Thoughts on #occupywallst

Yeah, so about those protesters downtown…  (obviously these are my own thoughts, not representative of my employer...)

While the aimless and outraged struggled to get pics and videos of police abuse downtown and telling tails of the horrors of pepper spray, some people actually attempting to *create* change were busy hacking together funding projects for UNICEF at the NYC Famine Hackathon.  The tech community is creating more and more of these change agents everyday.  They have the capability to move markets and build new companies based on positive principals.  This Sunday, student hackers will be demoing their creations at the hackNY Student Hackathon DemoFest.  Undoubtedly, social good projects will be on the minds of a number of them.

While protesters demand undefined “change” by stripping down to their underwear, the team at Banksimple (First Round company) works hard at ending the tyrrany of bank fees and customer abuse by actually building a new kind of bank from the ground up—one with the consumer at the center.  If all of these kids got their parents to transfer all of their wealth (you know, the money they paid for them to go to NYU) to Banksimple, a startup, and away from the banks they protested in front of, well then we’d have something. 

How many of these kids have iPhones and Macs?  How come they’re not protesting in Cupertino against corporate monopolies and greed—or did they not notice all the suicides at Foxconn, where their sleek devices are made? 

I’m not saying there aren’t real problems in this country.  Far from it.  Poverty levels and unemployment are ridiculously high, and our workforce just isn’t equipped to propel this country forward into an innovative global marketplace. 

What I’m saying is that we need people willing to come up with—and build—real solutions.  The NYT said it well:

“[Their] cause, though, in specific terms, was virtually impossible to decipher. The group was clamoring for nothing in particular to happen right away — not the implementation of the Buffett rule or the increased regulation of the financial industry. Some didn’t think government action was the answer because the rich, they believed, would just find new ways to subvert the system..

…Some said they were fighting the legal doctrine of corporate personhood; others, not fully understanding what that meant, believed it meant corporations paid no taxes whatsoever. Others came to voice concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment…

..The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out.”

Yesterday, I got chastized in the street by one of those sidewalk fundraisers for not caring enough about the environment to listen to her message.  I then proceeded to run a kayaking trip on the East River for a group of people who donated money to make our boathouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park possible—a boathouse that teaches people about reclaiming and protecting their environment in a park that, just a few years ago, used to be industrial piers in an abandoned waterfront.

Some of us are creating change and others are acting in a very nice little production of “change theater”.  So kudos to everyone who has ever participated in an open source project—making available for free what some big corporation would otherwise charge an arm and a leg for.  Hats off to the teams at Kickstarter, Donorschoose, Meetup, Twitter, GroupMe, etc for building the tools that enable self-organization, democratization, and disruption of the status quo.  I support the efforts of Skillshare, Codecademy and others that are trying to make education—the greatest weapon we have against injustice—more freely available.  This is the change we should be in the world.

Trying to incite police brutality when you’re not even sure what you’re protesting so you can get more hits that the “Don’t Taze Me Bro” kid—that’s really not helping anyone.  It is, however, undoubtedly costing all of us taxpayers a lot of police overtime.  Peaceful protest can create a lot of general awareness, but it should, at minimum, be combined with productive action and a clear message.