The Occupy Wall Street protests have arrived in Grand Junction

Saturday afternoon, the rapidly spreading Occupy Wall Street movement arrived in Grand Junction. A small but dedicated crowd at the corner of 12th Street and North Avenue hoisted their signs, raised their voices and waved to passing motorists as they spread their message: “We are the 99 percent.”

Most drivers were unresponsive, but enough honked or waved to prove that a significant number of locals support the demonstrators, though they may never appear at a demonstration. The honks notably increased after 5 p.m., when working people were on their way home.

Though the group of protestors was small, the demonstration was not insignificant. It was not a one-time expression of frustration and anger, but the first step on a journey that will take weeks.

Next Saturday the protest will continue as a group pitches tents around the Mesa County Courthouse to hold a vigil until the November election. Along with hundreds of similar groups nationwide, they will use their presence to call attention to the economic inequality that is undermining our democracy, wrecking our economy and destroying the middle class.

The movement began three week ago, when a group of young people spontaneously gathered near Wall Street to protest the corrupting power of money in our government, and the threat to our democracy from an emerging plutocracy of the nation’s wealthiest one percent of Wall Street elites, corporate executives and hereditary billionaires.

The idea to publicize their grievances by a demonstration on Wall Street emerged from Internet chatter by young, educated Americans, many unemployed and others underemployed, who saw their American dream fade into a nightmare of economic insecurity, workplace exploitation and public policy written by and for the wealthy few.

These fears were confirmed when the announcement that the recession was over brought no new jobs to relieve the persistent unemployment, and working Americans watched their incomes shrink as employers took advantage of the competition to find or keep jobs to reduce salaries and cut benefits.

“Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent,” said a report in The New York Times.

Meantime, middle-class incomes continue to shrink faster in the “recovery” than they did in the recession itself, while the wealthiest 1 percent have added billions more dollars to their private holdings. “Believe it or not,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most fervent advocate for the demonstrators in Congress, “the country’s six largest financial institutions ... now have amassed assets equal to more than 60 percent of our gross domestic product. The four largest banks issue two-thirds of all credit cards, half of all mortgages and hold nearly 40 percent of all bank deposits. Incredibly, after we bailed out the behemoth banks that were ‘too big to fail,’ three out of the four are now even bigger than they were before the financial crisis.”

The Wall Street demonstrators marched to highlight the corruption and greed infecting the American economic and political establishments, and to warn people that the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few powerful individuals will further shrink the middle class economy, and weaken the forces that sustain our Democracy.

Driven by the dismal prospects for the working middle class, the demonstrations quickly spread to the financial districts of other cities. Tent cities blossomed in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and other major cities, before spreading to smaller cities like Boulder, Aspen, Durango and Grand Junction.

“We are the 99 percent” has become the battle cry of freedom from domination of our government, our economy and our political processes by the wealthiest one percent of the population. If the movement can survive long enough to become as effective as the civil rights and anti-war movements of the sixties were, we just might get our country back.

And then, corporations won’t be people any more, and money will not be speech.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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