Things are heating up in the Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, Atlanta, etc. movement. Not since the appearance of the CSI television franchise has America seen such rapid spread of a cultural phenomenon. Activists are camping and marching everywhere. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office announced that those Americans in the top 1% of income have seen their incomes grow by an average of 275 percent.
Perhaps a visual image might help to understand this statistic. If we picture these richest Americans in their underwear, what we would see are people who are grossly, horribly obese. They are eating all the food in the refrigerator and grabbing all the household money to eat at sumptuous restaurants. They are stopping at one fast food restaurant after another and ordering the most fattening choices and invading big box stores to stock up on huge containers of snacks.
While the vast majority of American struggle to make ends meet—by which I mean keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, clothes on their backs, and if they are wildly successful, see a doctor and dentist now and then—never mind anything so extravagant as help their kids advance their lives by going to a good school or (gasp!) go on vacation—the rich are trying to figure out where to invest all that money.
Currently the Occupy Movement is not a fully coherent, which is no surprise. Americans are, for the most part, hard working, mind-your-own-business sorts, and it’s clear that the people marching and camping include, along with activists, many who normally wouldn’t be out demonstrating—the middle class (a somewhat meaningless term, given the Congressional Budget Office’s report), old and young, employed and unemployed, representing a variety of views.
People are angry that their representatives in the federal government appear to be bought and sold by lobbyists and big campaign contributors, a trend that has grown virtually unchecked for decades. People are angry that government is increasingly dysfunctional. People are angry at the lavish paychecks of executives of incompetently-managed banks and investment firms. Our nation’s infrastructure is deteriorating, our public schools are closing, and our colleges are being priced out of the reach of the so-called middle class.
Meanwhile, there are many eloquent people advocating for the wealthy, arguing that “we shouldn’t take away the incentive of the rich to create more wealth.” They say the Occupy Movement is misguided, since we need gifted innovators to build new companies, creating more wealth and jobs.
Few would argue with the need for innovation and the freedom to pursue opportunity, but this perspective ignores (or reveals an ignorance of) what life is like for most Americans. This is a capitalist world, and there is no serious sign that our most capitalist of nations is moving one inch toward any other economic system, in spite of the paranoid ranting of a few that our president is a socialist. But our government, the very wealthy, and the apologists for great power and wealth have consistently favored the rights of capital over all other human rights.
The Occupy Movement may be unfocused and vague in its demands. This is no surprise for a largely spontaneous uprising. But those with great economic and political power would be unwise to simply wait for winter and fatigue to wear the movement out. They might get their wish, but the underlying injustices that prompted the Occupy Movement will still be there, and the anger and frustration will not go away until these are addressed in substantial, systemic ways. Better to harness this energy now and march together toward justice.
This crisis has led me to make a momentous decision. As one of the nation’s thought leaders* and the future mayor of the United States’ loopiest city, I promise to get up from behind my desk, march out of San Francisco City Hall, and head straight to the dentist to get my teeth fixed on the great dental plan afforded me as a public servant. After that I thought I’d go see an opera and see if I can’t get to know the rich patrons on a first-name basis and maybe get invited to some lavish parties in Pacific Heights. From that vantage I promise I will look into changing the system. I will work from within, but when I am handed a glass of chardonnay, I promise I will be raising a toast to you, the People. Because I am with you in spirit.
*i.e., I think I’m a leader.