By Francesca Rheannon
Their testimonies are riveting as Americans of all ages and ethnicities hold handwritten texts that tell their stories up to the camera. Many are “occupying Wall Street” (or Chicago and Kansas City, Boston and Wichita, Philadelphia and Youngstown – the list grows by the hour). They are “The 99%”:
The 21-year-old making less than minimum wage, burdened with crushing student debt:
I have $47 to my name. I make $7.25 an hour... I have $65,000.00 in student loan debt because I was told it’s the only way to get a job. I graduated with a 3.87 GPA. And this is what I make, $180 a week. Next month, I’ll be homeless…
The 28-year-old entrepreneur, working hard and still not making it:
I own 2 small businesses and work over 100 hours a week in order to cover: my rent…, debt from college…, credit card debt…, car payment…; I have no health insurance because I was denied due to a pre-existing condition and my status as self employed doesn’t qualify me for a group plans... I live in fear of being injured or requiring hospitalization. I have enough money for food and my other bills each month, but that’s about it. I have no savings.
That young woman calls herself one of the “lucky ones”—and she is, compared to the almost 15% of households suffering from actual hunger (and the 20% of families with children who are poor) who are forced to choose between food, rent or medical care. These “99%-ers” are living the nightmare the American Dream has become.
Pundits – who are invariably part of the 1% still living the Dream – carp on the Occupiers for having no discrete list of demands. Some want to save the environment, others want jobs, the pundits complain. Like the blind men clustering around the elephant, they are missing the point. The Occupiers see the whole elephant in the room—a corrupt, greed-driven system that privileges the few at the expense of the rest, at the pinnacle of which sit the players at Wall Street’s casino economy. They know the symptoms are many, but the cause is one.
They are connecting the dots between Wall Street and the environmental crisis that is stealing their future, just as the financial crisis is robbing their present. They understand the false dichotomy that prevails in discussions about jobs and the environment – is the “Big Lie,” as Eric Pooley called it – that protecting the environment will cost jobs or that we can’t afford to invest in clean energy because of the “debt crisis.”
As exemplified by the FOIA’d (Freedom of Information Act) emails between the U.S. State Department and the lobbyists for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, the Big Lie is underwritten by the Fossil Fuel Cabal and promoted by its political cronies who tilt the playing field in their favor (just as Wall Street has tilted the playing field in its favor, the latest chronicler of which is Ron Suskind in his fascinating new book, Confidence Men.) It’s a bi-partisan group – the lobbyist for TransCanada is Secretary of State Clinton’s former deputy national campaign manager, a not-so-shining example of the kind of revolving door cronyism that has driven the protesters in Liberty Square to become disenchanted with the political system and take to the streets.
The emails were FOIA’d by Friends of the Earth, which is engaged in an “Earth Budget” campaign to level the playing field between renewable energy and the Fossil Fuel Cabal. “Those who have money and power get more money and power because they have the connections, so things like renewables can’t compete,” FOE’s tax analyst Benjamin Schreiber told CSRwire.
And renewables can’t compete because they are being squeezed on all sides. The renewables sector is threatened by budget cutters who protect fossil fuel subsidies while slashing renewables (yet eschew raising taxes on their Wall Street patrons). It falls under the guillotine of cheap Chinese competition, which spends far more of its energy budget on subsidizing renewables than the U.S. does (part of the reason Solyndra went down was because it couldn’t compete against cheap Chinese solar technology); and, finally, it is handicapped by policy-driven insecurity, as Schreiber points out, “Renewable energy tax credits have a cycle of expiration so investors can’t count on them being there in the long run, whereas dirty subsidies are on the books and don’t expire.”
This bleak landscape for renewables (and energy efficiency) could explain why green jobs aren’t materializing, with only 10% of participants in a Labor Department program to train workers for green jobs finding them.
But as outlined in the report Schreiber wrote, “Green Scissors: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending,” the U.S. could restore some $380 billion to the budget, provide good green jobs and help the environment by getting rid of subsidies to dirty energy and shifting some of that money to clean energy. According to the report:
From the more than a century old 1872 Mining Law that gives away precious metals—like gold and copper—on federal lands for free, to $53 billion in lost oil and gas revenues from royalty free leases in federal waters granted in the late 1990s, to the $6 billion per year ethanol tax credit, there are dozens of reforms that can return hundreds of billions to taxpayers while helping to address our nation’s top environmental priorities.
The Earth Budget campaign is urging citizens to make their voices heard by meeting with their Congressional representatives at their offices or Town Hall meetings to demand a budget that provides real answers to the economic and environmental crisis we face. “We saw the effect the Tea Party had by going to town hall meetings – those who are upset that our politics have been captured need to show up, too,” Schreiber told CSRwire.
That’s what the Occupiers are doing – showing up in the Liberty Square of America. Those who care about the Green Economy might want to join them. I’ll be going to Wall Street to join the march from City Hall on October 5. Look for my report tomorrow.
About Francesca Rheannon
Francesca is CSRwire's Talkback Managing Editor. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio’s series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility’s podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca’s work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.
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