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A culture of discontent

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By David Whitlock

 

The first time I saw one of the many people in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement holding a sign that said, “We are the 99 percent,” I thought, “That has to include me. I’m certainly not in the 1 percent.”

There is some comfort in being in the 99 percent; at least I know I am not floating all alone on a sea of economic uncertainty.

I remember reading about the Great Depression when I was in elementary school. Dad assured me it would never happen again, “…what with all the checks and balances we have since those dark depression days.”

“But what if it did happen again, Dad? What would we do?”

“In that case,” he tried to assure me, “everyone would be in trouble, and we would all be in it together.”

And now, we are all in it together.

At least the 99 percent are.

The 99 percent who occupied Wall Street did so at least in part to band together and find some comfort in a community of distress.

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement was conceived in a bed of dissatisfaction, birthed in economic hard times, and is struggling to take its first baby steps in the playpen of world crises.

Regardless of how one views its current status — Is it primarily mainstream leftism? Just another example of radical extremism? A positive expression of progressive activism? — what should concern us is its future, for the movement can be a shining light toward a better tomorrow, a dark cloud raining disorder upon an already disgruntled society, or an evaporating fog which when lifted leaves everything quite the same.

Whatever happens to it, the movement is itself symbolic of the culture of discontent that pervades the 99 percent: Opportunity has fallen far short of aspirations; expectations have exceeded painful realities; goals have evaporated on a horizon forecasting misery.

The United States economy creeps at an anemic growth rate of 2 percent; college students are graduating with abysmal prospects for jobs while saddled with burdensome college loans; the unemployment rate of people over 55 has doubled since 2007, and those over 55 who have lost jobs during the recession are less likely to find new ones and when they do, it takes 30 percent longer, according to a report on NBC nightly news; an AARP poll reveals that between 2007-2010, 24.7 percent of people over 50 exhausted their life savings; the 9.1 percent unemployment rate  doesn’t even include the millions of jobless

Americans who have been unemployed so long that they have lost hope and are no longer looking for work; and perhaps worst of all, the misery index — a combination of inflation plus unemployment rates — has risen to 13.0, the highest since 1983.

Whether the 99 percent includes both the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers, or more likely, a million different people from around the world, the fact is, people are clamoring for a change that’s deeper than mere cosmetic surgery on the way things are; they are seeking a revolutionary transformation of the way we do things economically; and they want the financial pain they feel to be addressed.

This will involve more than another job’s plan, or stimulus package, although that may be a place to start. But, both Washington and Wall Street should first listen rather than dismissing the 99 percent as too radical, or mistaken, or irrelevant. Then the White House and the Financial District should cooperate with the people in solving the fundamental problems in our broken economy. And until they do, the Occupiers must occupy.

Let’s hope the 99 percent can stay on track for positive change and that the 1 percent — whether located in Washington, Wall Street, London, or Melbourne — will also see the need to occupy and help the rest of us as we together look for ways to create a new economy and give hope to the hopeless in a culture of discontent.

Otherwise, at least economically, much of the 99 percent will be left with a life that is, sadly, not much better than a bittersweet symphony.