March 27, 2012

#OWS - young, white, well-educated ... latte-sipping?

But, who is this resistance? (UPDATE, Nov. 16: And, what will happen to it now that Zucotti Park has been raided by the NYPD? UPDATE 2, Nov. 16: OWS semi-officially believes in communism.)

The Occupy Wall Street website has breakout information on a web-based poll it commissioned early in October. The fully-crunched numbers/data from the poll are here, in PDF.

Here's a few samplings from the webpage:
64.2% of respondents were younger than 34 years of age.
While the sample is relatively young, one in three respondents is older than 35 and one in five respondents is 45 and older.
7.9% of respondents have a high school degree or less.
92.1% of the sample has some college, a college degree, or a graduate degree.
27.4% have some college (but no degree), 35% have a college degree, 8.2% have some graduate school (but no degree), and close to 21.5% have a graduate school degree. 6.4% in the sample agree somewhat or strongly that they regularly use Facebook and 28.9 percent use Twitter regularly.
And one from the PDF:
Table 6 asks respondents to identify their race and ethnic origin. The data suggest that 81.3% of respondents considered themselves White, 1.3% Black\African American, 3.2% Asian, .4% Native American Indian, 2.9% Mixed, 7.7% Hispanic, and 3.2% considered themselves some other group.
Gee, how did that one not make the website? Probably because that, even more than the fat tail on the education response, would make clear that this isn't the 99 percent. Rather, it's the 2-80 percent, or something like that.

UPDATE, Nov. 26: Other reports confirm that black Americans simply aren't connecting to OWS.
“Occupy Wall Street was started by whites and is about their concern with their plight,” Nathalie Thandiwe, a radio host and producer for WBAI in New York, said in an interview. “Now that capitalism isn’t working for ‘everybody,’ some are protesting.”
This gets back to comments I've made before. Black Americans, by and large, have seen capitalism work less well for them for longer, including being the prime targets of subprime mortgages.
Beyond a lack of leaders to inspire them to join the Occupy fold, blacks are not seeing anything new for themselves in the movement. Why should they ally with whites who are just now experiencing the hardships that blacks have known for generations?
The story also notes that black churches were key to the civil rights movement, but aren't part of any clarion call right now, as far as the lack of leadership. It adds that A-list black civil rights groups are co-opted, if you will, by the amount of money they've received in the recent past from Big Tobacco and other hypercapitalists.

So, young, white grad students and graduate degree holders. How many have MBAs and can't get financial employment because Wall Street screwed up? How many sought MBAs to try to work at Wall Street pre-2008? Ditto on how many have JDs and can't practice corporate finance law?

Oh, and almost 5 percent are, if not 1 percenters, 5 percenters. 5.4 percent make more than $100K a year, and $120K is the cutoff to be in the top 5 percent of U.S. incomes.
The remainder 13% of the sample earn over $75,000 with close to 2% earning over $150,000 per year.
And, what were/are the income levels of their parents?

Or, to put it yet another way. At least some of the more stereotypical members of OWS are Millennial-generation youth who probably had helicopter moms and whose overstimulation in the self-esteem movement says they should be making $100K a year now.

Those issues might be a partial explainer for why OWS doesn't have an "agenda."

(Update, March 27, 2012: New research indicates that at college or early post-college ages, Millennials are indeed much more the "me generation" than Boomers or even Gen-Xers at similar ages. That, in turn, would add fuel to my contention that many an OWSer wouldn't be protesting had he, or perhaps she, gotten that Wall Street job in 2008 for which they got their grad degrees._

A certain percentage of its members, three years ago, might have been trying to get jobs with the very Wall Street firms they now vilify. Or, they may actually have been employed there. So, other than narrow self-interest, and assuming I'm on the right track here as to what grad degrees are held by the top-educated OWSers, what led you all to become protesters? Speaking of that, some people are now questioning whether Occupy students at Harvard, other Ivy League schools and similar elite institutions might not be getting a bit hypocritical, while others wonder the same about the moral integrity of the universities that churn out so many 1 percenters. (Some elite schools are doing a bit to increase class-based, not just race-based, affirmative action, but progress is slow at best.)

Stay tuned. The OWS website is doing a repeat/follow-up. Let's see if, five weeks or so later, polling information changes.  The blog post announcing it is already getting fun comments. Like this: 
Depends on what the results are and the reason for the survey. It may never see the light of day. Besides there are so many trolls on this board, I'd call the results questionable. I told them I don't vote so I am sure they care very little about my answers. 
And this: 
What difference does that make, it's a "click the dot" plurality system, which perpetuates the two-party system. 
And this: 
I started this survey, but it looks to me like a move on/dem thing, so I am not going to finish it. Anyone else feel the same way? 
Beyond that random sampling, other commenters say that a "principal interpreter" means secondary interpreters, etc. Sounds like a certain amount of paranoia floating out there.

And .... the survey's already closed! WTF? And, given the shutdown, when will we learn its results?

Meanwhile, per the New York Review of Books, here's yet more reason to be skeptical, even cynical, about at least a certain swath of the "movement":

Adbusters, in a word, a magazine I found pretentious when I first looked at it 15 years ago. From the story author's "welcome to Adbusters" email:
Thank you for joining our network. You are now part of a 90,000+ strong global network of activists, cultural creative’s [sic] and meme insurgents—a revolutionary force that, with your active involvement, just might reshape how power and meaning flow in the 21st century. Together lets live a little more on the wild side, launch a few telling cultural interventions and pull off some surprising pranks, jams and other essential mental resuscitations.
And, even without receiving such a "welcome" email, the "antic, Dadaist tone" is exactly what I saw 15 years ago, too. So, yes, I'm hard on OWS. To riff on Rahm Emanuel, protest as street art is wasting a good crisis, as are the degree of pampered Millennials who may be in iGeneration mode. Union members who have shown up at Zucotti Park should take over, especially left-liberalish ones like longshoremen. More on that below the fold

So, it's the stereotypical Millennials, plus the Adbusters type decrying capitalism while listening to an iPod and wearing clothes from the Gap, and the Anonymous types out there just for monkey-wrenching, intermixed with people who are real, middle-class people.

The equivalent from 45 years ago? Ralph Nader driving a Caddy to an anti-GM protest after getting turned down for a job as a corporate lawyer.

That said, the poll misses some issues. So what if 70 percent of those who answered this particular question say they are independent, not Democrat or Republican? Many centrists self-identify as independent. The poll tells us nothing about this, and doesn't ask political leanings, like conservative, centrist, liberal, left-liberal, etc. So, the claim that it's post-political is vacuous.

And, the esteemed CUNY prof who crunched the poll actually didn't do that much. On most these questions, he doesn't compare poll respondents to U.S. demographics. (You can thank me for doing that for you, at least in the areas I did.)

If he had done that, he would have us all that they are younger, whiter, much more educated than the general public, as is indeed clear.

The failure of the OWS website to think about polling by degree type, unless it does a follow-up, doesn't help.

That's not to be unsympathetic to unemployed recent students with high debt loads. It is, though, beyond the iGeneration issues, to wonder if fair chunks of OWS were relatively unidealistic three years ago, just how idealistic they are now? Or, if they were possibly that relatively uninformed a few years ago, just how much better-informed they are now. Or, to wonder how much of this they learned from helicopter-mom type parenting, or at least that the protestors got this from the tail end of Gen Xers, such as in expecting media and entertainment to be free.

Related to this, per this great podcast by left-liberal journalist and economist Doug Henwood, OWS has little nuance, little depth of understanding of fiscal realities in a country of 310 million and, yes, has leaders .... specifically, "a small cabal." Henwood has a summary of part of the podcast, in text form, here. (Basically, he says, moving your money to a credit union won't solve much.)

But, a bunch of recent college students banging drums? Annoying, perhaps. But, not dangerous, even if misinformed, right?

As I note in another recent post, how Jeff Jarvis, though banal, is a "danger" precisely because he's banal, in part, similar reasoning applies here. OWS is a possible danger to more realistic reform to the degree it's uninformed or narrow-minded.

I realized what is really at the heart of my issues, and it relates to another recent blog post, about Evgeny Morozov's takedown of Jeff Jarvis, just mentioned above.

To riff on the old saying, in the land of no demands, the person with one demand is king. So, the "no demands" myth panders to the iGeneration.

At the same time, re the other myth, it's interesting that whenever some "splinter" group issues some "demands," the general assembly of a "leaderless" movement says, they don't speak for us. Well, who are "you" to make that claim? So, as far as the stereotypical parts of OWS, we have Jeff Jarvis being mashed up with George Orwell, with a core of Adbusters types angry that Madison Avenue wouldn't hire them for their MFAs and Wall Street outsiders angry that big banks wouldn't hire them for their MBAs. Nice combo, eh?

Not only am I not unsympathetic to non-Communist, reality-based OWS ideas, I'd like for them to succeed. As I told several people during a Facebook conversation thread, that's how OWS's "backers" differ from, say, the 1960s civil rights movement.

What that movement had was A: Plenty of leadership. B. Leadership in the open. C. Leadership willing to take responsibility. None of that, IMO, describes Adbusters or Anonymous, nor will it in weeks and months ahead. If OWS is to wind up accomplishing anything, it will have to move in the direction of A/B/C and without Adbusters/Anonymous leaderless underground "leadership." I truly hope OWS can do that. But ... I won't hold my breath. In part, that's because it is such a youth movement. Even for Obama 08, youth voting rates in the US didn't tick upward all that much. (That's as much a myth as is his "small donors" campaign fundraising in 2008.)

Unless these things change, though, it likely will be RIP for OWS.

Again, I'd love for it to succeed. But, I'm not holding my breath. And, this is why I'm skeptical about my own left-liberal political world, too.

Plus, there's the claim, by one person there responding to me, saying "labels don't matter." Uhh ... then why poll people? Or, more directly, why talk about "99 percent" and "1 percent"? Oops ...


Anonymous said...

If we were to use the same poll in Detroit or Oakland the result would differ and your hypothesis would fall apart. Its been my experience that those who claim to be Independent really are undecided and have no idea what an Independent in the political sense really is. Are these people interested in a third party choice? Maybe, but the question wasn't asked. As to the possiblity of this set of protesters possessing MBA's or MFA's, maybe but Wall Street is not the only place they could be hired if they so desired to work there. In my mind its not logical. The types who desire those jobs would not step foot in Zucotti Park.

Gadfly said...

You may be right. OTOH, they could have other places to protest besides Wall Street, too. And, since the poll WAS taken on Wall Street, I'll stand by my guesses being reasonably valid for Occupy Wall Street, even if not for, say, Occupy Oakland.

Eric Johnson said...

I have to agree with a lot of this--the movement doesn't seem truly indicative of the 99%. I've always (at least since the beginning of the movement) felt that the 99% vs 1% was a catchy but needlessly divisive mindset. I mean that in two ways: One, it assumes that all persons not in the "99" are for this movement, which they most certainly are not. But it also makes the same conclusion that you've made here--people in the 1% are the opposition. Their earnings earmark them as affluent, careless members of the elite, in the eyes of many. However, as we have seen in your numbers, this simply isn't true. It is very possible to be financially successful and still support the (vague) reforms proposed by the Occupy movement. The 5%'ers do lend some legitimacy to the movement, in my mind, as they are among the few who can't merely be labeled as reactionary college graduates, protesting a system merely because they couldn't get into it.
Lastly, my feeling towards much of the criticism leveled against OWS (though to be fair your s is by far the best written and thought out I've read so far) reminds me of my response to climate-change denial: It doesn't really matter. I honestly don't care that much about the demographic of OWS, or about the legitimacy of greenhouse gases. In the case of global warming, I support renewable and alternative energy because of the overall toll on the world, and because of the reality of finite fuel sources--not just because I think the atmosphere can't take much more. Likewise, the OWS movement is protesting loudly about things that I completely agree with--campaign funding reform, reduction of the power of private lobbying and interest groups, serious banking reform--and it's really just icing on the cake if the group pushing for that can truly stay independent from party interest, get over their coffee addictions, etc.
I suppose that missed the point a bit. Your criticism aren't really aimed at all supporters of the OWS, more those who would label the OWS as a pure haven of political representation and power. In some ways, I agree with you. In others, I have to ask--does it even matter?

Gadfly said...

Eric, I can agree in part with the "does it matter" on demographics. I still think it is of some importance if many of the OWS, per my speculation, didn't think the Street was evil until it wouldn't hire them.

At the same time, movements in the past have either gotten involved with the political system and produced change, or else become "Summer of Love" social phenomena only. That's why I riffed on Rahm Emanuel about the possibility of wasting a good crisis.

Chris said...

This is a small part of your post, but I want to pick on it because it really bothers me, and I see it a lot.

Is it really a problem for you if someone's political views change? If these are people who come from a certain background are somehow born into a certain political stance, then should we invalidate their beliefs for changing them? I've never understood this argument.

First off, none of the OWS people are running for the position of an elected official, so being able to trust their consistency isn't an issue.

More importantly, though, I don't understand why we should vilify someone for changing their political views. Because, I mean, god forbid people actually LEARN something, right?

If you're so against people learning, then what is the purpose of you maintaining this blog? Aren't you hoping that someone will read your writing and be convinced?

Moreover, isn't the purpose of education-- isn't the purpose of living-- to develop and grow as a person? Isn't this going to require that our political views change?

I can't help but feel that your insistence on attacking people's authority to speak for the disenfranchised is just another force intended to keep the powerless from speaking.

You can say what you want about the weakness of their political views, but attacking them based off of their background is an ad hominem fallacy whichever way you look at it.

Gadfly said...

Chris: First, it is legitimate to question why people change their political views. Many do it for shamelessly opportunistic reasons, from the one-time Socialist Mussolini to the one-time Rockefeller Republican Newt Gingrich.

Nor is it an ad hominem to point out actual reasons why people may have changed their views. If the change was for selfish reasons, and appears to still have an element of selfishness involved, it's not an ad hominem to point out possible hypocrisy, either. As a person on Google+ notes, blacks have faced these deteriorating conditions for some time. So have many poor whites.

Related to that: Are they actually learning that much? We'll see.

And, I never attacked anybody's authority to speak. I have, consistently, though, questioned the mythmaking that surrounds OWS, and the motives behind two backers of it, Adbusters and Anonymous. And, I've far from alone in pointing out the "character" of both those entities. I"ve been suspicious of Adbusters' "iGeneration" mentality for 15 years, Looong before Occupy Wall Street; even before Glass-Steagall was repealed.

Beyond that, if you really believe I am "another force intended to keep the powerless from speaking," I'm flattered you think I might have that much power. And, seriously, you don't know me. If you read my links, for example, you'll see "Green Party" among them. I'm anything but a "disenfranchiser."

Joshua Plethora said...

I'd be way less annoyed by your post if you didn't have such rampant stereotyping. There's not really been much research into "Helicopter" parenting. So, before you just make blanket assumptions that people have them based on very little information, you should probably wait until the research actually connects that style of parenting with various behaviors.

Gadfly said...

What Joshua calls "rampant stereotyping" others might call "generalizations." And, since I linked to a serious, in-depth article by a Gen-Xer (and noted Gen-Xers as well as older Gen-X helicopter moms might be at fault) there's plenty of people besides me making these observations.

There's also been mainstream stories about recent college graduate Gen-Yers turning down job offers, stories that have included comments from the individuals actually turning down jobs.

Yes, these things are generalizations, and even generalizations don't totally "fit" a situation. But, the average intelligent person can distinguish between the reasonable fit of a generalization and what somebody might call "rampant stereotyping."

Joshua Plethora said...

You're right. There are lots of other people making those kinds of statements. It's just that none of those people have much of a body of scientific research to support what they're saying.