The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Is there Tea Brewing?

I spent an hour or so walking around the tent village known as Occupy Boston.  Located in Dewey Square, only a few steps from our offices in the heart of Boston’s financial district, it was a convenient detour. I debated for a few minutes whether my standard suit and tie would be appropriate attire, but in the end assumed (correctly as it turns out) that I wouldn’t be judged immediately based on my appearance.  Although it was hard to find people in charge, the village itself seemed well organized.  There were signs for “Legal Services” and “Logistics,” people tapping away on laptops, preparing food and even a library.  The whole thing felt more like a somewhat Bohemian college campus than an angry protest.

Three thoughts came to mind as I wandered around:

1. First, I could not help but compare this protest to Year Up’s Walk for Opportunity, which began one year ago in the very same square. Our walk brought together several hundred people to raise awareness of the need to provide greater opportunity for urban young adults.  Last year, we marched from Dewey Square to the Boston Common; this year (since Dewey Square was… occupied) we gathered in the Common and held a moving rally lead by our students and graduates. Here were several hundred young men and women, most of color, dressed in business attire – all setting a positive, professional and inspirational tone.  This is what the future ranks of our city’s professionals will look like.  We were all focused on a clear, positive and poignant message: Our nation needs to provide greater access and opportunity for our urban young adults, who are assets – not liabilities – and critical components of the US economic engine.  Why is it that the same media covering the Occupy Boston protest paid so little attention to this demonstration by the Opportunity Movement?  Was it because we had something to be for rather than against?

2.  How are the goals of the Opportunity Movement related to those of the protest on Dewey Square? While I am sympathetic to those who are protesting, it is a fact that Year Up would not exist if it weren’t for the generosity of the 1%.  Vilifying all people who have accumulated wealth is not helpful in creating more opportunity for those who lack it, nor is casting a spell over all of Wall Street.  Clearly, there were many wrongs committed in the build-up to the financial collapse, but concluding from this that all rich people are evil and all Wall Street firms are malevolent is just as pernicious as saying that all poor people are lazy.  I have concluded that the Occupy Movement and Year Up are coming at a similar problem from very different angles.

3. Are these protests the start of something big?  I think they are, and my prediction is that 1) these movements build rather than shrink, 2) they influence the next Presidential election in a serious way and are credited with helping to keep Obama in office, and 3) they result in the creation of a new political force to rival the Tea Party.  Walking through Dewey Square, I thought the people had dug in for the long haul, and that they knew they were onto something important. Thirty years of rising income inequality, declining social mobility and increased levels of poverty are starting to take their toll, and too many people are feeling excluded from the promise of the American dream.  Turning our eyes from what we are seeing, or dismissing it as a short lived “hippie” protest, is ignoring some major macroeconomic and social trends that have been brewing in our nation over decades.

Speaking of brewing, my hope is that the Occupy protest begins to clarify itself, and ultimately coalesces into a positive force for change. I hope that its message becomes one for increased opportunity for all rather than a rant against the wealthy or Wall Street.  My advice is that a few folks from Occupy Wall Street take time to learn about what is happening in less than two weeks at the Opportunity Nation Summit in NYC.   That is where we need to head as a nation, and what ultimately will help unite rather than divide us.

3 responses to “Is there Tea Brewing?

  1. Zac Owen October 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I agree with you that the problem with the Occupy movement is a lack of direction, the protestors that are lining the streets of New York, London and Rome make it clear what they are against, but at the same time offer no viable alternative. I spent the afternoon walking around the camp at St Paul’s cathedral in London and had mixed feelings about the whole movement, this was mainly down to the irony of the demonstration that I was seeing. So many of the people there had clearly benefited so greatly from the capitalist system that they claim to be against, what we are seeing around the world is nothing more than human idealism. Whether it be because of a lack of opportunity or simply just a desire for change, I believe that what we are seeing now is the result of an age long class struggle (sorry to be a bit marxist).

    However I disagree with your third point, I can’t see that a few tents in the world’s financial districts are going to be a catalyst for great socioeconomic change, governments may be “for the people” but to give into the requests of the electorate would be a sign of weakness. Change will come from within the system, and I think that is proven by Year Up, after all it only took your ambitions (and hard work) to make a significant change, and I’m guessing that wasn’t achieved by sitting in Dewey Square.

    So maybe the Occupy movement will create change, however I can’t see it being directly accredited to the protestors. Maybe this would be a better time than any for the capitalist nations of the world to read the words of Victor Hugo, who wrote “change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots”.

  2. Aaron Gerry (@AaronGerry) October 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Gerald,

    Beautiful description of Occupy Boston. It is refreshing to see that you illuminate the strength of the community and had a positive experience during your visit. As a side, I am not a part of Occupy Boston, nor have I visited Dewey Square; I am just pleased to hear the opinion of someone who went in with an open mind and whom simply does not deride them based on principle.

    With that, I entirely agree that hopefully the “protest begins to clarify itself, and ultimately coalesces into a positive force for change.” Their rallying cry is just that, and it has brought together a core group of supporters. However, if they want to enact change, they need to be proactive.

    Yearup serves as a great example of how to make significant change with a set purpose. As you mentioned, the Opportunity Nation Summit in NYC is coming up soon, it may be beneficial to invite some of the Occupy organizers to meet and speak with the people making dramatic, widespread improvements for humanity (and learn how they did it). I understand there is a live stream, but video can never fully encapsulate the inspirational qualities of these great leaders and meeting them in person may help the Occupy leaders evolve their own mission towards opportunity and action for change.

    On my end, a friend of mine came up with the idea of hosting an Occupy StartupWeekend, whereby we help the protesters use the power/principles of entrepreneurship to formulate their call to action and make positive change. So, my challenge to you is, if you invite several occupy leaders to the Opportunity Nation Summit, we will host an Occupy StartupWeekend in Boston. What do you say?

    Best,

    – Aaron

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