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If you have been following the blog for the past couple of months, are friends with us on FB, or maybe have just come within earshot of us for more than a few minutes, then chances are you already know that Tree and I support Occupy Wall Street.
OWS began on September 17th, but we didn’t catch wind of it until the beginning of October. When we finally learned that a massive band was mobilizing across the nation to protest the collusion between big business and politics, we were instantly smitten….
…And, quite frankly, ASTONISHED.
Who were these anachronistic Americans that were willing to pitch a tent in a public park to start a civic discourse about taking back their democracy? I thought that fight-for-justice, dare-to-dream, imagine-all-the-people breed died out with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, with its colossal naïveté and faint scent of patchouli remembered with a warm chuckle and a certain, slow shake of the head–as if to say, we won’t be making that mistake again.
But what was the mistake? Believing that we can co-create a better world? Or that we can make any difference at all?
Tree and I are impressed by how much the Occupy Wall Street movement has grown, but still, we are sadly disappointed by how little it is actually understood or supported. Most Americans have at least heard of the movement by now, but many folks, including some of our own family and friends, still say that 1) they are unclear about what exactly the Occupiers want, or 2) they don’t understand why the Occupiers choose to be a “public nuisance” by protesting in public parks and blocking busy intersections and city bridges…
…or 3) the most bewildering and insensitive thing we’ve heard, why don’t the Occupiers just get a job? Frankly, that one deserves a simple mathematical answer right now:
The current number of unemployed persons is at 13.3 million, while the number of payroll employment rose by only 120,000 in November.
-U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2, 2011
In other words, there are far more unemployed people than jobs available!
When I hear these kinds of comments, I want to call bullshit. You know, I know, we all know that there is a HUGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. If you are part of the 99%, meaning you’re not one of the four hundred Americans in the 1% who own more than the bottom 150 million Americans combined, then you too are affected by the systemic problems in our nation causing outrageous levels of joblessness, sick people who can’t afford healthcare, a failing economy, stalled wages, crowded classrooms, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the outright abuse of our civil liberties, and the willful dismantling of our social safety net.
The real issue is that we don’t even know how to wrap our heads around such a mammoth-size problem. Nor do we have any idea how to articulate its web of intricacies, let alone how to take action against such an overwhelmingly complex and hefty foe. So, naturally, we are inclined to just pretend like it’s not there. We the people have lost the Language of Revolution.
But, let me tell you friends, the elephant is here, and closing our eyes won’t make it disappear.
So, I decided to sit down and write a post that talks about the elephant, describes its features, and attempts to give us back the Language Of Revolution, along with the tools necessary to take our power back and get that elephant out. Before any real change can happen, the first thing we need to do is educate ourselves. Knowledge is the greatest weapon at our disposal, and I aim to smarten’ up instead of dumb down.
What do Occupiers want?
I could wax poetic here about how we want to live in a world that values people over profit, honors community over corporations, and protects our health and the health of the planet instead of the 1%’s right to be greedy bastards, but instead I’m going to keep it clear with tidy bullet points to hopefully avert any possible confusion. Here is exactly, as I see it, what OWS wants:
1) Get the money and corruption out of politics
So long as big business continues to finance political campaigns and pay lobbyists to do their bidding on Capitol Hill, our democracy is a travesty–a corporatocracy that represents a very small, elite class.
What to do?
- Overturn Citizens United and ban the ability of corporations to use their profits to influence our elections. Make clear that corporations, as well as entities formed to represent corporations — are not real, living people with rights protected by our Constitution. They are entities established under our laws and thus subject to our laws.
- Pass the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 750 and H.R. 1404). A law where political candidates for federal office would raise a large number of small contributions from their communities in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding. Contributions are limited to $100.00. Strictly voluntary by the candidate to avoid legal issues.
- Limit campaign contributions and expenditures by individuals, candidates, and all types of private entities.
- Pass legislation to severely restrict lobbyist influence on elections, such as requiring total transparency between lobbyists and politicians to curb the widespread venality of congress
- End the “revolving door” of politicians and their staffs from ever becoming lobbyists and prohibit all federal public employees, officers, officials from ever being employed by any corporation, individual or business that they specifically regulated while in office.
What to read?
2) Redistribution of Wealth
Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, reported that 1% of Americans owns 40% of the nation’s wealth, 50% of its stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but only 5% of its debt—and the gap is widening. I realize that a large portion of the population does not believe in wealth redistribution (a consequence of 1% generated propaganda, I believe), but this disparity MUST be addressed. How do we fix the increasing gap between the MEGA RICH and THE REST OF US?
What to do?
- Create A Fair Federal Tax-Code; End Bush-Tax Cuts
- Eliminate corporate loopholes, unfair tax breaks, exemptions and deductions, subsidies, end offshore tax haven abuse. Expatriation of capital should be subject to a maximum tax-rate penalty with violation considered a felony act.
- Create Jobs here in America (i.e. End NAFTA, Fix the Tax Code, and Reform Banking)
- Create an affordable, universal healthcare system
- Invest in Education, from kindergarten to the grave
What to read?
3) Financial Reform
We currently have a banking system that uses capital for speculation and debt creation, rather than productive investment. Today Wall Street is nothing more than a casino.
What to do?
- Repeal Gramm-Leach-Bliley(1999) and Reinstate the Glass-Steagall act. We need to return to a time (1933-1999) when banks were separated into 3 functions (Investment, Savings and Loans, Insurance Company) and could not merge into mega-banks that are “too big to fail”. Without it, the conflicts of interest within these mega-banks have caused 1 depression and 1 near-depression. These banks have used taxpayer bailout money to lobby congress to resist any meaningful change that will prevent a financial crisis in the future and that must change.
- Break up the biggest banks; Augment and Enforce Anti-Trust laws
- Abolish credit default swaps. Derivatives must be traded on transparent exchanges. Ban “flash” trading.
- Tax all Wall St. financial transactions at 1%. Damp down speculation and raise $400 billion a year.
- Investigate the crash of 2008 and hold guilty parties responsible
Of course this is just the beginning of a long-overdue discussion, and these aren’t the only demands or possible solutions. The movement is still evolving.
And yet, even though these demands are just the tip of the iceberg, without them, specifically the first one of “Getting the Money Out of Politics,” no other demand is likely to be met.
For instance, how can we expect our government to stop subsidizing big oil and create jobs by investing in renewable energy when the 1% owns our representatives?
We must first get the money out of politics so that we then have a chance at a more equitable distribution of wealth, protecting and expanding our social safety net (tell me again why you don’t want a healthcare system that is at the very least as good as the ones modeled in other industrialized nations around the world…really, I want to know), and restoring our democracy—i.e. giving power back to us, the real living people of the United States of America.
Now that we clearly understand what the Occupiers want, let’s address the other really big issue: APATHY. We can articulate the problems and potential solutions all day long, but it makes no difference until we put our thoughts into action. What can we do?
Well, we can “Occupy.” But, WHY be a nuisance?
Why does the OWS movement OCCUPY our parks, ports and bridges? Why do they infiltrate public and private meetings to Mic’ check our corrupt politicians? Why do they shut down city streets and march en masse to protest?
In short, because civil disobedience is the most effective means of changing laws and protecting liberties. It embodies an important moral concept that there are times when law and justice do not coincide and that to obey the law at such times can be an abdication of ethical responsibility. Although it usually uses tactics of nonviolence, it is more than mere passive resistance since it often takes active forms such as illegal street demonstrations or peaceful occupations of premises.
The classic treatise on this topic is Henry David Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” which states that when a person’s conscience and the laws clash, that person must follow his or her conscience. The stress on personal conscience and on the need to act now rather than to wait for legal change are recurring elements in civil disobedience movements.
“Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless, corrupt.” – Ghandi
Throughout the history of the U.S., civil disobedience has played a significant role in many of the social reforms that we all take for granted today. Some of the most well known of these are: The Boston Tea Party, Anti-war movements, Women’s Suffrage, Abolition of Slavery, Introduction of Labor Laws and Unions, and Civil Rights.
In each of these movements, the protesters were compelled by deep moral convictions. Their distress was strong enough to motivate them to go against the grain, to sacrifice personal comfort, to face unknown danger, to give up their freedom and risk going to jail. Their love of truth and justice drove them to action.
The people who are currently occupying our parks, ports, subways, bridges, city halls, and Capitol Hill are compelled by the same deep moral conviction, and rightly so. We should all feel wildly impassioned about taking back our democracy, fixing our broken economy, and protecting our social safety nets, our health, and the environment. We should all feel deeply offended by the corruption on Wall Street, on K street, and in our own Congress, and be fighting with all our might to reform our corrupt institutions–the enemy at home–before the venality within them utterly destroys our way of life.
It’s for this reason that my head POPS OFF when I hear people say that they are annoyed by the kids littering in the parks and blocking the bridges and making people late for work. I equate it with someone saying to Rosa Parks, “Hey lady, I don’t understand what your problem is, but you’re holding up the bus.”
In all of the struggles mentioned above, including OWS, the citizens had reached the conclusion that the legal means for addressing their concerns had not worked. They had tried petitioning, lobbying, writing letters, going to court, voting for candidates that represented their interests, legal protest, and still their views were ignored. Doing it the ‘quiet way’ wasn’t working. That is why they chose to take to the streets and take action, LOUD ACTION.
Today, it’s time to ask yourself, at what point would YOU decide to disobey the law if the laws and the government enforcing them depart from your beliefs in regard to morality? For example, would you have been willing to trespass on that British ship and toss their cargo (the infamous tea) overboard? Would you have had the courage to hide Jews in Germany in the late ’30s? Or perhaps to help runaway Southern slaves during the 1850′s and early 1860′s? Or, at the very least, would you have stood up and offered Rosa Parks your seat at the front of the bus?
That being said, civil disobedience isn’t for everyone, nor does it have to be.
OWS is so much more than just pitching a tent in a park. More than anything, it’s a dangerous idea that’s catching fire, an idea that says: We are the 99% and WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR WORLD. And, fortunately, there are many ways to support the movement that don’t involve sleeping outside in big groups, getting pepper sprayed in the face, beaten by batons, or even arrested.
But, please, let’s not forget our gratitude to those who do our civil disobedient bidding for us. Collectively, they are the vehicle that has carried our voice around the world. They are the reason these issues are being talked about on a serious level by everyday people like you and me. And, it’s loud and unruly them, not quiet and obedient us, who are the establishment’s worst nightmare. It’s because of their heroic actions that the elite and their henchman are panicking, behaving badly, and doing everything they can to violently squash and misrepresent this Movement. They are the ones doing the heavy lifting. The least we can do is pull our own weight.
Ways to Occupy our Democracy
1) Educate ourself. Today’s problems are more complex than ever before. It’s not as simple as chanting a slogan like, Give Women the Vote or End Segregation now! But, still, it is not okay for us to say that we don’t support OWS because we don’t understand what they want. They are US—you and me—we are all the 99%!!! And the burden of not being a dumbass falls on us. We the people need to take responsibility and participate in our democracy. Corporations and the 1% have hijacked it, and it’s time to take it back. Read about the issues, think critically; study history, literature, science, civics, and philosophy; and be sure to choose trusted and diverse news sources (click here for more on news).
2) Educate others. It’s the most powerful thing we can do to better the world, and besides, getting together with your friends to have intelligent conversation is just fun. I love sharing a bottle of wine, a sumptuous dinner, and dangerous ideas with my friends. Informed and united, we have far more power than we think we do. Host a salon at your house and discuss one topic that you are passionate about. For example, if you’re concerned about GMO’s or antibiotics in your food, get your friends and your friends’ friends on board with your cause, start a coalition with likeminded groups, and then SUE THE FDA TO STOP BIG AGRO from poisoning our food!! These people did: http://www.grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-05-25-groups-sue-fda-to-stop-big-ag-antibiotic-abuse-just-might-work , and they are not only making a difference in this one case, they are setting a precedent for changes to come.
3) Be more annoying than Congress. Find out whom your representatives are, where they stand on key issues, and then blast them with emails and phone calls so that they know you are watching them closely.
4) Participate in our democracy- VOTE!! A democracy isn’t really a democracy if we don’t participate in it. The United States has nearly the lowest voter turnout compared to other democratic nations, averaging 63% during presidential election years. That is just embarrassing.
5) Get Political- It’s not enough to simply shop organic and carpool. I know how tempting it is to think that we can change the world with our small everyday choices, and even though making conscious decisions is very good, the truth is that we need BIG change now, not in a bazillion years, and that’s how long it’s going to take Monsanto or Exxon to notice that you stopped buying their goods. It would be like saying in 1850, well I only buy slave-free cotton, isn’t that enough? Umm… NO!! We need to abolish slavery on the principle that it is very, VERY wrong!!! We need to start thinking about and taking action to EFFECT REAL SYSTEMIC CHANGE. And that means, we need to push beyond our private choices and OCCUPY OUR DEMOCRACY.
6) Participate in an OWS General Assembly nearest you. We have both a moral and a civic responsibility to get involved politically on a grassroots level. Why not go visit the OWS camp nearest you, and find out what they are doing to educate your community, get the money out of politics, or represent the oppressed and disenfranchised in your area. If you feel inspired, join a committee. Pitch in. Be part of a team. And if you don’t like what your local movement is doing, do something about it!! Voices of dissent are welcome. Solutions are welcome. Smart, active, creative, inquisitive, artistic, compassionate, articulate, passionate, clever, hardworking, honest people are welcome!! And that means YOU. xo.
And if you don’t think your local OWS can make a difference, read the next section and get ready to be inspired.
A SUPER AMAZING FANTASTIC EXAMPLE OF OWS BEING EFFECTIVE
Being from Los Angeles, I’ve been keeping up with that branch of OWS a little more than the others. I’m very, very proud of Occupy LA for putting forth a resolution declaring that CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE, AND MONEY IS NOT SPEECH. The LA City Council voted on it a couple days ago, and the 11-0 vote in favor of the resolution drew a standing ovation from a packed chamber of Occupy LA members and other activists. I wish I could have been there to celebrate with my fellow Angelenos!
Read about this groundbreaking victory here:
Watch the video here: http://youtu.be/-M54Z-Bzgcw
This is a direct example of the people of Los Angeles Occupying their democracy!! Imagine if every city across the United States did this. Now let’s make it happen.
What city do you live in? What can you do to make sure that your city passes a similar resolution?
I want to leave you with a couple of quotes that we were spoken directly to Occupy Wall Street from two highly respected individuals from two very different backgrounds.
The first is from Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Zizek , who on Oct.9th, 2011, told an old communist joke to a budding NY General Assembly in Zucotti park. It went like this:
“A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew that his mail would be read by censors so, he told his friends, let’s establish a code. If the letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I said. If it is written in red ink, it is false. After a month his friends get a first letter. Everything is in blue. It says: everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theaters show good films from the West. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.
This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: The language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom, war, and terrorism and so on falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here: You are giving all of us red ink.”
A couple days later, Deepak Chopra stopped by Zuccotti to share these peaceful words:
“I just want to do a two minute meditation, or even less. Put your hand on your heart and just ask yourself internally what kind of world do I want to live in? And listen. Do it now. And now ask yourself how can I make that happen? How can I make that happen from a place of love, compassion, joy and equanimity? Simple anger will only perpetuate what already is out there. It was created by greed and fear. We have to go beyond that, and come from a place of compassion, centered equanimity and creativity. Once again, ask yourself, how can I be the change that I want to see in the world? Thank you.”
PAINT THE TOWN RED.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE.
“Pre-Occupied” A well-written, interesting article in the New Yorker about the origins and the future of Occupy Wall Street
Occupied Media- This is the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Plenty of insightful articles and videos on this site. Two examples:
1) Why We Fight- A succinct article about why we should demonstrate, namely because we were robbed, and our government helped finish the job
2) A Love Supreme- Dr. Cornel West waxing poetic about a democratic revolution–rings of MLK in vision, wisdom, and inspiration.
Occupy Wall Street- The original website of OWS
The 99% Deficit Proposal: How to create jobs, reduce the wealth divide, and control spending- A plan proposed by Occupy Washington, D.C, just another example of a local branch taking action to Occupy Our Democracy.
Sprinter Life Posts:
Who do you trust for news – Learn about the take over of our media and get suggestions on trusted news sources