There are a number of viral photos making their way around the Web that point to an almost willful misunderstanding of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. These photographs have a common theme. They all feature a person holding up a piece of paper describing what a hard-working, self-made person they are and what obstacles they have overcome to achieve not success, but mere survival in America. There is a statement about how proud they are of their accomplishments and how annoyed they are at the Occupy movement protesters who, it is implied by comparison are lazy, freeloading whiners.
There are a number of good deconstructions of these photos available as well such as this one.
This “Open Letter to the 53% posted to Daily Kos is another.
I want to offer a lesson in the huge misunderstanding about our society that these photos and the Occupy movement is calling to our attention. It’s a thought experiment, but if you’re working with a group of people having a hard time making sense of what’s going on at these protests around the country, you might invite them to try it.
Play the game Monopoly. Twice. It’s best to play with at least four people for the purposes of this demonstration. The first time, play the game straight up by the rules that come with the game. If you or the participants are familiar with the game, this gives you a baseline and if you or the participants are not familiar with the game, it teaches you the game for the purposes of giving you a base line for game two.
Play a second game of Monopoly. This time (I will assume four players, but it can be arranged for any number) players start the game differently. Player ONE begins the game already owning Boardwalk and Park Place as well as all the Green Properties – all with hotels already on them, all the Railroads, and both utilities. Player ONE goes first and begins the game with triple the usual starting money and begins the game on Boardwalk, thus ensured to pass Go on their first turn. Player TWO goes second and begins the game on Illinois Ave, already owning all the Red properties – each with three houses already on them – and double the usual starting money. Player THREE goes third and begins the game on Oriental Ave. already owning all the Light Blue Properties and the usual starting money. Player FOUR goes last and begins the game with NO money and NO property on GO.
What the 53% Marine and others wrongly assume is that our society and our world is the first game of Monopoly – that we all start on a level playing field, playing by the same rules with all the same advantages and disadvantages. The reality is that we live in the world of the second Monopoly game. It is not a rigged game so much as we are all born into the game in different circumstances and in different places. That simple fact has much to do with the lack of economic and social justice we experience (or do not experience). It is very possible for player FOUR to win this hypothetical game of Monopoly, but it is highly unlikely. People overcome great odds to succeed in life all the time, and once in a while we all hear stories of someone overcoming overwhelming odds to make it.
And yet, the world as it is goes on every day, goes on with millions of untold stories of people who fall beneath the simple weight of life. They fall not because they were weak or their character was suspect or they didn’t work hard, but simply because when and where they came into the game and the way the rules work just didn’t allow for what should have been if not their success, at least their survival.
This is why people are Occupying Wall Street and parks and commons all over the country and all over the world – because making it and survival shouldn’t be a miraculous success story. Making it and surviving should be something available to everyone everywhere. People are Occupying because it’s time to change the prevailing ethos from “everyone for themselves and pull yourself up by your boot straps” to “we’re all in this together.”
You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots.