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Why I Occupy

Posted on Tuesday, 24th January 2012 @ 04:49 PM by Text Size A | A | A

Pushed Out of Our Homes and into the street

 

David Kempa

 

 

I am a 27-year-old journalist living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Journalists, as a rule, do not readily identify themselves with organizations or movements. We’re supposed to strive for objectivity. Get the whole story. Look at things from all sides. We don’t want to have our work undermined by any affiliations. We don’t want to advocate. That’s a job for PR reps. Advocacy, to us, is the Dark Side. But I am announcing my solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 28, I left for Brussels, Wisconsin. It’s your average Midwestern small town: population of a few hundred, one gas station, a couple of churches and a few too many bars. That’s where my mom and stepdad live. I flew out there to help them move out of their home. Well, technically, it is no longer their home. The new owner is Freddie Mac, which along with Bank of America is kicking my mom and stepdad out of their home. That house has been in my stepdad’s family for over 100 years. He and my mom remodeled the place about 10 years back. My mom had made sure there were enough bedrooms for when my sisters and I came back home with grandchildren for her to spoil.

 

That’s not going to happen there, now. It is difficult for me to grasp this. I don’t think I fully will until I am finished clearing rooms and lugging boxes. It’s hard, and it doesn’t feel right. Didn’t Bank of America get more than $100 billion in bailouts? Didn’t they receive a tax refund of $1.9 billion from the IRS, alongside the $4.4 billion in 2010 profits? Why do they get saved by the government after handing out countless high-risk loans, and then again get a safety net from government-sponsored enterprises like Freddie Mac when recipients of those loans have to default? How is this okay? I moved to New York in January of 2010 and landed an internship at Thomson Reuters in spite of the festering financial crisis. It was originally supposed to be an unpaid internship, but I convinced them to change it to an hourly wage. It was also supposed to be 20 hours a week, but over time I pushed them to make it full-time. By the summer they decided to turn my position into a salaried gig. I was ecstatic. But I wasn’t happy with the work. First of all, it wasn’t journalism. I wrote an internal newsletter. If you were not a Thomson Reuters employee or a programming guy at a bank I can guarantee that you never read my newsletter. Second, it didn’t feel like I was doing good work. I wrote a monthly newsletter for the company’s global stock network – a complex system that shoots trade information from stock markets all over the world to banks and brokers and billionaires.

 

Our clients were among the most powerful people in the world. Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable. That’s what a journalist strives to do. Me? I was comforting the comfortable. Economist Edward Wolff’s work has shown that, as late as 2007, the top 1% of American households held 34.6% of all privately held wealth in the United States. Within this affluent contingent, Wolff notes, the wealth distribution is again hyper-concentrated to the top .1%. The vast majority of the households in this bracket include players in the finance and banking industries.

 

This bothered me. A lot. My work went against a lot of my principles, and this affected my well-being. I grew depressed. I started eating less. My sleep cycle started going haywire. I doubled down on my drinking habits. Finally, last August, I quit. Since then, I’ve been freelancing. It’s been great. I’m broke, yeah. But it’s been great. I used to cover border issues in Arizona, and I did some immigration work in southern Mexico. Here in New York, I’ve been gravitating towards the police beat. Never did I think about covering finance or national politics. Never did I want to write about our nation’s financial crisis. But then Freddie Mac and Bank of America pushed my mom out of her home. So here I am. Committed. To the dialogue. To the movement. To what some of my fellow young men and women camped out in Liberty Plaza are calling The Revolution. My friends have already told me that I’m crazy. That Occupy Wall Street is nothing more than a bunch of dirty, jobless kids who have no idea what they’re fighting, who are merely beating drums and barking at cops. But that’s not what I’ve seen.

 

The movement knows precisely what it is fighting. It is fighting the astoundingly unfair distribution of wealth in our country while 46 million Americans live in poverty – and that is by federal guidelines that says a mom and two kids are no longer poor if they make $19,000 a year. It is fighting the reality that Wall Street and Capitol Hill are one in the same. It is fighting, tooth and nail, the disintegration of the American middle class. Simply put, it is fighting greed. I can also tell you that it’s new. That structure isn’t yet in place the way some might want it to be. That demands have not yet been fully sculpted and articulated. But the Occupation is only in its second week, and it is gaining more momentum than anyone had dreamed. Numbers continue to grow in that small square. Makeshift beds pepper the western end. Protest signs line the north. Someone has set up a library to the east. Beyond that, the rest of the world has begun to pay attention. Food, supplies and donations are streaming in from well-wishers who cannot occupy the square themselves. Doctors are manning the medical station. Lawyers are consulting the recently arrested. Elected officials, musicians and other public figures have come by to count themselves among the Occupation’s ranks

 

. Things are moving. If you are a New Yorker, and you haven’t yet stopped by Liberty Plaza – do it. It’s astounding. The excitement. The empathy. The absolute fortitude of these folks. It almost moves me to tears to stand among them. They are there because so many among us continue to struggle. They are there because bad things are happening to good people. They are there for my mother. And when I return to New York this week, I will be there too.

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