Decrying the unfairness

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Tue Oct 04 2011.

They are doing their best to rock the complacent world of America’s high rollers by giving vent to the sense of “mass injustice,” if not desperation, that many feel as the economy teeters, job growth stalls and poverty surges. The “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement that has been camped out in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park since mid-September has been slow to gain recognition. But it is gaining traction, and elements of organized labour are now marching with it.

Protests have sprung up in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston. Canadian activists plan to target Bay Street on Oct. 15.

Led mostly by web-savvy young people inspired by the Arab Spring and European banking protests, the U.S. campaign decries the unfairness of a society in which the richest 1 per cent of Americans control 40 per cent of the nation’s financial wealth, and where Congress is obsessed with cutting taxes for the affluent while 46 million people (one in seven) live in poverty.

A manifesto issued just before police clashed with protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday blames an unholy alliance of Washington policy-makers and the corporate barons who bankroll their campaigns for much that bedevils society: Everything from excessive executive remuneration to corporate bailouts and widespread joblessness, crushing student debt and home foreclosures.

As activist Jackie Fellner, 32, put it, “it’s about big money dictating which politicians get elected and what programs get funded.”

What began as a ragtag, easily-dismissed Facebook- and Twitter-triggered protest is proving to be bigger than a flash mob. While far smaller than the vast protests Americans have seen over civil rights, the Vietnam War and the right wing Tea Party agenda, this one seems to have some staying power. Whether it will morph into a progressive riposte to the Tea Party with a coherent agenda of its own is still the big question. Its radically democratic spirit could just as easily sputter and flame out.

But it may yet influence the political conversation in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election by focusing on the imbalance of power and wealth that has corroded America’s social fabric. One message from Manhattan is that President Barack Obama’s Democrats should stick with their plans to tax the ultra-wealthy, their job-creation agenda, and their commitment to social programs. Americans favour tax hikes on the wealthy by a 2 to 1 margin.

Occupy Wall Street lacks focus. But it’s a heartening sign that a rising young generation of voters is looking through their laptops, smart phones and tablets to the injustices around them.

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