Even the corporate-owned mass media can only willfully ignore things for so long (flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan notwithstanding). Little by little, the “Occupy Wall Street” protests have forced their way into the news reports. Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, even our own Sacramento have been occupied this month, with people gathering together to protest the disemboweling of middle class jobs as well as the corporate takeover of Capitol Hill.
Disenchanted twentysomethings — justifiably frustrated after graduating from college and discovering they’re rewarded with crushing debt and no hope for employment — ignited this movement, and the media downplayed it. But the young people persisted. What else did they have to do anyway, right? It’s not like they can find any work.
But when video clips emerged of four women, sitting on the sidewalk and penned in by police officers, and then suddenly shot in the face with pepper spray by a New York policeman — that was the flashpoint. The country finally took notice. Sadly, the news came via YouTube. But at least it came, and the media can no longer sweep Occupy Wall Street under the Amanda Knox or Biggest Loser rugs.
The video of one of the shrieking women was particularly poignant – not only was she blinded by the pepper spray, she is deaf. Imagine having to rely on your eyes to know what’s going on around you, and suddenly you’re blinded, too. For sitting on a sidewalk. In America. While exercising your constitutional right to free speech and assembly. By a police officer. What’s next? Kent State redux?
Stop, hey, what’s that sound, my friends?
After the pepper spraying of the women hit mainstream awareness, Occupy Wall Street really gained traction. Celebrities started getting involved, but more important, union members threw in their support and joined in with the Occupy protests; the working (or not) middle class was on board.
One of the rally cries of the Occupy protests really hooked me: “We are the 99 Percent” and “I am the 99 Percent.” It brings it all into focus: the 1 percent of Americans that have 42 percent of all the wealth in this country, who pay less taxes than you or I, who have profited directly from the recession, who own every politician on Capitol Hill – they are the source of financial misery for the 99 percent. They own the corporations that outsourced our jobs to China and India and profited from our foreclosures.
I googled “99 percent” and discovered http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com. Their home page says, “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”
The website hosts hundreds of photos (and more every day) of people holding hand-lettered posters outlining their struggles, each ending with “I am the 99 percent.” It’s not just 20-somethings anymore. It’s the long-term unemployed. It’s grandparents. It’s single mothers. It’s middle-aged folks who’ve been laid off and had the heart cut from their careers far too early for retirement. It’s people with advanced degrees. It’s teachers, social workers, veterans. And then I realized… it’s me. I am the 99 percent.
Since the recession began, my wages were frozen. The syndicate I wrote for collapsed. My health insurance costs went up, along with the cost of everything else, from gasoline to groceries. The interest rates on my credit cards rose, even though I’ve never had a late payment and always pay extra. And, because my expenses rise while my income dwindles, the balance on my credit cards ratchets a little higher each month.
Besides my day job, I have a massage practice to help make ends meet. Since the recession began, my massage business dropped by 60 percent. When people are short on money, they cancel their massage appointments. Groceries come first.
In 2002, I was comfortably able to buy a new car. Nine years later, with my car at the end of its useful life, I can’t afford a new one. I also can’t afford the repairs on the one I have. And so, the credit card balance ratchets up again.
Financially, I’m treading water. I’m paddling like hell … but getting nowhere. And it’s getting harder to keep it up. I gulp water from time to time, and worry what will happen if I’m unable to paddle anymore. I’ll sink straight to the bottom. Sometimes it feels like I’m already sinking, little by little.
I did everything right. I played by the rules. I went to a great college. I got good grades. I’ve worked hard for 38 years straight. And with retirement on the horizon, I realize that I won’t actually be able to retire because the 1 percent has siphoned away most of my retirement fund, and Social Security will be bankrupt right by the time I need it.
The American Dream? American Pipe Dream is more like it.
Yes. I am the 99 Percent.
And yes, I’m angry. I don’t know what to do with that anger quite yet, other than to throw support to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Civil disobedience may be our only hope, because politics won’t solve the problem. The Democrats cower before the 1 percent, and the Republicans are its whore. Ironically, the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements — the Far Right and the Far Left — are in complete agreement on this: Our government has become Wall Street’s bitch. And we’ve had enough.
Everybody look what’s goin’ down.