What’s the common cause behind Occupy protesters?
The Moyers & Company team visited the Occupy Wall Street site several times between October and December in 2011 — visits that reveal real faces, real people, and a true common cause. In this premiere Bill Moyers Essay, Bill talks about their anger — not at the concept of wealth itself, but at the crony capitalists who resort to tricks, loopholes, and hard, cold cash for politicians to make sure insiders prosper… and then pull up the ladder behind them.
BILL MOYERS: By coincidence I first met with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson on the very day Occupy Wall Street had sprung up in lower Manhattan. And I wondered, as so many others did, were we seeing the advance guard of a movement by organized people to challenge the power of organized money? Well, it’s still too soon to know. But in the weeks that followed, every time we went down to the encampment, there was no mistaking the message.
LINNEA PALMER PATON: I don’t have thousands of dollars to go buy myself a lobbyist to lobby for my views, but corporations do.
BILL MOYERS: Linnea Palmer Paton is 23 and an Occupy Wall Street Volunteer.
LINNEA PALMER PATON: This is supposed to be a government for the people, run by the people and if our voices don’t matter because we’re not wealthy, that’s really unacceptable and it’s dangerous.
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HERO VINCENT: My name is Hero Vincent, I'm 21 years old. I’ve been here since day one. My parents were foreclosed on, my father’s been unemployed a couple of years. My mother was the only one taking care of the family for a while. I’ve been working since I’ve been 14 years old, you know, trying to put food on our table, trying to help out with the bills. So all these circumstances— my sister is in college and she— we can barely afford it, you know. And so it brought us here. The struggle brought us to this occupation, this day, this moment.
[NATSOT]: It ain’t hard to occupy if you’re set on freedom.
BILL MOYERS: Amin Husain is a former corporate lawyer. He’s now an artist who has become one of the many organizers of Occupy Wall Street.
AMIN HUSAIN: This connection between government and state regulating money and the flow of money at the expense of 99 percent of the population is untenable and it’s no longer being accepted. There’s been a shift in the way that people think of themselves in this political process. That there has been a level of empowerment. But this movement is about transforming society.
WOMAN AT PROTEST: I just need to interrupt one second and say you’re doing a great! I love you. All of us who are sleeping at home, we’re writing letters, we’re thinking about you.
AMIN HUSAIN: Thank you, thank you. I really appreciate it.
WOMAN AT PROTEST: We’re changing our bank accounts!
YESENIA BARRAGAN: My family’s home was almost foreclosed in Hackensack, NJ. First by Providian Bank, then by Bank of America, then Chase. The names changes. And we were almost homeless.
BILL MOYERS: Yesenia Barragan is working for her doctorate in Latin American history at Columbia University.
YESENIA BARRAGAN: We were able to gather enough resources, enough money within our family to save the house. So we like to say that we were the lucky ones. And I’m basically here because I don’t want to live in a world where there are lucky ones and unlucky ones.
DANIEL LYNCH: My name is Daniel Lynch, I live in Manhattan. And in my spare time I try to trade stocks. I might even be center-right! And I still support this, and I want people to know that, right, 99 percent exactly, right? I’ve been worried for a long time about problems with wealth inequality in the country, income inequality, and I just wanted to throw my support a little. I don’t march, I don’t carry a sign. But I come down at night I talk to some people.
I believe in capitalism, I believe in capital markets. But unchecked like this, especially the way we have estate taxes, income taxes, it subverts capitalism, it becomes feudalism. Owners of capital are winning so much more than laborers, right capital it has no roots, right? To just deny that that’s happening and not have a little bit of an activist tax policy about it, I think is naïve, it’s destructive, and it’s just absurd.
NELINI STAMP: My name is Nelini Stamp, I’m 24 years old.
BILL MOYERS: Nelini Stamp is a community organizer. She joined Occupy Wall Street on its first day.
NELINI STAMP: I’ve been fed up with having to worry about living pay check to pay check because of corporate greed and because we don’t have a very high minimum wage in New York. I really just wanted to take a major leap in fighting back.
I think that we need to, first of all, have public financing of elections. That is a huge deal one of the reasons is why corporations— because there’s an unlimited amount of donations that they can give to political campaigns. And it’s about time we all stand up and take this back.
TYLER COMBELIC: I found my voice. I’ve been very apathetic, very cynical of the system that: do I matter? Do I matter to politicians? Do I matter to government when policies are being made?
BILL MOYERS: Tyler Combelic is a volunteer with the media outreach team.
TYLER COMBELIC: Personally, I want to see money out of government. I’m a very big proponent of campaign finance reform, of limiting the role of lobbyists, and limiting the role of corporate personhood because I feel right now, who has the largest war chest is the determiner of who’s going to be elected for a specific office or what kind of laws are going to be passed by Congress. And that corporatist-type of government is not what the United States is supposed to be.
MAN AT PROTEST: You got a better chance of being an organ donor than seeing any retirement money!
PETER CRAYCROFT: I think this is a perfect kind of forum for us all to come and talk about—
STEPHEN HAYS: Back and forth.
PETER CRAYCROFT: Yeah. I’ve seen many souls changed in the last three days.
STEPHEN HAYS: Really?
PETER CRAYCROFT: Yeah. On all sides. Including the other side of the—
STEPHEN HAYS: You see I came through the Woodstock generation and I thought it’s just back to business as usual and sort of it was a big party. That’s what I see this as, a party with no cover. I’m a defender of money. Freedom, individual freedom, rich people. Because I’m still, even though I’ve got gray, I’m still trying to be one. Because the more money I have the more good I can do. And it will be my decision as to how I allocate that good. How I allocate that capital.
When I look around at all these buildings, hospitals, colleges, I don’t see many poor people’s names. They’re all rich people. Reverend Ike a black minister who used to preach up here in New York. Used to say, “If you curse the rich, you’ll never be one.”
CALVIN BELL: Look at the people out here! You think they’re out here just hanging out? I mean, that blows my mind that you came out here and you said, well, people out here, you know, they have something against wealthy people, you know, wealthy people should be allowed to be wealthy people, because while we’re wealthy people we’ll throw money out and sprinkle them all and make people’s lives better. It’s not happening. Wealthy companies are not making the common person’s lives better. They’re taking their money, they’re moving it abroad, they’re doing different things. What’s that got to do with anything?
STEPHEN HAYS: You’ve got a nice camera, you’ve got clothes, you’re blessed.
CALVIN BELL: I just told you that I’m not one of the ones—
STEPHEN HAYS: I can’t be so pessimistic about things.
CALVIN BELL: I’m being realistic.
I live in a very nice house, my family’s blessed. So I’m not going to pretend that, you know, I don’t have anything. But I do also recognize that a lot of the situations we’re in now is because of greed. It’s because – it’s not what he said, you just let people take their money and they’ll do good things with it. Not all people do good things with their money.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: (During a teach-in) The one percent have dominant political power over both parties.
BILL MOYERS: Organizers invited Bill Black to lead a teach-in at “the people’s microphone.”
WILLIAM K. BLACK: (During a teach-in) How many think they stole from all of us?
BILL MOYERS: A senior federal regulator in the 1980s, Black cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis. He now teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: What we have is recurrent, intensifying financial crises driven by elite fraud and now it's done with almost absolute impunity. So the whole idea of noblesse oblige and such and that the rich were supposed to have special responsibilities, that's all gone, right? They have a God-given right to the lowest conceivable taxes.
When you put anti-regulators in charge of the agencies who believe that regulation is bad and completely unnecessary and they destroy it, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that produces massive fraud at the most elite levels.
But, worse, it all feeds into politics. So, once you get a group that completely dominates the economy, they're going to completely dominate politics, as well.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: (During a teach-in) There is no excuse for not prosecuting. It is an obscenity. It’s surrender to crony capitalism.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: What's distressed me, and I think is one of the major reasons we get recurrent intensifying crises, is we seem to have lost our capacity for outrage. And it's only people getting outraged that produces really positive social change.
[NATSOT]: We are the 99 percent! So are you! We are the 99 percent! So are you!
MARILYN BRANDEE: I’ve been waiting years for people to get angry enough to do something. We want to just support these young people and the people who are sacrificing so much comfort for all of us.
RONNI TERR: I have a brother who’s been out of work for two years. He has a family, I think it’s just terrible that they don’t care. They’re making millions of dollars. Mitch McConnell is a multi-millionaire, John Boehner is a multi-millionaire. They don’t care about the people, they really don’t. And their own districts have many people who are unemployed, who are having foreclosures. And it’s time they stop playing this game and really said, you know I think maybe we’ll pass something that will help build our infrastructure or get people back to work. So this is a start, I hope that it makes a dent. But the fact that it’s not just here, it’s all over the country now, means that somebody is waking up.
BILL MOYERS: Waking up is right. Waking up to the reality that inequality matters. It matters because what we’re talking about is what it takes to live a decent life. If you get sick without health coverage, inequality matters. If you're the only breadwinner and out of work, inequality matters. If your local public library closes down and you can't afford to buy books on your own, inequality matters. If budget cuts mean your child has to pay to play on the school basketball team or to sing in the chorus or march in the band, inequality matters. If you lose your job as you’re about to retire, inequality matters. And if the financial system collapses and knocks the props from beneath your pension, inequality matters.
I grew up in a working class family. We were among the poorest in town, but I was rich in public goods.
I went to a good public school, played sandlot ball in a good public park, had access to a good public library, drove down a good public highway to a good public college, all made possible by people I never met. There was an unwritten bargain among the generations — we didn’t all get the same deal, but we did get civilization.
That bargain’s being shredded. The occupiers of Wall Street understand this. You could tell from their slogans. A fellow young enough to be my grandson wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “The system’s not broken. It’s fixed.” That's right. Rigged. And that’s why so many are so angry. Not at wealth itself, but at the crony capitalists who resorts to tricks, loopholes, and hard, cold cash for politicians to make sure insiders prosper and then pull up the ladder behind them.
Yes, Americans are waking up. To how they’re being made to pay for Wall Street’s malfeasance and Washington’s complicity. Paying with stagnant wages and lost jobs, with slashing cuts to their benefits and to their social services. And waking up to the grotesque Supreme Court decision defining a corporation as a person, although it doesn’t eat, breath, make love or sing, or take care of children and aging parents. Waking up to how campaign contributions corrupt our elections; to the fact that if speech is money, no money means no speech.
So the collective cry has gone up loud and clear: enough’s enough. We won’t, as I said, know for a while if this is just a momentary cry of pain; or whether it’s a movement that, like the Abolitionists and Suffragettes, the populists and workers of another era, or the Civil Rights movement of our time, gathers force until the powers-that-be can no longer sustain the inequality, the injustice and yes, the immorality of winner-take-all politics.
Our coverage of politically engineered inequality continues in our next two broadcasts. First, David Stockman, a one-time enforcer of the Reagan revolution.
DAVID STOCKMAN: There was clearly reckless, speculative behavior going on for years on Wall Street. It was encouraged by the Federal Reserve which is dominated by Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: And John Reed, a banker’s banker who was there when Washington loaded the dice, and Wall Street rolled them.
JOHN REED: It wasn't that there was one or two or institutions that, you know, got carried away and did stupid things. It was, we all did. And then the whole system came down.
BILL MOYERS: And at our new website, BillMoyers.com, I interviewed two Occupy Wall Street organizers who give us insight into the movement and what it hopes to accomplish. We'll also link you to our interview with the editors of Mother Jones magazine, and their coverage of the “dark money” that has cast a deep shadow across this election year. That’s at BillMoyers.com. See you there, and see you here next time.