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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Occupy Wall Street gets it right … on a few issues

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Opinions

During the past few weeks the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread from Zuccotti Park in New York City to all across the country. The protesters express frustration and anger at Wall Street and the federal government over issues such as income inequality, the influence of money in politics and the fact that the top 1 percent of the country has seemingly benefited at the expense of the other 99 percent. As a result, the protesters have started calling themselves the “99 percent.”

Recently the protesters have gotten the attention of politicians in Washington, who have split mostly along partisan lines in their reactions to the protests. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Minority Leader, has said she supports their message and President Obama has said he understands their frustration. Republicans, however, have largely condemned the protesters, as Eric Cantor did when he called them a “growing mob.” Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have been especially forceful in their attacks on protesters. Newt Gingrich said the protests have “a strain of hostility to classic America.” Herman Cain said the protesters should “blame themselves” for their problems and that the protesters are un-American.

Understandably, Republicans don’t like the protesters because of their disagreements regarding policies of welfare for the rich and large corporations. The protesters are onto something, however, when they point out that income inequality is a major problem in this country. In fact, the last time income inequality was this high was in the 1920s, a decade that ended with a market crash on Wall Street and economic calamity.

The influence of money in politics is another area in which the protesters are right on the money. Lobbyists have had far too much power in Washington, D.C., for decades and the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowed even more money to seep into our political system. Politicians today are held captive to their campaign donors because of the enormous costs of running effective political campaigns. Various corporate or union interests stifle their ability to legislate effectively because they are always looking out for their “constituents,” a.k.a. the people who write them checks.

The protesters have also correctly identified that, during the past few decades, the top 1 percent and especially the top 0.1 percent have done well financially at the expense of middle- and working-class Americans. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic made this point especially well when he showed which percentage of income Americans in various tax brackets pay. People in the middle and fourth quintile, who compose the middle and upper-middle classes, pay 14.7 and 20.5 percent, respectively, of their income in taxes. Working-class Americans, who are mostly in the second quintile, are paying about 9.3 percent of their income in taxes. Meanwhile the top 1 percent pays only 13.9 percent and, incredibly, the top 0.1 percent pays only 9 percent of their income in taxes.

It is disgusting that we currently have a system where mega-millionaires and billionaires are paying less of their income in taxes than working class families. When Republicans cry “class warfare” at attempts to make people with a yearly income of more than one million dollars pay more of their income in taxes, one cannot help but laugh. Warren Buffett had it right when he said he and his billionaire friends have been coddled for too long. It is high time politicians in Washington took his advice and ended the current system in which we redistribute money to the super-rich.

It is my hope that the Occupy Wall Street protests can focus on these issues, instead of crazy ideas, like totally open borders and the overthrow of the government. The United States needs a movement from within to fix these pressing problems, not a revolution that destroys a governmental system that, for all its problems, still remains one of the best in the world.