The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Now is a very divided time. Everyone, regardless of class or political affiliation, seems to agree that something must change, that we cannot go on like this anymore. Depending on which political party the person you’re speaking with belongs to, the solutions to the problems are very different. Out of this desperate hope for change and improvement there have sprung up a number of contenders who feel that they are the much-needed solution to our economic and moral crisis. All are offering suggestions for how we can change our economic policies, how we can create more jobs, and see opportunities trickle down to the lower and middle class of the country, those struggling with unemployment, health problems, and poverty ““ the 99%.
One of those contenders is Herman Cain. At first glance, Herman Cain seems like a great candidate to represent the average American. He’s a self-made businessman, not a politician, who doesn’t mince words and seemingly epitomizes the American Dream.
What is Herman Cain’s advice to the 99%, who would like to see change come in the form of jobs, opportunity, and an equal share of rights? It’s your own fault that you’re poor! Stop being envious of rich people who had better luck than you!
Rather than realizing how blessed and lucky he was to be able to have opportunities, to then become an entrepreneur and self-made businessman, and to wish for other Americans to have those same opportunities, Cain sniffs at the unemployed, the poor, and suggests that they must have chosen their own fate, and therefore deserve everything they get. Cain has a history of victim-blaming (just see his comments about racism, and the “brainwashing” of African Americans if you really want a great example of the kind of logic he subscribes to), and seems to be leading the charge in the new wave of conservative backlash against the poor.
Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street and similar movements are taking off with force, as more and more people from varying political and social backgrounds realize that they, too, are part of the 99% and that they, too, deserve and demand change. As the movement grows, so does the anti-OWS movement. It is led mainly by conservative media, politicians and bankers, and those who have a stake in seeing the movement fail.
Sadly, though, they aren’t the only ones jumping on the bandwagon.
I’ve been very disheartened to see the number of people, some of them my peers, who are definitely, undoubtedly, part of the 99%, who do not support the Occupy Wall Street movement and wholeheartedly support candidates like Cain. Candidates who will do all they can to squelch the opportunities, liberties and rights of the very people who champion them and plan to vote them into office.
I’ve seen all sorts of conservative, anti-poor propaganda floating around on the internet, with friends and acquaintances posting statuses about how welfare and food stamp recipients should have to settle for only generic and expired food, since they aren’t paying for the luxury of the good stuff (I only wish I was joking, but this is something I have actually heard), or how they should have to submit to mandatory drug testing in order to receive aid. I’ve seen the ludicrous pictures, in response to the wildly popular blog “We are the 99%” (in which I am quite proud to be featured myself), of people holding up signs explaining why they AREN’T the 99%, despite being working, lower-and-middle class, average Americans who are not millionaires. Everywhere I turn, there is someone offering up snark, criticism and judgement of the OWS movement and the desire for the poor to have some semblance of hope and opportunity.
It seems to suddenly be the general consensus among many Americans that poor people deserve to be poor. That they’ve somehow caused their own condition, that they must have made some bad decision along the way; whether it’s that they can’t manage their money, that they didn’t choose the right path, or work hard enough, and therefore are reaping the consequences of their bad decisions. It comes as no surprise to me that wealthy, privileged individuals would think this, as they need any excuse possible to justify their own blind luck and privilege, but to see people who are actually poor themselves, who are actually part of the 99%, who are just as disenfranchised and under-represented as the rest of us, turn on us and turn on themselves. It is disheartening and depressing, to say the least.
It makes me wonder how these people are able to justify these sentiments in their head. I have several friends who claim to support Herman Cain or other contenders who have similar views, who are well below the poverty line. Some of them get food stamps, others are on Medicaid. A few of them are unemployed. I want to ask them, “How do you feel when you turn on your television and hear Herman Cain say that it’s the poor’s fault that they are poor?” I want to ask them, “Do you not realize that YOU are poor? Do you not realize that he’s talking about you? Do you think you’re the exception to the rule? Do you think that if you agree with him, it’s easier to pretend you have no rights, no representation, and no opportunity? Do you really think that giving a candidate your vote that has no intention of doing anything for you is a good idea? That it will magically transport you from mingling with the rest of us poor masses and turn you into a success story?”
All of these questions go unanswered. Every day I see further proof that our society isn’t thinking. We blindly follow these self-appointed “leaders” and deny our own possibility for equality, opportunity and hope. We get caught up in semantics, arguing over different political parties’ agendas and talking points, comparing apples to oranges, and forgetting that in the end, it’s all just a matter of opinion, and the bigger picture is being missed. Our country is completely and totally engrossed in a violent war against the poor, and the saddest, most terrifying part is that many of the people fighting us are one of us.
To me, this is why movements like Occupy Wall Street are so important. I’ve often told people, when asked, why I’m bothering with this, what I mean to accomplish, that I’m fighting for them as much as me. Even if they don’t consider themselves part of the 99% (they are), even if they think what we’re doing is pointless (it’s not). We’re still fighting for them. We hope they’ll eventually see the good in the movement and decide to join up with us, but even if they don’t, it’s still worth fighting for them, and for the rest of us.
Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself!
– Herman Cain
There is a sweet spirit in this place. I hope you can feel the love and inspiration of those Sly Stone called “everyday people” who take a stand with great courage and compassion, because we oppose the greed of Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who squeeze the democratic juices out of this country and other places around the world. I am so blessed to be here. You got me spiritually breakdancing on the way here, because when you bring folk together of all colors and all cultures and all genders and all sexual orientations, the elites will tremble in their boots. Yeah!
– Dr. Cornel West (at Occupy Wall Street)