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What should be the Next Step for the OWS Movement?

Citizen Watchdog Groups Have an Important Role to Play in the OWS Movement

It’s been one month since the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement set off a chain of events that have literally spread throughout the world. I believe the motivation for the movement comes from two sources: (1) the efforts of those involved in the “Arab Spring” to bring about meaningful and lasting change in the way their government operates and how they treat citizenry and (2) the ongoing economic crisis in the U.S. that has affected many in the ‘99%’. Just consider the effects of the financial crisis that ushered in a recession in 2008 and motivated the ‘99%’ to protest nationwide.

  • Millions have lost their jobs or been forced to work beneath their skill level, accept less hours on the job, no pay raises, and increases in their share of health plan costs
  • Millions have been unable to prevent their houses from going into foreclosure because of the downward spiral of home prices, underwater mortgages, and stagnant or a decline in in their personal wealth over a number of years
  • Millions have seen their retirement accounts (i.e. IRAs, 401-Ks) go down in value or increase only marginally due to declines in stock prices over a number of years

I haved previously blogged about the growing gap in income in America. Studies show that the 400 richest families in America, who saw their wealth increase by some $400 billion during the Bush years, have now accumulated $1.27 trillion in wealth. At the same time, working families have watched as median family incomes dropped nearly $2,200, the third year in a row we have witnessed such a decline. In a recent report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau on poverty in America, 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty.  The number of those living in poverty in America has grown by 2.6 million in just the last 12 months, and that is thelargest increase that we have ever seen since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures back in 1959. Back in the year 2000, 11.3% of all Americans were living in poverty.  Today, 15.1%  of all Americans are living in poverty.  The last time the poverty level was this high was back in 1993.

Participants in the OWS movement point to the gap between rich and poor, use of public funds to bail out failing companies (i.e., the GM, Chrysler, and AIG), and greed on Wall Street and in corporate America as evidenced by a survey by that shows the average salary and benefits paid to the CEOs of the Standard & Poor’s top 500 companies in 2010 was $11.4 million. We are rapidly becoming a country of haves and have-nots and that is a recipe for civil disobedience, or worse. Add to the mix the public distrust of government and politicians who place partisan interests ahead of acting for the public good, and you can understand why our individual angst has now spread throughout the country.

Critics of the OWS movement believe it has been hijacked by groups that have self-serving interests such as the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), labor unions, and those just looking for a warm place to sleep. No doubt, there is some truth in these charges and other (fringe) groups and individuals have given the movement a bad name. But this is to be expected in a Vietnam-type environment where disenchantment among the populace has motivated a movement for change in the way “the powers that be” drive the political and economic agenda in America.

The OWS movement needs to identify where they want to go with their legitimate complaints. The Tea Party organized into a powerful representative group with a common point of view – no new taxes, reductions in entitlement payments, and cleaning up America’s economic mess that, as of November 18, created an outstanding public debt of more than $15 trillion and climbing --  which is over $48,000 for each citizen of the U.S. based on a population of about 312 million.  

I recommend that government watchdog groups take the lead in identifying a unifying message for the OWS movement. Most of these groups have missions that are complimentary to that of OWS. Here are some groups I think could lead the way:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: an organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests.

Common Cause: an advocacy organization that serves as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest. 

Corporate Accountability International: a group that challenges corporate abuse and demands direct corporate accountability to public interests.

The Project On Government Oversight: a watchdog group that champions good government reforms and  investigates corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

These are four groups that can best lead the charge to promote ethics in government, accountability from our elected officials, public interest decision-making, and corporate responsibility. Many other groups are equally worthy to lead the way, but the effort must be limited and focused on common goals to have a meaningful impact on the OWS movement, create true and lasting change, and to advance the endeavor to the next level of true reform in government and corporate America.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 19, 2011