In less than three months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gone from inhabiting hundreds of physical spaces in large cities, to occupying public discussion and action in thousands of small communities everywhere, including here in Maine.
Instead of city parks, the decamped occupiers opened up vast public space in the American cultural and political landscape, and made it possible, finally, to discuss and debate once taboo subjects vital to a healthy democracy. The “99 percent to 1 percent” frame succeeded because it resonated deeply with the experiences of hard working people everywhere and touched off an emotional tsunami for fairness, justice and decency.
Occupy now accompanies the news shows, and gives voice to endless costly wars, illegal bank foreclosures, ransacked 401Ks, high unemployment, extreme wealth inequality, the disappearance of the middle class, corporate greed, polluter profiteering, a bought political system, and increasing homelessness, hunger, union busting, voter suppression, student loan debt and much more.
Because of OWS our public discourse has been altered forever. To occupy this new discourse is to claim cultural space and political empowerment: honest debate and discussion give birth to action and true solutions. People everywhere, in all communities, are — and can be — participants in some form.
In Maine, occupy is alive and well and residing in your community. From the Blue Hill Peninsula to Mount Desert Island, from Belfast to Bangor, from Augusta to Portland, Maine citizens have come together to reclaim our Democracy. We have focus, purpose and direction.
In our Blue Hill OWS group, where I participate, we hold a weekly public vigil. We highlight the unfairness that shortfalls in federal, state and local budgets should now be paid for by the public through austerity programs, while Wall Street gets bonuses and bailouts. We protest that our democracy has been bought by corporate interests, our politicians corrupted by their money and our government is unresponsive to the people.
The Blue Hill OWS includes the unemployed and underemployed, carpenters, masons, teachers, nurses, doctors, middle-aged business people, an elderly man working two jobs, a single mother working three jobs, several postal workers, students, retirees, grandmothers and grandfathers.
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We call for reinstating laws that level the playing field for everyone, and strengthen policies that have kept our economy stable for decades following the change to tax laws. Tax the rich, the banks and the corporations fairly instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. And tax Wall Street transactions. We all pay sales taxes: why shouldn’t they?
Regulate the financial sector. The Glass-Steagall Act, which for years separated investment banking from commercial banking and outlawed too- big-to-fail banks, should be reinstated.
Get money out of politics. The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, making corporations people (able to spend unlimited amounts of money anonymously to support or oppose candidates for elected office), should be overturned. Amend the Constitution so that only natural persons — not artificial ones — have Constitutional rights.
Today, OWS groups everywhere are speaking out against economic injustice and acting locally to prevent foreclosures and evictions. Individually we are moving our money to community banks and credit unions. From our homes, we are linked through the Internet, in thousands of online “MeetUps.” And like many others in the state, OWS in Down East Maine — in Blue Hill, Ellsworth, Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Cherryfield — are conducting vigils, educational teach-ins, poetry slams and public events.
In Bangor, Belfast, Brunswick, Augusta, Rockland and Portland, OWS have gathered at the Bank of America offices to protest illegal home foreclosures, and to urge citizens to move their funds. Similarly, at U.S. Federal buildings, symbols of our national government, we highlight the need to get money out of politics.
On Jan. 20, the second anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Maine OWS will gather in Bangor outside the Margaret Chase Smith Federal building to protest this ruling. Part of a nationwide “Occupy the Courts” action, we will rally at the courthouse to support a U.S. Constitutional amendment barring personhood to corporations.
Like other groups across America, our Blue Hill OWS group shows up each week to vigil, to keep the public discourse open, and the future hopeful for people everywhere. We invite you to occupy that future with us.