At an Occupy Wall Street event in Minneapolis, last weekend protesters held up a sign that asked, "Had Enough?" A simple question. An expression of outrage. People are rightly and righteously angry, but they're also scared and worried about the future. That's why these protests across the country are supported by the majority of Americans. These are uncertain times and the system has failed them.
Some media and political pundits don't seem to get what the demonstrators are saying, but America's working and middle-class families do: People want their country back. People want to reclaim America before it becomes the unrecognizable property of the super-rich and the big corporations that see our country merely as a source of labor and natural resources to exploit for their gain.
People want jobs, homes, health care and a future. That's why they're fighting back in Minneapolis and cities across the nation. We see this spirit at the Occupy protests and in other struggles, especially in a number of state battles.
Many of us toss around the phrase "American Dream" so much that there's a risk it will lose meaning. For the protesters and the increasing number of folks in "middle America" who support them, the American Dream is real, and it represents one thing above all others - opportunity. While Wall Street sharpshooters wrecked our economy and took away peoples' homes, jobs and so much more, they also took away the future. And the Wall Street profiteers are making the present pretty rotten too.
Beneath the rhetoric about unbridled corporate greed and the grotesque income inequality ruining our country, there is a basic and understandable fear. People of all ages are terrified about finding jobs, affording a home and planning their lives. As it gets harder to afford college, it's becoming less clear what a college education gets you. In America that's a game changer. Getting an education is supposed to mean something, and all of us are supposed to do better than our parents did. That's the core aspiration of the American Dream.
Meanwhile, savings and pensions are turning into artifacts. We can't afford to save, and the jobs we do get don't have pensions. At the same time programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are under relentless attack by right-wing Republicans who answer to their special-interest corporate campaign contributors instead of their constituents back home.
We're at a moment in our history where any detailed list of policy prescriptions understates the kind of change we need. So the chattering class should stop asking the Occupy movement for a 200-point plan. America's middle class and the working poor are under assault by big corporations and the top 1 percent, and the moneyed interests are dangerously close to winning. These attacks are the real deal, and stopping them is what the protesters are talking about. We are all in different parts of the same boat, struggling today and worried about what's next. For people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, books, college degrees and great resumes won't be enough if the big corporations and the 1 percent own everything. That's the agenda - taking back our country for everyone in the 99 percent while we are still hanging on.
The 1 percent and the Republican politicians they own are chipping away at the foundation of one of the greatest inventions we've ever had in this country besides political freedom - the middle class. And led by billionaires like the Koch Brothers, extremists on the right are working to undermine our political democracy as well.
That's why the Occupy protests are so inspiring. Their message is as much what they are doing as what they're saying, and they are making it crystal clear that they've had enough. Activists from established groups on the left should look for ways to support Occupy efforts on the terms of the protesters, from turning out supporters for events to providing cash and supplies.
Of course, progressive organizations already have plenty to do. For example, people in Wisconsin have just launched a recall effort against anti-middle class, pro-corporate Gov. Scott Walker. They want their state back. Those of us involved in the budget debate in Washington, D.C., are following a so-called "super committee" that must protect low-income and middle-class programs like Medicare and Medicaid and ask the 1 percent to pay their fair share instead of perpetuating the status quo. That's not easy in a town dominated by corporate interests that care more about their bottom lines than anything else.
When it comes to state battles, one of the biggest and most important is in Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, corrections officers, firefighters, nurses, administrative assistants, sanitation workers, social workers and so many others hit the streets to gather petition signatures to repeal Ohio Senate Bill 5. This anti-democratic, anti-middle class legislation takes away the right of workers to bargain for a better life and for jobs, better services and stronger communities for everyone.
We can't have a middle class, a vibrant democracy and a just society without strong unions and a growing labor movement. And we can't have the country that we all deserve without putting people before corporate domination, a demand at the heart of the Occupy movement.