The Occupy Wall Street protests seemed funny at first. Sure, the Financial District is home to tons of lugubrious crimes against economic regulations and common sense. Many a fat cat behind a corner-office desk surely deserves a long jail term instead of a fatter bonus. The middle classes -- of which I'm a lifelong member -- should be angry about the financial meltdown of 2008, the European banking crisis of today, and a million offenses in between.
But what good could it do to camp out in Zuccotti Park with protest banners and sleeping bags? If the police didn't break up this love-in right away, surely protesters would lose interest before achieving any real change.
But something even funnier happened on the way to Occupy Wall Street's irrelevance: The movement gained both momentum and gravitas.
Never mind Kanye West and Al Sharpton giving some celebrity sheen to the event: The people who actually matter are getting involved as well. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sanctioned its right to exist, and even Ben Bernanke sees merit in the cause. The protest is starting to make a difference. Regular people have found a soapbox for explaining how heartless corporations and self-interested business leaders are hurting Middle America.
Workers with blue and white collars alike are caught in the crossfire when Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) faces allegations of using mortgage robo-signers, or when Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) slashes 20,000 jobs to meet profit goals, as they've done over the years. Little Lincoln Electric (Nasdaq: LECO ) has survived a World War and several recessions without layoffs -- why can't the big boys show loyalty like that to their human capital?
Don't forget that millions of Americans with no financial expertise are invested in the market through 401(k) systems and hard-to-explain universal life insurance plans. Swings in the Dow Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) or S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) aren't trivial anymore when everybody owns a bit of the SPDR 500 (NYSE: SPY ) ETF. A little financial education goes a long way, but the big money doesn't seem interested in making it happen.
The rallying signal has become, "We Are the 99 Percent." A vanishingly small minority of ultra-rich Americans are collecting the lion's share of the money from everybody's hard work. Trickle-down economics have turned out to trickle up instead. After a few years under tighter public scrutiny and brighter lights, the banking system is starting to look like a giant Enron-style pyramid scheme.
We Fools have been spreading very similar messages for years. I've never been to New York, but am happy to stand with the Occupants in spirit.
I don't see anybody asking for a free ride -- only for a balanced and just financial system where hard work or intelligent investing stands a chance at making money. Is that too much to ask?
If nothing else, it's never too late to learn how to take care of your own money. Get the hang of investing and personal finance with a totally free education from The Fool's School.