I’ve been doing some contract work lately for a product design consulting company in Seattle, and their offices are directly across from the Occupy Seattle encampment on Capitol Hill. Every day, I grow more and more convinced that setting up some tents on the lawn of a community college is a pretty ineffective way to get any real message out.
With that said, I think there are plenty of reasons for people to be outraged, perhaps even more so in Washington state, where our ballot initiative system coupled with no state income tax has left education (along with many other programs) woefully underfunded and left the door wide open for corporations and extremely wealthy individuals to change laws in their favor. The action yesterday in Olympia sent a much stronger and clearer message. This is what the protesters said as they interrupted the House Ways and Means Committee meeting:
“Many people are wondering why we’re disrupting this meeting when many people want to testify. The reason we’re disrupting this meeting is that many of us over the last three years have testified, and lobbied, and voted, and the governor and the legislature have given us no choice… This is what we have to do for them to listen to us.”
In the 2010 state election, voters in Washington nixed an initiative to tax those earning more than $200K per year, only an estimated 0.5% of the population but with a projected $2.9 billion annual revenue. This is exactly the kind of revenue Washington desperately needed to fund schools, health care and other programs that serve basic public needs, programs that are now on the chopping block. But Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos and a horde of other people and corporations poured millions of dollars into advertising against that initiative so they wouldn’t have to pay these taxes themselves, and it worked. From their point of view, those millions were a drop in the bucket compared to what they would have lost paying the taxes, so it was a no-brainer. Can you blame them?
Instead of pointing fingers at these people and corporations — such as CostCo, who recently spent $18+M to successfully push through an initiative in favor of privatizing liquor sales in Washington — I fault the system. What should by design be a self-correcting government is instead a system where it’s possible for those with large amounts of money to effectively change regulations to ensure they keep making money, stay rich, and stay in control.
A couple weeks back, a coworker sent me this video, which is intended to be funny (I think) and supposedly demonstrates the hypocrisy in a day in the life of an Occupy protester. But it made me so mad because they got it all wrong — the Occupy movement isn’t anti-Capitalism, it’s a protest against a system where people and corporations who are already extremely rich are guaranteed to continue making absurd amounts of money, at the expense of everyone else. Financial transgressions going unpunished (and sometimes effectively rewarded), oil companies being coddled and subsidized, and the successful lobbying in Congress that pizza should remain a vegetable are all further examples of how this system is a feedback loop out of control.
So what happens next, then? Sadly, I think the answer is that it gets worse before it gets better. The kind of changes that ought to be made don’t come easily or quickly, and it’s not pretty in the meantime. Hunker down, friends, it’s gonna be a tough few years at least.