It’s been weeks and still people ask, “What do these ‘Occupy’ protesters want, anyway? They’re just angry because they never studied mechanical engineering!” Weeks and still people say, “They must just hate rich people.” Why yes, and thank you for saying so, for I am just old enough to remember the terrifying “eat the rich” riots of the 1980s.
Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi recently put his boots to that meme but even among those sympathetic with the Occupiers, there are still complaints that they’re just aimless hippies lacking any kind of coherent message or plan. Anger at the Wall Streeters is obvious because, as Taibbi explains:
these people created giant masses of these defective loans, pumped the global system full of toxic debt, asked for the biggest government handout in history when it all went wrong, then walked away in the end even richer than before, forcing the rest of us to deal with their messes.
But aren’t the Occupy protesters equally guilty for having no better ideas on how to do just that? Stop with the goddamn drum circles and start with the saving the world, right? Well, no. We must stop thinking of the Occupy protesters as would-be saviours and start seeing them for what they really are: lobbyists.
Bea Vongdouangchanh maintains an annual Top 100 list of lobbyists in Canada (out of more than 5000) for The Hill Times and, according to her definition, lobbyists “possess a superior knowledge of how government runs, are registered with the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner, are influential with the current government or have the ability to manoeuvre their way through the federal bureaucracy in order to move their or their client’s files and/or they have to represent an organization with clout, not only in size, but with public policy issues at the forefront of today’s political climate.”
The Occupiers don’t exactly fit that profile but, as their numbers increase, so too might their clout. Already, they are starting to catch the eyes, ears and tear-gas canisters of the governments that previously ignored them, too intent on the fast-food lobbyists arguing for fewer restrictions on child labour or telecom lobbyists wanting more control over the Internet.
No one’s saying lobbyists are inherently evil (well, maybe this movie is) but they are influential, often well-connected and, when they do violate the standard code of conduct, as this article notes, “Breaches of the code carry no fines or jail terms.” In the US, where banks and business are regulated even less, not only do those who commit errors or outright fraud go unpunished, even Washington Mr. Fix-It Barack Obama hired the very people partly responsible for tanking the economy to fix it. The inmates in charge of the asylum. As with so many things, the satirists at The Onion nailed it years ago:
It’s not a lobbyist’s job to create policy, only to influence lawmakers to do it on their clients’ behalf. And that’s what the Occupy movement is doing, lobbying on behalf of the rest of us. Let the politicians come up with policies and plans to help ordinary people. We are, after all, the ones they said they were listening to when they asked us to elect them.