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17 October, 2011

Unoccupy Wall Street

My last post expressed some doubt as to the sustainability and soundness of the Occupy protests happening. It is only fair to suggest alternatives, or be branded a do-nothing whiner.

So, let's Unoccupy Wall Street. Denizens of the financial district are not among the readers here, so we can begin by claiming success in terms of the physical place, but you know that's not what I'm getting at. Divest. Don't let your money occupy their vaults.

You live near a credit union that can take care of your banking needs from saving pennies to getting a home mortgage, and they won't Lincoln and Hamilton you to death with fees. You'll be a member, sharing in the profits and governance of a financial entity beholden to a broader ownership and longer time horizon than profit-obsessed big banks. You may also have a local bank that has a stake in a healthy community and treats its customers decently. Either choice beats parking your money in an institution prisoner to quarterly profits, sophisticated (yet still fundamentally stupid) gambles, publicly-funded bail-outs, exalted executives, and just plain greed.

But I don't need to convince you why, just that you should take that step if you already have not, and make your personal finances Unoccupy Wall Street. This November, vote with your finances. While media images of hippies and anarchists doing everything from wearing sinister masks to making love easily lend themselves to dismissal or discrediting of the Occupy movement, it would be hard to misinterpret the image of a run on the banks, a line of people in front of Bank of America waiting to withdraw their funds. If I had the audience to pull it off, I'd call for November to be Vote With Your Money month, a coordinated action. Doing an Unoccupy Wall Street event during the election month (or maybe the cyclical, slower-building version of the plan: Withdrawal Wednesdays), seems like a decent strategy to focus attention and impact on the action.

The financial effect to the big financial players would be negligible to begin with, and the power would be in the perception that we commoners are sick of playing their game. But as was the case with ending South African Apartheid, a few humble divestitures can lead to a few more, and eventually reach a tipping point where continuing business as usual becomes too costly, and real progress happens. You can be the beginning.

Meanwhile, it's a matter of retreating from the various corporate territories you occupy. Get food that was grown closer to you (your own yard would be a good place to start), and processed less; go to restaurants run by local families. Clothe yourself at thrift stores and yard sales, so even if that shirt was made for a famous name brand, they don't get a cent on the transaction. Keep driving the same old car (repaired by your unemployed neighbor or a local shop) or hop on a bike or bus. Disconnect the cable and just use your phone for phone calls instead of incessantly connecting to the corporate web. Make your gifts.

So really, unoccupying Wall Street turns out to be a bunch of small, easy steps. You'll find that you end up saving money. You will be more free of the corporate matrix, and at the same time more connected to your community and interested in its welfare. In the short term, divesting improves your life. If enough people unoccupy Wall Street, then in time our nation's life will take a turn for the better. Try it.

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