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The 99 percent


Kurt Hochenauer December 14th, 2011

Local government officials can’t obscure the larger picture in their ongoing skirmishes with the Occupy OKC protesters.

Occupy OKC and the entire Occupy Wall Street movement have started a long-overdue discussion about the inequity of growing wealth disparity and economic injustice, with some OWS supporters even using the label “oligarchy” to describe the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. It’s this type of language that could eventually stick and raise awareness.

Along the way, as Oklahoma City pushed to evict local OWS supporters from their encampment at downtown Kerr Park, there have been lessons to be learned about the meaning of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” but a foundational message remains that exorbitant wealth disparity threatens the democratic process.

The OWS movement should remind everyone — especially baby boomers who came of age during the 1960s — that the historical way to make a point when electoral politics fail is to take it to the streets, speak truth to power, occupy space and risk arrest and bodily harm. The basic tactics are time-tested and have been used successfully here and across the country for decades.

right, Kurt Hochenauer

Some media pundits claim they are baffled by what the OWS demonstrators want, but the language of the 99 percent is clear enough. Most people, whether they align themselves with the movement or not, want economic opportunity, a decent job, affordable health care and some semblance of financial security. This is time-tested, too. What’s there to be baffled about?

There’s also nothing baffling about the numbers. The New York Times recently reported on Congressional Budget Office findings showing the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of earners grew by 275 percent over the past three decades. The income of the top 20 percent increased by 65 percent and the income of the poorest Americans grew by 18 percent, according to the article.

No rational person can believe the disparity can continue to grow at this pace without severe ramifications to the country’s middle class and impoverished citizens. How can democracy thrive when its electoral process is dominated by a small group of oligarchs intent on making government serve its own financial interests above all else?

Some in the local corporate media have mocked the Occupy OKC protesters with typical “get a job” sneers, missing a point of the 99 percent that young adults today face high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Some are college graduates who jumped through all the hoops, but now find themselves struggling to make ends meet at dead-end jobs.

Kurt Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

 
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