The advent of the Internet has helped define the Millennial generation. The most tech-savvy generation to date has already made a splash in history: we have mastered all things electronic, founded successful Internet start-ups, and are the face of social media. This generation has learned to value, among other things, innovation, creativity, a free exchange of ideas, and ever-expanding networks. Thus, it is no surprise that Steve Jobs’s recent passing deeply affected them, including those who are part of Occupy Wall Street.
Some have been quick to call this appreciation “hypocrisy.” An iPhone in the hands of an Occupy Wall Street protester, a fancy laptop at the media station, and all things name brand at OWS have been used to characterize the movement as a bunch of hypocritical, spoiled brats, angry about a system they are clearly benefitting from. The clothes they wear, phones they use, and food they eat are all sponsored and brought to them by “the very corporations [they] seek to destroy.”
Such a characterization is problematic. To call iPhone-toting OWS protesters “hypocrites” is to essentialize the entire movement as a wholly anti-capitalist insurrection — an interesting move, seeing as another popular critique is that the group doesn’t have a clue what it wants. And while I do not venture to speak for the Occupy movement, there is a large percentage of it that is not anti-capitalist. They are just as valid a part of the movement as their staunchly anti-systemic, anti-capitalist, and anarchist counterparts. In acknowledging this distinction, one need not place a value judgment on any faction of OWS, but rather recognize another voice of the movement that is significant.
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What does this mean? Occupy Wall Street protesters are still allowed to be consumers. Calling this fact hypocrisy is to confuse a call for fairer commerce with a call for the end of commerce altogether. Does this mean they will readily don Jay-Z’s “Occupy All Streets” tees? Not so fast – OWS is not about to comply with such co-option. But it does mean that protesters can recognize the great worth of some of the most successful corporations of our time while still acknowledging the larger problems of unregulated markets: crony capitalism, large rates of income inequality, and the financial collapse of 2008.
Where does Steve Jobs, as one of the wealthiest individuals of our time, fit into all of this? He remains a deeply appreciated, respected, and beloved innovator to be mourned and remembered. Quickly climbing Forbes’ Richest People in the World list, most Americans believe that Steve Jobs deserved what he earned through talent, hard work, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. This is not to argue that Occupy Wall Street is saying that all of those other rich people “don’t deserve it.” Many in Occupy Wall Street do not have much of a problem with rich people per se but with a system that creates income inequality at levels this country has not seen in a generation; a system where working hard does not always equate with receiving one’s fair share. In other words, they have no problem with Horatio Alger stories; in fact, they want more of them. Does everyone get to be Horatio Alger? Maybe not. But the top 10 percent controlling 70 to 90 percent of the wealth speaks for itself. There’s room for more people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
So don’t pack up the lemonade stands just yet. Some of the kids of Occupy Wall Street just might like capitalism. They simply think this Monopoly game needs some reworking. And take it from the Innovation Generation: they might be able to come up with something game-changing.