By Lewis Finfer,
Massachusetts Communities Action Network
What is right with our country?
What is wrong with our country?
What is your American Dream?
How do we take our freedom back?
In these tough times of extended unemployment, declining pensions and retirement savings, budget cuts, and insecurity about jobs we still hold, aren’t these the questions on everyone’s mind?
As I walked through the Occupy Boston site last Friday, I saw 100 small tents pitched close together. Although more of the participants in these protests are aged 18 to 30, there are people of all ages involved. To be effective, a movement does need good involvement from people of different ages and economic groups, but leadership can come from one group — just as 20-year-olds were key leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
This protest movement is organized. There are tents for logistics, food, medical, media, and even one for a library and one for “faith and spiritual space.” Each day there’s an open assembly to report, discuss, and plan the day’s public protest. Links are being made between the protesters and community groups and unions who are now taking action together.
The Friday evening that I was there, people spoke in clusters, stood on a line outside the food tent, and sat inside tents. Six people played guitars, four greeted media who had questions, and because it was the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a group of Jews stood in one corner praying together.
There’s been much discussion about “What do these people want?” Well, I think it’s pretty clear when you call your movement “Occupy Wall Street” and your slogan is “Our country is owned by the top 1%. We are the 99%. Join the conversation!”
The question now is how sustained can this protest become? How can it extend into organizing in the 2012 elections and on issues that will be decided in these next months and years?
The sacrifices that Americans and our allies made in World War II saved us from the fascism of Nazi Germany and Japan and brought us out of the mass unemployment of the Great Depression. From 1945 to 1980, the contract between average people, corporations, and government was that if you worked hard, you would have job security, decent pay, benefits, and a pension.
But this contract has been torn up by decisions made by some business leaders and politicians. Now, there’s no job security. Pensions are cut back or not given, and health insurance is not available to tens of millions of Americans. Will enough average people stand up to break this stalemate and return us to being a land of opportunity for all?
On the large poster at that asked, “What is wrong with our country?” I wrote: “All taxpayers bailed out the big banks and Wall Street firms, but the banks kept foreclosing on millions of average people.” The banks keep paying big salaries and big bonuses and contributing to politicians who will prevent them from being regulated so they don’t kill our economy again with their speculation. The banks could have provided millions of homeowners with loan modifications to save their homes from foreclosure. The federal government even offered these large banks financial incentives to do that, but instead they’ve done too little on preventing foreclosures and so the pain spreads.
On the poster that asked, “What is right with our country?” I wrote: “We are a generous and hopeful people.” The facts about our lives and who has power in our country and how they use it could make us feel hopeless. But efforts like Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston and the determination that average people everywhere still have for a good life for themselves and their families and neighbors means that we are still a generous and hopeful people.
Lewis Finfer is the executive director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a federation of community improvement organizations working for social and economic justice in Massachusetts and New England by putting religious faith values and democratic values into action. MCAN is a member of the PICO National Network.