As I read about the Occupy Wall Street movement gaining strength in New York and spreading to cities across the country, including Tucson, my reaction is: What took so long?
The richest Americans are growing richer by the day. Banks aren’t making loans. Corporations are sitting on their growing profits instead of creating jobs. Meanwhile, people who have worked hard all their lives are spending months and years looking for nonexistent jobs.
Young adults are worried, rightly, that they’ll never reach the level of economic security their parents enjoy – or, I should say, their parents enjoyed – until the economy tanked in late 2008. The American Dream seems to be disappearing before our eyes.
Given our desperate economic circumstances, doing nothing is not an option. Yet “nothing” is exactly what Congress is doing. Republicans have decided it’s fine to dash people’s economic hopes and dreams on the rocks of congressional inaction if it increases the chances of knocking out Obama in 2012, so they have adopted a Just Say No policy to anything the Democrats suggest.
The Democrats look listless and confused, unable to put up enough of a fight to pass much needed legislation or effectively make their argument to the American people (though lately, a bit of fight seems to be returning to Obama and the rest of his party).
Something has to wake up the country. And that’s just what Occupy Wall Street is doing. True, the protesters don’t have a clear set of solutions. If you asked them how to get us out of this economic mess, you’d get a dozen different answers. But they agree, something is very wrong with this country’s economy, and something must be done to fix it.
Conservatives want to portray this as an anti-American, anti-capitalist movement. They couldn’t be more wrong. The Occupy Wall Street movement is all about reenergizing the American Dream, where people who are willing to work hard have the opportunity to prosper – to reach, at the very least, a reasonable level of economic security for themselves and their families.
For too many people, the Dream has moved ever farther out of reach as the country’s wealth and power has concentrated in the hands of the very rich.
The problems the Occupy Wall Street movement is responding to have been building since the 1970s. Over the past 40 years, our productivity has increased by 50 percent, but very little of that has found its way into the salaries of the vast majority of workers.
Instead, it has been pocketed by the top few percent, creating an über-rich class the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age more than a century ago. In the 1970s, the top 1 percent earned 16 times more than the median worker. Today, they earn 70 times more. That puts our income disparity at Third World levels.
During one protest, the marchers chanted, “Wall Street greed has got to go!” They could as easily have shouted, “We want our economy back.” The “Wall Street” they’re confronting, epitomized by hedge funds and banks, drove our economy off a cliff, then it was saved, bailed out, by taxpayers.
Yet it fights against necessary regulation to keep its recklessness in check so the same thing doesn’t happen again. The captains of industry and investment grow ever wealthier, yet they scream at the thought their taxes, the lowest in decades, will be raised to help fix our country’s infrastructure, keep basic services intact and shrink our government debt.
The youth who spearheaded the Occupy Wall Street protests have been joined by unions, by teachers, by the ranks of the employed as well as the unemployed desperately looking for work.
This movement has touched a nerve with the mainstream. We understand we have lost something. The greed of the rich has taken away this country’s ability to fulfill its promise as the Land of Opportunity. For America to be America, that has got to change.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.