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Why Occupy?

By maintaining a round the clock indefinite presence in the plaza, Occupy Memphis is demonstrating it’s solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Last Saturday (Oct. 8), I spent a beautiful fall day helping a diverse group of disenfranchised citizens set up an occupation site on the Civic Center Plaza downtown. By maintaining a round the clock indefinite presence in the plaza, Occupy Memphis is demonstrating it’s solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement taking root across the United States, as well as the broader democracy movement around the world.

The Occupy Movement identifies itself as the 99 percent of Americans that are subject to the rule of the 1 percent of our population who dominate our nation’s politics through campaign finance and corporate lobbies. Currently the top 1 percent of our population owns more than 35 percent of our nation’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent is left with only 15 percent of the wealth. This disparity has only grown since 2007.

In particular, the 99 percent are aggrieved by the influence that the very corporations that caused the current recession/depression have had in shaping the government response to it. Benefiting from enormous bailouts, corporations have seen profits rise to an all-time high while wage earnings have dropped to an all-time low. While Wall Street has seen a recovery of their losses, the people have been forced to accept cuts in essential social welfare programs and public services. The 99 percent have lost their jobs, their homes, their insurance and their financial security.

The policies leading to this recession/depression, high unemployment, poverty and growing wealth disparity have been aggressively promoted and advanced by the elite through corporate funded think tanks and politicians for three decades now, with progressives stuck in a defensive position, desperately fighting to hold on to what we accomplished in the ’60s and ’70s. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of unlimited corporate campaign contributions in 2010, our task has grown even more daunting.

Last year, as the elite’s plans came to fruition, we witnessed a dramatic rise in civic participation as people across the country stood up for labor and against funding cuts to the programs on which the 99 percent rely. Those in the Occupy Movement recognize that we must maintain this level of engagement and become more proactive if we are to regain the ground we’ve lost, and move forward towards a safer, healthier, more equitable future where all citizens have an opportunity to prosper, all children have the chance to fulfill their highest potential, and all people have access to the necessities of nutrition, adequate housing and health care.

Many in the mainstream corporate media have criticized the Occupy Movement for not having specific demands but reality is we have so many demands that they can’t wrap their oversimplified minds around them. Here in Memphis, the 99 percent demand that banks be held accountable for their predatory lending practices, that those that have been subject to illegal foreclosures be compensated and their debts forgiven, that our public monies be spent on education, public services and affordable housing rather than corporate incentives, that we put an end to our state’s regressive labor laws, that we bring all public services back in-house and recognize the right of employees to organize for better wages and workplace conditions, that we recognize health care as a basic human right, and that our justice system treat all citizens equally regardless to race or social class.

In pursuit of these demands and more, members of Occupy Memphis are meeting regularly, both on-site and in off-site working groups, to draft specific legislative proposals to be advanced on the City, County, State and Federal levels. Many of these initiatives represent renewed passion for decades old efforts that have yet to be realized while others are new initiatives taking shape as we go. By working together, recognizing the interconnections between our causes, we are stronger, more cohesive and less likely to be conquered and divided.

If you are reading the Tri-State Defender, you are one of the 99 percent. We call on you to join us in the Civic Center Plaza, on our working groups and in the halls of government. We ask that you shake off the yoke of corporate consumerism and enthusiastically embrace your role in democracy.

Like Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

It’s time to voice our demands.

(For more information, visit ­occupymemphis.org; www.facebook.com/OccupyMemphis; wearethe99percent.tumblr.com.)

(Scott Banbury is a life long social and environmental justice activist from North Memphis. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 901-619-8567.)

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