January 16, 2012
Everything Americans Think Is Complete Crap -- Why Occupy Wall Street May Be Our Last Best Hope
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
Why? Because even though South Africa stunk headier than an elephant's poo after a rainy day, its black majority knew what they wanted and knew the country would be theirs one day. In America, it's by no means certain that the country will ever belong to its majority (or that its majority even knows what it wants).
We're not a country anymore, we're a racket run by the likes of a corrupt and immoral Wall Street. We have miserably failed at the single most basic organizing principle of any civilized society: how do you prevent the elite from stealing everything?
We haven't. They've done it. They've stolen everything. Our elite have stolen our money, our government, our legal system and our power from we, the people.
They've got it all, and we've got crumbs.
The difference between the 1% and the 99% is not simply economic. Not simply, for example, that we pay 35% taxes and big corporations either pay nothing -- GE -- or less than 2% -- Goldman Sachs. The difference is moral and legal: folks at the top can torture and cheat and steal and lie and endanger the livelihoods of everyone else around them, and get away with it.
Our American elite is now as shitty as the Gaddafis and the Mubaraks and the Mugabes, and just about as crazy in their entitled bubble of runaway greed. Worst of all, they operate beyond the reach of the law. Too big to fail and too big to jail.
Steal a couple of grand and go to jail; steal a couple of billion and the government will give you tax breaks and bail-outs on top of it, or at worst fine you a few million without you having to admit any guilt.
If the best and the brightest out of our Ivy Leagues who go to work on Wall Street went straight to prison instead, America would be vastly improved. 20% of Harvard grads are recruited by Wall Street; it would be better for America if those 20% of Harvard grads went to jail, along with their professors. Our best universities breed our entitled criminal elite -- who holds their entitled tenured professors accountable? (And what happened to the humanist tradition that a university is supposed to foster?)
1. OCCUPY WALL ST EXISTS BECAUSE OBAMA FAILED
But now the graduates who haven't gone to work on Wall Street -- those who can't find jobs and are laden with over a trillion dollars in student debt (more than US credit card debt) -- well, they upped and went to Wall Street to camp out there instead, and now they're occupying public spaces all over the country because of their deep disgust with us. Furthermore, they're attempting to build alternative communities to the crappy one they live in -- and building them right under the snotnoses of our noxious elite.
When a Pew poll recently asked the question if the US is still the world's greatest country, 73% of young folks under 30 said, nope, it isn't -- it's just one of several.
What does this portend: the stark fact that our young have lost faith in our supposed greatness? That they just don't believe in America like their parents did?
Before we get to the real meaning of Occupy Wall Street (which few seem to grasp), let's not forget that these are the same fired-up youths who rallied behind candidate Obama as a harbinger of new hope for America. They worked to make him president, and now they're camping out everywhere in protest.
But then, of course, Obama didn't deliver hope. In fact, he delivered America further into the arms of Wall Street and the 1% who bought our government and bought him. Plus, he did a politically brain-dead thing: our idiot president tried to play bipartisan kumbaya with the GOP instead of, as the leader of the Democratic Party, doing his duty by his party and burying the GOP, which he could have done quite easily because they were down far enough to be kicked to death. He not only let the country down, but let his party down, by coddling the GOP instead of destroying them when he got into office (a question, dear reader: would President Hillary have coddled the GOP instead of demolishing them?).
It's easy to see what Obama is now: the president as poodle for the 1%. In fact, he's the #1 poodle for them. He's no different from Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes or Bill Clinton -- all #1 poodles for the 1%. The worst of all was Bill Clinton, under whom financial derivatives were completely deregulated and the firewall of the Glass-Steagall Act between commercial and investment banks (between lending money productively and gambling it unproductively) was trashed. Bill Clinton laid the foundation for the Great Recession. Only the fact that Bush went and killed innocent Iraqi women and children by the hundred thousands makes him the worst president ever, next to Bill Clinton, the second worst president ever.
Yet Clinton is a beloved figure in our politics.
He is probably the foremost example of the fact that everything Americans think is complete crap. No one has ever held Clinton accountable for the fact that two laws he signed (the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act aka the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodities Future Modernization Act of 2000), pushed by that corrupt little weasel Robert Rubin, and aided and abetted by economic war criminals Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and Phil Gramm, sunk our economy ten years later. Americans have long stopped thinking for themselves.
2. SHIFTING TAXES FROM BIG BUSINESS TO LITTLE YOU AND ME
For example, we think our country is in such deep doodoo because of our debt. Because the government spends too much. Fiddlesticks. Complete crap. We have too much debt because we're not paying enough taxes to keep ourselves going. And the middle class, or shall we say, the working class, is personally in so much debt because for the last 30 years they never got paid enough by their business employers to live a decent American Dream, so they borrowed to get by.
Forget about all the scary statistics about horrible income inequality (I'll run a few of them soon, though). Here are the stats about taxes that every American should know:
At the end of WW2, for every buck in taxes collected on individuals, Washington collected $1.50 on business profits. Today, for every buck collected on individuals, Washington gets 25 cents from business profits.
Remember that one. Sear it into your brain. Staple it on your cerebellum. Since Reagan, the tax burden has been neatly shifted from business to individual people, from GE (who never seems to pay ANY taxes in any given year) to you and me.
Then add this: the marginal tax rate on the richest individuals went from 91% after WW2 to 35% today, and is actually, for hedge fund billionaires, 15%, and for the second richest American, Warren Buffett, 17% (as he never tires from pointing out, "my secretary pays a higher tax rate than me"). This is the rate paid by the 400 most affluent earners in 2007, who earned an average of more than $340 million each that year. The top 25 hedge fund managers earn a billion dollars a year each. Making these 25 people pay taxes at the level that middle-class people paid taxes under Bill Clinton would cut $5 billion a year off the deficit. And that's just making a mere 25 people pay taxes like the rest of us.
You pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett, GE or Goldman Sachs (who typically pay between 1% and 2% taxes a year). Plus thousands of rich Americans park their money in Switzerland to avoid paying taxes.
That's why we're in the crapper. Both rich corporations and rich people aren't paying their fair share of taxes, as they used to, when we had an actual middle class. (We should really stop using the term middle class -- the American middle class doesn't exist anymore: it's just the 1% and the 99%. You and me, we're not the middle class, we're the working class.)
3. THE MORAL REASON WHY BUSINESSES SHOULD PAY MORE TAX
There's a moral reason why business should pay more taxes than individuals. Businesses wouldn't exist without the infrastructure built by the government, or the workers trained by the government, or the legal, contractual, and police protection provided by the government. Business owes government big-time. Business makes money because the government laid out everything on a silver platter for them to make money. Heck, the government gave them the Internet. Without the government-provided Internet, Google and Amazon and Apple and Facebook wouldn't exist. That's why business should be paying the government back big money for making their businesses possible in the first place. For them to complain about government regulations -- which simply mean that businesses should comply with laws just like people have to -- is the most brattish behavior since Prince Harry wore a Nazi uniform to a party and thought his British subjects shouldn't be upset. People are executed in America for murder, yet businesses think they need to be free to pollute the environment so it makes people sick and kills them, or need to be free to speculate with securitized mortgages to the point that millions of people lose their homes and their jobs, or need to be free to spread our soil with pesticides that make bee colonies collapse and threaten our food supply. Business people in America are lucky: in China business executives get routinely executed for corruption or for doing things that harm or kill people.
But hey, here in America, the 1% are free to steal and cheat and torture and kill.
And what were we doing about it until Occupy Wall St happened? Nothing. Everything we Americans thought was complete crap. There was the Tea Party, yes. They got started because older, richer Republicans who paid for their homes got furious that the government was talking about helping homeowners who got screwed by Wall Street fraudsters on their mortgages. These Tea Party folks weren't angry with Wall Street, they were angry with Wall Street's victims -- the poor mofos who got inter alia gypped into home loans that suddenly ballooned after an initial low-interest sucker period, and are now being foreclosed upon to the tune of a guestimate of eight million homes, with a quarter to more than half of ALL homes worth less than their mortgages. Poor bastards: they thought owning your own home was their American Dream fulfilled, instead of being just another sucker's bet.
Another prize example of the complete crap that Americans habitually think.
4. IT'S THE MORALITY OF THE ECONOMY, STUPID
Now Occupy Wall St happened and suddenly the national conversation has changed. We're not totally bamboozled by GOP deficit fear-mongering anymore (just another flim-flam cover for the GOP to try and take down Social Security and Medicare, and give bigger tax breaks to the rich on the backs of the working class -- a game that the stupid Democrats fall for as they join one special Committee after another and offer up as bargaining chips to the Greedy Old Party our supposed "entitlements" -- like Social Security, which is not an "entitlement," but a goddam benefit earned over a lifetime of paying for it).
Occupy Wall St has switched the national conversation right around. There are new items on the agenda, which will have a massive influence on the 2012 election.
Income equality is on the table (even some Republicans are incorporating it into their otherwise crappy talking points).
Corporate greed, corruption and welfare are on the table. Heck, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have been going all Occupy Wall St on Romney's ass, calling him a vulture capitalist and a cold-hearted corporate raider. Listen to Perry talk the OWS talk about Romney's erstwhile Bain Capital outfit, where he made his millions as CEO: “Allowing these companies to come in and loot the, loot people’s jobs, loot their pensions, loot their ability to take care of their families and I will suggest they’re just vultures. They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass. They leave with that and they leave the skeleton.” Perry wouldn't be talking like that if Occupy Wall St hadn't made such talk respectable, even for Republicans.
Yes, dear reader, at last Martin Luther King's final crusade, the campaign for economic justice, is back on the table.
Jeepers, even our pesky unemployment problem is back on the table, after having been overshadowed by deficit-cutting discussions. Come to think of it, Occupy Wall St was started by unemployed youth, just like the Arab Spring was started by unemployed youth, and the Spanish indignados ARE unemployed youth (40% of Spain's youth are unemployed).
Perhaps the agenda of Occupy Wall St can best be summed up as follows:
It's the morality of the economy, stupid.
5. THE IMMORALITY OF INEQUALITY
Funny word that, morality. It's on the table because our elite are suddenly seen as illegitimate, illegal, and immoral.
A big change, because we've always been pretty OK with our elite and their success. After all, getting rich is the most American thing that any American can do: heck, it's your constitutional duty. So yes, let people get rich, that's totally American. But lately we've become aware of one stinking truth: our current elite is not rich because they work hard or have great ideas.
They're rich because they cheat. Wall Street is now simply one big fat scam from top to bottom (extractive capitalism, not productive). And the rich stay rich because they bought our government.
An Oct 25 2011 CBS/NYT survey asked a blunt question: “Do you feel that the distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair, or do you feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly divided among more people?” 26% of the respondents thought that the current pattern is fair, versus 66% who thought the distribution should be more even.
In fact, it's now a proven fact that because of our income inequality, our very prized social mobility -- anybody can become middle class if they work hard -- is now worse than it is in most countries in class-bound Europe. That's why inequality is wrong: it destroys opportunity.
And someone in Occupy Wall St -- some say it's anthropologist/anarchist David Graeber, some say it's the Amped Status website guy David DeGraw -- brilliantly summed it all up in one little slogan: "We are the 99%."
We're the screwed, and the 1% have screwed us, and will continue to screw us if we don't take matters into our own hands and do something about it.
6. HOW UNEQUAL ARE WE?
OK, let's run a few numbers to see how screwed we are.
Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122%. But between 1979 and 2009, productivity rose by 80% , while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%. In roughly the same period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%.
The 1% at the top now own roughly half of the nation’s investment capital -- more wealth than the entire bottom half of society taken together. It's positively feudal. In 2008, there were 3.1 million households in the US worth more than $1m (discounting the worth of their primary residence), less than 1% of the population. Yet millionaires make up about 47% of the House of Representatives and 56% of senators (and has been recently revealed, insider trading laws don't apply to Congress, so folks like Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry have been able to turn a quick $100,000 buck here-there-and-everywhere from business information privy only to them as committee chair people; corruption is rife in Congress itself).
A new study by Stanford University reveals that many major American cities are being re-segregated, this time by wealth rather than by race. The richest citizens are moving out and away from the 99%.
Economic injustice is also changing young people's views of capitalism. The latest Pew poll found that among Americans between 18 and 29, 46% view capitalism favorably and 47% view capitalism negatively, while 49% view socialism positively and 43% view socialism negatively.
Yep, our young people are all for the European-style socialism that the GOP rages against.
Well, then, what can we do about economic injustice? What can you yourself do, you poor learned-helplessness vote-once-every-four-years powerless peon of a dwindling wage feudal slave?
7. WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU CAN'T GO SLEEP IN AN OCCUPIED PARK
Well, for a start, you can take your money out of the Big Banks -- Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley -- and move it to a credit union. You can do it today, if you didn't do it already on Bank Transfer Day of November 5 last year.
Then you can join the group New Bottom Line in agitating with your municipality and state government to move their money (which is your tax money) out of the Big Banks to local banks (you can also ask for a state bank to be established in your state, like North Dakota has, which is one reason why North Dakota is running a surplus while all the other states are running deficits).
You can agitate in the company you work for, if you're lucky enough to have a job, for them to move their account from a Big Bank to a local bank or credit union.
If we could've disinvested from apartheid South Africa way back then, we can defund Wall Street now.
It's something we the people have it in our hands to do. We don't have to beg our government to do it for us. It's within your power. Main Street, take your money out of Wall Street. Defund Wall Street. Make Wall Street a Small Street.
8. FORCE POLITICAL CANDIDATES TO SIGN A PLEDGE TO THE 99%
Then we can demand that the representatives we vote for sign a pledge to do a few specific things for us when they're in Congress. Call it the progressive version of the no-more-taxes pledge that Grover Norquist gets Republican Congress members to sign. This pledge says we won't vote for them unless they sign this "Pledge to the 99%":
i. Tax financial transactions -- the so-called Tobin tax, now often called the Robin Hood tax -- to curb casino capitalism, or at least make some money for us off Wall Street's gambling. They're going to do the Robin Hood tax in Europe -- Sarkozy says he'll do it even if others don't -- so why not in the US, too?
ii. Cancel the Supreme Court's decision that made corporations people, free to anonymously buy elections. Make all elections publicly financed, so our legislators can spend their time serving the country -- the 99% -- instead of sucking up to rich people -- the 1% -- for campaign funds.
iii. Bind all financial institutions to a leverage of no more than 1:12, the way it used to be. Borrowing money to bet on all manner of stupid shit is no way to run a financial system, and certainly has nothing to do with directing capital to productive ends. For the Fed to hand out free gambling money to bankrupt zombie banks is an economic war crime (Bloomberg News recently revealed that the Fed gave the big banks $7.7 trillion in cheap money in 2008; in other words, Wall Street just printed more gambling money for themselves when they ran out of it -- wouldn't it be nice if you and I could do the same?).
iv. Strengthen unions two ways: card check for union membership, and a law that makes union representation on company boards mandatory, like they do in Germany.
v. Remove all loopholes that enable GE to pay no taxes and Goldman Sachs to pay less than 2% taxes. Tax all our US companies on their earnings abroad, too, like we do with individuals. Prosecute our rich who stash their money in Swiss banks to avoid taxes. Let the Bush tax expire so we get back to Clinton-era taxes. Bring back a progressive tax rate of 40% to 60% on personal earnings over a million bucks a year. Paul Krugman has estimated that high-income taxation could shave $1 trillion off our deficit in the next 10 years. Tax asset income the same as labor income. Why should people who make money from money pay less taxes than people who make money from actually working? Put a one-time tax levy of 14.25% on individuals and trusts worth more than $10m. According to Donald Trump (yes, him) that would raise $5.7 trillion and wipe out our debt in one fine fell swoop.
You have the power to restrict your vote to those candidates who pledge themselves to do this for you. So use it. Insist on "The Pledge to the 99%."
Come on, folks: let's defund Wall Street, tax financial transactions, take money out of politics, strengthen unions, and make the rich and big corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
You can do it, dear reader. Yes, you can. If you don't, you'll stay screwed. You will be the 99% forever. Is that what you want?
9. OCCUPY WALL ST -- WTF ARE THEY?
Now let's look to Occupy Wall Street for a shining example to us all.
Many Americans are still asking themselves: Occupy Wall St, WTF!?
Is OWS a new paradigm? the first best hope of the progressive left since FDR? an alternative to politics? a sign of America's collapse -- or rebirth? Obama's nemesis? a better MoveOn.org? the primal scream of loan-burdened jobless students? the return of bong-passing bonking-in-public hippies? sub-human animals who openly urinate and defecate on police vehicles?
What are their demands? What are they about?
Let's take a quick stab. For OWS, it's all about fairness. The morality of the economy, stupid. Is the economy there to serve everyone, or only 1% of our people? America's current institutions, they figure, don't represent us 99% anymore. They've all been bought by the 1%. The 99% are permanently shafted.
So what can be done about our rank economic injustice, our plutocracy or oligarchy or our corporacracy or corpocracy (if you care to give the racket we call America a more pungently explanatory label)?
Protest, that's what. Take it to the streets. And in the case of OWS, to the parks. OWS folks don't march, they occupy. They make themselves a permanently annoying 24/7 presence. They camp out in public. The park is their spark.
Let's nutshell the whole Occupy phenom in ten easy bullet points.
i. They occupy public spaces as close to the sites of economic injustice as they can, what Hakim Bey has called "Temporary Autonomous Zones," a la Tahrir Square in Cairo.
ii. In these occupied spaces, they build an alternative, self-sustaining community, a tiny utopia, where decisions are taken by consensus in General Assembly meetings -- true participatory democracy -- that take place every day. With microphones and megaphones outlawed, the crowd nearest any speaker repeats what that speaker says so everyone can hear the speaker. All you have to do is yell "mic check!" and the people's megaphone is activated. This very technique creates a sense of consensus and community spirit. It also teaches speakers to hone their thoughts into simple, easy slogans. Various committees deal with logistics: sanitation, food, outreach, media, arts and culture, legal, medical. They even have a Comfort Committee, which looks after the comfort of the campers.
iii. They don't have officials and leaders. They are leaderless and horizontal. Everyone is free to get "on stack" at the GA meetings every day to make proposals. They train new facilitators every day to facilitate (the right word is "lead," but they don't like to use that word) the next General Assembly. No single person is a spokesperson. Their issues are as various as their members.
iv. They are a learning institution with libraries and teach-ins and trainers, and are visited by celebrity intellectuals who drop by to lend their heft.
v. They are non-violent. When the police visit violence upon them, they get publicity, sympathy and growth.
vi. They've made alliances with like-minded groups, like labor.
vii. They collect money donated by the public. Occupy Wall Street alone already has a war chest in excess of $500,000, even if they have nowhere to sleep anymore.
viii. They operate totally above and beyond the system, beyond politics, beyond the two-party system, beyond all institutions. They themselves are not institutionalized (yet).
ix. They say they will hold their first formal national meeting on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia, where they will meet for the first time as two official delegates -- a man and a woman -- will be sent from all 435 congressional districts in America.
x. They have been under police attacks in Oakland and other places. In New York the police cleared the original occupied zone at Zuccotti Park (or Liberty Square). Perhaps this is where the greatest challenge of Occupy Wall St lies -- to incorporate the police into the 99%. Remember, revolutions ONLY succeed when the police and the military refuse orders from the 1% to attack the revolutionaries. That's when the authority of the 1% cracks and crumbles. The Occupy movement HAS to make the police their allies, and make them understand that the loyalty of the police lies with the 99%, not the 1%. It's very instructive that Wall Street is actually trying to BUY the NYPD -- J.P. Morgan Chase recently donated $4.6m to the New York City Police Foundation.
10. THE THREE THINGS THAT CHANGED HOW AMERICA SEES WALL ST
What makes the hatred for Wall Street so visceral that one little sleep-in on Liberty Square sparked camp-outs everywhere else?
Well, three things have changed how we Americans look at Wall Street. The first was the 2008 financial bail-out that left the crooks of Wall Street richer than ever and left the rest of us -- their suckers -- poorer than ever. Remember, Wall Street's shenanigans made more than a 100 million folks all over the world lose their jobs.
The second was an article by Matt Taibbi in The Rolling Stone of April 5, 2010, entitled The Great American Bubble Machine, which charted how Goldman Sachs has been behind every big economy-wrecking financial bubble since the Great Depression. It contained this mesmerizing opening paragraph:
"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates."
In one fell swoop of great journalism, Goldman Sachs went from the most admired institution on Wall Street to the most hated, as everyone suddenly felt free to pile on them after Taibbi's deft expose.
The third thing is Occupy Wall St. It's keeping the hatred alive.
This child of Situationism, of 1968, of the Battle of Seattle, of the Arab Spring, of the Spanish Indignados, is a sign that America is not totally asleep. Maybe we're conscious after all. Maybe we even have a conscience.
Occupy Wall St, born of the anarchists from Direct Action, Adbusters, the hackers group Anonymous, the AmpedStatus website, the Battle of Seattle crowd, the US Uncut folks, has done what MoveOn, The Nation, Adam Green's Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Van Jones American Dream Movement, Big Labor, and George Soros' billions have not achieved: a progressive movement that has captured the popular imagination.
It is totally bizarre that a motley crew of anarchists -- dinkum ANARCHISTS, ferchrissake! -- have done something that other more establishment-minded folks have not been able to do in decades of outrage at our plutocracy.
And these anarchists have done it out of outrageous idealism. Sheer outrage coupled with sheer idealistic entrepreneurship. Like they're Gandhi crossed with Steve Jobs. And they're not politicians. They're not even politically minded. What they're doing is profoundly anti-politics, yet they've changed our politics. In a way, they've changed our politics by giving up on politics.
11. HOW DID OCCUPY WALL STREET GET STARTED?
The conventional narrative is that Occupy Wall St started with Adbusters Magazine, the best-looking magazine in the world, which also happens to be a radical culture-jamming glossy that questions consumerism using the smart techniques of consumerist propaganda -- advertising -- itself. On July 13, 2011, the magazine sent out this call to its readers:
"Alright you 90,000 redeemers, rebels and radicals out there,
"A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future. The spirit of this fresh tactic, a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain, is captured in this quote: 'The antiglobalization movement was the first step on the road. Back then our model was to attack the system like a pack of wolves. There was an alpha male, a wolf who led the pack, and those who followed behind. Now the model has evolved. Today we are one big swarm of people.' -- Raimundo Viejo, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain
"The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: we talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people's assemblies … we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future … and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.
"The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.
"On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.
"Tahrir succeeded in large part because the people of Egypt made a straightforward ultimatum – that Mubarak must go – over and over again until they won. Following this model, what is our equally uncomplicated demand?
"The most exciting candidate that we've heard so far is one that gets at the core of why the American political establishment is currently unworthy of being called a democracy: we demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it.
"This demand seems to capture the current national mood because cleaning up corruption in Washington is something all Americans, right and left, yearn for and can stand behind. If we hang in there, 20,000-strong, week after week against every police and National Guard effort to expel us from Wall Street, it would be impossible for Obama to ignore us. Our government would be forced to choose publicly between the will of the people and the lucre of the corporations.
"This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you're out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.
"Post a comment and help each other zero in on what our one demand will be. And then let's screw up our courage, pack our tents and head to Wall Street with a vengeance September 17.
"for the wild,
"Culture Jammers HQ"
This invitation to occupy did not fall on deaf ears. The real, overlooked story is that there was a little-mentioned group in Manhattan that had already had an occupation of their own, called Bloombergville.
They were a labor coalition, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, which had arisen in response to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s austerity proposals to balance the city’s budget. Bloomberg wanted to fire city workers by the thousands, cut funding for city libraries, cut scholarship funding for students at city universities, cluster more schoolchildren per class into smaller rooms, and shut down a a minimum of 20 firehouses. “The real crisis is mass layoffs,” the group said on their Facebook page. “Hunger. Homelessness. Millions of homes in some stage of foreclosure. The bank-sponsored demolition of foreclosed homes. Looting of pensions. Dismantling of public schools. Furloughs. Union-busting.”
A few dozen of them slept for two weeks in June on a sidewalk near City Hall, in what they called Bloombergville. There was a Bloombergville Library and they held teach-ins every evening at Bloombergville University. Every day they marched on City Hall. On June 28 they tried to blockade a building where the City Council was approving the mayor’s cuts; 13 protesters were arrested.
These pre-Occupy Wall Streeters had been partly inspired by the uprising in Wisconsin of the prior February, when more than 100,000 people marched and occupied against Governor Scott Walker, who wanted to end collective bargaining for public-sector unions. The Wisconsin protesters had been inspired by the demonstrations in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. They set up a tent city in Madison, modeled after the Hoovervilles of the 1930s, and they called it Walkerville. A direct inspiration for Bloombergville, down to the very name.
On August 2, after the call from Adbusters, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts gathered at the market bull on Bowling Green, to have a “general assembly” to plan an occupation. Around 80 people were there. They included a professor of anthropology named David Graeber, on leave from the University of London, and a veteran Greek organizer named Georgia Sagri, who knew each other from the 2010 Athens protests.
Graeber and Sagri, who identified themselves as anarchists, did not like the way the meeting was going. This was no general assembly: it was a plain old rally, with folks listening obediently to leaders holding forth in hectoring speeches. In Graeber and Sagri's anarchist philosophy, a GA should be very different: totally participatory: “horizontal.” Everyone and anyone should be able to speak. All viewpoints should be heard. Everybody should be a leader. Decisions should be made not by leaders, nor by voting, but by consensus reached after exhaustive discussion.
This is what anthropologist Graeber had seen in Madagascar, where many villages had simply absented themselves from any central government and ran their villages in this way.
At the rally, Graeber's woman friend from Greece, Georgia Sagri, began to yell: "This is a rally! This is not a general assembly!" She was a horizontal objecting to the vertical, hierarchical rally. "Anyone who wants to join in a general assembly," she said, "come over there." So she went to another space behind the bull, where she and Graeber and a few others started a true General Assembly. Soon the original 10 grew to 30. Then everybody joined them.
That's how Occupy Wall Street began: a revolt inside the little revolution itself; a revolt that changed that revolution.
"Why not call ourselves the 99%?” asked David Graeber in one of the brainstorming sessions after this GA. “If 1% of the population has ended up with all the benefits of the last ten years of economic growth, controls the wealth, owns the politicians … why not just say we’re everybody else?”
Following the GA of August 2, the group met around half a dozen times in Tompkins Square Park and elsewhere and planned Occupy Wall St. Self-organized subgroups with names like Process, Communication, Outreach, and Direct Action were started. A listserv was built. A week before the appointed day they staged a rehearsal: a dozen campers settled the sidewalk on Wall Street, but were arrested.
On September 17, 2,000 people descended on Bowling Green and marched to Chase Manhattan Plaza, but found it already barricaded. By consensus they decided on a backup site: a small park of stone slabs and flower beds between Liberty and Cedar streets, just off Broadway, two blocks away from Ground Zero. Nobody had any idea it would last more than a day or two.
But it took off like a rocket in the media sphere, especially when the police brought the occupation loads of publicity by being dumb enough to harass them at a march across Brooklyn Bridge. The cops got just a little too free with their pepper-spraying. Labor unions jumped in, and the ranks swelled.
Now it looks like Occupy Wall St has changed the political discussion in America. Perhaps forever. Let's not forget that FDR's New Deal innovations -- Social Security, the law keeping commercial and investment banks separate, the strenghening of Labor Unions -- all started because these ideas were birthed and slung around long before by the People's Party of the 1890s, aka the Populists, a party of farmers who hated the banks and the railroad magnates. They were the 99% of yesteryore who agitated against the 1% of their time (the very same banksters and crony capitalists of our 1%). Their party fell apart after 1896, but their ideas outlasted their party and became reality after a good long 40 years when FDR struggled to lift America out of the Great Depression. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street's ideas will be implemented 20 years from now, given that things move faster these days.
12. THE IMPOSSIBLE AMBITION OF OCCUPY WALL ST
You can never tell what size fire you might get from lighting the tiniest spark. Anthropologist Margaret Mead is, among many things, famous for having said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has," even though no one can prove that she actually said it.
It would appear that the small group of August 2, 2011 may have done this.
Because one thing we cannot doubt is the overarching ambition of OWS. They want to change the world, which makes it difficult for that world -- for our media -- to actually understand them. They are NOT operating as a conventional members-only dues-paying organization with strict demands, outspoken leaders, and a closed agenda. They're not functioning in the world of instrumental politics. They are operating in the domain of symbolic politics and culture. They are a politics of the imagination more than a politics of praxis. They're a meme generator -- "we are the 99%." They're activists of the mind. Action as symbol. Conversation interrupters. Culture jammers. A sowing of seed more than a full growth.
In terms of praxis, the most important thing they are doing is breeding a new generation of activists from the soil of those folks who are actual born-and-bred activists -- those anarchists who gave us 1968 and the Battle of Seattle.
Their self-anointed task is about more than changing our politics -- it's about changing the content of our minds. They tell us it's time to dream. They ask us all to think and talk and dream and demand a rebirth of democracy that actually represents us, the 99%.
It's what Martin Luther King did, what the feminists did, what the disabled wheelchair-bound have done, what gays are doing now, what the environmental movement and the climate change protesters have been doing. These are movements that have changed our society far more than our politics have. They are people movements, issue movements, not political movements.
They remind us that folks who look to our politics for change, are looking at the wrong instrument. We don't change the world when all we do is vote. For real actual on-the-ground change, we have to get out there. Protest. Rally. March. Occupy. Think different. We are the change, not Washington. Our conversation is the change, not their conversation. Not the media conversation. As our conversation changes, so will the media conversation, and so will Washington's conversation.
In an October 17 article in The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg properly described the OWS sensibility as “a cri de coeur, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility.”
13. LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND FRATERNITY VS. PRECARITY
Activist Christine Kelly writes in Logos Journal:
"Stalked by the Four Horseman of mass joblessness, mass incarceration, debt-for-life and environmental blight, an entire generation of young adults now face unprecedented challenges, all of which will continue to affect the 70 million 0-18 years olds unless dramatic reforms are undertaken."
To a young person today, it seems quite obvious that Washington has abandoned the American people. The conversation in Washington has less and less to do with the real lives of Americans. It's simply the rich and privileged talking among themselves.
For the 99% today, life is precarious. You can't look forward to working for the same company all your life and retiring with dignity on a good pension. Those days are gone, stripped from us by the greedy 1% and their globalized high-tech economy of corporations as formidable as nation states.
It looks as if the middle-class is being transformed, not into the proletariat, but into the precariat. The nation state, seen as a welfare provider ever since Bismarck started transforming it into a caretaker of its citizens, has now been bought by the banks, who lend everybody money and turn us and our states into their debt slaves, and have accordingly made us a precariat.
It is the young precariat whom Christine Kelly talks about who are now saying "Enough." They're a generation not only longing for change, but also for community. Rock concerts in the 60s gave that generation a sense of community; now it's Facebook and Occupy communities.
And it's almost as if the cry of the French Revolution, "liberte, egalite, fraternite," is being brought to life again.
In America, liberty has always been big. But equality and fraternity not so much. Yet it has become increasingly clear that you cannot have true liberty without more equality and more solidarity.
It's the loss of fraternite that has rendered Washington powerless to do anything. Ever since Newt Gingrich introduced scorched-earth Carl Schmittian "enemy" invective to our legislative politics, Washington has found it increasingly difficult to govern effectively -- gone are the let's-make-a-deal politics of political opponents Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill sitting down and swopping Irish stories over whiskey and cigars. Civic camaraderie? Gone that-away, Tonto.
And ever since the 70s, when big business consciously decided to start dominating our politics by funding think tanks, lobbies and campaigns -- inspired by fear of the Nader Raiders and the subsequent Powell Memo of 1971 that told big business how to fight back -- we've lost any egalite we may have had.
Consequently, there's not so much liberte anymore. But plenty precarite.
The 1% are using government -- our entire edifice of democracy -- to put the 99% in a constant state of fearful precarity.
Obama is letting this happen -- the same candidate whose hope message got the vote of two-thirds of the 18-29 year-olds, of whom a record 51.6% actually voted.
OWS happened because Obama failed that young vote. He let them down. He didn't change a damn thing for them -- in fact, he probably made it worse, or did nothing to stop it from getting worse, despite nice little changes like taking outrageous bank profits out of the student loan equation.
However, those youngsters did get something out of voting Obama into power: a sense of their own collective power. And now this power is back as Occupy Wall St.
Demands? Well, what is there to demand when we all know that money is buying policy anyway? Christine Kelly, one activist voice among many, states her own demands thusly:
"If we take our cue from the threats confronting this generation, a broad outline then emerges for 2012: Create Jobs, Shrink Jails, Forgive Debt and Sustain the Planet."
14. THE FREEDOM OF PRECARITY
Forgive debt is a good place to start, methinks. And one way to get your debts forgiven is to stop paying them.
This is actually the single act of financial rebellion I would urge upon all Americans. If you don't like what Wall Street has done to us, this is the best way of fighting back. They haven't paid their debt to society, so we should refuse to pay our debt to them.
It's not that hard to do. The only price you'll pay is pesky daily phone calls from debt collectors. Big companies walk away from their debts all the time and say, so sue me. You can walk away from your debt, too.
Home owners walk away from their underwater mortgages even when they can afford to pay it. It's called strategic default. The Mortgage Bankers Association itself defaulted and walked away from their $79m mortgage on their own building, so follow their example. Then live in your house for free until you finally have to leave. Then rent a place. The trick is to rent a house or apartment big enough with a room or two extra you can rent out to help you cover your own rent.
What about your credit card debt? Well, cut up your credit cards and default on those debts, too. The bank will chase you for a while and then sell that debt for pennies on the dollar to a debt collector, who'll chase you for a while, too, and then give up. Meanwhile you stay living on the money you make with a debit card instead of a credit card, and stay out of the credit card business forever.
Your bank was a fool to give you a credit card, so punish them for being foolish. Let them suffer, not you.
David Graeber, one of the behind-the-scenes leaders of OWS, wrote a whole book about debt (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) that questions the claim that debt is a moral obligation. He reminds us that ever since debt began, way before money, there has been debt forgiveness, with Debt Jubilees starting in ancient Mesopotamia -- when all debt is forgiven, all lands restored, and life starts anew. We should be having a Debt Jubilee in America right now. But why wait? Start your own personal Debt Jubilee by defaulting on all your debt.
Don't feel ashamed. Look at a morality-laden concept like debt "forgiveness", and change it to a more neutral phrase: debt "cancellation". You're not refusing to "honor" your debt, you're simply "canceling" it. Makes you feel better, doesn't it? It's a matter of accountancy, not morality. Yes, you willingly promised to pay back your debt, but the bank willingly took the risk that you might not. Nothing personal; just business.
Greece, if it had any sense, would go back to their own currency, refuse to "honor" their debt to the German and French banks, and go their own way. That's what Argentina did when they made a 35-cent-on-the-dollar offer to their creditors, and 93% of their creditors took it, even though the customary offer under their circumstances was more in the 50-60% range. And then Argentina got back on their feet a whole mite damn quicker than if they had tried to "honor" their full debt.
It was Germany's futile attempts to pay back their war debts imposed on them by England and France that led to the rise of Hitler. Just recently Iceland refused to "honor" the debt of its banks, and good for them. (Well, they really had no option -- the debt was many times their actual GDP.)
That is the freedom of precarity, gentle reader. Cancel your debt, or go into bankruptcy if you have to, and start fresh. If only one reader cancels their debt and manages to live free from credit for the rest of their lives, this article has been worth writing. Having a moral obligation to "honor" your debt to predator banks and vulture capitalists is the most annoying piece of complete crap that Americans are thinking.
Today is the day to start your rebellion against Wall Street and the fraudulent banksters. If the government refuses to prosecute the fraudsters and send them to jail, you can at least give them the big pain of not paying them what you owe them.
Debtors of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your debts.
How about it, dear debt slave? You in? What you say?
The Great American Debt Jubilee Rebellion! Join it today -- and live free.
Posted by Evert Cilliers at 12:20 AM | Permalink