By Ruth Conniff on October 05, 2011

It started in New York's financial district. Now it has spread to cities all across the United States. Students, pilots, transit workers, teachers, tenants--thousands of people who work every day and keep our country going are marching and sitting in to protest the looting of our national wealth, a huge spike in poverty, and the liquidation of the middle class.

Like the rallies last spring in Wisconsin, the Occupy Wall Street protests feature a cross-section of society, as do similar marches now taking place in the financial districts of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities.

The scenes of huge crowds outside offices of investment houses and major banks graphically show how the majority of Americans' interests are directly opposed to the financial powerhouses that run our economy.

Bank deregulation, the non-payment of corporate taxes, austerity for the poor and middle class, and a lack of accountability for criminal activity that caused the current financial crisis are the facts that sparked these protests.

Most of all, people are protesting the pernicious economic theory called neoliberalism: welfare for the banks and austerity for the people.

Why should we be contemplating cuts in Social Security and Medicare while we are keeping taxes at a historic low for massive corporations--many of which now manage to pay no taxes at all?

Why should we be closing libraries and cutting funds for schools when we, the American taxpayers, just doled out another $750 billion in bailout funds to the same bankers who knowingly made lousy bets, enriched themselves, and then paid themselves big bonuses?

Why do we allow these people to insist that they need to take the taxpayers' money because they and only they know best how to run our economy--and if we don't give them tax breaks and bailout funds we will fall into an even deeper financial crisis?

This economy is not working well for most people. Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s, unemployment is at 9 percent, middle-class income fell last year, and the poverty rate is the highest since 1993. People know that the banks caused the current economic crisis. They know that cuts to schools and safety-net programs and more tax breaks for corporations that sit on the money will not create jobs or help the next generation get ahead. For all the commentary about the diffuse message of the Occupy Wall Street protests, it is clear that this gut-level understanding drives people to join in. Just as it happened in Wisconsin, a spontaneous outpouring is taking place in New York and around the country because people are fed up.

The American middle class, built by the labor movement, knows that an economy that runs on inequality--that concentrates the nation's wealth in the top 1 percent of earners, who now make more than the bottom 50 percent is no good. We know that "shared sacrifice"--meaning fewer resources for our kids' schools, less medical care for our grandparents, and less retirement security for today's workforce--is an outrage when profits and bonuses are soaring at the big banks.

We know the difference between a just society that believes in opportunity for everyone and an oligarchy that enforces a caste system where the rich get richer and the poor are stuck. These are fundamental American values. The banks have been allowed to abandon them. But the citizens have not.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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