A funny thing is happening in America. Even as police and mayors are cracking down on occupiers around the country, people are talking about the issues that drew occupiers to the streets in the first place.
At first, the national conversation seemed to be more of a “what do they want?” kind of thing, but lately the national press has been asking more important questions, such as “What does it say about society when so few control so much?” and “is such a socioeconomic model sustainable?”
The fact that the 400 wealthiest Americans control more wealth than the 150 million poorest is now well-known, thanks in part to the Occupy movement.
Below is a video of Professor Richard Wilkinson, who is best known for his research into how societies which have the greatest disparity between rich and poor also have the most severe public health issues and the most violence. Here he is seen delivering a Ted Talks speech on that subject.
Thus far, the Occupy movement has been notably short of demands, but it has been long on important questions, and people are listening and asking their own questions.
92-year-old occupier speaks his mind
“We are making a difference,” said 92-year-old Carl, who has been living in the Colorado Springs Acacia Park occupation for nearly two months.
“People are taking their money out of banks and putting it in credit unions. The issues have always been around, but now they are being addressed, because of us,” said Carl, who didn’t want his last name used.
Carl proudly told The Colorado Independent that he was born in Colorado Springs on January 22, 1919 and has been a rancher most of his life.
When he’s not camping out downtown, he said he lives on his brother’s ranch 60 miles east of town. He owns a 300-acre spread of his own in Nevada, but said he prefers living in Colorado. “I like the mountains. I like the sense of freedom. I’m old enough to do what I want.
“I’ve been a rancher most of my life. It’s why I’m so healthy,” he said between puffs on a cigarette bummed from a fellow occupier. Told that smoking would kill him, he scoffed, noting that he started smoking when he was eight.
“I don’t like what’s going on in America. I don’t like the government bailing out the banks and corporations and foreign banks. I know we won’t get it back. Why are we giving them more?”
Sleeping on the ground in an urban park is just fine with Carl (no relation to Madonna). “Living here is nothing new. I like camping out, riding the fence lines, going after cattle. I guess you could call me a true cowboy,” he said.
Instead of bailing out banks, Carl said he’d like to see the government provide every American with a free education, from preschool through graduate school. “We’re putting kids in college who, when they graduate, are so far in debt they might never get out. Why do we do that?” he asks.
“If this movement accomplishes even a small percentage of what we want, it will be successful,” he said.
Carl said one measure of success that has already been achieved is that the police, from coast to coast, are harassing and arresting occupiers. “They must be scared of us because they’re sending the cops in to disrupt us. I think we’re causing some problems for people. Why should the lobbyists run the government? Why should we have senators for life?” he asks.
On the subject of the police hassling protesters, Carl gets ready agreement from Nick, another Colorado Springs occupier.
Nick had been up to Denver for the November 12 march and recounted being rushed and shoved “for no reason.”
“It’s ridiculous the kind of force they were using on peaceful people with no reason,” he said.
He said some of the police seemed reluctant to mix it up with protesters. “Some of them, it seems, should just call in sick. They don’t want to be there. Others are gung ho, they just want to beat the crap out of people for no reason.”
As more evidence that occupiers are being heard and taken seriously, a new poll shows that most Americans agree with the goals of the movement and two-thirds agree that wealth needs to be distributed more evenly if the country is to prosper.
The vast gulf that exists today in America between the rich and the poor is not new. But, the fact we are talking about it is new.
“The problem of the disparity of wealth existed before, but Occupy brought it to life. People all over the world are fed up. The economy is in deep trouble everywhere,” said (Denver occupier) Jeannie Hartley.
“The bailouts cost billions of dollars but they didn’t fix the economy,” she said.
“The problem is you need to get the money out of politics. The problems with the economy will continue as long as corporations are allowed to fund politics.
“Occupy is the reason people are finally talking about these things,” she told The Colorado Independent.
“We’ve got underwater mortgages. We’ve got students graduating with $100,000 in debt and no jobs in sight. Four out of ten homeless people in the US have no shelter and are sleeping on the streets. That’s a serious problem in the United States.”
Local talk radio host and national political columnist David Sirota has certainly noticed.
A few weeks ago, as the Occupy Wall Street protests were first spreading, something amazing happened: For 10 whole seconds, the local reporter on my TV screen actually talked about the realities of the recession. He even uttered the phrase “economic inequality.”
My guess is that you’ve seen something similar on your local affiliate — and that’s no minor event. When even the most local of television journalists are compelled to acknowledge this crushing emergency in a country whose media aggressively promotes American Dream agitprop, it means the Occupy protestors have scored a monumental victory. You can almost imagine a Wall Street CEO turning to an aide and muttering a slightly altered riff off LBJ: “If we’ve lost Ron Burgundy, we’ve lost Middle America.”
In response to this stunning turn of events, conservative politicians are retreating to non sequiturs. They seem to think that if they shout the phrase “class warfare” enough, the nation will go back to not caring about the divide between the rich and poor.
But something has changed.