‘Occupy’ movement is a wake-up call to Washington


In the past two weeks, politicians from every level of government weighed in on the Occupy Wall Street movement. From Mayor Mike Bloomberg, to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the movement, which began in New York on Sept. 17, captured the attention of mainstream America. Help from powerful backers, like the New York State United Teachers, S.E.I.U., A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Transport Workers Union, to name a few, added a new dimension to the protests. Now 1,000 cities strong, the “Occupy” movement has officially arrived.

What this will mean, however, is less clear. It seems, at least, most people can agree that the “Occupy” movement was brought about by the frustration that Americans feel in their everyday lives. For those who have lost their home, who are unemployed, or who labor under crushing school debt, the anger is palpable. No one begrudges them that.

But when assigning blame or, for that matter, asking what should be done, the “Occupy” movement offers few answers. In this case, Wall Street takes the brunt of the blame. Wall Street has become synonymous with big business. It is the poster child for corporate greed, foreclosures, the recession and, according to the recently released “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” as far down the line as workplace discrimination, oil spills and animal cruelty.

The “Occupy” movement does not take aim solely at Wall Street: Elected officials, the Obama administration and federal policy makers are also being targeted by the demonstrators. Summed up, “Occupy” is protesting the status quo; business “as usual;” and politics, “as usual.”

Surely then, the responsibility does not lie solely with Wall Street, but should be spread among us all.

This is a wake-up call.

The core demands of the “Occupy” movement, however hazily defined, are not altogether radical: more transparency in government; more accountability by employers; a fairer economic system; and more opportunities for our youth, to name a few. In fact, this is “Occupy” ‘s greatest strength. A message and a mission that all of us in the 99 percent can get behind. This is personal.

Social activists and organizers have already drawn similarities between “Occupy” and the awakening that led to the antiwar and civil rights protests of the 1960s and 1970s. Even President Obama has weighed in, noting that the same financial institutions that wreaked havoc on our economy continue to fight any reforms meant to stave off these abuses in the future. Taxpayers should take offense.

Right now, commentators suggest, widespread frustration and dissatisfaction are enough to keep the movement going, and growing. As of late, “Occupy” has begun to more fully outline its demands, and with help pouring in from labor unions, community organizers and even elected officials, the movement has the potential to influence the national political discourse.

The challenge that remains is channeling this frustration into positive change. To fail in this regard would only serve to increase the number of disillusioned young Americans and weaken faith in our democracy.

There are solutions out there. There are a host of progressive bills that, if enacted, would prove to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have joined this protest: Your government is listening. But first, we have to pass President Obama’s American Jobs Act and overhaul the federal tax code to include a “Millionaire’s Tax” on those making more than $1 million annually.

At the state and city level, we must support legislation that promotes responsible banking and ensures that banks reinvest in our local communities. We must provide for our workers. This means re-examining living wage legislation and fighting for paid sick leave for low-wage workers. These are just a few of the pieces of legislation that would make our society more equitable.

Americans want to see progress. They want their government to work for them, not against them. They want a fairer shake. If nothing more, Occupy Wall Street and the support for the movement across our country signals that Americans will not sit idly by. It is time for the political will in Washington to rise to the occasion.

Chin is councilmember for the First District, covering Lower Manhattan and parts of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.