Friday, October 07, 2011

Occupy Wall Street is about Inequality - Duh!

I have been waiting simply to hear a news organization, any news organization, to report on the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Seattle, Occupy Portland and all the other protests happing around this country. Finally, going into week three of the protests, major news organizations are taking notice and reporting on the activity. Part of that reason may be the fact that local news organizations are arresting protesters for breaking the law. Whether it is because protestors are sleeping in tents, or marching without a permit, or stoping traffic and hindering the normal flow of business, arrests are being made for bureaucratic red tape and this, apparently, is news worthy.

What is not news worthy, it seems, is an in-depth look into the whys, the motivation for the movement. Indeed, in the last 24 hours on NPR, Fox news, CNN, and even Huffington Post, I have hear the following: "we are not sure of their message but" ..... Seriously, people, you don't get the message?

Seeing how many within the traditional media are having a problem articulating the message of Occupy Wall Street, outside of stories about the problems of using tents to sleep in in downtown Seattle(1) where it is raining, I thought I might be able to help.

First, let us look at the recurring 99% message that many of the protestors are displaying on picket signs, and I have displayed on my house windows. This number can be understood in two lights: 1) in relation to the 99ers, and 2) the growing income gap between the "haves" and "have nots."


I should start with a definition of this idea:
99ers is a colloquial term for unemployed people in the United States, mostly citizens, who have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, including all unemployment extensions. As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in February 2009, many unemployed people can receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits, hence the name '99ers.' An estimated 7 million people are affected.
The 99ers are a growing number of disenfranchised citizens in the US and beyond who, because of the recession, ageism, shrinking job market, loss of full-time work and so on, find themselves still without work and now, without means to live (hence tent cities). These disenfranchised members of our society are often called lazy, moochers, unresponsible and uneducated. I have heard this line of unsupported rhetoric over and over again and it is NOT true. Many of the 99ers want to work and many are educated.  Many are over the age of 50 and find a market that is uninterested in experienced workers. A market that boldly promotes how the unemployed may not apply. Many are also underemployed, and find that the part-time work available will not, and can not sustain a simple life. Underemployment is as dangerous to society as unemployment - maybe more so as it offers an illusion of an income without any sustainability. The 99ers are often hard-working, deeply caring, educated (either by life or institutions), and they have been left behind. This group of people are growing everyday, right along with the income gap in this country.


If you wish to consider the "%" aspect of the protest signage found in this movement, take a moment and read the article "It's Inequality Stupid" in The Mother Jones, and you will have the answer to your question regarding 99%, 99ers, and the Occupy Wall Street protest.  The problem is simple, each year the income gap between the rich and poor grows, and each year more middle class citizens slip into the poor category. Add to that a growing number of Americans who heard the call, went back to school to get "retrained" and then graduated to find, wait for it, still no jobs ... but now they are saddled with thousands of dollars of educational debt - and you have a problem Washington.

So the message is clear really: We live in a culture that has worked to disenfranchise the average citizen from political participation (you gotta be rich to run of office now, on time for voting, with the perfect form of identification and so on and so forth), from a strong working economy, from jobs, and from the so-called American Dream. The idea of public goods are wrongly associated with evil as well as communism and so are destroyed.  This is why average folks, now marching and sleeping in tent cities for protest or livelihood reasons, are protesting and you (meaning many in the mass media) don't understand why? Can't get the message? Really?

Why wall street and why corporations?

Earlier this week I was listening to NPR on my drive to work (an adjunct teaching job with no security, benefits, and that offers little hope of any in the future), and I heard an interview with Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute talk about the myths regarding job creation (listen to the NPR story here), stating that it is not the responsibility of business to provide jobs for American workers. It is their responsibility, Frezza expressed, to make money, to make products, to do business. I got angry but I know he is right when we examine the paradigm our economic philosophy has pushed since our founding. If we look at how we have promoted business in America, we have promoted business as profit making institutions. In the US we love profit and if you are a business, in a capitalist or free-market economic system, that is indeed the point: to make profit. But I think the protesters are asking now: is this enough? What about the public good? Should our culture really just be about making money and making as much money as we possibly can, without really caring to give back to the society that made this happen? Unlike the tycoon Ford, although a screwed up and scary man on most accounts, businesses no longer care if you or I can afford their products. It does not matter anymore because we are not the ones making the products. Rather, the drum-beat is now: make it cheap and make in on the backs of workers in countries where you can pay pennies on the dollar for compensation. Abuse the workers there as you abuse the consumers here. I do not have to care about the American worker - my products are made in China or the Philippines or India.

This is also linked to the death and the continued assault on the dwindling worker unions that are left, on workers rights, on retirement potential, on health care and benefits - all these central things have gone away to make room for a few people in our society to get richer. This is why people are occupying the "wall" streets of America.

As Mother Jones said it, so it is. The message of the Occupy Wall Street protests throughout our nation is simple really:

It's Inequality Stupid, and it is time to Rebuild the Dream.

(1) Seattle has a problem with "tent cities" because as a city, we like to pretend there is not nearly a big of a homelessness problem here as there is. If we can hide the tents, then it does not exit - besides, we don't wish to harm tourism!


  1. Rebecca,

    Sticky subject you have chosen to write about.
    I am with you on Rebuliding our Dream...



  2. Thanks Jessica. a bit over a year ago, I lived with several folks who lost everything, moved into RVs and worked at campsites to survive. The problem is that this problem is grown terribly. It worries me.

    I appreciate you stopping by. Rebecca

  3. Thanks Rebecca, This was informative and interesting. The Big M just got back from NYC and mentioned that he was down at the protest area. It does seem to me that the message about this isn't getting out like it should. Definitely keeping an eye on it though.


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