Funny Business with Jane Wells

Occupy Wall Street Moves Beyond Wall Street

Demonstrators rally on Wall Street in lower Manhattan in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011.
Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Occupy Wall Street movementhas moved west. They've set up camp in Los Angeles, where, yesterday, dozens of protestors carrying signs marched to the courthouse where Michael Jackson's doctor is on trial, chanting "This is It."

That was funny.

Say what you will about the protestors—do they know what they're talking about? Are they unemployed slackers with nothing better to do? Are the blaming the right people —they've struck a nerve with a lot of people. They represent deep seated anger in this country. What the Tea Party did for the right, Occupy Wall Street is doing for the left.

Americans are angry.

Angry at government, angry at big business, angry at banks, and sometimes angry at themselves or their neighbors for buying houses they couldn't afford.

It's not just on the fringe.

I had dinner with a group of successful professionals this weekend, people with jobs, and they're angry, too. They feel that despite all their success, there are forces at work in this country stifling prosperity. Pick your perpetrator, the result is the same—a feeling of disgust and distrust.

As you know, the main beef with the latest group of protestors is that big corporations are greedy. Are they? At what point does prosperous cross over into greed?

Take a company like Amgen, which had nothing to do with the housing crisis or the financial crisis. This week the Washington Post reportsthat Amgen's board gave the CEO a nice raise even as the company underperforms. Why? Maybe it's because the board is stacked with the CEO's friends. Who wouldn't want to earn $350,000 a year going to a couple meetings?

On the other hand, I live five miles from Amgen headquarters. That company has made a lot of hard-working, talented people wealthy. Many of them are new Americans who've come from Korea, China, India and Japan. These people provide taxes for schools, put money into the community, and have propped up housing prices (a little) in a horrific housing market. If that's the result of greed, well, greed is good.

Still, I'm glad the Post pointed out what the CEO is making and who is on the board. I like all this mouthing off about Wall Street, all the occupation and Michael Moore rallying the troops, just like I liked and the Tea Party shaking things up. Anger is good. It's better than giving up and being depressed. Protest is necessary, and we're not killing anyone while we're at it, by the way.

There are no riots. Yet.

There is so much that needs to be better in America, but let's not forget there's also so much that is right.

This weekend I went to a bar mitzvah for a friend's son. It was a very traditional, old-school service. The congregation was made up of North Africans and Persians, and I had to sit with the other women behind a screen. They spoke French and Farsi, and for two hours, I listened to the cantor sing. I felt like I was experiencing something going back hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

The boy's family is Russian (I know, a Russian family at a North African synagogue—only in LA, people). The reception was at a Russian restaurant—dark, lot of red wall coverings, the real deal. I didn't understand a word anyone was saying, there was a ton of food, lots of Russian music and dancing, and the amount of vodka was only matched by the amount of tequila.

What a party!

I sat next to a first generation Mexican American woman, whose son is on the same soccer team as the bar mitzvah boy. She, like I, had never seen anything like this. We didn't sense that anyone in the room was worried about whether America is on the wrong track or if the rich are bad. These people are immigrants who came to this country to be safe and free and prosperous. Yes, people are out of work, people are losing houses, but in that room on Saturday there was hope and happiness. Someone at the party filled our shot glasses with vodka, and my seatmate turned to me to toast America. "We are so blessed," she said.

We are.

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