I am among the many people who applaud the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They are seeking to draw attention to certain harsh realities that exist in our country. The glaring inequalities that exist in the United States between the haves and the have-nots are tragic at best.
Since the 1970s, wealth and income has been concentrated within the top 1 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office cites that between 1979 and 2007, incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans have grown by an average of 275 percent, with the top 1 percent controlling 40 percent of the wealth in this country. This increase is scandalous, and these gross economic inequities are at the heart of the outcry of the OWS protesters.
The OWS website states: “We are the 99 percent. 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 protest seeks to give voice to the frustrations and collective angst of those who are weary of the corporate greed that has proven to be dangerous and destructive to so many. The current culture of greed and materialism has shattered countless lives, and the list of families and communities that have been devastated by our current economic crisis is distressing. The OWS protests desire to highlight the devastation and bring to the forefront of our cultural awareness the struggles that so many “average Americans” face.
Although I applaud the efforts of the OWS protests, I was disheartened by some of the reports I have been recently receiving about issues between the protesters and the homeless. It appears that at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the site of the New York OWS protest, there are homeless people who have mixed in with the protesters. Apparently, the presence of the homeless has become a problem for many of the protesters.
Some protesters believe that the presence of the homeless raises safety concerns, while others question whether the homeless care about the issues at all. There are those who feel that there are many opportunists among the homeless who are just participating because of free meals and temporary shelter. Hero Vincent, one of the protesters who works with the OWS security team, stated in a recent interview, “It’s bad for most of us who came here to build a movement. We didn’t come here to start a recovery institution.”
It is amazing that the presence of the homeless could be problematic for those whose protests seek to draw attention to certain injustices and inequalities that are connected to the distribution of wealth in this country. As we are compelled to pay attention to the wealthiest 1 percent, we cannot forget about the 1 percent of our country’s population that is homeless.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, as many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year, which is approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population. It would appear that those who are among the 1 percent that are homeless pose a challenge for those who are protesting against the 1 percent who are among the super-wealthy. As many gather to voice concerns about the wealthiest among us, let us not forget that there are many among the 99 percent, including the homeless.