When the Occupy Wall Street protest started a month or so ago, it was dismissed as a rag-tag group of disgruntled young people, old people and the unemployed. Not surprisingly — from where I sit, at least – it has rapidly gained momentum, spreading around the country and around the world.
So what’s happening, and why? An alternative name the protesters give themselves explains at least some of what’s going on. They call themselves the 99 percent, versus the 1 percent who own and control most of the assets, politics and economics in this country and around the world.
During the past 30 years, the 1 percent have gained in every measurable way — income, assets and political and economic power — at the expense of the 99 percent. Most lower and middle class people have lost real income, political and economic power and their chance to retire comfortably, educate their children and live without fear of an economic catastrophe. For a while, the 1 percent kept the 99 percent from feeling the pain via low interest rates and easy borrowing. That masked the reality that the 99 percent were losing in just about everything.
But no more. Once the housing bubble popped and the global financial crisis appeared, there was no escape from the chilling reality that the 1 percent were on top of the world and the 99 percent were left holding the bag.
That’s the reality that the Occupy Wall Street and it’s affiliated movements spring from. The 99 percent are fed up with being on the short end of the stick. For the old, after a lifetime of working hard and striving to save for retirement, they have faced the reality that no retirement is safe from the ravages of “the market” and that one health crisis could bankrupt themselves and their children due to the shredding and pending destruction of the social safety net.
For the young, they are overloaded with student loans purchased to get an expensive college education that would allegedly position them to get a good job on graduation. Problem is, by the time they graduated, the economy went south and took many decent paying jobs with benefits with it. Now all most of them can get is low paying jobs without benefits so they can choose between paying back their student loans or eating and paying rent.
As for those of us who don’t fall into those two categories, but also fall into the 99 percent, some of us are slightly better off, but many of us aren’t. Too many of the working poor can barely make ends meet or aren’t making them meet at all. Too many who still cling to the middle class are either living paycheck to paycheck or are losing the battle and relying on credit cards — or worse, payday loans — to keep themselves afloat. And don’t forget those who are suffering in the wake of the collapse of the housing market. This includes the millions who are underwater on their homes, those who are being foreclosed against and those who were victims of housing boom fraud.
So it’s about economic injustice and the long simmering anger that many of us feel against the political and economic establishment. That is, those who bailed out the banks at the expense of the rest of us and who continue to shower political, regulatory and economic advantages on the banks, the banking class and the other 1 percent.
It’s about time this rage surfaced and the 99 percent began to hold the 1 percent accountable. It’s long overdue, and I’m hoping something lasting will come from these protests once people are over the romance of protesting. Don’t let the banking class off the hook!