One of the major questions that has floated around the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is the simple "what do they want?" Obviously, we can answer this in abstract terms: economic justice, easing of burdens on the lower and working classes, and (slightly more concretely) accountability for the people who got us into this mess in the first place (namely, Wall Street). But there has been very little in the way of specific policy proposals. Indeed, even the overall ideology is fuzzy -- supporters range from Ron Paulites (they are everywhere, aren't they) to socialists and communists, to mainstream unions, to some Democratic politicians, to relatively apolitical Americans who are simply overcome with frustration. My friend Matt Cole makes a decent defense of this mode of operation -- not making "demands" of the system but rather expressing itself in a more "aesthetic" or expressivist sense.
But Rorty Bomb has done some interesting work parsing the "We are the 99%" tumblr to try and figure out what the movement wants. And the results are sobering. OWS is not about mid-twentieth century liberalism -- increasing unionization leading to the suburban house and the two-car garage. Nor is it about socialist revolution -- smashing the capitalist state and redistributing power and dignity to the workers. What the 99% want, RB argues, is decidedly pre-modern -- bearing most in common with historical peasant revolts. They want to be free from the burden of crushing debt, have access to enough resources so they're not consistently living hand-to-mouth. That's it.
To people who think OWS is the first step to the opening a new horizon, this is profoundly demoralizing. There is nothing bold about these desires. They are ancient and basic; if anything, they are the result of people too downtrodden to dream of anything more.
But at the same time, the very simplicity of what is being asked for here also gives it greater moral punch. Surely, in a country as rich as ours, with the bounty we possess, we can give them this much.