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#OccupyWallSt Comes to #OccupyMainSt: guest post by Grant Marcus in Ventura CA

October 21, 2011

“We Are the 99%”

SHOCKWAVES FROM WALL STREET COME TO MAIN STREET VENTURA

By Grant Marcus

Top photo–widely shared image on Facebook; middle photo is an East coast friend’s poster; bottom photo from New Republic Printing–their #occupy stickers were featured in yesterday’s post for $2.

Occupy Wall Street has gone global, with its shock waves felt in all major cities across the United States, as well as other countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan.

And as many as 1000 came out throughout the day to support the encampment at Mission Park, with some participating in marches down Main Street, Ventura. Organizers here have named the action, “Occupy Ventura.”

As the economic crisis continues to be felt throughout the nation, and as unemployment remains high, with little being accomplished by Congress, its effects are reverberating in over 40cities, large and small in California.

But unlike the Tea Party, which is supported by the Koch Brothers (big oil) Freedom Works (Dick Armey and insurance companies) and FoxNews (the corporate media) the “99 percenters” are not getting the same media coverage. And although there have been daily protests for the last four weeks that has lead to a global response and a “world’s day of protest against corporate greed,” the corporate media has onl recently covered the story, and sparsely at best, often staging interviews to mock the seriousness or popularity of the movement. Perhaps it is because the message of the 99% doesn’t cater to the Fortune 500, i.e., those who sponsor and pay for the major news media.

When a protester was asked by FoxNews how “hippies and commies” could be taken seriously, one youth said, “You know, my mom is American and she had an American son. You don’t have to be a hippie to be against trillions of dollars wasted on war, and you don’t have to be a commie to oppose corporate greed and bailouts, while the rest of America is hurting. What I want to know is, who pays your salary?” The young activist’s comment was apparently excluded at air time.

Major media sources have targeted youth, pinholing them as “neo-hippies, Maoists, idiots, and the like. But when you sit down and talk with unemployed lawyers, struggling business owners, food safety instructors, laid off teachers and counselors, and graduate students who can’t find work right here in Ventura County, one begins to realize just how deeply entrenched the economic crisis is.

Engaged in politics myself, I didn’t want to interview the usual sources. I wanted to meet new faces that had come out in large numbers to support “Occupy Ventura.”

The first fresh face I met was a young Asian woman who was a college graduate, and who had successfully passed the Bar, but was unable to find work for two years, after obtaining her license. She is $250,000 in debt, a debt she hopes “to pay back before the end of my lifetime,” but she is obviously discouraged. At this point, unknowingly, my recorder goes dead (new batteries from China) and so I cannot complete her sad tale. I apologize to her now. It reaffirms in me why we need paper trails, at the voting booth and in interviews.

**************************

Scott Brown’s interview is successful. Scott is a 53 year old aeronautics engineer who lives in east Ventura. I asked him why he was here at the protest.

“I’ve witnessed for many years the middle class being squeezed, and how all the wealth and power is being concentrated at the top. The middle class used to be able to turn to the political process, but that’s awash in money, money unaccounted for in so many ways, which has been bought and sold by both sides of the aisle, I hate to say.”

I ask Scott about the effects of all that.

“A strong country needs a strong middle class. We are losing that. We may have freedom of expression, but it has no power right now. It’s just corporations and pure greed. Corporations take all the money, then they complain of paying taxes when they hardly pay any. Personal income tax for the wealthy has been at its lowest in 50 years, and still we have politicians that go out on the stump to propose even lower taxes under the preposterous notion that it will somehow fix unemployment, it will somehow fix the deficit. Somehow, by giving more money to the rich and taking more money from the public trough, it will make all our problems go away. It’s a preposterous notion, and I am gratified to see people rising up.”

Not hearing a voice like Scott’s on the news, I asked him if he felt his point of view was being represented in the media.

“The media is so fractured right now. You can find your point of view on any cable channel. If you lean to the right, you watch Fox, if you lean to the left, it’s MSNBC. If you’re in the middle, you may turn on CNN. It’s fractured. And a double edged sword. The internet is just great. You can have a blog, create a social network by text. Unfortunately, now there is 300 million voices, and it becomes hard for any coherence. The only coherent voice ends up having a hundred billion dollars behind it.

“And it’s significantly worse than it used to be. You used to be able to have a grassroots movement that could put together some money,

have a political point of view, or even a political party. But now, corporations are people, so are you kidding? Now you have hundreds

of millions in soft money with no attachment to it, the grassroots

movements can’t keep up with that sort of thing, they can’t generate

their voice anymore. The money has been concentrated in the hands

of the few.”

When I asked Scott what the major systemic problem is:

“The major one that concerns me is the recent Supreme Court ruling,

that corporations are people and that soft money doesn’t have to be

accounted for. Tons of money can be put into a political action committee

or a party, and you don’t have to declare it anymore. It can be the Koch

Brothers, it can be Fox, or any billionaire with an agenda. They scoop

up the money and they stick it somewhere–It’s the lack of accountability.

t’s the lack of transparency and the lack of putting a name to this money.

So it’s a bigger problem than money. There’s always been money in

politics. It used to be where you could raise money for a cause. Now,

unless you can raise a $100 billion, you’re not going to be able to drown

out Fox News or the Koch Brothers. I know I may be focussing on the

right, but it’s where the money has always been.”

I asked Scott if he felt the war had something to do with the bad

economy.

“We were attacked by a pretty radical government in Afghanistan.

We had to respond to that. Where we went off the rails was this war of

choice in Iraq. I’ve stopped keeping track of the human toll or the cost

in treasure. I know it’s bumping up a trillion dollars and several thousand

of the flowers of the next generation. It was a horrible waste of treasure, a

horrible waste to human life. Has it impacted the economy? Sure. A

trillion dollars that hasn’t been spent on infrastructure, that hasn’t been

spent on education, that’s not being spent on public schools…”

When I asked Scott how he felt about what President Obama was

doing, he had this to say:

“I admire the President because he does try to negotiate for consensus.

He’s meeting total obstructionism. There is no interest to forge any type

of consensus. They’re out to destroy him. It’s their stated aim, they’re

bald-face aim is to destroy him and make him lose the next election, so

they can regain power. They aren’t interested in helping the country until

then. They aren’t interested in doing what’s right until then. They have

a vested interest that things remain bad until they can somehow force him

out and regain power.

“The Tea Party has been voted in. Republicans have taken over the

House. What has gotten better? What legislation has even been passed?

The notion of a do-nothing Congress is true. At least under Nancy Pelosi,

hundreds of new laws were passed, and in the face of strong opposition.

Now nothing is being done. Absolutely nothing. We’re in grid-lock in spite

of the fact we’re in the worst economic shape since the great depression.”

I asked him what he would do if he were President.

“If I was President, and I had a magic wand, I’d get rid of the

obstructionists.

I mean, how can you hold the President responsible when nothing is getting

done, and he’s trying to get something done, and they won’t let him. There

is a reason why the Congress has an approval rating of 13%. The rhetoric

needs to be ratcheted down. We have to start thinking like Americans and

what is best for Americans, not what is best for republicans or democrats.

“I really think we’re going to get through this, we’re going to

be okay. It’s

just getting there. I believe in the American people. But I also believe things

will get worse. I don’t want them to get worse. But they might have to get

worse before people realize we’re all in this together and we need to get back

to our roots.

I asked him how he would jumpstart the “getting back” process.

“I’m an aero-engineer. I make a lot of money. And I’m willing to have

more of my money go to taxes, because it’s time. Who is patriotic? These

millionaires who whine about lowering taxes and wrap themselves in the flag?

You aren’t a patriot if it isn’t a shared experience, if you aren’t

contributing. I want to contribute. I’m willing to contribute. And I’m

willing to

contribute more. That may be the concept that brings us out of this.”

*********************************************

After the interview, held at one of the round tables on the patio of the

Ventura Art Museum, next to the park, I returned to the crowd and noticed

something. The hundreds spread out on the grass were much older, for the

most part, than I expected. It wasn’t exactly the dark cheese-clothed youth,

with their fists in the air, portrayed by the media as a form of anarchy.

In fact, even the youth were very well-mannered, and made all decisions

based on consensus, or the agreement of 99% plus one. Consensus is a

tedious process, likely unshared by anarchists. And, the Chief of Police was

honored to have the opportunity to speak at the event. What kind of media

stunt had been committed against me in the last week to pollute my mind

and make me bring along a plethora of stereotypes?

Under a maple tree, I found my third volunteer, a 51 year old woman named

Kim Goodlett, who owns a small business in Camarillo. Her business provides

instruction and training in food safety.

I immediately asked her how her business had been effected by the

economic crisis.

“Yes, I see the recession in my own business. The economy is slow, so

people don’t go out to eat like they used to. The restaurants aren’t full, so

they don’t hire as many people. And I don’t train as many people on food

safety because of it. It’s a trickle-down effect on me, as well as

the community. Everyone is effected.”

I asked her if that is why she came to Occupy Ventura.

“That’s one of the reasons, but I also came to lend my support to the

group. One of my main concerns is reversing the Supreme Court’s

decision in the Citizens United Case that made corporations people. Now

corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to elections

without transparency. I no longer feel it’s a democratic process.”

I asked her how she felt about the 99% movement being compared

to the grass roots movement of the Tea Party.

“It’s not similar at all, because the Tea Party was never grassroots.

It was bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. Busses were provided

By Dick Armey. Fox News not only put them on the air, but helped in

organizing their events.

“What you’re seeing today is a diverse group of people who are

disappointed in the status quo. They feel there is a fundamental unfairness

in the system and they are venting their frustration. They don’t collectively

represent any one party, platform, or solution. Their solidarity at this point

is based on the feeling that things aren’t right and they need to change. As

they continue to meet, perhaps they will come to a consensus on how they

want to move forward. That’s grass roots, that’s democracy.”

When asked what she thought were the most important issues in Washington,

she said,

“I don’t like the fact that elections are being bought and paid for by

corporations. And I am tired of Republicans stalling and obstructing

jobs programs we really need. And I believe taxes should be equitable,

not corporate welfare.”

I asked her if she supported the President. “I’m a democrat. And I do. He

has reached out and compromised, more than I would have liked. Even so,

they keep forcing him into smaller and smaller corners. Unless we keep the

republicans out of office, and we add some democrats to the House, Obama

and the American people won’t be able to do anything for another four years,

and things will get worse.”

*****************************

I then met a youth named Peter McMahon, 23, who had traveled from

Chicago to look for work in hospital administration. Peter heard that the

medical industry was doing well in California, so he is now living in

Ventura. He said he had come to the event because,

“I’m tired of corporations being bailed out on Wall Street by both

republicans and democrats, without creating new jobs. Corporations

are supposed to be ‘job creators,’ but they’re really money horders. They

haven’t done anything to solve the job crisis. It’s been like this since

Reagan, and look at the mess we’re in.”

I asked him if this was the main problem.

“Well, you can’t spend tens of billions of dollars on war, then cut by

millions taxes for the rich, who are the only ones who can afford it. Obama’s

right when he says, ‘do the math.’ It’s basic math, not class warfare. You

gotta pay for it some day.”

“And then there was Bush wanting to move us in the direction of

privatizing social security and gambling with people’s money. That’s what

Bush wanted to do. If he would have had his way and been able to put our

money in the stock market, imagine how many more people would be living

out on the streets today. Senior citizens would have been out of their homes

and in bread lines without bread. If you look at Social Security, we the people

have put our money into it, and it will be soluble for another 28 years.”

I asked him why he thought the stock market crashed.

“We need more regulations and we don’t have them. Look, corporations,

the private sector, does not regulate itself. It doesn’t happen, primarily

because the private sector’s motive is greed, to make as much money as

possible. And I’m not talking about mom & pop or small businesses. I’m

talking about the corporate sharks out there that people need to be protected

from.”

I asked him if he personally had been effected by the sluggish economy.

“I’ve been in California several months, and I spend at least six hours

every day sitting at the Internet just sending out individualized resumes

in search of my career job in hospital administration. I did everything right,

so I thought. I went to a private college, a career school that gave me my

degree in hospital administration. I graduated with the knowledge to do the

job I thought would be needed in the community. I have been looking for a

year. I am $50,000 in debt to student loans. They can teach you. You can

learn well. But these days, it won’t get you a job.”

I asked him what he would do if he couldn’t find anything.

“I’ve worked in restaurants. I guess I’ll try and get back in

that while I’m

waiting for something better. I do have a job possibility, working part-time

delivering pharmaceuticals. Ironically, it’s the same job I had when I was 16.

It was the first job I ever had.”

I asked him what he would do if he could be President for a 100 days.

“I like Obama’s job bill down the line. And I’d support the Dodd / Frank

Bill, that regulates the stock market, to insure it doesn’t keep making the same

mistakes it has. Another thing I’d do is put tariffs on China so our country

can be more competitive, and not continue to outsource jobs there. That

would help return jobs to America.”

I asked him if he felt the corporate media has been fair to the 99%

movement?

“Most people here were against the Iraq war like I was. In Chicago, we had

thousands of people protesting the war, hundreds of cops closing down the

streets of Chicago, but even the local news didn’t say a word about it. And

then when a hundred members of the Tea Party have a rally, representing the

screechy wheel of the republican party, there’s a hundred cameras and they’re

national news. That’s corporate America.”

**************************************

Kandice Marshall-Cunanan is a 40 year old with a worried look on

her face. “This is the first interview I have agreed to, because

frankly, I have

heard too many stories of how the corporate media twists things.”

I express my pleasure in her trusting me, and I assure her I will

write the things she tells me, and that she can have access to the information

before it goes to print. She begins by telling me she lives in Newbury Park,

with her two children, and that she has come to Ventura to participate in

events because,

“My ex-husband and I are sick of watching corporations and the military

industrial complex take over America. This has been going on for about 30

years. We have been waiting for a movement like this for a long time, so

when we heard about it, we couldn’t idly stand by and do nothing.”

I asked her what she felt were main problems.

“It began in the 80s with Ronald Reagan, and the weakening of

unions. Meanwhile, corporations grew stronger and stronger. In college in the

90s, my college professor reaffirmed the problem, that we had outsourced jobs

and were now consumers, and this would eventually lead to the dissolution of

the middle class. It would also serve to divide us into the rich and poor. My

college professor told us that soon there would be no middle class, and what he

has predicted is coming to fruition.”

I clarified what she felt, that problems began with weaker

unions, and asked

her how unions made a difference in providing living wages for people.

“Unions are important because it’s a way for workers to pull

their resources

together and have the power to negotiate for things they need, better wages,

health care, worker safety, etc. If it wasn’t for unions, who fought for labor

laws, we’d all be working in sweat shops for a $1 an hour. Corporations are

getting away with that now by outsourcing jobs to Mexico and overseas, so

they can use people for cheap labor there, and create joblessness here.”

I asked her if she had been effected personally by the bad economy. She

heaved a long sigh.

“I haven’t been able to find a full-time job. I am constantly

getting calls from

the bank, asking me when I will be able to make payments on my student loan.

I have sent out a thousand, possibly two thousand professional resumes, as a

graduate of counseling psychology to no avail. To compound things, schools

have cut counseling services. My intern counseling wages have decreased from

$25 per hour to $12.50 an hour. That started about two years ago, about the same

time as the housing bubble. Many organizations now want me to volunteer my

time, I’d love to, but I’m in debt and cannot afford to volunteer my services.

“Recently, and out of desperation, I applied at Sprouts. Adding insult to

injury, they said I didn’t have the qualifications to work a cash

register. I have

also had to apply for food stamps. I no longer shop at Albertsons, because they

make you show your card, then announce you’re on the program.. I didn’t know

that getting a college education could be so humiliating. If it wasn’t

for the help

of my parents, my children and I would probably be living in a shelter.

“And it’s not just me. I’ve seen my own community deteriorate as well.

Foreclosures are everywhere, and a lot of homes for sale. And many people who

still own their homes owe more money than their homes are worth. I see many

small businesses around me closing. On the pass, at Wendy Drive, they have

built an entire business complex, and I have only seen one storefront rented.”

I asked her if she felt the war was part of the bad economy.

“If I were president, the first thing I’d do is bring the troops

home. I don’t believe they need to be in Lybia, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere

else. This war has now lasted longer than the Vietnam War. We need to start

reducing defense spending dramatically. We have become an empire with a poor

perception around the world. Instead of jobs for killing, we would be able to

free money and have jobs for healing America. It’s time.”

******************************************

When I went down and personally interviewed several of the ‘occupyers’

or ’99percenters,’ I discovered they did not typify what we see in the corporate

press.

Back in the 1920s, when there were robber barons and the concentration of

wealth into the hands of factory owners, orator/comedian Will Rogers quipped,

“I only know what I read in the newspapers.” His statement was

cleverly sarcastic,

meaning that the press was telling us what factory owners wanted Americans

to know, not what they needed to know, which was much more. If Rogers was

alive today, he might also quip, “We only know what we see on television.”

That’s why I had to go down to this event, Occupy Ventura, and see this movement

for myself.

What I discovered were people like you and me. They were educated. They

were highly organized. They were respectful. They were articulate,

focussed, and

often-times college educated and intelligent. And unlike the Tea

Party, they were

multiracial and inclusive, and had not sold out to international

corporations. They

were legitimately grass roots. They looked like an archetype of cities

and Americans

across this great country. In short, they mirrored what they called themselves,

“the 99 percent.” America should be proud.

According to people participating in the “General Assembly” and organizing

events, Occupy Ventura will continue at Plazza Park, across from the Mission,

daily at 12:30pm, with general meetings held at 6pm. There are more events,

speakers and music to be held this coming weekend. There is also a

“Move Your Money” day upcoming November 4th and 5th, which invites

people to move their money from the international banking interests, such as

City Bank and Bank of America, to local community banks and credit unions.

There are other events planned as well. You can google, occupyventura.com

for more information and a complete schedule, as well as photos of

last weekend’s events.

Grant Marcus of Ventura is an RN with a Masters in English, who lives in Ventura. He last wrote on this blog about the nuclear disaster in Japan. Thanks Grant!

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