Welcome to the occupation
The Occupation arrived in Sonoma on Friday, a Plaza gathering of some 300 people whose mostly gray hair belied earlier email traffic expressing concern that the youth-inspired movement begun by Occupy Wall Street not be co-opted by aging Boomers.
Co-option wasn’t an issue, if only because the only young people in the crowd appeared to be three, pre-teen boys, each holding a third of a “99%” sign.
The rally message was simple: “Main Street, not Wall Street,” “Occupy the streets,” “Money is not free speech,” “Tax Wall Street.” Flyers circulated through the crowd called for the boycott of Bank of America, Chase, Citi Bank and Wells Fargo.
While veteran activist Mike Smith played the bullhorn with the familiarity and affection of a professional trumpeter, he surrendered it briefly to speakers from the crowd, including Sonoma City Councilmember Ken Brown, who drew a tangled analogy between his own impending eviction and the greed of big banks, Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian who gave the shortest speech of her young political life, “I’m with you,” and 7th Assembly District member Michael Allen, who said he was making the rounds of every occupation he could find.
Notably missing from the demonstration was any coherent explanation of the problem being addressed, or any credible call for action.
Which is too bad, because the inchoate movement coalescing across America has real roots and some reasons for action.
The troubling – some would say outrageous – facts speak for themselves.
Credible academic studies tell us that:
The top 1 percent of the U.S. population owns 35 percent of the country’s net worth and 43 percent of its financial wealth.
The next 4 percent own 27 percent of net worth and 29 percent of the financial wealth.
This progression leads to the staggering conclusion that 20 percent of the population owns 85 percent of the net worth. Conversely, 80 percent of us own just 15 percent of the nation’s net worth
The income distribution is even worse. The top 20 percent own 93 percent of financial wealth, meaning that 80 percent of Americans own just 7 percent of financial wealth, i.e. income.
That’s not a formula for protest; that’s a formula for revolution or class warfare, and whatever your political perspective, it is not a just, wise or sustainable distribution. If the imbalance of distributed wealth continues, the American middle class, whose dramatic growth was the source of much of the country’s post-war prosperity, will shrivel up, taking the national economy with it. Because no matter how rich that 20 percent may be, they alone can’t buy enough things to keep the economy afloat.
What’s the solution? We’re not that wise. But two initiatives make imminent sense.
First, bring back the Glass-Steagal Act, which until 1986 regulated banks and kept a lid on the Wall Street excesses that precipitated the current recession.
Second, as Rep. Mike Thompson suggests, demand that the FHFA refinance underwater mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and take whatever other initiatives are needed to refloat the nation’s housing industry. The deflated housing market is killing California. That would be a start.