Monday, October 03, 2011

Occupying DC and Wall Street in October2011: Humanistic Conceptual Space

By Gary Berg-Cross

October 2011 is simultaneously the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan & when the austere 2012 federal budget kicks in. For this and other reasons October 2011 promises to be an interesting time in DC with the October2011 meeting and the self proclaimed non-violent, peaceful solidarity event Occupy D.C. on the schedule and already in evidence on K street. The broad and gathering movement of “Occupy Wall Street,” was roughly inspired, if not modeled on, the successful and secular Tahrir Square protests.

Corporate media doesn't seem to know how to cover a democratic movement. One of the criticisms of it, such as reported early on by Ezra Klein is that protest's organizers are diffused with many different factions and efforts “to look up their demands online didn't yield much.” This picture of a movement without obvious leaders or an immediate checklist of demands, like "get out of Iraq now" was summed up in the title of a WaPo article "Occupy Wall Street protests gain steam but the movement's goals remain unclear."

With this meme circulating it was heartening to hear about a growing understanding of a broad sense of justice that is driving the movement. The mantra is "We are the 99% and are too big to fail." What some see as an incoherent collection of radicals and a lack of leadership others see as a sweet form of non-hierarchical group democracy. And some mission statements seem to emerging the “Occupy” movement around real health care reform, moratoriums on foreclosure, taxing the rich and changing wall street. It’s not to destroy the financial system, but a recognition of its failure of our traditional system to do the right thing to reform the system. It's more like a financial regime change idea – something the US administrations often talk about and was an underlying idea in Tahrir square. Ben Tripp put it this way in a HuffPo piece - What Are Your Demands?

the demands all boil down to one thing: we don't want you running the world any more. You're bad at it. Your motives are evil. The future you imagine is a vision of hell.”

I like a positive and constructive message so it was encouraging and enlightening to read about 15 Core Issues that have been identified & articulated by the more hierarchical and traditionally political October2011 group steering committee. A meeting of the whole is taking place in DC now and I hope fleshing out these ideas.

October2011 took this as a time to “light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.” To get a solutions conversation started, they list 15 issues that the Country Must Face. It’s a pretty interesting list for a Liberal Humanist and may get at the complex question of grievances and frustrations, so I reproduce the current list below

1. Corporatism– firmly establish that money is not speech, corporations are not people, only people have Constitutional rights, end corporate influence over the political process, protect people and the environment from damage by corporations.

2. Wars and Militarism – end wars and occupations, end private for-profit military contractors, reduce the national security state and end the weapons export industry. War crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace must be addressed and those responsible held accountable under international law.

3. Human Rights – end exploitation of people in the US and abroad, end discrimination in all forms, equal civil rights and due process for all people.

4. Worker Rights and jobs – all working-age people have the right to safe, just, non-discriminatory and dignified working conditions, a sustainable living wage, paid leave and economic protection.

5. Government– all processes of the three branches of government should be accountable to international law, transparent and follow the rule of law, people have the right to participate in decisions which affect them.

6. Elections– all citizens 18 and older have the right to vote without barriers, all candidates have the right to be heard and to run and all votes should be counted.

7. Criminal justice and prisons –end private for-profit prisons, adopt evidence-based drug policy, prisoners have the right to humane and just conditions with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society, abolish the death penalty.

8. Healthcare– create a national, universal and publicly financed comprehensive health system.

9. Education– all people have the right to a high quality, publicly-funded and broad education from pre-school through vocational training or university.

10. Housing– all people have the right to affordable and safe housing.

11. Environment – adopt policies which effectively create a carbon-free and radio-active free energy economy.

12. Finance and the economy – end policies which foster a wealth divide and move to a localized and democratic financial system, reform taxes so that they are progressive and provide goods, monetary gain and services for the people.

13. Media– airwaves and the internet are public goods, require that media be honest, accurate and accountable to the people.

14. Food and water – create systems that protect the land and water, create local and sustainable food networks and practices.

15. Transportation– provide affordable, clean and convenient public transportation and safe spaces for pedestrian and non-automobile travel.

Committees are forming for each of the 15 issues and interested parties can contact about participating on them. The group further promises that each issue will be linked to a page which will explain more about the problem, the solutions and resources. More on this as it happens. For background information, you can read about their take on where the majority of people in America stand on the issues.

Starting on October 6, 2011, an Occupy-type People's Assembly event Stop the Machine/October2011 will assemble in Freedom Plaza, in Washington DC to" protest anti-militarism and other things." They plan to occupy the plaza and hold it "awhile". Meanwhile Occupy D.C. plans on being in McPherson Square and the K Street corridor. As WAPO noted since “Occupy DC's demonstration began in McPherson Square on Saturday morning, protesters have marched to the White House two blocks away and held signs on the square's K Street sidewalk. “ It should only take a little marching for the Occupy DC, the October2011 group and Stop the Machine-lead protests to meetup.

It may not to Tahrir Square but it should be interesting. In its first three weeks, the Occupy movement has added some voice to anti-corporate message and a voiced a democratic feeling of restoring some fairness to our society and the loves of ordinary people. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more about a coherent, humanistic vision for the country from a synthesis of these 2 activist group's thinking.


Gary Berg-Cross said...

Edd Doerr noted that "Some important items seem to have been left off the 15 point list:

1. Reproductive choice: This year has seen an unprecedented level of legislative attacks on abortion rights and access to contraceptive services. Women's rights pf conscience need to be on the list.

2. This year has seen an unprecedented level of attacks on public education: massive cuts in public school funding and a step up in diversion of public funds to discriminatory church-related private schools."

Ross Wolfe said...

One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities (Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sarandon, Naomi Klein, Cornel West), prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

“Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


Gary Berg-Cross said...

Some updates on these Dc activities:

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney provided some clarifications so we can Keep the DC Occupiers Straight

With so many liberal protesters waving signs in the streets of Washington, D.C., it's not surprising that many news reports have muddled who is in charge of what.

But activists camping out in McPherson Square with the Occupy DC movement want to make one thing perfectly clear: Occupy DC has nothing to do with a separate set of demonstrations going on at Freedom Plaza. That campout, which has also featured anti-corporate slogans, was mounted by an unrelated group of activists who call themselves the "October 2011 Movement."

It's easy to see how reporters or even casual observers might mix up the two. Over at Occupy DC, an outgrowth of the now national Occupy Wall Street movement, an eclectic band of grass-roots activists is protesting corporate greed and unrestricted political money.

At Freedom Plaza, an equally eclectic group of liberal activists has launched a protest that was six months in the making around the slogan: "Stop the Machine! Create a New World!" Occupy DC organizers convened a special meeting to tackle whether they should try to team up with the Freedom Plaza folks, but decided against it, said Paul Taylor, an unofficial spokesman for Occupy DC — a group which emphasizes that it has no official spokesmen.

"Stop the Machine was very top down," said Taylor. "We at Occupy DC and the other Occupy movements are very bottom up."

Taylor stressed that Occupy DC participants have much in common with the Freedom Plaza protesters, but noted: "We didn't want to be associated with any political organization or established organizations, because we are very broad in our scope."

On Friday, Occupy DC organizers went so far as to send out a press release stressing that their group "is not the same as the October 2011/Stop the Machine rally that is taking place at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C." The release went on to state: "We are a spontaneous upwelling of unrest and frustration, rather than an organization put together with months of fundraising support, steering committees and professional activists."

The release followed numerous press reports that described Occupy DC protesters rallying at Freedom Plaza and marching to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and down K Street. In fact, said Taylor, Occupy DC went over to the Newseum to rally outside the Washington Ideas Forum organized there in conjunction with The Atlantic magazine and the Aspen Institute. October 2011 Movement protesters were the ones who went to the Chamber and K Street, he said.

October 2011 Movement organizer Margaret Flowers said that it was sheer coincidence that the two groups came to Washington at the same time. The October 2011 Movement is also very bottom-up and consensus-driven, she said, but represents months of planning by seasoned environmental, social justice and peace activists, and is endorsed by 150 progressive organizations. That helps explain why the group's crowds have been much bigger, swelling to more than 1,000. The Occupy DC crowds have reached the low hundreds at most.

"We're experienced organizers," said Flowers. "We wanted to create a structure." She added that her group sent Occupy Wall Street a letter of solidarity early on, and that activists from the October 2011 Movement are eager to work with that movement....