The preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence declares: “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter and abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Occupy Wall Street is an assertion by 99 percent of Americans that our government denies us “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The movement should create a new Declaration of Independence.
In the eighteenth century, the momentum for the American Revolution was fueled by egregious British taxation policy. Initially, colonists were loyal to King George III and asked him to intervene with parliament on their behalf. When George instead declared them to be “in rebellion,” representatives of the original thirteen states adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Momentum for the current American Revolution, Occupy Wall Street, has been fueled by egregious fiscal policy that has worked for the benefit of the wealthiest 1 percent and to the detriment of everyone else. At the onset of Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent remain loyal to America. They’ve asked Washington to intervene in their behalf. Some conservatives have declared them to be “in rebellion.” This sets the stage for a new Declaration of Independence.
The problem for Occupy Wall Street is focus. By the time the original Declaration of Independence was signed, American colonists had one objective: leave the British Empire and create a democracy. In contrast, Occupy Wall Street has a laundry list of demands ranging from job creation to abolishing the electoral college.
Nonetheless, Occupy Wall Street is driven by a unifying vision, the perception that the US system is broken. Unfair. That it works for the benefit of the 1 percent but not the other 99 percent. In this sense the current situation is like that in 1776 where our British overlords denied that, “all men are created equal…endowed…with certain unalienable rights…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The challenge for Occupy Wall Street is to channel widespread discontent into a focused set of objectives that restores democratic process and drastically reduces economic inequality. First there must be a succinct problem statement, such as The United States has shifted from democracy to plutocracy. Control of the government is no longer in the hands of the people, the 99 percent, but instead is in the hands of the rich, the 1 percent. Democracy must be resurrected.
Next, there has to be a concise set of objectives. Here are three suggestions.
1. Limit the scope of capitalism. The global economy is ruled by multinational corporations and governed by an ideology that believes corporations are special “people” without souls, motivated solely by greed, and doing whatever it takes to maximize profit. Because corporations are not democratic, the existence of humongous multinational companies threatens the democracies they operate in.
Occupy Wall Street has proposed actions to limit the power of capitalism: Repeal corporate “personhood.” Break up monopolies (including the “too-big-to-fail” banks.) Limit the political power of corporations. Clearly, the 99 percent will no longer allow capitalism to pervert democracy.
2. Promote economic equality. Economist Nouriel Roubini observed that at the level of economic inequality currently gripping the US, the average citizen’s ability to participate in democracy is restricted and the American economy, dependent upon consumer spending, is debilitated. The 99 percent feel they have worked hard and played by the rules but are sliding backwards and now have less opportunity, security, and political power.
Economist Robert Reich proposed taxing the rich: raising the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent and levying “a 2 percent annual surtax on all fortunes over $7 million.” Reich and others have proposed a tax on all financial transactions. Warren Buffett and others have suggested that all income be taxed as ordinary income. Clearly, a fair economy requires that the 99 percent have a much bigger slice of US wealth.
3. Reduce the role of money in the American political process. The core problem is that the 1 percent use money to abuse the system. They are able to create tax loopholes because they are wealthy. They have political clout because they have great resources. In effect, the US has recreated the ancient plutocratic system where rich people were given more votes than the poor.
Occupy Wall Street has proposed actions to take money out of our political process: Limit the political power of corporations. Repeal the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision. Drastically restrict the roll of lobbyists in Washington. Enact comprehensive campaign reform. Take political ads off the airwaves. Clearly, the 99 percent will not have political power until the playing field is leveled.
Thomas Jefferson believed that the United States would have to reinvent itself periodically; that in order for democracy to continue to flourish fundamental changes would be required to deal with new circumstances. That’s where we are now: Occupy Wall Street indicates the need for a new Declaration of Independence and a new form of government.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org