Occupy Wall Street!

Posted November 3rd, 2011 by

The United States has a long history of powerful, privileged people successfully dividing less-powerful and less-privileged people by race, class, gender, and other social constructs in order to protect their power and privilege.

Over the past year the world has witnessed the less-powerful rising up in more than a dozen countries in what became known as Arab Spring. Regimes have toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Protests have now sprung up across the United States as mostly-peaceful protesters rise up against a system they conclude does not represent their interests and well-being.

Over the past three years Sharon and I have visited twenty-six states, Washington, DC, and Tobago as we researched and wrote Gather at the Table together.  We’ve witnessed the impacts — past and present — experienced by the less-privileged, the disenfranchised, the 99%. As Sharon wrote in Special Delivery, our most recent drive in her Jeep took us to Boston to deliver our manuscript to Beacon Press.

Upon our return to New York on October 25, we parked near her son’s home in Harlem and took the subway to Zaccati Park. We wanted to check out Occupy Wall Street for ourselves. What we found bears little resemblance to the negative media reports we’ve seen. We encountered a multicultural, multi-generational group of people that are passionate about a variety of interconnected issues.

First Amendment rights have, in the past few decades, been increasingly restricted by more and more government regulations about when and where and how loud and how long people can protest. Yet Occupy Wall Street continues.

Several friends, upon learning that Sharon and I planned to visit Occupy Wall Street, asked me if I could find out what the protesters want. There’s no singular voice, no clear list of demands, no real organization. What I believe is that the eclectic, unorganized nature of this organization is its greatest strength. They don’t fit a “mold” that is easily understood by older generations of people raised to respect “order.” I think we’re going to have to get used to the discomfort.

I don’t get the sense that most protesters want to end capitalism. Rather, they want justice and equity that have been sacrificed in the name of greed. As Nicolas Kristof pointed out in “Crony Capitalism Comes Home” in the New York Times, Wall Street tycoons are capitalists when they are raking in the dough, and socialists when everything crashes and they happily rake in government bail-outs.

“…many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.

“The upshot is that financial institutions boost leverage in search of supersize profits and bonuses. Banks pretend that risk is eliminated because it’s securitized. Rating agencies accept money to issue an imprimatur that turns out to be meaningless. The system teeters, and then the taxpayer rushes in to bail bankers out.”

It will be interesting to see how Occupy Wall Street evolves as protesters are faced with winter’s rain and snow, increased anxiety from local government officials and police, and a presidential election year.

Support is growing in two sectors that some may find surprising. Military veterans are increasing their presence and profile. Thousands of wealthy people have joined together as We are the 1%. From their website:

For those of us with more than we need who believe in a more just distribution of resources, it’s important that we stand up and tell the truth about how the deck has been stacked in our favor, and that 100 percent of us need a different world.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is directly related to our Gather at the Table effort to live the model of healing embodied in Coming to the Table; to understand and acknowledge the truth of history, to make connections with others, to heal our collective damage, and to take action together.

We are the 99%.

(For additional perspective, read “Gandhi’s Wings: Occupy Wall Street and the Redistribution of Anxiety” by Robert Johnson; formerly Senior Economist of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, Chief Economist of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, and founder of the Move Your Money campaign)

2 responses to “Occupy Wall Street!”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. […] I recently wrote at the Gather at the Table blog, I believe that income inequality, and the impacts that result from it, rest at the core of […]

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