Occupy Wall Street: It Wants Your Brains!

I took to the print edition of the Press & Dakotan today to write a column about Occupy Wall Street. (The comic strip above was taken from the wonderful This Modern World.)

I hope later today to get around to posting some interesting links about the movement and wealth/income equality, so stay tuned.

Here is the column:

They want your brains.
No, they’re not zombies. They are the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
Despite what Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and other critics will tell you, they aren’t just a bunch of “bored morons who want handouts.” Their job would be so much easier if that were so.
No, the Occupy Wall Street movement is attempting to do something much more difficult: It is looking to re-ignite the imaginations of Americans and, I think, to reinstate the rule of law.
To do so will take brains. Lots of brains. Yours and mine.
And those brains are largely out of practice. Americans, as well as the citizens of many countries around the world, have become used to living in dead time. It is time without real thought. It is time without creative life. It is time resigned to enduring the entropy of our misguided economic and political systems until they finally lead to our demise.
Look, I don’t care from what viewpoint you approach life — conservative, liberal, moderate or otherwise; you know something is wrong.
Some people look at it in religious terms, some philosophical, some political. But there are some basic things that large majorities of us can agree upon.
We no longer have the rule of law. We have the rule of money.
Quite simply, if you are one of the few that have money, you have your own set of rules.
If you are an employee of Citigroup, Bank of America or some other large Wall Street firms, it’s become habit to expect something for nothing from the government if things go awry. It wasn’t like 2008 was something new in anything other than the scale of the losing gamble and the ensuing handouts. For the employees of these companies, it’s perfectly acceptable to overextend your company by billions of dollars through bogus financial arrangements, bring the national economy to its knees and then receive a bonus of millions of dollars at the end of the year for your work — with government assistance to boot.
If you are a janitor who makes above minimum wage but probably not a living wage, you can expect little assistance when you have trouble making ends meet. And if you happen to miss a payment by a few days on a mortgage from one of those aforementioned companies, you can expect them to charge you late fees without mercy. And, ultimately, you will be foreclosed upon if you don’t play by their strict rules.
You can also look forward to seeing the defenders of these large financial institutions on television talking about how lazy and greedy YOU are for overextending yourself.
No, in today’s world, it doesn’t matter if you do everything you are supposed to do. You go to college. You end up with thousands of dollars in debt. If you are lucky, you are able to get a full-time job. But your wages are stagnant. Health care costs and other expenses climb every year, but your income does not. You try to be responsible and invest what little money you have, only to have it squandered away by those on Wall Street who have nothing to lose.
You do not enjoy the fruits of your labor. You do not get ahead. You do not win.
It’s not your imagination.
Occupy Wall Street has given Americans a simple tool to begin to understand this reality. It lies within their slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted incomes of the top 1 percent of households increased 224 percent between 1979 to 2007. The top 0.1 percent experienced a 390 percent growth in income. But for most of us — the bottom 90 percent — income grew by only 5 percent between 1979 and 2007. All of that income growth, however, occurred in the unusually strong growth period from 1997 to 2000, which was followed by a fall in income from 2000 to 2007.
Is that because the majority of us are “morons who want handouts?”
And does pointing out that disparity mean we are jealous and envious of the top 1 percent and think that every last one of the rich are greedy and corrupt?
It is a recognition that the system is broken. It is a recognition that money and politics have mutated together to form a giant squid sucking the resources of this country, which include us — because, yes, we do have value.
People handle this realization in different ways.
Some people respond with bullying of and violence toward minorities. Some people try to ingratiate themselves to this morally bankrupt system.
Others seek to imagine something new and create a more just world.
And that is where Occupy Wall Street enters the stage. It may not have a uniform message, but perhaps it doesn’t need one. Its presence has already created a dialogue about inequality and corruption that many Americans felt but did not know how to express in words.
The response from the ruling class has been telling. They are frightened of the conversations beginning to occur.
How else can you explain their employment of law enforcement to bombard peaceful protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and batons? Why would you use such extreme violence against those who have repeatedly expressed a desire to be non-violent and have largely remained so?
It is because breaking up the occupations is not enough. They want to discredit the participants as violent extremists and ensure that no one dares imagine a world wherein the rule of law applies equally to everybody. That is a world in which they would begin to lose their ill-gotten gains.
That is why Occupy Wall Street needs you. It needs me. It needs all of our family and friends.
The spectacle has sparked something in our collective brains. We need to feed it. We need to believe again that this isn’t the way things have to be.
We are the 99 percent, and as individuals we are no less valuable to America than the wealthiest 1 percent. We should expect to be treated that way.
Ultimately, money should not make the man.

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