Repressive and brutal class warfare has been waged for centuries in this country and elsewhere. The rich use their ill-gotten power to grab more wealth – leaving the majority of people shut out in the cold. For the last two weeks a brave group of protestors has been trying to wake and shake up the 99 percent of Americans who have been screwed by the “banksters.” These protests on Wall Street represent the leading edge of a larger assault against those who have manipulated the system to gain power and money. Too bad Obama is also beholding to Wall Street or else we might see some arrests and prosecution for these despicable characters. This article provides a detailed overview of the Wall Street protests to date, along with the participants’ motivation and movement structure. I highlight the main messages and implications for the future.
Clearly, these protests show a great need and opportunity to Occupy Charlotte, NC next summer with all manner of activists for engaged descent and civil disobedience (glad to be two hours away!!). I wrote an article in 2008 encouraging people to come to Denver and have their voices heard. This also provides many lessons from Chicago in 1968. Click here to read Get Involved to Recreate the Spirit of 1968. This type of street protest is already expanding across the country – having drawn inspiration and insights from Cairo, London, and elsewhere. One of my earlier articles entitled Karl Marx Would be Marveling at Capitalism’s Colossal Collapse. This is widely read article will give you details on the reality and inevitability of class conflict in a capitalist society. Marx would say that the protests are an attempt to create a class consciousness among the 95 percent of Americans who have been screwed to feed Wall Street’s greed. You will learn how this constitutes a legitimate, grass roots movement that is likely to grow quickly – according to Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon and others profiled here. Click Below to Get Fired Up!!
The following is the founding statement that catalyzed and guided the Wall St. protest. It would be useful to consolidate this with the longer and more general Port Huron Statement” produced by Students for a Democratic Society in 1965. While teaching at NCSU we would discuss the relevance of this manifesto for modern times. Click here to download a PDF file with the complete Port Huron Statement.
This statement is ours, and for anyone who will get behind it. Representing ourselves, we bring this call for revolution.
We want freedom for all, without regards for identity, because we are all people, and because no other reason should be needed. However, this freedom has been largely taken from the people, and slowly made to trickle down, whenever we get angry.
Money, it has been said, has taken over politics. In truth, we say, money has always been part of the capitalist political system. A system based on the existence of have and have nots, where inequality is inherent to the system, will inevitably lead to a situation where the haves find a way to rule, whether by the sword or by the dollar.
We agree that we need to see election reform. However, the election reform proposed ignores the causes which allowed such a system to happen. Some will readily blame the federal reserve, but the political system has been beholden to political machinations of the wealthy well before its founding.
We need to address the core facts: these corporations, even if they were unable to compete in the electoral arena, would still remain control of society. They would retain economic control, which would allow them to retain political control. Term limits would, again, not solve this, as many in the political class already leave politics to find themselves as part of the corporate elites. We need to retake the freedom that has been stolen from the people, altogether.
- If you agree that freedom is the right to communicate, to live, to be, to go, to love, to do what you will without the impositions of others, then you might be one of us.
- If you agree that a person is entitled to the sweat of their brows, that being talented at management should not entitle others to act like overseers and overlords, that all workers should have the right to engage in decisions, democratically, then you might be one of us.
- If you agree that freedom for some is not the same as freedom for all, and that freedom for all is the only true freedom, then you might be one of us.
- If you agree that power is not right, that life trumps property, then you might be one of us.
- If you agree that state and corporation are merely two sides of the same oppressive power structure, if you realize how media distorts things to preserve it, how it pits the people against the people to remain in power, then you might be one of us.
And so we call on people to act
- We call for protests to remain active in the cities. Those already there, to grow, to organize, to raise consciousness, for those cities where there are no protests, for protests to organize and disrupt the system.
- We call for workers to not only strike, but seize their workplaces collectively, and to organize them democratically. We call for students and teachers to act together, to teach democracy, not merely the teachers to the students, but the students to the teachers. To seize the classrooms and free minds together.
- We call for the unemployed to volunteer, to learn, to teach, to use what skills they have to support themselves as part of the revolting people as a community.
- We call for the organization of people’s assemblies in every city, every public square, every township.
- We call for the seizure and use of abandoned buildings, of abandoned land, of every property seized and abandoned by speculators, for the people, for every group that will organize them.
We call for a revolution of the mind as well as the body politic.
Protesters who vowed to “occupy Wall Street” are holding their ground in downtown New York, and say they have no plans to leave anytime soon. The protest started Saturday with a “Day of Rage,” when thousands of people gathered in the Financial District and vowed to stay on Wall Street as long as it takes to make their point that they will “no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” …
According to the Occupy Wall Street website, the effort was inspired by the lasting demonstrations of “our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland.” Supporters of the movement are angered by what they call the principle of “profit over and above all else.”
“The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” the statement said. Demonstrators at the event echoed that sentiment. “We want accountability on the part of the politicians as well as the corporate owners because they’re completely entangled in each other,” protester Gaia Weiss told WABC-TV.
“Officials in Washington either don’t know how to do their jobs or they’re too specific to their party to actually be progressive to America as a whole,” protester Collin Quinlivan said. The protest comes after comments New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made last week that some may argue seem to have forecast the event.
“You have a lot of kids graduating college who can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kind of riots here,” Bloomberg said. For now though, the protesters have vowed to stay peaceful, and hold their ground until the changes they are demanding are met. They are calling for protests in other cities, worker and student strikes, and the creation of similar organizations throughout the country.
It’s been referred to as an attempt to recreate Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests or Iran’s protest movement, but the continued protests on Wall Street are uniquely American in nature. They are surprisingly good spirited and the activists have articulated their demands quite well and have formed a united front for their cause.
In an attempt to “copy” what many believe were successful movements in Iran and Egypt using social media, organizers are also taking to the online “airwaves” in an effort to spur change in America’s financial center.
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the venerable counterculture magazine AdBusters, took to the micro-blogging website Twitter and other websites to help organize a campaign encouraging tens of thousands of Americans to have a nonviolent sit-in on Saturday in lower Manhattan.
The rally, dubbed #OccupyWallStreet on social networks, aims to tackle what protesters call “outrageous” greed on Wall Street, “which is hurting the American and global economy.” They argue that this greed led to the destruction of the American economy and spurred the global recession. …
At the end of the day, social media was not responsible for Egypt’s successful ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, instead it was the grit of the average Egyptian, who brushed aside fear of a violent response from the government to demand their rights as citizens.
On Wall Street, one protester who works for a major firm, said that “at the end of the day it will be the people who make things change and we should have learned through the Egypt example that social media by itself will not get the job done.” The man, who asked not to be named due to fear of being fired, said that “this is why we are going to stay as long as we can and get ideas to be heard.”
In a small granite plaza a block from the New York Stock Exchange, a group of 20-somethings in flannel pajama pants and tie-dyed T-shirts are plotting the demise of Wall Street as we know it. They have been there since Saturday, sleeping on cardboard boxes, eating pizza and take-out dinners that were paid for by donations to their cause. There are only about 200 of them left now, though they started out 1,500 strong.
Welcome to the headquarters of “Occupy Wall Street,” a place where topless women stood Wednesday morning on the corner shouting “I can’t afford a shirt!” while construction workers eagerly snapped photos on their phones. A small group of the protesters wound their way through the streets of lower Manhattan escorted by police officers, blaring bullhorns and chanting “Resist! Stand Up! There comes a time when the people rise up!”
What, exactly, they are protesting is somewhat unclear. When asked what they are fighting, they gave a variety of responses ranging from Wall Street to global warming. On its website, the group proclaims: “We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.”
Sam Wood, an unemployed 21-year-old, said he was there because he doesn’t think it’s fair “the way that the rich get more breaks than the poor.” “What I really want to achieve is to educate people about what’s going on with the economy right now,” he said as he bumped into another protester waving an American flag. “A couple of the ways that we might be able to fix it, you know?” …
Ryan Reed, 21, a senior at Rutgers University, was missing class to attend the protest, but his professors are letting him make up the work by writing papers about the experience. “The enemy is the big business leaders of Wall Street, the big oil company leaders, the coal company leaders, the big military industrial leaders,” he said. “I came out here because what I see — and what I feel most people in this country see — is an economy and a system that’s collapsing.”
Kaitlyn Leigh, a 21-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., said she is going to move out of her apartment and stay here indefinitely because she’s been so inspired by what she’s seen. “It’s about creating a community in this liberated space,” she said. “It’s about having the ability to have people’s needs met, whether it be food, clothing, shelter.” …
For Reed, at least, an ideal outcome for the situation would be a near-shutdown of Wall Street, with protesters descending upon Wall Street and preventing bankers from getting to their desks. But he realizes that may not happen anytime soon — particularly not before he returns to class next week. “So far we haven’t had the numbers to clog the kind of traffic we need to clog,” he admitted.
New information has emerged about the women participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration who were fenced in, hit with pepper spray and mace, and arrested over the weekend, and about the policeman who sprayed them.
Kelly Schomburg, an 18-year-old photography major at Parsons the New School for Design in New York, has identified herself on her blog as the woman with the red hair in the video who was maced and then arrested while taking photographs. On Monday, New York blog the Gothamist had reported that NYPD may be specifically targeting photographers and videographers for arrest.
Chelsea Elliott, a Brooklyn resident, has identified herself to the blog Animal New York as another woman who was fenced in and pepper sprayed by NYPD. Elliott says police overreacted and escalated the situation. The New York police officer in the video has not identified himself, so Hacktivist group Anonymous took it upon themselves do so — naming NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna as the policeman who sprayed the women.
The Guardian reports that Bologna already has an alleged crime under his belt — he stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. …
The police are charging at least one of the women with blocking traffic and unlawful conduct. But civil rights activists and protesters say the police overreacted and needlessly used the pepper spray. Shomburg, who recounts the entire tale from photographing the protests to her arrest on her blog, says police mistreated her and she was forced to wait to go to the bathroom until she was in pain. …
Demonstrations also appear to have gained steam since the arrests, with one protester telling a New York newspaper Monday that after the “mass police brutality” of Saturday, “morale is as high as it can be” and that the protesters’ ranks have grown.
The group also got a boost from filmmaker Michael Moore who visited Zuccotti Park on Monday evening to cheer on the protesters. On Twitter, Moore wrote he was honored to be a part of the protest. “A great mix of all kids of people, people who’ve had it,” he said.
Over the last 10 days, Zuccotti Park, which is privately owned, has unexpectedly become a headquarters for hundreds of people from New York City and beyond who say they have gathered to protest financial inequity. They have used the park as a spot to hold mass meetings, a starting point for marches and as a campground, all while being closely monitored by the police.
“I believe this park empowers people,” said William Roper, a 33-year-old electrician who traveled from Bristol, Conn., to join the protests. “It has become an important place.”
The origins of the park are tied to One Liberty Plaza, a 54-story tower just north of the park. In 1968, the tower’s developers were permitted to add 500,000 square feet to their building in return for providing a public space, which was first named Liberty Plaza Park. …
When the demonstrations began on Sept. 17, a sign at the park said that bicycling, skateboarding and rollerblading were forbidden there. But on Saturday, workers from One Liberty Plaza posted a new sign that included several additional rules that appear to have been created with the protesters in mind and which prohibited, among other things, camping, sleeping bags and tarps.
Meanwhile, the protesters, who have embarked on daily marches meant to call attention to a financial system that they say unjustly favors corporations and the rich, appear to have made themselves at home in Zuccotti Park. Some people have taken turns sitting at a desk they have placed on Broadway flanked by an American flag and a placard reading “Welcome to Liberty Park.”
Inside, protesters have set up a library (including “The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman” and “Steal This Book” by Abbie Hoffman); and an “infoshop” with fliers and pamphlets about future demonstrations, including one called Stop the Machine scheduled for Washington next month.
There is a computer center powered by a gasoline generator, a kitchen where food is stored and distributed and a lost and found area. Some protesters have swept the grounds with brooms or collected trash in bags. Others have helped run lengthy meetings to discuss their aims and vote on ideas.
The unusual sights in the park have drawn a crowd of supporters, critics and the merely curious. There have been construction workers taking breaks from walking steel beams, wandering tourists and people who spend their working hours in nearby skyscrapers.
Eric Green, 30, from the Upper East Side, said he had recently lost a job as a construction consultant and had come to see the protesters for himself after reading about them. “I see nothing wrong with what they are doing,” he said as he sat near the edge of the park. “They are exercising their right to free speech.”
Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?
There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.
Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future? Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming with ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down.
But the ultimate failure here is of imagination. What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. There was a moment, after the near-collapse of the world’s financial architecture, when anything seemed possible.
Everything we’d been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses; and debts did not really need to be repaid – in fact, money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence overnight if governments or central banks required it. Even the Economist was running headlines like “Capitalism: Was it a Good Idea?”
It seemed the time had come to rethink everything: the very nature of markets, money, debt; to ask what an “economy” is actually for. This lasted perhaps two weeks. Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they’d been before.
Perhaps, it’s not surprising. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the real priority of those running the world for the last few decades has not been creating a viable form of capitalism, but rather, convincing us all that the current form of capitalism is the only conceivable economic system, so its flaws are irrelevant. As a result, we’re all sitting around dumbfounded as the whole apparatus falls apart.
What we’ve learned now is that the economic crisis of the 1970s never really went away. It was fobbed off by cheap credit at home and massive plunder abroad – the latter, in the name of the “third world debt crisis”. But the global south fought back. The “alter-globalization movement”, was in the end, successful: the IMF has been driven out of East Asia and Latin America, just as it is now being driven from the Middle East. As a result, the debt crisis has come home to Europe and North America, replete with the exact same approach: declare a financial crisis, appoint supposedly neutral technocrats to manage it, and then engage in an orgy of plunder in the name of “austerity”.
The form of resistance that has emerged looks remarkably similar to the old global justice movement, too: we see the rejection of old-fashioned party politics, the same embrace of radical diversity, the same emphasis on inventing new forms of democracy from below. What’s different is largely the target: where in 2000, it was directed at the power of unprecedented new planetary bureaucracies (the WTO, IMF, World Bank, Nafta), institutions with no democratic accountability, which existed only to serve the interests of transnational capital; now, it is at the entire political classes of countries like Greece, Spain and, now, the US – for exactly the same reason. This is why protesters are often hesitant even to issue formal demands, since that might imply recognizing the legitimacy of the politicians against whom they are ranged.
When the history is finally written, though, it’s likely all of this tumult – beginning with the Arab Spring – will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire. Thirty years of relentless prioritizing of propaganda over substance, and snuffing out anything that might look like a political basis for opposition, might make the prospects for the young protesters look bleak; and it’s clear that the rich are determined to seize as large a share of the spoils as remain, tossing a whole generation of young people to the wolves in order to do so. But history is not on their side.
We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It certainly did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the modern welfare state. We don’t know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers finally manage to break the 30-year stranglehold that has been placed on the human imagination, as in those first weeks after September 2008, everything will once again be on the table – and the occupiers of Wall Street and other cities around the US will have done us the greatest favor anyone possibly can.
For more than a week now hundreds of citizens have “occupied” Wall Street in an effort to protest the financial system and the coddling of big banks. Protestors have been present at Zuccotti Park near Wall Street since Sept. 17. The goal is to “flood into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months,” according to “Occupy Wall Street,” the group behind the show of civil disobedience. …
The brutality surfaced. Several videos on the group’s Web site show police officers using pepper spray on passive activists.Wall Street protests started out quietly enough, but gained national media attention when allegations of police
In many ways, the protests seem long overdue. Since the economy collapsed in 2008, thousands of protesters have descended on Washington at various times to protest government spending and bailouts. However, the financial firms behind the collapse of the global economy have managed to evade accountability with savvy PR and extensive lobbying efforts.
Protestors in New York carried signs bearing slogans such as: “End Corporate Personhood,” and “How Do We End the Deficit? End the War, Tax the Rich.”
Many of the protesters are young, not surprisingly. Youth unemployment stands at 18% — double the national rate. Furthermore, it’s the younger generations of America that will suffer the most from cuts to federal spending. Social Security, Medicare and other benefits have all been jeopardized by previous generations, who overspent on tax cuts, entitlements, and wars.
“There’s a major divide between the rich and the poor in this country,” protestor Alexander Holmes, 26, told the New York Times, summing up his frustration. “One in 10 people are unemployed and my vote is nullified by corporate lobbyists.”
The protests were a lament for a nation in which, despite the 2008 meltdown, the financial system remains largely unregulated, where 46 million Americans live below the official poverty line, and where inequality is greater now than at any time since 1929. That’s hardly the stuff of revolutions: you can read Paul Krugman make a similar point every week in the New York Times. And in the land of the first amendment you’d think it was OK to shout it out in the street, even if that street is Wall Street.
Not according to the two white-shirted senior NYPD officers captured on video. The film shows a small group of women protesters, who are doing nothing menacing at all, having been kettled by police. As they stand there fenced in and defenseless, the two white shirts walk up to them, hold out a pepper-spray canister and zap them straight in the face. It’s the officers’ insouciance that is most shocking. They engage the pepper spray as calmly as if they were handing out parking tickets, then turn and just as calmly walk away. …
The combination of pepper spray, Swat teams and judicial torture – for that is what it was – underlined for me a strain of American life that is forever present but rarely makes itself so boldly visible as it has this week. You find it nostalgically glamorized in westerns and Coen brothers films – rough justice, primordial morality, the cold hard logic of the gun. It’s a barely tamed brutality that sits oddly with America’s claim to be the standard-bearer of civilization in the world. …
Such harshness – barbarity, you might even say – is not an aberration or a joke to be shrugged off over a Budweiser in front of our TV screens. It is an integral part of the American public mind, as evident in Manhattan and Washington as it is in the Deep South. And the Republican party is embracing it with a vigour that should focus all our minds in the presidential election ahead.
Wall Street protesters, joined today by Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, vowed to continue weeks of demonstrations after police squirted pepper spray at some participants and arrests mounted.
About 100 people camped out with mattresses and sleeping bags in Zuccotti Park as demonstrations against financial firms continued for an 11th day. Sarandon, 64, who appeared last year in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” toured an area that includes a makeshift kitchen and library with titles such as “The Wage Slave’s Glossary” and “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.”(For a slide show of Amy Arbus’s portraits of Wall Street protesters, click here.)
“I’m here to understand what’s going on and to lend my support,” Sarandon, who won an Academy Award for best actress for her role in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking,” said in an interview. “There’s a lot of different kinds of people here who want to shift the paradigm to something that’s addressing the huge gap between the rich and the poor.”
The group plans to march through the financial district each business day to mark the New York Stock Exchange’s opening and closing bells. The protest, dubbed “#OccupyWallStreet,” aims to get President Barack Obama to establish a commission to end “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
“We’re raising awareness of the fact that the current economic system is changeable,” said Dylan O’Keefe, 19, of Northampton, Massachusetts, who said he attended about five days of protests. “I really don’t have faith in the political process anymore, mostly because of corporate interests. I don’t even plan on voting.”
About 80 of the 100 people arrested since the demonstrations began were taken into custody on Sept. 24, when a police officer used pepper spray “in a continuum of force that obviated the use of batons,” Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, said in an e-mail.
“Protesters who engage in civil disobedience can expect to be arrested,” Browne said. “Those who resist arrest can expect some measure of force will be used in making them.”
The Sept. 24 march and the use of pepper spray “really inspired me to come here,” said Esther Martin, 24, of New Orleans, who said she had a temporary job selling Bob Marley and Marilyn Monroe posters before joining the protest. “It’s giving a body to the discontent people feel from not having jobs or money, and the disappointment about bailouts for Wall Street.”
Michael Moore was on Piers Morgan last night for a lengthy interview. Moore predicted the Wall. St protests (that are slowly gaining the sort of media attention one would assume a mass sitting-in of the nation’s financial capital might garner) will go national.
Look, we got rid of slavery in 1863 in this country. It wasn’t until the 1960s that you saw the large marches and the voting rights and the civil rights act being passed. Women couldn’t vote until 1920, and then you didn’t have the real women’s liberation movement until the ’60s and ’70s. …
Things take time. This won’t take that long. This won’t take 100 years for people to respond because Wall Street has overplayed its hand. They have come down too hard on too many people, especially people in the middle class who used to believe in Wall Street.
Forty-six million people living in poverty right now in the United States. That’s an absolute crime, it’s immoral. And these guys are just posting the largest profits ever this year.
You’re right, where’s the rage? Where’s the uprising? It’s starting. It’s down right now on Wall Street. It starts with the young people. But this is going to grow because people watching this tonight, people are afraid that they’re going to be foreclosed on this year, don’t know if they’re going to be out of a job next year, can’t afford the medical bills for their kids. Fifty million people still without insurance. They’re sitting home right now going, god, I wish I could do something. What can I do?
Somebody has got to start it somewhere. That’s what these kids have done down in Wall Street. It’s going to spread across the country. And believe you me, I won’t have — it won’t be because of anything I say or you say or this show or those kids down there, people already feel it. They’re sick and tired of it. And I think you’re going to see that happen more and more in this country.
Alec Baldwin has spoken out over the treatment of protesters in New York amid allegations police officers used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Manhattan over the last week as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest against social inequality and corporate greed, and filmmaker Michael Moore joined them for a march on Monday night. Baldwin has re-posted a number of the videos on his Twitter page and questioned the cops’ actions in a series of posts on the social networking website. He writes:
This is unsettling … Should NYPD officers be better trained in crowd control?… I think the NYPD has a PR problem … I think most NYPD officers want to do what’s right. But protesting should be a right. Did 9-11 kill the right to protest in NY? … I think that people should have easier access to permits for the purpose of protesting.
Noam Chomsky sends a “strong message of support” to the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street protests:
Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street (financial institutions generally) has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1%, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called “a precariat” — seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity — not only too big to fail, but also “too big to jail.” The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.
OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.
If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot. …
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends. I didn’t refuse, nor did others. …
The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering. …
For those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate. My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
As the throng of chanting discontents wound its way through the narrow aisle of barricades along Wall Street, a steady file of motorcycle police on one side and the buildings of financial institutions on the other, suited corporate employees and otherwise employed people were trying to get to work.
It was 9:30 am on Monday morning. As the commuters pressed down the sidewalk, skirting around the crush of police and protesters, some looked down at cell phones. Others smirked at the sign-holders, and still others nodded approvingly. “I’m so with you guys!” shouted a woman in restaurant uniform. “Join us!” a bearded twenty-something banging a drum shouted back.
The Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, or what is now being called “Liberty Square,” has evolved significantly since it began last Saturday, when 1,500 or so hopeful protesters gathered after months of social media-fueled planning. The Facebook event had 20,000 ‘attending.’ Barely a murmur was heard in the media that day. But as the daily march streamed back into the square on Monday, the tenth day of the encampment, network press vans and a small flock of journalists were waiting for comments.
Likely the result of the footage of police brutality widely circulated online in the past few days, the news media has just begun to paint a picture of an emerging type of active sentiment which the United States, let alone New York, hasn’t seen in more than a generation.
Americans have watched it land in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe in the past few months, but the commonly accepted rhetoric (something about apathy, something about complacency) seemed to imply it would not touch down here. Though its beginnings, it is clear, are self-consciously humble, the Occupy Wall Street protest is maturing, and fast. The question for a protest in a city and nation very out of practice is whether it will be able to grow up.
Christian Gabriel Ruiz is a 19 year old student from the Bronx. “I missed my last class,” Ruiz said, “I’m probably expelled.” He sat on a bench in the plaza with a plate of food from the occupation ‘kitchen,’ a communal buffet table spread with three meals a day and frequently pizza, donated to the protesters by a number of sources.
He’s there “for equality.” He’s sick of so many things, he said, that seriously disturb “[his] own moral code.” Equality for Ruiz starts with healthcare. “Doctors have a huge moral obligation to help people. They really, really want to. But because of our system, if we go to the doctor’s, there’s a chance they can’t. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Ruiz’s big-picture statement–that his motivating discontent is on a scale as big as the national healthcare system–is common in the plaza. People are there for environmental justice, for student loan reform, for a restructuring of the tax system. They hold signs that read “end the wars” and they chant “tax the rich.” Some say they’d hesitate to call what they want a revolution, and some are outright anarchists. Most realize the potency of the label they’ve acquired, and corporations and their attendant government benefits are the most echoed outrage at “the Wall Street protest.”
These large-scale statements run the gamut of discontent, and protesters are self-consciously aware of terms like “splintered” and “disorganized” and “idealistic” being applied to them in news coverage and blog comments. …
Committees on safety, on media outreach, on food distribution and every other conceivable moveable part of the encampment have popped up in recent days. They sit in circles and take turns speaking. For Robert Paros, a 23-year-old construction worker who came from Florida to be there, this leaderless tedium is the ultimate source of frustration.
“We’re fucked,” he said, but it’s temporary. “The process has slowed us down. They’re all calling us disorganized. But when we do get big–and we will–they won’t be able to accuse us of being led by a few hardcore leftist radicals.” …
At the center of the square people on iPads and laptops were updating the protest blog and tweeting voraciously. A group painted posters and two women wearing duct-tape red crosses asked if anyone needed water. Tourists and passersby stood reading the signs, pointing and talking amongst themselves.
The turnout is still low. Tents have been banned and recent bouts of rain have cut into overnight numbers. They’re not allowed amplified sound, so a call-and-repeat system replaces a bullhorn. The threat of being arrested while on the daily Financial District march is very real.
“I’ve seen people pepper sprayed, beaten up, handcuffed for no reason,” said Paros, who said he has walked towards the front of ten marches since last Saturday. “When you do that, they have the tendency to single you out. Now I’m doing more organizational stuff, because if I go back on the march they will arrest me.”
Casey O’Neill had no regrets. He had traveled thousands of miles across the country – and gave up a well-paying job as a data manager in California – to sleep rough in a downtown Manhattan public square, enduring rain and increasingly chilly nights. Police keep a close eye on him every day.
But O’Neill was happy to be part of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have transformed New York’s Zuccotti Park from a spot where Wall Streeters grab a lunchtime sandwich into an informal camp of revolutionaries, socialists, anarchists and quite a lot of the just-plain-annoyed.
“Regrets? No. God, no,” said O’Neill, 34. “It is a little scary for sure. Somebody had to make a stand to do this. It is kind of amazing right now.” O’Neill is even happy to sleep on the park’s concrete benches. “It’s OK, actually,” he said.
O’Neill is part of an encampment in the square that looks ramshackle but in fact is highly organized, and looks rapidly on the way to becoming a fixture of downtown Manhattan life – if the police let the protesters stay there.
That looked unlikely on Tuesday when several protesters were forcibly arrested and taken away, including one woman who ended up in hospital. But for now the protest continues after beginning last weekend with a march on Wall Street.
The protest has morphed into a wide-ranging anti-capitalist demonstration that has attracted attention – and support – from around the world. Bemused bankers, construction workers and other downtown workers pass by every day, stopping to gawp and take pictures. Sometimes there is a lot to look at. Today, for example, Zuni Tikka, 37, was engaged in a topless protest along with several friends.
Standing bare-breasted behind a poster that proclaimed “Capitalism Isn’t Working”, she happily posed for interested bystanders. The lack of clothing, she explained, was a metaphor. “I can’t afford a shirt. Wall Street has stolen the shirts from our backs,” she said.
That carnival atmosphere is typical of the protest. Anyone hoping (or fearing) for a violent assault on the bastions of American capitalism will be sorely disappointed. Instead, several hundred protesters each morning and evening set off to march by the New York stock exchange.
They blow trumpets, bang drums and chant slogans while holding placards that read “Free Market My Ass” and “Too Big Has Failed”. They go back and forth down Wall Street, behind barricades lined with police, and then return to the camp in Zuccotti Park.
They then spend the day holding workshops, informal concerts and various protest stunts (such as the nude demonstration). They welcome visitors and tourists and try to obey the demands made by the police.
Each day a “general assembly” is held where topics and events are discussed in a free-for-all of debate and discussion. “It is a leaderless situation,” said Thorin Caristo, 37, who nonetheless is part of a small core group of people who try to keep things organised.
The protest has attracted wide support and has a sophisticated social media operation. There is a live feed onto the internet and a huge presence on Twitter. Supporters around the world have even been sending in orders to a local pizza shop to keep the protesters fed. So much so, in fact, that some organisers have asked them to stop ordering pizza as they had more than they could eat. Now most help comes in the form of money or – most importantly – more people coming.
“People are donating from all over the world. There are car pools of people arriving from Wisconsin, California and Florida. They told us: ‘Hang on, we’re coming!’ One woman who has travelled a long way is Becky Wartell, 24, a massage therapist from Maine. “I am a small business owner!” she laughed. She had just returned from the latest march down Wall Street. “What everybody’s here protesting is that fact that 1% of the population controls so much wealth. We are the rest of society. We are the 99%,” she said.
There is a broad range of opinion on display. Some are travellers who have made protesting into a lifestyle. Some are students. Others are working people, like O’Neill and Wartell, who have taken time off to join in. No one knows how long they are going to be in Zuccotti Park.
As with much of the protest, things appear likely to just evolve as they go along. The same goes for the protesters’ aims too. “We don’t have a precise goal. We want to stay a month. That’s a loose goal. Or maybe longer. We want to be here until we have entered a worldwide dialogue about transparency and accountability in the financial system,” said Caristo.
One thing many of the protesters do know is their facts and figures. For every hippie talking about world peace or traveller wanting to heal the world, another will mention the exact tax rates that rich Americans pay, or that 20% of the US population now control 84% of the wealth. Or that the richest 400 families have the same net worth as the bottom 50% of the entire nation. Even Tikka, as she posed topless before a gaggle of fascinated construction workers, was protesting deliberately next to a sign that read: “I didn’t say look, I said listen.”
Ten days of living in a concrete New York City park and you’d never guess the bandana-wearing Thorin Caristo, of Plainfield, Conn., was a father of two and dealer in antiques. “I’ve gotten about 24 hours sleep in the last 10 days,” Caristo said Monday, looking very much like a man living on the street. “It’s been rough.”
Caristo, 37, is one of about 300 regular “residents” of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, although the inhabitants — who are there to protest what they call Wall Street’s greed, the weak economy and a host of other causes — have been calling the park by its former name, Liberty Plaza. The group’s numbers rise and fall throughout the day, and by around 4 p.m. on Monday, levels were closer to 700. By nightfall, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore had stopped by for a surprise visit.
Last weekend, the movement, which calls itself “Occupy Wall Street” drew national attention after 87 people were arrested and a girl was pepper-sprayed by police as nearly 2,000 people rallied to object to Wall Street’s influence over government policies. On several websites, various participants of the protest are calling for President Barack Obama to form a committee to eliminate undue influence on politics wielded by corporations.
The park, located across the street from One Liberty Plaza, which houses the Nasdaq Stock Market headquarters and the Financial Regulatory Authority’s Dispute Resolution office, has become its own village, complete with a media center, a place to hold general assemblies, and crude medical and dining facilities. Some have laid carpet remnants and mattresses down. On the fringes of the park, protestors stand with signs and discuss their issues with anyone who cares to ask. Inside, they talk and debate amongst themselves, laugh and occasionally strum guitars.
Sleeping bags and tarps are stacked up in other areas until needed at night. “I didn’t need any convincing to come here,” Caristo, said, explaining why he left the comfort of home to be here. He’s had a sense things were going wrong in this country since he graduated high school in the 1990s and could only afford a year at Eastern Connecticut University before having to quit and find work.
Like many of the other protesters, he sees a nation where access to opportunity appears to be driven by wealth and where government is more responsive to corporate interests than the good of the people. He said a constant striving to increase profits is not sustainable and people need to think more about the greater good. It’s a personal issue, too, he said, as he’s watched friends and family struggle to make ends meet and he worries about his own children’s future.
The movement, at times, seems chaotic and unclear in its focus, which confused some outside observers. Signs laid out on the park near the sidewalk shout calls to action and criticisms such as “Kill the Corporate Tapeworm,” “Capitalism is Dying in the U.S.A.,” and “Industrial Civilization is Murdering our Earth,” among a host of other concerns including Wall Street’s influence on politics, increasing poverty, nuclear proliferation and pollution. …
This is a collective effort of people trying to come together for a cause. And they’re trying to make sure everyone is heard. That’s handled during the general assembly the group holds every day to discuss the issues of the village, food and medical supplies, as well as an open session for comment.
The assembly is not allowed to use microphones, so people have employed what they call “The Human Microphone.” The speaker who has the floor talks in short sentences and the crowd repeats his or her words so everyone can hear. …
Roper said traveled down from Bristol because he believes the nation has taken a wrong turn, the results of which have led to a period in which good grades and hard work aren’t likely to help you get ahead. He definitely sees cutting the purse strings between Wall Street and the government as a vital step in returning fairness to the system.
While they’ve been called anti-capitalists, there is a mix of people at the protest. Some are indeed anti-capitalist, others are looking for a division between the state and corporations to be more clearly delineated. The group in general is diverse in age and race and socio-economic background. While many are from the Northeast, there were people from Nebraska and Iowa camping in the square. …
Caristo said the reactions from police and the rest of the crowd aren’t all bad. While some people are there just to mock, he said, he’s also had some engaging conversations with Wall Street workers who really want to know what this is about. That, he said, is a beginning.
“This has just started,” Caristo said. “Occupy Dallas, Occupy Philadelphia have sprung, up. The spark is here.”
What’s happening on Wall Street? An ongoing protest, now in its second week, has brought together a wide array of participants from political newcomers afraid for their own economic security to veteran activists who pull upon a range of culture jamming techniques to celebrity endorsers, including Roseanne Barr, who made her way to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. And today, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore joined in.
There is an inter-generational quality as economic insecurity has shown little respect for age. There is determination as well as anger, creativity as well as earnestness. And while there are themes that rise up again and again – that corporations have too much control over our lives and our political process, that Wall Street is still reaping profits while our country is suffering, that there needs to be accountability for those who caused this financial crisis – there is not one single chant. The Occupy Wall Street effort has been intentionally leaderless, in a way confounding both to the authorities and the conventional media.
The New York Times has received its fair share of criticism for its limited ability to understand the events (and Allison Kilkenny of the Nation offers a healthy alternative take. And more sensational moments of police violence have attracted a greater share of attention than the messages of the protesters.
Twitter reports have recounted police asking to speak to “whoever is in charge” to the amusement of protesters. The media coverage of the first week of protest was scant, perhaps due in part to the absence of official spokespeople. While Michael Moore has shown his support and the organization Adbusters is credited with some of the inspiration, the actual events unfolding aren’t following Moore’s script or Adbusters’ scheme – it’s something more organic bubbling up, a petrie dish for dissatisfaction and frustration and mobilization, the result of which won’t be known until after this process runs its course.
Which is counter to how many protests work – with scheduled speakers, officially printed signs, organized buses. But as those marches on Washington have found less and less traction in the media and the public imagination over the years, maybe something less scripted has a chance to break out.
While Occupy Wall Street has not found its narrative in mainstream media yet, it has resonated with other activists around the country and the world who are launching similar ongoing protests in other major cities. Twitter has been able to communicate the diverse, at-times cacophonous range of experiences and expressions at Zuccotti Park better than conventional media reporting – and in that way, a story is getting told that is inspiring more activity. Where all of this energy leads – into more street action or political change, into a new movement or nowhere at all – is a story still being written 140 characters at a time.
It’s messy. It’s disorganized. At times, the message is all but incoherent. All of which makes Occupy Wall Street, the loosely organized protest in lower Manhattan now in its second week, a lot like the rest of the current American political discourse. “It’s democracy – real democracy,” said Micah Chamberlain, 23, from Columbus, Ohio, who sat behind a makeshift table where organizers maintain a schedule of daily events. “It’s slow and it’s tedious and it’s complicated, but everyone has a voice. No one’s voice gets marginalized.”
The organizing theme, such as it is, centers on the influence of large corporations in shaping government policy. Many here blame the paralysis in Washington on a campaign finance system run amok. In that sense, the Occupy Wall Street movement seeks to “take back the country” no less than its Tea Party counterparts on the other end of the political spectrum. The two movements (if that’s what this is) also share a common sense of despair and disgust with the two-party system now gearing up for another election cycle.
Like the Tea Party, the origins of Occupy Wall Street are a bit murky. The idea for the protest apparently originated with a Vancouver-based magazine called Adbusters, which in a July 13 blog post called on a handful of unaffiliated groups to “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” The purpose of the protest, according to the post, is to end “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
On Sept. 17, hundreds of protesters heeded the call to Occupy Wall Street, though they’ve missed the target by a few blocks. Denied permanent access to pavement outside the New York Stock Exchange, the symbolic heart of capitalism at 11 Wall St., the group has fallen back to a space formerly known as Liberty Park. Sitting in the shadow of One World Trade Center, the skyscraper rising at Ground Zero formerly known as Freedom Tower, the three-quarter-acre rectangle of pavement, granite benches and tables is a carefully manicured urban landscape that includes a grove of honey locust trees illuminated nightly by hundreds of in-ground lights.
The New York Police Department, meanwhile, has set up a maze of barricades along the sidewalks for several blocks near the stock exchange itself, blocking street access and forcing pedestrians to make long detours. For Swili Rally, a newsstand operator across the street from the exchange, the barricades have killed foot traffic. “This is usually a very busy time of day, but everything is blocked off,” he said. “These protesters are really bad for business.”
For most of the past ten days, the police made only a handful of arrests. But on Saturday, as protesters marched on nearby Union Square, police tried to corral demonstrators using waist-high lengths of orange plastic netting. Some 80 people were arrested, mostly on charges of blocking traffic, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. …
So who are these people? Some are day-trippers from the suburbs and five boroughs. Others are out-of-towners staying in the relative comfort of a friend or family member’s apartment. But many have come from all over the country to live in the park more or less full-time: sleeping on the ground, sharing a buffet of donated food and availing themselves of the facilities at a handful of nearby fast-food restaurant in a city famous for limited access to public rest rooms. …
While the message may not be unified, there are common themes reflecting the harsh economic realities confronting a generation that came of age during the worst recession since the 1930s. Many of the people here were in middle school during the 2001 recession and entered high school about the time the housing market collapsed. If they made it to college, they were greeted by the Panic of 2008 and the deepest recession – and weakest economic recovery – in generations.
Unemployment is another unifying theme: a lot of people are here because they don’t have a job. While the unemployment rate for all U.S. workers stood at 9.1 percent in August, some 14.8 percent of those aged 20–to 24 were out of work.
“I used to a have great construction job, and (now) I can’t find a job for more than $10 a hour,” said Brandon Szalay, 28, from Boulder, Colo. “I can pay my rent, but I can’t buy my groceries and I can’t pay my electric bill. It’s not good. I’ve got all sorts of skills, but they tell me I’m either overqualified or underqualified. “ …
The government’s bailout of the banking industry is one of the common targets of the protest. “People are hungry, we’ve got schools and hospitals closing, cops are getting laid off,” said Ed Delgado, 60, a former investigator with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Our corporations have a stranglehold over government. They are reaping all the benefits and not taking any of the responsibilities.”
Though the protesters are still working to hone their message, it’s apparently getting through to some observers, including Jim Farley, 45, a construction worker enjoying a break in the morning sunshine. “God Bless them,” he said. “I’ve been a union guy for years. Corporations don’t care about workers like us. That’s the bottom line.” …
Though the protesters are aware of the need for a more focused agenda, it is, at best, a work in progress. The current vehicle is a series of loosely organized meetings – called General Assemblies – designed to let anyone contribute to a list of the group’s goals, called Working Principals. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone here asserting leadership.
It’s a process that professional elected officials in Congress and the White House might find familiar. “Consensus is a very time-consuming process, and that’s the problem we’re working on,” said Jesse Cooper Levy, 24, from Fairlawn, N.J. “It can be discouraging to people.”
Protesters have swarmed Wall Street in New York for ten days. The Occupy Wall Street website claims they’ll stay there for months as a sort of revolution to take back the country from greed. The revolution could be spreading to the Kansas City area.
The group’s site says they are modeling the revolution on the Arab Spring Revolutions in the Middle East. They’re using Twitter and Facebook to organize and using a mass occupation to make their point. Kansas City could be next.
Tyler Crane say what happened in New York. He’s been inspired to start protesting in Kansas City by the Federal Reserve building. “It does effect our community,” he said. “These policies are being made in our backyard. “The problems don’t just effect new york citians and wall street it effects everyone who pays their taxes has mortgages or anything.”
Crane has a very personal reason for wanting to bring this protest to Kansas City. “People are frustrated my mom lost $550,000 in pensions that my grandparents spent their lives building up and it just disappears,” he said.
When you look at the New York protests you see a lot of faces in the crowd. Crane says that’s because their world has such a bleek economic outlook.
“They go and get an education and they can’t get a job to even pay those loans back,” he said. “The people in my age group don’t look at the future we don’t have social security to rely on and no benefits that our parents were privy to because these guys are bleeding it all.”
Crane says he can’t be silent about his frustration and hopes other peaceful protesters will join him. “I was always taught that in America it’s your liberty and freedom to speak out,” Crane said. “That’s what this is all about to make change we the people by the people.”
There is a protest planned for Friday, Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. There’s another one scheduled for October 9.
No one in America can leave their home, eat a meal, make a phone call or even turn on the lights without paying some sort of a regressive tax that disproportionately affects the poor and working class. What is true is that many Americans pay no federal income tax, because it has a progressive structure to counter that effect. It even manages to shake out surprisingly equitably among the poor and middle class, with those earning anything between $20,000 and $500,000 per year handing over a whopping 40 percent of their income to the government one way or another. Only the super rich seem to get off relatively easily, contributing just 17 percent.
In fact, the wealth gap in the United States is wider than it has ever been. In 2009 alone, the pay of America’s highest earners quintupled, while more Americans found themselves on food stamps than ever before. Wealth inequality in the United States had already hit its highest level since 1929 two years before that. Throughout the recession and its jobless aftermath, that gap has only grown bigger. And bigger. And bigger. We’re now roughly on par with China. It hasn’t always been this way. Between the New Deal and 1980, the American working class was given a slightly better shot at success with each new generation. But we also didn’t get to this point through a single recession, either.
This return to pre-depression insanity is the result of three decades of real class warfare stretched over three Republican and two Democratic administrations and every imaginable combination of legislative control. In this bizarre new America, the fantasy of supply-side economics lingers, now usually in the form of a “job creator” talking point. (You know what really creates jobs? A working class capable of making purchases.) So today, any suggestion that the wealthy aren’t paying enough is branded class warfare, but “a broad-based, regressive increase” targeting the working poor might be just what the doctor ordered. As a result, the super rich are charged a before-deduction tax rate that is half of what it was under Nixon and a real tax rate that is half of what their secretaries pay. It’s income redistribution, alright — from the bottom, which pays taxes, to the top, which does not.
We also leave people born to poor families disgracefully little opportunity to become one of those wealthy tax-dodgers we’re so intent on pampering. The United States bills itself as the land of opportunity — and when it comes to politics, nobody has anything on us. Our dirty little secret is that when it comes to economics, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the U.S. offers its citizens the very lowest chance among wealthy nations for upward intergenerational socioeconomic mobility. If you’re born to a poor family in America, you’re probably going to die poor, too — and so will your children. Unless, of course, you or they manage a move to Denmark. …
If you’re born poor in the United States, you’ll probably be getting a sub-standard education, because we make education a relatively low priority and leave the funding of schools to local governments with wildly unequal means. We also charge a lot of money for a college education, so if you do manage to make it through that sub-par school and head to a university that you are ill-prepared for, it is unlikely that institution will land you the kind of connections you’ll need for upward mobility. Even at a state school, you’ll be borrowing a lot of money to attend, since your parents can hardly afford to help you out. So in the best-case scenario, you’ll likely be starting your adult life saddled by debt.
Between that debt and the 40 percent you’ll be forking over in taxes, even a college graduate from a poor family is not likely to be purchasing a home or accruing much savings to pass on to your children. As you try to build your life, you’ll find yourself disadvantaged at every turn. You’ll be paying a lot of fees for the privilege of being poor. Your means will limit your access to credit, which will in turn severely limit your independence. Oh, and you’ll likely be living from financial crisis to financial crisis. …
The word “shameful” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Still, we steadfastly refuse to invest in anything that might help to keep this country’s workforce viable in a world economy, because it might also help the poor. Anything that helps give the working or middle class a fair chance at helping America succeed is branded the socialist machinations of a doomed welfare state. It is as if we would rather see our nation fail than risk letting our neighbor’s kid have it any easier than we did. …
Even with record unemployment claims and more Americans on food stamps than ever before, the social safety net amounts to under half a trillion dollars of spending per year. Keep in mind that more than twice as many Americans are currently unemployed as usual, so that number is grossly inflated right now. And in order to get it that high, one has to include many things that seem a stretch, like earned-income and child tax credits, school meals and programs for abused children. We’re told time and again that we simply cannot afford a functioning government, but the average actual welfare state — like Finland or Denmark — enjoys a AAA S&P credit rating and a national debt lower than America’s by about 10 percent of their GDP. Looking at the numbers, it seems impossible to escape the conclusion that by constantly indulging the rich and relentlessly beating down the working class, we are slowly ruining this country not just morally but financially, as well.
After this recession, as most of the poor continue to linger in poverty, we won’t be collecting any of the revenue that they could be generating. And when another recession hits and our expenditures skyrocket again, we’ll cut programs for the poor and taxes for the rich again. And again. And again. Somehow we will expect this to add up to a functioning economy. Unless and until we put a stop to this madness, at some point this system will no longer work. The middle class and working poor won’t be able to support it any longer because they will no longer have the means to. It’s a penny wise, dollar foolish, unconscionably cruel and supremely misguided age of austerity we’re living in.
Republicans claim, in Orwellian fashion, that Obama’s millionaire tax is ‘class war’. The reality is that the super-rich won the war. Taking his cue from Warren Buffett, President Obama has announced a ‘millionaire tax’ as part of his budget plan; Republicans have denounced it as ‘class war’.
Republicans and conservatives always fight back against proposals to raise taxes on corporations and rich individuals by making two basic claims. First, such proposals amount to un-American “class warfare”, pitting the working class against corporations and the rich. Second, such proposals would take money for the government that would otherwise have been invested in production and thus created jobs. …
The tax structure imposed by Washington on the US over the last half-century has seen a massive double shift of the burden of taxation: from corporations to individuals and from the richest individuals to everyone else. If the national debate wants seriously to use a term like “class war” to describe Washington’s tax policies, then the reality is that the class war’s winners have been corporations and the rich. Its losers – the rest of us – now want to reduce our losses modestly by small increases in taxes on the super-rich (but not, or not yet, on corporations).
To refer to this effort as if it had suddenly introduced class war into US politics is either dishonest or based on ignorance of what federal tax policies have actually been. Or perhaps, for conservatives, it is a convenient mixture of both. …
Last month, Warren Buffett upset many of his “mega-rich friends” by what he stated categorically in a New York Times op-ed. He made it clear that he had never encountered any serious investor who decided whether or not to invest based on tax rates. It was always the prospects of profit that made the difference. He then urged Americans to raise taxes on the rich like himself. He also hinted – none too subtly – that it was becoming politically dangerous for the whole economic system’s survival to keep having the minority of extremely rich people paying federal tax at lower rates than the middle- and low-income majority.
The final irony of loose talk about class war is this: the Republican and conservative voices opposing all tax increases for corporations and the rich thereby provoke, as Buffett intimated and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg more explicitly warned last week, a renewal of class consciousness in the US. Then, Washington might learn what class war really is.
A comprehensive new survey of the American electorate by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, indicates that the most politically engaged Americans now are fundamentally opposed to compromise, divided on virtually every basic national question and separated from each other by everything from their race to the choice of where they get their news. Moreover, the increasing numbers of independents, who’ve theoretically pushed national politics to the center with their preference for middle-of-the-road policies, no longer are particularly moderate. California has traversed this sort of political landscape for more than a decade, and now the rest of the nation seems poised to discover that it’s a difficult and discomforting place.
The nation’s partisan alignment, according to Pew, now closely resembles California’s: 25% of the registered voters hold views that make them “mostly Republican”; 40% incline “mostly Democratic”; and 35% are independents of various stripes. The Republicans, according to Pew’s findings, are overwhelmingly white (about 9 out of 10), devoutly and decisively Protestant (roughly 7 out of 10) and financially well off (7 of 10). The old divide between the GOP’s social and economic conservatives, Pew found, has been erased. These days, to be Republican is to be equally conservative in both areas. This national realignment, the Pew analysts argue, is the most significant change in the six years since their last such survey, though it occurred in California years ago.
While a majority of the Democrats’ most ideologically liberal members (16% of the electorate) are white, the party’s other factions also include large percentages of upwardly mobile white immigrants, blacks and Latinos, as well as a substantial number of blue-collar whites and African Americans (together, 15% of registered voters). Nearly half of those African Americans and working-class whites “expect they will earn enough to lead the kind of life they want.” They also are “socially conservative and very religious,” which sets them apart from this coalition’s other constituents. “What we see is a much bigger and increasingly diverse middle,” Pew’s Andrew Kohut told the Washington Post this week. “What’s striking about it is that they’re not so moderate. People in the middle have some strong, well-defined ideological points of view.” …
Perhaps most troubling, Pew found that a majority of registered voters — and a stunning 79% of “staunch conservatives” — say they “prefer elected officials who stick to their positions over those who make compromises with people they disagree with.”
For generations, historians and political analysts have identified a predilection for pragmatic problem-solving over ideology as the defining — and distinctive — characteristic of American political life. Clearly, that’s a thing of the past, and with it, the impulse to bipartisanship. In California, we’ve watched this shift away from compromise bring effective government virtually to a halt. It’s not an experience we can afford to repeat on the national level. A democratic system that disdains compromise has no way forward but the brutality of simple majoritarianism. In a society as diverse and divided as ours, that path is sown with its own perils.
We’re engaged in life-or-death class warfare whether we recognize it or not, a vital struggle between the capitalist class and the working class. Members of the capitalist class have declared war against us – the working class. Capitalists are busy swindling, oppressing, and killing workers worldwide. The two classes at war with each other can be delineated in several ways:
- By wealth: the class of the rich against the class of the poor
- By ownership: the capitalist class (owners of the means of production) versus the working class
- By ideology: those for government by men against those for government by law
- By intelligence and culture: the class of the ignorant and barbaric against the class of the intelligent and refined
- Hedge fund gamblers earn the same in one hour as a middle-class household makes in over 47 years.
- A new study shows members of Congress saw a boost in personal wealth as the U.S. economy suffered the worst of the economic recession. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, lawmakers’ personal wealth increased an average of 16 percent between 2008 and 2009. The number of millionaires rose to 261, nearly half the total members of Congress. The median wealth of a House member topped $765,000, while the average for a senator was more than $2.3 million.
Democrats are hitting back at Republicans who say President Obama’s plan to increase taxes on millionaires and billionaires amounts to “class warfare,” arguing that the GOP is the party that has been protecting the interests of a particular class — the wealthiest Americans.
On Monday, Obama unveiled his deficit reduction plan, the centerpiece of which is a new tax on income over $1 million. The White House is calling it “The Buffett Rule,” named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has said it’s absurd that he is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary. The new rule is meant to prevent the wealthiest Americans from taking advantage of loopholes that tax investment earnings at lower rates than wages. Republicans quickly responded to the plan by calling it “class warfare” — a term used by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
But Democrats are hitting back. Ryan Nickel, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee’s Minority Staff, sent an email to Democratic press secretaries on Monday calling attention to dramatic cuts that Republicans have proposed to programs benefiting low- and middle-income Americans: “Are GOP cuts to WIC [Women Infants and Children], Pell Grants, Meals-on-Wheels, Low-Income Legal Services & Head Start ‘Class Warfare’?” Some of the GOP cuts highlighted in the email:
- Interagency Council on Homelessness: The GOP zeroed out this agency in their proposed FY12 Transportation, HUD Appropriations Bill. The USICH enhances the Federal Government’s response to homelessness by enhancing coordination between agencies, addressing duplicative programs, and identifying best-practices.
- Head Start: The cut of $1.1 billion (14%) below the FY10 level and more than $500 million below FY2008, would have translated to a massive loss of comprehensive early childhood services, with more than 200,000 children across the country being kicked out of the program and put 55,000 Head Start teachers out of work and into unemployment lines. Additionally, this funding level would have meant cuts to research grants, training and technical assistance grants and monitoring activities.
- Help for the Poor and Elderly: Community Services Block Grants were cut by $305 million below the FY10 level. The Administration on Aging was cut by $71 million which would have reduced senior center and Meals on Wheels services to the elderly.
The Republican budget plans released this year have attempted to cut back on programs that disproportionately benefit low- and middle-income individuals — especially women, children and senior citizens. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives proposed cutting $20 million from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides food to low-income Americans. The reductions would have resulted in an estimated 81,000 individuals being cut out of the program. In April, 14 female Democratic lawmakers fasted to “draw attention to the severe cuts being proposed to poverty-focused international assistance programs, which will largely hurt women and girls globally.”