First and foremost thanks to Move On for providing me with great material to add to my Thanksgiving blog and for my readers to arm themselves for Turkey Day family and friend dinners. Guess who's coming to dinner? A republican perhaps? Democrat who doesn't understand Occupy? Someone who only watches Fox News?
Recently I was in a meeting with some really sharp professional people whom I admire. Prior to beginning our board meeting the topic of Occupy came up. One of the board members asked with a puzzled look, what the whole occupy thing was about? This was followed by the statement that there didn’t seem to be a coherent message. This is not the first time I have heard this query. The response I have provided to all who have submitted the question to me has been as follows:
Most corporations are set up to make profits, the bigger the profits the better. Big profits mean larger amounts of influence on the electoral process, i.e. lobbyists, campaign financing and so forth. All of this equals loud voices in government speaking on behalf of big business. For the mathematically inclined:
$$Corporate + $$ Donated for Campaign Finance = Corporations run government. Lest we forget the Supreme Court has decided that corporations are people which mean those “people” can ante up as much as they wish.
This last point is particularly interesting to me since it seems to fly in the face of the intentions of the founding fathers. Corporations were viewed with skepticism at best and as villainous most of the time. In fact, we (Americans) fought for our independence from England in response to corporate-political malfeasance. Our beef (excuse the pun since this is turkey day) led to some of the following:
- Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society. Some of the restrictions placed on corporations by patriarchs are still on the books.
- Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.
- Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.
- Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.
- Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.
- Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.
- Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making.
How we arrived at a Supreme Court ruling giving corporations “personhood” is explained at Personhood debate. It’s a fascinating read. It can be summed up in just about the same way as the overall message behind Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the ‘hood, Occupy Chicago and every other “occupy”. Money talks. It’s just too bad it doesn’t seem to speak for the 99%.
So forewarned is forearmed. Here's your armor for dinner debates.
MYTH #1: The congressional Super Committee failed because both sides refuse to compromise.
REALITY: The Super Committee failed because Republicans' number one, non-negotiable priority is to protect millionaires and billionaires from paying even one more penny in taxes.1 Democrats repeatedly offered to make deep spending cuts—far deeper than most progressives would like—in exchange for raising taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate loopholes, only to be refused again and again.2 So even though the vast majority of Americans say they want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, and raise taxes on the rich and corporations,3that won't happen until Republicans put aside their extremist stance.
MYTH #2: Nobody knows what Occupy Wall Street is about.
REALITY: Occupy Wall Street may not have a formal list of demands, but anyone who's been paying attention understands the core problems that occupiers are protesting—that corporations have far too much power in our political system, that Wall Street banks crashed our economy but were never held accountable, and that the richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans—156 million people—combined.4
MYTH #3: Occupiers should stop protesting and just get a job.
REALITY: As anybody who's looked for a job in the last few years knows, there just aren't jobs out there. That's a big part of why occupiers are protesting. In September, there were four times as many unemployed people as job openings.5 And for those who are lucky enough to find a job, median wages today are lower than they were a decade ago.6
MYTH #4: Occupy Wall Street is intent on provoking violence, especially against banks and the police.
REALITY: Occupations across the country have committed themselves to nonviolent protest, in the greatest traditions of protest movements. Some of their protests have been met with acts of police violence—tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets7—but in many cases, protesters have reminded police that the police officers are part of the 99%, too.8 And in the few cases when people have shown up at Occupy demonstrations and committed acts of vandalism, other protesters have even repaired their acts of vandalism.9
MYTH #5: The biggest crisis facing our country is out of control government spending.
REALITY: The two biggest drivers of our deficit—by far—are the economic crash and the Bush tax cuts.10 We have millions of people out of work, corporations hoarding cash, and factories sitting idle. If we put all those people back to work—rebuilding infrastructure, educating our children, and researching new technologies—it'll shrink the deficit and make our economy stronger for the long haul. And we can easily afford it if we make sure the rich—who are taking home a larger percentage of income than any time since 191711—pay their fair share.
1. "No, 'both sides' aren't equally to blame for supercommittee failure," The Washington Post,November 21, 2011
2. "Wonkbook: In supercommittee, Dems moved right and Republicans moved righter," The Washington Post, November 22, 2011
3. "CNN Poll: What The Super Committee Produced Is...Exactly What We Don't Want," Talking Points Memo, November 21, 2011
"Medicare, Social Security & The Deficit," National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, September 2011
4. "Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined," PolitifactWisconsin, March 10, 2011
5. "Fact: 4 job seekers per opening in U.S.," CNN, September 12, 2011
6. "Median household income," Wikipedia, Accessed November 22, 2011
7. "Occupy movement: police reaction in pictures," The Guardian, November 21, 2011
8. "Occupy Demonstrators Mark Two Months of Protests," NPR, November 17, 2011
9. "Occupy Oakland protesters assist in cleanup efforts," News 10 ABC, November 3, 2011
10. "Economic Downturn and Bush Policies Continue to Drive Large Projected Deficits," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 10, 2011
11. "Income Inequality Is At An All-Time High: STUDY," The Huffington Post, September 14, 2009
http://youtu.be/DxvVZe2fnvI (animation to explain 99%)