Occupy Wall Street Catches Fire

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.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "David Brooks Sticks Up for the Super-Rich ."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter