[Guest editorial by Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey appeared in the October 10, 2011 Des Moines Register]

There has been a phenomenal outpouring of support across the country in the past week for a tough, tenacious and genuinely populist response to the ongoing economic crisis.

What started as a movement to occupy Wall Street has mushroomed into a national call to action for distressed homeowners, scapegoated union workers, underemployed youth and everyday Americans from all walks of life who have taken a hard look at our political system and economy and realized that they’re not set up to work for us.

The mainstream media and establishment politicos are having a hard time making sense of what is going on, but those of us who have been pushing economic justice and fairness since the 2008 financial crash know what this is: a massive democratic awakening of everyday people ready to fight back against corporate power.

This new Occupy Wall Street movement is happening because everyday people are fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street. We’re fed up with the big banks who crashed the economy and don’t pay their fair share of taxes. We’re fed up with a political system that lavishes bailouts, subsidies and kickbacks on big businesses, Wall Street firms and the top 1 percent while the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet.

This nationwide mobilization is happening because 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and millions more have lost their homes. Meanwhile, politicians in Washington are stuck quibbling over cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — ignoring the harsh reality that we would have no deficit if we had single-payer health care and we stopped fighting two wars — and refusing to find real solutions to make Wall Street pay for the mess it caused.

This new populist movement is happening because the corrosive influence of big money in politics has a chokehold on our democracy, and everyday people and hardworking families are ready to stand up and say “enough is enough.” We want an economy that works for everybody and a political system where people matter more, money matters less.

Our political leaders are too busy asking big banks and Wall Street corporations for campaign contributions to push the “put people first” policies that this nation needs. President Barack Obama has failed to issue a moratorium on home foreclosures or push for a financial speculation tax to raise revenue and bring some stability to the financial markets. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has failed to bring the big banks to justice. His 50-state investigation into the national foreclosure crisis is crumbling after the California and New York attorneys general left the coalition because they know the settlement Miller wants lets big banks off the hook.

What the Occupy Wall Street protesters understand — and what Obama and Miller seemingly don’t — is that Wall Street and the top 1 percent are not more important than the other 99 percent of us who work day in and day out to keep this country running. We won’t pay for their crisis. It’s time to put communities before corporations and people before profits.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members are proud to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeping the nation. The time for action is now. These occupations are a good thing. We need more of them, and we need laws and policies that serve everyday people.


[Guest editorial by Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey appeared in the August 18, 2011 Des Moines Register]

Pres­idential can­didates, including Barack Obama, must be asked tough questions on the Iowa campaign trail so the nation can learn exactly where the can­didates stand on bread and butter issues that mat­ter most to ev­eryday people.

That’s exactly what members of Iowa Cit­i­zens for Community Improve­ment (CCI) did at the State Fair last week when we asked Re­publican pres­idential can­didate Mitt Romney and Demo­crat­ic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz how they would strengthen Social Secu­rity, Medicare, and Med­icaid with­out cutting ben­efits, and make Wall Street corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Romney’s head­line-grabbing quip — his as­sertion that “corporations are people, my friend” — was like a kick in the gut to millions of ev­eryday people struggling in the mid­dle of a Great Re­ces­sion that was caused by big bank and corporate greed.

Regard­less of what the Supreme Court says about corporate person­hood, the claim that corporations are people with inher­ent human rights fails the common-sense test and goes against ev­eryday people’s ba­sic notions of de­cency, equality and fairness.

But all the con­tro­ver­sy surrounding Romney’s re­mark obscured Romney’s actual pol­icy propos­als. When a re­tired teach­er from Des Moines asked Romney if he support­ed scrapping the Social Secu­rity payroll tax cap, Romney responded by saying he supports “progressive price indexing” for Social Secu­rity and a “high­er re­tire­ment age” for Social Secu­rity and Medicare.

Trans­lated into En­glish, that means Romney wants to cut ben­efits for Iowa se­niors, a fact that also should have made head­lines.

An­oth­er mis­sed head­line: Too many Democrats also want to cut Social Secu­rity, Medicare and Med­icaid rather than make big corporations and the super-wealthy pay their fair share.

Af­ter Romney’s “corporations are people” gaffe, Wasserman Schultz was quick to issue a state­ment saying that Romney and the GOP are push­ing policies that put corporate inter­ests ahead of the common good. But Wasserman Schultz, a con­gresswoman from Florida, actually voted for the bad debt ceiling deal that cuts trillions in spending with­out any guar­anteed new rev­enues and sets up a “super-committee” with a mandate to cut Social Secu­rity, Medicare and Med­icaid ben­efits. Pres­ident Obama was the Demo­crat who signed the bad deal into law.

That’s why CCI members also asked Wasserman Schultz tough questions at the State Fair. Al­though the Demo­crat­ic Party is already rais­ing mon­ey with a new TV ad tar­geting Romney and his “corporations are people” line, the fact is that the Demo­crat­ic Party all too of­ten adopts populist rhetoric while push­ing the same pro-corporate policies as the GOP.

When we tried to ask Wasserman Schultz to clar­ify her — and Pres­ident Obama’s — po­sition on this issue, she lit­erally ran away from the questions rather than answer them. At least Romney en­gaged in the demo­crat­ic process, faced tough questions and stood his ground.

Pres­idential can­didates and oth­er leaders from both po­lit­ical parties — including the pres­ident — need to know that they can expect tough questions on the Iowa campaign trail and that ev­eryday Iowans will hold them account­able for their answers. If they don’t answer clearly or hon­estly, they should be called out.

There’s too much at stake this year to play “Iowa nice” and let the can­didates have their photo ops and give their stump speeches with­out be­ing chal­lenged on the things that re­ally mat­ter — like how they plan to crack down on Wall Street greed and start putting communities before corporations and people before prof­its.