The Occupy Wall Street has taken off. What began as a seemingly quirky group of young people has started to gather interest with more established groups. I read this morning that some of the labor unions have taken an interest in it, possibly adding some financial backing. Although people have come from around the country to be a part of it, other “Occupy” groups have popped up around the nation.
The Democratic Party isn’t sure what to do with it. I hope they don’t try to co-opt it.
Is this a leftist version of the Tea Party? That also began in a seemingly ad hoc manner. They have since been co-opted by the Republican party and have been very successful in pulling the party further to the right. (As someone generally on the left, I’m just amazed that they can keep moving rightward.)
I read both of them as the flip side of the same record. (For those who are reading this and are not sure about the last reference, please ask your grandparents.) While the Tea Party rails against government, claiming it’s too large and intrusive, Occupy Wall Street rails against corporate power. They both have songs in which the common denominator of their lyrics lament the overwhelming power of institutions to the point where the average person seems completely disconnected from them. None of these institutions appear to operate with everyone’s best interest in mind.
Honestly, the Tea Party, as much as I think they’re politically wrong, is socially right. The government doesn’t function in a way that makes its citizens believes it cares about their lives. Government regulation just gets in the way. Without too much difficulty, we can all probably identify at least one or two regulations that are superfluous if we relied upon common sense.
While I believe government is necessary, especially to protect the average person from powers that can crush them, it has gotten in bed with corporate interests that don’t have our interests at heart. Consider the financial collapse in 2008. Honest reflection subsequent to the bailouts would have acknowledged that tighter regulations were necessary to prevent such an economic calamity from happening again. Yet, those are not in place yet.
But blaming government for this disconnect is only a part of it. We cannot overlook the gross disparities in wealth accumulation over the last few decades and the obscene disparities in income between those who work at the top of a large corporation and those who work at the bottom. The multiples between the highest executive and the lowest employee are not 10:1 or 15:1 or 25:1 or even 100:1. They’re exceeding 300:1, sometimes 400:1. I would be hard-pressed to acknowledge that companies with such pay inequity see their employees as people with real lives. Rather, their employees have become another expenditure, an expendable cog in their profit making machine.
Indeed, with globalization and the internet, companies can seek the lowest cost producer across the globe. It is ironic that the president asked Jeff Immelt of GE to serve on his competitive council to re-invigorate job growth in the United States, while GE has no hesitation using off-shore low cost producers.
Think about this for a moment. During the 1980s, corporations closed factories in this country and moved those operations to places like China to take advantage of lower production costs. Today, with low-cost communication options, corporations can do the same with knowledge jobs. In other words, why pay an accountant to work in the United States when for the same cost a company can get five accountants in Mexico or India or Brazil?
No one wants to be seen as not mattering. No one wants to be considered expendable or disposable. Yet, that’s what’s happening. Our daily struggles don’t seem to matter to the government. Our lives don’t really matter to the corporations, either.
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have their origins in grassroots disenchantment with the way things are. The Tea Party by virtue of time and co-opting by the GOP establishment has become more disciplined with its message. Occupy Wall Street is still emerging. Both, however, came together not focused on one issue, but in response to a free-floating anxiety over our collective future.
Their existence tells me a couple of things. First, people are not as hopeful about their future as they were several years ago. They’re worried. They would like to have some control over the future of their own lives. Second, existing institutions aren’t working for them anymore.
Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to emerge. But I do know that I want our institutional leadership, whether it’s in government or industry, to recognize that there are a lot of people in this nation who are disenchanted or becoming disenchanted with what’s going on. There’s no clear word or sign to say specifically what to do, but what’s clear is we don’t want to be ignored, overlooked, or tossed out.