Occupy fatigue & the irony of greed

December 5, 2011

I have to admit, I’m glad to see the Occupy Movement falling victim to Occupy fatigue. I’m way down the liberal side of the political continuum. But still, the Occupy movement bothers me.

You might look at me and say, “yeah, right, you don’t know a thing about what people less lucky that you are going through.”

So, yes, I was born privileged.

I am white.

My father was a doctor.

He bought a new car every three years.

We lived in a nice home that my parents had built.

I went to a good college.

I’m married to a lawyer.

We own a nice home.

The recession has impacted us, but hasn’t put our home or a nice lifestyle at risk.

But let me flesh that out a little bit.

My father’s parents came to western New York from Sicily in the early 1900s. They had no education at all. In fact, they were illiterate.

My grandfather had been a brick mason in Sicily. When he tried to work at his trade here, this is what he saw:

No Italians Need Apply.

It wasn’t even subtle.

He was able to eke out a living and support his family. But they were very poor. They ate pasta every single day when my father was growing up because it was cheap. They were lucky to have it.

It was a hard life. But my grandparents knew the value of hard labor and were willing to do it.

My father had three brothers and a sister. The furthest any of them went in school was the eighth grade.

But my father wanted more. He graduated from high school and worked as a laborer on dangerous scaffolds to save for a college education. He worked his way through undergradate school at the University of Illinois that way, scrimping and saving the whole time.

And then, through medical school at the University of Buffalo.

He did not have low-interest student loans. Or any student loans at all. He took a year off from school to work, worked hard every summer, earned and saved the money, lived sparely and worked his way to becoming a pediatrician.

He more than earned his home, his cars and his nice vacations.

Once he was out of medical school, he and his father built a two-story building that housed his office and an apartment for him to live in. When I say he built it, I mean that literally: with his own two hands.

My father was a doctor because he had a strong will to have a better life for himself and the family he would raise. Because he was willing to do whatever it took–hard labor, dangerous labor–to support himself and pay for his education.

I was born privileged, but my father’s DNA runs through me. I couldn’t help but be influenced by what I saw of his life.

After I got married, I funded my own college education. While my father paid for Syracuse University, I finished and went to grad school at Florida State, where I paid cheaper in-state tuition. That’s where my husband went to law school, too. We did it ourselves.

My husband found a job with state government and then, through dint of hard work, worked his way up to a general counsel position and leveraged that into a big law firm where he worked hard and did well.

Did I say that his grandparents were also poor, Sicilian immigrants?

My life hasn’t always been a slam dunk,especially after our divorce. During my periods of unemployment, I did what it took to support myself. I had a Master’s degree, but I worked temp jobs as a secretary to house, feed and clothe myself. I found side jobs when I had to. More than once in my life I’ve worked both a full-time job and a part-time one, as well.

I didn’t buy a new car every three years. In fact, I was born privileged, but I’ve only bought brand new cars twice in my life. And I’ve never had a car loan. I worked and saved money to buy whatever car was within my means at the time. For cash.

If I couldn’t afford a $20,000 car, I didn’t buy one. I was always aware of my monthly income and cautious about straining it.

I didn’t always live in a nice home. I’ve lived in apartments and even rented a room for a while. But when it was within my means, I bought a home and I paid for it myself. Twice.

I am underwater on a condo that I bought because I believed it would increase in value. It’s true that a girlfriend who had successfully flipped houses made a convincing case to me. But I was the one who believed it and bought. I don’t blame her or the bank that made me the questionable loan. I didn’t walk away. I continue to pay my mortgage. The condo continues to be worth half of what I paid for it.

This is why I have such a problem with Occupy.

The New Yorker recently profiled one of the Occupy protesters who lost his job and over time had to sell off his belongings. Here were some of the last things to go: his MacBook Air, his iPad and his iMac.

I live in a financially stable household. But I do not have an iPad. Oh, I’d like one. But I can’t justify it because my three-year-old MacBook Pro is still very serviceable.

Here’s the thing: we’ve raised a generation that feels entitled. Maybe two generations, now. If you’re really poor, do you need a smartphone? an Ipad? Is it smart to buy one if your finances are stretched? Should you go into debt for college? Or should you take a year or two off to help pay for it? Should you attend an affordable school? Or pay top dollar for an expensive private one?

You know the answer to those questions.

This gene

We own a nice home.

The recession has impacted us, but hasn’t put our home or a nice lifestyle at risk.

Here’s what I believe:

Banks are predatory and abusive of customers. No sooner is one avenue of ripping customers off closed to them, then they find another. They can’t charge for the use of debit cards, but now it’s $5 a month to have a checking account if you don’t keep a $5,000 balance.

Really? A $5,000 balance or a hefty fee?

So yeah, I get it.

And the 1% are greedy. I get that, too.

But so are we.

What? Us? Greedy?

Here’s the sad truth: Nobody twisted our arms to get us mortgages we couldn’t afford. Oh, sure, the banks were there approving mortgages that clearly stretched buyers. They were in on the scam. But we made those decisions. No bank held a gun to our head.

How many of us wanted to flip homes and make our own profit? Or upgrade to a bigger, fancier place? Or wanted to buy a house when renting would have been the safer option? No down payment? No problem!

But here’s what I believe: The buck stops with the person who signs the documents. Including me. I have one of those questionable mortgages.

Of course, we couldn’t anticipate that so many of us would lose our jobs. But here’s the thing. Lots of us took on mortgage debt that was beyond our means even in the best of times. Good financial management means that we make decisions that allow us a safety net and many of us failed to do that.

Yes, some people really did fall on hard times they couldn’t prepare for. More than have done so in a long time.

But many people absolutely went into debt beyond their means because, like the 1%, they wanted more, bigger and better.

Student loans

From New Yorker
ver the summer, Kachel went on eBay to sell off his computer equipment, like a drought-stricken farmer eating his seed corn: first his MacBook Air, then his iPad, then his iMac.

Here’s where I come from.

My father’s parents came over from Italy in the early 1900s. They were illiterate. They were poor. They ate pasta every single day. But they knew the valu eof hard work and were willing to do it. My grandfather faced signs that said No Italians wanted. he worked as a brick mason.

Expectation that someone else will do it for you

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