Occupy Wall Street protesters are unquestionably giving voice to millions of Americans who feel betrayed or left behind by an economic system designed and maintained to benefit the 1% (or fewer!) living at the "top of the heap".
Occupy Wall Street has sparked a national dialogue/debate about priorities and values that terrifies the privileged few by opening up a floodgate of pent-up frustrations. The movement is criticized for not having forged a snappy set of demands or specific goals--something that the 24/7 news media can categorize, analyze, and then editorialize into insignificance. Perhaps the real strength of Occupy Wall Street can be found in this initial ambiguity. Maybe there's simply so much to be angry about that it's proving to be a little overwhelming trying to narrow the list.
Think about it for a moment... The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were launched by George W. Bush, which President Obama continues to wage, have now sucked roughly 1.3 trillion dollars out of our treasury and have left us in economic chaos. The cost in terms of human casualties is immeasureable.
The banking industry, which received roughly $650 billion dollars in taxpayer-funded bail-out money (through the Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law by George W. Bush in October of 2008) foreclosed on over one million homes in 2010. In 2011, after dealing with some bothersome paperwork irregularities, the banks are on track to repossess another 800,000 homes. Unfortunately, there's been no one able, or willing, to bail out the average American.
Meanwhile, officials in the Defense Department are expected to require another $1 billion above the initial estimate of $6 billion dollars to figure out where all the money allocated to the Pentagon has actually gone over the past ten years or so! Yet the budget for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2010 increased, once again, to $680 billion dollars.
While the unemployment rate continues to hover above a national average of 9%, CEO bonus payouts have made a significant comeback: William Johnson of H.J. Heinz received $8,589,063 million, Lawrence Ellison of Oracle took home $6,453,254, John Chambers of Cisco received $4,600,000, Mark Parker of Nike received $4,441,875, and the inimitable, scandal-plagued Rupert Murdoch of News Corp pocketed $4,368,800. A more complete list, easily found online, makes for fascinating reading.
To put this all in a context folks like Glenn Beck, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor might possibly understand: there's an awful lot of "ammunition" feeding the sense of anger and frustration out there. This might mean trouble for them... one can sense the vested interest behind the fear in Rep. Ryan and Rep. Cantor's criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Doctor Kevorkian of Medicare (Ryan) has an estimated net worth of $3 million, while Cantor's is approaching $5 million. That's a lot of wealth to protect. Beck, not unexpectedly, went to his crazy place and stated the protesters will "kill everybody" in order to foment revolution. Incidentally, his net worth is estimated at over $85 million.
It's unrealistic to expect politicians from either party to speak for, or even understand, the 99%. Nancy Pelosi's net worth is estimated at $35 million, John Boehner's at $3-5 million, and Mitch McConnell's is anywhere from $17-20 million. These pale by comparison with Rep. Michael McCall of Texas and Rep. Darrell Issa of California; $294 million and $220 million respectively. Given their financial stake it's doubtful that comprehensive and equitable proposals or solutions will come from CEOs or this current "mob" (thanks, Eric) of politicians.
We may see aspects of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that make us feel uncomfortable, or that we disagree with, but I'd be willing to bet we'll discover many more that resonate with us--and perhaps even inspire us. We all need to acknowledge the basic message: it's time to speak up and change the direction of our nation. We are the 99%, and it's time to Occupy America.