Sunday, October 16, 2011

On Common Ambitions, Or, Occupy Wall Street Likes Capitalism – Sort Of

Well I’m finally back here at work after another recent series of personal adventures; in the middle of all the fun I’ve been finding time to get down to my local “Occupy” event, and for those of you who have not been keeping up I thought we’d take a moment today to compare a bit of Fox-driven perception to the reality I’ve been seeing.

What I’ve been told to expect, at least in certain quarters of the public space, are dirty filthy hippies with no jobs or ambitions hoping to destroy America while having deviant public couplings fueled by the free distribution of dangerous psychotropic drugs.

Sadly, I’ve found that there’s not really much truth in that description, even as tiny bits of it do ring true; but with a manifesto in hand and a few conversations under my belt we’ll see what we can do to create a picture that will surprise a lot of the 99% who already support Occupy Wall Street, even if they don’t know it yet.

Individuals or individual states may call themselves what they please: but the world, and especially the world of enemies, is not to be held in awe by the whistling of a name. Sovereignty must have power to protect all the parts that compose and constitute it: and as UNITED STATES we are equal to the importance of the title, but otherwise we are not.

-- From The Crisis, by Thomas Paine (emphasis is original)

So before we go any farther, let’s set a few conditions to this analysis: I have only been down to Occupy Seattle in person for a total of about six hours over three visits, and even though I try to follow things nationwide on the twitter and the various Livestreams, there’s obviously a lot being missed that’s not going to be reflected here.

Beyond that, we need to recognize that there is a lot of “frogs jumping out of the wheelbarrow” within the Occupy movement; by that I mean people with a lot of different grievances have come together, and even as many agree on one issue or another, many do not – which probably sounds familiar to many of the folks who populate the Tea Party movement as well.

And I’ll tell you something else, just to get the conversational ball rolling: despite what Glenn Beck might imagine in his wildest fantasies, there are a lot of folks in the Occupy movement who are indeed capitalists, even as they may eschew the term themselves; as evidence to support that proposition we’ll have a look at the statement adopted by The General Assembly.

If you know nothing about the Occupy events, let’s start with the setting: in the case of Occupy Seattle, the event has been taking place at Westlake Park, which is dead square in the middle of downtown; the 1/10th acre triangle is home to a couple of speaking platforms, a fountain, a big feeding and medical tent, and then several smaller groupings of sleeping bundles and a single group with a tarp over their sleeping bags (since I last visited, that “tarp over sleeping bag” tent is gone, thanks to the Seattle Police Department; 10 were arrested in the process).

You can’t use bullhorns to be heard above the street noise, and that’s why you’re seeing those videos of people chanting in unison whenever anything’s said: the “speaker” offers a sentence, then the members of the crowd (who are, collectively, “The General Assembly”) repeat the phrase for everyone else (it’s called “the people’s microphone”); hand signals are used to offer immediate feedback to what’s being said, and votes are used to make decisions, just like an old-style New England town hall meeting.

For The General Assembly to adopt anything, from a plan of action to a Statement, requires great deliberation and discussion, and on my second visit there was an ongoing deliberation as to whether the group should negotiate with the Mayor to move the encampment to City Hall.

Out of the New York City process, as we’ve mentioned before, came a Statement; right off the bat it would tell you this:

We come to you at a time when corporations – which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality – run our governments.

That doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement of capitalism, and neither do the parts of the Statement that reference taking bailouts “with impunity”, even as Executives receive “exorbitant bonuses”, nor the comments about the destruction of the farming system or the issues raised regarding “the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals”; there’s a whole lot more I could cite to make this point, but what you need to take away from this couple of paragraphs is that there is a lot to be said against how we do capitalism, and these folks are voicing some of the same complaints we’ve all had lately.

Despite all that, there are some very telling portions of the statement for those who think Occupy Wall Street is intent on recreating Mad Max in Manhattan; here are a few (not in their original order):

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.

So what am I reading here?

I believe I’m reading something created by a community of people who expect to get an education, find work, and own a home. I believe they expect to find equal pay and safe working conditions at that job, and then they’d like to have some say in how the economy of our country works.

I believe they expect safe products, and access to reasonably priced, but still profitable medicine, and a safe environment that they might be able to pass along to future generations.

I believe they don’t like it when the rules of the game are written by referees who have been bought off by one of the teams.

And if you put all that together, my nervous Conservative friends…I believe you’re looking at a bunch of capitalists who want to take The American Dream and make it work a whole lot better than it does today.

I believe, when you hear them talking about corruption in government, and bank bailouts, and the need for affordable health care, and making American jobs available for an American future, they’re looking to do something about the same kinds of problems that also keep nice Conservative folks up late at night – and when you put all that together, I think you’re gonna find out that, Conservative or Liberal, Progressive or Tea Party, we, all of us, really are the 99%.

So put aside all that Fox “fear porn” stuff for a few minutes, think about the things that are making you upset about this country today, look at what these folks are saying about a lot of the same issues, and see if you can’t find a place for yourselves in this 99%.

Then get down to an Occupy event near you and see where it goes (and by now they are, almost literally, everywhere, including Taipei, Taiwan): ask questions, join The General Assembly for a session, maybe even move the conversation a bit yourself.

It’s free speech, it’s people seeking a redress of grievances in a peaceful assembly, there’s voting…hell, the only way this could be more representative of Truth, Justice, and The American Way is if everyone down there was wearing a Superman suit; so go on down there, be a patriot, speak your piece, do some listening, make some new friends, and let’s see if we can’t build a better planet, one Occupy at a time.

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