Remember the “We Are the 99%” Occupy Movement? Ever wonder who is in the 1%? Well, according to some new data, it appears Members of Congress are in the 1%. As I gathered information for this post, the lyrics of the old song titled “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” kept popping in my head. The chorus says,
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes.”
I wonder if Congress would be so quick to cut unemployment benefits or drastically reduce funding for programs serving children and Veterans if they had to walk a mile in the shoes of children, veterans, and other needy people they are sworn to represent. Maybe, just maybe, this income disparity is at the heart of what is wrong with Congress. They have (and some probably never had) lost touch with the people they represent.
A few weeks ago the folks over at Center for Responsive Politics in their Open Secrets blog released results of their review of the financial records members of Congress are required to share. I’m guessing most savvy Sister Source readers won’t be surprised to know that they found about half of the members of Congress are millionaires. To be most accurate, the report speaks to net worth, not necessarily all cash per se. But I don’t think that nuance really matters. Can someone who is worth $1 million+ really relate to and design laws and budgets that address the needs of low-income people? I think some of them can, especially those that were not born rich. But I think the vast majority of them don’t seem to ‘get it’ and have totally screwed up views about the real struggle of everyday Americans.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. In the chart below we see that the wealth is pretty evenly spread out—both Democrats and Republicans are in the millionaire club. Click here to see where your members of Congress rank in terms of net worth. I find it interesting that Democrats seem to get the importance of spending on safety net programs like food stamps and extended unemployment benefits, while their wealthy Republican counterparts seem hell-bent on cutting benefits and maintaining tax policies that benefit the rich.
Perhaps what is going on the Virginia’s outgoing Republican governor Bob McDonnell can shed some light on a part of the issue. To summarize for those of you that don’t live in the DC Metro area, Governor McDonnell and his wife were just indicted on various corruption charges in VA. Apparently there are emails between his wife and a large wealthy donor courting favors in the form of clothing to wear to the inaugural events and to help cover the costs of their daughter’s wedding. It looks like they’ve been caught red-handed, but the Governor is adamant that no favors or special benefits were given to the wealthy donor in exchange for his personal support and generosity. I don’t know if the allegations are true, but it does raise the concern about how easy it seems to be for wealthy folks to gain intimate access to elected officials. If I had close access to an elected official, and not a low-level, well-meaning staffer, I certainly wouldn’t be talking about fashion!
Sisters, I wrote this piece to let you know what we are up against. We are fighting an ingrained ‘system’ where politicians are too likely to be unduly influenced by wealthy folks. I get it; if I’m wealthy it stands to reason that my friends would be too. If I’m wealthy, the likelihood that I spend time in the hood (on purpose) is probably zero. If I’m wealthy, that probably means I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about making ends meet. But if you’re an elected official your socioeconomic status should be secondary to the oath you took to serve ALL Americans—rich, poor, or ‘fronting.’
I think we need serious campaign reform that totally overhauls how elections are paid for and tips the scales back to the 99%. I think we need more low-income and middle-class folks running for office. Folks with real life experience with the social safety net and how it is supposed to work to help those who need it. How do we get here? It begins with our involvement in the political process. Please keep reading thesistersource.com and see how you can be ENGAGED in the policymaking process that impacts your life in so many ways. Share what you see here with your friends. Encourage friends and family to ACT.
Our collective action in this crazy, mixed up thing we call American politics is the only way to squash the ‘power’ of the 1%. Sure they have money and have bought many elections. But the 99% showed our power in the 2012 election when the billions of dollars spent by the ‘dark side’ failed to defeat the donations AND support of the 99% for President Obama. We CAN do it-TOGETHER!