We Are The 99%: The Focus of Our Rage
Having just gotten back from “Occupy DC” in Washington after a 3-day stay has given me a far clearer perspective and a more intense fervor for the mushrooming #occupy Movement. But first allow me to give my readers a little background on why the #occupy/OWS phenomenon is so personal a struggle for me. Not only am I a part of the 99%, I find myself at or near the bottom of that group as well. Like so many of those disenchanted and disenfranchised Americans who are participating in these worldwide protests, I too have fallen a long way. My story may be similar to others you have heard to one degree or another.
I am a computer/IT professional forced into early retirement due to long-term unemployment which ultimately made me homeless after I finally ran out of cash. After being homeless for a few weeks, my health simply collapsed from the stress and strain – and because of exposure to the weather – and I would up in the hospital for a lengthy stay. After leaving the hospital I would up on disability, and I’ve been living on this miniscule income for nearly a year now. I have tried repeatedly to reenter the workforce, but my age and my 3-year absence from the IT profession has made that impossible. So I wrote a book about my experiences after doing considerable research about long-term unemployment, homelessness, and the lack of access to regular healthcare and the ability to retrain oneself for a new profession, and how they are all related to one another. It was these barriers that prevented me from reentering the job market and forced me into early retirement, and I discovered that this was actually commonplace in 21st century America. That’s why I wrote my book, and I will mention it only at the end of this essay, because the purpose of this publication is to strengthen, empower and enhance the OWS protests, not to sell books. I already do that on my websites anyway, but I will mention them briefly at the end.
I have given a lot of thought and engaged in plenty of research regarding the plight of the 99%, and what should and should not be done to bring the top 1% in line with the rest of us. I will now attempt to spell out the basics of what we want, and why we 99%-‘ers are undertaking the various occupations that are springing up all over the world. We all want basically the same things. We want all the legalized bribery out of politics. This can be accomplished by simply outlawing the lobbyist profession, or at least in Washington specifically and in government overall. If Washington won’t do it then “we the people” will have to do it for them. We can accomplish this by, among other things, occupying K Street and the offices of the lobbyists, or by laying siege to their offices through human barricades (nobody comes and nobody goes). This issue stands alone and I think it should be treated separately from everything else. Take the rampant corruption out of politics and fully investigate Wall Street and prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown.
From my vantage point, and based on my own experiences, the least common denominator to everything that we are protesting, marching and occupying for can be boiled down to 2 things: the rights of workers and independent contractors, and the right to economic equality including the restoration of the American middle class to its former economic and social position in American society. These rights, in turn, have a number of offshoots and related issues that, when organized into a clear and succinct set of ideas, become what I call the Eight Fundamental Rights of Mankind. Allow me to use the next few pages to explain exactly what I mean, and how we can go about accomplishing these goals in a manner that is legal, peaceful and orderly so we can set a good example for our nation’s kids and grand-kids. One very good way that we could go about accomplishing this is to emulate the peaceful and nonviolent tactics of Rev. Dr. King, Jr. that were utilized during the civil rights marches and protests of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In so doing, history will be on our side and victory against the top 1% will ultimately be ours.
Let me add one more thing before I get into this. You will notice as you read the rest of this essay that there are a lot of ideas in here about how to restore America and its middle class, and how to re-balance the distribution of wealth in a peaceful and orderly manner. Some of my ideas may be accepted because they are simple and practical solutions to certain big problems that America faces, and because my ideas can be easily implemented using our existing governmental framework and technology. There may be other ideas found here that you may totally disagree with. That is your prerogative and your opinion, and you are most definitely entitled to it. But that’s not the point of this essay, nor is it the point of the political manifesto that I wrote and recently published. The point of all this is to get the conversation started, and to name some good starting points from which this conversation can be initiated. If anyone reading this feels that they have some better ideas than what I propose, then by all means write a book of your own or start a blog about that topic and publish it as I have. There’s nothing stopping you. I would rather that all of us be part of the solution than anyone be part of the problem.
The first and foremost issue of what we 99%-‘ers want should be the rights of all workers and independent contractors. We want a $10.00 per hour minimum wage combined with the abolition of the federal income tax and an end to the withholding of US income tax from our paychecks. This would give everyone who makes less than $108.000.00 per year a pay raise amounting to an average of 20% immediately, pumping millions of fresh dollars into the US economy that generates billions in new tax revenue without raising any taxes. Full employment should become the new standard of the world, and that standard should be set by the USA. That’s why I’m advocating a huge public works program to end unemployment. I will write more about that topic further down in this document and treat it as a separate issue.
The second “fundamental right” I wish to mention is that right to re-education and/or retraining at will and without cost. This is what we should do for all the long-term unemployed, all the homeless who are healthy enough to work, all unemployed veterans, and for all newly released prisoners who are re-entering society. This is how we can end homelessness for good; simply give these people a trade. Every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Those unable to find work, or who are having difficulty locating suitable work, and those needing to learn new job skills in order to be self-sufficient have the right to professional retraining without cost. Let our colleges and universities remain as they are, except that they should obtain government grants or utilize other methods to fund education so that higher education is unconditionally accessible to everyone. The days of for-profit educational institutions must come to an end, because I am convinced that it is immoral to profit to financial excess from other people’s educations. The best part about this as far as I am concerned is that America can easily afford this, and I will use the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan as an illustration.
If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it into a savings account, there would be enough money to put every school kid in America through 4 years of college fully paid for, including tuition, books, dorms, food, transportation and Internet access, plus miscellaneous expenses. This is what converting to a peacetime economy can do for America. And all on one day’s military expenditures.
There is one more important thing that I have yet to mention. The world is changing and developing so rapidly as scientific and technological advances are made that the job market has become very dynamic, and the pace of this advancement is accelerating. As that happens, different types of jobs will come and go in order to meet demand, and so higher education and vocational training will most definitely adjust their curriculum accordingly. As a result, some very traditional jobs are disappearing. Just ask anybody who used to be in the travel industry, or direct sales, or a factory worker, or a former computer repairman like I was for 23 years. When I went back and tried to get retraining I was told that my credit rating was bad and that I didn’t qualify for a student loan. Many of the courses taught in various vocational schools cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I was broke at the time (come to think about it I still am, but I digress). So, I found myself shut out from any chance at changing careers, and this is actually quite commonplace in today’s dreary job market. Therefore I insist that that this must come to an end, and that higher education be free for everybody. The days of a college education being only for those who can afford the tuition (or “qualify” for predatory and unethical student loans) must come to an end. Do you want to have a better educated country? Fine! Let everybody who wants to get educated go back to school, and let the government and corporate America foot the bill. The funds are definitely available.
Of course, I can hear my critics laughing already. Where, they will say, do we get the money to fund re-educating the whole country? We’re running a $14 trillion deficit as it is! You know what? You’re absolutely right, we do have a seemingly insurmountable federal deficit. How do we tackle both problems together? By creating new taxpayers who have found new careers and gotten their incomes restarted, and there is ample precedent for this very thing. At the end of World War 2, there were about 600,000 former GI’s who had just returned from the European and Pacific theaters in the wars against Germany and Japan. Many of them didn’t have any marketable job skills, so Congress passed the GI Bill and put all those soldiers through 4 years of college. It paid off handsomely, paving the way for the record economic expansion of the 1960’s. Well, if they could do that in the 1940’s, why can’t they do it in 2011? The answer is that the system most certainly can, and we of the #occupy Movement must count reeducation as one of the things that we occupy for. Either employ us or retrain us, and we’re not leaving until we get what we want.
One final thing about the basic right to higher education, and that is the volatility of the job market due to reasons I already mentioned above. According to data I obtained from the US Department of Labor, and some additional information I obtained from “CareerBuilder.com”, The average student graduate from college today will have to change careers anywhere from 5 to 8 times during the course of their lifetime employment. So, by today’s standards, and assuming career changes involve getting 2-year degrees, somebody going back to school a total of 8 times multiplied by the average cost of obtaining each of those degrees – roughly $30,000.00 times as much as eight – could be as much as a quarter of a million dollars, plus interest. Do our colleges and universities seriously believe that people will be willing to go into that much debt from student loans in their lifetimes, just so they can remain employable? How ridiculous! The cost of tuition for higher education in the early 21st century has reached a level that is so extremely high that getting a degree will be financially out of reach for all but the top few percent. Excluding all the others for purely financial reasons is a social injustice and a human rights violation. We must start demanding our right to higher education as part of our goals. And so we will continue to occupy our space until we get what we want.
Part 2 will be published later tonight
For more info on my book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, go to http://www.2ndar.org