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In the weeks since protesters calling themselves The 99 Percent started occupying Wall Street in lower Manhattan, the world has started to take notice. There's now a Tumblr blog dedicated to the demonstration, and the movement gets bigger and stronger by the day. Yet despite the fact that the 99 percenters are organized, numerous, and can articulate their grievances with aplomb, some people are still saying they "don't know what they want." CNN's Erin Burnett famously said on Monday that all the protesters seem to want is "a messiah leader, just like they did when they anointed Barack Obama."
Having taken a few minutes to actually listen to the protesters and read through the 99 Percent blog, we've discovered it's quite simple to find out what the Wall Street occupiers want. We've compiled the grievances here, organized into five major issues. Feel free to send this distillation to anyone who, like Burnett and her ilk, complain condescendingly about Occupy Wall Street's "lack of message." We've also included some tangible things protesters can ask for from their elected leaders in order to improve their lives. Because while holding up signs at rallies is a start, that action must eventually become long-lasting policy.
Affordable Health Care
Out of 100 posts taken at random on the We Are the 99 Percent blog, nearly half complained of skyrocketing medical bills that derailed entire lives. Illness can be expensive, and when it hits someone who's already in a financially precarious position, it can be tough or impossible to recover. The 99 Percenters want affordable healthcare that won't screw them over with fine-print clauses when they get sick. It's that simple.
If you're a 99 Percenter, you should fight against the Republican movement to kill President Obama's health care reform law. You should also fight for tax reforms that would increase revenue to prevent cuts from Medicaid and Medicare. This means ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which could save the country trillions.
This goes without saying—at the root of a lot of the 99 Percenters' anger is unemployment. When someone has job security, debt and grocery bills don't seem so terrifying. But when jobs go away, normal financial obligations become inescapable burdens. Being unemployed or underemployed also chips away at a person's dignity.
If you're a 99 Percenter, you should throw your support behind the president's jobs bill, which estimates say could save hundreds of thousands of jobs. The GOP is trying to paint the jobs bill as a second stimulus, but would that be such a bad thing? The first stimulus saved millions of jobs.
About a quarter of the 100 posts we looked at on We Are the 99 Percent dealt with issues of home affordability or homelessness. One woman even admitted to becoming a prostitute in an effort to pay her mortgage. The predatory loans doled out before the start of the financial meltdown put a lot of families underwater almost as soon as things turned bad, and people have been trying to pay their way out ever since. Loud rants from Tea Party idols saying the United States shouldn't help Americans out of poverty haven't simplified matters at all.
If you're a 99 Percenter, you should praise Obama's Home Affordable Modification Program. Known as HAMP for short, the program reduces or suspends mortgage payments for homeowners in need of some breathing room. In July, the administration opened up HAMP even further, making it more generous for unemployed people in need. And as we recommended last week, America's banks should simply forgive the mortgage debts of struggling Americans: "The recession is far worse in areas of the country with the most bad debts and foreclosures, and debt relief can take the edge off."
Student loan debt is a problem turning up a lot at both We Are the 99 Percent and Occupy Wall Street. Since the decline of America's manufacturing sector, the status quo has insisted that going to college is the easiest way to secure a living. Many people started taking out private loans to earn their degrees, and then the bottom fell out of the economy. What we're left with is people with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt who thought they would be guaranteed a good job upon graduation. Many of those jobs have yet to materialize.
If you're a 99 Percenter, besides supporting the jobs bill, you can also fight against the GOP's attempts to drastically cut back America's Pell Grant program, which helps about 9 million students per year pay for college. Beyond that, perhaps it's time for people to begin reconsidering college altogether, or at least what kind of college they attend. For instance, several people on the We Are the 99 Percent blog say they went to expensive private schools and are now only able to find minimum-wage jobs. If the choice is between an Ivy and a good, cheap state school, the time has come to seriously consider the state school. Education is often what you make of it, not how pricey it is. One last suggestion: Former students should be able to dismiss their student-loans through bankruptcy, which is presently forbidden.
Credit Card Debt Relief
Though less prevalent and extreme than mortgage and education debt, credit card debt is still a major issue for a lot of the 99 Percenters. When people's jobs went away and unemployment insurance wasn't enough to make ends meet, some turned to credit cards for relief. Now they're stuck with thousands of dollars in credit debt.
If you're a 99 Percenter, you can once again call for debt relief, and some protesters have indeed said they want their credit debt forgiven. You can also move your money from big, predatory banks to smaller community banks and then only use those banks' debit cards, not credit cards. You won't be able to spend as much as you have in the past, but you'll also be sending a real message to the banks on Wall Street. And that's the whole point, right?