Taking It to the Streets
by David Schwenk

In Lower Manhattan this past month, New York City police viciously attacked the drum-banging riffraff of “Occupy Wall Street” for rallying against investment bankers looting the US Treasury. As the protesters decried corporations’ disproportionate influence in our government, police officers maced women, rammed a videographer’s head into a parked car, and dragged another woman away by the hair to where his buddies in white and blue could kneel on her back and shackle her wrists.

 In Washington over a thousand citizens were arrested for gathering peacefully before the White House to oppose a pipeline that would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in Texas. Those gathered, many of whom were scientists, teachers and writers, came to politely remind Obama of his campaign pledge to ween America off its addiction to oil. Apparently, the president had his shades drawn as police vans carried his supporters away. 

 Earlier this year in Wisconsin, as many as 100,000 people gathered to protect basic bargaining rights and benefits that a couple of oil-guzzling billionaires sought to destroy. Labor leaders, students, firefighters and other state workers occupied the capitol rotunda and demanded fair treatment as their numbers spilled into the streets of Madison. Despite overwhelming national support for this democratic uprising, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill” and immediately started laying off workers and slashing benefits while proposing further tax cuts for corporations.

 All around the country ordinary people are waking up to the fact that they’ve been getting their asses kicked for decades. Although television pundits react to the term “class warfare” with the same repugnance as if you flung dog shit into their coiffed hair, that is exactly what’s been going on, only it’s been a one-sided fight that can more aptly be termed, “middle class genocide.”

 Ever since Ronald Reagan rode to the White House on a Trojan horse with a cabal of CEOs tucked inside, the rich have gotten much, much richer while the middle class has learned how to apply for food stamps. From 1980 to 2006, the richest 1% of Americans tripled their after tax percentage of our nation’s total income while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%. Health care remains a privilege for our top earners and a fantasy for the 50 million uninsured who can barely put food on the table. One in four children in America live at the poverty level. 

 As this great shift in wealth took place, no one seemed to care. The banking maestros provided citizens with easy credit for new cars, trucks, televisions, laptops, and other creature comforts while the media kept them captivated with Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton. Following further deregulation and derivative swapping, the housing market exploded and the bankers became so rich that some fashioned gold-plated toilet seats for their greedy asses. The stock exchange became a wild gambling den where coke-addled brokers took huge risks with pension funds before going off to meet $1000/hour prostitutes in penthouse suites.

 When all the go-go gambling schemes failed and the banks found themselves wiped out, that bald-headed predator of the finance industry, Henry Paulson, scared the populace with visions of economic Armageddon between episodes of ‘American Idol’ and ‘America’s Biggest Loser.’ The ruling elite admitted to some errors before snatching $1.5 trillion from the US Treasury and then telling the rest of us to go fuck ourselves. Plebeians across the political spectrum felt the sucker punch rattle their bones. They could only weep as their savings evaporated with no recourse while the bankers who squandered it all returned to million dollar bonuses and Renato watches.

 By this point, even the gun-toting wackos of the far-right knew they were being had. Our political leaders spouted nonsense about family values while taking bribes — uh, I mean campaign contributions — from the special interest groups busy burying democracy in the White House backyard. Senators and congressmen claim to know what the American people want, but when it comes to their votes, they’ve got the rich guy’s back. No wonder the approval rating of Congress usually polls in the low 20s; that’s the same percentage of people who believe dinosaurs roamed the world 6,000 years ago. 

 With the 2008 elections looming, any candidate who promised hope and change would go a long way. An African American less than three years in the senate rode a historic wave of populist rage straight to the White House and then did exactly what he had promised not to do, which was basically more of the same old shit: continued tax cuts for the rich, continued wars, continued environmental degradation, continued governmental secrecy, and continued joblessness. Whatever hope people had for change got trampled in a stampede for that elixir all politicians crave to keep their decrepit forms alive: campaign funds.

Still reeling from eight years of George W. Bush, Obama’s betrayal dealt a death blow to millions who had voted for him. These gullible suckers (myself included) still wanted to believe that the system could work. Democracy could deliver change, and once elected, Obama would fulfill his following campaign promises:

  • Increase capital gains and dividend taxes for higher income people.
  • End income tax for seniors making less than $50,000 per year.
  • End Bush tax cuts.
  • End no-bid contracts.
  • Create a foreclosure prevention fund.
  • Allow imported prescription drugs.
  • Increase minimum wage to $9.50/hour.
  • Restore Superfund program so that polluters pay for clean-ups.
  • Close Guantanamo Bay.

None of this has come to pass. There has been no real investment in jobs, no accountability for crimes committed during the Bush administration, no substantial initiatives to shift to alternative energies, no repeal of the Patriot Act, no changes in our tax code to end giveaways to the rich, and no meaningful regulation of the Wall Street casino where greed is considered the highest virtue and thievery a benevolent act.

Instead, our lukewarm president allowed the Bush tax cuts to be extended, his signature health care plan to be decimated, and his very own citizenship to be challenged for months without a rebuke. He has caved to the financial and oil oligarchy time and again while allowing his poverty-stricken supporters to get arrested for demanding…change. Admittedly, his opponents have made life difficult for him, but Obama has shown no dedication and no fight for the common man — his speeches be damned.

There comes a time in a person’s life when he screams, “I have had enough!” The riffraff on Wall Street are howling that now. The scientists in handcuffs before the White House shout it out loud. Our seniors at town hall meetings cry till their voices grow hoarse: keep your hands off our Social Security and Medicare. Firemen, teachers, and union workers — under constant attack from millionaire ideologues — circle our state capitols and struggle to be heard.

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