Living in the Story of the Wizard of Oz

By Lisa Roseman Beade. Adapted from a speech given at Occupy Providence, November 2011

The American Dream for workers lasted only thirty years, from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. That was a time when America made things. Unions were strong, workers were valued, and livable wages prevailed. Like the rest of us, corporations and the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes to support a strong nation. Paying taxes was patriotic. Owning a home and not struggling to raise a family was considered wealth. At least some of us lived in Kansas, and it was called the middle class. American workers moved into it proudly.

The wizards of deregulation began achieving the upper hand in the 1960’s. In 1980, the tornado picked up force with Reagan’s election, and dropped us into Oz. Real wages, which had been rising steadily, began to decline even as profits soared. Given free rein, the wizards of banking took the soaring profits we had produced and began lending it back to us as credit. The wizards of commerce lured us to borrow with the glitter of cheap goods and cheap food, bought with unlimited credit from our declining wages, thereby making themselves more profits. They teased us with the promise of easy payments and vast wealth.

By the late 1980’s, as manufacturing’s decline led to shrinking investment opportunities, real estate became the new get-rich scheme. Soaring housing prices and mortgages without equity fueled inflated expectations of return. Anyone could buy, especially when mortgage brokers being offered enormous kickbacks began falsifying lenders’ information. By 2007, a great majority of mortgages were what the banking industry itself called “liar loans.” When, finally,

the bankers’ greed burst its seams and the debts were called in, they were caught like deer in the headlights. But the crooks were the ones that got bailed out!

We continue to be robbed blind; there are no bailouts for those of us who trusted the process and played by the rules. With the vacuum power of tornadoes, these wizards are sucking out every single drop of capital we contribute to sustain our society and keep it working. And they are sucking up not only our economic, but our civic capital, as well. Not only do we now have the economic profile of a third world nation, but, by creating an atmosphere of terror, these criminals have either bought or coerced our politicians and judiciary into sabotaging our government and suspending our Constitution.

David Intrator, a New York business consultant, recently pointed out that global corporations have no allegiance to nation states, but “only have allegiance to their shareholders and so there is a built-in contradiction to [any allegiance to the United States of America].” They are not only un-American but anti-Capitalist. To see it that way would explain the worldwide nature of the problem as an interna- tional putsch. This is Corporatism, led by global corporations and fi- nancial institutions with no national allegiance. They have used their tornado-force power to mesmerize us, crushing our hopes and dreams and leaving a path of devastation among working people worldwide. In this country just 400 families control 43% of the GNP.

Yet, I’m ecstatic, because brave people of the Occupy movement are hunkering down in public places to protest the theft of our dream and our democracy. We, the people: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, have found our collective heart, brain, nerve and courage. We‘ve come out of the poppy fields and have drawn back the curtain. We know who you are, Wall Street! Despite the brutality of your mercenary police departments, in New York, Chicago, and Oakland, we’re going to remain peaceful and we’re not going away. We have finally awakened to our own power and discovered that we are the wealth of this nation and our shift has hit your plan!

So now, I’m calling on you, the 99%, to unite against our oppressors: stop scapegoating your fellow workers; strengthen the unions; don’t castigate those with benefits, demand those benefits for all; support teachers and government workers; and boycott corporate goods and services! Circulate money into your communities (for every $1 spent locally, 45 cents stays in the community). Small banks and credit unions lend to small businesses, so use them. Ask local businesses to carry local food and goods. Remember: cheap goods are produced by cheap labor, so buy less and buy local!

Our resources may be few, but we are the 99%: United, our pennies are riches. I never thought I would call myself conservative, but here’s my dream: I want to go back to Kansas, to a time when I know who produces my food and my goods. I want to treat them respectfully and pay them the living wage and benefits that I would want for myself. I am proud to be a part of the Occupy movement. Please join us!

Lisa Roseman Beade is the author of The Wealth of Nations: A People’s History of RI, a project commissioned by the RI Historical Society, which tells the story of immigration to RI and the struggle & rise of the middle class.

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