The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. ~Thomas Jefferson
Westchester County has been my home for most of my life. I realize there are many wealthy people in our area that may not understand the impact that the economic policies of the past three decades have had on most Americans. Yet, I was terribly disheartened by the meanness and ignorance displayed by many of the respondents to the Patch’s recent poll question: Do You Support the Wall Street Protesters?
My answer to the poll is, Heck Yeah! I’m grateful to the protesters for reminding us of the importance of being active participants in our democracy. Their actions have helped me to clarify my beliefs about what needs to change in our country. These are among the reasons why I enthusiastically support the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement…
Our government exists to ensure every American has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That right is inherently undermined when our nation’s laws are written by lobbyists representing the interests of the wealthiest 1% of America, and voted on by officials financially dependent on campaign contributions from that same wealthy elite.
I’m a capitalist. Though our Constitution never mentions capitalism, I believe for-profit business and competition are natural expressions of creativity and ingenuity. It was suggested by one respondent to the poll that the OWS protesters are demonizing corporate profits. The problem isn’t that corporations are succeeding at making profits. The problem is that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that individual people and small businesses are also able to succeed. Wealthy individuals and giant corporations are capable of protecting their own interests. Our government exists to protect We The People. (And no, despite recent Supreme Court rulings, corporations are not people!)
The redistribution of wealth in our country is very real. Sadly for most Americans, this is Robin Hood in reverse. According to the Congressional Budget Office, since 1979 the average household income for the top 1% has more than tripled; while for the majority of Americans, HHI has remained flat. But what’s much more important to understand, is that in that same time frame, the percentage of income the top 1% gets to keep after paying taxes has more than doubled, while the percentage of income the bottom 80% of American tax-payers get to keep after paying their taxes has decreased by 10-30%, growing worse with each lower income bracket. (And remember, that’s just income not earnings, plus it doesn’t account for dramatically increasing expenses like healthcare…)
Why has this happened? Members of Congress need lots of money to be reelected. They get that money from corporations and extremely wealthy people. So the legislation that senators and representatives pass reflects the interests of their donors, not the majority of their constituents. What’s the solution?
- A better informed electorate that gets its news from a variety of sources, including those independent of corporate influence (i.e. NPR, PBS, Democracy Now…), and then acts in its own best interest.
- An electoral system without funding from corporate donors or large contributions from individual donors.
The second bullet requires passing major election reform legislation that completely guts the existing system. And that action needs to come from our federal legislators who have been elected under the current broken system. If more of us start getting informed, we will start demanding that politicians create and support legislation that serves the interests of the 99% of us. Each vote needs to matter to a politician, and each candidate needs to earn our vote by standing for what is best for our democracy.
Which brings us back to the first bullet…we voters need to get real information and demand real answers. Well-informed voters are not as easily duped by empty rhetoric and slick propaganda. It’s not enough to listen to a nightly network broadcast or to read one newspaper. We need to dig into the issues that matter most to our lives and demand action be taken by our politicians, or else vote them out. That’s what being an American citizen is all about. So, thank you everyone who is sleeping tonight in Liberty Square. You are an inspiration for what I pray becomes a movement—a movement that may revolutionize and restore our democracy back into the hands of We The People.