By Louis Avallone
By now, of course, you’ve heard of the “Occupy Wall Street” folks. These are the ones who, since September 17, have been camped out amidst tents, tarps, and sleeping bags in a lower Manhattan city park, not too far from the New York Stock Exchange, protesting everything from corporate greed to joblessness to economic inequality. And similar protests have spread to over 25 new cities now, including Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Los Angeles. In fact, a rally was planned in Shreveport just last weekend.
These protestors have branded themselves as the “99 percenters.” And who are the “99 percenters”? Well, from its website, they explain: “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other one percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.” Just a quick footnote: To qualify for this 1% group getting everything, a household must have a minimum income of approximately $516,633.
But I get it. Unemployment is still ridiculously high, with good paying jobs continuing to be scarce. There are 14 million unemployed Americans, and long-term unemployment accounting for 44.6% of the unemployed. The housing market is horrible, home values are down, and banks own nearly 1,000,000 homes now (twice as many as in 2007) and are in the process of foreclosing on almost a million more.
So strong is the frustration with these conditions, the “99 percenters” planned to camp out for weeks or even months, imitating many of the protests that have taken place in Egypt, Spain and Israel. They hold up banners reading, “Wall St. Takes From the 99%. Gives to the Rich,” all while chanting, “Make banks pay”! Visit their website and most folks there will share the same sentiment: “We are asking for fairness, for a change in a system that keeps the bottom from rising up.”
And like most folks when they are frustrated, sometimes empathy is more important here than the solution, more important to be heard than to be admonished. After all, when most people talk about their problems, they generally don’t say, “Golly, I have been so stupid. Thank you for explaining how I have completely messed up my life and how I can take personal responsibility for the consequences of my decisions so that I make sure never to let that happen again.”
Instead, most folks blame others. The “blamers” have a “cause-and-effect” worldview, but it only works one way…and all that matters to them is how it all affects them and their feelings. The “blamer” sees what someone else has (a good job, a nice place to live, etc…) and concludes that they could have all that too if only it weren’t for the bankers, or the politicians, or whomever or whatever.
This is “victim” mentality. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve all succeeded and failed in life. Albert Eistein said that, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
The truth is that all of the “one percenters” were worse off than the “99 percenters,” at one time. P. T. Barnum went bankrupt before starting all over and growing into the largest circus venture in American history. Francis Ford Coppola came back from bankruptcy twice. Walt Disney had to declare bankruptcy, just before he left for Hollywood and came up with a cartoon mouse that changed the world. Milton Hershey actually declared bankruptcy after four initial tries at starting a candy company. Even Abraham Lincoln failed miserably as a businessman, a farmer, and even as a would-be politician, before becoming President. Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he co-founded, but then returned to develop the iMac, the iPhone, etc… and the rest is history.
There’s another group of folks out there that you should know about also. They are calling themselves the “53 percenters” (referring to the percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes). Their message to the “99 percenters”: “Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain. I don’t blame Wall Street because it doesn’t matter what Wall Street or anyone else does. I am responsible for my own destiny.”
Well, maybe they are. But a rising tide generally lifts all ships too. And that should be the focus, not blame. Not envy. Or even what percentage of Americans pay taxes. Go to both of these groups’ websites: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/ and http://the53.tumblr.com/. Which group do you feel best represents the American spirit?
You know, Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
The same can be said about American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, free markets, and the American dream. These values also are never more than one generation away from extinction, and I am more certain than ever, despite the “99 percenters” and the political discord in our nation, that the reports of their demise are still greatly exaggerated.