20-Something, Pop Culture

Occupy Wall Street: The Youth Perspective Gives Mixed Messages

Watching the Occupy Wall Street movement unfold has been both fascinating and educational. It has created stimulating conversation and really challenged young Americans to think about how we feel about our Government, our economy, our financial institutions and how we make and manage our money.

There are two pieces of writing that have come out of  Occupy Wall Street that have really made me stop for a moment. They both were reportedly written by young people (one is confirmed) and they are preaching exact opposite views. One middle-class student proudly claims they are not part of the 99%, the other is a famous musician having difficulty making ends meet. Both are thought-provoking opinions but I feel miss the point of Occupy Wall Street entirely.

The first piece was written by musician JD Samson for Huffington Post and is titled “I Love My Job, But it Made Me Poorer.” Samson explains how she came from a middle class background and was fortunate enough to achieve the American Dream by moving to New York City and becoming a famous musician. She then adds that in order to stay on pace with her other famous and successful friends she lived beyond her means. At this point she is currently feeling the crunch of being a working artist in New York City; she laments of the cockroach infested Brooklyn apartments she’s had to live in. Throw in the fact that she is a lesbian with a mustache and things have not been easy for her.

I agree with what most of Samson says and I commend her for her bravery in not only challenging gender norms, but for being so frank in regards to her current financial standing. I’m sure her journey has not always been easy. However, there is one underlying statement that she continually brings  up that is ample bait for critics of Occupy Wall Street (like the one below) to run with- she lived beyond on her means. “I forgot to save money and think about my future,” Samson writes.

So how are we supposed to take her judgement on Wall Street and the 1% seriously when it is she who put herself in her current economic state?


The second piece is written by a young man or woman (who conveniently won’t show their face) proclaiming how they are not part of the 99% because they work hard and live within their means. As if almost a direct response to Samson’s article above, the doctrine states that he/she also came from middle class roots, selected an in-state university, had university 90% paid for by having “decent grades” in high school, is frugal with their money and because of this they are and will be debt-free. They also add that they did think about their future and if they hadn’t they wouldn’t have blamed Wall Street or the 1%. “I am NOT the 99% and whether or not you are is YOUR decision,” the paper ends with.

Though I respect that this “young person” worked hard in school and made smart financial decisions, it’s a little idealistic to think that getting “decent grades” in high school will automatically grant you scholarships that pay for 90% of college. Or that if a student starts saving for college at the age of 17 that would be enough to support you through school. This person is lucky that they have no debt. What if they wanted to go to medical school or law school? With a current unemployment rate of 9.1%, what if this person graduates and has difficulty finding a job like so many millions of others? Would they be singing the same tune?


Neither one of these declarations  addresses the real matter at hand: financial institutions and corporations mismanaged their and our money and were bailed out with our tax money for their mistakes. CEOs of these institutions received and continue to receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses though they’re the ones that helped get us in our current economic state. Tax loopholes exist that these same corporations and institutions can benefit from.

Whether or not you went to a public university or bought too many designer hipster jeans in Brooklyn has nothing to do with this simple fact. In the mixed messages coming out of Occupy Wall Street, it is becoming a war of the haves and have nots. Do we, the youth, really know what we’re asking for? Is it no longer about Wall Street reform and accountability?

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  • Reply Tim October 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I’ve been uncomfortable with the movement since day 1. I am completely behind the idea of cracking down on Wall Street with a barrage of regulation. I believe in the value of a strong anti-trust arm to break up
    companies and encourage competition.

    But a college education is not a vocational degree. College degrees have always failed to guarantee jobs. What they prove to employers is that you can read, write, and have a modicum of work ethic. I got a college degree in Theater and Dance. Then I worked a lot of tech jobs, moved around to improve my field specific education and resume. I’m much closer now to the 1% than the 99%. But it’s not because my college degree got me a job.

    I especially have an issue with the movement because they’re just sitting around. There’s been no proposal of legislation. Just sitting, waiting, for what? I may agree with the goals, but I see no road map to get there. What I’d like to see if every single Occupy “x” member to get up and go register to run against a member of Congress. Then mobilize the 99% to vote for them and institute the reforms they want.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      Yeah, I think something is going to have to break soon.

  • Reply Tara M. October 13, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    I agree with the fact that they aren’t really doing much to propose change, but rather are bitching and feeling cool for participating in a protest. Meanwhile, the people who are really struggling and feeling the ramifications of what is going on within Wall Street are too busy busting their asses to make it.

    I’m all for protesting for change, but I think you have to have change to propose in the first place. Otherwise, nothing is being accomplished and the people who need help still aren’t getting it.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm

      Yes, I’m all for change too, but the movement or subsequent movements seem to be a little directionless. It’s like everyone got really excited about the protesting but never really stepped back to think what it was all about.

  • Reply Elise October 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    You’ve managed to articulate all of my frustrations with the OWS movement. There IS corruption on Wall Street, there IS something broken in our government…but personalizing it with anecdotes about working hard to pay for college or drowning in student loans isn’t helping. In fact, it’s just opening the movement up for destructive criticism, stripping it of any legitimacy and hope of making real, lasting changes in our world today. How can we expect the big corporations, Wall Street, and the United States government to accept responsibility for their actions and their role in the current state of the economy, if we can’t do the same in our own lives? /end rant

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      Elise, it would be hypocritical of me not to point out that I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the forgiving college debt movement, however, it was independent of the Occupy Wall Street issue. Actually, I think I wrote before I even knew what Occupy Wall Street was. I guess everything is kind of blending into one now. It’s like Occupy Wall Street has become this umbrella term for all these financial woes.

      • Reply Elise October 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm

        I remember your post about forgiving college debt, and while I don’t think we should or even could (or that it would stimulate the economy), that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t LOVE to have some of that burden taken off my shoulders. It’s an emotional thing, I think. It’s hard to separate fits of “omg how am I supposed to make student loan payments when I can’t even make rent” from rational, solution-seeking discussion…which, I think, is exactly what’s going on with Occupy Wall Street.

        And you’re right: OWS has become an umbrella term, and that’s dangerous, especially when so many responses to it come from a place of emotion. It’s good to get the ball rolling, but not so much when the time comes to formulate a cohesive list of demands.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      I’m glad I was able to articulate your thoughts b/c I wasn’t even sure I was articulating my thoughts well! 😉

  • Reply Tony Russo October 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I explained to my daughter that when Elizabeth Warren didn’t get the job there should have been protests, that was the best chance for meaningful reform but the banks brought too much pressure (I think).
    There’s nothing wrong with venting but I don’t know how effective they will be. At this point the banks just have to wait until the protestors get bored, as protestors tend to do, and go back to business as normal.
    Anyway, it looks as if the Onion answered your question. I don’t know if you saw it:

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      No, I didn’t see that. Thank you! Funny! Do you think the protestors will really get bored?

      • Reply Tony Russo October 13, 2011 at 10:33 pm

        I do. There are two ways for a protest to end: get bored and dissolve or get violent and get arrested. I’m not saying they’ll all be home by the weekend but as you pointed out, there really aren’t any demands to succumb to or to negotiate about.
        Add to that that the protesters can at best create a public relations problem (and if the banks survived the billions in bad loans and bail out PR scandal they will survive this one) and absent a show of real violence (which would be ill-advised) eventually they will have to go away. The banks are counting on that, and that I realize it is what makes me old, cynical and (often) a bit grumpy.

  • Reply Courtney October 13, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I have mixed feelings about OWS, and I think overall it may be ineffectual as a movement.

    I do take issue with the college student saying that being part of the 99% is one’s own decision. So many people were given loans by the banks that ended up backfiring (adjustable rate mortgages, etc.); many of these people will be screwed for life. THIS is the bank’s fault–they gave people loans who should not have qualified. The same goes for credit cards. It used to be that it was hard to get a credit card unless you were making a certain amount of money. Now you just have to be 18 and you’re pre-approved.

    While I applaud the student above who has been very smart about money, I don’t think people should be punished for life because of one or two financial missteps.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      I agree. It’s like we tell kids to go to school, even get a masters nowadays, but if they can’t find a job and they’re swimming in student loan debt they”re supposed to just keep quiet, right?

  • Reply Jen October 14, 2011 at 2:05 am

    I think you brought up great points. Yes and yes.

    I’ve personally been struggling to identify with the movement. I see points on both sides. And, of course, there are people protesting for reasons that are all over the spectrum. It’s especially hard, though, because the media likes to focus on the absurd, which gives the general public a very distorted view of what’s going on. Being from a very conservative area, many of my friends (friends?) and family think that everyone protesting is arguing for wealth distribution and I don’t see it that way at all. There are some who are, and I don’t agree with that. But there are some who are just plain frustrated with how our government is handling our money and I totally relate to that.

    Overall I think that people, in general, should take responsibility for their lives. Like you said about the first girl. We can’t live on credit and expect for the government to pay for it. But we can’t just accept that we live in a society in which teachers are struggling to get by, but the top tier of corporations receive bailouts. There are fine lines, but I’m proud of those actually speaking out because it’s better than the alternative.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      I wish I articulated it is well as you!

  • Reply SC October 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I am pro-movement. There has to be something on the left to counteract the tea party. What I find annoying is that republicans are so quick to condemn the OWS movement when the tea party began with the rage over bailing out the banks as well.

    Then the tea party was co-opted by the religious right and the Koch brothers. It began for the same reasons that OWS did – it was wrong to bail out the bankers that put us into this mess. That should be the true message of both movements. Even in the recent bank layoffs at BOA – they laid off 30,000 regular workers but not one executive, CFO or CEO? And the upper level people that made the bad decisions were REWARDED with golden parachutes? There is something wrong here. All of the bailed out CEOs should have been fired with minimal compensation – last I checked you shouldn’t reward failure. That should be where the rage is directed.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      I agree. I feel like that has gotten lost somewhere.

  • Reply Candace October 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you for this post. I too have been fascinated by this. I am on the protesters side, but there was something about it that bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on and I think you articulated it perfectly. It’s directionless, there are all these emotional anecdotal stories, but what are the demands, what do you want to see changed exactly?

    I have seen that second story floating around the internet the past couple of days and it really pisses me off. Good for them that they have been able to get through school and life debt free, but they are missing the point. Just because they were lucky enough to do this, doesn’t mean everyone else is, regardless of how hard they’ve worked. Health problems with crippling medical bills, inability to find a job in your field after busting your ass in school, the list goes on and on.

    Sorry this kind of ended up going on a tangent, but it is very frustrating for me when people dismiss other people’s financial problems and plight because they themselves were lucky.

    • Reply hipstercrite October 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      I agree. That second story also made me upset and it is what propelled me to write this post. I think it’s great if someone can do what that student has done, but let’s be honest, it’s not that way for everyone. It’s so easy to say that the American Dream is readily available for everyone. It is not. Most people I see agreeing with this dude are white males. Do they understand that how easily they achieved the American Dream might not be as easy for someone else?

  • Reply Joe October 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Im not sure this movement can be pigeonholed just yet. You can find any stereotype you want at a mass gathering and the signs to prove it.

    I think its fair to point out that the demonstrators skew young but I think their reasons for being out there go beyond student loan debt. We have an entire class of overeducated and underemployed. I don’t think its about despising the rich. I imagine most of these demonstrators have ambitions beyond making money, but its about feeling betrayed by those in charge of our political and financial sectors.

    It boils down to being left with a sour economy while the public treasury is being doled out in millions to those same individuals who are thought to be most responsible. But, I agree they much move towards some agenda or risk stagnating literally and figuratively. It’ll have to be about “Demand”, as in where we spend what money we have left.

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