Author: Griffin-Nolan, Ed
Date published: October 12, 2011
Did anyone else notice that as soon as the city announced it would ease enforcement of parking regulations by offering a 10-minute grace period after the meter runs out, that dozens of protesters immediately flocked to downtown to set up camp in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street efforts in New York City? News flash: The revolution will not only be televised, it will offer free parking (alternate side of the street).
From coast to coast, protesters are gathering in support of Occupy Wall Street. Depending on how you see it, the protests are an homage to Tahrir Square, an attempt to recreate the 1960s, or the left's answer to the Tea Party. What do the protesters want? A lot of them are being criticized for not having a specific focus, but the folks on Salina Street must be given credit for this much: They have succeeded where so many in the past have failed. They've managed to figure out how to get people to downtown Syracuse at night without holding a hockey game.
While the media seems to have taken a great interest in portraying the activists as rebels without a cause, they miss a key point. The protesters are willing to stop what they are doing, to end business as usual and say "enough." Just as a kid with a smartphone does not need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows, none of us needs to know the answers to our current problems to know that they are serious and deep, and that attention must be paid.
You can't criticize an unemployed construction worker for not having all the answers. Tim Geithner doesn't know the answers, and he's a smart guy. Barack Obama doesn't know the answers, and he's a smart guy, too. On the Republican side, both Sarah Palin and Chris Christie just said, "Hey don't look at me, we've already got jobs that we like."
Even the Egyptians in Tahrir Square didn't act like they knew all the answers. They just knew there was a problem and that too many people had been acting like things were normal for far too long. Most of us have continued on with our lives as if things were somehow normal, and the protests, which will really be tested when the weather turns nasty, insist that things are seriously wrong.
Our economy is not just failing by the numbers, it is failing to offer hope to the next generation. Our political system is not just failing to pass legislation, it is failing to generate faith that we are truly represented. Our moral leaders allow a nation to sleep easy while dropping bombs from the sky on people who have never been convicted of a crime (not even tried), and our young people are sent off to fight a war that never should have started and one that should have ended long ago.
And so discontent squeezes out of the neat confines set by the ballot box and the career path and it makes its way in to the streets, or in this case, the pocket park. No one knows what shape it will take tomorrow.
If the time does come to turn this protest into policy, may I suggest a proposal worth considering? House Resolution 365 is a simple yet far-reaching idea launched by rookie Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.). He has the audacity to suggest that forgiving student loans could be the first step to economic revival. Considering that the (mostly) younger generation now owes more than a trillion dollars collectively in student debt, and many are laying out hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars monthly to repay those loans, what would happen if you freed up those dollars to go into the economy? Right now the money goes back to the banks, but the banks are not lending, and thus businesses can't get capital, can't create jobs. Why? Lack of demand.
Get that monkey off the back of the debt-saddled graduates and who knows what they might do. Young people might buy cars, they might buy houses, they might invest in that startup they dream about while working at Target. Freeing up the imagination and the cash flow of a generation would have a stimulus effect greater any bricks-and-mortar project I can think of.
If we can forgive the banks, if we can forgive Greece, why not forgive student loans? If we can bail out Hamid Karzai every day of the week, why can't we bail out the mostly poor and middle-class students whose only crime was not having enough money to afford an education?
That's something worth taking to the streets for. Even better than free parking.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan's award-winning commentary weekly in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at email@example.com.