When I attended the first protest rally in Sacramento, California in sympathy with Occupy Wall Street, it was clear to me that all the grievances of the protestors, such as outsourcing American jobs, lack of
affordable health care, Wall Street bailouts, etc., stemmed from the same premise: the upper 1% of the population in the United States has gradually but inexorably destroyed democracy and taken control of the country. Call it plutocracy. Call it corporate fascism. Call it whatever you want. But it’s the same old story of the rich and powerful becoming a little too greedy and wanting it all.
The takeover began during the Reagan years and reached its ne plus ultra during George W. Bush’s second term in office. By that time, the ruling class and their bought-and-paid-for-flunkies in the government and mainstream media, had engineered the largest shift in economic wealth and political power since the 1920s.
And now we’re living with the results: high unemployment, unaffordable health care, massive home foreclosures, stagnant wages, and on and on. In the meantime, the upper one percent owns over 40% of the net wealth of the country and the super rich, such as billionaire hedge fund operators, pay less tax proportionate to their incomes than average workers.
It ain’t fair-and people know it, especially recent college graduates who are straddled with enormous debt and cannot find decent jobs. So they’re protesting, and so are the individuals who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, as well as citizens who are still doing OK financially, but just happen to care about ethics and democracy.
As a result, the champagne and caviar party for the upper 1%, sponsored by the free market and hosted by Corporate America, is at long last being seen for what it really is-a well-planned strategy to destroy the middle class and create a neo-feudal society of rich and poor.
Naturally, the ruling class will never admit this is their real agenda. Instead they’ll say they are just trying to stimulate the private sector and create jobs and lessen the power of Big Government. And you know what? That propaganda actually worked for over 30 years-not on progressive thinkers, or any one with half a brain, of course. But it did work on many average Americans who were convinced Ronald Reagan was their savior and free market, supply-side economics was going to take them to the Promised Land.
Ironically, there are still average Americans-the Tea Party types, for example, and the rabid fans of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News-who still believe this propaganda. Fortunately, the rest of the working and middle class have seen the light and know they’ve been played for chumps all these years. As a result, they’ve taken to the streets and are demanding change and accountability.
So now it’s up to the ruling class, the upper 1%, actually more like the upper one-half of 1%, to change course. Unfortunately, there’s no FDR around to force them to do the right thing, and, of course, there’s no mainstream politician, including President Obama, who will stand up to them. Which begs the question: Can they reform on their own, beginning with higher taxes on the rich, as Warren Buffet has suggested, or are they going to hang tough and demand more draconian cuts on average Americans?
Are they going to force corporations to stop outsourcing jobs and start paying their fair share of taxes? Or are they going to allow unemployment to get worse and the disparity of income to become even greater?
Are they going to support green energy and allow it to flourish and expand? Or are they going to cave in to the fossil fuels industry and intensify global warming?
Are they going to encourage an affordable single payer health care system for all Americans, or are they going to allow the insurance companies to continue the run the system and deprive over 50 million citizens of affordable health care?
Are they going to make serious cuts in the military budget and bring home our troops from around the world, or are they going to continue their policy of imperialism and perpetual war?
The cynical answer is they won’t do the right thing and they’ll attack anyone who tries to promote a progressive agenda. But the 99% are not going away. They’ve seen the light and want their democracy back, and to their credit, they’re trying to do it peacefully. But will the ruling class perceive this as a sign of weakness and pull a Gaddafi?
The choice is theirs. We all hope they come to their senses. In the long run, it’s actually in their interest to do so, because a society cannot flourish economically without a strong middle class. But if they don’t, and conditions get progressively worse, the peaceful protests at Occupy Wall Street and their affiliates around the country could turn violent. Things have already gotten ugly at Occupy Oakland. And they could become much worse.