First, let me start out by saying that APV supports the occupy Wall Street movement in New York and the similar rallies around the country (at my last count there were 70 cities involved). It is still a fundamental right of the people to congregate together to air their grievances and I can’t think of a better time than now to do some airing. The demonstrations in New York and elsewhere that have slowly built until even the most jaded of mainstream media flaks must acknowledge their significance, have been peaceful, non violent and marked by a seriousness sometimes lacking in these sorts of endeavors. I’ve been pleased to see more teach-ins than street theatre and the favorable contrast with the corporate funded tea party rallies of two years ago in terms of both size and composition speaks for itself.
As this movement picks up steam there will be pitfalls. Lack of organized leadership can lead to delay and to confusion in terms of message. There may be fringe elements looking to hijack the platform for their own purposes. There may be fools who do or say things that can and will be used to paint the movement in broad strokes as foolish, utopian or too radical. And there will be those who come out for a day or a week or a season only to become frustrated and disillusioned when the rapture of political/social change doesn’t occur on schedule.
To this I say so what! I just came from a large progressive conference in Washington, full of organizers and doers and shapers of the movement, and there was general consensus that while what we’ve been doing over the years may be important and necessary, it’s a good time for some new life to be added, and that life, that authenticity comes from the street. I met elderly men and women who had been pioneers in the civil rights movement, sisters and brothers who cut their teeth in the women’s movement, the GLBT movement, the labor movement, the disability rights movement and so on, and all I heard was support for the mostly young people taking their place on the line. “It’s time to march” an older lady told me from behind thick glasses as she waited to get into a meeting. “Every generation’s got to stand up for themselves and make their mark”. The activists, the people who made their bones on the streets of Montgomery and at Kent State and at the Stonewall know a winner when they see one, and they like what they’re seeing in New York.
Leaders, who needs them. Lack of leadership can be a problem sure, but it also can be a virtue. The media desperately wants a face, a spokesman that they can condense around like water on a cold glass. They want a person to speak to them and in turn they want someone to analyze and pull apart. Someone who’s background they can check and who’s twitter account they can hack. Believe me, the opposition wants a leader to emerge because leaders are vulnerable to assassination attempts, character or otherwise. The lack of a leader means they have to focus on the event itself and it’s meaning in a larger context. We don’t need someone to stand in front of a microphone and say what we want, anyone who’s been awake for the last decade knows what the problem is. We don’t need another Power Point presentation, we need power itself and power is never given, it has to be taken, and out there in the streets we’re taking it back, peacefully, for the people, of the people and by the people. I think that’s why the banksters up on Wall Street and their stooges in Congress are putting down their champagne glasses and starting to worry.
I hear some fretting from some quarters about anarchist tendencies and fringe ideologies, again I say so what. Does anyone outside of FOX NEWS or a few old guard coffeehouse deadenders really think we’re on the verge of a new Commune, that sit-ins and marches and elaborate hand signals will result in the liquidation of all property and the establishment of an anarcho-syndicalist paradise on the wreckage of Carl Rove’s permanent majority? If so, I have some securitized subprime mortgage credit deferred options you might be interested in.
The fact is I don’t know where these rallies will lead, and that’s not a bad thing. What matters is that people are waking up and they may be losing the one thing that can hold them back, that can make this thing go wrong, fear. Noticeably absent from the occupation rallies has been the sense of fear that often marks the Tea Party movement. That sense of victimization and resentment isn’t there. Sure people are pissed, sure they’re angry, but they lack the sense of bitterness, the sense of lost personal privilege that you see from so many working class, often older, white conservatives. This movement doesn’t seem to be looking back to some misremembered golden age, it imagines a new world of its own making. I’m with them in that and I am eager to see what they can do. “It’s time to march!”
Standing in the center of Liberty Plaza feels like surfing the pulse of a rising American moment. In this place, halfway between where Washington gave his first Inaugural address to a new and uncertain nation and where the Twin Towers once stood and fell on a single day, there is an overwhelming sense of purpose. A primal national charge runs beneath this ground, coursing from below the thick Manhattan bedrock and jumping to the rhythm of the drumbeats lined up along Broadway. At any minute, facing any direction, you can close your eyes and hear the orgasmic howls of a new Democracy in the throes of wild conception, proud voices of passion and conviction not heard from American masses in over forty years. Being in the middle of the frenzy can get you lost in an endless cascade of emotion–exuberance, frustration, defiance, empathy, confusion, patriotism–but as you absorb the chaos, you begin to understand the drive, to see the beginnings of a sustainable movement and finally must start to wonder. Is this what it was like to be in Philadelphia all those years ago, witnessing another small group of passionate radicals boldly voice ideas that might very quickly grow to revolutionize a tyrannical world?
The Occupation began on September 17, twenty-eleven with thousands marching on Wall Street in what many called a ‘Day of Rage’. Inspired by mass uprisings in cities such as Madrid, Cairo and Madison, protesters came because our own political and economic systems have corrupted themselves beyond repair, marginalizing the people’s voice and stealing back the prosperity created by the hands of Americans’ hard labor. Judging by the reality at ground level, the United States in our hearts has become an unrecognizable mess. A ‘superpower’ where seventy million live without sustainable means, where the largest impoverished group is comprised of children, where more citizens are needlessly incarcerated than anywhere else in the free world and all at a time when there can no longer be any doubt that our public servants willfully abandoned the 99% long ago for far more profitable employers. Despite all the justification in the world, there is actually little rage to be found here at Liberty Plaza and there is an astonishing lack of fear from a movement resiliently aware that it is staring blindly into the unforgiving gaze of world history. Over a week later, any apprehension or anger haunting the frigid night air has long been exorcized by the brazen unity of purpose.
Some people believe that we are here to bring down the crooked politico-economic paradigm that feeds on the willing consent to be swallowed by it, but the truth is well known, that this old idea will soon collapse under its own obscene mass, hyper-inflated with the worst kind of deadly greed. What the Occupy movement is actually working to achieve is a principled state of humane solidarity, an evolved Democracy for a new millennium of enlightened thought, an alternate social haven where no one must live in fear of the imminent corporate black hole suddenly consuming everything they have left.
The Occupation has dug in and it is growing, here in New York City and in major cities across the continent. It began one historic day in September and will continue to flower until the time finally arrives when such dissent is unnecessary. With every new voice heard crying out from lower Manhattan, that time moves closer. In every new dawn breaking over the skyline, true hope shines brighter and with every waking breath our communal voice, the music of humanities’ strongest force, grows even more powerful than the night before. We humans have no control over our Fate, the circumstances surrounding our births and deaths, but we do wield incredible power over our own Destiny—the times and places we choose to make our lives worthwhile and the accomplishments that others will remember after our wakes have passed. Use this vibrant American moment to shape your own destiny, come witness the Occupation from the very center of Liberty Plaza, contribute your considerable voice and experience for yourself what it feels like when the world truly begins to change.
APV thanks Patrick and our other writer/Occupying friends for their inspiring work. You can follow his blog and read his other posts on the Occupy movement, here.
For nearly two weeks now, if the media paid any attention to the Wall Street protests, it was to note the number of arrests, possibly clear their throats about the violence of the police tactics or dismissively discuss the protests as aesthetically unappealing (who knew it was a fashion show?) or lacking in concrete demands. Towards this end, the occupiers have posted a declaration that is not unlike our own Declaration of Independence with its list of extended grievances, but, despite prodding by a press corps feverish for a simple sound byte, the occupiers have yet to deliver a list of demands, much less their one demand.
The grievances are interesting in this regard. They center on a system that perpetuates injustice, and, in fact, must rely on injustice to exist:
“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 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.”
These are not all the grievances, but sufficient to give you the idea. The laundry list is long and it doesn’t take much to imagine that their list of demands will be equally long. Ideas I have heard floated include a Financial Speculation Tax, a re-enactment of Glass Steagall, a repeal of the 1986 Tax Reform Act under Reagan with its deeply regressive rate cuts. There were also more idealistic goals: free undergraduate education as a human right. Healthcare as a human right. Retirement pensions as a human right. In fact, one person suggested passing FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, a magnificent document that never made it to congress after his death.
These complaints and remedies really have a single thread: unchecked corporate power over nearly every aspect of our lives. From what we eat, to the security of our homes, to the value of our schools, to the operation of our government. The complaint more specifically is that corporations are given the rights of humans with neither the responsibility to the community nor the vulnerability of a human. This odd entity that we call a ‘corporation’ is neither a human nor a business, exactly, but some strange and monstrous amalgam, legally human, but superhumanly wealthy and powerful and geographically multifarious; potentially omnipresent. A marvelous scene from Eugene O’Neil’s “The Hairy Ape” conveys the sense of anguish when struggling (usually futilely) against such a beast—the steam engine stoker, a grim, dirty, muscle man named simply Yank has finally had enough and comes out swinging, desperate to find some escape from his hellish existence in the bowels of the ship, shoveling coal. Who do I fight? He wants to know, who do I hit? Of course, in the system in which he is caught, in which we are caught, there is no one person to hit, to fight, really. What’s worse for Yank, the very act of lashing out condemns him culturally, earning him the stigmatizing and dehumanizing label of a ‘Hairy Ape’; thus are refinements doled, and the keepers of the jailhouse ensure their sense of superiority by suggesting those who struggle are somehow already debased.
Is it so much different today?
The antidote for this of course is to insist on our own humanity. This might strike some as a tautology, but for the people occupying Wall Street it is the thing without which nothing else matters. That’s why the demands are really a secondary consideration, the essential thing is the community which establishes the demands, the humanizing process that will allow the explication of those demands. They use the slow and sometimes painful process of consensus building: recognizing and insisting on equal input and validation. They rely on individual committees to come forward with recommendations that are voted on in the General Assembly held in the late morning or early afternoon. The selection of grievances above was voted on by the September 29th General Assembly of New York City in Liberty Square. This is true Democracy in action, and their insistence on such speaks more about their motives and their ultimate desires than any list of reform ‘demands’ they might offer. They understand, too, that part of their mission is to become the type of society they’d like to live in. Many who have visited Liberty Plaza have felt inspired by what they’ve seen:
“I have spent the last two days at the Occupy Wall Street gathering. It was a beautiful display of peaceful action: so much kindness and gentleness in the camp, so much belief in our world and democracy…. It is a thing of beauty to see so many people in love with the ideal of democracy, so alive with its promise, so committed to its continuity in the face of crony capitalism and corporate rule.” ~ Mark Ruffalo
As Plutocracy Files, a DailyKos blogger who made a visit to Liberty Square and wrote a diary about her experience put it:
“When I heard her say everyone was welcome and, very specifically, that the homeless were welcome, I realized something: In small, growing clusters throughout the country and, indeed, around the world, these words [from the Statue of Liberty] are no longer an embarrassing farce:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Right now – because of this ragtag group of kids – these words are not just a shameful reminder of our hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy. The Occupy Wall Street movement is indeed a “community unto itself” that is showing us that it’s possible to live up to our highest ideals. We are not fated to live in a cruel and ruthless society.”
Maybe their idea of consensus building and community is, in fact, a kind of demand, or not so much a demand as a model of behavior, presenting to the world the vision of the community they’d like to see. This makes sense and walks back the implicit hierarchical vision of ‘demanding’ from a powerful other either money or power or respect. It is, in some ways, the perfect answer to the abstraction of money that commodifies relationships and objectifies humans.
Their project insists that we can, and must, reclaim our humanity.
We’re being dressed for a roasting by the Super Committee while Big Bad Wall Street is blowing the alarm horn on itself. We need to build a brick house … and help is on the way! Support Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together/October 2011!
- On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, MoveOn members will join labor and community groups in New York City for a huge march down to the protest site—the biggest yet.
- October 2011 also begins on Thursday the 6th. “Thousands of concerned Americans will assemble in Freedom Plaza, in Washington DC to take control of our country and our lives.”
- OCCUPY TOGETHER and spread the word!
George Carlin talked about our national predicament in “Life Is Worth Losing” (2005):