Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

My legal practice is in the area of promoting the civil rights of people with disabilities.  As such, I pay very close attention to public policy and practically everything related to politics. Both personally and professionally, I am supportive of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.  I support this burgeoning movement, not because I agree with them completely, but rather, because so far they have been the only opposing voice to entrenched power and the Tea Party.  For many in the disability community, the Tea Party and Ayn Rand inspired activists are simply too scary. 

As an example of my concerns, consider long-term care i.e., nursing homes.  Medicaid usually pays the monthly bill for people in nursing homes, but on the other side, in many instances, these institutions are owned by publicly traded, for-profit companies.  Consequently, there is a financial benefit to the owners of nursing homes to keep people warehoused, often against their will.  Under federal Medicaid rules, states are required to pay for nursing home expenses, but they are not required to pay for services provided in the community.  This results in many states simply deciding not to pay for and provide care in the community.  

Another factor behind the institutional bias is the unions representing nursing home employees.  Politicians are so desperate to curry favor with the healthcare unions that they will do anything to “protect jobs” and get reelected.  We saw this most recently under Gov. Andrew Cuomo with his Medicaid Redesign efforts; New Yorkers with disabilities were largely shut out of the “Redesign” process and bracing for some awful policies headed our way.

In New York State alone, there are approximately 10,000 people in nursing homes, under the age of 65, that have expressed a desire to live in the community and, who by all objective medical standards, could live in the community safely and at a cheaper cost to taxpayers.  In other states, the statistics are even more biased in favor of institutions and I have two friends that moved from Alabama to New York because they were looking at being forced into a nursing home.

Gradually more coherent objectives will get fleshed out and I do not expect perfection right out of the gate.  Organizers on the right have been fine-tuning their arguments since the early 60s.  If it takes the OWS a little longer than a few evening news cycles to express their message, it’s okay with me.  What I hope ultimately results from the OWS movement is a series of principled policies that promote real accountability of all those in power, whether they are on Wall Street, politics/government, lobbyists or any organization which puts its self-interest above that of the individual.

For the time being, as the saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and that is enough for me.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

  1. maggie

    I sure would like to know what dp’s are showing up in each protest site! Our community used to be wonderful protestors. So far I have seen ONE wheelchair user in D.C. but carrying a sign that had NOTHING to do with ANY of our issues!?? Maybe he was employed, had private insurance, not in danger of institutionalization, has terrific housing, drives his own car/van… BUT one is so much better than NONE! Thanks for your thoughts! Your offer came through a listserve so others have no doubt read your thoughts. Maggie

  2. tkadmin Post author


    I agree with you completely. People with disabilities need to get out and join the various Occupy (wherever) activities. At least here in NYC, I have always seen unfamiliar PWDs, so it suggests that there are some people making the effort.

    Thank you for your interest and comment.

    T.K. Small

  3. Brad Williams

    Excellent blog. Yes our community needs to branch out and connect with other movements. When you consider the recent articles about how much the poverty rate has increased in our country and the number of those individuals who are people with disabilities on fixed income and benefits, we should be out protesting and connecting with these OWS folks. As it stands, Congress wants to cut benefits like Medicaid and Medicare. It brings us back to the argument of WHY are the wealthiest 1% not paying their fare share instead! Hey, we should be protesting on Wall Street and letting Congress know what we think about this.

  4. Bryon MacDonald

    OWS comments:

    “real accountability of all those in power, whether they are on Wall Street, politics/government, lobbyists or any organization which puts its self-interest above that of the individual.”

    Thank you TK, your article right on the money, as it were. I don’t think OWS is anti money, or business or government, OWS is rage at the lack of any pretense of transparency. Medicare Part D in 2003 was passed at 3am in the morning in the House reportedly by bribing certain House members to tilt the vote to Yes.

    ENRON held most CA residents hostage to their sky rocketing public utility bills while hundreds made huge salaries in that private bilking. How many were jailed?

    I don’t think it’s about greed, it’s about accountability in what you do. I work in a non profit that passes a strict federal audit review year after year after year. We work everyday under those terms and sleep at night.

    Size of government or business is not the issue, it’s what it produces cost effectively. Who complains about the size of the Apple Corporation?

    The public discourse for the past 24 months has been below banal and it’s costing us all. Let’s hope OWS continues to upgrade the dialogue about “all Americans; and when I say all Americans, I mean all Americans.” Ted Kennedy

  5. Mel Tanzman

    Great piece TK. I visited OWS twice this weekend. It would be tough to get thru the crowds in a chair and there are no other accomodations such as ASL, so there are limits to how our folks can participate. They are really building a community there and the decisionmaking process is remarkably participatory. Maybe we should ask them if they would welcome a forum/discussion with us and put it on their schedule- Invite DIA and other advocates- what do you think

  6. tkadmin Post author

    Mel, a bunch of us were there yesterday, including a significant contingent from DIA. I know that it would be difficult for me to be engaged in the OWS participatory democracy, but there are other PWDs who have gotten involved. I am fairly certain that they do have a disability workgroup. I will try to follow up and get back to you.

  7. charles

    To: TK Small : Thank You for the endless , champining, intellegent thinking, and overall commitment to those in our society who are most vulnerable. I am a triple stroke survivor, who volunteers time at a local Adult Senior day care , here in Burke county, NC. Our clients ; some with wheelchairs , some with walkers , some with stroke symptoms , some with dimensia , widow’s , & widower’s are so greatful that you are able to be their voice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May God Bless You!!!!!! Charles

  8. Jolene Rusk

    I loved your thoughts although I respectfully disagree with your stance on the OWS movement. Do you really believe they know what they are marching or protesting about? So far it has been about ever injustice ever known to man, the reason it catches on as a “movement” is those without a sense of belonging saw this and rode that train…

    To change the lives of persons with disabilities you need public policy changes, changes than affect where one can live the quality of care they receive and the kinds of repercussions they can take if they are neglected. Not to mention the kind of ignorance like, “one is so much better than NONE…” So, now we should be tokens? In a movement about nothing, but anger simply because one is better than one — very chilling.

  9. amy

    from the OWS mission statement –
    “They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.”

    where is the mention of disability?

    were we left out because none of us were there?

    and yes, we do need to fight for better services, but what about also fighting for better job opportunities. it SEEMS like i hear so much about services but so little about fighting for what could make us more self sufficient. am i missing something?

  10. #Occupy at Home

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a disability rights activist who lives and works from my bed. I know many PWDs who cannot travel, who participate in life from home or bed. We exist, and we can help. We ARE part of the 99 percent, as you know!
    We can donate supplies, make calls, tweet, and even participate in the General Strike — even if we’re on disability.
    Please spread the word and join us. We are just getting our sites set up.
    We’ve started #Occupy at Home for people with disabilities or illnesses that prevent us from traveling who support the Occupy movement. Please spread the word to those who want to help from home, and to other #Occupies that we exist, and that we can help. and on Facebook

  11. Ralph Giordano

    Nice work Mr. Small.
    I support your decision to join the Occupy Wall Street activities so long as they are peaceful and law abiding. You also lament President Obama’s policy regarding a health care program and other government agency shortcomings. But there is no equally deserving balancing movement calling fior an Occupy Washington movement.

    We will not solve our countries economic downturn with remedies that criticize all with unfair fervor and visibly place blame on one segment of society as is being visited on Wall Street. The nations economic difficulties were brought on by powerful government, labor, and private sector leaders both conservative and liberal who
    denied fiscal realities in instituting failed economic practices. Mr. Small we need to implement strategies that seek to limit misguided politically expedient government policies and self serving big labor choices, as well as Wall Street
    Thanks, Ralph Giordano

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