The Occupy Wall Street movement is gaining support as more Americans learn they are not alone in believing the wealthiest 1% of Americans are wielding inordinate influence in government to the detriment of 99% of the population. The majority of news reports focus on the protestors in major cities where occupiers congregate, but there are other groups of people who the media is not attending to and they include regular Americans who share the protestors’ concerns about income inequality. Over the past two weeks, this author interviewed people who are desperate for jobs and relief from Republican policies that have put them in the untenable position of subsisting from day to day with no hope in the foreseeable future of making any economic gains.
Most of the people have lost their jobs, homes, and ability to provide the bare essentials for their families. Out of twenty interviewees, five were retirees, six were college graduates, and nine were ex-blue collar workers with school-aged children. Only three of the twenty owned their homes, but they were in jeopardy of losing them, and the rest lived with relatives or in homeless shelters. Of the retirees, two participated in reverse mortgage programs that pay them a monthly allowance from the equity in their homes. Out of twenty, only one thought Republicans were on the right track giving the wealthy more tax breaks to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Interestingly, sixteen of the twenty identified themselves as either Republicans or former Republicans who left the party out of frustration the GOP was working solely to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the majority of Americans.
There is one overriding sentiment that all but one interviewee expressed; sheer desperation that without government intervention to create jobs and help Americans, their descent into poverty is a permanent condition they will never escape. All of the people interviewed had heard of the Occupy Movement, but they were not entirely sure what impact the protestors would have to halt the wealthy’s influence on the government. There was surprising support for President Obama’s attempt to create jobs, but the support was tempered with suspicion that Republicans would block his jobs plan using inflammatory rhetoric about government spending for political reasons. The majority felt the private sector would not begin hiring until more Americans had money to spend and all but one advocated raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for creating jobs.
Nearly half of the people wondered why the government did not begin a program like the WPA to rebuild roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals, and believed the scams to privatize Social Security and Medicare were Republican efforts to reward wealthy investors on Wall Street. Only one of the people thought deficit reduction was a worthwhile endeavor and that spending cuts were necessary to create jobs. Conversely, nineteen thought spending cuts and deficit reduction did more damage to the majority of Americans and increased the ranks of the unemployed. All but two of the people depended on Medicare for their health coverage, and were concerned that Republicans would privatize the program and cut their benefits. That is all the good news.
Many of the people believed if too many Americans fell into poverty and despair, the people would rise up and take matters in their own hands. There was an overwhelming feeling that the rich had amassed so much wealth and power over the government that voters could not compete with corporations and financial institutions that perpetuated the steady stream of wealth flowing to the top 1% of Americans. A majority of the people could not understand how conservatives could consciously block job creation efforts and still win elections. Three-quarters of the people said Congress had become dysfunctional because Republicans promised to create jobs and help the economy during the 2010 elections, but had made no efforts to fulfill their campaign pledges and instead, blocked job creation and cut spending on necessary social safety nets to give breaks to the wealthy. Although the majority of the people I interviewed were self-identified Republicans, some were heartened that President Obama was beginning to fight to help Americans who were out of work and out of hope. Eighteen of the twenty wanted the president to be more assertive in forcing recalcitrant Republicans to pass his jobs bill and raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
Eighteen of the people thought the Occupy Movement was a good starting point to change the nature of American government, but half believed that protesting was not enough. Nine people believed the government should take over all banks and corporations, and if they did not, the people would. Six of the poorest people truly believed conditions will not improve without mass protests to shut down corporate control of the government, and five of them thought violence would be necessary to make real change. Two of the college graduates reflected on history and said that until the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street fear a violent uprising, nothing will ever change. That is how desperate things have gotten in America.
The most desperate people I spoke with said their children’s primary dietary needs were being met at school and they all were dependent on food stamps, free health clinics, and local food banks to stay alive. Many of the men said they considered criminal activity may be necessary to feed their families if the alternative meant watching their children go hungry. For the record, each of the people actively sought employment and if they did find work, the jobs were minimum wage, part-time engagements that barely covered the cost to get back and forth to work or the daily trip to the unemployment office.
Most of these people live in abject poverty and were absolutely forlorn and desperate to survive. About one-quarter of the people considered themselves lower middle-class before the crash of 2007-2008, and besides feeling despair, they were embarrassed to have sunk to such a low point they never thought possible in the greatest country on Earth. That was the heart-rending aspect of the interviews because the majority still believed their government would do the right thing and take steps to help Americans who, through no fault of their own, had fallen on bad luck and needed assistance to regain a semblance of hope and respectability. The sadness in their eyes that their leaders in the Republican Party had total disregard for them as people, but were moving mountains to ensure the rich gained more wealth was disabling. When asked to describe in one word what they felt inside from Republican policies that favored the wealthy; they all said betrayal.
Indeed, Republicans have betrayed an entire country. Their response to the Occupy movement is to label them thugs, mobs, and trouble-makers for objecting to the Wall Street, corporate banking control of the government that has sent decent Americans into poverty and despair. One would hope that if Republicans were able to listen to good, honest Americans’ stories of loss and hopelessness they would begin working for the 99% of Americans who are losing everything so the wealthy can prosper. However, Republicans know those stories, but because of their contempt for America and its people, they choose betrayal over compassion like the evil monsters they are.