This weekend, I had a chance to drop off some leftover food to the Occupy Minnesota demonstration at the government building in Minneapolis. This group of around l00 or so hearty souls (sleeping there ), has joined literally tens of thousands of protesters internationally who have come out in support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York. From Rome to Brussels, across much of the Arab world people are demonstrating opposition to the economic and political issues of their country. The original protest began on September 17, 2011, and by October 9, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the U.S. Internationally, “Occupy Protests” have modeled themselves after Occupy Wall Street, in over 900 cities worldwide.
What are the concerns, and why should this interest the north country
"We are the 99% is a slogan used throughout the protests. refers to the disparity between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. At the top, one percent of the American population controls some 34 % of the wealth, while the bottom 90% of the population shares a much leaner 26.9 percent of the wealth.
Most of the protests center on corporate greed – the fact that an average American CEO makes more than one hundred and eighty times more than an average worker. This compares to ll2 times more in Germany and 44 times more in Japan. While the average income for an American family is dropping in real terms the wealthiest one percent in the country are doing well.
Some of the aggravating facts include the ., the2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program ( also known as the federal bail out of large banks), which cost American tax payers $500 billion in one program, ended up to $l.2 trillion in total ( including some European banks that US tax payers bailed out). In the meantime, many corporate executives at these banks had pretty hefty and controversial salaries and bonus packages. ( One study found that the top executives of 20 bailed out banks were paid over a quarter of a billion dollars altogether during that time frame- while indeed many Americans lost jobs and houses.
Consider as well that despite oil company profits over the past decade have done pretty well, but these same companies refuse to pay any clean up bills. One example is an ongoing case between Texaco and citizens of Ecuadorian Amazon. Almost fifty years ago, Texaco began oil exploitation in the pristine Ecuadorian Amazon .Between l972 ad l992, Chevron had put enough corners to dumped some l8 billion gallons of oil and toxic chemicals into pristine rivers- saving the company some money in the short term, but , they had cut enough corners to pollute the rivers with oil runoff, destroying water, land and causing birth defects deformities, illness and cancers in Ecuadorian people. Some 30,000 plaintiffs sought justice in the court system ( first in the US, but American courts sent the case to Ecuador) , and in February of 2011,after eighteen years, the Ecuadorian courts ruled that Texaco, now owned by Chevron Oil owed over $9 billion in damages- ordering not only a clean up, but clinics to provide for a new sick population, and clean water for communities. By April, Chevron had sought to remove itself from the Ecuadorian justice system, and filed to overturn the decision in American courts. This past September, the US Court ruled against Chevron. The corporation vows to continue fighting the Ecuadorian plaintiffs ‘ “ till hell freezes over.”
Meanwhile, Chevron posted record third quarter profits in 2011 of $7.8 billion, joining other oil companies in securing an astonishing $l0l billion in profits in 2011, thus far- a banner year.
Now, how would this sort of shake out in the north country. It might be worth questioning corporation’s perceived entitlement to basic common property- like air and water. For instance, let’s take coal fired power plants. Let’s say that a seventeenth of a teaspoon of mercury will contaminate a 20 acre lake.to the point where the fish are unsafe to eat. US power plants produce 48 tons of it a year, with three North Dakota power plants topping the top fifty list with over l957 pounds annually in 2008. What does this mean in tangible terms? A short story: Ophie, a daughter of a prize winning novelist seemed healthy, until she forgot how to tie her shoes and sound out words. Her mercury levels were at l3.mc/litre. .
The culprit was a twice weekly tuna sandwich. The family cut out sandwiches and her development surged again. Her mother made an interesting comment, “ I blame our country for not caring about what we are spewing into the atmosphere. This is about coal, pure and simple. You wouldn’t go and break your child’s bones one by one, but we tolerate this kind of poison that’s ruining their minds. It’s insane”. These are international issues and local issues. Many of the US based Occupy Wall Street protesters are targeting the Alberta Tar Sands, and the Keystone and EXCEL pipelines as examples of corporate greed.
New mining projects are proposed for the Boundary Waters area- a blissful place of common water and enjoyment for most of us, and those mining projects require a gutting of Minnesota ( and to the east Wisconsin) environmental quality laws which limit sulfuric acid in river and aquatic systems.
In short- the Occupy Wallstreet folks have hit a chord with many people nationally and internationally One way we know this, is that until recently, you could order them a pizza and have it delivered- with pizza sponsors coming from around the world- from Cairo to Paris .
Winter may be coming and it will likely be a bit harder to continue occupying Wall Street, but, the questions asked by the protestors might well be asked by all of us. In fact, we might ask some of those questions to Congress- where , the medium net worth is around $912,000- meaning that that members of Congress have a one in two chance of being millionaires. Think about that when your unemployment benefits get cut back.
I’m going to try and get those folks camping out in these occupations some sleeping bags- to stay a bit longer, but better yet, I’m going to ask some of the same questions they are asking from the warmth of my wood heated house.