Thousands of people across the world are actively maintaining the front line of the Occupy movement; this article is not for those people. Those protestors are currently engrossed in alchemizing pepper spray salves out of Maalox and moxie. This article is for those who don't consider themselves to be politically radical but say: "Sure, our country is operating under an unsustainable system of financial irresponsibility and pay-for-legislation that will eventually destroy the middle-class... but what can I do about it?"
Regardless of political party affiliation, we can all surely agree that our government kept the Too Big to Exist investment banks safe from any negative consequences stemming from their gambles that tanked the national economy. So, if Daddy Government and Mommy Media won't paddle the mischievous cheeks of those wily Lehman Boys, here are some things that normal people can do to help save America from eating itself.
1. Call for a Reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act.
The Glass-Steagall Act was enacted in 1933 and separated commercial banks (Chase, Citibank, and other institutions that most of us deal with everyday) from investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and other institutions that most of us only know about because we see their commercials during football games).
By separating commercial and investment banks, Glass-Steagall made it so that investment banks would only invest money from people who specifically wanted to invest their money... in investments (mind blowing, I know). When Glass-Steagall was repealed, regular bank deposits and mortgages could then be gobbled up by investment banks or moved to investment arms of banking institutions -- giving birth to financial behemoths like Citigroup. With this capital on their balance sheets, these institutions made larger and larger speculative bets in various financial markets until their manic gambles crashed in a drunken explosion of ego-gilded excrement and contorted erections shaped like dollar signs.
It is a bad idea to give this kind of power to a horde of ravenous, investment 'banksters' who lack a social conscience. That's just my opinion... but it's also a fact. (See: Economic and employment data from years 2008-current. See also: Common sense.)
What You Can Do:
Write your representative. No, seriously. People actually do that. Write a letter, an e-mail, mail them a brick with a haiku scrawled on it in classroom chalk (proper postage, please) saying that you will not vote for them unless they make prioritizing the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall a major part of their platform.
This shouldn't be too difficult to do. The idea of reinstating Glass-Steagall is so reasonable that John McCain spearheaded a failed effort to do exactly that in 2009.
Maybe McCain would've succeeded if he spent less time playing bongo drums and smoking doobs on his iPad.
2. Support a Millionaire's Tax.
This mandate would require anyone making over a million dollars a year to be taxed an extra 1 percent on their income. If you're a millionaire who opposes this, please express your stance to the person next to you. I have a feeling this conversational exchange will be brief:
X: "Why should the government get another 1 percent of my money just because I make over a million dollars?"
Y: "... because they can't tax you for just being an asshole?"
What You Can Do:
Write your representative. Again, I know, it's a pain. If I were some sort of political party webmaster, I'd draw up some chic HTML doc where you could just click circles and auto-send based on your zip code. But I'm not... so everyone has to hit the "Compose New Message" button now and again.
Also, check out these millionaires who want to be taxed more.
I want them to be hugged more.
3. Call for a Tax on Stocks and Derivatives Exchanges.
Finance journalist Matt Taibbi put together a great piece for Rolling Stone where he suggested that "... a tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about..."
Doesn't that mean stock traders will be taxed twice? Yes, any profits made from a stock will be taxed an additional 0.1 PERCENT on top of the capital-gains tax of 15 PERCENT that is applied when stocks are cashed in for a profit. This is still less than what anyone reading this article gets taxed on their income, except for income tax evaders and those who are below the poverty line (i.e. the majority of my readership.)
Regarding this tax, the cry will undoubtedly by: "Why should my stock money be taxed? I toiled for years guessing that Netflix would be popular!"
After a quick diaper change, a simple answer is welcome: "Because this tax will be used to create a Wall Street Bailout Fund which the industry can utilize for its own bailouts rather than knocking on the government's door begging for a handout. Here's your binky."
Oh wait... I'm sorry. Were we not supposed to directly address the hypocrisy of investment firms taking trillion-dollar risks within an unregulated capitalist market and then demanding a taxpayer-funded socialist bailout?
What You Can Do:
Start your own political party and run for office.
Just kidding, write your representative. Anyone else notice a pattern here?
4. Move your money into a credit union.
X: "Why should I do move my money to a credit union?!"
Y: "It keeps your savings and checking accounts in your local economy and out of speculative investments."
X: "Well... why besides that?!"
Y: "(sigh)... Because they still give out free pens?"
What You Can Do:
Yeah, I know, this is the boring one. That's why I saved it for last. But you gotta know that the richest 400 people in America possess more wealth than 60 percent of all American households.
You gotta know that the top 1 percent makes 24 percent of all income earned in the United States.
And you gotta know that the economic disparity in this country is at a level unseen since 1929.
What You Can Do:
Read. Care. Don't be afraid to talk about this stuff with others. Encouraging the conversation is a necessary component for change.
Now, you don't have to do all of these things. Hell, you don't have to do any of these things. This is America, after all. You are free to say "Yeah... There are a lot of problems in the world, but I'm just so tired after work that I don't want to do anything besides watch flash animation fart sketches and wait for death in a comfortable chair."
But now you do know some things you could do. If our citizenry says nothing, then is it any wonder why our politicians only hear the voices of lobbyists, financial firms, and corporations flush with cash and influence? A true democratic spirit demands an active, vocal citizenry that policies its legislators.
To prove how patriotic I am, I will quote a dead white guy:
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
- Thomas Jefferson
And just for the record, I can think of few things more American than the flash animation fart sketch.