By Franklin Stover
The Eel River Valley doesn't have a noticeable Occupy Wall Street movement going on here as far as I can see, but I'm sure most of you saw the protesters out in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka, and some of you may even agree with the basic aims of participants. Recently removed, the Eureka camaraderie represented a small but tenacious part of a global movement that's been going on for weeks. For a while, the corner of 5th and I streets in Eureka became a tent town with protesters sleeping on the tiny courthouse lawn sharing the space with cactus plants, a flag pole and a few benches.
Last Friday, Eureka Police issued a press release that advised citizens to be careful when using the US Bank ATM machine across from the courthouse because there were reports of "aggressive behavior from this group." I think this was an isolated event, not especially indicative of the average protester. But early on Monday morning, Nov. 7, Eureka Police finally evicted the slumbering tent occupiers. Later that day, protesters returned in greater numbers and a few "brave" souls defiantly obstructed traffic at times, thrusting themselves at moving vehicles and testing motorists' patience in bizarre ways.
To those not familiar with the aims of the "occupiers," the gist of the movement (I think) is to bring awareness of perceived injustices and inequalities that exist in the global economy. If you're not on the same page, the movement might be seen as an assault on capitalism, corporations, financial success and the so-called "1 percent."
Coining the phrase, "We are the 99 Percent," occupiers claim the 1 percent are the mega-wealthy and are squeezing the life out of us. The "we are the 99 percent" website states, "We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent."
The "99 percent" catch phrase begs us to compare numbers. Let's look at poverty in the U.S. The Census Bureau states that the poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1. Since 2007, the poverty rate increased by 2.6 percentage points. Subtracting roughly 15 percent from 100 percent, 85 percent of the population is doing OK. Trying to find a middle ground with protesters, a lot of us in the 85 percentile are holding on and are far from starving. Just look at the latest obesity figures.
Many of the people writing at 99 percent website are college-educated, able-bodied, appear to want meaningful work, but feel spent. I'm sure you will feel for these people. I've seen hard times too, and I have to say that fear and uncertainty is a universal and timeless theme of the human condition. We've all had times of being at the end of our ropes, but things have a way of changing, often for the better. For those not coping well under the new austerity, you'll just have to toughen up somehow. The alternative is not appealing. I respect their right to have their opinion, but when a few of them infringe on others' rights (the other 99 percent), it's not a movement I can support. Still trying to be fair, it appears that the movement, for whatever it is, has been hijacked by a fringe element that enjoys stirring things up and cares less about social or economic reform.
Meanwhile, as protesters protest, the Dow Jones Industrials are faring better lately. In fact, it has been reported by market researchers that holiday shoppers are expected to spend 17 percent more this year over last year and much of that shopping will take place in corporate malls.