During my lifetime, and until the past couple of years when it all came crashing down, our country enjoyed seemingly endless financial riches. Money was easy to come by. Ordinary people spent money like crazy; they bought fancy homes, renovated and expanded, they bought luxury items and thought nothing of incurring debt to do it all on a line of credit or with loans.
Banks made money lending to ordinary citizens (who got deeper and deeper into debt). Congress deregulated the financial industry and banks and other financial institutions had less and less government supervision and regulation. They made it easier and easier to get a loan. They made it easier and easier for people to borrow more than they could ever hope to pay back. Yet, people felt richer: and they borrowed even more. Businesses borrowed too. And our nation borrowed from other nations. And the debt grew and grew—the debt of the little guy on Main Street grew; and our national deficit exploded.
The only people (and organizations) making money during that time seems to have been the lenders—the banks, the investment companies, and the private money lenders. The code word for the lenders and banks and investment companies is “Wall Street”—the place where money is traded, invested and traded again. Technically, it’s a street on lower Manhattan. Actually, it’s the heart and home of the stock exchange and the people who work in finance. Wall Street firms gave massive bonuses to their employees—bonuses each year in the millions of dollars. Many Wall Street leaders earned more in his annual bonus than the regular guy on Main Street could earn in a lifetime.
Then, the unthinkable happened. For reasons many debate, the economy of our nation dropped. Stocks fell, businesses collapsed, people lost their jobs, home values plummeted and all the Americans who so easily borrowed couldn’t repay their debts.
The ordinary citizen on Main Street suffered. He lost his job, his home, and defaulted on his loans; therefore he couldn’t pay his way in the world.
And it seemed that the financial leaders on Wall Street continued to prosper. Annual reports on Wall Street were OK, and the annual bonuses were still paid out. To the rare few (the “One Percent”) of our population who made lots of money even though the other 99% were unemployed, stressed and hungry.
Main Street got mad. And Main Street felt unheard, invisible and unimportant. And Main Street rose up. And so, it was born:
“OCCUPY WALL STREET”
It started in September with a peaceful protest by ordinary citizens gathering in lower Manhattan. It began as a protest in an effort by middle class America to be heard and acknowledged. It started as an effort to exclaim frustration about the inequality between a rich, lucky rarified few who made millions and billions of dollars while others were neck high in debt and now, with the collapse of the economy, jobless.
Occupy Wall Street continued through the fall, grew and grew, and now has outposts in other cities around the country.
The movement has a massive number of participants, volunteers in an army designed to protest financial inequality and to overcome the voicelessness the protesters feel. What Occupy Wall Street doesn’t seem to have is a leader, or a sponsor, or a spokesperson, or a clear message that translates into solution or social action toward change.
Yet, at a time when many are running for political office or supporting political candidates, not one politician has embraced Occupy Wall Street. No one has come out as a spokesperson, not one has embodied the message of the 99%.
Instead, Occupy Wall Street goes on, without a road map for change, and without any political party endorsing the sentiment of the movement. It’s starting to be ridiculed instead as “another Woodstock”—a gathering of hippies reminiscent of the 1960’s—not a positive image. Police are involved, protesters are being arrested, and the message is lost. The original idea of a peaceful protest is quickly disappearing, resulting in violence between the protesters and police. The clashes have become the only events garnering media attention, as Occupy Wall Street’s message remains vague.
Imagine if Martin Luther King’s peaceful protests got lost in the absence of a clear message. What if Dr. King’s efforts offered no road map for social change? Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement would have gotten accomplished. The efficacy of this new movement is questionable – whether a fractured group of protestors, each with their own complaints, will spark any kind of major change remains to be seen, but the unorganized nature of this movement is certainly disheartening.