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Column: The Occupy protests show an overwhelming sense of entitlement

We do need radical social change – but the Occupy protesters are going about it the wrong way, writes Evert Bopp.

Evert Bopp

EVER SINCE I spoke out against the #Occupy movement a few weeks ago I have been criticised and asked to clarify my position. It would appear that we are now living under a new calendar divided in “pre-Occupy” and “post-Occupy” era. I, as well as many others who do not agree with the #Occupy movement, have been active discussing the ongoing economic and political problems. We have examined the merits of a variety of solutions, campaigned for them and some of us have used the democratic apparatus in attempts to achieve change.

Apparently none of this means anything in the eyes of those involved in the #Occupy protests. Any questioning of their motives or actions is met with a “What have you done?” reply, personal insults and even veiled threats. That would of course be their prerogative if they did not claim to be “all-inclusive”, a “movement of the people” and (the most nauseating of claims) “the 99 per cent”.

So, before I outline my opinion on the current political and economic crisis, let me just summarise my main points of criticism of the #Occupy movement.

Firstly I do not agree with most of their complaints and demands. Across the numerous #Occupy movements there are placards demanding debt forgiveness. There is no such thing. If someone forgives you your debt, someone else will end up paying for it. That’s basic economics. If financial institutions write down debts on their books they will need to compensate for this write-down by increasing charges elsewhere or by raising external cash. The debt doesn’t go away, it is just shifted elsewhere.

‘There is an overwhelming sense of entitlement’

Secondly there is an overwhelming sense of entitlement among the #Occupy people, who expect someone else to take care of all their needs. As one protester told me: “We demand a society that guarantees housing, work, culture, health care, education, political participation and a fulfilled life.”

While these are all laudable goals it is fundamentally wrong to demand them. What you should demand is an opportunity for people to achieve these goals themselves. The same goes for the demand for redistribution of wealth. Wealth shouldn’t be redistributed. What we do need is an equal opportunity to achieve wealth. Another question on that topic is “redistribution by whom?”

There is also a danger in the way these protests pride themselves in being leaderless and “governed by the people”. By doing this they are inviting people and groups with more extreme interests to hijack the protest and use it for their own gains. There is already proof of significant infighting as well as something more surprising: attempts by certain elements to levy tax on donations raised by other groups within the #Occupy movement.

There is also a worrying trend among some of the groups coming out publicly in support of the protests. Within days of each other, both the Communist movement of America and the US Nazi Party issued statements supporting the #Occupy protests. Ask yourself what this mix could result in.

‘Rational debate has been thrown out with the bathwater’

Less than a week ago I tweeted that within the next four weeks I expected someone to smuggle a firearm into one of the protests, and possibly use it to escalate violence. This is apparently already happening at several of the US #Occupy protests; people have been sighted carrying firearms and police raided the #OccupyLSX camp yesterday after reports that someone had smuggled a firearm into the camp.

Aside from a lot of well-intentioned people, many of the Occupy camps seem to be magnets for every nutter and malcontent. Examples of anti-Semitism, calls for secession, rape and violence are numerous – and while these do not represent the essence of the protest they will colour the public opinion.

There is also an alarming trend of labelling anyone who does not agree with the protest “part of the one per cent”. This is as bad as George W Bush’s statement: “If you’re not with us you’re against us.” Rational debate has been thrown out with the bathwater.

So what exactly is my position, and what do I support? I have long espoused the need for an overturning of the current political and economical system. Every pillar of our modern societal structure is crumbling. Religion came first and politics and finance are next. We are in urgent need of a structural change unlike anything we have ever seen before.

However the main questions are how to effect this change, and more importantly, what should the goal of this change be?

I am a strong supporter of the democratic model. The wishes of the people should be respected. And if “the people” agree on anything at all it’s that the current government has failed. Not just the Irish government, but government on a global scale.

So the first step is to stop the faulty political system and to stop it ASAP. The best way to do this is to force an election. By whatever means necessary. Protest, blockades, occupying government buildings, tax strikes, you name it. But aim your protests against the government because that’s where the real fault lies. Big business doesn’t work for the people, government does.

‘We need a complete change of the system’

Then, once you have forced elections, the real cruncher starts. If we truly hope to achieve change then we need a complete change of the current political system with its stagnant political parties and outdated practices, such as the party whip system. Overhaul the electoral system too while you’re at it and introduce a list system.

All those who have protested for ages now against what they see as an unjust society should get up from behind their keyboards and either form a political party, become involved in one, or run as an independent. There is no time for fence-sitters any more. If you truly want change you will have to work for it.

Personally I would like to see a society and political system with a true separation of powers between the judiciary, the executive, the legislature and the economic. Business stays out of government but government should also stay out of business. No interference by one into the affairs of the other.

We need a smaller, fairer and stronger government. Not layers upon layers of legislation but basic and clear laws and regulation that are strongly enforced. People and business should be free to go about their business unless they break the rules. Less interference but also less tolerance. I am for a system that when a business repeatedly breaks certain important laws or regulations they are put out of business. Three strikes and you’re out.

Less interference will also result in more opportunity. Everyone should have the opportunity to better his or her situation. But they need to do so themselves and not depend on government or the private sector to do so.

Let’s create a government which takes care of the basics: healthcare, education, infrastructure and security. Let’s introduce a fairer and more equitable flat tax system. But most of all, let’s learn from the mistakes of our past and not rush in to decisions ruled by our hearts rather than our minds.

Evert Bopp is a self-employed serial entrepreneur, father of five and husband of one who founded the Greenhouse Business Accelerator and Haiti Connect. He tweets at @thenext100k and writes at Blitzkrieg Bopp.

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