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Occupying post offices clears, and not muddies, the waters

by: Stover E. Harger III SIGN TO SAVE – Craig Frasier, left, greets residents using the Scappoose Post Office on Dec. 19 while the Rural Organizing Project’s Amanda Aguilar Shank, right, collects signatures from locals eager to share their belief that the government should keep rural post offices open.

It was easy to grow uncomfortable with the Occupy movement. But with the discomfort, eventually, came a little more understanding.

Early on, the question so many observers outside of the movement became fixated upon - i.e. what are the movement's goals? - seemed simple to answer.

It was clear the movement sought to draw attention and scrutiny to the very real fact a small number of industrialists and corporate tycoons control a disproportionate amount of our nation's wealth. In fact, the so-called 1 percent elite control in the neighborhood of 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and nearly 25 percent of the nation's income, according to a range of analytical reports available online.

The rallying cry of 'We are the 99 percent!' taps the economic distinction between the classes of haves and have-nots, and attempts to focus the plight of the latter.

It also provided a forum to discuss our compromised federal government and its villainous sycophancy toward special interests. Even now, the wrangling over an extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for those out of work in this tepid economy was trumpeted to include an incentive for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and hence tap Canada's controversial tar sands for oil extraction into Texas. Shenanigans, all of it.

That the Occupy protest took root on Wall Street, in the heart of New York City's financial sector, seemed fitting. It forced those who exist within the higher income brackets - some who are self-made, others who inherited a quality college education and position from their parents' or grandparents' good economic fortune - to consider those who had less economic fortune, for whatever reason. And to be exact on this point, there are many reasons: lesser privilege, hereditary, genetic predisposition and sheer laziness come to mind.

Though there are moving stories about people clawing their way out of the urban ghetto or the wilderness of Appalachia and building a financial empire worthy of Forbes magazine, they are decidedly the exception and not the rule.

The Occupy movement was attention-grabbing and relevant from the perspective it accomplished the goals I perceived it to have. It made us, as a society, reflect on our understanding of the systems - legislative, judicial, social and economic - for income and wealth distribution.

As it unfolded, the movement challenged our constitutional notion of freedom of assembly. Our definition of excess force. It exposed media bias and its bandwagon approach to event coverage. It also provided a domestic example of digitally organized activism courtesy of the Internet, social networking sites and texting, on a level reminiscent of the austerity riots in France or the revolutionary Arab Spring. And all of it well documented on YouTube.

But then, it seemed to have gone sideways.

The notion of occupying ports and post offices, and, in general, the entire solidarity movement with the Wall Street occupation movement, diluted the core message to the extent those who possibly harbored even a tiny spark of interest in the discussion of wealth redistribution and governmental power have had it snuffed out.

In a way, those who most sought to show support and build momentum for the movement are responsible for its fade. And it has faded.

Consider the fringe elements who hurled insults at bank tellers in downtown Portland, about as far from the 1 percent as you could get. Or the focus on taking over park spaces, which is exclusionary to those of the public who want to use the public park for other purposes. The hypocrisy is mind-bending.

The most recent Scappoose-based Rural Organizing Project campaign targeting 23 rural post offices, which occurred on Monday, Dec. 19, is one of the more puzzling efforts to assume the Occupy mantle. It's not that activism protesting the federal government's closure of rural post offices - and Scappoose, where the local event occurred, is not one of those slated for closure - is irrelevant. But why the Occupy slant? There was also a canned food donation effort coinciding with the show of support.

Rural Organizing Project's effort did, however, trigger a review of the current Occupy universe, available on its website at www.occupywallst.org, and hence the understanding.

It's not about wealth distribution, despite its mantra to that effect. It's not about ports, or parks or post offices. It's no longer about wealth redistribution. It's about all of these things and more. It's a leaderless effort with too many goals to mention, and hence to achieve. In its complexity there is no measure of success or failure.

The movement is every possible thing to do with everyone, except for the 1 percent (though, now, there is a group of 1 percenters who support the 99 percenters). In the process, the discourse has become mere white noise that overburdens our societal bandwidth.

Rural Organizing Project was perfectly appropriate to use Occupy to achieve its purposes, as is any other initiative on earth perceived to originate from members of the self-identified 99 percenters.

And that's why the meaning, the message and the movement are all lost.