Fred Wilson, an active investor in technology companies, is a managing partner at Union Square Ventures in New York City and the author of A VC, where a version of this article first appeared.
I walked from the West Side Highway to Chinatown last weekend in the early afternoon. I passed not one, but two marches uptown to Times Square and walked along with them for a while. New York City is in the throes of the Occupy Wall Street protests. What was most noticeable to me was not the protestors and their signs and chants. It was the amount of police accompanying them. It was a massive show of force. And it was scary to see.
I've been thinking a lot about this movement, what it means, and what it could lead to. I talked about the inevitability of a cultural revolution happening in the U.S. last spring on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. I'm not the least bit surprised that it is happening. But I'm struggling to figure out how I can relate to it.
I spent a good part of an afternoon in Zuccotti Park. I hung out with one of the people who helped build the tech infrastructure for the occupation of the park. I walked around. I listened to the General Assembly. I talked to a few occupants. I want to understand what is on their mind.
I empathize with the basic complaint of the #OWS movement -- that the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poorer. It is impossible not to see that in our country. And yet I am in the 1%. How can I also be part of the 99%?
And I've got issues with some of the subgroups in the #OWS movement. I saw a ton of union placards in the marches uptown and that bothered me. I talked to one person in Zuccotti Park on Thursday. He told me how his paycheck gets cut up. After the taxes and union dues, he's left with very little. And what does he get for those union dues, I asked? Not much.
Our institutions are failing us. The failing institutions are not limited to Wall Street. They are everywhere; our government, our political leadership, our unions, our health care system, our education system. The list goes on and on.
And yet, I'm an optimist. I see a technology revolution in full force bringing much needed change to the world. It's not a coincidence that much of the success of the#OWS movement comes from their nimble use of technology to organize and get their word out.
So much depends on what we get out of this growing desire for change. It's good that people are getting angry. Whether it be the Tea Party on the right or the #OWS on the left, the citizens of the U.S. are clamoring for change.
I'd like to do what I can do to help make sure that change is intelligent, progressive change taking us forward to a new prosperity, not backward into a false hope for a time that has passed and is not coming back. And I'm wondering if the #OWS movement is interested in that conversation.
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