R.I.P. Occupy Wall Street – What You Didn’t Learn From The Vietnam War.

Last week my family got a wonderful and unexpected surprise when my sister-in-law and her one-year old son flew in from Houston to see us.  The fact that they were both sitting there in the living room was on some level a miracle, because 37 years ago, when she wasn’t even as old as her son is now, she was almost left for dead and thrown into the Pacific Ocean.

But more on that in a minute.

The recent news that some of the Occupy Wall Street groups may have to declare bankruptcy comes as no surprise to those of us who have been skeptical of their legitimacy from inception.  They have always been a “broken clock” movement, meaning that though their issue may be valid, (if the issue is reforming Wall Street), almost everything else about them is wrong.

The depth of retardation in this movement is illustrated by the fact that in these media driven times, with all the coverage they got, and the international platform they occupied for months on end, their lasting legacy will be that of leftover jars of urine and adding to the red ink of already cash strapped municipalities who have to pay for their damages.

Out here in California, the damage and clean-up costs to the City of Oakland are pegged at $5 million, while Occupy Los Angeles added $2.3 million to a city budget that already has a $70 million deficit.  And after all is said done, what did this merry band of misfits accomplish?

Occupy Los Angeles campsite.  I am sure they will all be back to clean up any minute.

I mean their quixotic quest couldn’t even garner the support of the most liberal of our elected politicians, California’s senior Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein.  She had this to say about Occupy Wall Street;

 “There are all kinds of different agendas going on so it is hard to figure out what people want.” 

“….I  don’t think people, for example, can sleep in a square for weeks on end. You have to have some order to it.”

Really?  You think?

Every week I talk to people of who have great ideas.  Earth shattering ideas.  Innovative and world-changing ideas.  And they think that this is all you need in order to make things happen.

Well to be fair, that’s not all they think they need.  They think that they need to repeat their ideas to everyone they meet ad nauseum.  When nothing happens, they then think they need to yell their ideas, because louder is better.  And when that fails to get them the result they feel they deserve, they then become angry that “people are too stupid” to get their idea.

Oh, these people have ideas for days, but what they don’t have is any plan on how to execute their ideas.  They don’t understand that a good idea with great execution is better than a great idea with no execution.

The other thing that made OWS even more annoying was their oft referenced kinship to the protests of the Vietnam War.  That reference shows that not only did they have no understanding of history, (as the end of the war in Vietnam was incidental to the protests, not because of them), but they learned the wrong things from them.

Simplistic, ineffective, basal things like;

  • Let’s be loud and obnoxious.
  • Let’s take over something like it’s our right.
  • Let’s say inflammatory and hyperbolic statements about America.
  • Let’s burn more bridges than we build.
  • Let’s say that everybody that disagrees with us is racist, prejudiced, stupid, evil, greedy, ignorant, or a tool of Big Business.
  • Let’s look to the government to solve our issues.

No matter how “right” your issue may be, none of this constitutes a plan.

A more nuanced, intelligent, thinking, and productive lesson could have been learned not from the protesters of the Vietnam War, but the survivors of it.

April 30th, 1975, three hours after the city of Saigon fell, my in-laws and their five children boarded an aging freighter, with only what they could carry, and headed out to sea, destination unknown.

Just taking my two kids to Target for an hour drives me crazy, so the idea of taking five children, the oldest of which was six, on a ship with no supplies, little food or water, and jammed with refugees just boggles my mind.

After a few day at sea, the engines failed. With all the food and water gone and the sun beating down on the people crowded on deck, the ship began to aimlessly drift.  Two days later the old and the young began to die. As there was no refrigeration nor space to hold the dead, the bodies had to be thrown over the side in order to avoid decomposition and disease.

In the only time I have ever heard my mother-in-law mention this, she describes looking down at her daughter (my future sister-in-law), wrapped in a tattered blanket, and seeing her “begin to wilt like a flower.”  As horrific as it sounds, she was then faced with the reality that within a short amount of time, her infant child would die in her arms, and she would have to cast her into the sea.

And then a miracle happened….

Their ship was spotted by a cruiser, which gave them food and water, and was able to tow them to a port in Hong Kong.

Many refugees from the Vietnam War had similar experiences, some better, some much worse, but once they reached the shores of the US, the vast majority of them began to execute a plan, of which the following were major components;

1.  Organize for strength – When the first wave of Vietnamese kids hit the public schools, they were looked upon as “different” and “odd.”  That is a bad combination as a kid, and occasionally some bully type would decide he was going to push one of them around.  But as soon as he did, ten of these “refugee kids,” most of whom didn’t even know each other, would swarm the bully and beat him back.

Suffice to say, very quickly everybody learned that you could not bully the new kids.

A bunch of wacky, loud mouthed individuals giving lip service to the same cause may make for good soundbites, as the Occupy Protestors found, but without a unified and organized focus, it doesn’t accomplish much.

2.  Don’t waste your time with anger – But as quickly as they jumped in to each others defense, if that bully provocateur apologized and sincerely extended his hand in friendship, those same “new kids” would gladly and warmly engage with him. Carrying a chip on their shoulder and stoking their own anger was of no use to them.

The overwhelming vibe the Occupy Wall Street protesters gave off was one of “anger and rage.”  Even if their macro anger was valid, the micro expression of it didn’t ring true and served only to alienate the movement from those they needed to convert to the cause in order to be effective.

3.  Don’t depend on the government to help you – Not only were there no Vietnamese American politicians to help new refugees, there wasn’t even a Vietnamese American Congressman until 2009 (and he only lasted three years).  But they didn’t have time to waste trying to get the government to help, and instead they helped themselves.

No banks would lend to them, so they formed their own community banks.  Housing was prohibitively expensive, so they put two or three families in a house until they could afford to get their own places.  If the supermarkets and shops didn’t carry the food and items they wanted, they formed their own businesses and imported them themselves.

They instinctively knew that the government was often corrupt and self-serving and didn’t complain about it, they just worked around it.

4.  Achieve incremental progress towards the larger goal – “What do we want? Change!  When do we want it?  Now!  And if it doesn’t happen right away?  We’ll piss and moan, lose focus, and go back to watching Jersey Shore.”

The Vietnamese refugees got up early every morning, put in 12 hour days, and went home to bed early.  They did this six days a week and slowly but steadily bettered their and their families lives.  In less than one generation, they transformed a sleepy town with orange groves into one of the most dynamic communities in the country.  Even during the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, it was rare to see a “for lease” sign in the Little Saigon section of Southern California.

And that first generation that came from a mostly agrarian society, has put a higher percentage of its children through college than any other ethnic group in America.  The ranks of doctors, lawyers, and engineers are swollen with Vietnamese American who are living a standard of life their parents would never have dreamed of as children.

Unlike the Occupy protesters, they understood that any serious societal change doesn’t happen in between commercials, but over an extended period of time, and that you have to execute consistently over that time in order to reach your goal.

5.  Practice gratitude towards America – If there was ever a group who have the right to be resentful of America and thought it “owed” them something, it was the Vietnamese refugees.  After inserting ourselves into their civil war, and promising to back them, we unceremoniously yanked the rug out from under them, scattering those who could escape across the globe, and dooming those left behind to an even worse fate.

But along with Cuban exiles, there may not be a more patriotic and pro-American group. They don’t call their friends on their smart phones, while wirelessly surfing the web on their Ipads, inside a protected protest area, and then list their grievances with the USA. Instead they are grateful for everything this country has to offer them, and they appreciate it because they understand what it means to live under a truly “evil” rule.

If the Occupy crowd had gone with a “Let’s fix it cause America is great,” opposed to a “Let’s fix it cause America sucks” attitude, they probably would have garnered more support.

Oakland occupiers demonstrating they don’t know what “public perception” means.

The most fascinating thing to me about the post-mortem on the Occupy saga is in contrasting them to their arch rival, the Tea Party.

Whether you believe in the Tea Party or not, (I mostly don’t), I find it laughable how the Occupy side and their supporters ridicule them at every turn.  The last time I looked, the Tea Party has been eating Occupy Wall Street’s lunch.  The have been executing on a plan that involves aspects of organizing, not depending on the government, and practicing gratitude toward America.

They have been putting politicians in office and have had arguably four candidates in the GOP field.  They don’t care if their opponents think their slate is “crazy” or whatever other demeaning term is used.  Instead they will just keep plugging along, executing their plan, until one day their opponents wake up to find their “crazy” candidates are running the country.

Meanwhile out of all those months of protests, the Occupiers could not produce any sort of effective governing body or even a single charismatic and articulate national spokesperson to drive the cause.  Instead they produced a corpse of a movement that died with a smug and pointless grim on it’s face.

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26 Responses

  1. Pingback: I Hate To Say "I Told You So." - bclundbclund

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  3. I see a rather spritely looking Occupy Wall Street. Have you had an eye-test recently ?

    All day. All Week. All the time in the world, until we win.

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  6. Hey Brian, just thought I’d add some of my thoughts.

    As you probably know, I was (am?) a supporter of OWS. I wasn’t supporting per say what they were doing or even some of the stuff they were protesting, But rather what they were trying to do, and that was/is reforming Wall street (originally) and America. They felt they’d “been had”, which was a very legit gripe that was true.
    What do I mean by that? We’ll for one, entities out there (super rich, corporations,etc) were getting an upper hand while the “99%” were getting screwed over. The game was rigged and those who couldn’t partake in the rigging were being left behind.

    That was the main problem, which came from a mixture of the private sector (big business for example) owning the public sector (government). Unfortunately, they let the protests get very specific & disorientated. They were trying to concentrate on too many things instead of executing the main focus of “unrigging” the system (which I talked about in my blog posts):
    http://jerrykhachoyan.com/what-i-want-to-see-from-occupy-wall-street/
    &
    http://thearmotrader.tumblr.com/post/11257379270/why-i-support-occupy-wall-street-thoughts-on-money-in

    Again, fully supported what they were originally doing (but not specifics) but didn’t like how they executed it. And I wish they had just protested the same areas instead of actually “occupying” it. I think that wouldve shown a lot more determination, of having the protesters show up everyday.
    If the movement gets legs again I hope they concentrate on the main issue and try to find reforms around instead of dissecting every little inequality/issue.

    [Fwiw: The movement got very “infested” towards the end, as “other” groups (like anarchists) started joining in. Some of the reports/pictures of “OWS protesters” were actually not OWS at all.]

    • I have to comment – those who claim to be OWS are hardly disenfranchised as a result of big corporations – most of them are homeless, most of them were out to party, smoke dope and party, and hardly a one of them had any clue why they were there, much less were able to express any cogent description of any issue that was ‘claimed’ to be what they were about. They were and are little more than pawns in a game designed to get people like you in their corner and the game is called class warfare. Meanwhile you/they buy fast food, drink sodas, buy smart phones, computers, and all nature of other commodities used daily that come from? MAJOR CORPORATIONS – those people who create jobs. Is there corruption on Wall Street? YOU BET – but the scope of it is rather narrow if considerable and most of the companies who deal in corruption are insiders at the White House as well as major donors. There is an active quid pro quo existing in this government – i.e. “we’ll GIVE you a billion for your company for R&D (or whatever) and in turn you’ll donate $500,000 to my super pac” – otherwise known as cronie capitalism and its never been more refined and prevalent than it is today in this Administration. And news flash: If the government taxed the “rich” of whom you refer 100% of their earnings, their combined wealth turned over to the government, it would keep the government in operation for something like 4 months MAX, not counting debt service. There are some very warped, disjointed and wrong information being perpetrated on the public by the various propaganda machines (media) and it is high time that some of you people actually DO SOME RESEARCH and DIG for truth rather than buying into the drival that is passed off as news and truth.

      • WOAH, you made so many assumptions in that comment.

        1) OWS was never protesting all corporations. And to classify them as that is faulty. They were protesting those who corrupted the system. At least thats what I saw. IF you can prove otherwise, please do so.
        This blog post explains it nicely: http://pragcap.com/whats-missing-from-this-picture

        PS: Im not against corporations. They have their role. Im just against mixing big business with big government.

        2) You say most were homeless/there to party, etc…Where’s your proof. I can make the same claims on the opposite side. Most were middle class hard working Americans, collegiate students, and most knew what they were protesting.
        OF course to make that claim is silly. There’s always a mix and people are going to highlight the side they want.

        3) I agree with you, taxing the rich 100% isnt going to solve anything. I never said to tax anyone. In fact, I am for tax cuts across the board for corporations AND people (especially “the 99%”, but not because I favor taxing the rich more, but because it’ll have more of an effect).

        4) I agree with your complaint on the mixing of politics/business and the crony capitalism it brings It. Shouldnt happen and thats what my posts are based on.

    • Jerry,

      OWS was infested because they were not organized for strength, which proves Brians first point.
      I think the very fatal flaw with OWS was the fact that it was leaderless. No leadership == not organized for strength

  7. Your comments about the OWS was sent to me by a friend, in part because I do a great deal of research and follow closely what is going on in this country, including the OWS movement. I agree with your points about their efforts (or lack thereof) and your comments about Vietnamese refugees is a worthy tribute to them – people who assimilated, worked, created new lives on their own, with gratitude and hard work. Would that we had that sort of immigrant coming here now. But back to your comments on the OWS. You offered a ‘post mortem’ as if this movement was all but dead. I beg to differ with you. In reality the UAW, SEIU and Acorn will be “training” 150-200,000 of these people in various locations around the country in April for a number of days and thereafter they will be instructed to raise hell – intentionally disrupting as many cities as possible. They are receiving financial support from the above, PLUS the Socialist, Communist parties, as well as Soros and others. The form of support includes their food/water and based on a penchant for connecting the dots, my research suggests a more sinister transformation of these people who are essentially pawns and easily discarded (in whatever form). I suggest that they will rise again as the weather improves, renewed and with a new set of skills and purpose and NONE of it bodes well for America in general, nor the cities they will trash. If you recall, Hoffa declared more than a year ago in a speech introducing Obama (and I paraphrase) ” we will be your boots on the ground, your army, and we will take out the son of bitches” – therein rests the crux of what is to come, with the likelihood of other elements too alarming to mention.
    As long as they can serve a purpose (and they do) they will be kept afloat with their basic needs met until their time of use is over – they will then be expendable!

  8. Just tweeted a link to this essay and will be forwarding by email to my wife, 4 kids, and business colleagues. One of the best things I’ve read this year. Kudos! And please keep it coming.

    Joe

  9. I am from a small town in Georgia, and have lived in Saigon for the last 7 years. I have a lot of respect for Vietnamese people. Many of them work 5 days a week plus a half day on Saturday, and study English, or some other useful subject, at night.

  10. What a wonderful article… am fowarding it to my youngest son …who knows i agree with hard work ethic….and two nieces and nefews.who might learnfrom your life expieriences

  11. Brian. I came down to go surfing before work in Huntingon Beach this morning. Right at the entrance to city beach is a group of about 10 occupy orange county “protesters”. I just told them about your blog and said that you wrote some insightful words about their movement. They thanked me and started to look it up. What a great start to the day

  12. Brian,
    This was the best thought out and most eloquently writing I have come across on the OWS, Tea Party and Vietnamese population in the US. I know a Vietnamese couple here in South Louisiana who made a trip similar to that of your in-laws. They lost two of their four children in the exodus. Their lives were similar to the one described by you. Both children are successes in every sense of the word. whenever I find myself whining about something, I often think about what that family went through and how they dealt with adversities in their path….makes me embarassed and I quickly straighten up. I am proud to call them friends. I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Hey, appreciate the kinds words Mike. You are right, I do the same thing when I am feeling sorry for myself. Nothing like a little perspective to kick us in the ass, right :)

      Thanks for reading.

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