Occupy Wall Street is the anti-Tea Party. It’s a movement cut from the same cloth, but aimed at a different target. The Tea Party formed in response to the bailouts, blaming the government for our woes and interfering with the financial sector. Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, sees a different and much more poignant problem with the bailouts. The problem was not that the government gave the bailouts away, but that the banks were so large and powerful that they could ask for bailouts and get them. The Tea Party sees big government as the problem, but OWS sees big business as the problem.
The recession has made us angry about a lot of things, but at some point, it seems that we forgot about being angry with the entities that got us into the recession in the first place. Had we forgotten about the irresponsible banking practices, the collateralized debt obligations, the credit default swaps, the excessive leveraging and the toxic assets? Had we forgotten just how little the government did to address these, the problems that actually affected the economy?
Despite all the accusations of not having a “message,” the OWS movement addresses the lower classes’ woes far better than the Tea Party ever did. The countless signs about “the 99%” all have a recurring theme: The ultra-wealthy have entirely too much influence in our politics, and they use their influence for their own benefit at the exclusion of everyone else. The right wing’s cries of “big government” may resonate with Americans, but I doubt they can compete with our mistrust of people who own private jets.
With all the advances of technology in the last 50 years, especially the introduction of computers, American productivity and wealth have shot up. You would think that all Americans would see shorter work weeks and higher wages as a result, and for a while, that was the case. Around 1980, however, things changed. Since then, the economy has nearly doubled in size, but the extra productivity and wealth have mostly gone to benefit the richest portion of earners, according to a March 2010 study by the Levy Economics Institute.
Since 1980, according to taxpolicycenter.org, the top 1 percent of earners has seen its share of annual income soar from 10 percent to 23 percent, and that top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of America’s wealth. For the top 0.1 percent, the gains have been even greater. The richer you are, the better the last 30 years have been.
For those of us down below, it’s frustrating to see all the benefits of the 20th century flowing upward, and even more frustrating that we can’t legitimately get our political representatives to do anything about it. In our political world, politicians need money for campaigns and commercials to influence public opinion, and small donors just don’t have that much impact anymore, especially since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited corporate campaign contributions.
The super rich, controlling more and more money, have more and more ability to influence politicians and public policy, including, but not limited to, lower tax rates for themselves. The rest of us would love to have that much influence over politicians, but the populace’s votes can’t incentivize an elected representative like money can.
Occupy Wall Street was born out of frustration with the power wielded by the super wealthy. That’s where our frustration should be. With our senators in constant campaign mode, it seems that nothing can change unless their donors and financiers will allow it. We wish our hard work could move us up the economic ladder, so we wouldn’t have to work two jobs just to pay the bills. We wish that going to college or getting sick didn’t mean falling so deeply into debt. We wish that the wealth would finally trickle down and we’d see less disparity between ourselves and the top 0.1 percent. But corporations with deep pockets and lobbying power are more interested in seeing their profits increase next quarter, and the people in charge are pathetically subject to their whims. At the moment, not much can change unless campaign contributors are okay with it. That’s what we should be angry about. Instead, the Tea Partiers are up in arms about environmental regulations and NPR.
Conservative pundits can, and apparently will, rant and rave about the Occupy Wall Street movement, how it’s fringe and radical, how the protesters are hippies or criminals or too lazy to get a job, how it’s disorganized and doesn’t have a message, but the pundits can’t change the values at its heart. No matter how many misdemeanor loitering charges the protestors amass, they support an ideal that practically everyone in America can agree with: separation of corporation and state.