What I Found At Occupy Wall Street

I went down to the Zuccoti Park on Sunday to see the protests first hand. I wanted to understand whether this movement had the chance to become more than a movement, but a platform which might produce some type of real leadership. I also wanted to understand what the demographic makeup of the crowd was, in terms of age, socio economic status, and dogmatic view. Here is simply what I saw and heard.

The park itself is full with tarps, people are literally occupying it. It’s filled with smelly, disgusting, bums, there is really no other way to say it, the people who are actually living there are not educated super liberal slacker kids, they are hobos, real hobos. A bunch of them were holding signs asking for money to get home to wherever they were from.

But the encampment has a whole other side inside the park, the organization. They are extremely well organized, with a technology tent, medical tent, arts and crafts area (signage), supply station, and a stage. The people running these are not the smelly bums, definitely not.

Around the center of the park is where the real action is taking place. I saw people out there protesting for every single thing you could possibly imagine, from anti fracking to free Tibet, literally everything. There were definitely a good handful of people screaming about Wall Street, but by in large there was no focus to the signs or the chanting.

What’s really taking place down there is a carnival, a platform for anyone who feels like they don’t have a voice to speak up, in what they believe is the heart of the injustice. I asked a bunch of the more, shall we say cleanly people around the outside of the park why they were protesting. I had several good conversations with reasonable people, who were mostly there because they felt it was their duty to speak up for their issue. They weren’t there for a revolution, they were just there to vent. They were there because they know the system is broken and believe that simply speaking up and being there could, in some way, possibly, help transform the system.

I asked a few specific questions of one individual around subsidized housing. He was very nice about trying to avoid giving me a straight answer. He definitely wasn’t a dogmatic super liberal, he was more just someone who felt bad for certain injustices or inequalities.

And while there were definitely a good share of crazies down there spouting┬áridiculous crap, it seemed like most people were just there to simply be there. And I think that’s what the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about, just getting up off your ass to voice whatever concern you’ve got, using the power of large numbers to get the attention of those with the power to make change.

I don’t support many of the far left views of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, just as I don’t support many of the views of the Tea Party. I don’t support economic equality, socialism, hell I don’t even support the right to government guaranteed retirement, higher education, unlimited unemployment benefits, or many of the other things that the crowd as a whole believes we should just be given. But I do support equality of opportunity, access to healthcare, access to an amazing primary education, a complete leveling of the financial system by forcing all banks to go back to being private partnerships, campaign finance reform to take every last cent out of politics, a change in the two party system of government, bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, cutting waste in government, and a focus on investing in infrastructure for our future.

And as I talked to some of the people, and agreed with certain aspects of why they were there, they asked me why I wasn’t down there protesting with them. I thought about it for a few minutes, shrugged and said, I’m just not the type of person who believes I can make a difference by handing over my voice to the larger crowd, to this group of ideas that people will try and peg me with for being part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not a righteous person, I’ve done good deeds in my life but I’m not out there fighting tooth and nail for any amazing cause. Maybe it’s just not me, or maybe I feel that I can evoke change in a different way.

I started my company, Estimize, with the goal of building a big business, that’s the truth. I felt there was a market opportunity there which I could execute on with a good team. But I also started Estimize because I believe in social finance, not just as the evolution of the system, but as a force, possibly for good. Social finance breaks down barriers in information between those who have it and those who don’t, it opens people up to each other.

But there’s something bigger going on, and another reason why I believe Estimize will be an important platform for change. Each piece of the social finance community we build eats away a little more at the banks. Each piece of efficiency of information breaks down walls that they put up to take profit from the system. If we can build a community of amazing independent and buy side analysts at Estimize willing to share their data and insights around that data, the faster the research departments of the banks are going to crumble. They are already on their way, but the sooner we can kick them over the edge, the better. The research desks of these banks are their market departments. If you weren’t aware, research is a loss leader. When these terrible sell side research desks finally die, there will be no more┬áridiculous buy, sell, hold calls gamed by Goldman’s own traders.

As I said, we’re not building Estimize to kill the banks, but in some way I hope that if we grow this community big enough, it may help in their destruction, which is a positive thing for us all. I’m not down at Zucotti Park because I feel like my efforts are better placed here, my voice and reach is bigger building something than trying to scream and yell.

I sympathize with the people down there, I do. Technology, globalization, and a broken political system are leading to a very┬ádisastrous outcome for many individuals, and it will only get worse. The price of labor is only going to shrink until ever inch of this earth has been connected by globalization. Technology is going to make most of us useless. And our politicians refuse to invest intelligently in our future so that we can at least compete with countries like China, India, and Brazil who aren’t saddled with legacy infrastructure as we are.

No one has the answers to many of these questions, and even if they do, we don’t have a strong enough leader to put in place the solutions. So as misguided as their demands and dogma may be, I understand why they are mad, and they have every right to be. I think they need to kick all of the bums out of that park, but I salute the others for simply being there to raise their voices. Who knows what could happen.

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