The Occupy Wall Street protest movement which began in New York City on Sept. 17 has been spreading like wildfire throughout the country. The protests reached Main Street Sylva last Saturday, a day deemed for global demonstrations urging “economic justice.”
Almost 100 citizens from Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, and Haywood counties, including State Representative Phil Haire, attended the rally, which was held around the fountain at the bottom of the old Jackson County Courthouse.
The Occupy demonstrations have remained an ongoing series of international protests united under the identity of being part of the 99 percent of citizens who are not among the wealthiest; although reports on the movement have questioned the lack of organization and clear meaning for the protests, citizens who attended Sylva’s event explained that they are primarily against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money in state and federal elections.
According to Haire, the public’s discontent for the economy can be attributed to continuing tax cuts mandated from the state level. “Times are hard because of all the tax cuts Congress and the state have proposed,” said Haire. “I have figured out what all the tax breaks are about. All that corporate money is going into Republican fundraisers to get people elected — like what happened in the state of North Carolina.”
Haire mentioned the recent article published in The New Yorker, which addresses the fairness of Art Pope’s financial contributions to Republicans like N.C. Senator Jim Davis. According to Haire, Congress’ decision to allow corporations to put unlimited funding into campaigns has had a detrimental impact on elections.
Scrutinizing the Republican agenda, Haire noted that the current economic crisis was not caused by President Obama, but instead was an obligation he gained when taking the presidency in 2008. “We didn’t have a balanced budget under Reagan and he was going to save the world,” said Haire. “We didn’t have one under George W. Bush, who got us into a war. Then along came Bill Clinton—we had a balanced budget, things were getting better, and then we had George Jr. come in, he cut all these taxes and got us into war again in Iraq, the economy tanked under him, but yet it is all Obama’s fault? I still haven’t figured all that out.”
The largest impact of the Occupy Wall Street protests has been establishing a center point for generalized economic and political frustration. Wall Street has been the focus of the protests because citizens hold corporations responsible for triggering the financial crisis in 2008, which nearly destroyed the global economy. Although the United States is no longer considered to be in a recession, the economy is still suffering as a result, with record high unemployment numbers and massive reports of foreclosures.
As a result of Wall Street’s fiscal irresponsibility in 2008, George W. Bush had to issue a colossal bailout plan, which has allowed corporations to bounce back and even flourish during economic times when the other 99 percent is struggling to survive.
Former Jackson County Commissioner and current Chair for the Jackson County’s Democratic Party, Bryan McMahan, spoke at the demonstration to rally support for the Occupy Wall Street protests and to stand up against corporate greed. “Members of Wall Street must not have listened to their mothers when they read nursery rhymes to them,” said McMahan. “From what I remember, Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but they are trying to stick their hands in our pockets and that’s wrong and I’m not going to stand for that. I think it is time we stand up and let them know that we bailed them out with our taxpayer money and now we expect for them to bail main street out.”
According to Sylva resident Marsha Crites, Saturday’s demonstration was geared toward rebuilding the American Dream. “We have lost sight of the American Dream and if we ever want to get it back, there are ten points we must understand,” said Crites. “Invest. We must invest in America’s infrastructure— we are not a poor county, the money is just in the wrong place. Our bridges, our infrastructure is falling apart, and we need to fix it. We need to create 21st century energy jobs and invest in public education. We must offer Medicare for all and make work pay—Americans have the right to fair wages, to effectively and collectively bargain and enjoy equal opportunities. Social Security—it is called security for a reason. We need to return to fair tax rates. We need to strengthen Democracy. We need cleaner, fairer elections, where no one’s right to vote can be taken away and when money does not buy you your own member of Congress.”