Even those who were not inclined to identify with the crowds of demonstrators — students and retirees alike — who picketed in front of Town Hall in the last weeks of summer of 2011 to protest social and economic inequality, will have to admit that the Occupy Berkshires movement, inspired by the nationwide Occupy Wall Street campaign, has left an enduring, prophetic legacy.
A new Gilded Age has formally arrived.
The New York Times reports that the income of the American middle class, once the pride of a robust American egalitarian society, has sunk below that of its Canadian counterpart, while millionaires and billionaires have seen their wealth increase dramatically, creating the largest income inequality since 1928.
According to Northwestern University professor Jeffrey Winters, America is transforming into an oligarchy.
“Each of the 500 wealthiest Americans is about 20,000 times as rich as the average person in the bottom 90 percent,” he argues. “If we focus only on financial resources, the average American in the top 500 has 40,000 times the wealth power of the median citizen.”
But the late summer and fall of 2011 was a moment when a great many people in the Berkshires and nationwide believed their voices were finally initiating a much needed and long-awaited change of attitude in the country.
Now, three years later, Occupy Berkshires proponent Lynne Posner of Great Barrington reflects on what protestors’ efforts accomplish.
“I am not an activist by nature, and did not used to be interested in politics,” she explains. But following the death of her late husband, a man who she says was very politically driven, she has become increasingly interested and involved in local and national politics. It followed, then, that when the “Occupy Wall Street” movement came to Great Barrington in the form of the “Occupy Berkshires,” she wasted no time in joining the protests.
Posner, along with many of her fellow demonstrators who gathered in front of Town Hall every Sunday, continue to fight corporate personhood, and the influence money in U.S. politics.
“Occupy wanted to change the world,” she mused. “People were waiting for the system to explode so that we could rebuild it.”
She admitted that this was not exactly what happened.
Nevertheless, Posner does feel that “Occupy Berkshires” was welcomed in the community, and that the protests drew a lot of local attention and encouragement. She admits that the movement’s energy dissipated, as protesters slowly went back to their private lives.
“We lost a lot of young steam, especially when the college students returned to school, as well as the kinds of people who would go down and join the demonstrators in New York at Zuccotti Park.”
But she doesn’t blame them.
“People have lives, and sometimes it can be hard to fit things in,” she said.
In the early stages of the “Occupy Berkshires” movement, a handful of community-based programs were created with goals ranging from ensuring that sustainable agriculture techniques were adopted in Great Barrington to installing an alternative method of underwriting political campaigns so that money does not buy votes. But over the past three years, she concedes, many of these goals have disappeared as quickly as they were born.
Still, Posner, along with a small group of dedicated people is working on one of the last remaining local projects inspired by “Occupy Berkshires.” She and her colleagues are drafting a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed corporate personhood, allowing unchecked corporate donations to politicians.
“We need to take the power of money out of the political process, and return the government to the people,” she said.
One accomplishment of the Occupy Berkshires movement was to encourage activist and journalist Bill Shein of Alford to run in the primary for the Congressional seat being vacated by John Olver.
“The movement forced Bill Shein out of his shell and he ran for Congress,” she noted. “He ran on a platform that we need to stave off the influence of corporate greed and reduce inequality throughout the nation. He importance of his campaign for spreading awareness of these issues cannot be over overstated.”
She also pointed out that there are organizations such as “Common Cause” and “Public Citizen” working to restore economic and political equality, but Posner realizes the scope of the task ahead is daunting.
“There is still a lot of coalescing within the movements that needs to be done, but the reform is not going to come out of these different organizations alone,” she said “It is going to come from state legislatures and from Congress. This is still far in the future. Right now we need to spread awareness of the issues.”