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GUEST COMMENTARY: Occupy Wall Street movement merits attention

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | 3:06 p.m. CDT; updated 9:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 2011 will mark a time in U.S. history when the people of the United States, facing great economic peril, rose up to demand economic justice. 

Since Sept. 17, thousands of Americans have nonviolently occupied Wall Street. People who have been laid off and marginalized by economic hardship have been camping out in Zuccotti Park and waging nonviolent protests around this country. These protestors have been speaking out against unemployment and economic injustice.

The rich have recovered and prospered since the recession began three years ago. Stocks have gained back their losses, and the wealthiest 1 percent in this country still have tax breaks generously granted to them by the most recent Bush administration.

Corporate profits have reached their highest level since 1950. Most recently, the federal government bailed out banking institutions, while millions of Americans lost their homes through foreclosures. Citigroup, a bank that received bailout funds, had a record $3.8 billion in profits this quarter, up 74 percent from last year.

Meanwhile the middle class has been ground down by the loss of public services and public sector jobs as local municipalities have laid off police, teachers and social workers.

College graduates can't get secure jobs that will help them pay off their debts and allow them to develop careers that would provide financial stability. The foreclosure crisis halted new construction and led to more layoffs.

The poor continued to be ignored, as they were earlier in the previous century when Michael Harrington wrote "The Other America" in 1962 describing in some detail their plight.

A record 46 million Americans now live in poverty. Many students are homeless and millions of people are hungry in the land of plenty.

Who is speaking for the poor these days? Only themselves. Hence we are getting spontaneous demonstrations in cities around the United States protesting economic injustice.

Because tax revenues have fallen off drastically and the Republicans won't allow tax increases, the federal government is proposing cutbacks and layoffs that can only increase unemployment lines.

The private sector is reluctant to invest because of economic uncertainty around the globe. President Barack Obama has proposed a jobs bill that would invest in green energy and rebuilding infrastructure. This laudable initiative will never get out of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. 

These protests began in the heart of the capitalist system, Wall Street, targeting a stock market that has benefited the 1 percent of Americans who have profited from the economic hardship felt by the majority of Americans.

The protestors call themselves the 99 percent majority to highlight the extreme economic inequality that exists in the United States right now. The share of income held by the top 1 percent is 23 percent, the highest since 1928 and more than double the 10 percent level of the late 1970s.

Those demonstrating on Wall Street and in other parts of the country have been criticized because they do not have specific demands. 

Their goal is to create an awareness of the problems faced by such an unequal economic system. Their job is not to draft legislation but rather build public support for programs and policies that would provide jobs and meaningful careers for the growing ranks of unemployed.

The world is upside-down. The president has bailed out Wall Street but left millions of Americans underwater and unable to pay their mortgages.

Greed is trashing the global economy and the natural world. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with deep-water drilling, poisoning our aquifers with fracking, and turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands.

The atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial economic and ecological disasters. This is why we should support these demonstrators. They are the canaries in the mine speaking out about crises that threaten all of us, our children and our grandchildren.

There are plenty of initiatives that can and should be put into place to address these crises. Instead of cutting Medicare and Social Security, we should be taxing the rich. 

We should stop waging three wars. We should cut defense spending and increase spending on education. (The United States spends about $120 million a day on nuclear weapons.)

We can create jobs in both the private and public sectors by rebuilding our outdated physical infrastructure and our deteriorating cities. We should develop and invest in new technologies for a sustainable energy future.

The demonstrators who are occupying Wall Street and protesting on many main streets across the United States are crying out about this unjust economy.

They are appealing to a majority of Americans who are seeing economic security being pulled away from them. 

Hopefully, these demonstrations signal the beginning of a majoritarian movement for economic justice in the United States.

Ian Harris is a professor emeritus from the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He can be reached at imh@uwm.edu. (This essay was inspired by a visit to Wall Street on Oct. 8.)


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Comments

Jimmy Bearfield October 26, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

"the wealthiest 1 percent in this country still have tax breaks generously granted to them by the most recent Bush administration."

So does the other 99%. Those tax cuts were across all brackets. In fact, those cuts increased the amount of taxpayers with no federal liability to the current ~46%.

As for "secure jobs that will help them pay off their debts and allow them to develop careers that would provide financial stability," there are plenty such jobs for recent grads -- as long as they majored in high-demand fields such as engineering and health care rather than, say, educational policy and community studies.

(Report Comment)
James Krewson October 26, 2011 | 4:02 p.m.

Republicans won't allow tax increases? What about the first two years where Obama had Dem majority in both the House and Senate, he could have raised taxes then. It is just like a liberal to still blame Bush and Republicans. Instead of blaming Wall Street, Bush, etc, why don't you look in the mirror.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 26, 2011 | 5:49 p.m.

Hmm, are we talking about the tax cuts that President Obama just extended? Why does Bush get all the blame there.

A couple quick notes since I have to scoot, will try to flesh these out later. Tax revenue is not down, it still continues to increase year over year except for a one year dip around 2008/2009 if memory serves. The budget links on the White House website will show that.

Going in debt to go to college isn't sustainable. Go to community college, work, delay it a year, get jobs, hope for a well-off relative. And for God's sake, please don't get a humanities masters and end up with 50K in loans to show for it.

Wall Street hasn't just "benefited" the 1% - millions of us 99 percenters invest in the stock market and gain wealth via steady investment over decades. Long-term thinking, folks.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen October 26, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.

One of the points of this article is that people who are usually unheard in public discourse are speaking out in greater numbers with more success than usual. And it's met with "here are some stats...quit whining" in the first several posts. Which is what they're protesting.

These people -- around the world -- aren't acting out of some shared hallucination. Their voices HAVEN'T been heeded. Something IS out of balance. Unbalanced things crash. They're just trying to let you know so that we don't have to go there.

The whole issue is much more complex than just tax cuts. I've haven't heard anything in recent times about the effect deregulation in the last ten years has had on the economy. Deregulation is dearly loved by unprincipled people who don't mind taking all they can and leaving others without.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 26, 2011 | 10:30 p.m.

John's advice is sound.
There's just a few more things that
Could be added, though.

Don't ever get sick,
Or have a chronic illness,
Or even get hurt.

Getting a good job:
It's much more important than
Living out your dreams.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 27, 2011 | 2:02 a.m.

Actually, having a good job may make it more possible to live out one's dreams. Of course it also depends upon what one's dreams are. Would you rather be a cultural "redneck" with a great job or be cultured and urbane but also broke?

John Schultz:

There IS an institution of higher learning, St. John's College (not to be confused with St. John's University), that offers students as close to a "classical liberal arts education" as you're going to get in the United States. It's the third oldest in the nation (after Harvard and William & Mary) and has campuses at both Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM. You can easily rack up $50,000 or more in student loans. Neither SAT nor ACT are required for admission - admission is weighted heavily on whether you pass muster at an interview and you have the money - and all courses are graded pass-fail (there is no GPA). Small class sizes. Google them.

Is it surprising that something like 98% of St. John's graduates then go on for another degree elsewhere? Marvelous education; but not necessarily easy to get a job.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2011 | 7:23 a.m.

There is truth in your
Question - a revelation
Of the corruption.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 27, 2011 | 7:52 a.m.

Gregg Bush wrote:

"Don't ever get sick,
Or have a chronic illness,
Or even get hurt."

Keeping insurance
Is more essential than an
iPhone and cable.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 27, 2011 | 8:14 a.m.

Eins Zwei! Eins Zwei!
Und druch und druch
Sein porpals Schwert
zerschnifer-schnuck...

- from der Jammerwoch (which is intended to be silly)

(Report Comment)
frank christian October 27, 2011 | 9:09 a.m.

Gregg Allen - In your lament about deregulation in last 10 years, shouldn't you mention the Clinton, Larry Summers, Democrat, financial deregulation law known as Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA)? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-conn...

Would this not give us a better handle on the identification of the ones that have created our "unbalance", as well as who best fits "Deregulation is dearly loved by unprincipled people who don't mind taking all they can and leaving others without."

imo If the people you laud are saying anything they are indicating they want more of the same.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2011 | 11:37 a.m.

A diagnosis
Of chronic illness - you're priced
Out of the market.

The ringers absolve
The corrupt system. iPhones,
Cable? Not germane.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2011 | 11:42 a.m.

Consumer goods did
Not wreck the economy.
The notion's absurd.

Ratings agencies,
Fraudulent bankers - cooked the
Books, made a fortune.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2011 | 11:47 a.m.

It's crucial to place
Blame on the hucksters and not
The victims of cons.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 28, 2011 | 7:59 a.m.

Un deux, un deux, par le milieu,
Le glaive vorlpal fait pat-a-pan!
La bete defaite, avec sa tete,
Il rentre gallomphant.

- from Le Jaseroque (which is intended to be silly)

Before French speakers have a fit, I'm aware there are a number of inflection marks missing on the words.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson October 30, 2011 | 3:56 p.m.

Occupy Herbstreit movement merits attention:
http://occupyherbstreit.tumblr.com/

(Report Comment)

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