Here’s what’s amazing about events in New York City, and Austin, and Denver, and Miami, and 62 other locations so far.
We were thinking that young people were off soaking their brains in social media ooze — overly expressive chipmunks, angry birds, double rainbows.
Instead, what do you know? They were paying attention to stuff that matters.
They were watching an unaccountable finance industry take the economy down, then get rescued while millions of Americans are gasping and grasping for floating debris.
These protesters were watching as corporations gained more power over our government and our political parties — impossible, right? Wasn’t big business's power absolute already? Not quite. But leave it to the Supreme Court, gutting key campaign finance reforms, to bring corporate power even closer to absolute.
These young people were watching while TV talking heads blamed consumers for accepting low-cost loans that weren’t worth the low-grade paper on which they were penned. Yes, blame homeowners for bad lending practices.
Since word of, and participation in, the Occupy Wall Street movement started to spread like information ought to in the information age — initially ignored as it was by mainstream media — a lot of people have sought to discredit it. Points taken: The protesters are unbathed and unorganized. They lack position papers and people in suits to take media questions.
Say this for the participants, however: They have locked in on the fundamental issue afflicting America: corporate control of our government. The secondary issue is “bigness” itself, as in “too big to fail” — whether it is big-box stores gobbling up America’s retail landscape, or multinational goliaths taking America’s wealth overseas (and avoiding tax liability), whether it is banks turning the screws on the very taxpayers who rescued them.
This is it. This is the issue of our time. This is why America is hurting so, and why the nation finds it so hard to climb out of the current recession.
While renewed attention has been drawn to the fact that 5 percent of Americans hold more than half of the nation's wealth, it is time to examine the massive share of commerce monopolized by so very few corporations.
The nation is well served by protesters who voice alarm about these issues. Unorganized? Lacking a coherent theme? That sounds like most movements derived from powerlessness.
Listen closely and hear a counterpoint to the strain of discussion that paralyzed the government recently. Here the nation was in the depths of one of its worst economic droughts in its history, when an activist government was of the essence. Instead of aggressively addressing those problems, it crawled inside an anti-government, anti-spending shell.
In Occupy Wall Street we have the populist counterpoint to the congressional do-nothing chorus. Do something, say these protesters. Get moving. Now.
Some of the Occupy proposals are truly radical, like debt relief, even debt forgiveness, for American consumers.
Realistic or not, it addresses a matter too rarely discussed: that consumers’ situations mirror the nation’s own — with consumer debt representing 90 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The big banks in this case are like the money men of the People’s Republic of China, holding the fate of each debtor in their hands. Any sort of debt relief sounds fantastical, but America’s taxpayers footed $4.7 trillion of relief for over leveraged banks and trading houses. Just whose idea is radical?
If nothing else, say the Occupy protesters, government needs to make Wall Street its servant, and not the other way around.
How many times can deregulation of the financial sector be discredited? We have seen over and over again that big business, unchecked, will fall victim to its own excess and the nation will pay dearly.
Observe, however, the voices on the right who say that bigness is not the problem, that regulations are the enemy. They seem to say that all benefit when the big get bigger.
The country is now making note of people who have taken to the streets to say that’s baloney.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.