The OWS movement parallels any civil rights movement. In the 1960’s and 70’s we fought for gender equality, racial equality, and sexual equality, and now in 2011, we are finally fighting for our economic equality. In the past, we could have attributed our economic inequality to the fact that we hadn’t yet achieved racial or gender equality (some argue that we still haven’t), but now we have to admit that the gap between rich and poor is a world-wide pervasive phenomenon unattributable to our race, gender, sexual identity. Like any civil rights movement, there is initial adversity to the movement. People don’t understand what the movement stands for and how protesting and rallying will change anything. While decades ago there seemed to be an overarching theme or message, today this movement is unlike the ones before because it stands for so many issues. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it means the movement needs to be extremely organized and focused. The 1% are going to paint this movement as irrational, and down-play its importance by saying there is no clear-cut motive. But there is a motive, even if it has many facets, and that is something that scares the people in power. Fifty years ago it was absurd for an interracial couple to get married. This concept now seems outrageous and yet, same sex couples today are fighting to obtain the same basic rights. In the 60’s, blacks and whites lived in different neighborhoods, went to different schools, ate at different restaurants- the same way the rich and the poor in this country remain segregated to this day. It is amazing that we are still fighting for the same basic rights that we were fifty years ago- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, something that was established for us well over 200 years ago.
It baffles me that people still don’t understand what the OWS movement stands for. I’m going to be honest- I think at this point if you don’t know what the movement stands for, you either don’t care to know or you are a Republican pretending not to know. Either way, I am going to give you my explanation using the story of my life to point out why we need this movement.
I grew up in NYC. I was lucky to live in one of the best school districts and I went to great public schools until i was 12. I went to one of the best high schools in the city and arguably, maybe even the country. I worked exceptionally hard in high school and college and I graduated from a top private liberal arts school with high honors. I began my first job four years ago as a Research Assistant at Weill Cornell Medical College. I am going to preface this story with admitting that I am exceptionally lucky and that my parents paid for my college education in full and I graduated with no loans (OWS message #1: The average US student graduates college with over $25,000 in loans. This is an enormous amount of debt to incur considering how much entry level jobs pay in the US. The cost-benefit ratio has completely disintegrated). Coming from college where I never had any of my own money, it is hard to comprehend what different salary levels meant. In college, I made $7 an hour as a peer tutor, so when I was offered $33,000 a year with benefits, it didn’t seem so bad. (OWS message #2: Most entry level jobs do NOT offer medical benefits, in which case it is impossible to afford them or even to apply to a plan as an individual. Mitt Romney supported mandatory health insurance for everyone in the state of Massachusetts, and now that he is running for president, he is singing a completely different tune. This is infuriating. Republicans insist that the US government is not capable of creating a viable healthcare system. Well, that’s ironic, since all members of Congress are part of a government run healthcare system which happens to be the best in the nation. And oh yea, they keep these benefits for LIFE).
I quickly learned that my salary did not amount to much at all, and that if I wanted to pursue a career in science, I would have to go back to school. After a year of working full- time, I started taking my pre-medical requirements. I continued working 4 days a week while I was going to school, which brought my salary down to about $1700 a month after taxes. That wouldn’t be so bad in some other cities, but in NY, after paying $1100 for my half of a studio apartment, and $350 in transportation costs just to get to job, I wasn’t left with much. (OWS Message #3: Why was I paying over 1/3 of my salary in taxes, while CEOs and Wall Street brokers making millions were paying less than 20%. Seriously, How can you even justify that anymore? You don’t want to give up your millions, try living pay check to check. You want to know why people are mad at Wall Street- it is because of corporate greed. Yes, I realize every asshole company that pays their CEO whether they succeed or run their company into the ground isn’t on Wall Street, but Wall St. has become the symbol of greed because that is where it is prevalent in a sickly amount).
I am lucky that I had parents willing to pay for my books and some of my living costs when I went back to school, but after they spent $160,000 to send me to college, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for their help. There were some weeks that I lived off of $11. Some months where I had $3 in my bank account by the end of the month. And other months where my boyfriend told me he couldn’t pay his half of the rent at all. I opened different credit cards to stagger my payments until I got paid again. I would split a turkey sandwich between lunch and dinner (thank god for Subway $5 footlongs) and would volunteer to do different research studies- testing out new food, or mouthwash, just to pay my electric bill. I didn’t have TV. I mean I physically had one, but it didn’t have any channels. Having financial problems turned out to be more stressful than all of the scholarly, career, relationship, health related problems I had ever faced in my life combined. (OWS Message #4: Banks are out of control. The fact that Bank of America, Chase, TD and others were thinking of charging a monthly fee to have a checking account and use a debit card, is deplorable and outright disgusting. Banks don’t even offer interest rates, you basically keep your money there for free. I don’t really defend people with credit card debt, unless it is health related, but I don’t condone the way credit card companies screw people either. Sorry Wall St. but banks are directly related to you so you’re going to have to take the blame. )
At the end of last year, I got promoted and started making a decent salary where I could actually support myself. I finished up my pre-med classes, and I had finally reached a comfortable place. I thought that I would have a year to work full- time, and save up money so that I never had to live like I had for the past few years. Shortly after my promotion, my boss told me that Cornell was shutting down all of the research labs within our department, effective next June. For those of you who don’t know how research labs work, investigators work exceedingly hard to get government funded NIH grants. After Wall Street crashed our economy (and yes, they did crash our economy along with a few other giants, so don’t even try to dispute that) the first thing to be axed was any public grants going towards education, public health and research. (OWS Message #5: Opponents to the OWS movement criticize the protestors for not using their time to get jobs. Well, there are no jobs out there- you destroyed them all. We don’t make anything in this country anymore because it isn’t profitable. Our manufacturing industry is dead. Republicans don’t want to pay taxes to support government jobs in education, research, civil service, police and fire departments, healthcare, etc, etc. Where would you like people to work? And in addition, a lot of members of the OWS movement do have jobs and they go to these protests after working 8 hours. So while you call them lazy, they are actually twice as hard- working as you are).
When I got my termination letter from Weill Cornell Medical College, my reason for termination was stated as “lack of funding.” We regret to inform you bla bla bla. We are so sorry we can not continue your employment. bla bla. The same week I got my termination letter, Sanford Weill, chairman of the Board of Overseers of Weill Cornell Medical College and an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees of Cornell University, put his NYC apartment on the market for $88 MILLION. Lack of funding my @$$. Who is this Sanford Weill you may ask? Former CEO of Citigroup, with a net worth of $1.8 BILLION. He is not free from his share of controversies in Wall Street and regardless of how much money he donates to good causes, no one person should ever have more money than the GNP of another country. (OWS Message #6: Members of the middle class continue to lose their jobs and struggle, even if they are highly educated people, while CEOs and bankers are making millions and billions of dollars at our expense. Do NOT forget that when the banks f$%*&ed up, America bailed you out. We emptied our pockets and gave you over $500 BILLION (http://projects.propublica.org/bailout/list) for screwing up. Where is our bailout??? We are constantly harassed for applying for unemployment. We are told we are lazy and didn’t work hard enough. Is that what we told you when you needed our money because your greed clouded your judgment and foresight?!?! Our government keeps threatening to take away our unemployment benefits, which ironically a greater percentage of our hard earned money contributed to than yours. Our government keeps threatening to end “wasteful, entitlement” programs like social security. You don’t think getting billions of dollars in bailout money is a little over-entitled? Stop trying to take away benefits that we paid for). As far as I understand, Sanford Weill will hold a corner office at Citigroup until the day he dies. I am sure he left Citigroup from the top floor, with a helicopter and then jumped out with his golden parachute. I got a 3 week severance package and barely a goodbye. If you don’t understand why people are pissed off, you really have no soul.
To make matters worse, my mother lost her job two months earlier than I did, the same month she found out that she had cancer. This sounds like really bad luck; a rare occurrence. But it happened to my ex-boyfriend the same way, and it happens like this more often than you think. Murphy’s law. Again, I feel fortunate because my parents are not divorced and my father is still working, and we can afford to pay for my mother’s COBRA insurance which is almost $700/month (OWS Message #7: If my mom were single, and had no savings, she would probably spend the majority of her unemployment benefits just paying her COBRA. If she never had health insurance to start with, she would have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Over 50 MILLION people in this country are uninsured (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-09-17-uninsured17_ST_N.htm). Health complications are the #1 cause of credit card debt in the country and that needs to stop. Take away Congress’ health benefits until they can come to a resolution on how to help the other 300 million people in this country. See #2, 4).
My parents had a retirement account but you destroyed it. I had a college fund and you lost it. (OWS Message #8: YES YOU DID DETROY IT. The average Joe trusted you with his money and you blew it. You blame us for investing with you- What kind of logic is that? If you paid a doctor to heal you, and he messed up, you would sue them for malpractice. If you paid a plumber to fix your toilet and he flooded your house, not only would you not pay him, you’d ask for money for damages. Well, I paid you to grow my portfolio, and you lost half of it, and then still got a bonus. Not only do you not deserve to get paid, but I deserve to get paid for my damages, even if it comes out of your own pocket. The same way the rich got screwed by Bernie Madoff and wanted retribution, the “little people” are getting screwed by the 1% and want their share back).
I can keep going, and I might continue on another day. But for now I strongly urge all of those people who question the motives and significance of the OWS movement to think a little harder. Yes, sometimes the protests inconvenience our daily routine, but that is the point. The way we have been living has been inconveniencing millions of people on a regular basis and it is time to change that. It is time to stand up for our economic rights, our health rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- the things we were promised a long, long time ago.