Are we facing a modern revolution?
Nov. 10, three days before the disbanding of the Occupy Portland encampment, I went downtown with my mom and two sisters to have lunch with my dad. We didn't have school that day. We met up with my dad outside of the PGE building that earlier in the week had been vandalized by a man from the Occupy camp, who lit a Molotov cocktail on the steps between the escalators.
The helicopters were buzzing in the mid-day lunch rush as we walked over to the bento restaurant nearby. On the short walk, I asked my dad, 'Why are all of these helicopters out today?'
He looked towards the Occupy camp just two blocks up the street and muttered, 'There's been a lot of vandalism directed against our building and other places around town the last few days, and they are planning on shutting down the camp.'
I stared at the camp for a moment then redirected myself towards my dad, raising my voice above the helicopters, 'What's the point of the occupy movement anyways?'
My dad didn't immediately answer. I began to think he didn't hear me, but he then said, 'It's hard to tell exactly, although many people have a lot of concerns about corporate greed and how deeply our country is in debt right now.'
As we ate our lunch at a table outside, I reflected on that answer and recalled a recent lesson from my sophomore history class about the origins of the French Revolution.
In the late 18th century, the French were in deep financial debt because they were funding the American Revolution, as well as fighting their own wars with Great Britain. To pay for the costs of these wars, the Third Estate, or 99 percent of the French population, was hit hard by unfair taxation systems that allowed the king, members of the Catholic Church and the nobles, the richest land owners in the country, to pay virtually no taxes at all.
After many years living under this inequitable taxing structure, many citizens got fed up and pushed for change. Protests erupted in cities and towns all across France, criticizing the government, requesting modifications in the tax regime and demanding reductions to the outrageous price of basic food items such as bread. They protested for months, starting out rowdy and getting progressively more violent.
As tensions grew, the king convened the Estates-General, which included the nobles, clergy and 200 of the most prosperous, intelligent members of the Third Estate to represent the common people. They were to propose adjustments to the taxation system in France. After meeting once, they came to the conclusion only the clergy, the nobles and themselves would vote, leaving the king out of the equation. The king felt slighted about being excluded,and was believed to have locked the doors where the Estates-General would meet in the morning.
This outraged the 200, and they decided to meet instead in a nearby tennis court, where later that day they took the 'tennis court oath,' vowing to stand their ground until a new constitution for France was written. The defiance displayed by these individuals sparked a flame in the 99 percent, and the once separate dissenters came together, forming massive violent protests.
Houses and bakeries were robbed. Policemen were killed - their heads carried high on pikes. Finally, citizens took over the Bastille, a large prison and storehouse for gunpowder, killing every guard inside and burning it to the ground.
Events leading up to the French Revolution parallel the social and economic concerns we're facing in our country today. In modern day America, as in historic France, unequal tax systems where the middle class pays more effective taxes than the rich has created a barrier of wealth between the rich and the poor.
In part due to this system, middle-class citizens today feel little hope of reaching the desired upper-income tier, much like the Third Estate felt going into the revolution.
Today, America also finds itself in a deep pit of debt caused in large part by the Iraq and Afghan wars. Even more alarming, the public debt in France in 1791 was $2,028 per person in 2011 dollars, and in America today, it is a whopping $48,000 per person.
Right now, the Occupy movement is growing. People leave their homes every day to participate in protests in cities and towns across America, criticizing a dysfunctional government and corporate greed. How long might it be until the growing mass of protestors become tired of sitting in parks day after day being ignored? Is our generation going to experience a new American revolution? The answer lies just beneath the surface, but only in time will it emerge.
(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers. Grant Robertson is a sophomore at Sunset High School.)