Is Occupy Wall Street a demonstration, a movement, or a transformative moment? Some believe it’s merely an irritant that will be suppressed in the coming weeks. I think it’s something much more.
Time is short. The challenges are huge. And our elected officials in D.C. have failed us. The 99 percent (as the Occupy Wall Street protesters are calling themselves) has taken to the streets now to demand big changes.
Is this a demonstration, a movement, or a transformative moment? Some believe it’s merely an irritant that will be suppressed in the coming weeks. I think it’s something much more.
When a few people showed up on Sept. 17 in New York City’s Financial District for a sit-in, the mainstream media didn’t take notice. If you weren’t plugged into social media and traveling in those circles, you probably didn’t hear the protesters’ complaints.
When more than 700 people were later arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, and the transit union workers joined them, the media could no longer ignore the story. The OWS protesters have now been camped out in Zuccotti Park nearly a month and their numbers are growing. Religious leaders, major labor unions, students, veterans, the old and young, are all self-identifying with OWS.
More than 100 cities in the United States have joined and there is a growing worldwide OWS movement too. Check out Adelaide, Australia; Cork, Ireland; and Cologne, Germany, among others. Closer to home, OWS supporters can be found in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Taos, and Farmington. The list grows daily.
The connections that have brought our country to its knees
Why this outrage? The “lost decade” of the Bush era saw all of us, except the very wealthy, get poorer and poorer. From 2000 to 2010, the average middle-class American family saw its income drop 7 percent; poor families’ income dropped 12 percent, and Latinos and African-Americans were especially hard hit. Every statistic and indicator points in the wrong direction, whether it’s home foreclosures, unemployment, education and tuition costs, health care… and the list marches on. At the same time, the top 1 percent of earners has reaped 65 percent of all income growth in America during this decade.
This disparity between the haves and have-nots (the rest of the 99 percent of us) is enough to make most people angry. Nobel Laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz notes the top 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. The top 1 percent now take home 24 percent of national income. In 1976, they took just 9 percent. They are taking home more of the nation’s income than any other time since the 1920s.
Is this class warfare? People seem skittish about calling it that, but I believe class warfare is just what the doctor ordered. The corporate elites have bought and paid for our elections. Both political parties must do their bidding if they want to be re-elected. The cards are all stacked in favor of the 1 percent.
The 99 percent are now beginning to see the important connections that have brought our country to its knees. What did Steve Jobs say – that creativity is simply connecting things? We are now witnessing the creative energy of hundreds, thousands, soon-to-be millions of people who have connected the dots and don’t like what they see.
I was attracted to OWS for one simple reason – climate change. There is scientific consensus and international consensus that we ignore at our own peril the growing threat posed by our CO2 emissions. Our government’s failure to meaningfully address climate change is a national embarrassment, and time is running out.
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline planned from Alberta, Canada to the oil refineries on the Gulf coast is President Obama’s opportunity to make good on a campaign promise. “Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil (presidential candidate Obama, Feb. 10, 2007).”
I felt strongly enough about our need to aggressively curtail CO2 emissions that I participated in the Tar Sands civil disobedience action in D.C. in August and was arrested in front of the White House along with more than 1,200 other people. I’ll be returning to the White House on Nov. 6 to join thousands of people urging Obama to deny a permit for this pipeline.
The OWS demands
The OWS demonstration/movement/transformation has been criticized for its lack of leadership, apparent lack of goals, lack of clarity in messaging, even its lack of providing sanitary facilities for the protesters! I see all of these “deficiencies” as its strength, and a signal that the OWS tent is large enough to encompass the entire 99 percent.
During the past week, I’ve watched the OWS folks in Albuquerque and believe that the democratic, consensus-based process is probably as important, if not more so, than the tangible goals that have been expressed in New York and elsewhere. The OWS folks in Albuquerque have been camped out at UNM for nearly two weeks and have ensured that everyone who attends the daily assembly (where decision-making occurs) is heard and all opinions are valued. You can find them on Facebook.
What are their demands?
- A “progressive” tax that doesn’t hurt the poor; close loopholes; reform corporate offshore taxation
- End the Federal Reserve.
- Campaign finance reform
- Overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (corporate personhood, etc.).
- Prosecute corporate fraud (including those who have gotten away with it).
- Abolish the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
- Implement financial speculation fees on large stock trades.
- Regulate/reform conflict of interest between government and business and SEC regulators.
- End all U.S. wars and illegal combat operations.
- Prosecute U.S. war criminals.
- Repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999); re-instate all provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act.
- Financial reform package, including forgiving of student loans, federal oversight/regulation of hedge funds and derivatives, and not allowing mortgages to be deemed commodities
- Social Security will never be privatized or dismantled.
- Companies will not outsource jobs and services that can be performed by Americans if their jobs and services serve American markets.
- Bridge the CEO-employee salary gap by lowering CEO earnings.
- Make it illegal to commodify “life” or any resource necessary for the public good (philosophy of The Commons). Get Monsanto out of our food supply.
- Election reforms to allow third parties better access
- Department of Justice reforms to uphold civil rights in all states
- Further health-care reforms
- Implement green-energy alternatives and hasten the phasing-out of fossil fuels.
A bridge between OWS and the Tea Party?
Interestingly, a self-identified Tea Party member, proudly wearing her Ron Paul Tea Party T-shirt, has participated in the Albuquerque OWS Assembly. She said she wanted to “bring down the Federal Reserve” and agreed with much of what she was hearing from others at the assembly.
Can there be a bridge between the OWS and Tea Party? Perhaps not, because I fear the Tea Party movement has been co-opted by the Koch Brothers. Perhaps unwittingly, many in the Tea Party are now espousing the views and agendas of the 1 percent. I hope the OWS is never co-opted, diluted or manipulated into accepting anything less than a new era in our nation’s democracy.
Lora Lucero is a planner, attorney and long-time Albuquerque activist. She started a community garden (The Plot Thickens) and a book club (The New Economy Book Club). She has three sons and a granddaughter for whom she finds the Occupy Wall Street Movement a very hopeful sign.