There have been people camping out and protesting in the heart of New York’s Wall Street for nearly six weeks. The movement began, similarly to the demonstrations which changed governments in the Arab world earlier this year, on the internet. Fueled by a sagging economy, rising unemployment and a growing gap between the very rich and the rest of us, citizens have taken to the street with placards and tents. Only very recently has the mainstream media taken notice of these protests as similar occupations have erupted across the country.
For the first time in nearly a half century, young people are being faced with the possibility that their lives will not be as good as their parents. We grew up believing that if we got a good education and worked hard, we could have a better life than the generation before us. A college degree was not cheap, but there were scholarships, grants, work study programs and loans to help. When we graduated, depending on what degree we had achieved, job which promised security, benefits and promotions if we did our work well could usually be found.
Now our children are faced with a different future. College degrees have become increasingly expensive, often requiring five years of school rather than four. Financial aid options have become more difficult to obtain and young people graduate from college with a mountain of debt. Even with a college degree, jobs are hard to find. Jobs that are available do not have the same security we found in our first jobs. The cost of health insurance has become so high that many employers have increased the employees’ share of the cost or have maintained benefits at the cost of stagnated wages. Many employers, faced with a declining economy, have done both.
It is no wonder that young people are marching in the streets. We raised them to believe they, too, could have the American Dream. We led them to believe that they could have a better life. I guess they really don’t want to move back home with us. They are smart, well educated, and idealistic. They see the statistics which show that the richest one percent of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans. They understand that for the first time since World War II more money is earned in this country by capital investments than by those who work for a living. Money, not work, makes money. They are disturbed that our political system is being overly influenced by the powerful and the rich. When the Supreme Court rules that corporations can use their profits to influence elections and politicians bluster that, yes, corporations are people, it is not surprising that idealistic young people take to the streets in defense of their belief that this was meant to be a country “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement, however, has become more than a love-fest of unrealistic, young, nouveau-hippies. The movement has become more diverse including unemployed middle-aged workers, retired people, laborers, religious leaders and others. There is a call for ethics in business and fairness in economics. They are telling their stories and the news media are starting to listen.
Do the demonstrators always behave themselves? Probably not. Do they all understand all of the issues? Who does. Should they have the right to protest in the streets? Isn’t that part of the freedom we fight to preserve? If you want to know more about the Occupy Wall Street movement, go to <http://occupywallstreet.org> and <wearethe99percent.tumblr.com>. The stories you will read there will not be the same as the ones you might read in the “Wall Street Journal” or “Forbes.”
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains