Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupy Their Shoes

Why did it take so long? Why were we not in the streets, with our placards and our anguished shouts, before this? It took nearly a fifth of us out of work--no hope of it returning, either, because it had been slipped out of our pockets while we were watching the parade, entertained by today's official clowns (ever more team sports to show us how to be mindless followers, happy pills that simultaneously pacify us and put billions in the coffers of Big Pharma, brilliant!, the little screens in all our hands giving the illusion of Connection to Friends, jobs disappearing incrementally into automation)--before we thought to rise up. What the encampments will bring, no one yet knows. Change, one hopes. But hopes are sometimes dashed.

My coat, anyway, now sports the button I had been long wishing someone would stamp and a million wear: "I want Roosevelt again." Or at least someone with the courage to do what is necessary, no matter how unpopular, and then to proclaim (as in 1936): "They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred." Only bravery like this, and a willingness to put the country before a desire to be liked, aka reelected, can effect the change we need now. Because, truly, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little" (second inaugural).

I was in the presence of a few who seemed to have too much, on Saturday evening. The venue was the grand new luxury hotel built by the man who has brought high-stakes horse shows to the banks of the Hudson; he had to build the hotel, he explained to a magazine reporter, because there was no place in these parts that offered the kind of lodgings the extremely well-heeled horsey set demands as a matter of right. And so he built a place that exudes the right sort of silky anonymity, with high thread-count sheets and turn-down service, that is expected by the one percent. He is also the parent of children in my son's new school, and that is why I was seated near the fireplace at a large table at the lavish buffet in his hotel's two-story banquet room, for the school's annual fundraising auction.

The items bid upon ranged from gift baskets prepared by every class (the seventh grade's was a game basket, for which I'd bought Scrabble and a dictionary), a chance to be headmaster for a day, a custom-made dining table (value, $9000), a Cape Cod house for a week (value, $2700), lunch with Entrepreneur of the Year (value, priceless), and a "dream car tour," enabling one to take for a spin, one after the other, a Lamborghini, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, and Mercedes. The one I wished for, though, was "Fighter Pilot for a Day," at the controls of an Italian light attack fighter. Then I could die, feeling complete.

The paddles were raised all around the room, blinking on and off like explosions in a video game war. And indeed it was a game, only played with real money (we had given our credit card coordinates before being seated). I noted the frequent bidders always sat back in their chairs, as if resting while servants (volunteers
with clipboards and fast pens) recorded their thousands tossed off with an insouciant flick of the wrist. They seemed to enjoy it. The next thing I knew, auction fever spiked my temperature for a brief, hysterical moment, and in a single flash of my paddle--wait, who did that?--I had given away money I didn't have, so that the kids might have a weather station with Mac and six iPads and dock. Then I came to my senses. I went back for some paella and put the paddle safely into my bag so no more temptations would call me out of my place firmly with the 99 percent. Those who had no access to an open bar and chocolate-covered cheesecake slices.

For one night, I stood in their shoes. And I knew why they didn't want to give this up. But I also knew why we must fight so that they will.


Dennis said...

Nicely said Melissa. We need more to step up and be heard.

Shybiker said...

I'm with you. With the growing disparity of wealth in our society, it was inevitable that protests would eventually start; I was just surprised it took this long.

And thanks for the report on your brush with wealth. In my job, I see the lives of rich people up close and some of their extravagances are mind-boggling.

One woman I know spends an average of $24,000 on clothing per MONTH.

And one of my male clients bought a $800,000 sports car he only takes out two or three times a year for a short Sunday drive. On his last drive, a motorist in a car next to him at a red light spit on his car and spoiled his ride. I guess when you display absurd wealth, you need to be prepared for a little blowback...

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, Dennis. We need to make a very, very loud noise now.


SB, your stories are truly amazing--and make me wonder anew why we consider this in any way permissible? It's Roman Empire stuff. How can some Republicans cast the amassing of unconscionable amounts of wealth in the hands of a very few as "job creation"? Are they referring to the post of gardener and nanny? I would so love to hear someone in high office stand up and call it what it is: "criminal activity."

Jim Howard said...

Nobody there took anything from you.

Why do you want to take their stuff?

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Hmmm, Jim. Not so sure where they all got it, then--from moving papers from one place on their desks to another? While the people who actually produce stuff are earning a smaller & smaller portion of the profit from what they make? And even a CEO who drives his company into the ground gets millions upon millions? A meritocracy, you say?

"A 2011 study by the CBO 2011 found that the top earning 1% of households gained about 275% after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007. The increase is far above other income levels, especially the bottom 80%, whose share of national income growth declined over this period. As of 2006, the United States had one of the highest levels of income inequality, as measured through the Gini index, among similar high income countries or developed countries.

"Scholars and others differ as the causes and significance of the trend, which in 2011 helped ignite the 'Occupy' protest movement. While education and increased demand for skilled labor is often cited as a cause of increased inequality, many social scientists point to public policy and partisan politics as an important cause of inequality." [Wikipedia]

I kind of think the social scientists may know what they're talking about.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your blog Melissa; I can always find comfort, humor, or food for thought. Thank you!

Have a wonderful day, I hope that it holds something special for you. All the best for the coming year.


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thank you so much, Steve. I know there's more to come, some of it great and full of wonder. I hope you will find the same in your new year.

Jim Howard said...

"While the people who actually produce stuff are earning a smaller & smaller portion of the profit from what they make? "

Of course the #occupy folks are putting 'the people who actually produce stuff' out of work all over the country by terrorizing retail shops and closing ports.

If the people at your affair were crony capitalists of the type who swindled the taxpayer out of billions with fake projects like Solyndra, ethanol, Freddie, and Fannie then you have a right to be upset.

If, on the other hand, they had real capitalists who started real companies that create real jobs by making honest profits providing goods and services that people voluntarily want to buy, then you should have thanked them.

I'm thinking of real heroes like the Koch brothers

Steve said...

Jim Howard said...

"I'm thinking of real heroes like the Koch brothers"

And the Cargill Family matched with the MacMillan Family.

Regardless of whether those Families' possessions are privately or publicly traded, let us not forget about their insatiable appetite for the goods manufactured and shipped from such locations as Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, West Point, and Fort Knox.