Occupy Wall Street protests have now spread to several cities. It’s spreading like a fire on a strong wind over a dry field. The heat is likely to keep on building.
Conservatives have fallen over themselves rushing to side with the top 1 percent against the rest. Eric Cantor, House majority leader, denounces “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” Herman Cain dismisses the demonstrators as “anti-American.” Mitt Romney accuses them of waging “class warfare.”
But class warfare is the reason Occupy Wall Street has struck such a chord. Sure, there’s class warfare, one of America’s richest men, Warren Buffett, concluded, “and my class is winning.”
Last week just before I left for Europe, I joined the Chicago “wing” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I spoke to students who dropped out of school because they couldn’t afford tuition; now they are left with guaranteed student loan debt.
Students graduate with average student loan debts of more than $20,000, and the bankers lobby passes a law that forces payment of those debts, even after bankruptcy. Now students are graduating from college laden with debts and without a job. Any wonder they are protesting?
I spoke with professors and teachers who have lost their jobs, as states face declining revenues driven in part by the foreclosure/housing crisis and resulting loss of property-tax revenues.
These protests are a clear indictment of an economy that has been working for the few and not the many. The richest 1 percent of Americans now make as much income as the bottom 60 percent. They control as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. With that wealth comes political power, as they can afford the campaign contributions and the high-priced lobbyists needed to rig the rules in Washington. They have had their way.
Movements grow not because of the specifics of their agenda, but because of the truth of their protest. Occupy Wall Street protests the outrages that all of us see. Their protest is too valid to be ignored, too pressing to be suppressed.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition has been on this case for years now. We protested the attempt of banks to privatize Social Security and to abolish the Glass-Steagall Act. We challenged the corruption of the “overseers” responsible for regulating the financial services industry, many of whom were raising money from Wall Street for their campaigns, or working for Wall Street upon leaving Congress.
The protests will spread; others are already joining, because there is a need for economic security. Too few own and control too much, while too many are left out of the economic equation.
This week, the AFL-CIO, the international labor federation, will spark protests demanding “jobs, not cuts,” across the country. On Nov. 17, a range of groups under the banner of the American Dream Movement is planning the largest mobilizations since the mass movement that opposed the war in Iraq.
We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s memorial this coming Sunday in Washington. But when the civil rights movement was building, Dr. King was reviled as an outside agitator, slandered as a “communist.”
Entrenched privilege does not surrender its privilege easily. Occupy Wall Street is taking on the most powerful interests. But nothing, as Victor Hugo wrote, is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
As Dr. King urged, “Don’t sleep through the revolution.” It is time to take a stand.
So, 99’ers: Maintain your disciplined focus, your peaceful nonviolent approach to protest and demand change.
In the end, we will win.