Much of our movement has focused on the disparity of income between the top 1% (and, in fact, the top 1/10th of 1%) and the rest of us. In 2006, the top 1.5% had annual gross income of $250,000 or more; the Top 0.12% (146,000 households) had annual gross income of $1,600,000 or more.
In 2008, the top 0.01% (11,000 households) had annual incomes of $5.5 million or more. And the top 400 highest tax payers in America had annual incomes of $87 million or more.
But even though they are extreme, income and tax disparities based on income — along with huge corporate executive officers' paychecks and golden parachutes — are but one of the problems we, as Occupy Wall Street, need to point to. Even more extreme — and far more important — is the concentration of ownership and control of wealth in the U.S. (including stocks, bonds, other financial instruments and corporate property. Remember, one does not have to own 50% of a company's stock in order to control what that company does).
Most rich people's and corporation's holdings are not in the form of taxable income, and so changing the tax laws to make each rich person pay a higher percentage of their income will not be significant in terms of generating a great deal of income (however welcome alleviating those disparities may be). In 2008, only 19% of the income reported by the 13,480 individuals or families making over $10 million came from wages and salaries.
Again, it is ownership and control of Wealth that we need to focus on, as corporate and even large private holdings are virtually unregulated and untaxed. The government not only allows it but facilitates that concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
Which helps to explain, in part, why neither the Bush nor Obama administrations chose to bail out the homeowners, small farmers and renters with those trillions of dollars they provided to the giant banks and brokerage houses.
Those banks foreclosed on literally millions of mortgaged houses and farms, throwing people into the streets. Yet, if those same homeowners, farmers and renters had been the ones bailed out instead of Wall Street, they would have used those funds to pay back the banks holding their mortgages. The banks would have ended up with the same money anyway, but people would have been able to keep their homes.
Alternatively, the government and the Federal Reserve could have said to Wall Street: "We'll bail you out, give you the $13 trillion (which is what was actually provided to Wall Street, according to economist Michael Hudson), but as a requirement consider this a giant payment on all mortgages owed on family homes and farms. No more foreclosures, and return people to their homes."
But neither Bush, Obama, nor the Fed took that obvious route. Why not?
The cost to the American people of the Wall Street bailout is taken out from school, library, hospital, fire house, environmental protection, and mass-transit budgets, and in increasing costs for basic goods and services (like college educations, tolls on bridges, etc.). In addition to occupying parks and public spaces across the country, let's occupy and directly open up those schools, libraries, hospitals, subway stations and the like that have been shut down.
Imagine occupying and opening up Harlem Hospital or St. Vincent's in NYC, and inviting health care providers from around the world to come and treat people for free! Or, to start with something smaller, occupying a library whose hours have been curtailed due to "budget cuts" and keeping it open 24/7 — and move the People's Library into it, as well. [Note to college students: You can do this on every campus: Open up and extend the hours of libraries and other services we need. We don't ask, we simply do it! (to coin a phrase).]
Occupy and Open-Up – a direct response to the cutbacks forced on us by those owning and administering wealth in this country. It's the kind of action that we "99 percenters", and maybe even some of the 1/10th of 1 percent, could get behind.
Mitchel Cohen is the author of "What Is Direct Action?" and numerous booklets and pamphlets. He is also the Chair of the WBAI (99.5 FM) Local Station Board, and a member of the Brooklyn Greens/Green Party. You can learn more from his website at http://www.mitchelcohen.com.