Monday, November 07, 2011

Occupy the Voting Booth

OK, so finally we got down to Zuccotti Park to see for ourselves what has sparked the now worldwide movement (and, as I've noted before...if you're looking to measure the importance of something, look no further than at how influential it is).

It was a sunny, crisp day and the atmosphere in the tent city better known as Occupy Wall Street was thoughtful, peaceful, and rather chipper. We paused at various stations, listening to the speakers (when we could actually hear them), reading the signs, and just taking it in. I told Murat as we approached the park that I wanted nothing more out of this first visit than to merely observe. To try to open my mind and just see for myself.

There is, of course, a great deal of humor to appreciate in the effort. Murat snapped the following photo:

And a great deal of opportunism...people whose message has nothing to do with inequality or the economy taking advantage of an audience others worked to gather.

There were people who looked like the most normal person you'd ever meet, and there were people who looked as if they could rake in a small fortune working in a freak show.

The thing that struck me about the "alternative" looking people, though, was how matter-of-factly the tourists and others accepted them. As I walked past one gentleman whose entire face had been tattooed and I apparently must have let my surprise show on my face, he gently nodded hello and carried on.

It was this that drove home for me that everyone in the park was someone's brother or son, sister or daughter, grandparent or partner. And it drove home for me that, by extension, we were all family. I know how crunchy that sounds, but it's also a well-established concept with Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. etc., so be careful in dismissing it too quickly.

Still, I wasn't entirely comfortable with everything I saw in the park. Again, the opportunism was obvious, but so too was the naivety. And while, as I've said before, in the beginning of a protest that's understandable, it would seem that certain actionable goals might have been more clearly defined by now. I'm not entirely opposed to revolution as an agent of change (read Jefferson on the topic if you think that's unpatriotic), but I'm not interested it in as a lifestyle. To paraphrase the Beatles, when you're looking for wider buy-in for your revolution you're increasingly going to find more people who would love to see your plan.

Then again, naivety is more understandable among younger people (who've yet to spend too much time in the school of hard knocks). And younger people were definitely the majority among the protesters.

Moreover, younger people reportedly have more to be upset about:
The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt.

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

The analysis reflects the impact of the economic downturn, which has hit young adults particularly hard. More are pursuing college or advanced degrees, taking on debt as they wait for the job market to recover. Others are struggling to pay mortgage costs on homes now worth less than when they were bought in the housing boom.

And it's clear that politics will prevent any help from coming out of Washington any time soon:

Tragically, the more entrenched the jobs shortage becomes, the more paralyzed Congress becomes, with Republicans committed to doing nothing in the hopes that the faltering economy will cost President Obama his job in 2012. Last week, for instance, Senate Republicans filibustered a $60 billion proposal by Mr. Obama to create jobs by repairing and upgrading the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure. They were outraged that the bill would have been paid for by a 0.7 percent surtax on people making more than $1 million.
Outrage is relative, as I hope many senators are going to learn in November 2012. Senate Republicans, in fact Senators in general, are not even remotely representative of their constituents economically speaking [via Sullivan]:

According to a Roll Call analysis of Congress members’ financial disclosure forms, the collective net worth of American lawmakers jumped 25 percent to over $2 billion in just the last two years — with 50 of the richest Congressmen and women accounting for 90 percent of the increase.

In 2008, the minimum net worth of House Members was just over $1 billion. In 2010, it rose to $1.26 billion. Senators experienced a more modest increase during this same time period, going from $651 million in 2008 to $784 million last year. Roll Call notes that the real net worth of individual members is likely higher, since their estimates do not take into account non-income-generating properties such as private homes.

This graph drives the point home more succinctly:

Looking to people who are not part of the 99% (allow me the short-hand this one time, if you will) to represent the concerns of the 99% strikes me as a significant form of idiocy. It's asking our leaders to vote against their own personal best interests. Since I don't think it's sensible to ask anyone to vote against their own personal best interests, one obvious solution would be to vote and vote again until the legislature is more truly representational (in terms of background, wealth, education, and religion) of the public at large.

Now I saw enough signs in Zuccotti Park to know how many people are disillusioned by the electoral process in the US. They've given up any hope that it's possible to get someone elected without the financial support (read: ownership) of puppetmastering corporations or others in the 1%. Moreover, certain minorities are very unlikely to ever be represented in Congress, as they're not concentrated in anyone area enough to overcome the biases needed to get elected.

And yet no matter how I look at the situation, I always come back to the voting booth. Without that as the ultimate action, all the rest is pointless. It's not reasonable to ask a body in which at least 40% are in the top 1% to represent the interests of the 99%. The problem isn't just that the corporations own the politicians, it's that the politicians can't really relate to how hard it is out there for their constituents. The make-up of our legislature has got to change. Enough with billionaire's time we elect people who actually need the jobs.

Labels: politics


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to see that graph of the House and Senate separated by political party. I wonder how many of the bottom 80% dark blue group come from the Republican Party. No matter how you slice it none of it is pretty, the majority of Congress has become our House of Lords and it shows. If only they weren't quite so self-interested but alas, they are.

Zucotti Park is wonderful, recommend everyone visit who possibly can.

---ondine nyc

11/07/2011 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe there needs to be net worth limits for elected officials.

11/07/2011 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, I'm not so sure about that. I think our representatives should more or less do just that, represent us. If some of us are super wealthy, we deserve to have our interests spoken up for in Congress...and if some of us are super poor, we also deserve to have our interests spoken up for. I just happen to believe no one can better represent a section of the population better than one of their own. And in that respect, a true government of the people, for the people and by the people would look more or less, in percentages, like the people look.

11/07/2011 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

Yes but it never seems like an actual poor person is representing the poor. A net wealth cap may tip it to people representing their own. Simplification... but that way the 1% may get a raw deal, but is that not better than 99% getting a raw deal?

11/08/2011 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

The other thing to remember is that serial disenfranchisement, disempowering, are not just regrettable outcomes - they carry their own ominous political implications. This is where revolutions start. And once started, revolutions have a way of getting out of hand.

No one wants to go there, but there is no point just denying that the whole of a society is seriously listing here. And there will be consequences, as surely as a demonstration of some Newtonian law of physics. The laws of politics are not nearly so neat, but we know from history, sooner or later these inequalities snap and some sort of social equilibrium is reasserted.

At the moment you just glimpse how spontaneous and widespread the dissatisfaction is and there is something kind of magical and reassuring about finding a common purpose but this thing carries a real sting in its tail and if I were in government I'd be afraid, frankly. There is no hiding from this thing, or just rounding up the ringleaders. That just makes it worse. What's got to come is major constitutional reform, and that can be peaceful or it can be violent. History shows America is comfortable with either.

11/19/2011 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that your main idea is sound...if you want to make a real difference,vote. I am not nearly as convinced of the soundness of the occupy movements's main idea.
I think that if the occupy movement has anything to teach, it is that there is a large group of unhappy people who have yet to see the power of voting.

I am not sure that the discontent is overly widespread. University grads enjoy some of the highest employment rates, and when there is a downturn, their job losses are mild compared to non-university grads. They also tend to be better paid throughout their career. Student discontent is largely temorary. They get jobs, and start focusing on family, homes and filling their homes with stuff.

I think that the occupy movement would have had a bigger impact if the "stuff" gap was larger (as opposed to the wealth gap).

There are notable exceptions, but incidents of malnutrition in the US are very rare (it is true, though, many are over-fed). In addition, a large percentage of less well-to-do people have air conditioning in the summer, live in larger homes or apartments, and have cars, computers, etc. The very bottom, of course not, but the lower income, "almost poor", are not so badly off in the "stuff" department.

Ultimately, we elected the people that put us in this position. We show up to the polls in ever decreasing numbers, we spend everything we earn (and then some) every 2 weeks and save very little. We consume vacant media about TV stars and sorts, all on slick new gagets, but we pay less and less attention to world me, it is starting to look like our elected representatives, themselves vacant and inattentive to the real world, represent everything we have come to stand for.

Obama could have changed that, he had our attention for s short while. I think his main failing was letting the opportunity to engage people at a more mature level slip away. Bummer.

12/11/2011 07:14:00 AM  

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