Lifestyle

Occupy This

Chad W. Lutz
Remember the 1990s? Remember when, as Charlie Sheen might put it, America was “winning?” We balanced the national budget in 1998, technology exports were skyrocketing, the stock market listed some of the highest closures in the history of the Dow Jones, and there was a subliminal sense of underlying safety and security you could almost palpate in the air.

Now 20 years removed from the beginning of that decade, our country seems to have taken a turn for the worst. On any given day, gas could jump $0.50 a gallon, the stock market could crash 800 points, bounce back by 400 the next, and then fall cowardly down the cavernous stock market abyss by another 700. Family’s lose nest eggs, careers are wiped out in the blink of an eye by sudden downsizing, and millions of people wander the streets unemployed, homeless, and at the end of their rope.

Meanwhile, or so it seems, an “elite group” of individuals dubbed, “The 1 Percent,” control the majority of this nation’s wealth. While some might dismiss this as a blatant fallacy and hasty generalization, statistics from many credible survey agencies and leading economists suggest a top tier of elite Americans controlling the majority of wealth and power in this country.
photo by (openmarket.org)
In the early-1960s, a movement dubbed the Counterculture movement began taking shape in protest of the conglomerate stranglehold many felt was encroaching on certain “unalienable rights.” Fueled by racial tension and gender discrimination, the Counterculture movement gained steam and eventually reached out to millions of Americans by the end of the decade.

Almost in similar fashion, a new movement, which went largely unnoticed during its first few weeks of existence due the ignorance of countless news organizations, began forming in New York City in early September. The movement is beginning called “Occupy Wall Street” and it’s taking America by storm. The overall purpose of the movement is to bring to light the public outcry for equality in the face of conglomerate tyranny and oppression committed by the 1 Percent. The “99 Percent,” as many of the protesters call themselves, feel that too much of the power and wealth has been put in the hands of a select few the 99 Percent feel exude indestructible greed and social negligence towards the greater “good” of the American people.
Occupy Wall Street Promotional Flyer (BuzzFeed.com)
Basic tenants of the 99 Percent call for a, “participatory democracy,” in which all citizens have an equal say in what shapes our lives and influences our politicians. Political Actions Committees (PACs) and sizeable campaign contributions have long been an unsung, yet major deciding factors in shaping the future of our country. Due to a 1985 decision by the Supreme Court enabling PACs to donate to political candidates without limit, major corporations have been able to heavily influence our politicians, and even our votes.
Another Occupy Wall Street Promotional Flyer (BuzzFeed.com)
According to a July 2011 article written by G. William Domhoff, the 99 Percent only accounts for roughly 57% of our nation’s wealth. The 2010 U.S. Census revealed 312,414,071 people inhabit the United States. If we take Domhoff’s 2007 figures at face value and assume that 43% of the nation’s wealth is controlled by 1% of the population, we see roughly 3.1 million people controlling a lop-sized portion of our country’s wealth, especially when juxtaposed against the 309,289,930 people that make up the 99 Percent.

Just how bad is it? While unemployment hovers at historically high rates (9.1% national average as of September 2011 or roughly 14 million Americans), CEO’s and Corporate America continue to get rich.

And the rich get richer…

The first quarter of 2011 saw a $49.1 billion increase in gross domestic product for private businesses, following a $38.3 billion increase the final quarter of 2010. The second quarter of 2011 held even more growth and expansion for private business, yielding a $39.1 billion increase in GDP. The gross national product currently sits at $15,012.8 billion, or the total monies grossed by the U.S. as a whole. Looking at Domhoff’s figures again, the 1 Percent controls roughly $6.45 trillion of the gross national product. 3,124,141 people controlling almost $6.45 trillion dollars; something doesn’t add up here.

In his article, Domhoff admits that while singling out 1% of the population may seem appropriate, the real culprits are those in the top .10%. “It is also important to realize that the lower half of that top 1% has far less than those in the top half; in fact, both wealth and income are super-concentrated in the top 0.1%, which is just one in a thousand.”
Although Occupy Wall Street has gained national and even some international attention, many wonder what comes next. Some politicians have dismissed the movement as a loosely organized “mob.” One that, as Virginia U.S. House Representative Eric Cantor put it, “I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans” (Chicago Magazine). Others, like presidential hopeful Herman Cain, feel the American public doesn’t understand our current system of taxation.

Since the middle of September, more than 20,000 Americans have gathered in New York City in protest of the 1 Percent. Social media networking has played an integral role in organizing the movement, which many officials originally dismissed as being highly unorganized. However, in the weeks following Occupy Wall Street’s inception thousands more have joined the already incredible number of Americans amassing in New York. Many “copycat” demonstrations have begun popping up throughout the United States, as well. Unlike the Counterculture movement of our parent’s generation, Occupy Wall Street protesters range in age anywhere from 15 to 90. The only enemy, it seems, is apparent greed.

On the local Ohio front, demonstrations and protests have begun taking shape in major cities throughout the state. The Big 3 (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati), along with many others, have already hosted major events drawing thousands in opposition to the unbalanced share of wealth in the United States. According to an October 8 Fox 8 News report, Toledo and Youngstown are soon to follow. Groups in Kent, Akron, Canton, Eaton, and Dayton have also announced plans to organize Occupy demonstrations.

So far no major outbursts of violence or unrest have erupted from the encampments, but many politicians and city officials are on guard. An October 11 ABC News Radio article by Rebecca Fenton reveals what many who oppose the protests worry will happen if allowed to continue: “They (opposition) accuse Occupiers of everything from poor hygiene to making threats of physical violence against corporate executives. They warn that the movement may be trying to foment a bank run and cyber-hack the New York Stock Exchange or some other bulwark of the establishment.” While many might scoff at the likelihood of a cyber-attack on the New York Stock Exchange, officials and politicians are preparing for the worst and have been keeping a leery eye on the protesters and their activities.
(Henny Ray Abrams / AP)
If our history serves us correctly and we have anything to brace for, violence would be the prime candidate. The Counterculture movement of the 1960s showed us the grim and, at times, barbaric nature our country can assume if provoked. The Kent State Shootings come to mind, but then again, they’re hard not to when the institution you dropped $60,000 on for a piece of paper that “proves” you know English totes the event around as some sort of exploitive recruitment marketing ploy; commemorative snow globes and all.

While it’s unclear how long the Occupy protests will last, many supporters say, “as long as it has to.” An article on CNN Money.com posted December 23, 2010, provides statistics on the widening gap between the rich and the poor. In 2009, “The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household,” which is up from the 2004 figure of 190 times greater. Statistics do show, however, that the 1 Percent have taken a hit in recent years due to the instability of the Dow and fluctuations in various markets. But it is fair to say that while the top 1% of households experienced a 27% drop in net worth from 2007 to 2009, the average family’s net worth, or the other 99% of us, experienced a 41% decrease. The only clear and rather obvious difference is, when the 1% experiences a loss, the sacrifices they face include the choice between buying a private leer jet and settling for first class. For the rest of us, it may mean living on the streets.

If you or anyone you know would like to get involved or would like to find out more information on Occupy events happening in Ohio, visit http://www.facebook.com/OccupyOhio.