November 2, 2011 by Speakers' Spotlight

Occupied with Excuses!

Guest blog from Alvin Law

I wish I knew when one officially gets old.   I suppose it’s different for each person but for me, I have a disturbing clue.  I think it’s when you find yourself saying, “These kids nowadays!”  The irony is I really like “kids” making part of my living speaking to everyone from kindergarten to post-secondary students around North America since 1988.  The problem I am having has to do with the recent phenomenon of the “occupying movement” that started in Manhattan and is growing to where sites are set on Canadian cities including where I live in Calgary. The principles they are citing are deserving of respect as there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor.  I have always had a big place in my heart for those who struggle with real-life issues surrounding poverty, disability and inequity in a cruel place called humanity.  I also agree that the salaries of some executives seem remarkably high considering they don’t do all the work of a corporation all by themselves. And, I totally agree with one’s right to protest having disagreed with several issues in my lifetime and not always being politically correct about it either. You had to see a “but” coming, right?  Absolutely!

I have read and listened to several interviews with the organizers of these growing events and the first thing that occurred to me was; these are the best spokespeople they could find?  I have always been fascinated by what contributes to one’s credibility having had mine questioned more times than I can count and my comments about these people are not intended to insult them (had that happen to me a few times too) but, really?   I do not have an MBA but I do understand that capitalism tends to focus on making money, not just passing it out to those who whine ‘cause they don’t have any.  I also understand that when a company goes public, they ask people for their money and in return promise to give them back any profits earned by something called a shareholder.  True, some companies are a little too obsessed with “profit” but society is full of entities that are too obsessed to make any common sense.  Since my wife and I own our own business, we can’t brag about creating jobs for anyone but us but where small business is legitimately responsible for creation of many jobs, big corporations create thousands.  It really is about scale.  But here’s where things get a bit sticky. Most of these protesters don’t seem to have a job and as unfortunate as that is, why is it capitalism’s fault?

True, in the last few days, these protests have attracted other disgruntled groups who do have jobs, the largest entity being organized labor. I was raised in a blue-collar home and my father was a heavy-duty machinery mechanic for 57 years, although he was not a fan of unions. The protestors claim the bailout of the banks is why they’re mad.  Didn’t a couple of car companies with unions get bailed out too?  Rather ironic.

What’s even more ironic is if you explore the website for “adbusters”, the Vancouver based group that gave birth to this movement, they remind me of a throwback to the 1960’s and “Hippies”.  They were known for lots of things, weren’t they?  “Make love, not war”, was their calling card and I’m assuming they evoked a similar emotion from old farts who probably reacted with the words, “These kids nowadays”.  Adbusters’ motivation is worthy of respect but when I searched their site, I saw a disconnect. They seem pacifist but condone violence…although not officially.  They invite their followers to “topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”.  So, just out of curiosity, shift to what? They don’t seem to have a strategy, any concrete ideas or an iota of acknowledging that the world, especially the Western world, needs money or capital to exist. Is that unfair?  Patently!  Sort of like being born without arms, huh?

This blog is not about me but I need to make the reference so as you are reading this, you might understand my perspective. I grew up in Saskatchewan (no shots at my football team, okay?), the acknowledged birthplace of Medicare and a socialist hotbed. Born out of the co-operative movement and led by the great Canadian, Tommy Douglas, the shift was significant and for the time, dead on. Not to over-simplify but there is an admirable notion to the idea that a community can work together, pool their resources and share the profits. Nobody is more important than another and those unable to contribute will still share the wealth.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Of course it does. The only real drawback is taking place in real time in the very province I left in 2000.  For the first time in over fifty years, Saskatchewan has shifted from the bottom of Canada’s economic barrel to the cream of the crop.  Why?  Well, I won’t get into politics here but it seems a key to the change was moving from a socialist model to a capitalist one.  Is it perfect?  Of course not but there is one simple truth to be addressed.

I was adopted by foster parents when I was three weeks old and being a ward of the provincial government, I could have “milked” the system and never had to actually “do” anything for my whole life. But my parents would have none of that. They taught me to use my feet for hands, but more important, they constantly preached independence.  My dad used to say, “There ain’t no stretch limo gonna show up to take you to life…you’re going to have to walk every step!”

So for Adbusters and your throng of kool-aid drinkers, please help me understand why all of you are not just a bunch of lazy complainers who would rather make excuses than provide real solutions?  Maybe I am not old after all, I’ve just been around long enough to understand how naïve you really are!