photo by eric bowers
today marks day ten of “occupy kansas city”, the local manifestation of the “occupy wall street” movement. lots of events have been occurring over that time, but the first i have participated in was the march from the k.c. federal reserve to mill creek park on the plaza. a wide range of participants were on hand – from union workers to working-class families with children, from iww (international workers of the world) supporters to young people in “v for vendetta” guy fawkes masks. i walked past one man counting heads who was at about 300, and i estimated another 200 behind me, so my modest estimate totals 500 participants. i was happy to be able to lend my voice and presence to this direct communicative action. i always have a sense of empowerment when engaged in this type of activity – i help pay for the streets and sidewalks so i should be able to (encouraged even!) use them to express my opinion about today’s world.
i had wondered to myself earlier in the day what i would say if i were interviewed like many others i’ve seen online, and sure enough, at the end of the march i was approached by a local news person with a microphone, gathering audio quotes. he asked me a few questions that i can always answer much better after it’s too late, but i’ll elaborate on those questions and my new answers, now that i’ve had some time to reflect a bit.
photo by eric bowers
his first question was something like “why are you here?” my original answer was semi-coherent (and of course aired on the news as a soundbyte) but here’s my new answer. while my family has never really fallen on hard financial times, the past six or eight months my wife and i have had a series of larger expenses that drained our checking and most all of our savings accounts. my wife and i are both teachers, and she works half-time to care for our daughter. the past two months, we’ve watched every single two-week pay period dwindle down to the wire. we’ve tried to go for several days without spending any money at all so we wouldn’t have to dip again into our savings. we’ve borrowed a bit from family. i’m not saying we’re in trouble, nor am i complaining about our financial situation because i do feel we are blessed with what we need and are not hungry like so many of our homeless or jobless brothers and sisters. i was out there because two people with masters degrees and only one child should not have to live paycheck-to paycheck. that’s what it boils down to for me at the most personal level. constantly watching our finances piddle out of our pockets is stressful and unnerving, particularly as i try to save money for my daughter’s college. i suppose a second reason i’m out there is because a system that cannot even keep her $250 college money safe (we’ve already lost $30 or 40 in a “conservative” bond investment in the first couple of months) is unsafe period. investments alone give me daily reason to despise capitalism more and more. set my relatively comfortable situation against the rising tide of unemployment, and again against ceo’s who make in one day what average workers make in one year. sickening. that’s why i’m out there.
photo by eric bowers
his second question was “what are the solutions to these problems?” my original answer to him was basically, “i don’t have any answers. it’s a very complex issue that requires work on personal, municipal, state, and federal levels. it’s going to be a long and complex process to figure it out.” my new answer is this: for one, revoke corporate personhood status. corporations have all the rights of human beings with little of the civic or financial accountability. they benefit from massive advantages of scale over individuals, such as having the right to contribute to political campaigns. a second solution is one offered up recently by none other than warren buffet – tax the richest people in this country at the same rate or more than the middle and lower classes. sounds good to me. a third and final solution (though many many more are floating around out there) is to close the amazingly wide salary gap between ceos and average workers. the u.s. has the widest gap of any country, and it has widened considerably over the past twenty years. for a great financial snapshot, see this new york times infographic about income, productivity, and dept.
hindsight is always 20/20 and that is what i would have said to that reporter, had i had my wits about me, and the internet to provide me with copius links. regardless of whether you march and participate or not, it’s good to engage in the conversations and stay informed. our collective future depends on it.