Friday, October 21, 2011

Boston Clergy Speak Out

As clergy and people of faith, we applaud the Occupiers in Boston and elsewhere who are reigniting American democracy from the grassroots. We join them in the vision of a society where all people enjoy a fair shake, with equitable access to education, healthcare, housing, and other basics necessary to achieve a dignified life. We are appalled that the nation's poverty rate today is higher than when Martin Luther King Jr. organized the "Poor People's March" back in 1968.

Dr. King inspired people of all races and classes to walk for "Jobs and Justice." The national Occupy movement asserts the same goals. These protests are occurring for a reason. In the more than four decades since King's death, middle-class incomes have stagnated, the jobless rate has soared, and the super-rich have managed to manipulate financial regulations and tax rates to claim an ever growing share of the nation's wealth. The richest 400 people in the country now have more assets than the poorest 150 million of their fellow citizens combined.

The vast majority of Americans--the 99% and many of the other 1%- --are angry when some of the biggest businesses in the country pay no taxes. We see banks that brought the country to the edge of economic ruin being bailed out with public money, while millions forfeit their homes in the mortgage meltdown these same banks created. We feel increasingly powerless when mammoth corporations, invested with all the rights of "persons" to spend limitless amounts of money in electoral politics, hand-tailor legislation to benefit shareholders and CEOs at the expense of citizens and workers.

Has Government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" now become government of, by, and for the specially privileged? In order to restore our democracy, ordinary people must rise up to restore control of their own lives and economic destiny. We call on all to join in supporting the Occupiers closest to you, logistically, politically, faithfully. Now is the time.

Rev. Dorothy Emerson
Rev. Gary Kowalski
Rev. Elaine Peresluha
(Your Signature Here?  We invite Unitarian Universalist clergy to sign on, send this statement to local papers and read it to your congregation sometime in the next month.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Has A Fight On Its Hands

The thousands of people gathering in lower Manhattan and camping out in other cities across the nation bring to mind the Poor People's Campaign of 1968, when Martin Luther King rallied tens of thousands to erect a tent encampment ("Resurrection City") on the National Mall.

They were demanding jobs and justice. "We are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power," King declared. What was the use of being able to legally sit at a lunch counter, he rhetorically asked, if you couldn't afford the price of a hamburger? But turning his attention from ending Jim Crow to restructuring a system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many was King's undoing. In April of that year he was assassinated, and the tent city sank into a morass of mud and despair.

Will Occupy Wall Street have any greater success in challenging the financial titans who control Amercai's economy? In 1968, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 13% of the American public--25 million people--were living below the poverty line. In 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, that figure had risen to 46 million people, or over 15% of the population classified as poor, unable to satisfy the basic necessities of food, shelter, clothing and medical care. Since the days of the Poor People's Campaign, most Americans, and to an even greater extent most people of color (who have been hardest hit by the recession) have lost ground.

This should be a sobering thought to the youthful leaders of today's protests. They are trying to achieve what a master organizer and tactician like Dr. King failed in: to fundamentally alter the terms of the financial lottery that determines winners and losers in our society. Judging from history, their struggle will necessarily be a long one, with massive resistance from the entrenched, monied interests who are unlikely to concede anything without a fight.

As abolitionist Frederick Douglas wrote of an earlier contest, "This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed the endurance of those whom they oppress."

I am all for the Wall Street Occupiers, who seem bright, articulate, well-informed and to have both logic and fairness on their side. But having all the good arguments, unfortunately, will not determine who continues to reap the spoils of crony capitalism.  I hope the Occupiers realize what they are up against.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wall Street Protesters Target Wealth Without Work

Protesters occupying Wall Street in lower Manhattan have begun to identify themselves as the "Ninety Nine Percent." But who then are the One Percent?

The One Percent are the Super Rich, whom House Majority Leader John Boehner labels the "Job Creators." Taxing them, according to most Republicans, would punish the very individuals who can do most to revive our struggling economy. But are the ultra-rich entrepreneurs, innovators, or catalysts for job growth?

Many researchers, like Thomas Shapiro of Brandeis University, conclude that the vast majority of personal wealth in the United States is inherited, not earned. In Who's Running America? Thomas Dye discovered that by the latter part of the 20th century, only 4% of the richest men in the nation had struggled up from the bottom, just a tenth as many as at the start of century. Economist Laurence Kotlikoff of Yale calculates that 80% of the total wealth in America is inherited--and as we know, that wealth is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, with the top One Percent of U.S. households owning nearly half of all investment assets.

Steve Jobs, whose father was a Coast Guard vet and machinist, was apparently the exception to the rule, a billionaire who was self-made and actually created the jobs his name suggests. Most of the ultra-rich (like the Bush family and the Kennedys) got their money the old fashioned way: they inherited it.

The Wall Street protesters are justifiably fed up with a system that rewards the accidents of birth more than it rewards hard work, brains and personal initiative. They're tired playing a rigged game where your parent's net worth is a better predictor of whether you'll go on to college than your own grade point average. They're asking whether the One Percent, who were born sucking on silver spoons and continue to suck up most of the nation's assets, aren't simply parasites on the economy.

Don't you think they have a point?

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