Some Belated Parental Advice to Protesters


Call it an occupational hazard, but I can’t look at the Occupy Wall Street protesters without thinking, “Who parented these people?”

As a culture columnist, I’ve commented on the social and political ramifications of the “movement” – now known as “OWS” – whose fairyland agenda can be summarized by one of their placards: “Everything for everybody.”

Thanks to their pipe-dream platform, it’s clear there are people with serious designs on “transformational” change in America who are using the protesters like bedsprings in a brothel.

Yet it’s not my role as a commentator that prompts my parenting question, but rather the fact that I’m the mother of four teens and young adults. There are some crucial life lessons that the protesters’ moms clearly have not passed along.

Here, then, are five things the OWS protesters’ mothers should have taught their children but obviously didn’t, so I will:

• Life isn’t fair. The concept of justice – that everyone should be treated fairly – is a worthy and worthwhile moral imperative on which our nation was founded. But justice and economic equality are not the same. Or, as Mick Jagger said, “You can’t always get what you want.”

No matter how you try to “level the playing field,” some people have better luck, skills, talents or connections that land them in better places. Some seem to have all the advantages in life but squander them, others play the modest hand they’re dealt and make up the difference in hard work and perseverance, and some find jobs on Wall Street and eventually buy houses in the Hamptons. Is it fair? Stupid question.

• Nothing is “free.” Protesting with signs that seek “free” college degrees and “free” health care make you look like idiots, because colleges and hospitals don’t operate on rainbows and sunshine. There is no magic money machine to tap for your meandering educational careers and “slow paths” to adulthood, and the 53 percent of taxpaying Americans owe you neither a degree nor an annual physical.

While I’m pointing out this obvious fact, here are a few other things that are not free: overtime for police officers and municipal workers, trash hauling, repairs to fixtures and property, condoms, Band-Aids and the food that inexplicably appears on the tables in your makeshift protest kitchens. Real people with real dollars are underwriting your civic temper tantrum.

• Your word is your bond. When you demonstrate to eliminate student loan debt, you are advocating precisely the lack of integrity you decry in others. Loans are made based on solemn promises to repay them. No one forces you to borrow money; you are free to choose educational pursuits that don’t require loans, or to seek technical or vocational training that allows you to support yourself and your ongoing educational goals. Also, for the record, being a college student is not a state of victimization. It’s a privilege that billions of young people around the globe would die for – literally.

• A protest is not a party. On Saturday in New York, while making a mad dash from my cab to the door of my hotel to avoid you, I saw what isn’t evident in the newsreel footage of your demonstrations: Most of you are doing this only for attention and fun. Serious people in a sober pursuit of social and political change don’t dance jigs down Sixth Avenue like attendees of a Renaissance festival. You look foolish, you smell gross, you are clearly high and you don’t seem to realize that all around you are people who deem you irrelevant.

• There are reasons you haven’t found jobs. The truth? Your tattooed necks, gauged ears, facial piercings and dirty dreadlocks are off-putting. Nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity isn’t a virtue. Occupy reality: Only 4 percent of college graduates are out of work. If you are among that 4 percent, find a mirror and face the problem. It’s not them. It’s you.

(© 2011 Marybeth Hicks)


About Author

  • goral

    I love your article, Marybeth. The clarity of your thinking is blinding.
    The only metaphor that can top – “using the protesters like bedsprings in a brothel”, is –
    a mighty fortress is our God.

    They certainly did not have a mom like you. Instead they most likely come from broken homes, homes of coerced overachievement. Homes of liberal parents who taught them entitlements. Homes of well to do parents who gave them too much and certainly homes where the bedsprings got far more use than bibles, poetry and Sunday family dinners.

    In short the metaphor, a mighty fortress is our God was pretty much absent.

  • outlier

    I really like this column but I think we should be careful about blaming the parents. Of course, some child raising styles feed into this, but there are many young adults who stray FAR from their parents’ teaching and their knowledge of the Word. (I know some personally.) As long as we’re laying blame, in addition to personal choice, I’d throw in the public school/university agenda-pushing as well.

  • egrimes

    I am both a young adult and a college student, and while I agree with some of your sentiments I wonder if it was necessary to call out certain people based on their appearance at a rally.

    I am a strong practicing Catholic raised in a family of 12 children, and I am also a proudly tattooed and pierced young woman who hasn’t had trouble finding employment because of it. If you want to blame some unemployed young people for being lazy, fine. Thats most likely true, I know some people in my generation have a laziness problem. But I know of many pierced and tattooed people who hold degrees and good jobs, and don’t appreciate your comments that these externals are “off-putting” and a main reason why some young people may be unemployed.

    Perhaps instead of blindly judging all young adults who don’t fit your exact image of what a “proper” person should look like, you could talk to a few. Its possible to be pierced, visibly tattooed, have a unique sense of style and still find a job.

  • Margo

    Marybeth–WOW is all I can say. Did you ever hit the nail on the head.

    @ egrimes– What is the teaching of the Church on tattoos and body piercing? Please visit Catholics United for the Faith
    to see for yourself. You may be surprised by what you read (such as, “tattoos and acts of body piercing are not intrinsically evil”), but you may also be convicted by many of the points made. I particularly like these two: “Can the expense involved [in getting tattoos and piercings] be justified in light of the needs of my family, the Church, and the poor?” and “Is the implicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor? Does it convey an implicitly unchaste message?”

    And, for the record, Mrs. Hicks is not “judging” you or anyone else. The act of judging is left to GOD alone and that is deciding where a person spends eternity. Nowhere in her article did Mrs. Hicks predict where you or anyone would be heading following your deaths, something I hope and pray is a LONG, LONG time from happening for you. And perhaps, in the meanwhile, you will grow and mature and become far more respectful and far less petulant.

    @outlier–you are correct, of course, that because of free will, many kids choose to ignore all they’ve been taught and modeled by their parents. I occasionally wonder if my now (mostly) compliant and respectful children will someday sadly disappoint me by rejecting all we’ve instilled in them. That is a tragedy when it happens but for those parents coping with it now, I can only hope their straying children will one day return to the truth and beauty they were taught because the seeds were planted and at least took root for a while.

    Additionally, outlier–I wish to respond to your reference to public schooling. You are correct about that, also, but it cannot be ignored that some ostensibly Catholic high schools and colleges have so co-opted the Church’s teaching on social justice, they are also contributing to society’s “entitlement” state of mind. (So-called “Liberation Theology” was born in the Church, after all.)

  • Mary Kochan

    egrimes, I can really relate to your sentiments because 40 years ago I would have said exactly the same thing. In my youth, the marks of “identity” were layers of suede fringe, love beads, long unkempt hair and embroidered bell bottom jeans — the proudly-worn expressions of “individuality” that just about everybody wore. When older members of society demanded that we should dress conservatively and cut our hair to get a job, we complained loudly about being judged by “appearance” even though among oursleves it was by appearance that we knew who was “cool.”

    That fact is that by our appearance we were trying to send an “anti-establishment” message and then we got upset when the establishment took our “anti” seriously when we went asking the establishment for a job.

    Of course, there will be people with piercings and tatooes who do get jobs, but if you don’t think that piercings and tatooes affect job prospects, dear, well, in a few years, you will probably have better insights.

  • mom of six

    You state: “No one forces you to borrow money;” I beg to differ with you. When students are told for four years that they need a college education to do well, how can that not affect their decision? Vocational programs are no longer funded through high schools and are no longer discussed as an option. When you have no information about alternatives, how can you make an informed decision? When students are reassured that financial aid is available, they believe this is doable. So if they are being lied to, which I believe they are, then who is culpable? I also disagree with your figure of only 4% of unemployment for college graduates. If that is true how can 60% of student loans be in default? They are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, and their starting salaries are not commensurate with inflation. Can you not see the frustration?
    Thank you for allowing me a place to voice my opinion.

  • fishman

    “No one forces you to borrow money; ”

    This particular statement seems to reflect a common sentiment , that while partially true is only half true and therefore somewhat dangerous.

    I think in our society people are
    a) expected to barrow money (so strongly as to make it virtually a requirement).
    b) denied things they legitimately need if they don’t.

    I also, think that system and attitude betray a kind of underhanded usury. Usury by definition being the exploration of someones needs to your personal advantage.

    For instance, consider what paths are available to someone to attain ownership of housing in our society without borrowing money?

    Assume a median salary of $45K.
    (Which is pretty hard to get without a degree loans).
    What percentage could you put away a year.
    Even assuming a Herculean 50% leaving you living at less then the poverty level ( for a single person ).
    even assuming a cheap house of $100,000 it would take
    10 years after graduating. All this of coarse is assuming you are not starting a family yet.

    The fact is that without a college degree it is difficult to near impossible to earn sufficient income to provide a normal family of 3 with housing food and medical care. Especially if you would like to me something other then an absentee parent working 60+ hours a week.

    Much of the reason for this is because the society at large has deemed that in order to be ‘good enough’ to be ‘fit’ housing etc must adhear to a multitude of regulations that raise their cost beyond what can be afforded by the ‘average’ person without taking on loans. Then makes the assumption those same persons, in order to meet their legitimate need for housing will in fact take out those loans.

    The easy solution to this problem is to ban credit reporting and make credit illegal for individuals as opposed to businesses. The effects of which would be to drive down prices into a range that most people could afford without loans because those selling could no longer expect those paying to take out loans as a normal way to get their product.

    Still, this would need to be done gradually so as not to just crash the whole system and cause total chaos.

  • Mary Kochan

    I think th article was talking about borrowing for college, which is not necessary. People can and do work their way through college.

    That is not to say that the entire college money system hasn’t become a racket:

  • egrimes

    @ Mary, I totally understand that companies in some areas will most certainly use looks as a large part of their hiring process. I was only concerned that the article seemed to paint youth with too broad a brush.

    I was merely trying to say that using a young persons appearance at a rally as one of the main reasons in your argument as to why they havent found a job is not exactly solid. These people are at a rally, not a job interview. So why the harsh comments about their appearance? The author herself said she was making a “mad dash to avoid” the protesters.. yet she writes that all of these young people are “foolish”, “off-putting”, “gross” and “certainly high”? Where is the respect there?

    Mind you, I think the occupy movement is in many ways rediculous and more about attention than bringing about actual proposals for needed change. But to use gross generalizations based on short glimpses of the protesters and the words on their signs is unfair.

    @ Margo – As for my supposed petulance, it was not intentional. I am sorry if it came off as such. As for your concern about my knowledge of Church teaching on tattoos and piercings, I am well aware of it.

    Yes, the act of judging a persons soul is left to God alone, of course, nowhere did the author condemn me to hell for having a large tattoo. But the overall tone is indeed judgemental towards a group of people because of their appearances at a certain event. That was all I was objecting to. No need to patronize and suggest that I need maturity and respect. I do try my utmost to have both…I only ask for them in return.

  • goral

    Egrimes, if you are a proudly tattooed and pierced young woman then you should expect that some of us are not proudly tattooed and pierced and that we would notice and be put-off by your pride and piercings and tattoos. Did you not get those to get noticed? Do you, in your immaturity, think that all those who notice will absolutely love them?

    As much as you have a right to like it, some of us have more of a right not to like it as we’ve been around the horn and we do know better.
    Bank on it!

  • egrimes

    I’m always amused when I hear that someone believes they have “more of a right” to have an opinion than others. I’m not an immature child, I’m a young woman in my mid-twenties and I’m incredibly suprised at the lack of understanding and non-answers I’m getting here…and I’m really not sure you do know better. I am not saying that I do either. Oh and No, my reason for getting a tattoo was not to get noticed, and no I dont think that everyone will love them…I know some people don’t. It’s most probably my fault for bringing up any shred of the tattoo argument, its an easy one to latch onto.

    Though I must say that its not a wonder that there seems to be such a divide between my generation and others before me, if a simple question about the authors mention of the appearance of some of the protesters and the validity of that argument in the article is met with so many remarks about my age and supposed immaturity.

    In any case, the article has very little if anything to do with me personally. It would be much wiser to stop this thread and talk more about the other much more important issues that were mentioned.

    Thanks for your input, though. It might have been truly informative if it wasn’t so incredibly condescending.

    • @egrimes. I am 58 years old and I respect you the same as I do anyone else. It’s not about age. After all, how old was Jesus when He gave His life for us? How old was Mary when she gave us Jesus? I appreciated all your comments. I did not appreciate the views or the tone of the author of the original article. Just wanted to let you know.

  • goral

    I’m encouraged that you took the time, egrimes to post your comments. I hope you periodically put your thoughts into the discussions. They will always be welcome.
    A young lady in her twenties is not expected to be in agreement with a guy close to retirement.

  • Our parish receptionist has several tattoos and body piercings; I was a little surprised that Father hired her a couple years ago. Father is very conservative but also open-minded and fair; I think that she got hired in spite of her body art, not because of it. In practical terms, permanent body art is something that will only be a potential liability, and not an asset.

    Many years ago, I was tempted to get a small tattoo. I was led to the following passage in Leviticus: “Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:28). Now the law of the Old Testament has been completed by the New Covenant, and many of the old proscriptions no longer hold. However, they still give food for thought.

  • goral

    Are we Protestants, PrairieHawk, that we need to read about tattoos in the New Testament?
    Most of the sins and weaknesses that are mentioned in the Old Testament take on a stricter, broader meaning in the New. Ex.- committing adultery in one’s heart.

    The body doesn’t like to be pricked and cut and pinched and pierced. It’s trauma.
    A five hundred dollar tattoo costs five thousand dollars to remove, that being even more traumatic.

    These exhibits of body art used to be displayed by savages and perhaps drunken sailors. Now our supposedly mature youth is doing it.

    I asked (told) my girls not to pierce their ears until they reach sixteen and that’s how it happened.
    My youngest one rebelled. On her sixteenth birthday I mentioned that she’s free to get the ears pierced.
    Her response: “I’m not playing your silly game, dad, I’ll get them pierced when I want.”
    She got them pierced at eighteen. She’s now in medical school.

    Maybe they enjoyed my wrestling and hugging and biting their ears more than the earrings.
    It’s all in the parent’s love.

    • The O.T. still has the authority of Scripture, it just needs to be interpreted in light of the New Covenant.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with citing the Old Testament.

  • Rambling Follower

    Really, the tone of your piece is so smug. We all fall short of God’s glory every day. And it seems the message of the protesters has resonance with the Holy See.

    Please see past their appearance and their flaws. We have vast economic gaps in our country due to our tax policies.