By Kathleen Sullivan
When I headed to lower Manhattan in the middle of September last year, I did not really know what to expect. A friend of mine told me about this thing called “Occupy Wall Street,” mentioning something about corporate personhood and people camping out in a park. It was the second day of Occupy, and I had no way of understanding the significance of those people milling around.
Though the movement that started at Zuccotti Park in New York City came take many forms, to me, Occupy was simply the manifestation of a growing sentiment of frustration regarding the direction the US is headed. Many of the people who I met at Occupy see the country becoming increasingly unfair, and the democratic values of the nation being degraded.
I believe that this is due, in large part, to the increased presence of money in politics. The cost of running for presidential election has gone up by a factor of 20 over the past 30 years, and each candidate in this Presidential election has raised over one billion dollars. The lobbying industry has burgeoned as well: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs estimated that in 2011, over thirty billion dollars were spent on lobbying activities nation-wide.
But has not politics always been a rigged game? Perhaps, but not to the extent it is today. A series of policy changes, particularly the deregulation of the financial services industry, has allowed wealth to become very concentrated, and with increasing wealth comes increasing political power, especially after such instruments as super political action committees (PACs) began to play such a prominent political role. A cycle was formed wherein this newfound political influence was used to create policies favorable to those with money, and so on. Power has been drained from the American people, and has been co-opted by a financial elite. After the 2008 financial crisis, not a single person was prosecuted, despite evidence that there was at least some degree of criminality surrounding the collapse. This is one of President Obama’s causes for worry amongst his own supporters: many people believe he did not do enough to punish those who caused the financial collapse or change the policies that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.
As the government caters to those with political influence, the majority of Americans are neglected, jeopardizing the nation’s future. Poverty is on the rise, and the country is falling behind in its infrastructural and educational systems. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that those with political influence have little economic need for the rest of the country. American businesses can simply do their manufacturing overseas, so there is no need to invest in US workers or in their own working class.
Much of my pessimism regarding America’s future stems directly from these issues. I believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction; our priorities are off kilter and our perception of democracy has been skewed. Though untangling money and politics is no simple task, I do think that significant campaign finance reform is the right place to start. In my view, each candidate would accept public funding for his or her campaign in order to level the playing field in elections and empower voters. The Occupy movement proved that I am not the only person sharing these vexations. It also proved that our nation still has a pulse—when people come together peacefully to make a point, the nation will take notice. Of course, I am dissatisfied with the lack of reaction in response to this movement, but I do think that protest is still a viable political instrument in the United States. Furthermore, I have hope that if President Obama is reelected, he will address this political corruption. If Romney is elected, however, I fear that the country will continue down the unequal and unfair path on which it is now.
For other Occupy news from Le Zadig, please refer to “We are the 99%”, originally printed in October 2012.