The ‘Occupy’ movement has taken up residence across the road from where I work. A few times a week I walk over the chalked messages – ‘WAKE UP!’

Tarpaulins, chairs, people and their ideas are scattered randomly across the greenery of Treasury Gardens. As I walk past on my way to my comfortable Government job (so I can earn money to support my daughter, husband and various bills) I feel pangs. Pangs of empathy, pangs of inspiration but, sadly, mostly pangs of guilt.

I would like to join them. Twenty years ago I would have. I’d probably be flirting with some poor young bloke in the name of social change. I’d be living on nothing but thin ice and feeling like I was really alive, really part of something. A living part of a burgeoning revolution. But today I’m acutely aware that I’m their target market.

I’m interested in what people think of Occupy Melbourne, so I ask. People respond differently. A few are supportive, most are dismissive, some are downright derisive. Many – mostly comfortable middle classers like myself – find the movement laughable. ‘What’s it about?’ they ask, smirking. This question disappoints me no end.

‘It’s about greed. Corporate greed. And fairness – or lack of it.’ I answer. I know it might be way more complex than that, but those are the chords the Occupy movement strikes in me. ‘They want the world to be better.’ I get blank and dubious stares and I know why.

The people I’m talking to already have the better world. They are not suffering from unfairness or lack or disadvantage. All they have to worry about is when they can afford their next big holiday, or if their phone needs to be upgraded, or if they should buy the new thing in red or blue. They are too busy getting on with their lives to be bothered by silly things like corporate greed and manipulation at everyone’s expense. The principles underpinning the Occupy movement are lost on them, because they don’t see that corporate greed and power has any impact on them.

And herein lies the problem. Complacency and comfort are the arch enemies of the Occupy movement and they are at epidemic levels in middle Australia. These attitudes are the very things Occupy is fighting against, the very things that have allowed corporate greed to become to insidious and pervasive. In a way we are all part of it. In an effort to look after our own, knowing that no one else will, the greed has trickled down to broader society and has created behaviours that are slowly dismantling our decency without us even knowing it.

Everytime we buy something that is overpackaged, or made from unsustainable materials, or has been produced in a sweat shop in China, without at least THINKING about what we are doing, we are propogating greedy behaviour. Why? Because we want what we want and we will have it even at its environmental and social cost. Could we live without it? Yes. Will we choose to go without for the sake of the women and children living in a factory and working 6 days a week on the other side of the world? No.

Greed appears in small ways – the person who pushes in front of you to make sure they get a spot on a crowded train; the car who zips into the park you’ve been waiting to get into; and big ones – the labour politicians who used their elected position for financial advantage; QANTAS CEO awarding himself a 70% payrise the day he locked out his employees. Greed drives our thoughtless, careless, daily consumption of stuff we just don’t need.

The interesting thing is that this decline in values, in decency, has been happening for two decades. Social researchers have identified falling social confidence in political and corporate organisations and predicted that a movement like Occupy was inevitable. But now that it is here middle Australia has met it with bewilderment.

Everyone wants to believe that company’s and governments will do the right thing, in spite of history that demonstrates the contrary. The premise that ‘most businesses operate legally and are run by decent people’
(Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/an-eye-on-the-future-20111120-1np9g.html#ixzz1efTVF3Qw) is somewhat questionable these days, particularly when we have such a loose grip on the definition of a ‘decent person’.

In the film The Corporation, an interview with a Shell boss shows a very decent man, a man concerned for other human beings, who checks his ethics at the door of his office in order to do his job. It’s a common story. Even in my own insignificant worklife I have had to swallow ethical concerns in order to carry out the duty of the government of the day. I have always considered myself a decent person, but am I? If I have knowingly allowed a wrong to occur, a decision to be made that will have a detrimental effect on another human being, can I still consider myself decent?

‘WAKE UP!’ indeed. Occupy might seem like a fringe movement. It has been labelled by people with a voice as ‘fringe’, ‘criminal’, ‘aimless’ and driven by ‘professional activists’. I don’t believe that Occupy should be dismissed so off handedly. It is a sign that our collective conscince is not yet dead. A sign that we may yet be able to reclaim the decency that should be at the core of our democratic society, but has somehow been lost to our aspirations for ‘better quality of life’.

I admire the courage and idealism of people who are part of this movement. I might not agree with everything they say, but I am deeply grateful they are willing to stop and stand up and make their point in the face of constant ridicule. I know they are reaching out to me – to my complacency, my laziness, my entrapment in the endless cycle of obtaining money to live – and I am trying to listen to them, so maybe I can eventually WAKE UP.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dina
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 06:17:00

    Brilliant Kate. ‘Wake Up’ – I like the way you put it and can relate.


  2. Michelle
    Nov 25, 2011 @ 13:09:37

    So true Kate, one of the reasons I left Safeway was because of these reasons, my ethics and beliefs did not align with their cirporate activities. So now I’m working with my girlfriend in her small organic shop and cafe, doing our little bit to save the world and even though it’s minuscule it feels good to be doing something!!! Our vision is big even if we are only tiny right now.


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