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Leslie Hendry Headshot

Generation WTF

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As Occupy Wall Street demonstrations grow, frustration and disappointment over how our system works, or isn't working, is now public discourse. As such, it should be noted that this is not a youth movement of idealists inspired by the Arab Spring. Far from an unemployed college grad, when listening to news stories this summer on Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt, I secretly hoped some movement would travel to our own country. Not for bloodshed or uprooting our government but to call a spade a spade.

Since the financial collapse, journalists have covered every detail. 36 months have passed and there's been no benefit to taxpayers' investment in terms of jobs or economic growth. After taxpayers bailed out Wall Street, the financial system is business as usual. No leader from Wall Street or elsewhere has come forward to rectify the situation. In today's terms, it's not the X or Y generations grousing. For all of us who work hard and see quality-of-living declining while witnessing great fortunes amassed by few are in fact part of generation WTF.

This multi-generational group is comprised of those who have realized wages are not increasing (for college grads they've decreased), health care is a luxury or a severe economic strain, home ownership is sketchy and unobtainable and, most importantly, the American dream has become a boon for few and a nightmare for many.

The nightmare begins with the hermetic relationship between corporate CEOs, lobbyists, lawmakers and their financiers. Finance was where the public sought loans and invested earnings. The stock market was where long-term investing savings would grow. Retirement was possible if you worked hard, invested wisely and saved. CEOs were lauded and admired for good decision-making and company growth. Companies made it their domain to be the patriarch, providing health care for employees and their families. Lawmakers represented us. They were to protect our interests against unscrupulous practices and advocate for their constituencies.

So WTF?

CEO pay has quadrupled over the past 40 years to staggering numbers while employee's wages remain stagnant. Lawmakers enter Congress not as millionaires but many leave as multi-millionaires. Wall Street attracts the best and the brightest with fulfilled promises of exorbitant pay. But what have any produced but their own fortunes? We've seen schools become depressed, doctors squeezed by insurance companies, seriously compromised healthcare, and unemployment lasting far longer than necessary.

Banks and corporations have cash -- they have the ability to spend, to hire -- but those making the decisions at the top attend board meetings to ensure hefty pay packages. This is not capitalism -- it's a failure of our system, a system founded on the ideals of working hard and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Corporate culture has turned into an adult daycare where management squeeze the most they can out of the few, while refusing to hire new people to share the workload.

If the American dream is starting from scratch, working hard, creating something, and living a decent life, then we are seeing just the opposite. Occupy Wall Street in its leaderless fashion has come up with a new American paradigm: voice opinion without old regime expectations. Occupy Wall Street is not politicizing, alienating, seeking power or trying to overthrow anything. They are simply asking for serious review to move beyond generation WTF.

America is, as of yet, still is a place where rights are protected, unlike codified laws in most countries that lay out what its citizens cannot do. Lawmakers, lobbyists, CEOs and Wall Street have sculpted the system to their own benefit. Major examples of wealth abound. One individual buys a 70M yacht to benefit his friends and family for a portion of the year. Some say that's capitalism; he's smart, he's a saavy businessman, he deserves it. But don't our children deserve better schools and better paid teachers? Don't our elderly deserve better end of life care? Don't we all deserve the ability to earn a decent living? Much of the recent wealth has been made less through toil and more through the stock market, a legal place for lucky to turn money into the finest gold.

If we ask for a review of the system, we must give leaders incentive to move beyond aspiring to exorbitant riches beyond the benefit of any one person or family. This is not socialism, this is comprehending humanity. Everyday Americans are some of the most compassionate, giving, understanding and hopeful people on the planet. Americans have a high quality of life comparatively. We've seen the results of living in a country that has worked as a meritocracy. We are not a dictatorship; we are not yet 100% corrupt. But leaders need to reach inside and look past the accumulation of gross wealth and come up with genuine solid solutions.

Steve Jobs amassed $8 billion dollars, but he lived as our friend and as a human being who millions mourned as a loss for humanity. He didn't cure cancer but he did make our lives patently more enjoyable. Anyone on Forbes' billionaires list has not earned their riches by their own two hands. It takes many, yet many are under compensated and unemployed.

GE, one of our largest companies obtains tax credits eliminating any tax burden. This is legal. What happened on Wall Street was legal. This begs the question, what are lawmakers, lobbyists and those who have the power to sculpt our system doing for the good of the people?

Our country needs resources, we need jobs, we need transparency, we need to find inside of each of us values that educate every American's child properly, pay our teachers, create jobs, restructure corporate executive pay, pay employees fairly, and more importantly not isolate the have-nots from the haves. This is a chance to put aside avarice, politics and become real leaders. Who is up for the job?