fresh voices from the front lines of change







To convey the significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, NBC News anchor Brian Williams this week quoted the 1960s Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth:

“There is something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Maybe it’s unclear what the Occupy Wall Street movement ultimately will accomplish. But what’s happening – for the past three weeks in New York and now in hundreds of towns across North America – is a roiling, inspirational, grassroots expression of anger, disgust and revolution.

And, frankly, given what’s been going on in the United States since the bank bailout, it’s amazing that this uprising didn’t precede the Arab Spring. The powers-that-be, from the rich and influential to their coin-operated politicians and corporate-owned media, have mocked and belittled and ignored the protesters, the 99 percenters as they call themselves – everyone but the richest one percent. No matter what the critics say, these young people, with righteous outrage and new age communication, have launched the American Autumn.

This revolt could have started in the spring of 2009, immediately after the Bush administration pushed through Congress the Troubled Asset Relieve Program (TARP), the $700 billion in taxpayer money spent to prop up banks that had gambled and lost untold trillions. A Bloomberg News investigation later would show that the United States lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to save the banks. Despite that help, the Wall Street recklessness ruined the American economy, throwing tens of millions out of jobs and homes.

Poverty and hunger skyrocketed in the richest country in the world. As tax revenue fell, states, towns and school districts slashed essential public services and laid off teachers, librarians, firefighters and police officers.

Maybe it just took this long for the middle class to grasp all the horrible effects of the Wall Street gambling and to realize that a government held hostage by country club conservatives bent on cutting public services just made matters worse. Maybe young people looked at unrestrained war spending, Pell Grant slashing and voter disenfranchising and decided they were fed up and not going to take foreclosure of their futures anymore.

Whatever the spark, the American Autumn began three weeks ago in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Square. Late in September, some of the one percenters sipped Champaign on an upscale restaurant balcony as they looked down on the protesters in the streets below. This week, as protests spread, wealthy risk-takers at the Chicago Board of Trade put signs in the windows of their ritzy offices bragging, “We are the 1 percent.” They don’t get it.

Nor does Bank of America. Here’s a bank bailed out by taxpayers that just announced it would begin imposing a new fee – $5 a month, $60 a year – on debit card users. This bank also just announced that it would worsen the recession caused by bankster recklessness by laying off 30,000 workers.

This is a bank that engaged in the habitual, anti-capitalistic Wall Street practice of rewarding poor executive performance by giving its CEO Brian T. Moynihan a $9 million bonus immediately after the institution he runs lost $2.2 billion in 2010. Moynihan responded to criticism of the $5 fee by saying customers – and ultimately taxpayers — must line his pockets and that of shareholders, regardless of how badly he runs the bank or how stupidly he gambles with its money. That’s because, he asserted, the bank has a “right to make a profit.” No matter what.

The media and country club conservatives belittled the protesters. Here’s what Herman Cain, a Tea Partier seeking the GOP nomination for president, said:

“Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks if you don’t have a job or you’re not rich. Blame yourself!”

He continued:

“It’s not a person’s fault because they succeeded. It’s a person’s fault if they failed. And so this is why I don’t understand these demonstrations and what it is that they’re looking for.”

He called the protesters “anti-capitalist,” although it was the banks that sought a socialist bailout from the government when they got themselves in trouble.

Cain didn’t blame banksters for unemployment, even though it was Wall Street gambling that took down the economy. He blames the teachers and police officers thrown out of work by local governments that are cash-strapped as a result of the recession — caused by Wall Street recklessness.

Cain and the media keep saying they don’t understand what the protesters want. They just don’t get it.

A specific list of demands is unnecessary. What the 99 percenters want is obvious. They want the American dream restored. Good public education for everyone. Equity in opportunity. Shared sacrifice so that the rich pay a tax rate at least equal to that charged the middle class. An end to poverty and unemployment in the richest country in the world.

In the Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth, lyrics talk of 1960s youths criticized for their protests:

“Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind.”

This time protesters will get backing. The members of my union, the United Steelworkers, get it. Members of the unions of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations get it.

We’re here to support the young people of the American Autumn.

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