Occupy Wall Street has gripped the nation, with an estimated 30,000 protesters, including Melissa, marching from Foley Square to Liberty Square last Wednesday. Before the march, Melissa spoke to her colleagues at the City Council stated meeting and encouraged them to stand up for reform and join hands with the protesters. Her full statement is included below. And you can learn more about what Melissa thinks by watching her interview with SEIU 32BJ’s Hector Figueroa on Pura Política (in Spanish).
Occupy Wall Street has stirred the conscience of our nation with protests focused squarely on the ethic of greed that has consumed Wall Street. I rise today to encourage the members of this Council to support their cause.
The protesters call themselves the Other 99 percent. Why? Because they represent the majority of Americans who have been hit hardest by the Great Recession. While the top 1 percent earns 25 percent of our nation’s income, controls 42 percent of financial wealth, and receives tax breaks and mega-million bonuses, the rest of Americans are struggling to get by. Hounded by spending cuts and wage freezes, the Other 99 percent are strangled by a mountain of debt. Mortgages, car notes, student loans, medical bills, rising insurance premiums, there is no relief in sight. These families play by the rules and still they have had the American Dream snatched from their grasp. This is wrong and Occupy Wall Street represents a collective effort to highlight that injustice.
I’ve heard several pundits and colleagues complain that the protesters lack a purpose or program. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They want what we all want, a more just and equitable society. The policies they support are broadly those supported by many in this Council: a progressive income tax, a living wage, collective bargaining rights for workers, more jobs, fewer cuts, social programs for the poor and needy. Occupy Wall Street is campaigning for a BRAND NEW DEAL, where workers and business, communities and developers, main street and wall street all collaborate for a better economic future and a stronger America.
It may surprise Wall Street to know what we’ve known all along, that more equity is better for long term prosperity, but the evidence has been there for decades. In the current issue of Finance and Development, the IMF’s quarterly magazine, economists Berg and Ostray explain that “Countries where income was more equally distributed tended to have longer growth spells.” In fact, making an economy’s income distribution just 10 percent more equitable prolongs the typical growth spell by 50 percent.
America has not invested in equality in a long time. Since 1973, the median wage of workers has stagnated and, in 2010, for the first time since World War 2, the median income actually declined. All the while, the top 1 percent has continued to increase its average income to over 1 million dollars a year and Wall Street CEOs have more than quadrupled their salaries. With this kind of inequality, it’s no wonder that booms and busts that plague our economy and decimate our communities have become more frequent.
New York State has gotten caught up in this race toward inequality. As of 2010, we became the state with the greatest income inequality, with median incomes in New York City dropping 5 percent and poverty claiming 20 percent of our residents. This is appalling and not worthy of the City that claims to welcome “the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses longing to be free.”
The Other 99 percent need a fair deal and that’s what Occupy Wall Street is pursuing. If they are successful, every American, including the wealthiest, will benefit tremendously. Shared prosperity is the only kind that lasts.