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On the merits of voting instead of striking

Dinner discussions, my Facebook newsfeed, the news, and even an e-mail from the Provost to the student body:  it seems that everywhere I turn, I read or hear something about Occupy Oakland. Occupy protests have become a political and cultural phenomenon worldwide, especially within the demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds.

However, despite being liberal, 22 and politically opinionated, I am choosing not to participate in them. Instead, I vote in every election, support the campaign of the congresswoman of my choice for 2012, volunteer with a non-profit and bank with a local credit union. These are my ways of contributing to the reform of social and economic issues in our country.

I do not agree with Occupy Oakland because of its current focus on only trying to create change with large, general protests. Firstly, its overall goals of economic and social justice are too vague and broad. Unlike comparable movements of the 1960s, such as the Civil Rights Movement and Opposition to the U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War, Occupy Oakland has no specific goals. states, “The purpose of our gathering here is to plan actions, to mobilize real resistance, and to defend ourselves from the economic and physical war that is being waged against our communities.”

I, like most other Americans, am upset with the economic deterioration of our country and can see its link to many other social problems we currently need to address. But Occupy Oakland’s declaration of purpose can span from issues as global as ending world hunger to as local as trying to stop teacher lay-offs in the Oakland Unified School District.

While these are all noble causes, no one protest can create awareness of all of the world’s problems in a meaningful way. People not directly involved in the movement are going to get lost if Occupy Oakland’s platform remains undefined and encompasses an unlimited number of issues.

Secondly, it offers no solutions for its grievances. Although I agree with First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly, I don’t see how camping out in front of City Hall or the Port of Oakland is going to reduce unemployment or any of the other issues people are upset about.

The City Council and the Mayor’s Office are not responsible for the global and national recession, and they do not have the power to change federal legislation or banking policies. If people want to direct their protests toward the City Council and the Mayor, then they should stop asking them for things they cannot give them. If people’s goal is to get the federal government to take notice, then it should be made clear that these demonstrations are directed towards Congress. But as it stands, it seems like the grievances are aimed only at the City.

If people want to make real social and economic changes, then I suggest they work with the local government to come up with ideas and policies on the city or county level to help create jobs, lower poverty and improve education. If any actual strides are going to be made, it has to start on a small scale and grow outward, not the other way around.

Finally, the protests are hurting Oakland’s economy instead of helping it. The economic recession was a main catalyst for the Occupy movement. However, in Oakland, these protests are taking over the downtown area and deterring local commerce, shutting down the economic hub that is Oakland’s port, and costing the City money it doesn’t have to manage these protests.

In summary, I wrote this because I see the idea behind Occupy Oakland as having great potential, but I am not really sure what its goals are. If the point is to create awareness, then I think it has already achieved that, but if it is to make tangible, positive changes in our community, it still has a ways to go. My personal view is that the latter could be achieved if Occupy Oakland worked alongside the local government with key goals in mind; if everyone exercised their right to vote, supported and endorsed candidates of their choice prior to the election to make sure they got on the ballot, volunteered in the local community and supported the small businesses and banks that were not responsible for our economic downturn.