Emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court, big corporations have been busy exercising their newly granted First Amendment rights. Now a growing number of Americans are exercising theirs, assembling in cities throughout the nation to protest the bailouts, budget cuts and other artifacts of the Wall Street financial debacle three years ago this month.
Americans are notoriously slow to rouse, even when they are hurting. And we are certainly hurting: nine percent of Americans are “officially” unemployed; count those who have given up looking or have taken jobs far beneath their skill and ability, and one in five are struggling to stay afloat. Those fortunate enough to hang on to their jobs have to worry about the cost of health insurance, gas and groceries. 81% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. The other twenty percent are presumably among those who lay claim to most of the wealth of our country.
Eighteen days ago, a few hundred citizens rallied in New York City, inspired by a call to “Occupy Wall Street” proposed by a magazine article. At first, the protestors – largely young people - got a snide blow-off from the New York Times. But thanks in part to some gratuitous pepper spray from the police, media coverage grew along with the protestors’ numbers. Last weekend, thousands marched in New York, while citizens in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Denver, Madison, Atlanta and Boston have turned out. The list is growing. Participants defy categorization or caricature: they come from all walks of life, all age groups, all ideologies. All share the view that the country has run off the rails.
Europeans have been protesting for months, their economies suffering severe collateral damage from the economic contagion unleashed by the Great Recession here at home. In Iran, Egypt and other Middle East nations, anger at poverty and political oppression boiled over earlier this year; dictators were overthrown.
But until now, most Americans have occupied nothing more than their living rooms – odd, since America’s own citizen revolution has been the beacon of democracy for the rest of the world. Many no doubt are simply too busy and too tired: two wage earner families, with some parents holding two jobs each. Some have lost so much confidence in government and in themselves that their sense of powerlessness has led to personal paralysis. No one can challenge the decision to stay home.
But the choice to stand in protest is the one singular act of political power left to the silent majority of the American people. A radical United States Supreme Court has concluded that corporate donations to politicians – a.k.a. bribery – are a form of “expression” that is protected by the First Amendment. The multinational conglomerates have used their vast wealth to seize control of our country. This has to change, and it has to be done by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying that the right to support candidates and causes in elections belongs only to human beings - you can start the process right here. In the meantime, powerful as they are, corporations cannot march down our streets. Only human beings can do that.
Inevitably, the defenders of the intolerable status quo try to brand protests and protestors as insubordinate. They know that a citizenry, aroused, is a fearsome force. In recent days, as more Americans stand up to denounce the virulently destructive disparity in incomes and opportunities between the corporate elites and everyone else, the corporate hacks on Capitol Hill and the talk radio commentariat indicted the discussion as “class warfare.” Apparently that’s impermissible in our democracy because it challenges the core concept that “we the people” rule, and “we” is supposed to mean all of us. That’s precisely what’s at stake, of course, and the people demanding that it be addressed are nothing short of patriots.
Warren Buffet, the world’s second richest person according to Forbes, told CNN last week: “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.”
As we reported back in 2009, Wall Street has occupied Washington for too long. Now it’s up to us to take it back.