An odd thing happened while I was busy living my life. The rich became richer.
Between 1979 and 2007, the average after~tax income for the wealthiest 1% of Americans rose by 281%, with these folks now controlling 42% of the financial wealth in the U.S. The gap between this 1% and the rest of us has tripled~~yes, tripled!~~over the last three decades.
The top 10% of Americans now control 93% of our country’s wealth. Taxes on the richest Americans are the lowest in decades, and Congress, beholden to lobbyists and their own interests, seems intent on dealing with our financial difficulties by gouging social programs.
I had not followed the Occupy Wall Street movement very closely, yet I jumped at the chance to participate during a recent visit to New York.
En route to Zuccotti Park, we were passed by a large group marching to Chase Bank. Soon another left on an anti~racism march to the African Burial Ground National Monument located a few blocks away.
So began my education on just how dynamic this movement is, an awareness that grew as I discovered the diversity of those within the park. Certainly there were lots of 20~somethings, but there were many with lined faces and gray hair. Truck drivers. Parents with children. Construction workers from nearby Ground Zero.
This motley group was unified by a profound concern for our country. While the movement has been criticized for lacking a coherent message, political columnist Charles Pierce believes this broad brush approach is appropriate and represents the movement’s unique strength. In an Esquire essay, Pierce states:
“…the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition.”
Historian Eric Foner offers a different perspective. In a CNN interview, he reminds us that throughout history “the role of protest (has been) to galvanize public opinion…to pose a moral question.” As an example, he points out that the Abolitionists of the 1830s “didn’t put forward a plan to for getting rid of slavery. They said our job is to convince people slavery is wrong.”
So, Americans come from far and near to stand their ground in a little park in Manhattan, just one block from where the World Trade Center once stood. And they come to various cities and towns across the country and around the world. In the latest incarnation of a tradition that is both honorable and sacred, they protest to pose a moral question, to galvanize public opinion, and to strongly state their view that the current situation, economic and otherwise, is wrong.
At Zuccotti Park, also known appropriately as Liberty Park, many make personal statements, some on hand~lettered signs. On that day two weeks ago now, these were the signs that spoke most dearly to me...
One 60-something carried a simple placard,
A more conciliatory somebody wrote,
“99% + 1% = 100%
WE ARE ALL ONE.”
A sign obviously conceived, lettered, colored, flowered and glittered by the hand of the 7~year~old who carried it, instructed on one side,
with the other stating,
And in a play on a classic exhortation, one hopeful soul quietly held a sign that said,
“THE BEGINNING IS NEAR."
What moved me most, though, was an auditory event. I was standing at a makeshift shrine, enthralled by swatches of cloth, crosses, prayer beads, candles, sacred icons and mandalas spilling one over the other.
“Mic check, ” a young man 3 yards away suddenly called out.
“MIC CHECK,” those nearby replied in robust unison.
“We need some volunteers,” he continued.
“WE NEED SOME VOLUNTEERS,” the crowd echoed.
“To walk a few blocks from here.”
“TO WALK A FEW BLOCKS FROM HERE.”
“To get some cardboard for making signs.”
“TO GET SOME CARDBOARD FOR MAKING SIGNS.”
With electronic amplification banned, protesters have developed this system, dubbed the human microphone, to communicate basic information, as well as the philosophical and political views a particular protester may wish to express.
And it brought tears to my eyes. For me, this adaptation embodies the essence of the grassroots movements that are spreading like wildfire around the world. So many individuals, each with a unique story, coming together, supporting one another, speaking with one voice.
There’s another metaphor here, too. Of all the various forces within us and around us, which ones will we amplify? To which will we give our precious voice?
Right now, mine sings out prayers...
for the protesters…
for the police...
for hostile others…
for our whole bewildered and bewildering species…
and for this beautiful little planet we call home.
Blessings on us all.
Addendum: The momentum for this movement continues to build. Earlier today, my husband and I were in a small mountain community, population around 5,000. Walking down the street, we were suddenly swept up in the first Occupy protest march there. Fifty or so folks, most with gray hair, organized the event and plan to meet every Saturday to demonstrate their concerns.
The number of these groups seems to grow daily. To find out how you can help, to see what's going on near you, or to begin something yourself or with a few like~minded folks, you can find helpful information here at Occupy Together.
This is truly an exciting time. Yet, change seldom takes a smooth or simple trajectory. Let's keep those prayers and/or simple good vibes flowing...
...for the safety and clarity of the protesters;
...for the greatest wisdom for our elected officials and for the police who have been given such a difficult task and who are, any way you look at it, truly part of the 99%;
...for an increase in the ability of human beings to listen respectfully to and care about one another;
...and for the best possible outcome for all concerned.
And this just received...one amazing reaction from across the globe. Click here to read about how Egyptians are supporting Occupy Wall Street from Tahrir Square. Amazing times these are!!!
And something else just sent to me~~an ad for Occupy Wall Street. It's short~~only 33 seconds!
Oh, c'mon! Here's another thing just in (today's 11/1) that I really just gotta give yas the link to~~a poll about who is supporting the Occupy movement.
11/4/11 Addendum~~Check out this aerial view of the numbers in Occupy Oakland! Something very big is afoot!
11/6/11 And a very inspiring, hopeful, powerful (and short) video here!
11/27/11 This one's the best~~here!!!