one of the states with laws that contradict the federal government. We have a semi-legalized and semi-decriminalized marijuana. There is a resistance, federally, to re-examine drug laws and how alcohol and other drugs are treated societally. Ignoring them hasn’t made them go away, and for soft drugs like marijuana, it’s actually increased their usage. Further, the state is now making no money off the trade. C— even had to strike down a law that would have allowed hemp to be grown in the state – because while it and its products can be brought in from places like Canada and sold within the state, it can not grow the non-drug strain itself. This would also help us in the larger talks on the rights of same-sex couples, and abortion laws — both of which, in my eyes, the federal government should have no part in restricting.
11. Revise our party system. Canada just went through structural reforms in this respect… should we? Having only two parties seems to me the easiest way to divide the country into extremes and limit our philosophies. Further, the existence of an electoral college needs to be seriously re-examined. Especially with the implementation of greater government communication and transparency, I say let’s take it away. I hate to do it, because I know it’s a liberal trope at this point, but I can only cite the election of Bush Jr. over his popular-vote-winning opponent, Gore.
12. And now, I give myself license for one pet issue: Vacation laws. Let’s do a five week minimum, like France legally requires. We need some way to culturally communicate and react to the fact that stress is the number one killer (I recommend Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir if you’d like a tangentially related read), that studies have shown our productivity goes up when we can recharge our batteries (so to speak) and that A—‘s culture of working itself to death is not even effective. It makes us miserable, we spend less time with our families, and we get no net payoff from such habits.
Finally, can’t we find a way to riff of Bhutan’s Gross Domestic Happiness? Because that basically sounds like what our government should be keeping in mind anyways: both money and humanity.
Image Credits: 01.