The results of the OWS poll are in. Now, there are many different approaches to summarizing the responses. One is to rely solely on statistics, but since many of the answers cannot be meaningfully summarized this way, and since OWS itself is about giving people a voice, the best way to encapsulate the results is to quote some responses. Of course, the flip responses were jettisoned because what we wanted were sincere, thoughtful responses, whether we agreed with them or not.
So let’s begin with those who are from the upper economic echelons. One is from a self- proclaimed “near 1%-er” who says simply that OWS should continue on with “Direct political action.” Interestingly, this person is employed and is also optimistic. Another, a member of management who is also a firm owner, notes, “I would like to see it continue to address what I believe are human rights in civilized society. The right the education, healthcare and housing.” [sic] This person explains further, “My older brother has been an active anti-war activist since Iraq War I. He is currently part of the Occupy SF and Occupy Oakland movements.” One professor had this to say, “I would like to see it become a more generalized political movement without giving up its resistance to institutionalization. OWS has such a trenchant critique of capitalism and our version of crony capitalism or oligarchy, it needs to spread that message widely. ‘Occupy’ is something more than the occupation of physical space, and I look forward to seeing how the idea evolves.” And a partner in a firm observed: “If it [the OWS movement] can just sustain the position of 'not this' and the ideal of fairness, without having to commit to a certain platform in the near future, its power to disturb normal opearations [sic] may be its most valuable effect. Once it begins to have policies and positions, it will likely be co- opted by self-serving political opportunists.”
Some of the most detailed thoughts come from firm owners, such as the following:
1. I'd like to see OWS cause a mass political movement to get the state legislatures to run an end-run around Congress to adopt a 28th Amendment, which would state that corporations are not people, and to keep big money (yes, corporate and union money) out of elections. Publicly funded elections are key to ending corruption.
2. I'd like to see OWS push for a MAJOR jobs stimulus program. It will be difficult. But here's where architects are key: we need a visionary plan. We don't need infrastructure repair, we need a serious infrastructure complete soup-to-nuts revamp. We need to seriously reconsider trade streams, we need a new method of manufacturing (3-d printers for the masses!). We need to adopt the metric system. We need to take LEED principles and incorporate them into the building code. We need radical overhaul or we will perish, frankly, and architects have been lax on jumping on board. Basically, we need to meld environmental crises and the jobs crisis.
Another owner adds,
1. Influence new policies to institute a 75% tax rate on all types of income and capital gains earned by the investment banking industry, hedge fund management and stock brokerage. Use the tax money to fund: high performing high school and college programs (student needs, resources, facilities), increase pay for high performing teachers (good teachers should make as much as upper executives in corporate America), invention/R&D/investment in local growing/sourcing/job creation/renewable/energy savings/energy creation and recycling.
2. Influence policy changes to reward USA based makers, manufacturers, R&D, small businesses, USA based entrepreneurs, renewable USA based energy creation, recycling, conservation of natural resources, environment protection/restoration. Reward any person or company that invests in USA jobs and USA intellectual wealth creation.
3. Stop all foreign aid programs. Use all that money for: investment in USA sspublic [sic] infrastructure, mass transit and telecom/utilities smart-grid technologies, water and energy conservation/renewability.
4. Stop policies and reverse laws giving corporations the same rights as citizens.
5. Annual vote by US citizens on local, state and federal budgets. Give citizens a vote/say in what their money is spent on.
6. Institute policies that change public education requirements so that U.S. civics, social studies and world government are taught in every grade from 1st through 12th, and progress in depth of understanding in the same way that writing and math progress in depth and dificulty [sic]. Every student should have the knowledge to hold local and national public office at any age after turning 18 since they can join the armed services at that age.”
And from another member of management, “The best government stimulus plan would be to relieve student loan debt for US citizens. How is it fair that people who have astronomical debt to due charging up credit cards get to file for bankruptcy, but those of us who work 3 jobs (70+ hours a week) not only can't get out of debt, but can not even get a decent healthcare plan!"
Then there are the voices of the employed who are neither management, partners, nor owners. One says simply, “promote goverment [sic] action to more equally distribute wealth.” Another has a bit of criticism regarding coverage on the recession and unemployment: “I don't necessarily want it to define a list of demands or create a specific agenda, but I want it to keep expanding and broadening the political discourse surrounding corporate power in America. But my questions is, why hasn't Archinect been doing this first? Your coverage of the recession has been pretty low profile despite the fact that our industry has been completely decimated. I was laid off when the crisis began and have since found employment in another profession. It strikes me as odd that a media outlet consumed most by younger architects, should keep pounding the same drum during the recession. I understand the need to keep morale up and not to focus attention on on the recession all the time. But of any place to cultivate a critique of this crisis, you think it could have been on Archinect. It only reinforces my notion that architecture (at least a lot of the architecture you celebrate) is usually created by the privileged classes for the privileged classes. It's great that Storefront is getting involved and that we can all leverage the Chantal Mouffe and Elias Canetti that we read in school. But where have you guys been for the past three years?” And then there is the simple observation: “Internships should be illegal.”
The unemployed and underemployed responses begin with one opinion that has reflected the articles written in the “Contours” column itself: “OWS' gripes mirror the problems of the architecture profession. Required, expensive and advanced professional degrees at a minimum...but ZERO promise of an internship let alone a job. Convoluted, elitest entry process. VERY small number of professionals on the 'inside' (aka licensed architects running AIA, NCARB, NAAB, etc) who 'make' the rules (IDP, ARE) but are not technically required to follow those rules...once theyre [sic] IN. Basically, no requirement licensed architects have to take on an intern architect, even though that is essentially the only people we can gain experience from. I may be slightly biased and even misinformed, but I'm not blind. Rant over. Thanks for hearing me out! Design On!” Another unemployed person offers this advice to get involved: “great article...... lets make a call there are so many unemployed architects how to get involved, there are architecture meetings at ows times and dates on the general assembly web site under events. Architects need to galvanize and fight back through our own system, including better education (why are there no business or management classes?), through organizing unions, through becoming developers ( and notsuccumbing to most developers crappy business practices), leading the industry instead of having to be lead by developers and the bottom line.” Another person offers an assessment of the apathy that pervades the architecture profession, “The architectural community often has an uneasy relationship with social justice. We tend to be open to/interested in radical (i.e. fundamental) change but often make our living through a patronage system. As the OWS movement moves into the winter, the architectural community seems uniquely situated to contribute to the conversation about the publicness of public space that the Occupy movement invites.” A third, who self-identifies as conservative in behavior but liberal in beliefs say simply that OWS should focus on “Cultural, political, policy, and statutory change.” One person assessed architects and designers this way: “Architects, landscape architects, urban planners and designers should listen more closely to the public and use the leverage they have to create places for people even when a corporation or government is actually their client. People over profit, people over cars, people over politics!” This person thought that the OWS movements could lead “to stronger communities that come together to talk about important issues affecting them, help neighbors in need, elevate the consciousness of the average citizen surrounding politics, business and personal freedom. Creation of self reliant local living economies. Reclaiming of The Common and redefining the American Dream.”
Interestingly, many readers understand these movements as a domestic event despite the fact of its presence and impact globally. It is important to remember that OWS is a series of global movements, which according to one count encompasses 951 cities in 82 countries. There are chapters in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, London, Peru, Nova Scotia, and Mumbai, just to name a few.
What’s more, while OWS may have begun as a discourse on corporate greed in particular, the movements have transcended that dialogue. They continue to expand and grapple with different voices that change the discourses. Exploitation revolving around racism, sexism, classism, and ageism, are being consistently addressed, along with exploitation of the military who are too often dismissed by many of liberal leanings as the epitome of conservatism, not to mention “proper patriotism.” But they, too, have had their say and are most notably represented activists such as Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabehgi. Even small towns, where people make $36,000 a year, have been the site of protests.
More interesting is that 70% of protesters have jobs. So contemptuous remarks that include “Stop whining” or “Get a job” don’t apply. As a little context, the Republican congressional idea of a job seems to be to work less than half of the year. Indeed, it is convenient to demonize those who do not have a job and to silence their voices because it is too threatening a reminder of what may, after all, be a fate that can befall us all, regardless of the number of degrees or amount of training one possesses. In fact, the silencing of a suffering majority is exactly the kind of issue that OWS movements are trying to address. 25 million people are unemployed or underemployed and it is at these people that condescending characterizations of “whining” or “get a job” are aimed at. Again, a little perspective might be in order: architecture alone has an official unemployment rate of 10.6%.
Others who are clearly frustrated, including both employed and un[der]employed people, offered suggestions such as campaign finance reform to promote transparency amongst politicians who do, after all, make the rules, and suggestions on how to both make and keep the movement viable, cohesive, and visible over the ensuing months, from coalescing its message to turning it into a political party. And lest we forget, many respondents noted that there is too much emphasis on the young unemployed because the discrimination against older, “over”-experienced members of the unemployed is 1) too difficult to document, 2) has an impact that is occluded (families to support, no parents to turn to, greater debt), and 3) are notoriously ignored by the media.
Some final observations. While many had very constructive thoughts, there was also a sense of powerlessness amongst some. But the OWS movements across the world have shown that people are not powerless, that they can do something to shift dominant discourses. If that were not the case, Conservative politicians and pundits would not be arguing so hard against the legitimacy and effectiveness of the OWS movements. Moreover, real things can be done. Donating food, money, and time to organizations that matter to one’s ethics and principles comes to mind. Writing to politicians is another—if this didn’t work, web-based political movements would not be so effective, and they are. If you support the principles of the OWS movements, you can ban Black Friday, which is an exploitation of employees (some have to show up at 10 on Thanksgiving, others at 4 am on Friday) for the profit of the 1%. Finally, the most obvious but sadly neglected activism by many of the under-30 demographic is voting. Think votes don’t count? Then just remember what happened in Florida in 2000.
Sherin Wing, Ph.D., is a social historian who writes on architecture, urbanism, racism, the economy, and epistemology (how we know what we know by researching and examining the agendas inherent in our sources of information) to name a few issues and topics. She is dedicated to exploring issues in ...