Op-Eds


Occupiers: Stick to one message - the economy

By Susan Gluss, San Francisco Chronicle

Occupiers, we need your voices. Don't devolve into an internecine conflict or battle with city leaders and police. You, along with your national brethren, have joined the select few in the past five decades who have wrought change. Please don't blow it.

You are on the front line, which means you're getting beaten up left and right. The two criticisms that resonate most: You're hurting your own supporters by vandalizing businesses and mom-and-pop shops in Oakland. The second: You have no unified message.

On the first point: Quit fighting for the right to camp out in a public park. This movement is not about holding ground. Stop smashing store windows, painting graffiti, and throwing rocks and bottles that force residents to flee and stores to close. The support you've earned across the United States will turn against you. On the second point: You do have a litany of complaints, all valid - jobs outsourced overseas, - cuts to education, predatory lending, and skyrocketing health care costs. But stick to one theme: the economy. Take the rallying cry to close Bank of America accounts in response to the behemoth's plan to charge a $5 monthly debit-card fee. Moveon.org pushed the idea, and a Move Your Money groundswell finally persuaded the bank to drop the fee.

It was a simple message with a simple action, and it worked. Build on it. Stay focused on financial institutions and Wall Street. What did they do that wrecked millions of American lives? They stole homes. They sold sub-prime loans to unsuspecting homeowners, falsified documents to hasten foreclosures, and packaged mortgage securities for investors that nearly bankrupted America.

What's the message? We want our homes back. What's the action? Demand reduced mortgage principles and access to low interest rates, regardless of payment history.

In the first days of the occupy movement, some of the most heartbreaking stories were told by protesters who had lost their homes. That massive portfolio of foreclosed homes is now being sold at rock-bottom prices to private vulture funds that will make a killing in real estate sales. Unemployment has exacerbated the housing crisis. American companies created nearly 3 million new jobs in the past year or so, but not in the United States; those jobs went overseas. Nearly 14 million Americans are out of work. Yet taxes are still levied on the poor and middle class, while extended Bush tax cuts mean the top 1 percent have it easy. What's the message? Tax the 1 percent. The wealthiest Americans ought to pay their fair share. With a nod to investor Warren Buffett, "stop coddling the super-rich." What's the protest action? Boycott Black Friday. The only way to get the attention of Wall Street and the big investment firms is a financial blow.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has become one of the most important shopping days for big-box chain stores that barely pay a living wage. Boycott the retail giants. Don't spend money - spend the day with friends and family. Or shop at small local stores and swap gifts with neighbors. It's a simple, but powerful act. Consumer spending is about 70 percent of the U.S. economy. When consumers refuse to spend en masse, it hits home.

Wall Street gambles with our money, while bankers cringe at reform. That intransigence harms our chances for an economic recovery and leaves state coffers bare when it's time to fund education, health care, and other vital services.

A boycott is an action we can all do: Stay out of stores on Black Friday, and land a body blow to the financial markets.
11/13/2011