For the last few weeks, the airwaves, radio frequencies, and cyber highways have been inundated with coverage of Occupy Wall Street and its iterations across the nation. Our most prominent news outlets have by turns scoffed and marveled at the movement. There is no denying that Occupy Wall Street has gained momentum. And how. Here in San Antonio, the coverage of, involvement in, and reaction to #OccupySanAnto are as varied as anywhere else. Major news outlets will have you believe that the bulk of occupiers are directionless, bitter, renegade protesters who are unable to articulate what their grievances are, much less what they demand anyone do about them. Anyone who bothers to attend any of the Occupy protests or do a little research, however, will find a common thread. Occupiers, at Wall Street and in cities across the nation, are pulling at this thread and unraveling the carefully devised lies that a fraction of our population has benefited from tremendously while the overwhelming majority languishes in debt and a faces a bleak economic landscape.
Since the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and the subsequent billions of dollars spent on bailing out banks, investment firms, and insurance giants, the economic crisis this country is mired in has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of Americans. Well, on millions of low- and middle-income Americans I should say. There is a small percentage of Americans who have not only managed to keep their jobs and their amassed wealth but they’ve managed to increase that wealth exponentially. As a matter of fact, the top 1% of Americans owns roughly 42% of the nation’s wealth. Mother Jones put together a series of charts and graphs that clearly illustrate and explain the inequity in wealth distribution. The implications are astounding. The Haves don’t just have more money and more stuff, they have power. All this wealth translates into policy-making power that is then wielded by enormous corporations and finance giants.
Christopher Ketcham, writing for Orion Magazine, observes that “the One Percenter in his Wall Street tower…creates ‘value’ by tapping on keyboards and punching in algorithms. He makes money playing with money, manipulating abstractions. He manufactures and chases after financial bubbles and then pricks them. He speculates on mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, the price of gas that keeps the real economy moving, the price of food that keeps the labor pool alive, always hedging his bets so that he comes out ahead whether society wins or loses.” These “financial nihilists” don’t care to invest in any kind of sustainable future; their vision doesn’t extend to building out much-need infrastructure or exploring alternate forms of energy or devising systems to address resource scarcity. The One Percenters seemingly care only for the immediate returns on their speculations, to the detriment of a great number of Americans.
The Occupiers are pushing back because they recognize that, in this case, the collective power of the people may just match the power of those who control the purse strings. We should recognize that just because individual protesters may care more or less about any one given issue, that doesn’t mean that there is no unity. As individuals, with individual concerns, individual philosophies, and individual upbringings it makes sense that differing views don’t coalesce immediately and seamlessly. We all can, however, agree with Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty, when he proclaims: “It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life.”
Sadly, we live in a society where a lower economic status means less freedom in terms of job, education, and health care prospects. This realization is at the core of what drives many protesters day after day and this realization is what we should be talking about more. We should not allow the Occupy discourse to be dominated by comments like this one left by a San Antonio viewer: “…seriously….this about the dead beats wanting the people who worked hard to become wealthy and expect them to ‘share’ there [sic] hard earned monies, if they want that type of government then they can go to china, russia etc.” Errors in grammar, word usage, and syntax notwithstanding, this sentiment manages to convey how little analysis is being applied to the movement at large. In 1911, at the height of monopoly finance capitalism, Woodrow Wilson observed, “all our activities are in the hands of a few men” who “chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom.” One hundred years later and the destruction continues.
Leticia Medina is happy to fight the fight at the Media Justice League alongside equally dedicated folks. Leticia may be reached at leticiamedinatx at gmail dot com.