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Raise My Taxes

A wealthy Northampton activist brings her powerful message to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011
Photo Courtesy of Resource Generation
Jessie Spector: "The most important thing we do at Resource Generation is to get people of privilege to speak out."

Earlier this month, an estimated 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested while attempting to cross New York's famed Brooklyn Bridge. It was one of the largest demonstrations to date by the amorphous "Other 99 percent" representing the majority of people who don't benefit from the socioeconomic privileges enjoyed by the upper 1 percent of wealth holders in the country.

But among the protesters arrested was Northampton native Jessie Spector, who marched that day holding a most unusual sign: "I was born into the 1%, I want redistribution, we'll all be better for it & Tax me!"

Why would Spector do this?

"I wanted to mix up the message," she explains. "It's important to show there are rich people in solidarity."

An alum of Smith College Campus School, JFK Middle School and Northampton High, Spector's supportive family—her father is Northampton City Councilor Paul Spector—still lives in the Valley, where she hopes to move back someday.

"My family made tons of money off of the stock market," her protest sign explains. "I love them, [but] I hate the actions they took to accumulate and hoard wealth."

For Spector, the pervasive issues of economic injustice to which the Occupy Wall Street protests have (eventually, finally) brought national media attention are not just personal. They are professional, too.

Spector works as the program director of Resource Generation, a nonprofit that "organizes young people with financial wealth to leverage resources and privilege for social change," as their website notes. Some in the Resource Generation community make a large salary, some have inherited money, and some have insider access to people or institutions of power, whether in philanthropy, politics or the financial sector.

Since 1998, Resource Generation has challenged more than 1,000 of these affluent young adults to speak out against the system from which they benefit.

"We're working with [another economic justice organization] Wealth for the Common Good to create a Tumblr page where those in the 1 percent can explain why they stand with the 99 percent," Spector says, referencing the "We Are the 99 Percent" Tumblr page posted by Occupy Wall Street. "It will be like the 'It Gets Better' videos," she continues. "Anyone will be able to post."

They hope to get the support of famous personalities like Matt Damon, Russell Simmons, and other well-known, wealthy celebrities who have spoken out against economic injustice.

For Spector, supporting the movement as an affluent activist means more than offering financial aid. "Open solidarity is key," she explains. "The most important thing we do at Resource Generation is to get people of privilege to speak out."

It was inevitable that Spector, who lives in New York, works at Resource Generation, and is already engaged in the fight for economic justice, would take part in the Occupy Wall Street protests. The day before she was arrested, she headed down to the now-famous Zuccotti Park for the first time.

"It was festive," she says. "There was a lot of drumming and chanting."

Spector found her way to the section of the park lined with signs. Noticing one that read, "Make less than $250k? Then you need to be on this side!!!" she added a small addendum: "Make more than $250k? You should also be on this side!"

Spector was aware that she and her wealthy comrades might be greeted with skepticism by the protesters. But almost without exception, their solidarity was welcomed. The politicized residents of Zuccotti Park were overwhelmingly supportive, and intrigued. "People mouthed 'Thank you' numerous times," she reports.

The gesture was much appreciated by Spector and her activist friends, she says: "We went there hoping to show that rich people can be allies."

It is a task to which both she and Resource Generation have dedicated themselves over the years, and which she hopes will have major implications for the way wealth impacts the power dynamics of our society in the decades to come.

According to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, "a[n intergenerational] wealth transfer of at least $41 trillion will take place in the United States by the year 2052." That is a striking amount of capital already invested in the most economically privileged among us—an investment that Resource Generation hopes to change.

"In 2006," the organization's webpage on Social Change Giving reads, "$2.3 billion of foundation funding went to progressive social change out of a total o $19.1 billion in giving, or less than 12 percent."

For Resource Generation, this means that most charitable giving is not creating equitable social change, but rather is keeping the power and influence where it already is, tiered toward the upper 1 percent of wealth holders.

"We organize to transform philanthropy, policy and institutions," reads the Resource Generation website, "and leverage our collective power to make lasting structural change."

That's the kind of change Spector hopes is happening with Occupy Wall Street, which, with its various committees dividing the responsibilities of providing protesters with food, medicine, and various necessities like sleeping bags and tents, has thus far functioned in a remarkably non-hierarchical manner.

"It was interesting to see the organization of the protesters," she says. "No one was intentionally being racist or sexist, but those dynamics would inadvertently play themselves out anyway. But when people interrupted the organizers to point this out, they were very open to listening, and to changing."

It is this dynamic that Spector believes is a central strength of the Occupy Wall Street protests, and is a key ingredient for a broad-based, cross-class economic justice movement as well.

"The potential for real change is huge if we can learn and grow and shift," she urges. "Once we start talking, we can really start moving on this."

Comments (7)
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We watch from the Great, Social Democratic Frozen Northern True and Free, as the American Dream, an unsustainable fiction by today’s new reality in this world of the "Asian Fact", fades away even as the "Great American Corporate and Capitalist Propaganda Whore's" ridiculous "American Dream" and her "sales pitch bull Shiite" brings only foreclosures, unemployment, under-employment, even full disenfranchisement, and sorrow to the good American peons. Even in the richest nation on earth, with the most millionaires, billionaires and vast storage’s of 'old money', proletariat reduced first to precariat, then totally disenfranchised. In a Socialist Canada with free medical care, and a very effective social safety net, we can hardly believe the nature of the hardship the 'Whore" has caused her workers, her middle classes, her very poor, even her returning veterans. This is ignoble! This is not the U.S.A. of only a few decades ago! A change towards the new reality in form of new and very different , and very practical life-styles is most certainly in order for the very survival of even family names, family trees. Many Americans have gone to the new underground, living in total anonymity, living fully 'Off Grid" and they most generously share their techniques, there technologies, there exploitation of even newer technologies in comfortable, sustainable, "Off Grid" life-styles. If you watch carefully here on the net you will find their articles, technologies, even their philosophies, hidden in plain view for all to burn to disk for the darker days ahead, for the days when no information will be transmitted for free, for the days when these transmissions of truth and techniques will be "discouraged" by the powers that be - the Corporatists who are really in control!

Posted by Uncle B on 10.13.11 at 7:22

If you really want to redistrubute wealth, then start with your wealth by selling all you have and giving it to the poor. I'd like to see a follow up story once you truly redistribute all that you have. And, by the way, please don't speak for anyone else's money.

Posted by Urban Girl on 10.13.11 at 14:33

As someone who knows Jessie, I can vouch that she DOES give away a huge percentage of her wealth. And is planning on giving away more (if not all) of it.

Posted by FamilyFriend on 10.14.11 at 10:43

The commodification of our time, our inspiration and creative power is part of the crushing poverty so many now experience.

Comitting ones heart and ones time to a cause they are passionate about is its own currency. It might be called the currency of love or faith or conviction...whatever. There is certainly non-monetary value that each of us have that we contribute to the common good even though others may not agree with our underlying assumptions or strategies. Our God given gifts seek expression regardless of financial compensation.

I love that the opportunity OWS offers for those with and without cash to express some of this passion and heart and to inspire others to take heart themselves. And we all have strategies for doing this.

Personally i like the strategy of leveraging money for social change. Philanthropy that simple gives away money without expecting or seeing change is kind of wasteful don't you think? The admonition "Give someone a fish and they eat for a day. Teach someone to fish and they eat for a lifetime" is totally relevant here.

It's not wealth that causes suffering, it sociopaths in positions of power.

We're past the time when we can separate the 1% from the 99%. We're all in this together.

Posted by freeman on 10.14.11 at 14:49

I respect this young woman for stepping outside of the comfort zone that many more wealthy people box themselves in.

As for those of you who think she should go around and straight up give everybody poorer than her money, that isn't going to solve our problems. Throwing money at people may help them out for a day or a week or even a month, but money always runs out. I mean, come on: it's just paper, and it doesn't serve any real purpose. Instead, she's working to spark change that will help people for the rest of their lives.

Posted by arial on 10.18.11 at 15:47

@ FamilyFriend -- Thank you. It really is good to hear that Jesse lives what she preaches. That is something I respect and admire.

@ arial -- Yes, "she is working to spark change that will help people," and it is good that she has that choice to use the money her family had chosen to give her. Is it wrong to allow others that same freedom? Why must the government take more with the "intent" to spread the wealth? Who gets the wealth? So much money is wasted by this very same government and yet they want more money to be irresponsible with.

Jesse is free to do with her money as she see fits and what she chooses to do is good. The same freedom should be afforded to everyone, no matter the size of their earned or inherited bank account.

Posted by Urban Girl on 10.19.11 at 21:49

I don’t say Ms. Spector should give all her money away. I do say that, by her own description here and on the RG website, she is likely so rich that even giving a great percentage of it away would not put her in the position of most of us that pay the real tax burden in this county - the tax burden that hurts. That is the middle and upper middle class paying close to the top tax bracket right along with the millionaires and trying to put kids through college or keep a small business running. [No, I don’t want the millionaires taxes raised because if you studied economics in a University more than 15 years ago, especially one that wasn’t on either coast, you learned that the rates we have now are already at or somewhat above the point of diminishing returns. That is, higher rates will just slow down economic activity ultimately resulting in less tax revenue. Also, I would hope to someday be one of those millionaires.]

Back to Ms. Spector and her friends at the RG. How can you possibly sell us the proposition that the U.S. would be better off as a country or individually if all of our wealth were redistributed {which can only be by big tax hikes} so everyone is holding essentially the same. First: the fact that you are wealthy doesn’t give you more credence because: (a) that just means it isn’t going to leave you nearly as bad off as people in the middle class that are already struggling to pay taxes, (b) you know this is likely just an academic argument, at least in the short term, so your wealth just gives you a soap box not a real loss to worry about, and (c) even if taxes are raised you already have your wealth so neither income tax nor capital gains tax will affect you much. Second: wealth redistribution does nothing more than give the hungry a fish rather than teaching them to fish – the same analogy many claim in argument in your favor here.

Ultimately – for whatever flaws it may have, capitalism is the only system that: creates real jobs rather than bureaucracy jobs; that can quickly respond to the true market demands; that produces products that are actually needed rather than what some kid in a suit or some committee in Washington thinks is right for us or what some back-handed lobbyist bought with a political contribution. [Think Solyndra. Also: slots 3 and 6 of the Yahoo! Finance top-seven disaster went to two autos pushed by Obama’s government-directed auto companies: the battery-powered GM Chevy Volt - only sold 7,000 through December at a cost to taxpayers of $250,000 per car; and the Fiat 500 auto - touted by government officials to arrange for Fiat to buy Chrysler - with miserable sales of fewer than 12,000]; and is the only system that can compete with the other powers and producers of the world. Most every sizable socialist economy of the last century has abandoned that system, at least in part, or is making reforms to allow capitalism – the best examples being the former Soviet Union and China! Remarkably, so many in the U.S. today are either ignorant of history or simply choose to ignore it, moving in the opposite direction. Ask the people of Cuba if socialism has brought them “economic justice” or even the “redistribution” she seeks. It does just the opposite. The store shelves become bare, the variety and supply of goods vanish, and poverty sky rockets. You still end up with an upper class. It just changes from private business owners and investors to high level government workers and military leaders. You lose all of the middle class. And worst of all, you lose all hope of moving up in economic standing by plain hard work, education and perseverance. Values we should continue to reward not punish.

Posted by John M on 4.17.12 at 18:43
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