When I first heard about the protesters on Wall Street a few weeks ago, I didn't have much optimism for their success. Based on the YouTube videos that were circulating, I saw a crowd of mostly twenty-somethings protesting corporate greed with some recording every minor police altercation in an attempt to claim police brutality. I agreed with their general ideas--there are few in this country who aren't angry about corporate greed--but I didn't believe they could accomplish anything (and I didn't see any real police brutality in those early videos, either). I wasn't sure what they were trying to accomplish. I wasn't sure they knew what they were trying to accomplish. My husband believed (and I agreed) that nothing would change because too many people are too comfortable with the status quo. In order for revolution to happen, there needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the change they wish to see. Most 'revolutionaries' today seem to be willing to 'like' a Facebook page dedicated to their cause, and maybe copy and paste a status update that they agree with, and that's it.
But now I'm not so sure. The protests are growing, spreading, and appear to have broken the media blackout. (I regularly read the Wall Street Journal Online, plus use the news and weather app on my phone which draws from a variety of outlets, and I didn't know anything about the protests until another blog I follow posted one of those YouTube videos three or four days after the protests began. Now the WSJ Online is providing regular updates on its homepage.) Additionally, the protesters have begun to focus their message. The First Official Release From Occupy Wall Street articulates some of their specific grievances, and they are working on a List of Demands.
Now they're getting more organized, focused, and specific. Their grievances basically amount to calling out the government for allowing large corporations to dictate US economic policy in such a way that it benefits 1% of the population at the expense of the other 99% (this is my interpretation and summary, not a statement from their document; I encourage you to follow the links above and read their statements for yourself). And it's not just that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; it's that the poor are getting poorer because the rich are usurping power from our supposedly democratic government, drowning out the voices of the majority of the population with the money our elected representatives need for reelection, and changing the rules to benefit themselves while causing harm and injustice to everyone else. I don't necessarily agree with all their grievances, but there is definitely enough common ground there for me to hope for their success.
But what about the concern that too many people are too comfortable with the status quo to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor? I'm beginning to realize that people are more uncomfortable than I'd realized. I knew things were rough; my own family is struggling to make ends meet after a prolonged period of unemployment and underemployment, and I have no idea how we're going to pay down the debt we accumulated during that time. But I hadn't realized just how many people have already lost not only their fortunes, but their hope of ever rebuilding them. Honor isn't what it once was, however there is enough anger against large corporations and the super-wealthy that aiding in the effort to stop filling their coffers with the hard work and sacrifices borne by the rest of us will gain honor, not lose it. And if you've already lost everything and have no hope of ever getting it back under the current system, why not pledge your life to trying to make things better? If the current system doesn't care about your life or well being (and it doesn't), what have you really got to lose?
Americans are sold a bill of goods. We're taught that if you study hard, work hard, maybe even serve your country in the military, you can make something of yourself. You can live the American Dream. Instead we're seeing college graduates who did what they were supposed to do saddled with impossible debt loads and unable to find the jobs that were supposed to be worth that investment. We're seeing people who have worked hard at their jobs all their lives taking pay cut after pay cut, until finally ending up unemployed and unemployable because their entire industry is virtually gone, losing their houses, their health insurance, and, eventually, their health. We're seeing veterans ignored and forgotten once they take off their uniform (and sometimes before they've taken it off). There are a lot of people represented in that 99% who are being screwed over by the 1%. Rather than try to tell you their stories, I'm going to let some of them speak for themselves.
The following is only a small sampling from 'We Are the 99 Percent.' Please go to that website and see why people are protesting on Wall Street (and elsewhere in the US), especially if you tend to believe that things aren't all that bad, and people who are complaining should just suck it up, stop slacking off, and work harder.
* I’d never been unemployed, until the company I worked for tanked a month ago. Up until then, I was living paycheck to paycheck, sharing a small apartment with my elderly, unemployed mother, making just enough to pay rent, grocery bills and medical insurance. Now we have no jobs, no savings, no health care and no furniture in our apartment; we sold almost everything we had to pay for food and rent. We both have extensive medical problems and are wondering how we’re going to pay for the medications we need to keep functioning. I don’t want sympathy, or handouts. I want a job, affordable rent and the restoration of the “American Dream.” I AM THE 99%!!!
* I have a master’s degree from a top university and $75,000 in student loan debt. I have applied to jobs all over the country but I can’t even get an interview. My mom lost her job in 2010 and hasn’t been able to find anything since. I don’t know what we will do when her unemployment runs out. I’ve given up all hope in having a future. I am the 99%!
* I am educated, hard working and responsible. I am employed full time and have been for all of adult life. And yet I struggle each month to pay my bills, to feed my dog, to keep gas in my car. I dream of grad school, of a job in social services or ministry to make this world better than I found it. And yet, I am trapped. I am chained to my mortgage, to my unsellable home, to my mediocre job, to my city. Sometimes I feel a failure to be part of the first generation that will not exceed the accomplishments of the last and yet everyone I know works so hard. Just to get by. Our priorities have gone so astray in this country. We have lost sight of the importance of community and equality. Of justice and forgiveness. Of generosity and faith. Of democracy and hope. We got lazy and distracted and entitled and we didn’t realize that a few people have been making greedy decisions that would and do negatively affect the lives of the many. It’s time to wake up. To pay attention. To stop worshiping the dollar and start worshiping each other again. All of us. Together, being the change. My name is Emily Wheeland and I am one paycheck away from homelessness. I am the 99 percent.
* Single mother. Living with my parents, who own a small business and are barely scraping by themselves. Neither has health insurance or savings. My grandparents have spent their savings on medications. My daughter’s father joined the military to get a degree in a field he doesn’t want to study in, because it offers job security. He is stationed overseas for 2 years and is missing his daughter growing up…she asks for him almost every day, if she will see him soon. She won’t, not because he can’t get leave from work, but because we can’t afford tickets. We stay married for health insurance and assistance with my college. I have $15k in medical debt (collections) and terrible credit. He owns my car and we live off of his child support while I am in school. My parents provide free childcare so I can go to school. EVERYTHING I have—roof over my head, financial aid for my classes, my car and financial security, are all due to someone else’s generosity. I am grateful and scared. When will I be able to support myself so I can feel safe? Will this degree be worth it? I can’t tell my daughter she can be anything she wants to be. I can’t even guarantee she will have clean air to breathe or a school that isn’t underfunded and understaffed. WE ARE THE 99%!!!
* I’m 50 years old. I am one of the lucky ones! I’ve worked since I was 16, I’m a decorated US Military Vet. I’m well educated and work in the IT field and haven’t had a raise in five years. My wife is a school teacher who has lost $5000.00 of her salary due to budget cuts. Wells Fargo started foreclosure proceedings after we missed a payment, they would not talk to us until they successfully foreclosed on our home, then socked us with legal fees and refinanced making us upside down on our mortgage. To make ends meet, I’ve had to take a better paying job out of state, leaving my wife and child (a foster care adoption) in our home we cannot sell and cannot rent. I’ve been tuned down for insurance even though I’m healthy. I’m looking for a 2nd job so I can move off of my friend’s couch because with my wife and my combined salary I can’t afford a cheap efficiency apartment. WE ARE DOING WELL! WE ARE THE 99%
In a land where everyone is equal, the stories of the people above should not be true. But they are. The needs of the 99% are not equal to the wants of the 1%, and rather than majority rule, the 1% is calling the shots. Why does my husband pay more in personal income taxes than the multinational corporation he works for pays in corporate income tax? Why do banks make risky investments and get bailed out with public money when those investments fail, but individuals with pension funds that believed the banks about the safety of those investments have to accept their losses and start over from scratch? Why was the man in line in front of me at the pharmacy last week told that they couldn't fill his valid prescription from his physician because it wasn't on the 'approved' list from his insurance company, and it would take three days for them to get authorization? When he told the pharmacist that he couldn't wait three days for this medication, he was told to call his doctor and see if he could be prescribed something else.
According to the Supreme Court, corporations are 'persons' just like anyone else. All persons are equal, but apparently some persons are more equal than others.