By Eric Rader
For nearly three years, members of the tea party movement have engaged in vocal protests of much of the Obama Administration’s agenda. At times, it seemed as if progressives were silently waiting on the sidelines, somehow unable to vocalize their feelings about the nation’s troubles. Over the past few weeks, that seeming reticence has ended. Since late summer, a growing group of advocates have “occupied” public areas near Wall Street in New York, to voice their feelings about the financial and corporate greed that led to the collapse of our nation’s economy in 2007 and the high unemployment that continues today. At the time taxpayers became responsible for paying for the financial misdeeds of bankers, many low and middle-income people were forced into bankruptcy as their homes lost value and workers lost their jobs. The occupiers in New York, Detroit, and around the country, speak on behalf of the 99 percent of Americans who have not benefited directly from the financial bailouts.
Many observers might think that the root of the protests was the 2007-2009 “Great Recession,” from which many people have never recovered, even as the economy technically started to grow again. Certainly the people in New York and elsewhere are expressing the feelings of many of us who recognize that the government has not done nearly enough to stimulate a full-employment recovery. However, the recession is only a symptom of a longer historical problem, dating back to the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan declared government to be the “problem” and the source of the nation’s woes. When Reagan took office in 1981, he set about to reduce or eliminate federal regulations that he saw as inefficient, and attempted to shrink government further by enacting massive tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting spending on vital social programs. Though Bill Clinton restored some of the repealed regulations in the 1990s and raised some taxes to balance the federal budget, he also eliminated some banking regulations, assuming that succeeding administrations would be responsible stewards of the nation’s finances. His successor, George W. Bush, turned the nation’s largest budget surpluses into its largest deficits, by giving enormous tax cuts to the wealthy; he also repealed necessary regulations on banks and corporations. By the time Barack Obama took office in 2009, these institutions knew they could take advantage of their customers and employees with impunity. The result was the worst financial catastrophe since the Great Depression. In 2008 and 2009, our leaders argued that some financial institutions were “too big to fail,” and Congress passed legislation to bail them out. President Obama is now calling for a comprehensive jobs bill to help the millions of unemployed citizens who need jobs, and suddenly Congress cannot seem to lift a finger to help the victims of the financial collapse.
The courageous women and men who began the occupation movement have provided a wonderful civics lesson to the nation. Those of us in the LGBT community who desire change should pay attention to what’s happening in New York and around the country. Peaceful protests have brought attention to the need to pass meaningful laws that will really make a difference in the lives of average citizens. By speaking out about the injustice of corporate and financial greed, the occupiers have also sought to create a discussion about policies that would actually benefit people. Those of us who want change for LGBT citizens should do the same–we need to point out the injustices we face every day, and propose laws and policies that will create greater equality in our nation. Our challenges continue. Just this month, right-wing Republicans in the Michigan Legislature introduced a bill to effectively nullify local human rights ordinances that protect LGBT people. In a time of economic turmoil, it’s hard to fathom that some of our elected officials would rather marginalize people than help them achieve better lives.
There’s something very important to remember about the Wall Street and related protests – if the protesters are seeking to represent the 99 percent of Americans who are not among the beneficiaries of the financial bailout, then this movement represents LGBT interests, too. Prosperity and the American Dream should not be restricted to certain people, but should be available to everyone. In our fight for equality, we focus on the need to include all people, something that certainly is motivating the occupiers. All kinds of individuals, from college students to union members, are part of the broad movement in New York and elsewhere. We in the LGBT community should be part of this protest, too. As previous generations discovered, people need to stand up themselves in order to force action. We should embrace the Wall Street movement and take action. In doing this, we can be part of creating change for everyone.
“Occupy Together,” with information on local activities in Michigan: http://www.occupytogether.org
Contact your Michigan Representative and ask him/her to oppose HB 5039, a bill to prohibit local communities from enacting LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinances: http://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic
Contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her to support passage of President Obama’s American Jobs Act: http://www.house.gov