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Occupy Wall Street: A Leader-full Movement in a Leaderless Time

The OWS movement is personal democracy in action, where everyone plays a role in shaping the decisions that affect our lives.
 
 
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Photo Credit: David Shankbone

 
 
 
 

 Thirty-one year-old Iraq War veteran Thomas L. Day wrote a powerful oped for the Washington Post Friday, expressing his " final loss of faith" in the wake of the Penn State child molestation scandal. In it, he lambastes his parents generation for what he sees as its many failures of leadership. Right now it's flying around the web, driven by links from the likes of Michael Moore, who  tweeted, "If you read only one thing online this week, please read this." Day writes:

With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, [Jerry] Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way." They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations....

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us -- at the orders of our leader -- to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then- House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.

Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

Day's conclusion: "One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation."

While he may be right about the failures of the current generation in power, he's wrong in calling for "a leader" who will fix things. But it's understandable why he might see the world this way--having grown up in institutions that are all run as hierarchies--the Catholic church, the Army, the Penn State system--why expect anything different?

 
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