A few weeks ago, London independent stock trader Alessio Rastani said, “Ah, that’s a tough one. Ah, personally, it doesn’t matter. That’s — see — see — you see I’m a trader. I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. I go with — if I see an opportunity to make money, I go with that. So, for most traders it’s not about … we don’t really care that much how they’re gonna fix — how they are gonna fix the economy, how they’re going to fix the whole situation. Our job is to make money from it.” It is this very self-serving attitude and disregard for the common person that has led to the downward mobility and increased social stratification of both America and the world itself. Rastani’s words remind us that those groups in control of the plutocracy — the big banks, public policy groups, corporations and the upper class — will continue to seek out opportunities to make money even in times of mass economic hardship. While 9.1 percent of the country remains unemployed, this “power elite” works endlessly to combat unions as seen in Wisconsin and at Verizon Corp. most recently. As Bank of America plans to lay off over 30,000 employees over the next few years and charge customers 5 dollars per month simply for using their debit card, the highest-paid CEOs continue to earn more than what their companies pay in federal income tax. It has been almost one year since Obama decided to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and almost six months since he appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as the head of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And who benefits from these decisions? The upper-class and corporate community. Washington remains plagued by old money and Wall Street bullies kissing their feet for candidate sponsorship.
America is not a nation of equality and opportunity. When the richest 10 percent of the population controls two-thirds of the nation’s wealth, the economic gap only increases. There is a need for fundamental change in the way that our country’s political and financial arenas operate. Between 2007 and 2009, Wall Street profits rose 720 percent, unemployment rose 102 percent and Americans’ home equity fell 35 percent. So, what does that mean? It means that our representatives in Congress and in our banks no longer reflect the interests of the majority. They represent a small percentage of people who have monopolized the means of production and exploit the middle and working classes by stripping them of workers’ rights and outsourcing to other countries for cheap labor. As Rastani remarked, “Markets are ruled right now by fear … they know the market is toast. They know the stock market is finished.” While the market itself may be ruled by fear, I believe that the citizens of the middle and working classes of America are beginning to set fear aside and take direct action — welcome to Occupy Wall Street.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, an estimated 1,000 people marched along Wall Street and set up camp for a powerful and indefinite objection to the longstanding marriage between corporate greed and political corruption. Inspired by the Arab Spring movements across the Middle East and North Africa, activists — young, old, employed, unemployed, with and without degrees, gay, straight, black, white and everything in between — have organized nationwide as autonomous individuals in the name of socioeconomic injustice. The protests have spread from New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles; to Denver and Chicago; to Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; Boston and Philadelphia. Some media outlets, the ones who have decided to actually cover the movement, have criticized the occupancies as “ineffective” and “lacking a clear agenda.” But I think the message is pretty clear: enough with the bulls–t.
On September 29, The Occupy Wall St Declaration was voted on unanimously by all members of the New York Assembly on September 29. This document highlights the grievances the 99 percent is faced with as a united and diverse group, and aims to hold Congress and corporations responsible for their exploitive and irresponsible practices. This includes: illegal foreclosure processes, despite not having the original mortgage; taking bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continuing to give executives exorbitant bonuses; undermining the farming system through monopolization; covering up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit; stripping employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions; and holding students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt among other articles illustrated in the Declaration.
Student debt. That should resonate with you. At sometime this year, it’s expected that outstanding student loan debt in the United States will hit 1 trillion dollars. You are part of that number.
The American people are tired of the foreclosures and bailouts, the censorship and misinformation, the exploitation and alienation of the democratic processes. If there is to be a more equal and unified United States, we need to start thinking, and questioning and demanding as a community of one. We can no longer bask in the tainted rays of capitalism, as it is a system that only the wealthy politicians and corporate tyrants can seriously enjoy.
Join Occupy Wall Street. We are the 99 percent.
William Lukas is a sophomore majoring in sociology. He can be reached at [email protected]