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Average Folks Across the Nation Take Notice
What began with a small group of unorganized citizens blossomed on October 1 into a presence of 800 on the Brooklyn Bridge, about half of whom were arrested. Solidarity protests spread to Boston, to Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other places. According to New York City’s Transit Workers Union president John Samuelson on Current Media’s Countdown with Keith Olberman, TWU’s 38,000 members plan to support them.
Many felt the arrests smacked of police entrapment. The protestors originally kept to the pedestrian walkways, but police opened the barriers between the walkways and the roadway, and packed protestors spilled into the roadway, where the arrests took place.
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How Did This Get Started?
The protest was not launched in New York just because it plays home to Wall Street financiers and corporate executives. According to Samuelson, New York State’s legislators not long ago eliminated a tax on millionaires, allowing them to keep an additional $408 per week, on average. TWU workers, themselves members of the shrinking middle class, share the same outrage as other citizens frustrated by this additional tax inequity.
While just a few TWU members joined the Brooklyn Bridge protestors on Saturday, October 1, their level of participation ratchets upward as the protest expands. Celebrities have added their voices, and it's likely that other trade groups, unions and citizen groups will follow suit.
Why has outrage extended beyond New York? Millions of “average citizens” throughout this country watched in horrified amazement and disbelief this summer as politicians wrangled long and hard over whether to raise the debt ceiling. What many of them came to understand was that our politicians were fighting over more than the raising of the debt ceiling, which has been done many times before. The big issue was that the Republican-held Congress was using the occasion as a bully pulpit against tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans. According to Occupy Wall Street.org, if your personal finances require you to pay any taxes at all at year’s end, you’re paying more than huge corporations like General Electric.
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A Brief History: From Chaos to...Chaos
The last time that the nation’s wealthiest citizens locked down so much of our wealth was in 1929—right up until they crashed into the Big Depression. According to Time Magazine’s Why America Must Revive Its Middle Class by Jeffrey D. Sachs, the decades leading up to the depression were molded by right-wing politicians, and it was only the profits of World War II productivity that allowed the nation to pull itself up by its bootstraps. The Democrats’ New Deal served as a sort of new-era covenant—a promise—that the government would never let a depression happen again.
Wealthy Americans are set stubbornly against paying any more taxes, however. The day after the arrests, the head of Black Entertainment Television (BET) told Candy Crowley on CNN that he was one of ten children who grew up in his family, the first to go to college, and he doesn’t think he should have to pay any more taxes than the average guy.
According to Sachs, the economy stumbled with the expansion of globalism in the Seventies, and when Reagan took over in the Eighties, his idea was to slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy rather than seek ways to compete in a global marketplace. While the nation’s most comfortable citizens enjoyed investment growth during those years, they failed to create the new jobs that Reagan had promised his plan would bring. Instead of letting their accrued capital gains trickle down to the common man, crony capitalists just protected one another’s interests and bought bigger yachts.
I worked for an orthopedic surgeon in 1986, and I was there when his wife told him their tax bracket had dropped from 50 percent to 38 percent. “Oh, that’s good,” he said, and the doctor and his wife—plus their kids and parents—took a two-week vacation to Hawaii, a trip they repeated annually during the years I worked for them. We didn’t get raises.
It wasn’t until Bill Clinton took over the White House in the Nineties that tax increases on the wealthy as well as on the middle class brought our national debt under control, and even the people who hated Clinton enjoyed relative prosperity. But with George Bush fils taking over in the new millennium, school was out. The richest once again got the tax breaks they demanded, and entitlement programs were cut so that Bush could fund his war—a revenge for his father—against Iraq.
And how did things go for the common man? Early in the new millennium my husband came to me with the idea of selling our home and buying one that cost about three times as much. “We can’t afford that,” I told him. “The bank says we can,” he insisted—he had already taken steps to be preapproved. Although I refused to sign on the dotted line, many other people lined up for these magnanimous and ultimately toxic loans.
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Not the Same Old Grand Old Party
As the real estate bubble burst, shocking statistics came to light: The two men who ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each earned between $14 and $15 million dollars per year. Why would someone in charge of a government-sponsored enterprise haul in such a huge salary?
But the largesse spread beyond those boundaries. Education and healthcare, both with costs rising out of control, were hit hard. The last president of Youngstown State University—a place where jobs have become scarcer than hen’s teeth—pulled in paychecks, bonuses, and expense reimbursements in a complicated salary package, earning an undeterminable amount with his entertainment account alone at $35,000 per year. Blue Shield’s CEO Bruce Bodaken, according to Duke Helfand in the Los Angeles Times, earned $4.6 million last year. Right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh earns the munificent sum of $50 million per year, and he does nothing but fuel the hatred between the Republicans and the Democrats.
What few people realize is that today’s Republican Party bears very little resemblance to the Republican Party of our grandfathers. The Tea Party legislators have splintered the party, and they’ve taken an unrelenting stance against tax increases. In the meantime, no jobs are being created and monetary instability is fast becoming a global issue.
According to Rana Foroohar in Time’s A New Era of Volatility, countries like China and Brazil are succumbing to the woes incipient in a booming economy: People are becoming more materialistic, and they are demanding higher wages. There is more pressure to operate with environmental care. I used to worry about going to war with China’s vast and well-oiled military machinery, but if the world’s financial woes continue in this same direction, China will have its hands full taking care of itself.
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Useless Fixes for the Incredible Shrinking Middle Class
That’s why people are frustrated. Obamacare won’t reduce healthcare costs. The plan that the Clintons proposed in the Nineties or Hillary Clinton’s proposal during her failed presidential campaign, nothing will reform healthcare if corporate heads of health insurance organizations, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers walk away with such excessive salaries.
According to Time’s How We Spent, a sidebar to Sach’s article, healthcare took 3 percent of our personal household budgets in 1950. Today it takes 16 percent. Amounts of our personal finances available for food and housing have dropped by 15 percent and 7 percent respectively. People are desperate, and legislators don’t get it – having to buy shoes for children, feed kids, or pay tuition or a mortgage is hard these days. The government is out of touch.
There’s more: Another Time sidebar tells us that sales at retailers like Tiffany & Co. or designer stores like Ralph Lauren where the wealthy shop are up 30 and 33 percent respectively. Spending in stores where the middle class shop, such as Target and Kohl’s, are up just 5 and 4 percent. Money that previously went to middle class retailers is going to dollar stores, with increases of 11 to 16 percent over the last year.
In the meantime, the problem is money concentrated in corporate wealth. The corporations outsource work overseas and the wealth earned stays over there. The right-wing media fail to publicize it because they buy into it. In addition, the government’s humane programs have been stripped to feed the huge military machine.
So, perhaps spurred by the rabid interference of maybe altruistic but unfortunately inept Tea Party legislators, we are on the verge of a real tea party, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Boston Harbor in 1773. We bailed the banks out with taxpayer money three years ago, but they aren’t doing anything to help people who need loans or those who are losing their homes. Now people are determined to cut money out of corporate bank accounts and the government’s military machine, decrease political spending, and allocate it toward humane and environmental needs, healthcare, job creation, food and peace initiatives.
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Are You Mad as Hell?
Like the angry news anchor in the 1976 movie Network, people are mad as hell—and what many have suggested is reinstituting the peaceful demonstrations of the Sixties. According to Joe Klein’s Stuck in the Middle, also in Time, it seems like there’s no other way except organized protests to get the attention of the people who are doing the political posturing in Washington. Average guys are ready to quit sitting on the sidelines and make headlines—whatever it takes to make the politicians see how desperate they are.
As the protests spread, the movement is being called Occupy Together. What will happen next? Are there protestors in your region? The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily Bright Hub’s—that’s why they’re printed under my name. So I’m asking you to use the comments section below to get a frank, valid dialog going here. What's going on in your area, and what do you think about it?
- Occupy Together at http://www.occupytogether.org/
- Time Magazine, “What We Spend” issue of October 10, 2011, contributors as noted above.
- YouTube video by Survivalwithbushcraf showing Occupy Wall Street arrest on October 1, 2011
- Morguefile, cohdra, free license
- Wikimedia Commons, steel mill near Pittsburgh, by Alfred Palmer
- sxc.hu, svilen001, royalty free license
- Morguefile, kevinrosseel, free license
- sxc.hu, iamwahid, royalty free license
- Occupy Together map, from the website