The message of Occupy Wall Street has penetrated our political discourse so deeply that even President Obama is now talking about income inequality.
Here is the video of Obama’s speech from C-SPAN:
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
I am here to say they are wrong. I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we’re greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. (Applause.) These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They’re American values. And we have to reclaim them.
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6 percent.
Now, this kind of inequality — a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression — hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
But there’s an even more fundamental issue at stake. This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people — we tell our kids — that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do. That’s why immigrants from around the world historically have flocked to our shores.
And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. You know, a few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance had fallen to around 40 percent. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a one-in-three chance of making it to the middle class — 33 percent.
It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It is wrong. It flies in the face of everything that we stand for.
The message and values of Occupy Wall Street were mainstreamed by the President of the United States today. Obama discussed Occupy Wall Street’s values as American values.This isn’t the 99% versus the 1%. It is about the values that we share as a country.
Before OWS no one was discussing economic inequality. There were no such things as the ninety nine percent and the one percent. In just a few short months Occupy Wall Street has not only changed the dialogue, they have created a whole new national discussion centered on fairness and inequality.
One of the signs of a successful political outsider movement is when their message gets adopted by and absorbed into one of the two major U.S. political parties. Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have to become a political movement to be successful. In fact, their success can be directly attributed to the fact that they aren’t a partisan political movement. Not being partisan has allowed OWS entry into both left and right circles.
OWS was able to break through the ideological polarization of the media because they aren’t left or right. They are a grassroots movement that has been able to draw political support from two opposites like Ron Paul and Nancy Pelosi.
The one percent should be terrified that Obama discussed income inequality. OWS is knocking on the door of real political change. Once the highest level of our politics adopts the ideas of the movement, it is only a matter of time until those concepts find their way into legislation and new laws.
Not since the Civil Rights Era has this country seen an outside movement achieve legislative success, but with each passing day, Occupy Wall Street is getting closer to doing what the one percent fear the most.
If they stay on the path followed by other successful grassroots movements, Occupy Wall Street will change America.