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Occupy Wall Street protests have now spread to some 800 cities. It’s spreading like a fire on a strong wind over a dry field. The heat is likely to keep on building.
Conservatives have fallen over themselves rushing to side with the top 1% against the rest. Eric Cantor, House majority leader, denounces “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” Herman Cain dismisses the demonstrators as “anti-American.” Mitt Romney accuses them of waging “class warfare.”
But class warfare is the reason Occupy Wall Street has sounded such a chord. Sure there’s class warfare, one of America’s richest men, Warren Buffett, concluded, “and my class is winning.”
Last week just before I left for Europe, I joined the Chicago “wing” of the Occupy Wall Street movement last week. I spoke to students who dropped out of school because they couldn’t afford tuition; now they are left with guaranteed student loan debt.
Students graduate with average student loan debts of over $20,000, and the bankers lobby passes a law that forces payment of those debts, even after bankruptcy. Now students are graduating from college laden with debts and without a job. Any wonder they are protesting.
I spoke with professors and teachers who have lost their jobs, as state’s face declining revenues – driven in part by the foreclosure/housing crisis and resulting loss of property tax revenues.
These protests pose a clear indictment to an economy that has been working for the few and not the many. The richest 1% of Americans now makes as much income as the bottom 60%. They control as much wealth as the bottom 90%. With that wealth comes political power, as they can afford the campaign contributions and the high priced lobbyists needed to rig the rules in Washington. They have had their way.
The results are unconscionable. Hedge fund billionaires carve out a “carried interest” tax dodge that enables them to pay a lower tax rate on their earnings than teachers pay.
Wall Street bankers pocket millions in bonuses inflating a housing bubble, marked as the FBI warned by “an epidemic of fraud” Then when the bubble explodes, they get bailed out – and go back to paying themselves million dollar bonuses – and hiking charges on credit cards and bank accounts. And while the banks are saved, 25 million people remain in need of fulltime work.
Similarly, homeowners get no relief. When workers are laid off and can’t sustain their mortgage payments, they lose their homes. When their homes are underwater, worth less than the mortgage, they can’t get banks to return to their phone calls, can’t refinance to get some relief from lower interest rates. Instead, the bankers lobby passes a law that allows the rich to readjust the mortgages of vacation homes in bankruptcy courts, but does prohibits homeowners from doing the same.
The obscene decision of the Supreme Court’s conservative gang of five in Citizen’s United adds insult. They declare corporations are persons, with the same right to free speech as American citizens. Since they think money is speech, they open the floodgates to corporate purchase of our elections.
Movements grow not because of the specifics of their agenda, but because of the truth of their protest. Occupy Wall Street protests outrages that all of us see. Their protest is too valid to be ignored; too pressing to be suppressed.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition has been on this case for nearly years now: we protested the attempt of the banks to privatize social security and to abolish the Glass-Steagull Act. We challenged the corruption of the “overseers” responsible for regulating the financial services industry, many of whom were raising money from Wall Street for their campaigns, or working for Wall Street upon leaving Congress.
Rainbow PUSH joined with Attorney General Lisa Madigan to expose the targeting and steering of Blacks and people of color into sub-prime loans, and to demand appropriate remedies from Countrywide and other banks that engaged in discriminatory lending practices. We’ve marched and protested with homeowners facing foreclosure, and rallied with a broad coalition of conscience at the annual shareholder meetings of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and others – decrying their policies and practices that led to the global economic crisis. Most recently Rainbow PUSH testified to oppose the merger of the Capitol One merger.
The protests will spread; others are already joining, because there is a need for economic security. Too few own and control too much, while too many are left out of the economic equation. This week, the AFL-CIO, the international labor federation, will spark protests demanding “jobs, not cuts,” across the country. On November 17, a range of groups under the banner of the American Dream Movement is planning the largest mobilizations since the mass movement that opposed the War in Iraq.
This citizen protest will face increasing opposition. Local officials will try to shut demonstrations down. Fox News and conservative talk radio will slander and decry. Politicians will deplore.
We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s memorial this week in Washington. But when the Civil Rights Movement was building, Dr. King was reviled as an outside agitator, slandered as a “communist.” The FBI wiretapped him and tried to drive him to suicide. Non-violent demonstrators were arrested, beaten, and murdered. Nixon developed a Southern strategy based on race-bait politics to consolidate Republican strength in the South.
Entrenched privilege does not surrender its privilege easily. Occupy Wall Street is taking on the most powerful interests. But nothing, as Victor Hugo wrote, is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Dr. King urged, “Don’t sleep through the revolution.” It is time to take a stand. So 99’ers, maintain your disciplined focus, your peaceful nonviolent approach to protest and demand change. In the end we will win.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.