[Published in the January, 2012 Watershed Sentinel]
As British Columbians we should all be proud that the Occupy Wall Street protests originated from the Vancouver based Adbusters Magazine, edited by Kalle Lasn. However, it is likely that only a minority of Canadians empathizes or even fully understands the Occupy Wall Street movement, and this is understandable given that the protests have primarily been focused on the increasing amount of greed, corruption and inequality in the United States. In addition, most people are too pre-occupied with work and play to give the movement much attention and yet in order for the movement to grow it must capture the imagination of the majority.
Canada like most other countries is not immune to the problems created largely by the one percent who control the biggest corporations and strongly influence government policies. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released the latest economic data that shows how inequality has increased significantly in Canada in the last few years. The ratio of income by the top 10 percent compared to the bottom 10 percent has increased from 8 to 1 in the 1990s to 10 to 1 now.
Despite the fact that the tent encampments are now gone from most of the cities across the world, the leaderless movement is continuing to operate using donated office space and social media. While the mainstream media has largely dismissed the movement as being too vague, there are, in fact, numerous demands that are sensible and would help solve the growing number of economic and environmental problems.
But what does this movement mean for most Canadians? And what can those of us who agree that efforts are needed to address inequality actually do to make a difference? The first step of course would be to learn more about the issues and the movement by reading at least some of the information on the countless alternative news and occupy websites. By doing so, it would become apparent that there are many professors, labour groups, economists, journalists and well known public figures like Michael Moore who all provide insightful analysis and thoughtful strategies for where the movement needs to go to actually produce changes to a system that no longer works for the majority.
It is easy for us to feel isolated from the Wall Street titans who have created the problems that have sparked the protests. Most of us live a long distance away from the financial towers of Toronto and New York, but the tentacles of power do reach us in ways that are not always easy to grasp. As the worldwide economic downturn shows few signs of recovery, many of us are now witnessing the closing of once successful businesses. Many well-educated graduates are unable to find employment that fits their qualifications and it is no wonder that many of these graduates have joined the ranks of the Occupy protesters. As well, many sawmills and factories remain shuttered and foodbanks are stressed to the max.
One of the ways that mainstream media maligns the Occupy movement is with the term “class warfare,” which they hope will dissuade support from the majority of citizens who are too busy earning a living to get involved. Yet, the truth is, over the last few decades more and more governments and citizens are raking up higher and higher debts, while those at the top are managing to continually increase their share of the pie. The Bank of Canada just released data that shows how the rate of income to personal debt has increased three quarters in a row to a record setting 153 percent as household net worth continues to fall. The only way to reverse this alarming trend that is damaging both society and the environment would in fact be to create laws and policies that result in the re-distribution of wealth.
Many of the solutions now promoted by the movement would do just that, such at the “Robin Hood Tobin Tax” on the millions of dollars in financial transaction that occur on a daily basis. Of course, tax increases for the wealthy are long overdue, as is the need for stricter rules for the banks and stock traders. Corporations should lose their status as persons and their boards of directors need to be restructured to provide employees with representation, as is done successfully in Germany. Post-secondary education needs to be made affordable and ways must be found to reduce student debts. And the power of the military-industrial complex must be reduced to end war profiteering and to re-tool the war machines to support a post-carbon world.
As well, any strategy that cuts into the take for the one percent can only help reduce inequality in the long term. Thus the mantra of shopping locally and supporting local food producers makes even more sense now. A dollar spent at a locally owned store or business re-circulates in our community far better than a dollar spent in a big-box store. An even better way to consume would be to purchase goods, crafts or art produced locally, even if these products cost more than what comes from China. And one should consider the overall environmental consequences of consumer choices, such as durability, packaging, repair-ability, and whether it is made from renewable resources.
Another way to reverse the inequality equation is for citizens to wean themselves from the onslaught of mass consumer advertising by simply turning off or better yet, getting rid of the television set. Imagine all the hours that many people spend on this mental wasteland that merely promotes the continuation of consumerism that feeds more profits to the one percent, while promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.
If the Occupy movement is to flourish and really create change, it must result in a re-alignment of the political spectrum. After all, the left versus right dichotomy no longer is valid, as “communist” China has nearly become the world’s number one super-power that supplies the west with nearly all its goods. There should be a switch to a political spectrum with one side that supports the one percent versus the side that supports the ninety-nine percent. After all, with those kinds of odds, solutions could actually become possible.
In addition to all the Occupy websites, here are some alternative news websites that provide excellent analysis and opinions about the issues: