It turns out that you end up missing a lot while running for election. The Occupy Wall Street movement started during the Ontario election, and continued to grow. While I was aware of it, I wasn’t able to follow it closely or really pay it much mind. At the time, the mainstream media really didn’t either, though with the movement hitting 80 different countries this weekend, the mainstream is catching up. And so am I.
So what is this movement? Is it a few malcontents who take any opportunity to protest anything or is this a real popular uprising of people collectively saying ‘enough’ to the stretching of income inequality? The question really is – does the (remaining) middle class draw a line in the sand and join in the movement or not?
The flow of income from the lower and middle classes up to the top isn’t a new phenomenon. During the 90’s and early 2000’s economic growth and relatively strong employment provided a cover for the upward flow of wealth. The recent recession, which I believe is more aptly described as an economic restructuring, pulled the cover off of this reshaping of our economy and labour market to reveal a society that’s increasingly unequal, with less opportunity, and that’s more unforgiving to those who aren’t positioned to keep up. Our society has become increasingly polarized, pear shaped, and people are getting justifiably angry.
Some people. I saw someone on Twitter asking why it is that people are hopping on board the Occupy Movement but didn’t occupy voting booths. Why did people choose the status quo when more and more people are calling for a change in emphasis back to the people?
We have the lower and middle classes slipping behind and within this group two schools of thought: one that says we’ve hit a recession and soon things will pick up and we’ll be back to normal; the other that says that this is the new normal – accelerating inequality – and it’s a new normal by design, not by fluke. If we make changes to the design (through government, through the way we tax, the way we regulate) we can reverse the trend and create a more equal society. We can rebuild the middle class.
I ran in the election talking about the realities of the economy and labour market: financial hardship and struggle; the disappearing middle class; the cycle of poverty; the accelerating push of people into poverty; a society with opportunity becoming less and less accessible to the masses. All the while I tried to provide positive steps to change things for the betterment of people. Putting people first.
In vote terms we did well – we increased the vote (the highest vote levels for the NDP provincially since the Kitchener Centre riding was created). The NDP gained in Ontario but the status quo still came out on top, which tells us that there are still many who believe things will go back to normal for the middle class without substantial change. I hope they’re right.
Meanwhile our federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, seemed bemused by the Occupy Movement by deflecting the source of the problems back on the USA, arguing that Canada didn’t bail out the banks and that we have a fairer social system.
True, but this entirely misses the point about this movement. It’s not just the fact that the banks were bailed out; it’s the fact that they were bailed out while grifting wealth from the lower and middle classes and eroding the middle class that created a fairer social system.
This fairer social system in Canada, meanwhile, has been eroding over the last two decades. Not unconnected, according to the Conference Board of Canada, income inequality is accelerating at faster levels than in the United States while we already have income distribution quite unrecognizable from that of a few decades ago.
What happens next in this movement, then? Does it fizzle out? Do the people go back to fiddling while we watch our society be restructured into a society with two classes? Are we content with increased wealth (for some) and increased poverty (for many)? Or does the protest grow, and do the governments that we have in place really hear the call for a better deal for the people? Is this a watershed moment for the middle class or is it a death rattle?
Much of that may depend on these early protesters and how they present this protest – angry malcontents or people who call for a better world?
So keep it positive, keep it about ideas, keep it nonviolent, and most of all, keep it up. The people speaking with one voice is what we need now more than ever.