By Robert Deneweth and Ronald Aronson
As two suburban grandfathers, we went to Grand Circus Park in Downtown Detroit last month before Occupy Detroit moved out of its encampment. Painfully aware of not being able to leave a better world to our children than the one we inherited, we wanted to see what the next generation was up to.
Many of the occupiers were staying in the park. Others drove in for meetings and demonstrations. The encampment was clean, well-organized and brimming with enthusiasm. A bit apprehensive about how we would be received, we were welcomed as full members from the minute we set foot in the park.
It turns out that they were not just 20-somethings; we found great diversity in age, as well as in race and economic status. Among the occupiers we met were a health care worker from Warren, whose family is barely making it financially; a 43-year-old, unemployed construction worker from Downriver; a middle-class health care analyst; a grandmother of four whose son had lost his home to foreclosure; a 22-year-old student at Henry Ford Community College, and an ex-Navy man, married with a young child and living in the suburbs.
But if these were "the 99%," so were we. This theme has become both an identifier and a rallying cry, announcing the potential strength of the movement, sending a powerful "Join us" call to almost all Americans.
Why are they angry about the 1%? Here is what we learned:
About 38% of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1% of Americans. This same 1% has more than 40% of the nation's wealth and has captured two-thirds of all economic growth in the last 10 years.
Income for the top 1% has tripled while inflation-adjusted incomes for most Americans have remained stagnant. The Occupy movement began with Wall Street, which caused a huge recession by greedily selling mortgage derivatives that were intended to fail. The government then bailed out these financial institutions, which gave huge bonuses to those whose (mis)management had caused the problem. That was the 1%.
Among the 99%, over 80,000 homes in Michigan are currently in foreclosure. The middle class continues to shrink. Labor unions, the most important ingredient in the growth of the middle class, are under continued attack. Middle-class jobs are disappearing with outsourcing and privatization. More people are forced to work in lower paid, contract and temporary jobs. Twenty-three percent of Michigan's children now live in poverty. The list goes on.
So along with most of the rest of us in the 99%, occupiers are justifiably angry. Hopefully, they are building a community. They are protesting inequality and among themselves are functioning as equals. Their open, democratic practices are a stinging rebuke to our increasingly hierarchical and undemocratic society. What are their demands? Well, what are our demands?
Seeing infinite potential rather than "losers" among the 99%, they are pooling their skills in a hundred different activities. They are building a mass movement to make America better. And they are inviting us to join them. Whatever happens next, income inequality, and the excessive power of corporations and the wealthy, are now part of the national conversation. They have left Grand Circus Park, but we'll be hearing from them again. -- soon.
Robert Deneweth of Beverly Hills, Michigan, is a member of Catholics for the Common Good. Ronald Aronson of Huntington Woods, Michigan, is a member of the Huntington Woods Peace, Citizenship and Education Project.
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