Take a moment to peruse the #OccupyWallStreet hashtag on Twitter.
You will see many people expressing their angst, dismay, support and validation for a global effort that has finally reached our shores. Being compared to the Tahir Square protests in Egypt, the #OccupyWallStreet is centered in Liberty Square, New York City (“tahir” means liberation in Arabic,) and is, currently, directed at the stark disparity between those who control the wealth, media, corporate and political environments, and those in our nation who are unemployed, underpaid, overtaxed and poorly represented by elected leaders. James Wagner, who has visited the demonstration, has posted the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City alongside some short comments with his take of the moment. Alternatively, there are other unofficially-officially associated websites aggregating news and information from the epicenter, such as OccupyWallStreet.org
According to data from The 2012 Statistical Abstract by the U.S. Census Bureau, in their publication “Household Income–Distribution by Income Level and State: 2009” [PDF], 4.5 million households have total family incomes of $200,000 or more. In contrast, 109.1 million households earn less, with 28 million earning under $25,000 per year.
The Federal Poverty Level for a family of four in 2011 is $22,350 in the 48 contiguous states. This means that approximately 24.7% of United States households are living under or near the level considered “impoverished” for a family of that size. However, it is debatable whether anyone could eat healthfully and live respectably on that miniscule amount, little remaining for discretionary spending after necessary living expenses.
One of the leaders of our time, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, decided to finally speak about the protests taking place in Manhattan (and springing up elsewhere, in cities such as Chicago and San Francisco,) saying, “The protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s the bottom line,” among other choice bites. For instance, he asserts, “If the banks don’t go out and make loans we will not come out of our economic problems, we will not have jobs so anything we can do that’s responsible to help the banks do that is what we need,” perhaps confirming what we all fear, that the banks have more control of the money (ergo: economy, politics, and so forth…) than is just. Are we now to kowtow to the banks for social redemption through economic distillation?
I suppose, to back up his statements, we could refer to the Reuters report from February 2011, that demonstrates, “Wall Street paid out $20.8 billion in cash bonuses in 2010, the fifth-highest amount on record, though the average payout fell 9 percent from a year earlier as financial reform drove banks to offer higher base salaries and defer more compensation.” I mean, they did fall 9 percent. For a quarter of American households that would mean a slash of $2,500 in income from their annual take. Poor Wall Street. What do you suppose is the median Christmas bonus for a minimum-wage worker at a gas station?
Of course, I do not doubt there are many honest citizens working in the financial sector, with families and college loan debt, trying their best to fulfill an American Dream of their own, and that is respectable. It is clear, though, that in this bushel there are many rotten apples spoiling the cider.
On the same day, word was announced that the United States, under Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, accused (note: accused) of being a terrorist with Al-Qaeda responsible for inspiring jihadists to attack our soil. He was murdered with a missile in the country of Yemen. Glenn Greenwald of salon.com provides a frightening assessment of the repercussions of this decision in his essay “The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality.”
I found no irony in the convergence of this two events in American history. After all, if we only had to point out one degree of separation between the banking industry and the President’s policy-writing cabinet, we can hit the nail with William M. Daley, whose two prior jobs to being appointed Obama’s Chief of Staff were with SBC Communications (now AT&T) and JP Morgan Chase. But, that isn’t unexpected. Deep pockets receive firm handshakes. Further, our Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, is infamous for his participation in the Lehman Brothers-Bear Stearns-AIG-Goldman Sachs-Henry Paulson (oh my) debacle prior to his appointment. The same executives who recklessly pilfered and structured their industry to benefit their tranche, have walked over The Constitution like a doormat while feigning interests of national security.
It is my belief that America is beyond crisis. For the past decade we have lived in a more-anxious, more theatrically-secured, more surveilled environment. From incidents of recent shootings by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department to the police brutality captured on video at the recent #OccupyWallStreet protests, it is clear that control is out of control. Financially and socially we are being, and have felt, suffocated.
Where will this lead us? Who will lead us? Has social justice been cleared away to make room for a larger financial market? It is hard to think capitalism American-style is over, that grip is simply gilded indelible. It seems, though, with the recent announcement by major New York-area labor unions of their intended participation in the #OccupyWallStreet marches, that national change is no longer something we have hope for, but instead, something we must do for ourselves.