Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: The "Leaderless" Movement on the Leading Edge

The Occupy Wall Street movement is against greed and corruption. But what are they for? What is their vision?

I’d like to think they are for re-instating the true essence of the American Dream.

The American Dream is played out a little differently if you are a recent immigrant or home-grown, but at it’s core it is about ensuring equal opportunity for everyone. Having friends in high places in order to get ahead  is not supposed to be what the US is all about. Americans are supposed to have equal opportunity to start one’s own business, to get an education, to find a job, and yes, even for health care. Citizens insisted that they had an equal opportunity to own their own homes, which unfortunately our financial and real estate systems tried to support (although primarily from a greedy motivation not a patriotic one) to everyone’s detriment.

We don’t truly yet have equal opportunity, of course, but that is what all our laws and regulations over the past decades have striven toward. And having lived and travelled internationally, we do have equal opportunity far more than most countries.

But has equal opportunity turned into the American Pipe Dream?

The “white man’s sickness” of needing to have more and more has eroded the American Dream. Perhaps this culmination was inevitable. We watched from the outside as Washington power-brokers rewarded each other for their favors with contracts, tax cuts, and donations. Huge corporations got huger, and politicians and CEOs got explosively richer.

But as long as we were able to live in relative abundance with our computers, fancy phones and other gadgets, we let it slide. Most of us were pretty happy with our level of comfort and managed to turn a blind eye to the growing population of homeless and poor.

But now we feel the pain too. We have cut back, slid back, and spun our wheels trying to stay in place to no avail. Yet the barbs keep coming to remind us that there is a huge gap between the average American and that one percent. CEO pay is one of the most obvious:

• Since the 1970’s median pay for executives at the largest US companies have quadrupled, even adjusting for inflation. Over the same period, average pay for a non-supervisory worker dropped more than 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• CEOs at 299 US companies had combined compensation of $3.4 billion in 2010, enough to pay 102,325 workers, according to the AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch. Average pay per CEO was $11.4 million.

• According to an October 10th, 2011 fact-checking article on Politifact, the latest CEO-to-worker pay ratio in the U.S. is “185 to 1 in one study and 325 to 1 in another -- and those numbers were not generated by groups that might have an ideological interest in downplaying the gaps between rich and poor.”

• The average American large-company CEO makes 225% more than the average large-company CEO in the other 13 largest industrial countries. According to Lawrence Mishel's study "The State of Working America 2005, 2006" from the Economic Policy Institute.

There is no doubt that compensation for large company executives is so out of whack that it can lead to poor employee morale and an increasing ‘us against them’ mentality. That type of thinking leads to employees cutting corners and not engaging in such a way that creativity and growth suffer. It’s just poor business strategy in the long run.

And now, the relentless economic struggle has resulted in the Occupy Wall Street movement. This movement is said to be leaderless but seems to me to be filled with leaders. They are the leaders of all of us complacent disgruntled Americans who have done nothing but complain and become dismayed and depressed at our lack of forward momentum. They are on the leading edge of those who want to take back the American Dream and refresh it with a more collaborative, honest and egalitarian commitment. And they want to see that commitment to refreshment and change from the current establishment powers-that-be.

We - "the 99%" - may have the education and the initiative, but the opportunities are lacking. Most of us don’t have the connections that 31-year-old Chelsea Clinton has, who was recently offered a $300,000 per year Board position with IAC. The playing field is not level and never has been. But it has gotten so enormously steep in the past couple of decades that we are exhausted trying to maintain our footing.

Things have got to change and the leaders of the change are out there camping in the streets. These leaders are redefining leadership as we are used to viewing it. How are they articulating their vision? Are we on board yet? If so, why? If not, why not? Does it have anything to do with their leadership style? What results are they getting? What relationships are they building?

Is Occupy Wall Street a revolution in leadership as much as a movement against greed and corruption? I, for one, am going to pay attention and find out.
Or is it just a movement of bums?  (Warning:  foul language!)

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