A Visit with the Occupiers in Santa Fe

A Visit with the Occupiers in Santa Fe

When Dwight Eisenhower was president, the richest Americans payed a roughly 90 percent income tax rate. 

Today, millionaire Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pays about 14 percent of his income back to the government in taxes.

When Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States, “he built the interstate highway system,”, said Rick Fisher, who lives in Santa Fe. 

Today, public school budgets and women’s health programs and food banks and police departments and so much more are having their budgets cut due to lack of revenues. 

“People had a sense back then (during Eisenhower’s administration) that this country is what provided for their health and their well being,” said Fisher. “We’ve lost that. The rich earned their money on the backs of America, either selling stuff to the American people, or using our infrastructure, or mining on land that belongs to the people.” 

That their tax rates have declined so much over the last half-century, Fisher said, “is immoral.”

Fisher was one of about 100 people who attended this week’s “May Day” event at the Santa Fe Railyard. He held a sign with the words “End Corporate Govt.! $$$$ Out!” He and the rest of the throng consider themselves part of the Occupy Santa Fe movement, and there were similar Occupy Wall Street rallies going on around the country. 

Or maybe not so similar. In New York City on the same day (May 1), more than 50 occupiers were arrested after scuffles with police. Occupy Oakland marchers got tear gassed. Looting, reportedly, broke out in Seattle and San Francisco. 

The police presence was scant in Santa Fe, where Dr. Seuss’s pro-environmental book “The Lorax” was read aloud and speakers took turns encouraging the throng with tales of the original May Day in 1867 Chicago, when workers went on strike to get an eight-hour work day. 

Mostly, though, there was conversation. A small “Democracy Listening Corner” table was set up by the group We Are People Here. 

“We’re looking for signs of hope at this booth,” said We Are People Here’s Nichoe Lichen, who sat and politely chatted with people who stopped to take a five-minute turn at the table. “A big part of democracy is being able to listen. I don’t think people are angry. They’re more disappointed, hurt, confused, scared. People wonder what’s going to happen to them.”

The Occupy movement has been ripped by critics for lacking a single, cohesive message. Several of the Occupy Santa Feans said that’s part of the point – to not be cornered into specific declarations when there’s so much wrong these days with the American political system. 

“We’re forming a new kind of dignity,” said Lichen. “It’s about respect for yourself and others. … I hear so much deep concern from all facets for the well-being and future of the country. Some people blame Obama for all the problems we have. Some people blame George Bush. At the heart of it is deep concern for the country.” 

But what now? Occupy Santa Fe is rallying and holding their general assemblies and using the dreaded “People’s microphone” (one person says something, then everyone around that person repeats it) and giving each other strange hand signals, but does any of this really change anything? There were a lot of very nice people at the May Day rally at the Railyard, but there weren’t any lawmakers. 

“There needs to be more public action so we can get our point across,” said Fisher, the guy with the “$$$$ Out!” sign. “Hopefully we can make enough of an impact on both (political) parties to pay attention to these issues.’

With the weather warming and a November election looming, expect to hear more form the Occupiers in 2012. Whether the movement can tangibly impact policy, though, remains to be seen.

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