Critics of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement complain that the protesters don’t have a policy agenda and, therefore, don’t stand for anything. They’re wrong. The key isn’t what protesters are for but rather what they’re against — the gaping inequality that has poisoned our economy, our politics and our nation.
In America today, 400 people have more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined. That’s not because 150 million Americans are pathetically lazy or even unlucky. In fact, Americans have been working harder than ever — productivity has risen in the last several decades. Big business profits and CEO bonuses have also gone up. Worker salaries, however, have declined.
Most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters aren’t opposed to free market capitalism. In fact, what they want is an end to the crony capitalist system now in place, that makes it easier for the rich and powerful to get even more rich and powerful while making it increasingly hard for the rest of us to get by. The protesters are not anti-American radicals. They are the defenders of the American Dream, the decision from the birth of our nation that success should be determined by hard work not royal bloodlines.
Sure, bank executives may work a lot harder than you and me or a mother of three doing checkout at a grocery store. Maybe the bankers work ten times harder. Maybe even a hundred times harder. But they’re compensated a thousand times more.
The question is not how Occupy Wall Street protesters can find that gross discrepancy immoral. The question is why every one of us isn’t protesting with them.
According to polls, most Americans support the 99% movement, even if they’re not taking to the streets. In fact, support for the Occupy Wall Street protests is not only higher than for either political party in Washington but greater than support for the Tea Party. And unlike the Tea Party which was fueled by national conservative donors and institutions, the Occupy Wall Street Movement is spreading organically from Idaho to Indiana. Institutions on the left, including unions, have been relatively late to the game.
Ironically, the original Boston Tea Party activists would likely support Occupy Wall Street more as well. Note that the original Tea Party didn’t protest taxes, merely the idea of taxation without representation — and they were actually protesting the crown-backed monopoly of the East India Company, the main big business of the day.
Americans today also support taxes. In fact, two-thirds of voters — including a majority of Republicans — support increasing taxes on the rich, something the Occupy Wall Street protests implicitly support. That’s not just anarchist lefty kids. Soccer moms and construction workers and, yes, even some bankers want to see our economy work for the 99%, not just the 1%, and are flocking to Occupy protests in droves.
I’ve even met a number of Libertarians and Tea Party conservatives at these protests. So the critics are right, the Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t the Tea Party. Occupy Wall Street is much, much broader.
Maybe it’s hard to see your best interests reflected in a sometimes rag-tag, inarticulate, imperfect group of protesters. But make no mistake about it: While horrendous inequality is not an American tradition, protest is.And if you’re part of the 99% of underpaid or unemployed Americans crushed in the current economy, the Occupy Wall Street protests are your best chance at fixing the broken economy that is breaking your back.
By Sally Kohn
Published Oct. 14, 2011
Sally Kohn is the founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank. Follow her on Twitter@sallykohn.