There’s been a good deal of talk about how the Occupy movement “changed the debate in this country” to focus on income inequality.
But while members of Occupy Wall Street skirmished with police over a patch of ground in lower Manhattan, the members of the country’s top 1 percent bypassed the political debate and have gone back to work wielding their influence in the corridors of power.
It’s been a particularly wrenching patch for the 99 percent, who are excluded from those corridors.
First, Congress this week, with President Obama’s blessing, passed something Republicans misleadingly labeled a JOBS Act, which basically gives a green light for fraud by removing important investor protections under the guise of promoting startups.
Second, Congress has been pushing financial regulators to weaken even further a mild piece of sensible financial regulation that would prevent banks from making risky gambles with their own accounts – the ones guaranteed by you and me as taxpayers. It’s the final coup de grace marginalizing the views of one-time Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker, for whom the rule is named. Volcker has been a lonely voice among the president’s financial advisers, advocating stronger action to rein in the behavior of the too big to fail banks. Largely ignored by the president, Volcker’s views are getting stomped by Congress and financial regulators.
There is no mystery why we have suffered these setbacks: our political system has been overwhelmed by the power of money. The bankers lobby has swarmed the Capitol to drown any opposition to its views. The bankers have also come with their checkbooks in an election year, and they’re looking to buy whoever is for sale, of whatever party. According to a new report by Public Citizen, politicians who advocated for a weaker Volcker rule got an average of $388,010 in contributions from the financial sector – more than four times as much as politicians advocating to strengthen the rule, who still managed to haul in an average of $96,897 apiece.
Our politicians, insulated by a celebrity-obsessed media and swaddled in Super PAC cash, could care less about the consent of the governed. Republicans have only to wave around their magic wand that makes all problems the fault of government regulation in order to hypnotize their followers, while the Democrats only have to remind their followers how scary the Republicans are to keep them in line.
Meanwhile, the Occupy movement, which started with such promise in galvanizing public support against corporate domination of our politics, has splintered into a thousand pieces, wasting precious energy and time in confrontations with police rather than building a broad-shouldered coalition working on many different social and political fronts.
The challenge for Occupy remains the same: building a force that actually includes the members of the 99 percent who have not yet gotten active, who may be still stuck in apathy, cynicism or hopelessness or who may simply not have a perspective that includes social and political action.
The next opportunity is a series of protests planned nationwide for May 1, which has traditionally been a time of action around the immigration rights issue. This year occupiers, labor allies and a variety of community organizations are planning to join their issues. Can we forge a message strong enough and the numbers large enough to rock the corridors of power?