As every fourth graders knows, the United States Constitution begins, “We the people…” In the years following adoption of the Constitution, there have been movements to include more classes or types of human beings into that “people” represented by the federal government. The basic rights guaranteed by the core philosophy of the government once applied to a narrow definition of people, but as education levels across all demographics have risen among all socioeconomic subcultures, more people demand to have a voice, or feel that they are represented, in federal government.
The government has always listened most closely to those with money, and as money spread to groups other than white men with a certain heritage, more people gained access to representation. The framers of the Constitution may feel like they represented all colonists in the United States (but certainly not the displaced natives), but they were wealthier and more educated than the rest of their communities. As overall wealth and education increased, rights were extended to black Americans and women, but only when pressured by grassroots initiatives; never have the wealthy in power made any move to share that power unless pressured — significantly pressured, over a long period of time.
Today, the wealthiest still wield the most power in government. While corporations, as of yet, cannot run for office, those who run the corporations can direct profits to initiatives that ensure their interests are well-represented at the expense of just about everyone else in the country, including the middle class. Just like the threat of a terrorist attack (or previously, the Cold War) is used as a reason to increase defense spending for the benefit of corporations connected to the military, the threat of an economic collapse is used to help persuade the public that corporations deserve every break they can get. These threats may very well be real, but the result is that what matters most to policy makers are the concerns of a small, wealthy group of Americans.
You may not agree with any of the above. I don’t intend to take a political approach to anything on Consumerism Commentary, but this is the context that is needed to understand what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street protests which, while they have spread beyond New York, are relatively under-reported or ignored by the press.
The reason for the under-reporting, according to the protesters, is that the media, even the more liberal news media in New York like WNYC and National Public Radio, is financially supported by Wall Street firms. They claim that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have the same corporations pulling the strings.
If there’s anything that can be learned from the Tea Party’s slow ascent from counterculture to the mainstream, it’s that the media won’t grant much attention to a movement until it reaches a critical mass and takes an extreme position. If the Occupy Wall Street movement wants more people to be aware of the issue that only the rich are represented by government, they will need to push the issue much harder, find ways to get on television, and convince the public that they are much more than lone groups of harmless rebels with cardboard signs. The Tea Party protesters weren’t taken seriously at first, either, but they transformed their scattered movements into relative cohesion after they managed to gain more publicity through actions and voices that could simply not be ignored any longer.
It has never been a secret that money buys political power. I don’t see any way for that to change, even if Occupy Wall Street successfully increases awareness of the issue throughout the country. Regardless, the protests will need to crescendo in order to get anyone outside the movement to pay attention for more than a minute.
Should government represent all citizens equally regardless of financial condition? Does focusing representation on the wealthy “trickle down” (an economic policy championed by a Republican) to lower classes by virtue of boosting the economy through the “rising tide” analogy (which is attributed to a Democrat)? Is there any difference in the economic ideologies between today’s Democrats and Republicans when they are all funded by major corporations?
Updated October 15, 2011 and originally published October 4, 2011.