Occupy Wall Street is easy to brush off as a shooting start – something that shines big and bright for a moment, but fades off as quickly as it appeared. Many probably thought that the protestors in New York City – and now in tens and hundreds of cities all over the world – would have given up much sooner. NYC rains can be brutal, and Wall Street is hardly the most charming and welcoming part of this city. As hundreds have been arrested during the weeks and now months that the movement has existed, many have expected others to back down in fear of facing the same fate. For many people – such as immigrants on visas, or parents of small children – getting arrested, even if it is “only” for 48 hours, is just not a risk worth taking.
But, low and behold, despite the nasty, horizontal NYC rains, despite a snow storm before Halloween, despite police violence, arrests, negative commentators, and all the other challenges that have been thrown at the protestors, OWS has remained strong and vibrant. Mayor Bloomberg’s latest decision to clear Zucotti Park and not allow protestors to camp there any more seemed to only strengthen the movement, based on the masses that took over the city today, on November 17th. OWS is not a shooting start – and I don’t believe it is fading anywhere any time soon. The movement is shining a bright light on issues affecting this society that not only plague the US, but most of the world as we know it. Inequality, injustice, poverty, greed, corruption and shameless quest for personal gain and profit on the expense of others are phenomenons present in most, if not all countries of the world. The 99% is much larger and stronger than NYC – and a force that should not be ignored, nor taken lightly.
In capitalist societies, inequality is described as an unfortunate but necessary and natural bi-product of the market system. One’s gains are someone’s losses. There are winners and there are losers. Not all can finish on top, and not all can become rich. Even though some degree of inequality will most likely always remain, the type of pervasive and enormous gaps we are now witnessing in this country, and many others, are not a natural bi-product of anything – they are a result of deliberate decisions and actions of individuals and companies, of political parties, of decision makers and politicians who have passed laws and policies and taken action that perpetuate the current situation in which those most in need and most vulnerable, along with millions of workers, students, families and individuals have been left behind at the expense of a very small elite. Inequality does not just happen. Poverty does not just happen. Injustice does not just happen. None of these issues are natural, and none of them are unavoidable. Though America – or the rest of the world – cannot be fixed over night, there are measures and tools to turn the course of this country. Instead of treating corporations like individuals, how about treating the actual individuals like human beings? Instead of pampering banks and huge companies with tax cuts and loop holes in tax laws, how about supporting small scale businesses and entrepreneurship? Instead of placing the majority of this country’s tax burden on the middle and lower class, how about ending the ridiculous tax cuts for the rich that were instituted during a previous administration, and then using the tax revenue on commonly shared goods and services such as education and health care that is actually affordable for all, not only for those making six figures or more. There are ways to address the issues that Occupy Wall Street movement is all about, but someone needs to make the decision to take concrete action to actually change things. Just as poverty, inequality and injustice do not “just happen”, they also won’t be “just fixed” all by themselves.
By some accounts, this is the richest and most powerful country in the world. And still, millions of students cannot afford decent higher education in a good university while tuition rates keep increasing both in public and private institutions. In 2010, over 50 million Americans could not afford health insurance, and another 73 million had difficulties paying for it. One of my favorite publications of this year is “The Measure of America” report, published by The American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council, which presents data on basic development indicators for the United States, disaggregated by race, state, city, congressional district, gender etc. The latest report shows that though women are earning higher degrees than men (and according to many other sources also higher grades), women still earn $11,000 less than men on average. It also shows that after the 2007-2009 recession, unemployment for households earning less than $12,500 rose to 31% while it was mere 3% for households earning $150,000 or more. Women, low-income households, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, elderly people, children, at-risk youth and other minority and vulnerable groups are paying the highest price of the current situation of this country, and this world. People need health care, and jobs, and education to be productive and earn income. Mothers need support to care for their children and families, while being able to continue working or studying should they choose to do so. Elderly people need decent retirements. Students need affordable tuition, or free education. Children need safe parks to play in, quality day care that families can afford, and a school system that meets their needs to develop and grow into healthy citizens. Workers need job security and unemployment when things get rough. We all need health care. We all need smart politics. We all need equality and justice.
Occupy Wall Street is not just a protest – it’s a manifestation of dangerous and unsustainable decisions and politics that have driven a large part of the population of this country into a state of poverty and uncertainty. People have had enough. OWS is not only an American movement, it represents those who are continuously wronged all over the world. The 99% are stepping up everywhere – and I don’t think they are about to back down any time soon. I hope they don’t. I hope we don’t.