Occupy Wall Street – I am the 1

Oct 17

I am the 1. The 1% that is to say. At least I was in 2007. I was surprised to learn that in 2007 the IRS reported 391,000 Americans with income exceeding $1 Million. I was one of them.

I am not greedy, self-interested, dishonest or villainous. For a long time I was ashamed to admit it because I had some unsavory stereotypes of what people “with money” were like. I am the epitome of the American Dream.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and attended public school. My father and mother were not college graduates. They were small business owners who had good years and bad years. My father declared bankruptcy twice in his life. That alone had a significant impact on my choice of career and desire to have a strong, stable income. I got my first part time job, a minimum wage job, when I was just twelve. That was in 1976 and I worked non-stop from that point on. I worked many different low level jobs to help pay for my college education at the University of Kentucky. I stayed in-state because the price was right, not because that was my first choice.

I worked as a receptionist, a bookstore clerk, a ice cream scooper, a retail clothing store clerk, a bank check processor, and a missed paper customer service rep taking calls starting at 4am. I took a year off from school and worked as a waitress at a resort in South Carolina saving up for school and continued to work as a waitress throughout my final two years of college. I studied hard and earned a BS in Accounting graduating with honors.

I interviewed and got an offer to work for Arthur Andersen in Dallas, Texas. I loaded up right after graduation and headed to Texas, starting my new job earning $23,000/year. I worked hard and excelled at Andersen surviving 3 years of significant cut backs, as the oil and gas and real estate industries declined from the mid to late 80’s. I interrupted my career briefly after getting married and having a child. We divorced when my daughter was 2 and I was suddenly a single mother. I chose jobs that would build my skills and engage my mind. I returned to Andersen, sometimes working 18-20 hour days during busy season. I would bring my daughter to the office on Saturdays. While I worked a 12 hour day she played and napped at the foot of my desk. Eventually I left to become the CFO for a small client but was still only earning about $55,000/year – 11 years after graduating. I was offered an opportunity with a company in Colorado that was growing rapidly – this changed the course of the next 10 years of my life, making it possible for me to be one of the 1% in 2007. From the experience I gained there I moved to a key leadership role in another company going through a restructuring. I worked LONG hours and traveled sometimes as much at 60% of the time. I returned to work when my second child was just 3 weeks old. I worked weekends, nights, early mornings – you name it. Work was my life. My 2nd husband took care of the children and I worked.

The money that I earned did not come easy and I did not lie, cheat or steal to get it. I WORKED. I worked hard and paid my dues. I am proud to say that I was one of the 1. I can’t imagine that those marching on Wall Street would begrudge what I worked so hard to earn.

Peggy Noonan’s editorial in this weekend’s WSJ makes a good point. While I don’t agree part and parcel with her editorial, she says, “It is an early expression, an early iteration, of something that is coming, and that is a rising up against current circumstances and arrangements. OWS is an expression of American discontent, and others will follow. The protests will grow as the economy gets worse.”

I think the issue that is being lost in the Occupy Wall Street protests is WORK. There isn’t much of it these days and that’s just the problem. Young people graduating aren’t finding the starting jobs in their chosen fields so that they can start “paying their dues”. I feel very much that the anger is misplaced. How can they be angry with me – the 1% – when all I’ve done is work hard to build a career? Yes, there are some greedy, unscrupulous villains on Wall Street but an even better place to protest would be in the halls of Congress and the White House. We lack leadership and character in every corner of politics and this is keeping us from solving our problems. We are strangling opportunity at every turn – with regulation, with immigration fears, with graft/pork barrel spending, with status quo and quid pro quo – both parties are guilty – but nobody is occupying their space. Our system of government is broken and that’s where we need to focus attention – not on class warfare and anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Capitalism, in its pure form, is what made this country great. It’s what allowed me and many others to be self-made millionaires. Without capitalism there would not likely be a twitter or facebook to use to “spread the word” or an Apple or Google or any of these other tools and gadgets we so love. Most forget or don’t realize that we don’t practice capitalism in its purest form anymore – the long arm of the government has gotten in the way. That’s not to say that business hasn’t brought that on itself by not taking the high road most of the time. But Marxism and Socialism do not support or promote entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs provide jobs and opportunities; the bulk of the jobs in America. Let’s not put a stake in their hearts because we’ve got misplaced anger. Focus attention on the current occupiers of Washington, DC.

I am no longer the 1%. I gave that up in 2007 when my father died. I am a now struggling entrepreneur.

One comment

  1. Lucy Bennett Karsner /

    Bravo, Martha!!! Beautifully put.

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