Occupy Wall Street is now undeniably a fixture of global conversation. No one should be surprised. In the wake of the global economic crisis, income disparities between the rich and poor have grown more acute, more painful. Here in the United States, more people are unemployed than at any point since the Great Depression, with no improvement in sight.
You’ve seen the stats by now — which in itself counts as a success for the Occupy Wall Street movement: CEO pay has skyrocketed more than 300 percent since 1990, while pay for the average worker has grown a pitiful 4.3 percent. The richest 1 percent owns nearly half the wealth in the United States, while the poorest 250 million of us own a mere 15 percent combined.
And that’s why the movement is primed to spread into Brooklyn. New York’s largest borough is the backbone of the city, home to millions of its hardest workers. Kings County has been harder hit by the recession than almost any other in New York State — the unemployment rate has doubled since the crash of 2008. According to the latest census data, 21.7 percent of Brooklynites live in poverty. That’s some 564,000 people.
That figure should register like a punch to the gut. Hundreds of thousands of our friends, neighbors, family members, our fellow Brooklynites, don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Thousands have lost their homes. In fact, Brooklyn has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state. And many of our neighbors were targeted for bad subprime loans by the very banks whose headquarters loom just across the East River. Yet it was those banks that got bailed out by the federal government — they’re already turning massive profits again — while struggling, middle class Brooklynites were left to drown in debt.
That’s not right. And it’s a big part of the reason Brooklyn saw the first Occupy Wall Street events last week: There was a general assembly in Downtown, a rally at Grand Army Plaza, and a peaceful protest at a foreclosure auction. These small, but spirited, events helped set the stage for what’s to come: A movement that fights for economic justice for the 99 percent. Right here in Brooklyn.
Brian Merchant was one of the organizers of Saturday’s Occupy Brooklyn rally in Grand Army Plaza.