Sunday, October 09, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

For more information on the Occupy Wall Street Protests, Common Dreams has special coverage.


I've been meaning to write something about it for a while, but I've got so many writing projects going on, so I haven't been able to. I wanted to include here some articles for those who are interested in learning more about what it going on. Like most protests of a liberal or progressive nature, the media tends to judge them more harshly and fixate on the idea that they don't have a clear message and that the intent of what they are doing is sadly being lost in the confusion of their tactics. You can argue part of the treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protests is that they are actually occupying an area and not just appearing to protest and then going back to their lives. The Tea Party is of course different because they appear, invoke themselves as defenders of everything holy, good and sacred about the US, and then slink away to sleep in their beds made with sheets and pillow cases that have the Constitution printed on them. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are criticized for not offering solutions, yet what real solutions has the Tea Party ever offered? The Tea Party exists ideologically in a world that never existed, but which people desperately pine for. In the first year of Obama's presidency so many Tea Party members were found around the country yelling into whatever camera or microphone that they could find, that they were sick and tired of losing their country. They wanted their America back!

I scarcely heard in the media the obvious question: "what had they lost?" What was going on? So many people attached in a very visceral way the idea that they were losing their country to the passing of ObamaCare, and no one really questioned how ridiculous that was. What was it in the lives of these predominantly white conservative Americans that made them so passionately associate the spirit of their country, with crappy and overpriced medical care? It made me wonder if as young men and women, the Tea Partiers had had some magic, special orgiastic moments with crappy and overpriced health care. They had bonded, the tenderness of their union creating a special place in their hearts, and no matter what happened they would always be connected. It was as if each of them had carved into the tree trunks of their hearts a special message to crappy and overpriced health care, "it doesn't matter how much you suck, you will always be the one for me."

When the Tea Party first emerged, Bill Maher was perfect in terms of critiquing how the "America" that they were pining for, wasn't actually that great. It wasn't great if you were a woman. Even if you were white, the country wasn't yours, and if you were anything else, you might as well not belong. If you were a man of any other color you were out of luck too. This was a time when you were allowed to really hate other people and you could voice your hatred, you could discriminate and oppress people pretty much openly. It was a time of plenty of xenophobia and fear, but in the minds of those who once ruled in that era, it feels like everything was just simpler, easier. Everyone was closer when it feels like everyone was the same and there wasn't alot of difference and foreignness. And whatever difference did appear could be strangled and beaten into submission.

The election of a black president (or half white, half black), was something too symbolically insufferable for these Tea Partiers. It was the deathknell to their happy world which never really existed. They literally want to turn back the clock. In order to reject the idea that Obama is president, they believe him to be a Muslim, they refuse to accept that he was born in the US, and they react to his policies as if he is the anti-Christ. This is why the Tea Party is useless. Not only is it incredibly inconsistent as an ideological group (rallying against Big Government, while loving so many existing aspects of Big Government), but it is obsessed with the past, and has difficulty thinking about the future.

What makes the Occupy Wall Street protests different is that these people are not pining for a previous version of the world (at least not a recent previous incarnation of it). They are seeking to change things to improve them. They don't have any illusions that a generation ago, or two generations ago, corporations weren't greedy and the rich weren't rich, and so if we just go back to those days everything will be fine. They see that a new system has to be created, one which does not privilege the rights, the interests of the 1% that own almost everything, over the 99%. Rather than just appear and disappear, like most protests, they are occupying space, right in the middle of where so much misery in this world comes from. So much of the infrastructure of the world, especially that which comes from governments exists to support and protect the interests of the wealthiest. So much of the difficulty in changing things comes from the fact that the government operates as a buffer, keeping Wall Street itself insulated from alot of the hate the world has for it and the doom and gloom it creates in the world. I like that they've taken their message to Wall Street and I hope they stay there for a long time.

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Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

by NYC General Assembly
This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011, with slight adjustments in wording on October 1, 2011:
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.



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Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important Thing in the World Now

I was honored to be invited to speak at Occupy Wall Street on Thursday night. Since amplification is (disgracefully) banned, and everything I say will have to be repeated by hundreds of people so others can hear (a k a “the human microphone”), what I actually say at Liberty Plaza will have to be very short. With that in mind, here is the longer, uncut version of the speech.
I love you.
And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.
Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.
If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.
And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”
That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.
“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”
Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999. That was the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power. And I am proud to have been part of what we called “the movement of movements.”
But there are important differences too. For instance, we chose summits as our targets: the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the G8. Summits are transient by their nature, they only last a week. That made us transient too. We’d appear, grab world headlines, then disappear. And in the frenzy of hyper patriotism and militarism that followed the 9/11 attacks, it was easy to sweep us away completely, at least in North America.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.
Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.
Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. Which we saw more of just last night. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows. More wisdom.
But the biggest difference a decade makes is that in 1999, we were taking on capitalism at the peak of a frenzied economic boom. Unemployment was low, stock portfolios were bulging. The media was drunk on easy money. Back then it was all about start-ups, not shutdowns.
We pointed out that the deregulation behind the frenzy came at a price. It was damaging to labor standards. It was damaging to environmental standards. Corporations were becoming more powerful than governments and that was damaging to our democracies. But to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.
Ten years later, it seems as if there aren’t any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.
The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.
These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.
We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.
The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that wecan afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.
What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.
I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.
That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.
A few final thoughts. In this great struggle, here are some things that don’t matter.
§ What we wear.
§ Whether we shake our fists or make peace signs.
§ Whether we can fit our dreams for a better world into a media soundbite.
And here are a few things that do matter.
§ Our courage.
§ Our moral compass.
§ How we treat each other.
We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets—like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.
Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.
Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.

1 comment:

RealityZone said...

Occupy Main St.
It is popping up all over the states.
People are fed up.
This could be one spark away from a fire ball.
It is no longer a color thing, like it was in the past.
It is 99% vs. 1%.

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