Posted by: Dan Beucke on October 22, 2011 at 3:33 PM
“They have a right to be angry” has become the new “let me first say I’m not a jerk” — a way for someone to inoculate themselves on the touchy subject of the Occupy Wall Street protests before they dive into possibly dangerous waters. It works because everyone is angry about something. Those things may be in direct opposition to each other (too much government control vs. not enough regulation), of course. And the anger may be disproportionate: that of the well-paid pundit vs. that of the jobless parent whose child is moving back home with $50,000 of student debt.
So, once we all agree that we’re angry … what do the financial elite really think of OWS? We posted a slide show earlier that included surprisingly supportive public statements from members of the 1%. Even more interesting, though, are the off-script private statements. Some of the money men and women just aren’t convinced they should be targets of anything but praise; as one money manager told the New York Times, “Who do you think pays the taxes?”
Others clearly feel a simple disdain for the protesters’ lifestyle choices — the sort of cultural dissonance that’s familiar to anyone who was around during the Vietnam era. Financial blogger Josh Brown, who swims in the same waters as the bankers but makes no bones about his sympathy for OWS, posted this snippet from a conversation he overheard (and which I’ve edited here for language) at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in midtown Manhattan:
Mid-50’s male exec: “You see all the cops down there keeping the peace? They should send a bill for that to these kids’ parents.”
Female patron: “Thank god they don’t know that all of Wall Street comes here for dinner!”
Mary Meeker, the former tech analyst and now venture capitalist, told an audience at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week that, yes, “People deserve to be a little angry.” She would spread the blame for the financial malaise: “I’d say one-third government, one-third consumer and one-third financial services industry.” And Meeker thinks the solution is belt-tightening — which consumers and businesses have done, but not government. In other words, look to fiscal austerity.
A much different take came in the post that Bryce Roberts, co-founder of O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, put up after visiting Zuccotti Park. He says the scene reminds him of a tech-hacker event, with people from all walks of life coming together without a set agenda to share ideas around a broad topic. “Viewed through the lens of the unconference,” he says, the protesters’ lack of a clear set of demands is “a feature not a bug.” He adds:
#ows is setting the table for a conversation threaded around the truly broken systems we’ve been ignoring for decades. Exposing the corruption that has influenced our system for decades. And giving a voice to a large group of global citizens who have been too apathetic or too disenfranchised to speak up. It isn’t going to be the single movement that topples the US government. But it is a tributary into a global river of discontent. And that river is spilling over its banks. Toppling dictators and influencing leaders around the world. …
In the end, I don’t fit squarely into the camps of either the 99%ers or the 1%ers. But I am off the fence. I do see a world I’m angry to inherit from the prior generation and embarrassed to hand over to my kids. Sure #ows is small. Sure it’s messy. Sure it’s easy to dismiss. But anything truly disruptive is.