I may not be a member of the one percent but I make a living. My house is not under water; my kids are well educated without the dreaded student loans; my wife has, long ago, traded her teacher's chalk for a volunteer hat; and if my car were any larger, I would need a commercial driver's license. Even so, I support the Occupy Movement in its quest for economic justice.
There has been a great deal of attention focused on the failure of the Movement to enunciate a list of demands. With the plethora of wrongs that would naturally be encompassed within the expected agenda of the ninety-nine percent, the fact that they have determined not to articulate a platform is extraordinary. Marking down the principal due on mortgages to match market value; a miniscule tax on stock trades held less than a few days; the reduction of interest; deferral of payments and the ability to discharge student loans that now exceed credit card debt (banks borrow at less than 1%, our kids at more than 6%); a cap on executive compensation; increasing the revenue side of the deficit reduction plans through greater contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations to ameliorate the draconian spending cuts aimed at our most vulnerable citizens; rewriting a tax code that permits hugely profitable multinationals from enjoying a negative tax rate; curtailing the political power of corporate personhood; the creation of budgets at all levels of government that would restore the shredded safety net; rehire our laid-off teachers, fire fighters and police officers; repair our deteriorating infrastructure; and stimulate job creation are some that spring readily to mind. With such a menu to pick and choose from, why would the Occupiers make a conscious decision to remain mute on the subject?
I suspect the answer is that each of these ideas have already been debated and rejected by our governmental institutions at all levels. These people have good reason to be satisfied that any such proposals will be unsuccessful. When our President compromises with Congress (presently enjoying a nine percent approval rating, the lowest in history and lower than BP at the height of the Gulf oil spill) explaining that this is the best he could get, these people actually believe him. The Occupy Movement then is accommodating their shared reality that government, so dominated by me-firstism-greed, is impotent to address the needs of the vast majority of the people. The point they are making is that proposing such a list is a fantasy, when the institution is incompetent to tackle the task. As one Occupier's sign read, "I could not afford to buy a politician so I bought this sign."
If the change necessary to establish economic justice is not achievable through political means, other means must be employed. The Occupy Movement, like war, is politics by other means. The burning question is, "Will the means selected produce anything substantial?" If consciousness-raising qualifies, then they already have. Even if the armies of the ninety-nine percent were forced to go home today, they have, for the moment, changed the terms of the debate. But this Movement is squandering a golden opportunity to have a lasting effect. It has the capacity to reverse the trend of "I got mine, now I want yours," and start us on a pathway toward a more humane society. What is missing is a direct appeal to the one percent; what is needed is one hundred percent if real and lasting change is to occur. Not a petition directed to our elected representatives, but an honest full-throated plea to the dominant voices of civilization. Everyone wants a better world.
I would like to believe that there are many who, like me, have had the good fortune to enjoy a bountiful life that would be amenable to such an entreaty. I am neither delusional nor naive. I do not expect that Michael Bloomberg's tent will be confiscated in Zuccotti Park, that Steven Forbes' sign depicting people being peed on and captioned "Trickle Down Economics" will be destroyed on the National Mall, that Jeffrey Laurie will be served with an eviction notice in Dilworth Plaza, or that Bill Gates, sitting peacefully, stoically, and unflinching, will be pepper sprayed multiple times from canisters the size of fire extinguishers on the Berkley Campus anytime in the near future. But, the presence of voices that wield real muscle would curb those excesses. Does anyone really believe Bill Gates would have been pepper sprayed? And statements made by those with influence endorsing the dream of a system of wealth distribution more equitable than winner-take-all would give legitimacy to the endeavor. Those who would resist must be enlisted into the cause of restoring America's promise of equality, prosperity and freedom, at this critical time in our planet's history.
The national, indeed the global, economy demands we come together in the fulfillment of the common good. The mentality of "us against them" has to be jettisoned in favor of the "we are all in this together" paradigm. Those who exercise the power have to be convinced that it is in their interest to live in a world where empathy and fairness predominates over narrow self-interest. The search for tax loopholes can yield to factory democracy. The struggle for a minimum wage could morph into a guarantee of a living wage. The rape of the land transformed into loving Mother Earth. A culture of gated communities, burglar alarms, and guard dogs can be replaced with caring for the old, nurturing the young, and respecting the worth and dignity of all. The politics of hope must triumph over the politics of fear. Absent such a vision, this movement, like so many that have long been forgotten, will be remembered only by those who participated in it, as a good story to tell their grandchildren—a bubba meinsa.The Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, where I am proud to be a past President and continue to serve as a member of its Board of Trustees, adopted a resolution supporting the Occupy Movement in its quest for economic justice. And the American Ethical Union, the national federation of Ethical Culture Societies—where once again, I am proud to be a past President and continue to serve as a member of its Board of Trustees—has adopted economic justice as its theme for its annual assembly to be held in Albany, New York this coming June.