It’s becoming a delicate dance, what to call the growing Occupy Wall St. movement? It’s obviously not just about Wall St. anymore. Journalists keep gently reminding us that there are those who believe it is the equivalent of the “Arab Spring”, although I have yet to sense a wide enough popular support for the overthrow of American capitalism and its replacement with something else, perhaps the only appropriate equivalent. But with words like “plutocrats” and “oligarchs” finally being pronounced aloud with some regularity on American television and in the press, it is obvious that something big is up, and we have to call it something. Oh, apparently this movement is still getting dismissive waves of the wrist from the usual self-styled “pundits.” And, as usual, the Democratic Party, ever the prostitute in search of a new John to milk, (ahem) is scrambling to weasel its way into the so-called leadership vacuum. Just look at former Speaker Nancy Pelosi or the Rev. Jesse Jackson or, shoot, even Jesse Ventura was out there, hopefully not too well armed and maybe willing to listen a bit. But the press in general seems to be “getting it” better, although collectively it was a bit reluctant at first, like most people, to even try.
Except those actually there. In fact, the ones out there this past month, for all the cacophony and their occasional sloppiness and disparate messages, seem to make the most sense to me. After all, while it is true that the cowboy capitalism of the past 40 years, has wrenched the last slivers of democracy from the clenched teeth of the masses, it is also true that, in toto, we are in a far bigger, global crisis than we admit, and no single name or explanation gets it, in my opinion.
Not too far from where I live, an ozone hole was found above the Arctic, a place with already ever diminishing ice during the year, which in turn, dulls the reflective nature of the Earth’s surface, making it absorb more heat which raises water temperatures, which causes ever more ice to melt near the Poles, which causes ocean levels to rise and apparently further heats up the planet. Now, while exactly what causes all that continues to have some doubters, I’ll step up and just say that I buy the industrialization and human causes are making things worse explanation, which seems possessed of the greatest “common sense”. This then has a connection to the ever increasing (and consciously manipulated) demand for fossil fuels and the crazily insatiable consumption patterns of the West and those increasingly growing second placers, the Third World. Capitalism too, obviously plays a big role in this, but a newer kind of capitalism which, though it produces no steel or durable goods, which requires maintenance of huge standing armies in order to guarantee access to oil and other resources we need more and more of. This, in turn, requires lying to everyone saying we need to be killing huge amounts of people “over there” in undeclared, unconstitutional wars so we can insure our “freedom” (to buy cheap stuff?) over here. And those men and women doing the fighting will return home injured, to few jobs, little care, loads of domestic problems, and an array of incompetent and clueless politicians who drone on endlessly but as far as I can see are saying nothing of any consequence at all.
To top it all off, while regular wages have been stagnant for the better part of 30 years, USAmericans are no less productive, and yet that the richest 1% own 35% of all the wealth. And, if one expands that number a bit to the include richest 5%, we are now talking about an unimaginably large percentage of the total wealth of the US in the hands of basically a few families and their hangers on. This is 1970s El Savadoran proportions of wealth inequality and oligarchy. But there’s more: mercenaries now make up an important part of the US military actions around the world, killing with impunity and becoming an unprosecutable, independent force. Students graduating college today face Promethean levels of debt peonage if they are lucky, finding few jobs which pay significantly more than those same jobs would have a generation ago. Bridges are falling apart, roads stink, schools don’t have enough money for books or desks, teachers are demonized and fired, and the daily grind of staying afloat is tiring more and more people into despair.
A common thread is emerging in all this, though in several themes: first, elections and electoral politics are not working, and so at the very least, money needs to be taken out of the equation, giving average citizens as equal access to their political representatives as corporations and the rich possess now. Second, global, corporate capitalism is what has brought the world’s economy to this terrible state, and it needs to be reined in severely, or dismantled, and replaced. Third, the wealthiest of the country have been receiving an ever greater share of the riches and influence on economic, political, and social policies and this has to end. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies once said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” This disparity can only be attenuated through restoration of the progressive taxation rates of the past, and a commitment to maintain them for the future. And fourth, the monies taken by government through taxation should be spent on social needs such as health care and education, rather than a bloated, imperial military, or bailouts for the already wealthy class. There’s also within all of that, the recognition that issues of class need to be addressed as never before, and that the fate of our planet as well as our democracy may be at stake if we don’t.
It’s a big mess out there and nobody is going to tell me that only one solution will fix it all. So leave those kids out there on Wall St. alone. Let them work out their demands, let them vent their anger, and allow the process of democracy to play out. Things are messy and they are tired of all of it and, if we are lucky, they will be the ones to cushion the fall. This American Fall.
Rev. JOSÉ M. TIRADO is a poet, priest and writer finishing a PhD in psychology while living in Iceland.