Polimeni: Empty protest

By: Michael Polimeni on November 18, 2011

Walk by any “Occupy …” rally and the messages are as varied as the protesters. One sign was about kicking Israel out of Palestine. Another made reference to the Glass Steagall Act, arcane legislation only the banking lobbyists understand. Then there are the protesters who are nothing more than a free hot lunch and getting to know really well the person in the neighboring sleeping bag.

Sweep aside the individual agendas and what you get is a snapshot of a disillusioned generation that thought the 21st century would somehow be welcoming, benign and profitable. Collectively, we can be angry with those whose greed subverted the national economy. We can point our fingers at Chinese imports and express fear that European debt will cripple capitalism. What we can’t be, however, is cynical of a country that continues to reward hard work with an opportunity to build a better life. Need proof? Look at America’s newest citizens.

One think tank reports that foreign-born individuals are starting their own businesses across America at more than twice the rate of those born here. In New York, some 48 percent of the city’s entrepreneurs are foreign-born. In a country where we are still afraid to peek at the business pages, these immigrant-based business startups represent a core belief in the long- term future of the United States.

Over time, waves of immigrants have arrived on our shores for the purpose of finding financial success in a land that gave nothing away but the freedom to succeed or fail. From trappers to flash drive engineers, America and opportunity have been trusted partners.

Those who embrace their adopted country have a unique reference point. Some have heard the knock on the door by the secret police. Others rejoiced when clean water was finally pumped into their village. And still others have seen religious, racial or political hatred tear their homeland apart. Our new immigrants celebrate an America where you can sit and protest your lack of professional success or you can learn the language, attend night school, work two jobs and celebrate the day you arrived at Kennedy. On your day off you can stroll through a park filled with plaintive signs and marvel at this thing called democracy.

Polimeni is an ABLI executive board member and chief operating officer for Polimeni International in Garden City.