What 21st Century Democracy Looks Like

Those who say they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street protestors want fail to understand the nature of this quintessential 21st century movement.  It is true that they have no policy manifesto.  They have not yet released a list of shared demands, although they are working toward doing so.  But when you listen to the participants tell their stories, when you read their signs and hear their songs, their shared desires for our nation clearly emerge.

Their most fervent demand, not surprisingly, is for honest work that pays a decent, living wage, not only for themselves, but for their 14 million fellow unemployed Americans. But taken together, there is much more.

They seek accountability, including fair rules, oversight, and prosecution where appropriate of the corporations and individuals who wrecked our economy—often through fraud—then continued to pay themselves astronomical bonuses, even as they received an expensive rescue from American taxpayers.They demand a fairer tax structure in which the wealthiest companies, millionaires, and billionaires (the 1%) contribute their fair share to the nation that is giving them so much.

They want a political system in which every American’s voice and vote are equal, and in which large sums of money are not allowed to corrupt the democratic process. They reject the Supreme Court-made fiction that a corporation’s money is the same as a citizen’s voice under our First Amendment, and they want to explore amending the constitution to restore it’s real meaning in this regard.

They want to make college affordable to everyone with the ability and desire to attend, without the crushing burden of student loan debt that cripples graduates’ progress and deters many gifted students from attending at all.

They want recognition that it was lending industry misconduct, lax rules and enforcement, and unprecedented unemployment rates that caused the mortgage meltdown. And they see the basic truth that halting foreclosures, restoring devastated neighborhoods, and reducing mortgage payments to fair, realistic levels is in everyone’s interest—including lenders.

They want a rapid end to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with care and employment for the troops coming home. And they seek to put the goal of deficit reduction in the proper context. Like most Americans, they not only see job creation as more urgent to our national health and prosperity, but they also see putting Americans back to work, combined with fair tax reform and a military wind-down, as the most effective path to growing our economy and closing our deficit.

Clearly not every Occupy Wall Street protester is walking around with this fully-formed list of demands in her or his head.But this is not that kind of movement. Just as the demonstrators famously rely on each other’s voices for amplification, their best ideas and demands are crowd sourced, a rough-and-tumble vetting process that befits a 21st century democracy.

Nor is it surprising that different participants in the movement will differ in their precise policy prescriptions. Members of the 1960s civil rights movement—including Martin Luther King, Jr. and now congressman John Lewis—often bitterly disagreed about what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws should include.

And Dr. King’s subsequent call for an end to the war in Vietnam was not initially shared by all members of that movement.There is an important, vibrant difference, it must be remembered, between a movement and a political action committee.

Occupy Wall Street’s organizers are now engaged in a deliberative, participatory process designed to identify more specific common demands. This is an important step for a movement that is growing in maturity as quickly as it is growing in size and diversity. But as that process moves forward, one need only visit Zuccotti Park and the many other dynamic sites of this movement around the country to understand what this movement wants.

Heeding the Voice of the 99 Percent

When a group of young people camped out in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in mid-September to express their disappointment toward the way corporations have mishandled the economy, it barely made the local newspapers’ front pages. Four weeks later, and with hundreds of thousands of people joining the movement, Occupy Wall Street has captured the attention of national and international media, and it has provided a golden opportunity for lawmakers, intellectuals, unions, and President Obama to channel the participants’ efforts into their agenda.

Inspired by the Arab Spring and the indignados from Madrid, Occupy Wall Street seeks to “restore democracy in America” by using one of the very tenets of our First Amendment: the right to peaceably assemble. NYPD and protesters, however, have clashed a number of times as newscasts and photographs show law enforcement officers making use of batons and pepper spray.

Undeterred, people are joining the protests in droves. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street has spun off other protests across the nation (from Boston to Washington, DC, to Memphis, among others), and it has served as an inspiration to many who also feel worn out by corporate greed and government inefficacy.

Not only do Occupy Wall Street protests take place in public spaces, but also on social media platforms: “We are the 99 Percent” is a Tumblr blog where people post notes and pictures depicting their economic hardship. Likewise, Jennifer Preston from The New York Times’ blog Media Decoder offers a by-the-numbers analysis of social media’s impact on the protests:

The online conversation about Occupy Wall Street grew steadily on social media platforms in recent weeks and increased among users abroad in the last week as the global demonstrations approached. According to Trendrr, a social media analysis company, the number of posts about Occupy Wall Street on Twitter outside the United States grew to more than 25 percent of total posts on Friday, up from 15 percent during the same period the week before.

One may think that equal opportunity for all is a fair claim, but political deadlock continues to push the country to the brink of hopelessness and despair. To make matters worse, the jobs bill proposed by President Obama stalled in Congress after a Republican filibuster, denying the chance for millions of unemployed Americans to regain economic mobility and make ends meet.

As some political experts have pointed out, Occupy Wall Street is not just about corporate malfeasance; it’s also about lack of adequate political representation in Capitol HillNinety-nine percent of the population is raising their voice in order to move our country forward with economic opportunities, education for everybody, and universal health care. Are Congress and the Obama administration listening?

See also:

OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media

 

By Walter Brasch

 

Newspaper columnist Ann Coulter, spreading the lies of the extreme right wing, called the Occupy Wall Street protestors, “tattooed, body-pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun.” She claimed the protestors, now in the thousands in New York, are “directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal clichés lacking any reason or coherence.” (Several hundred thousand of these “directionless losers” are expected to attend rallies in more than 650 cities, Oct. 15.)

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House majority leader, called the protest nothing more than “growing mobs,” completely oblivious to his myriad statements that he supports “mobs” when they are from the Tea Party. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tacking as far right as possible to avoid anyone thinking he was once a moderate, called the protest “dangerous.”

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, in a moment that demonstrated how out of touch he is with the economic reality of the five-year recession, argued, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks; if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

Glenn Beck, too irrational even for Fox News, which terminated him less than two years after it tried to make him a TV superstar, told his radio audience, the protestors “will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you.”

Lauren Ellis of Mother Jones, at one time a cutting edge magazine for social justice, believed that the protestors have a “lack of focus.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, wrote, “A protest without an objective is like a party or a picnic of the unemployed and the indolent. Unless you have an objective, what are you doing out there?”

First, let’s see just who these protestors really are. And then, let’s see what they stand for, since the mainstream media, of which Fox News is an entrenched part, don’t seem to be getting the message from the people.

The protestors rightly say they are part of the 99 percent; the other one percent have 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, the top 20 percent have more than 85 percent of the nation’s wealth, the highest accumulation since 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Even the most oblivious recognize the protestors as a large cross-section of America. They are students and teachers; housewives, plumbers, and physicians; combat veterans from every war from World War II to the present. They are young, middle-aged, and elderly. They are high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. They are from all religions and no religion, and a broad spectrum of political views.

 Support has come from senior politicians with very different philosophies. Vice President Joe Biden believes the protests are because “In the minds of the vast majority of the American–the middle class is being screwed.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), unlike a vast majority of Republican politicians, stated, “If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed—I would say, ‘good!’”

 Second, like all protests, there are different opinions within the ranks. But, there is a core of beliefs. The protestors are fed up with corporate greed that has a base of corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the rich. They support the trade union movement, Medicare and Social Security, affordable health care for all citizens, and programs to assist the unemployed, disenfranchised, and underclass. A nation that cannot take care of the least among us doesn’t deserve to be called the best of us.

They’re mad that the home mortgage crisis, begun when greed overcame ethics and was then magnified by the failure of regulatory agencies and the Congress to provide adequate oversight, robbed all of America of its financial security. During the first half of this year alone, banks and lending agencies have sent notices to more than 1.2 million homeowners whose loans and mortgages are in default status, according to RealtyTrak. Of course, less regulation is just what conservatives want—after all, their mantra has become, “no government in our lives.”

The protestors are mad that the wealthiest corporations pay little or no taxes. They point to the Bank of America, part of the mortgage crisis problem, which earned a $4.4 billion profit last year, but received a $1.9 billion tax refund on top of a bailout of about $1 trillion. They look at ExxonMobil, which earned more than $19 billion profit in 2009, paid no taxes and received a $156 million federal rebate. Its profit for the first half of 2011 is about $ 21.3 billion.

They rightfully note that it is slimy when General Electric, whose CEO is a close Obama advisor, earned a $26 billion profit during the past five years, but still received a $4.1 billion refund.  

They’re mad that the federal government has given the oil industry more than $4 billion in subsidy, although the industry earned more than $1 trillion in profits the past decade.

They’re mad that Goldman Sachs, after receiving a $10 billion government bailout, and a $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, shipped about 1,000 jobs overseas. During the past decade, corporations, which have paid little or no federal taxes, have outsourced at least 2.4 million jobs and are hoarding trillions which could be used to spur job growth and the economy.

They’re mad that corporations that took federal bailout money gave seven-figure bonuses to their executives.

They’re mad that the U.S., of all industrialized countries, has the highest ratio of executive pay to that of the average worker. The U.S. average is about 300 to 475 times that of the average worker. In Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and England, the average CEO earns between 10 and 20 times what the average worker earns, and no one in those countries believes the CEOs are underpaid.

 They’re mad that 47 percent of all persons who earned at least $250,000 last year, including about 1,500 millionaires, paid no taxes, according to Newsmax. If you’re a Republican member of Congress, that’s perfectly acceptable. They’re the ones who thought President Obama was launching class warfare against the rich by trying to restore the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. They succeeded in blocking tax reform and a jobs bill, but failed to understand the simple reality—if there is class warfare, it is being waged by the elite greedy and their Congressional lackeys.

 Herman Cain, Fox TV pundit Sean Hannity, and others from the extreme right wing said the protestors are un-American, apparently for protesting corporate greed. The Occupy Wall Street protestors aren’t un-American; those who defend the destruction of the middle class by defending greed, and unethical and illegal behavior, are.

 [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery set in rural Pennsylvania.]

 

 

 

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