Friday, November 18, 2011

Let me tell you a little story...

About why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I feel compelled to write this because, for starters, I am so tired of people complaining about, of all things, how Occupy Wall Street is inconveniencing them. And because I have experienced firsthand just how much our system is broken. And I want to tell you about it.

In 2008, my now-husband and I moved into an apartment in East Harlem, out of desperation to escape our bedbug-plagued apartment in Queens (owned by landlords who had just moved to NYC themselves and had no idea what they were doing). The building had been participating in the Micthell-Lama program, but in the early 2000s (I think) it was bought by a developer who decided to stop participating in the program and make money off of its tenants' suffering instead. This is not an exaggeration (if you don't believe me, take a look at their HPD complaint list, here). Having few resources at the time and being lured in by the seemingly reasonable deal and having a terrace, we quickly signed the lease the minute we knew we were accepted. That was high point of our experience there. Long story short: nothing went right and in fact, was far worse than where we lived in Queens. There was never consistent hot water, and we had a mouse problem. The elevators were always broken, and in fact I got stuck in them 3 times in 2 months, and the first time, the PA system was broken and we couldn't even communicate with the security guard to get us out. About 6 months after we moved in, there was a 3-alarm fire on the 17th floor. Only 4 apartments were severely damaged, but because there was hardly any ventilation in the whole building, smoke and soot covered the walls and floor of the entire floor. It took the building at least 3 months to clean it up. I followed the proper channels: I called 311 and reported everything at least 7 times; I wrote 4 certified letters of complaint to the management company (as directed by and stated in our lease); I submitted claims to the state of NY for reimbursement for the rent we paid for living in an sub-par apartment; I wrote a letter to our city council member. NOTHING happened! The management company never responded to the letters. The city sent an inspector 1/2 of the times we filed a complaint, and only once we were actually home when the inspector showed up. I mentioned to him that we constantly filed complaints that were listed as "closed" even though we never spoke to an inspector and the problems persisted. I was told it would be reported, and sure enough, the complaint was closed a week later. We decided to stop paying rent in hopes that would be a wake-up call; we sure got a response that time - an eviction threat. Almost immediately after the legal time had passed to consider our rent late. Not a notice that our rent was late, with an opportunity to pay it, like every other business out there. But a straight up eviction threat, for tenants who, up until that point, had been paying their rent totally on time and in full.

For 10 months, we lived like this. But it was not just us. The building has 33 floors with at least 12 apartments per floor, and many of the tenants were on some form of public assistance. We had no money to pay a lawyer to go to small claims court. And our case didn't qualify for Legal Aid Society assistance. Continuing to not pay rent would have meant a HUGE scar on my husband's credit report, because he was the primary person on the lease. We had no other choice but to move out, despite the fact we could not really afford to do it. We broke our lease early, and did not get our security deposit back. We will never see that money. And hundreds of people continue to live there because they have no place else to go. They endure injustice because it's better than enduring what's unknown out there and because they don't have the means to fight back.

For this story, there are at least a couple thousand more like it. Why are people occupying Wall Street? Because they have nothing left. There is nowhere else to turn. There are no other alternatives. I have an acquaintance on Facebook who characterized to the protesters as "lazy, entitled whining hipsters." A recent news story reported that the former police chief of Philadelphia marched in the protest tonight and was arrested. Hardly lazy, entitled, or a hipster. What makes me angrier is that people like this have not, and will probably never understand what it means to be constantly faced with injustice. They will never understand the anger and frustration I felt just trying to live in a decent apartment in my chosen place of residence, for which I was paying for with my hard-earned money. Don't get me wrong: I am ALLLLL for amassing wealth. I have no qualms with the almighty dollar. I do, however, have a BIG problem when the head of a company makes poor, and probably illegal, business decisions unbeknownst to his employees, and will probably get away with a slap on the wrist even after a federal investigation (I'm looking at you John Corzine), while, in all likelihood, a majority of his employees' lives will never be the same again. Their lives are ruined. They can't sue to get their money back. There isn't any! They have no recourse. And if government keeps rewarding bad business practices with more assistance, who's helping the people who lost pensions, retirement funds (and consequently college and life savings) as a result? No one. It makes NO SENSE. The system is so badly broken that the people we have entrusted to make it work can't fix it anymore. The band-aids aren't sticking anymore, and the big gaping wound of our socio-economic situation isn't healing fast enough.

So I ask you people who keep saying the protest needs to end, there's no point, it's inconveniencing me, write some letters, etc. to consider one thing: your children, and potentially children's children are being robbed of a future right now. And pretty soon, you are only going to have yourself to blame. I'm not saying you have to agree with it. Just don't complain about people standing up for justice, something that, oh, at least 75% of the WORLD's population will never know. It's not just about you, people. Open your eyes. Try to understand where the 99% is coming from before you judge. 

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have said it better. I wish more people understood it the way you do.

    Awesome post.