Occupying the American Dream

By Kody Kinsley

The Occupy Cal movement stands in solidarity with a larger movement taking shape across the globe. These gatherings, rooted in public spaces and the public good, have been catalyzed by varying issues. Many people struggle with the ambiguous nature of the movement, the lack of specific issues, and even more so, the lack of specific demands.

But do demands really even matter?  Not really.

Some could simply choose to see this movement as a symptom of larger underlying issues. Just as a screeching squeal when braking signals that something is wrong to the driver, a vast number of people choosing to come together against harsh circumstances, letting their physical presence be a display of their dissatisfaction, should be an indicator to the American Public that something in this country is horribly wrong.

And if you think the movement is going away anytime soon, consider the fact that attempts made by police and local governments to silence it only result in larger encampments, and renewed vigor for the cause.  Cal surely saw that after police brutality and the sophomoric mishandling by the administration resulted in a massive rally on the steps of Sproul Hall. An article in the Atlantic even mentioned that the gathering was the largest ‘general assembly’ thus far in the Occupy movement.

So again, their presence and their persistence serves as a clear indicator of what the greater public probably already knows:  that our country isn’t on the right track. For some it’s the lack of jobs, the rising costs of education, systemic racism and sexism, the need for immigration reform, and for many, it’s the massive income inequality in this nation.

The desire of many, especially progressive liberals, to quickly boil this down to one specific issue short sales the value of the movement. Liberal democrats have long been speaking marginal truths about market failures to middle management bureaucrats, and it’s time to ratchet up the conversation. This movement is collectively not about what’s wrong, but what we want to see in this country.  It, as politics always has been, is about values. And progressives have not been engaging in the conversation.

Aristotle believed that the good life was found in the public forum; that we better ourselves when we share our ideas with one another and collectively determine what we care about. Fellow Americans that belong to small towns, churches, community centers, and now the Occupy Movement would agree. Their coffee shops, congregations, and general assemblies serve as a space for individuals with different ideas and different concerns to debate questions about who we are, what we care about, and what we want to see in our country.

It’s time for progressives to wake up.  To realize that we have to talk about our policy proposals not in a way that classifies them as efficient, equitable, or feasible, but as being aligned with the collective values of this country.  America’s moral fiber is rooted on the idea that if each person can work hard enough, they can succeed: the American Dream. And the defunding of public education, the degradation of public infrastructure, and the destruction of the middle class is turning that Dream into a nightmare.  Our policies must be about “Saving the Dream” for the next generation.

Will saving the dream cost money? Absolutely, just like it cost money when we fought for freedom in WWII, invested in public infrastructure, and dared to make a free and unrivaled public education that put us on the Moon.  Americans have always had a vision for the future and the willingness to invest in what we care about.

Right now, some Americans believe the country is poor and mortgaged to the hilt, and that simply isn’t true. The country isn’t under water; we have less debt per GDP than we did during WWII. The wealthiest 400 people have as much as the bottom half (150 million people) and the GDP is higher than it has ever been. We all have been voting for politicians who promote policies that benefit the wealthy few. It’s time to turn the tables.  Americans care more about preserving opportunity for our children than anything else. Instead of talking about the luxurious dreams lived out by the elite few, lets engage in a debate about what we truly value and Save the American Dream for everyone.


Kody Kinsley is a second year Master of Public Policy student at the Goldman School of Public Policy.