Unlike earlier protests in history, which were narrow in focus and concentrated on singular issues, the Occupy movement has grander aspirations: to take back America from the moneyed interests that have hijacked democracy in the name of greed.
Occupiers call themselves the 99 percent, and assert that the richest individuals and corporations in America have been unfairly enriched through massive tax breaks, bailouts and the manipulation of the system and the financial markets, creating an imbalance of wealth that threatens our country’s economic stability.
Why aren’t there more?
The largest corporations pay little or no taxes and sit on the largest stockpile of ready cash in history, yet 14 million Americans are out of work. In Oklahoma alone, more than 100,000 citizens are unemployed, and many of those who are working are at or below the poverty level. While the richest 1 percent controls nearly half of the world’s wealth, many Oklahomans struggle just to pay their monthly bills, knowing that a layoff from work or a single emergency could leave them homeless and hungry.
The small group of tents that line Kerr Park in downtown Oklahoma City are not the movement itself, but simply the epicenter of activity that has already extended to protests at the state Capitol and governor’s mansion, as well as boycotts of banks and businesses that they deem to be contrary to the best interests of the 99 percent. The makeshift kitchen, library and sometimes barely adequate facilities provide a backdrop for spirited, and sometimes argumentative, meetings where issues are debated, often for hours, before being voted on by anyone who wants to join what is described as a “leaderless democracy.”
While the Wall Street occupiers address national issues, Occupy OKC and other Oklahoma occupations, are focusing, at least in part, on state and local issues. They protest against the billions of dollars in tax breaks given to wealthy corporations, while budgets for education, health, human services, highway patrol and other vital services have been slashed. They support local businesses over massive corporations, and local credit unions over the huge banks that received trillions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts.
While lobbyists for the ultra-wealthy occupy the back rooms and halls of our Legislature every single day, and influence every piece of legislation that is passed at the state Capitol, the 99 percent are forced to occupy and protest in public places just to be heard. But in the long run, Occupy OKC hopes to utilize the attention that the movement has generated to create meaningful dialogue with elected officials at state and local levels, with the ultimate goal of giving a voice to the millions of Oklahomans who have been disenfranchised by their own government.
Not only do the occupiers have a right to be protesting peacefully, they have a responsibility to speak out against the unfair influence of moneyed interests in our government. The question shouldn’t be, “Why are there dozens of people occupying Kerr Park in downtown Oklahoma City?” The real question should be, “Why aren’t there more?” In reality, there should be thousands of Oklahomans working together to return our state, and our nation, to a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Faulk, an OKC resident, is an outreach group moderator for Occupy OKC.