What Does the ‘Occupy’ Movement Mean for All of Us?

From Wednesday, 10/20 edition of the Ithaca Journal.
After hearing about the Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan, we were intrigued about what the protests mean in terms of the issues that are of driving concern to us: issues of economic and social inequality that we witness on a daily basis in Tompkins County and Central New York. Issues resulting from the ways in which power is doled out to those who can game the system simply because of their own economic privilege. As a result, we decided to do an informal fact-finding mission on behalf of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) on October 1st, the day of the march to the Brooklyn Bridge. Upon our arrival, we were struck by the absolute diversity and commitment of everyone who was at that Saturday protest.

Many different aspects of the weekend were impressive to us, but one thing that stood out was, on one hand, witnessing 700 people being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge and the subsequent media attention that this garnered, as contrasted to the fact that a few days before, 700 United and Continental Airline pilots took part in a unified march as part of the Occupy Wall St. protests (see Forbes.com) and for which there was very little media coverage. [Did you know that the starting salary for airline pilots in the United States averages just $21K a year?]
The following questions that led us to check out the Occupy Wall Street movement, and which we found to be very well expressed there, include:
• How can we, as a society, justify corporations reaping large profits while paying their workers a minimum wage, rather than a Living Wage, leaving the taxpayers with the responsibility for subsidizing the services our workers absolutely need from the government, effectively subsidizing these same corporations?
• How can we justify the making of record profits by our nation’s largest corporations, especially the banking industry, while small businesses struggle to survive?
• How can we justify bailing out our large multinational banks through the use of our tax dollars, with their CEOs getting major bonuses, while many of us who are having a hard time making ends meet lose our homes with no such bailout?
• Why do the wealthiest one percent of our country own approximately 35% of our nation’s privately owned wealth, the next nineteen percent owning 50%, and the bottom 80% own 15% of our nation’s wealth? Is this only because of the difference in industriousness? Or is there a ‘gaming’ of the system going on?
• How is it that funding is cut to programs, services, and benefits across the board while we, the bottom 80 percent pay more in taxes and the very richest among us are paying a decreasing amount of their wealth into our system of taxation?
It is becoming more and more clear that our nation is in crisis and that many of us feel that we have no influence over how this reality affects our lives. The time has come when decision making and policy creation have to center on the needs of the many instead of the wants of a few. It often seems that these issues are unrelated and, certainly, we all experience them differently. But the bottom line and the common denominator is that our elected officials are more often than not influenced by lobbyists that represent corporate interests above human value.
While the corporate-owned media continues to suggest that there is no central demand or goal of the Occupy Movement, it was apparent to us in NYC on October 1st and in Ithaca on October 5th, when the TCWC organized 300 people who gathered in Bank Alley, and in cities across the nation, that people are making the connection in their minds and in their hearts that the time has come to reclaim our rights as citizens and as human beings to a democratic government that is truly of and by the people instead of by and for the monied interests.
To stay updated on local events and activities related to the Occupy Movement, go to the TCWC website at www.TCWorkersCenter.org , or to Occupy Ithaca on Facebook. On a larger regional basis, go to www.occupytogether.org to find events everywhere in the country.

by Gina Lord Shattuck and Pete Meyers

Gina Lord Shattuck is a member of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, as well as member of the Board of Directors of the Advocacy Center in Ithaca. Pete Meyers is the Coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.