With one in six Americans who'd like a full-time job not able to find one; with millions of families needlessly being thrown out of their homes; with a generation of young people hampered by outlandish student debt, many of them exploited by for-profit colleges and for-profit lenders; with income and wealth inequality at staggering levels; with a Wall Street criminal class getting off scot-free; with a Supreme Court effectively empowering corporations and the super-rich to buy elections; and with corporate profits at record levels in the wake of the worst economic downturn in 50 years; it should not have taken a protest movement to focus national discussion on inequality and corporate control over policy-making.
But it did.
Thank you, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement.
A courageous and committed band of protesters, first in New York and then across the nation, occupied public space to force a public debate on how to remake our economy and democracy so that it serves the 99 percent rather than Wall Street.
Those protesters succeeded in ways far more profound than anyone could reasonably have anticipated. And, while the occupations have ended -- thanks in no small part to a harsh police crackdown -- it would be a mistake to assume the Occupy movement is over. Social movements have a way of metamorphosing and resurging in unpredictable ways.
Surely the conditions that gave rise to the Occupy movement have not changed. Poverty rates are at their highest levels since adoption of the Great Society programs. Economic inequality is worsening. "The rise in inequality seems to be driven by gains at the upper end of the income spectrum and declines in the middle class," notes Business Week. And every political ad on TV is a reminder of the obscene corporate and super-wealthy spending on this election, with most of the funding for outside organizations running through Dark Money groups not required to disclose their financial backers.
Part of Occupy's success was tied to its audacity, to borrow a word that has perhaps fallen out of favor, the demand for far-reaching and fundamental reform to address deep and systemic problems.
Yes, we need full and robust implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act (and the regulators are far behind schedule, and Wall Street is working hard to block their efforts), but we also need tougher measures. We need to break up the biggest banks. We need a financial speculation tax.
Yes, we need rules mandating the disclosure of corporate and superrich campaign spending. But we also need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Buckley v. Valeo and other decisions that prevent Congress and the states from regulating corporate and other campaign spending, and wrongly empower corporations to claim the rights intended for We, the People. Real, live, breathing persons; that is, not giant corporations. And of course, we also need a system of public funding of our public elections.
We need a jobs program commensurate with the scale of the hardship inflicted by the Wall Street-created Great Recession, with the unemployed put back to work retrofitting energy-inefficient buildings, teaching children and meeting other, pressing unmet needs. We surely need to stop entering NAFTA-style trade deals -- like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, under negotiation right now -- that cost jobs, drive down wages and enhance multinationals' power.
As the Occupy movement reconfigures over time, the challenge it faces -- but more profoundly, the problem that all Americans face -- is mobilizing an even stronger movement. This must be a movement strong enough not just to force attention to the problems that the corporate 1 percent would rather see ignored, but also to force adoption of the known and available solutions to the great ailments of this country, and the planet.