Commentary: There's some anger behind 'Occupy Wall Street'

The Merced Sun-StarOctober 10, 2011 

You wonder why there's an Occupy Wall Street?

You ask how it has spread to Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Sacramento and Fresno, and is coming to Merced on Oct. 15? Where nearly 300 people have signed up for it on a Facebook page?

"Rachel" can tell you. Rachel is not her real name. She doesn't want it used because she's holding down two jobs -- and wants to keep both.

Like Howard Beale in the 1976 movie "Network," she's mad as hell and is not going to take this anymore.

Like Rick Santelli of Fox News who in February 2009 called for a "tea party" in Chicago, which has now become a national political phenomenon.

Like Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who burned himself alive in December 2010 and helped ignite the Arab Spring.

Like GenerationOpportunity.org, a nonprofit that calls itself nonpartisan, which points out that only 31 percent of Millennials (kids born around the turn of this century) are satisfied with President Barack Obama's handling of youth unemployment, and 77 percent either have or will delay a major life change or purchase because of economic factors.

Some call it "flash mob" politics.

As Buffalo Springfield sang in the '60s, there's somethin' happenin' here/what it is ain't exactly clear.

Rachel, 23, a Merced High grad, sees it clearly, though. She got out of high school with a 3.6 GPA and left Fresno State two years later with a 3.8. She had to drop out because she could no longer afford the tuition or the gasoline to commute there from Merced.

The child of Hispanic parents, both of whom are U.S. citizens and hold down jobs (her dad owns his own business), Rachel was majoring in biochemistry and minoring in math because her goal, since she was a girl, was to be a doctor by age 32.

Then she ran into America in the second decade of the 21st century. When she was still in college, she asked a counselor how to get help. "His words exactly: 'Maybe have a child.' At first I thought he was joking, and maybe it was, but he said it so blatantly that I never really took it as a joke."

She started thinking. She looked around. She saw single moms get financial aid and free baby-sitting at a child development center on campus. She saw students get financial aid and drop out of class after three weeks, keeping the money. She saw some get food stamps, cash and maybe even subsidized Section 8 housing. "They do not have to work," she says. "They have the free time to study and enjoy life as free as it comes to them -- and it is free."

One of her jobs is at a grocery store. She reports that people using EBT cards (the electronic equivalent of food stamps) come through her line every day. "Some of them don't know a lick of English," she says. "Some of them pay for lobster, crab, filet mignon and buy alcohol with their cash portion. I see teenage girls use these cards and their hair is dyed and when the bagger walks them out to their car, they are driving a really nice car."

Some of her fellow employees have to walk to work.

So now Rachel regards herself as one of the 99 percent.

"We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent." That's from http://wearethe99percent.

It's the mission statement behind the occupiers. Like the tea party, they're from all political stripes, races, genders and ages. Rachel, for example, says the only thing that has changed since Obama moved into the White House is that a new guy is living in the White House.

"I am an only child," she says. "I am my parents' make-or-break story. I can be the daughter that becomes a doctor or I can be the daughter on welfare. I know that earning and working hard toward something is much better than it getting handed to me ... but honestly, is it?"

She considers herself one of the few members of Generation Y who's had basic values and virtues embedded in her by her parents: "I am a taxpayer, paying for the construction of city buildings and repairs of streets, paying for the fighting hands of our military, paying for a teenage girl's mistake of having a child too young, paying for someone's pack of smokes and a family's dinner. Where does that leave me? How long will my life be put on hold for this?"

That's why Rachel will be out on the streets with the Mercedian 99 percent on Oct. 15.

It's easy to see why.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Mike Tharp is Executive Editor of the Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at mtharp@mercedsunstar.com.

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