Tetherow and her husband came to Lincoln three years ago when they lost their jobs as real estate appraisers in Rochester, New York, where she had appraised property for twenty-five years. “Our jobs fell apart because we were honest and ethical and had values. We got calls every single day to do things that were unethical or illegal—from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, Countrywide, just about every bank,” she said. The banks, she said, wanted them to ignore safety and structural concerns in the buildings and dwellings they appraised—defects like holes in the roof and non-functional bathrooms. “They’d say we need $200,000 in the appraisal, and I’d come back at $125,000, which was the true value. They wanted me to lie.” After a while, the firm they worked for gave them no more work and forced them out. She said this pressure began in the mid-1990s. Many appraisers had been saying that the loans being processed were a “disaster in the making, which they turned out to be.”
We talked about her financial situation. She and her husband live on about $15,000 a year—income from his Social Security check. He took an early benefit. Besides the dishonesty she found in her profession, her other gripe centered on medicine for profit: “The medical system has you by the nose if you get sick.” Tetherow has no health insurance. Because she has pre-existing conditions, she could get coverage only through the state’s high-risk health insurance pool. But she would have to pay $776 a month for a policy with a $10,000 deductible. “It’s like ‘Oh, my God, I could go broke in a year.’”
Tetherow is disenchanted with both political parties. “The Democratic Party has abdicated the language of moral clarity,” she told me. And the Republicans? “Look at Newt Gingrich. He’s telling us to get a job and take a bath. Newt Gingrich doesn’t have to lecture us about morality.” She had slept in the tent for forty-seven nights when we met.
Twenty-three-year old Brandon Langlois approached me and said he wanted to talk about why he supported the movement, which he had been involved with for four weeks. He was on his way to a job at the state Department of Health and Human Services, where he inputs data all day. So we arranged a phone call after work. “The main idea of the protest is economic injustice and to look at wealth stratification in America,” he said. The fact that twenty percent of Americans control 86 percent of the wealth bothered him. So did the possibility he may never become the doctor he wants to be. He studied Spanish for two years at the University of Nebraska, but quit because he couldn’t afford to continue.
Langlois, who has been an EMT worker, says he loves medicine and loves helping people. But he knows his check from the state—$10.37 an hour for forty hours work—makes it hard to pay off $13,000 in student loan debt. Langlois had to move in with his girlfriend because he couldn’t afford an apartment of his own. “I do not have a car and can’t afford to get one,” he said.
Langlois said young people have given up on Obama. “The last few years we’ve become disillusioned with Obama in particular and our elected officials in general. It’s difficult to find a candidate that is reflective of their constituents, and that goes back to one of the main platforms of the movement,” he explained. “Politicians aren’t interested in serving their constituents. They are serving the interests of their constituents who paid for their campaigns.” Langlois talked of the sense of community the protest has fostered. “We’ve gotten people to talk about issues that matter to ordinary Americans. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only person who thinks these things.”