The attention of the United States has gone from Tea Partiers to Occupiers. The angst of an increasingly impoverished lower class has been directed into protests nationwide, but they will ultimately never resolve the ills that are eating away at American society.
While the Tea Party movement is laden with nationalism, the Occupy movement has a more subtle introversion. Who are the 1%? You are! Well, if you're the average American then you are. Median household income in the United States is roughly $48,000/year, which happens to be the exact mark that divides the top 1% from the bottom 99% of world incomes. In other words, half of Americans are in the top 1%. See this calculator.
But those protesters aren't making median income. Let's say they're making minimum wage. In my state that would still leave them in the top 12% of worldwide income earners. It should be Vietnamese factory workers holding protests against the concentration of wealth.
The fight between labour and capital seems to be eternal, but Baha'is need not just sit around complaining about how ineffective protests are (see above for example). `Abdu'l-Baha traveled to Europe and America during the rise of communism. His talks offer extensive guidance on the issues of labour, and the current protests present a great opportunity to share the Baha'i teachings on extremes of wealth and poverty and the relationship between labour and capital.
On several occasions, in response to discussing the protests, I have been able to mention the practice of Huququ'llah. Put simply, Baha'is who have wealth are obliged to calculate privately what their basic needs are, and pay a 19% tax on the excess. In the future, when Baha'i funds are well established, they will have two broad categories: one for administration, and another for philanthropic purposes. Therefore, the law of Huququ'llah is a progressive tax that takes from the rich and gives to the poor.
The other Baha'i teaching that is perhaps most relevant to the current protest is chapter 78 from Some Answered Questions, regarding labour strikes. Here `Abdu'l-Baha mentions that while excessive private fortunes are undesirable, "absolute equality is just as impossible," and would "end in disorderliness, in chaos". He says that "difficulties will arise when unjustified equality is imposed." While appealing to the idea of reducing extremes, there is no support for absolute equality. There will always be differences of income, and there is a role to play for capital investors; only that "laws and regulations" should be established to prevent massive accumulation of wealth at the expense of the masses.
What kinds of laws and regulations? `Abdu'l-Baha mentions a few practical steps. First, 20-25% of the profits of a company should be returned to the workers, in addition to their wages (or "in some other way" they should share advantages). Second, each worker should be guaranteed support when they become "feeble and cease working, get old and helpless, or leave behind children under age", either by paying them sufficient wages, or by guaranteeing some form of social security.
But there are two sides of this coin. `Abdu'l-Baha also insists that once fair labour laws and regulations are in place, workers should not "make excessive claims and revolt, nor demand beyond their rights; they should no longer go out on strike; they should be obedient and submissive and not ask for exorbitant wages." In the case that either the workers or the management transgress, the government should step in and enforce the established laws and regulations. This interference, according to `Abdu'l-Baha, is "legal" because the relationship between labour and capital is not like "ordinary affairs between private persons, which do not concern the public, and with which the government should not occupy itself."
In `Abdu'l-Baha's response to labour disputes, one can see the answers to a number of current issues that are vexing the United States. As a result of government policies, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. The Occupiers are expressing anger at a legitimate problem, but they can hardly assess the ailment, let alone prescribe a remedy. Their claim of injustice is narrowly focused on the United States, and ignores the poor masses of the world's population. Within several protests (e.g. Portland) their ideals of redistribution of wealth brought chaos to the movement itself, as the "poorer" protesters demanded handouts from the better off in their ranks.
The energy of the current protests will surely be dissipated. As a Baha'i, I believe the attention provides yet another opportunity to share God's current message to a population yearning for spirituality and just institutions.