The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and its slogan "We are the 99%" took off in 2011 with a rush of media attention and passion. This protest movement against social and economic equality drew many to the streets and forced politicians to talk about issues of inequality in America, from income inequality to wealth inequality to inequality of opportunity to finance industry excesses to attacks on unions and worker's rights.
By early 2012, the movement seemed to have disappeared with a revival attempt made on May 1. Some have argued that there is no longer a need for the Occupy Movement to continue protesting since their concerns have been mainstreamed. These people argue that the fact equality is part of the political dialog indicates that the movement succeeded... so it no longer needs to exist.
I disagree completely. I think that that the concerns of social and economic equality have been ignored by American politics, a victim of our national attention deficit disorder. Last year, politicians and the media entertained discussions on the subject but now that there is no rush of potential voters clamoring to address these concerns, the concerns have been sidelined, ignored or forgotten.
Now is the time for protesters to make their voices heard. The upcoming elections are forcing politicians to keep their ears close to the ground. Those who want to influence politics need to push for their issues now to ensure that they are on the forefront of the discussions, not resigned to history books and memories of 2011.
So I say to the Occupy Movement the following: Please regain your movement's energy. Gather strength to force the candidates to discuss their plans for addressing issues of social and income inequality. Force the candidates to elaborate on issues of inequality of opportunity, to address why America has one of the lowest levels of social mobility of any wealthy country. So far we have heard little from the candidates. Demand more. We can infer Romney's plans (and consequences) but demand clarity. Obama's rhetoric is clear but it often is mismatched with the reality of his proposals or aren't implementable.
These issues of social and income inequality need to be addressed for the long term stability and viability of the country. There are countless steps that can be taken but here are a few:
• Re-introduce the Glass-Steagall Act and put real reform, governance and regulations into the finance sector before they cause another economic crisis... and then award themselves again with billions in bonuses from taxpayer money.
• Require transparent reporting of income all employees of public companies earning over some threshold amount. If a public company is using most of their revenue to compensate their employees then the shareholders should have a say in the matter (see next point)
• Encourage major shareholders, like pension funds, to demand a voice in executive compensation for companies that they own.
• Raise the minimum wage and fix its rate of adjustment in the future to either the cost of living or a productivity measure. Currently the federal minimum wage corresponds to roughly 33% of the GDP per capita, far lower than other wealthy countries.
• Increase progressive taxes. The tax laws have been squeezed so that the burden is passed to middle class families and future generations. Return to previous eras of more progressive taxation and greater shared prosperity.
• Create more income levels for taxation. Our tax code can and should easily distinguish between the rates paid by people earning $380,000 from those earning $380 million.
• Tax capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income. It is this type of manipulation of the tax code that allows millionaires and billionaires from hedge funds and the finance industry to pay lower tax rates than ordinary citizens.
• Require reform of the public education system so that the poorest have a greater chance of a quality education. America used to have the best educated workforce in the world but time passed long ago. Education is a primary driver of creating a society with greater equality of opportunity.
• Demand that those who perform the same work receive the same pay, regardless of race, gender, religion etc.
The Occupy Movement and the slogan "We are the 99%" resonated with millions. You once had a powerful voice. It was a strong voice, but not always clear. Today you are conspicuously silent. Regain that voice so you don't lose this critical opportunity to move the political landscape and state your demands clearly. Politicians want your votes.
The Google trend graph of the word "Occupy" exemplifies how the movement, which once had a powerful voice, needs to recapture its strength.
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