The Occupy Wall Street protests have expanded from a small group of alarmed citizens to a nationwide movement. In solidarity, over 800 events are occurring across the nation in all 50 states. Diverse groups of people are demanding serious government reforms across a wide spectrum of issues. Their concerns seem to range from growing income inequality, the burden seemingly endless wars abroad have put on our nation, and the attack on collective bargaining rights for workers.
The media have focused on the movement lacking a leader and a clear, solidified message. But the problems of 99 percent are just as diverse and complex as the people themselves. Two words can encompass their message: economic justice.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, members of the NETWORK staff went to Washington’s Freedom Plaza equipped with Mind the Gap! materials and Connection magazines eager to engage in conversations with the people of #occupyDC.
Andrea from Atlantic City, whose home was foreclosed on by the Bank of America after a bitter divorce, now finds herself a single mother struggling to make ends meet. She was able to find the time to voice her disgust with the out-of-control tax evasion schemes of the corporate elite and the toll our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken on us as a nation.
“There are lots of messages here, but with one main, common goal,” Andrea said. “The ratio between the pay rates and the profits, they were more equal. Now pay rates haven’t gone up, but profits are skyrocketing. The corporate profits are just not in comparison to what the wages are.”
American’s can either continue to let income inequality rise to higher levels than in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan or we can speak out against corporate greed. Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, released a report  today that reaffirms what we already know but puts it in a frightening perspective of where we could be heading.
- Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression.
- In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else's income went down.
- The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.
- Such a level of economic inequality, not seen in the United States since the eve of the Great Depression, bespeaks a political economy in which the financial rewards are increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite and whose risks are borne by an increasingly exposed and unprotected middle class.
Why is this happening? The report puts the blame squarely on tax cuts and deregulation.
Since the late 1970s, a number of important policy changes have tilted the economic playing field toward the rich. Congress has cut tax rates on high incomes repeatedly and has relaxed the tax treatment of capital gains and other investment income, resulting in windfall profits for the wealthiest Americans.
The wealth gap has grown so much that it has now rallied the 99 percent to Occupy cities across the nation. It is important that we engage in an honest conversation about how the wealth gap has exploited the most vulnerable in our society in favor of the superrich.