The Rise of the Working Poor: Occupy Wall Street Goes Global

I’ve been grappling with whether I should write about Occupy Wall Street, and what to write about it, for some time. I’m not as eloquent as T. Thorn Coyle nor truly very savvy to what is going on. I felt a bit like I was hearing reports from another country, as if these could not be my people, my apathetic Americans.

Then suddenly, it wasn’t just Americans but people were protesting in London, Rome, Madrid, Seoul, Hong Kong, Stockholm, Zurich and other cities around the world. And I was overwhelmed and I still didn’t know what to write, or if I should write. I was grappling for understanding and so I watched V for Vendetta and The Singing Revolution. As I write this I’m watching The Singing Revolution for the third time in two days.

I think I’m beginning to understand. I think for the first time in a very long time, in my living memory at least, we as a country are realizing that we are not the elite, but the working poor. Having a white collar doesn’t mean you’re not working class. And there’s a sense of pride in that, in being the working poor. There’s a sense of culture that’s missing when we perceive ourselves as pursuing the “American Dream,” as Steinbeck’s temporarily embarassed millioniares, or thinking that we could all be fabulously wealthy because that’s how capitalism works.

I’m not anti-capitalism nor am I militantly socialist, but I do believe it is no shame to be the working poor. Everyone in my family is working poor. We will each of us work hard and lead modestly comfortable lives if fortune allows. We are not rich people and we never will be. I am ok with that.

As a Southerner I’m often frustrated when the South is pictured as antebellum plantations with crystal chandeliers, when the culture I grew up in was overalls and mason jars. That is fine and good. I take pride in the banjos, fried chicken and blue jeans that mark the culture of the working poor in the South, a culture forged of people of various ethnic backgrounds. It’s a culture of English protestants, Irish catholics, indentured servants, penal colonists, hopeful immigrants and imams holding services on the coast of South Carolina as African slaves. A rich multi-cultural heritage made up of the working poor, and a far cry from the American Dream.

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The way I am understanding the Occupy Wall Street movement is it is full of anger from where the government and corporations through their machinations have turned the working poor into the destitute. Hoovervilles have sprung up again all over the US, something my grandmother remembered and feared. She refused to vote Republican not due to any current issue or party ideology, but because she vividly remembered Herbert Hoover’s presidency and the great reforms of FDR. The Great Depression colored her view of politics and for all of her 80+ years she feared the “Hoover Days” would return.

I think the protesters are tired of selling their soul to corporations who only sell them down the river. I think the protesters are angry, not because they want a new iPad but because they want to effectively educate their children without sinking into debt. I think they are angry because they see what they’ve been taught about the American Dream is untrue; they see that the cake is a lie. They are tired of being told they have to have a car to have a job and a job to pay for the car. They are tired of being told they have to have a degree to have a job and going into debt to get the degree to get the job to pay for the degree. They are tired of seeing the government bailout corporations and give bonuses to execs, then vilify them for their $250 a week that doesn’t pay their bills because they were fired for being old/fat/gay/non-Christian,* or because an executive who got a bonus made a bad decision.

The people who are angry just want to be working poor. They want to be modestly comfortable and do work that doesn’t hurt them more than benefit them. They want to feed and clothe their children. They want heat in their homes in the winter. If they pay for education, they want it to be useful and worth their hard earned money. They don’t want economic factors to determine if they are eligible for work. They don’t want to live in fear.

They are angry because they can’t get a job because they are already unemployed. They are angry because after being out of work for months, maybe a year or more, they are asked to pass credit checks in order to gain work. They are angry because their employer wants someone who owns a car, regardless of the availability of public and private transportation options. They are angry because the job they have done for years at a modest wage and with a high school degree, is now only offered to college graduates at barely over minimum wage. They are angry because they had an excellent work record and reputation but were fired because they were too old for the company’s image.

They are angry because we seem to be in a second Great Depression, because once again Wall Street has screwed us over and because the governments allowed this to happen again. They are angry because the government has become so bloated and complicated that they no longer know who to be angry at. They don’t know who to point the finger at or whose office to protest at. They are angry because the situation is the result of two different presidents and two different political parties, and they don’t know who to trust anymore.  They are angry because the corporations and government are trying to preserve the status quo and they know the status quo doesn’t work. They are angry because politicians keep promising change and doing nothing.

This is what I think. I may be wrong. I just know I’m seeing the Battle in Seattle all over again. I’m seeing Egypt. I’m seeing Libya. I am both hopeful and frightened that I may be seeing the beginning of the Second American Revolution. I’m also seeing people demonize each other and sneer at people who are poor, destitute and unemployed. I think this is beneath us because last I checked, most of us are working poor**. Some of us just happen to be lucky enough to have jobs.

I know the solution to our problems won’t come from clinging to the status quo, won’t come from the minds that have created the problems and won’t come from some purist ideology. The solution will come from giving us the ability to be the working poor. Giving us the ability to give our children food, clothing, shelter, and a modicum of security. Give us pride in being the working poor, give us a culture not based on consumerism and don’t sell us into destitution or debt slavery.

Lasting tribute to centuries of working poor.

If I could, I would be out there demonstrating, calling for radical change and accountability. However, I’m lucky enough to be the working poor. I have a job that manages to provide me with the means to live very modestly, and I am grateful to have it. I’ve been unemployed during this Great Recession, and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart I am grateful and proud to be the working poor.

And what does this have to do with Paganism? I’m a devotee of Hephaistos, the only Greek God with a day job and patron of workers and unions everywhere. Why am I a devotee of him? Maybe because I was born a UAW baby, and maybe because when I get caught up in the idea that I don’t have enough or that I need a “status symbol” he reminds me that the only things that matter are the work I do, the people I love and the reputation I leave behind. He is the patron God of the working poor, and it’s no coincidence his temple is the best built and most intact of the ancient temples in Greece. It was built by the working poor, and they put love into the workmanship of the temple that stood for their average, ordinary, comfortable, happy, working poor lives.

[/caption]*In the State of Georgia you can be fired for any reason without recourse. Some friends of mine wanted to start a class action lawsuit when everyone over a certain age was fired at their company but it was practically impossible under Georgia law.

**The Middle Class is BS. The cake is a lie. There’s nothing wrong with being honestly poor and the concept of the “Middle Class” is to try to convince us we aren’t working poor, but just temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12409628 Crystal Williams

    “They are angry because they can’t get a job because they are already unemployed. They are angry because after being out of work for months, maybe a year or more, they are asked to pass credit checks in order to gain work. ”

    You hit the nail on the head. That is exactly it. I have a fantastic work history. I’ve only had 2 jobs in the 10 years I’ve been old enough to work and I have worked a total of 7 of those years. I took 2 years off to be a stay at home mom while my spouse worked (back when things were still okay) and the other year I spent looking for work and getting turned down. Why would someone with good work history and no criminal background have a hard time finding a job? Even at Pizza Hut? Because they insisted on doing a credit check. How am I supposed to pay off old debt if I’m  not working? After my 8th interview (just this month) I found a job! Yay! I wish the rest of those looking could say the same.

    Don’t give up!

    • http://twitter.com/Turtle_Dawn Crystal Dawn

      Dangit I used the wrong account. Wheres the delete button?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12409628 Crystal Williams

    “They are angry because they can’t get a job because they are already unemployed. They are angry because after being out of work for months, maybe a year or more, they are asked to pass credit checks in order to gain work. ”

    You hit the nail on the head. That is exactly it. I have a fantastic work history. I’ve only had 2 jobs in the 10 years I’ve been old enough to work and I have worked a total of 7 of those years. I took 2 years off to be a stay at home mom while my spouse worked (back when things were still okay) and the other year I spent looking for work and getting turned down. Why would someone with good work history and no criminal background have a hard time finding a job? Even at Pizza Hut? Because they insisted on doing a credit check. How am I supposed to pay off old debt if I’m  not working? After my 8th interview (just this month) I found a job! Yay! I wish the rest of those looking could say the same.

    Don’t give up!

    • http://twitter.com/Turtle_Dawn CDWilliams

      Dangit I used the wrong account. Wheres the delete button?

  • kenneth

    All of this hits it on the head. The 1% and their army of dupes in the conservative movement have been trying desperately to spin this as “class warfare” or “socialism.” It is nothing of the kind. We have always known the ultra-rich would get a bigger piece of the pie. We were okay with that so long as the remaining piece was enough for us to live on. Until fairy recently, the laws and political culture of this country, and even of the wealthy, acknowledged that need.

     They understood that the best way to keep the machine running, and honestly to keep the little people from demanding a true share, was to give them a modest stake – just enough. The social compact was that you worked hard, got an education, stayed (mostly) sober and responsible, turned up for work every day, and you would get by. Maybe just get by, but you’d have a more or less decent home, medical care, and maybe a few years of retirement in humane conditions.

     Somewhere along the line, the $40 million “performance” bonuses weren’t enough for these bastards. They decided they’re entitled to the entire pie. We’d better wake the hell up or at least 4/5ths of us and our descendants are going to be living in third-world slum poverty. The occupy movement has a chance, and maybe a slim one – of leading to real and sustained action. The solution is not violence, but a re-defining and a re-claiming of the old American sense of fair play. What most people in this want is no more “communist” or radical than the terms our parents and grandparents lived by back in the days when our country actually produced things and took on big challenges.

     We need to define that, and then collectively make life impossible for those who fight it. Make sure no politician who ignores it has a career. Make sure no corporation who fights it has a customer base or a profit line. It’s really just that simple (and hard).  What we need is an intelligent populist movement.  The Tea Party tried to fit that bill, but has devolved into a lobbying organization for the interests of the 1%.  Their only ideas are to zero out taxes and regulations (to make sure the 1% can sweep up even the crumbs of our pie), and to impose Christian Sharia on the lot of us. 

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      I think that the Tea Party has been co-opted by the 1%.  Their “less bloat” stance got the Libertarian and Objectivist Ultra-rich interested, and they funneled funds into it, injected their candidates into it and subverted it.

      There are groups on the ideological Left trying to do the same thing with the Occupy movement… trying to leverage us to be their foil against the “Tea Party” Republicans.  I think it’s tremendously sad that the Tea Party has already forgotten the notions of liberty that led them to choose that name.

      One of the things that the Occupy movement are trying to do is engage in educating our populist movement.  I think that’s going to be key in helping us achieve the world we want to see.

  • kenneth

    All of this hits it on the head. The 1% and their army of dupes in the conservative movement have been trying desperately to spin this as “class warfare” or “socialism.” It is nothing of the kind. We have always known the ultra-rich would get a bigger piece of the pie. We were okay with that so long as the remaining piece was enough for us to live on. Until fairy recently, the laws and political culture of this country, and even of the wealthy, acknowledged that need.

     They understood that the best way to keep the machine running, and honestly to keep the little people from demanding a true share, was to give them a modest stake – just enough. The social compact was that you worked hard, got an education, stayed (mostly) sober and responsible, turned up for work every day, and you would get by. Maybe just get by, but you’d have a more or less decent home, medical care, and maybe a few years of retirement in humane conditions.

     Somewhere along the line, the $40 million “performance” bonuses weren’t enough for these bastards. They decided they’re entitled to the entire pie. We’d better wake the hell up or at least 4/5ths of us and our descendants are going to be living in third-world slum poverty. The occupy movement has a chance, and maybe a slim one – of leading to real and sustained action. The solution is not violence, but a re-defining and a re-claiming of the old American sense of fair play. What most people in this want is no more “communist” or radical than the terms our parents and grandparents lived by back in the days when our country actually produced things and took on big challenges.

     We need to define that, and then collectively make life impossible for those who fight it. Make sure no politician who ignores it has a career. Make sure no corporation who fights it has a customer base or a profit line. It’s really just that simple (and hard).  What we need is an intelligent populist movement.  The Tea Party tried to fit that bill, but has devolved into a lobbying organization for the interests of the 1%.  Their only ideas are to zero out taxes and regulations (to make sure the 1% can sweep up even the crumbs of our pie), and to impose Christian Sharia on the lot of us. 

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      I think that the Tea Party has been co-opted by the 1%.  Their “less bloat” stance got the Libertarian and Objectivist Ultra-rich interested, and they funneled funds into it, injected their candidates into it and subverted it.

      There are groups on the ideological Left trying to do the same thing with the Occupy movement… trying to leverage us to be their foil against the “Tea Party” Republicans.  I think it’s tremendously sad that the Tea Party has already forgotten the notions of liberty that led them to choose that name.

      One of the things that the Occupy movement are trying to do is engage in educating our populist movement.  I think that’s going to be key in helping us achieve the world we want to see.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    I don’t think I’ve commented before on your excellent blog, Star, but there’s a first time for everything.  I like this post of yours very very much.  I think you’re spot-on.  In any event, you’ve provoked me to respond with a memory of my own.

    When I was in my late teens, back around 1960, I was well acquainted with an elderly Russian lady, born about 1890, who had left Russia when the 1917 revolution broke out there and had come with her husband and infant daughter to the USA.  She was one of the people whom I most respected for many reasons.  In all my years I have met very few who were up to her level of intelligence and wisdom.

    My parents, for reasons of political ideology, did not think very much of FDR and his New Deal.  I mentioned this to her once, and I have never forgotten her response. 

    She told me that she had seen the start of the Revolution in Russia, and had watched it unfold as it was co-opted with ever greater success by a gang of blood-thirsty, well-organized bandits (the Leninists and Stalinists, she meant).  She had also lived through the Great Depression here.  In her considered opinion, under Hoover the USA had been just starting down a similar road to a similar bloody revolution.  She said that only FDR’s own ability to persuade the 1% of his day* that it was in their interests to go along with the reforms of his New Deal had prevented that sort of blood-thirsty chaos here.  Even so, she said, it had been a very close thing, and she had been afraid that even with all his persuasive powers FDR might not have been able to save the situation.

    If she were alive today, I think she would say that the “Hoover days” have come again, and we face the same danger now as we did back then.  And who will save the country now? 

    (* FDR was himself a member of the 1% of his day, and that was one of the things that made it possible for him to do what he did.) 

  • Robert Mathiesen

    I don’t think I’ve commented before on your excellent blog, Star, but there’s a first time for everything.  I like this post of yours very very much.  I think you’re spot-on.  In any event, you’ve provoked me to respond with a memory of my own.

    When I was in my late teens, back around 1960, I was well acquainted with an elderly Russian lady, born about 1890, who had left Russia when the 1917 revolution broke out there and had come with her husband and infant daughter to the USA.  She was one of the people whom I most respected for many reasons.  In all my years I have met very few who were up to her level of intelligence and wisdom.

    My parents, for reasons of political ideology, did not think very much of FDR and his New Deal.  I mentioned this to her once, and I have never forgotten her response. 

    She told me that she had seen the start of the Revolution in Russia, and had watched it unfold as it was co-opted with ever greater success by a gang of blood-thirsty, well-organized bandits (the Leninists and Stalinists, she meant).  She had also lived through the Great Depression here.  In her considered opinion, under Hoover the USA had been just starting down a similar road to a similar bloody revolution.  She said that only FDR’s own ability to persuade the 1% of his day* that it was in their interests to go along with the reforms of his New Deal had prevented that sort of blood-thirsty chaos here.  Even so, she said, it had been a very close thing, and she had been afraid that even with all his persuasive powers FDR might not have been able to save the situation.

    If she were alive today, I think she would say that the “Hoover days” have come again, and we face the same danger now as we did back then.  And who will save the country now? 

    (* FDR was himself a member of the 1% of his day, and that was one of the things that made it possible for him to do what he did.) 

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    Excellent post, Star.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, Star.

  • DragonBreath

    Great post Star; send it to the OWS people they will love you. It expresses what they are saying and protesting. BTW the protests actually started first in London. The media blocked it there like they did here till scum bag nypd tony bologna maced those girls while they were in that net. It went viral after that and the media could no longer ignore it.

  • DragonBreath

    Great post Star; send it to the OWS people they will love you. It expresses what they are saying and protesting. BTW the protests actually started first in London. The media blocked it there like they did here till scum bag nypd tony bologna maced those girls while they were in that net. It went viral after that and the media could no longer ignore it.


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