Tackling Inequalities after the Occupation of Wall Street




Occupy Wall Street was criticized at the time for exposing systemic problems without offering a concrete list of solutions. Yet the protesters spoke about policies they saw as unfair and others that would tackle the evils they stood up to. The movement has left an indelible mark not only on the national debate on inequality, but also on the laws and structures that allow it. The rampant inequality decried by Occupy has been perpetuated over decades of political choices and can be reversed by the same. Below, we identify eight policy areas in which activists and lawmakers have, since 2011, tried to work for a more just America.

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Occupy Wall Street has shed light on the huge sums of money being accumulated by the people at the top, but it also got the country talking about the meager wages paid to those at the bottom. Just a year after protesters occupied Zuccotti Park, the Fight for $ 15 movement began demanding a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, plus the right to unionize, and it was surprisingly successful. Ten states and Washington, DC, have now passed legislation to raise their minimum wages to that level, as have dozens of cities. During his administration, President Obama supported a minimum wage of $ 9 an hour, but in 2016 the Democratic Party had a minimum wage of $ 15 in its platform. Democrats have yet to vote a raise while controlling Congress and the White House. President Biden has, however, taken executive action to raise the wages of federal contractors to this level, affecting at least a quarter of a million people.



Protesters who camped at Zuccotti Park created the Occupy Student Debt campaign in an effort to create a movement to end all student debt. One of the fundamental principles was to advocate for free public higher education, and that left a mark. Since 2011, 16 states have launched statewide programs that make college free to students at certain types of institutions. It’s also an idea that has resonated with federal lawmakers, even though they have yet to pass legislation. Members of Congress introduced a bill to provide tuition-free college, and after campaigning for two years of free-for-all community college, President Biden included it in his U.S. plan for families, which is now part of the Democrats’ Autonomous Infrastructure Package. .



“Debt is a bond that binds the 99%,” according to the Occupy Wall Street Strike Debt branch. Eliminating student debt was a fundamental tenet of Occupy Wall Street protesters, so much so that the Rolling Jubilee movement bought and forgave millions in student loans. But the call for the elimination of all student debt has yet to be met, and the federal government has seized on the issue. President Obama allowed students who were swindled by for-profit colleges to have their debts written off, wiping out $ 600 million in debt, but the Trump administration initially refused to continue the program and then withdrew. made it almost impossible for students to access. Biden has once again turned the corner and canceled $ 1.5 billion in student debt defrauded by for-profit institutions since taking office.



While walking through Zuccotti Park in 2011, it was common to spot signs with specific and wobbly political demands. One of them was the settlement of student debt in bankruptcy. Despite the ability to discharge medical, credit card and other debt as part of the bankruptcy process, student loans have been exempt since 1976. Congress has not changed the rules since then, but these Rules may change anyway, given that a bankruptcy judge recently authorized the cancellation of private loans without proof of “wrongful durss.” A bipartisan group of members of Congress also introduced a bill to make it an option for all kinds of loans.



If the country wants to fight income inequality, the phenomenon summarized by Occupy Wall Street protesters in the song “We are the 99%”, it must tax the highest incomes and use the income to provide social services and support for all others. And there has been some movement to do so. The average federal tax rate on the richest 1% of households rose 6 percentage points under Obama, although Trump’s sweeping tax reduction program cut taxes for the rich. Democrats now envision “tax fairness for high income earners” as compensation for their reconciliation infrastructure package, but this is still under development. Some states have taken action in the meantime: California, New Jersey, and New York have all raised taxes on millionaires, and Hawaii is considering legislation that would raise the top tax rate to 16%, which which would be the highest state tax rate in the country.



Occupy Wall Street protesters have pointed to the vast disparities between the very rich and the rest of us that have grown deeper and deeper in recent decades. Besides the huge gap between the incomes of the top earners and everyone else, there is also a vast chasm between the amount of wealth the rich are able to store – which has only grown in recent decades. – and the smaller or no savings of the rest of us. The idea of ​​a wealth tax got a big platform when Senator Elizabeth Warren put it at the heart of her presidential bid in 2020, but so far the federal government has only taken on board. no action on this. The states have not acted either, although last year California considered a new tax on the net worth of wealthy residents.



Occupy Wall Street came in the wake of the Great Recession, a global economic collapse caused by bank malpractices, and much of the protesters’ anger was directed at the Wall Street businesses surrounding Zuccotti Park. But it also took place after the federal government already mounted its response to the 2008 financial crisis by passing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Although its implementation is still ongoing, Congress has not passed any major banking reform laws since then. States don’t have a lot of power to regulate banks on their own, but one thing they can regulate is non-bank entities that prey on the poor, like payday lenders. Since 2017, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio have capped interest rates on these loans.



Why has the country let the banks run wild and income inequality run out of control? One answer offered by Occupy Wall Street was the role of money in politics – the ability of Wall Street and wealthy Americans to donate to politicians and persuade them to act in the best interests of donors. But the rules for contributing to the campaign have not changed significantly, although some states have experimented with reforms. In 2015, Seattle began giving residents ‘democracy vouchers’ to support local candidates of their choice, while voters in Alaska in 2020 approved a voting measure to demand additional disclosures of contributions to the countryside.

Illustrated by Jeremy Paraan.


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