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James Ferragut, Published October 22 2011

Ferragut: ‘Occupy’ movement is for real

As a rebel at heart, I was amused to see stories about the Occupy Wall Street protests in Lower Manhattan last month. Two thousand people rallied and marched up Broadway on Sept. 17, stopping at Zuccotti Park; 150 protesters stayed the night and began an encampment in the

hopes of sustaining a legitimate protest. Renaming the park “Liberty Square,” they set out to rail against Wall Street’s orgy of market manipulation.

A web of high-risk, complex financial products managed by hotshot Teflon-suited financiers caused the housing bubble to burst, affecting financial institutions globally and thrusting us into the worst economic depression since, well, the Great Depression.

I didn’t give the protest much thought at first. I looked at it through the jaded eyes of someone who’s been through this before. My teeth were cut protesting the Vietnam War, parading in pro-civil rights marches, in pro-Chicano labor movements in downtown Phoenix and maybe even a “be in” or two in San Francisco. But as Occupy Wall Street started to get traction, I started to pay attention to the message: Almost 40 percent of U.S. wealth is held in the hands of 1 percent of the population, who are taxed more lightly than the majority of Americans. “I am the 99 percent” is being supported by ordinary people who have borne the brunt of the financial crisis with lost jobs, lost homes, personal debt and damn little hope for the future.

“I came here because I wanted to show it wasn’t just young anarchists,” said Deb Steinkamp, 63 and a retired marriage counselor from Seattle. Another protester, Judy Lonning, a 69-year-old retired teacher said: “People are suffering in Iowa. Family farmers are struggling, students face mounting debt and fewer good jobs, and household incomes are plummeting. We’re not willing to keep suffering for Wall Street’s sins any longer. We’re building a movement to make our leaders listen.”

Protesters in 600 cities across America represent all ages, races, walks of life and political beliefs.

Protests last weekend in our neighborhood included Minneapolis, Duluth and Fargo. Fargo’s “Occupy” protest had a unique, sort of controlled Scandinavian wrinkle that only we could pull off: I asked my daughter if she was going to the “Occupy Fargo” site, and she said, “I was going to, but it only went from 10 to 3.” Our little protest was as tightly managed as our city budget. That’s so … well, so Fargo.

But make no mistake. The movement is for real; it’s not going away. Whether 99 percent of America is as disaffected as the protesters would like to believe, the facts are clear. And with all credit going to writer Paddy Chayefsky, the collective voice of Occupy Wall Street is saying, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore!” It’s time somebody listened.

Ferragut, a marketing consultant, is a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pa6es.