A major criticism from both the left and the right regarding the Wall Street protests has been the perceived lack of a clear and succinct message to policymakers. However, this criticism could not be farther from the truth. These protesters do have a message, and a very important one at that.
The Wall Street protests are a manifestation of the anger and the sense of betrayal felt by America’s middle class toward their leaders in Washington. The protesters represent such a wide range of issues that it is difficult for them to focus on a single message. However, income inequality seems to be the one dominant issue that encompasses the following specific economic grievances: unfair taxation polices, protection of social safety nets, rampant corporate welfare and deregulation of the financial industry and massive student debt exacerbated by the lack of jobs.
It is no secret that wealth inequality in the United States has increased substantially over the past 30 years. For the first time in history, the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any other advanced, industrialized country and approaches that of many second tier countries (According to the CIA, the United States ranks 39 on distribution of family income, just above Cameroon and Iran). Currently, three years after the Great Recession, the middle class is collapsing while Wall Street continues to make record profits. From 2007 to 2009, Wall Street profits rose an incredible 720 percent. Meanwhile, 25 million Americans remain unemployed and 46 million Americans are currently living in poverty. The top 1 percent of Americans earn more income than the bottom 50 percent combined, and middle class families are making, on average, $3,600 less than they did ten years ago.
What makes this worse is that the majority of Americans no longer feel they have a voice in the political process, and they are right. When the Supreme Court ruled in Citizen’s United v. FEC that money symbolizes speech and that corporations have the same rights as individuals, the voice of the middle class was essentially silenced from politics. Since then, our most pressing political issues arise not from the people, but from whomever or from whatever corporation contributes the most toward a particular campaign. Now the speech of a single wealthy entity has the ability to drown out the voices of the majority of Americans.
Those whose greed can be blamed for the Great Recession have become more and more powerful, while the majority of Americans have little to no say in policy-making.
While the majority of Americans are suffering, Washington remains completely out of touch. Republicans have pushed strongly and successfully to cut critical public spending programs that aim to balance this rising socioeconomic inequality. These “deficit hawks” attack middle class spending programs, including public education, public transportation, unemployment benefits and social safety nets such as Medicaid and Medicare. While these budget extremists push for major cuts to programs that hurt the middle class, they strongly advocate lower taxes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Unfortunately, Democrats have been far too willing to look for compromise with these extremists. They allowed the Republicans to promote the deficit as the major economic issue for the country instead of job creation. This gave Republicans the ability to successfully block President Obama’s economic initiatives that would help the quickly shrinking middle class.
These are the issues that dominate the massive protests at financial and political sectors across the nation. They may not communicate a simple or focused message, but its perceived lack of simplicity and clarity is what makes it so unique and important. What the media and the politicians fail to understand is that this is a true grassroots protest. True grassroots protests aren’t organized, and rarely do they speak with a clear and concise message. They certainly do not involve people holding up printed signs with clever messages created to fit a predetermined political narrative that benefits a particular corporate sponsor (i.e. Tea Party as a front for the interests of big oil, big coal and big pharmaceutical, for example).
The Arab Spring was a grassroots protest. There was no true leader, little sense of organization and it was difficult to determine any single reason why these protesters believed that their leaders did not represent the true interests of the people. Yet, even without a clear message, these protests still made a huge impact. Our leaders should stop dismissing these protests as unorganized, without purpose and unimportant. Not only are these protests worth supporting, they are the start of something big. I urge all Democrats to embrace them and all Republicans to listen more carefully.
Contact Noah Merksamer at [email protected]