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Protests remind politicians where the votes are

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When the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations began several weeks ago, they were largely ignored or dismissed by the mainstream media. But that was then. Now, as the Wall Street demonstrations continue to grow, even the stodgy New York Times has to admit these protests are big news. With thousands of citizens occupying areas in front of financial institutions from big cities to small towns, the movement expands as Americans finally begin to show their dissatisfaction. It's a hard reminder to politicians that the top 1 percent of the population may have a disproportionate share of the wealth, but the other 99 percent have the votes.

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Considering the kind of coverage American mainstream media have given to citizen uprisings in the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring, trying to bury similar protests against greed, wealth and power in our own country was puzzling and disgraceful. It was as if to report on citizen discontent at home somehow admitted that we have some very serious and widespread problems in the U.S. Unfortunately, it's nothing new to see the American media ignoring the reality of homelessness, millions of foreclosures, massive unemployment and the inability of our political institutions and "leaders" to deal with them effectively and equitably.

The key word here is "equitable." Nothing better illustrates the inequality of our government than how it dealt with the financial meltdown. While citizens were being tossed out of their homes and jobs, the federal government bent over backward to throw billions if not trillions at the speculative financial institutions, investment pirates and sleazeball corporations that caused the crisis. As President Obama's economic advisers, all Wall Street toadies, filled the airwaves with proclamations that we simply had to save the "too big to fail" speculators, the little people were ignored. What crumbs got swept off the table in the way of mortgage relief were so encumbered by an incompetent bureaucracy and mazes of red tape that most of the funds never made it to those who needed them most.

It wasn't just Obama and his advisors who went along with this travesty. The Republicans supported it because George W. Bush started the massive corporate giveaways to benefit the funders of the Republican Party. The Democrats stood by nodding their heads because it was their president who said we needed to continue and expand the bailouts. They didn't want to make him look bad by reminding him that the top 1 percent caused the problems while the bottom 99 percent suffered the results. That Obama and many, many Democrats took and continue to take massive amounts of money from corporate donors made it just that much easier to turn their backs on the people while they carried the feast to the wealthy.

It's a perfect example of democracy gone awry when vox populi, "the voice of the people," is muzzled to continue the "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" game of Congress and Washington, D.C. That the Republican majority of the Supreme Court then decreed that corporations were people who couldn't be limited in the amount of money they could spend to buy influence and power added insult to injury and foretold a continuation and expansion of the corruption that plagues us.

While our media were selectively and hypocritically cheering on the "popular rebellions" of the Middle East that could benefit U.S. corporate interests, the fire under the teapot of citizen suffering in this country burned. Now the pot is boiling furiously as Americans hit the streets.

The response has been predictable. In New York, 700 people were arrested as they attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. A video of a white-shirted NYC police inspector spraying mace in the faces of non-violent women who were already contained behind a police fence went viral, further enraging the people. Like vicious guard dogs, the cops are protecting their masters: the pirates of Wall Street who are, we're told, just trying to conduct their business and make a profit.

But guess what? The crowds are increasingly reminding the cops that they, too, are in the 99 percent, not the 1 percent; that they, too, worry about paying their bills, getting their kids a decent education and keeping their jobs while hoping that a medical emergency won't bankrupt them.

Now the AFL-CIO has thrown its weight behind the movement. New York City transportation union members are refusing to be bullied into transporting their fellow citizens to jail for the crime of exercising their rights to free speech, free association and petitioning their government for redress of grievances.

The divide-and-conquer strategy that has been used by the ruling class in this country for two centuries is starting to fall apart as the 99-percenters look one another in the eyes and realize they, not Wall Street or the mainstream media, are the voice of America. They have the power.

There's no way to know how this will end, but the frustration seems to have reached a tipping point. The change we were promised didn't happen. The status quo is intolerable. The silence of our politicians only shows how befuddled they are. The choice, however, is theirs: Either serve the people who elected you or face the inevitable and growing consequences from which the 1 percent won't save you.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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