"It Was Eight Years Ago Today, Occupy Taught Us How To Think"
Greetings C99 family. Haven’t been around in a while, but that’s too long to get into now.
This is gonna be quick, but the date kind of commands something is published. Not much for anniversaries myself but as I sat for breakfast with the little ones this morning WBAI had a segment on in which they were talking to people about OWS. Sept 17th, why of course! (I can hardly keep track of what day of the week it is anymore, let alone the date).
I’m finishing this now as I ride the ferry down there with the kids. Before we boarded my son was on the playground nearby singing, “Power To the People - Right On!”
The following was an essay I wrote after my first couple of visits to OWS (some of it contains painful naivete about Obama that I cringe at today). So much has transpired since then, both personally and socially, including an obvious transition away from the way I thought about politics and my involvement in it then.
For posterity I’m offering it now, along with some moving video of those glorious days when we truly thought we were on the cusp of changing the world.
People seem more and more curious about Occupy Wall St. Here's my take and how I came to it:
During Obama's campaign, I hardly ever hesitated to volunteer to elect him, working selflessly and tirelessly for many reasons. I have no regrets. In his defense he's been given the toughest job in the world after the catastrophic mess left by Bush. It was clear then, but even more so now - cleaning up that disaster is gonna take MANY years (I'm willing to have this conversation with any Repug anytime, but that's not where I'm going with this - hang on). He's done the right thing in many areas by putting front and center issues that make lots of sense ( i.e. healthcare bill, credit card regulations, student loan grants, focus on sustainable food system, etc.), but has been disappointing in his reticence, especially toward prosecuting Wall St , ending Guantonomo Bay and trying the war criminals who invaded Iraq on false pretenses, and also for choosing some of the same DC players for his cabinet. All of this however must be parsed in this light: that his hands have been tied by Repug opposition that resorts to slander, bigotry and malicious attacks that form a froth which represents the core of the most dysfunctional and obstructionist party in the history of American politics. And for that I'm inclined to cut him some, not a lot, of slack.
Dream deferred. Wall St speculation wreaks havoc and destruction on life as we know it; everyone but the top 1% is hurt by it big-time. Bernie Madoff can't be a lone renegade wolf; it just doesn't make any fucking sense. Still not one Wall St exec prosecuted, while Big Business keeps announcing record profits. No amount of GDP numbers in the black can cover up the destitution and doom people are feeling. There is a MALAISE that hasn't been given an outlet.
Enter Occupy Wall St.
Anyone whose either been laid-off, asked to take salary cuts but pay higher health insurance premiums, had their collective bargaining union rights stripped, been foreclosed because of malicious predatory lending schemes have stolen their life's savings, opposes the Citizens United decision, demands campaign finance reform, wants an end to foreign occupation and all wars, demands protection of collective bargaining rights for unions, agrees that a progressive income tax on the wealthy must be instituted, demands serious overhaul of Wall St regulations starting with re-instituting the Glass-Stegall, wants more money put into schools and higher education, wants a more sustainable food program, wants strengthened not weakened federal agencies that protect our food, water, air and consumer goods and maintain our roads, bridges and airports - this is YOUR movement.
If you can't get beyond "who" is doing the protesting and "what" the one goal is, or even worse - resort to denigrating those committed to bringing this to forefront of our consciousness - then you're completely missing the point. The message in a nutshell could probably best be described as "People Before Profits." But the implication requires a nuanced and contemplative discussion for adults and a grasp of connect-the-dots. Ultimately, it all points in one direction: the Wall St debacle and money in politics. If you're used to having everything in nice, tidy, easily digestable soundbites delivered by primetime tv pundits and half-page newspaper articles, it may take you a while to come around.
But you will.
You are also of the 99%.
As for the protests themselves, there is nothing more quintessentially American than the act itself. It's how the country was indeed founded. And the disenfranchised occupying public space? How about the great example in 1932 when 20,000 WW1 veterans set up a tent city in Washington DC, blocked the steps of the Capitol Building and refused to leave until they got their unpaid pensions.
As far as I know, the non-violent civil disobedience perfected by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr is what Occupy Wall St adheres. It is not a movement for weak and malleable people looking to party and hang out idly. Quite the contrary. The prospect of police intimidation, being arrested and being subject to ridicule keeps many neutralized. But as Chris Hedges said last week, ""Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave." If you feel you're not in a position to participate in the marches, there are other ways than direct action. You can publicly lend your voice in support of the movement, donate to their cause, and stand up to challenge the fear in others who want to cling to the status quo.
My own personal observations at Liberty Square have been this: I saw a high school teacher grading test papers on a bench who told me that she was among a group of about 100 teachers who had come to show their support; another guy is a stand-up comic who had just flown in from a gig in Las Vegas at 6:30pm, but was committed to return back to the protest by 8 that same night; another was a middle-aged well-dressed man who told me of how the students in his native Puerto Rico occupied a state college when austerity measures wanted to force higher tuitions and how citizens driving by the occupied college threw food to the protesters to sustain them (only in America it seems is there this confused reaction by the mainstream public that reflexively sides against protesters); and what was a myriad of college students, secretaries, nurses, war veterans, white, black, young and old, democrats and republicans, etc.
Do yourself a favor if you're still not sure about what this all means to you and try this: randomly ask the next few people you see if he or she or anyone they know personally has either lost their job, been laid-off, had their health insurance premiums go up, been denied coverage, asked to take a cut in salary and/or a reduction in benefits, and see where that takes you.
I did something similar yesterday and here's what I found in my first three interactions:
In my van on a job I took a young Italian doctor who works for UNICEF and his humble belongings to Brooklyn. He told me he's married to a woman from Detroit whose father just recently lost his lifelong business because he went bankrupt. His wife's brother and sister are both out of work. The description the Italian gave of the urban blight in Detroit was harrowing (e.g. riding the people mover elevated shuttle system that circles through the city and observing two of the three tallest buildings unoccupied and boarded), though I knew similar scenes abound across the entire Midwest and in fact in every city and town in this country it was eye-opening again. The conversation went deeper. Even as a foreigner he could reel off the staggering fact that something like 95% of the US Senate is in the top 4% of our country's money earners (in other words, they spend the majority of their travel time in personal jets and private runways, not exactly having to see or interact with the citizenry they're elected to serve).
Then at a parking meter I met an elderly, black woman who told me she had been down to the Occupy Wall St protests and the students at the center of it reminded her of the civil rights movement in the South. She told me she was from Augusta, GA and as a 13yr old was already 5 1/2 ft, and when she saw the sit-ins at the restaurants over the deplorable back-door, segregated eating conditions blacks were forced into (imagine that current Libertarian Congressmen Rand Paul actually thinks the Civil Rights Act denies the rights of the proprietor to deny service based on skin color) she lied about her age and joined the movement. To her the protest on Wall St. is the same kind of revolution, one also based on massive non-violent civil disobedience and driven by students.
My third interaction was getting a phone call from a college buddy who I just reacquainted with after 20 years. He said he was so moved by the events at Occupy Wall St that he said he was going to take off on Friday, drive 3 hours to NYC with his 5 year old son and participate in the protest. In other words, stop listening to the pundits and start talking to people on the streets and in your communities.
Make no mistake about it - these protesters are the same righteous people who through the ages were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They're at the heart of every pivotal moment in history. Look beyond the dates in your history books and you'll find brave and unified people willing to shoulder on their backs the fear and resentment the ruling classes always uses to manipulate the masses against one another. Don't fall for it. Protesters, demonstrators, and marchers throughout time have never lost sight that their actions today would ensure a better life for future generations. Whenever we've benefitted at all in bettering our living conditions, it was because of people like those down at Occupy Wall St right now.
Show 'em some support.
Scenes from the Occupation:
This story seems to have gotten lost, when the airline pilots came in full uniforms to protest with their own set of grievances and in solidarity with OWS:
Was here in the thick of this, with a high school buddy. We rode our motorcycles in together. Still get chills every time I re-watch this. Occupy marched on the NYPD's main headquarters downtown:
Hypocrisy of the state (w/Hillary & Obama's words). Very powerful:
Question Everything. George Carlin thought it was the best advice one could give one’s kids. I agree.