John Florez: Occupiers are canaries in the mine

Published: Saturday, Nov. 12 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Occupy Salt Lake protestors march, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, through downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 10, 2011.

Deseret News

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The Wall Street occupiers are the canaries in the coal mine of our society. They are warning us of the decay of our nation's values that hold our society together. America thrived because of common values — freedom, opportunity, the dignity of every individual and promotion of the general welfare.

Occupiers come from all walks of life, lived by the rules and pursued the American Dream and are now seeing it disappear. They are our neighbors who are hurting financially, disappointed and confused about the glaring income gap between the haves and have-nots in our nation. They are proud people, never complain but now see the unfairness and injustices done by our national leaders — public and private — who have become addicted to power and use it for personal gain.

The young were among the earliest to join the occupiers and often are the first to demonstrate publicly about injustices and unfairness — values they learned from their parents. They are disillusioned, angry and calling out public and private leaders on their hypocrisy for having corrupted the values they were taught.

Our government has been high-jacked by special interest groups who have created a direct deposit bank line to politicians who no longer have to represent the nation's interest. They fight to keep their seat by calling the problems we face "class warfare"; that allows Americans who have not experienced tragedy to be quick to dismiss the occupiers as complainers and being responsible for choosing the life they now have. Did they have a choice — the laid-off worker because the employer went out of business, the widow because her husband died, the elderly for aging or the disabled for being injured or afflicted?

Politicians keep diverting the public's concerns by calling for short term fixes — jobs, cut spending and entitlements, less government and blame the opposition for the problems we face. Like all in power, they fight to keep the status quo and are content to oversee the decline and polarization of our nation.

There is plenty of blame to go around with self-serving politicians; corporations that have morphed into people; and people morphed into corporations — thoughtless, impersonal and without care for the individual. Those in power fail to see how the problems we face are due to rapid globalization, and the highly sophisticated, complex and impersonal society we created, where we have insulated ourselves and are now divided into tribes. Is it any wonder we see more foreclosures, bankruptcies and fraud because of unscrupulous people?

Contributing to the anger and frustration Americans face are the fewer avenues for redress of grievances and the loss of honesty and integrity in our dealings with faceless bureaucracies, corporations and government. Since politicians answer to their lobbyists, they don't have to practice the values of the average citizen: integrity and trust.

Many Americans have benefited from the largesse of this nation and now act like spectators and do nothing. We have been naive in believing if we informed our politicians, they would do what they should. How has that worked? Don't expect the current ones to change.

Our problem is not simply the economy, rather the common values we abandoned and let our leaders corrupt. They are the foundation upon which we built the American dream — freedom, fairness, sacrifice and work for the common good. The greatest danger we face is the loss of confidence in ourselves. America was built on hope, risk and hard work, with leaders who inspired us to sacrifice and work together for the common good. It's those values that have helped us through hard times, and we can do it again. It's up to us.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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