Get a Job Get a Clue

Terrance Heath

“Get a job!” It’s the right-wing’s favorite retort to protesters on the left. It goes back at least as far as the 1960’s and 1970’s, and implies that only “dirty hippies” who are too lazy to work — and would rather mooch off the government and be subsidized people in the so-called “53 percent” — have time to protest. Only irresponsible people waste their time protesting while everyone else is working.

So, it’s no surprise that conservatives have dragged “Get a job” out of mothballs, and used it as a response to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. That’s a problem. The demographics on Occupy Wall Street are in, and it looks like right wingers may have to eat those words — and wash them down with a big cup of tea.

Almost as if on cue, conservatives have rushed to paint the OWS movement as unemployed wannabe hippies, who need to grow up and “Get a job.” Here’s a brief sampling from a quick Google search.

  • Heather MacDonald, in a column predictably titled “Get a job!,” picks out a handful of people in Zucotti Park, paints them as “dirty hippies” who are exemplary of the entire movement and asks: “Why is a month-long slumber party in a public park more heroic or newsworthy than getting up daily and going to work? … Why should protest be privileged over the daily fulfillment of responsibilities that keeps society stable, especially when so many of the protesters are young people with lots of free time and few responsibilities?”
  • Of course, Eric Erickson of “We are the 53 Percent” fame, has the same old advice for OWS protesters: “I would like to point out to these people that I work three jobs, can’t sell my house in this economy, still am paying massive student loans, and somehow or another do not blame Wall Street for my situation,” Erickson wrote in a post on Red State. “In fact, I’m one of the 53% — the 53% of Americans subsidizing these people so they can go hang out on Wall Street to complain. Get a job hippies!”
  • Republican strategist Ron Christie chimed in as well during an appearance on “Hardball with Chris Matthews”: “I understand where your coming from, but go get a job!”
  • Herman Cain, of course, assumed that the what the OWS protesters really need to do is “Get a job!”: “I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself! It is not someones fault if they succeeded.”
  • And Twitter is full of people who are advising OWS protestors to “Get a job!”

Here’s the thing. They have jobs. Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen surveyed about 198 participants in Zucotti Park itself. Shoen dismissed the OWS protesters as “leftists out of step with American voters,” But the Wall Street Journal’s Aaron Rutkoff combed the raw data and discovered somethign Schoen glossed over: the vast majority of OWS protesters have jobs.

Schoen finds reason to beskeptical of the protesters professed motivation: the inequities of the U.S. economic system. The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%), he writes in his essay.

While that finding made Schoen skeptical about the OWS protesters motivation, Rutkoff notes that the high level of employment “might not be the best way to assess the economic health of the protest group.”

Schoens survey found that, in addition to the 15% of protesters who are jobless, another 18% consider themselves part-time employed/underemployed for a combined total of 33% who are struggling in the labor market. That percentage is double the U.S. Labor Departments broader measure of unemployment, which accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who cant find full-time jobs. As of September, this so-called U-6 measure rose to 16.5%, the highest rate this year.

I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself, as a participant in various protests. I laughed it off, because I always had a job. In fact, I worked my way through college and — with the exception of about three months of unemployment, when I was busy freelancing and looking for work — I’ve worked ever since. I’ve participated in protests, left to go to work, and re-joined the protest after working.

Unlike Schoen, I don’t find if odd that the majority of OWS protesters in Zucotti Park have jobs. Nor does it make me question their motivations. Apparently, it mystifies Schoen why anyone who already has a job would be motivated protest economic inequality — even when 33% of their peers are “struggling in the labor market,” right in front of their eyes.

It no mystery, as I wrote earlier.

Occupy Wall Street

The reason that movements like Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 Percent have taken off is because millions of Americans have actually spoken with someone who’s falling behind. We do so every day. We don’t have to go far to find them, because they are often our friends, neighbors and family members. Those of us who are still hanging on in this recession live and work beside others who are in the same precarious position, just a step or two from falling or being pushed into the abyss.

Young Americans, joined by everyone from airline pilots to labor unions and U.S. Marines (about as far from “hippies” as one could imagine) have occupied Wall Street for weeks now, because they know who “broke” the economy. Americans are occupying Washington, D.C., because they know who “broke” the economy, who allowed it to happen, and who still hasn’t done much of anything about it. We have been living with the consequences of “sins” not our own, because our government failed to protect us from the sins of others. Namely, Wall Street.

Americans are occupying their own cities all over the country, because they know in a crisis this big, the scene of the crime is in our own cities, our neighborhoods, and sometimes even in our own living rooms; because we have friends or family who are getting laid off because of local/state budget cuts that state/local jobs cuts that are slowing down what passes as a recovery; because we are or have children who are graduating off a cliff into a jobless recovery and an economy with no place for them; because foreclosures have left our neighborhoods struggling with blight; because the future we dreamed up for our children is in peril.

For all these reasons and more, Americans are taking to the streets. There’s a line that runs from the Wisconsin protests, connecting them. Instead of hardening our hearts against each other, the economic crisis has “sharpened our instincts for empathy” and, as President Obama said in his Tucson speech, caused us to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.” We have not used it as an opportunity to turn on each other. Instead, a sense of shared struggles empowers us to demand accountability and justice.

Last year, I pointed out a report that suggested it was the tea partiers who needed to “Get a job.”

A year later, with even more Americans of every political persuasion unemployed, I’m a bit less inclined to chuckle at ironies, and more inclinced to see that the OWS movement and the tea party movement are alike in some ways. William Pfaff notes that both are “manifestations of the same explosive American anger at the American government and the modern corporate system,” and have even more in common.

Day 16 Occupy Wall Street October 2 2011

Both sides are obsessed with the other and cannot recognize what they have in common, which is victimization by a finance- and corporate-dominated American business establishment in effective control of the U.S. government, whose elected officials now are themselves victims of a system of campaign contributions, upon which their careers depend. They have only themselves to blamepoliticians of both parties, and their Supreme Courthaving deliberately removed all regulation or limit from what is now a fundamentally corrupt electoral finance system.

But, as Dean Baker writes, the tea party anger was harness by Republicans to go after the government — specifically, after government programs the majority of tea partiers support, and even rely upon. The OWS movement has picked up where the tea party left off.

Occupy Wall Street October 1st

The Occupy Wall Street crew picks up on the Tea Party anger directed at the use of the government to make the rich even richer. While it does not have a coherent program or list of demands at this point, the vast majority of the Occupiers understand that there is something seriously wrong in this country. The government is pursuing policies that are making those at the top very rich, while offering little for the vast majority of the population.

Lots Americans are justifiably angry about the government policies Dean mentions, because they see the resulting wreckage in their communities, their schools, and the lives of the people right next to them — whether in an underwater suburban home or a tent in Zucotti Park. And their anger is rightly focused at Washington and Wall Steet.

If Washington was tending bar, and millions of Americans ended up economic roadkill as a result.

The activists and supporters in the Occupy Wall Street movement get that.

The “Get a job” retort says less about those at whom its directed than those spouting it. The former has a firm grip on a reality that  latter stubbornly refuses to grasp. After all, one side is demanding action on job creation, while the other is asking businesses to stop hiring.

Get a job? How about you get a (long overdue) clue, instead?

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