Occupy America

Occupy America 101211


The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, brought to our attention by L. Guffin a couple of weeks ago, has been growing and spreading, both geographically, and more importantly, socio-economically.  Your Prospect has been almost as quiet on the issue as the capitalist media.  That’s because it isn’t clear exactly what #Occupy is. 

It began as a simple idea: Wall Street, not Main Street, should pay for the economic recovery.  Families shouldn’t pay, corporations should. 

Because the average American relies on news from the halls of power, they often don’t know about all the demonstrations which go on all the time in America.  Most demonstrations, even if they are thousands strong, aren’t reported even by local news.  If all you know is what you see on the tube or read in the LA Times, you don’t know how bad things are.  For a long time, #Occupy escaped the mainstream media.  The Prospect editors were watching it on unconventional news sites, but it wasn’t clear what it was for, or what it meant, except that the middle class was feeling the pinch.

In France, when they have a major demonstration, shit happens.  French Farmers wanted to complain about getting screwed in the market and urge a boycott of genetically altered foods, so they hauled truckloads of dirt onto the boulevards of Paris.  When the young or the working class have a riot, stuff gets busted.  In the U.S., we have “free speech zones” and cops that start police riots among demonstrators. 

Occupy Wall Street had arrests, that’s what made it news, and some of those arrested were “personalities” so the word spread.  We might not care about politics or economics in America, but we need to know what our celebrities are doing.


Perhaps one reason the public has been slow to respond to Occupy Wall Street is that protests by small groups of people with vague demands have become somewhat common.  The Tea Party has hatched hundreds of homey demonstrations.  Many of the demonstrations related to #Occupy feature a sea of young faces, the economically dispossessed.  We are used to the young protesting, particularly when they have nothing better to do.  The young, when thrust in to the world, suddenly realize it isn’t fair; they clearly see how things can be fixed.  We’ve all been young, all seen our best and most well intended plans turned to caca by an unrelenting reality; it isn’t news.  It isn’t news that there are no jobs for the young or the old; the old will lose their homes and the young will never own houses. 

"Protesters should always go to the streets carrying a bag…they should carry a can of Pepsi, a bottle of water, and a bottle of vinegar. They should also carry plastic bags and extra clothes. If the police shoot tear gas during a protest and it gets in their eyes, they can immediately smell the vinegar. Then splash the water on their face. After that, add pepsi to wash out the eyes. It will reduce the effects of the gas… they could bring an onion and start smelling the onion when the tear gas starts. If the police officers use electric shocks or stun guns, protesters should wear the plastic bags on their legs. You won't get affected by the shocks if you're wearing the plastic. These are tips for any peaceful protest.”  Advice for #Occupy protestors from an Arab Spring protestor in Egypt, from HERE http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/111010/occupy-wall-street-arab-spring-protests



Our One Demand: kind of Cool from #Occupy http://occupywallst.org/article/a-message-from-occupied-wall-street-day-five/


#Occupy movement has very little organization. We are accustomed to groups with bureaucracy, a chart of who is responsible for what.  #Occupy is developing that, according to this website  But, there is still no clear list of “demands”.  There is a “Move-On” style attempt to negotiate a list of demands from participants, as one might assemble a list of demands from the various protest signs, but as the protest grows and spreads, it also picks up new protest signs, new “affinity” groups.  The original germ of an idea is in danger of becoming swamped by pre-existing groups who want to launch from #Occupy’s sudden shooting star.  The simple message about inequality in America is in danger of washing away in a rush of disparate visions. 


The simple idea actually links many of the protest signs at a basic level: social inequality.  While the middle class enjoyed a significant economic advantage over the poor, the country was willing to tolerate the “1%” who ran the show, the “Power Elite”  , but as the middle class has lost ground against the wealthy, Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch have become slowly aware of class disparity in America.



The real message of #Occupy is that the very wealthy are bleeding us, and they are doing so with the support of their minions, elected officials and the massive regulatory bureaucracy which is generally staffed by the people it is meant to regulate.  The wealthy constitute a very powerful and important “special interest group”.  They do well when we do poorly.  The identification of the “99%” as everyone but the 1% is a brilliant strategy.  It isn’t completely accurate, but it conveys the crux of the problem: Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose (so the Bible said and it still is news*)  People with power tend to use their power to maintain power; those with money tend to use it to make more money; money is power. 

The 1% benefit at the cost to the rest of us, two charts from that notorious so rag Mo Jo.  Charts are 2 links to more data that should drive you to #occupy something.



How does the realization of social disparity reveal a common thread among those seeking social justice, a cleaner environment, a greener economy, gender equality and labor rights?  Our society is set up to benefit capitalists, who profit from a police state, who profit from the petroleum economy, who profit from low wages and low wage expectations.  These are largely the same 1% who benefit from a drop in the real estate market, the handful who could be said to have caused the global recession.

This is the opposite of the “Tea Party” who espouse capitalism, don’t believe in global climate change and think there is plenty of oil, we just need to clear the trees and dirt away so we can find it.  In sociological terms, #Occupy is an anti-systemic agent, while the Tea Party is a pro-systemic agent.  To be clear, the Tea Party members by and large identify with the wealthiest, but are not among them.

How much more clear eyed are #Occupy to recognize they have little in common with the 1%.


How does clarifying the disparity benefit the average person?  Marxists, if there are any left, will recognize the notion of “consciousization”, that process by which the poor and down-trodden come to realize how it is they benefit their greedy masters.  When this realization takes place, Marxdom believed, the 99% would seize the means of production and all would right itself.  Given the failure of communism, is there any reason to believe understanding disparity will change behavior?  Will the fading middle class somehow seize power from the 1% and make things right?  We remember the lesson of the caca plans; no, understanding the disparity won’t change much.  The very wealthy have been in control a long time, they typically run the media and exercise control over our money.  Regardless our rhetoric, we really aren’t very brave, and anyway, we’re busy and tired just trying to make ends meet and maintain the illusion of middle class status. 


Another reason it won’t change much is that the very wealthy can simply leave.  Already the 1% in the U.S. have more in common with the 1% in Europe, or Australia, or South America than they do with you or I or the rest of the 99% rabble.   A Swiss bank account isn’t as anonymous as it once was, and there are a few holes poked in registering in the Bahamas, but in general, the wealthy can still move and manage their wealth more easily than you or I can deposit $5,000 cash into the bank. 


Among the suggested demands for #Occupy to make are some which might shift the balance a little.  Ending corporate personhood is an important one.  Getting the money out of politics sounds great, but simply isn’t possible.  The most radical, cancel the debt of the 99% would do the most to right the balance and place the burden of the recession where it belongs: on the 1%.  It isn’t likely to happen here.


What’s ahead for #Occupy?  Eventually, it will either fall apart from lack of momentum, be co-opted and factionalized by more experienced players, or, if it is at all effective, it will be absorbed and neutralized by the body.  At best, it will make a few small changes and become encased in its own success, regularized and functionalized like the unions.


Should the Free and Brave support #Occupy?  What do we have to lose?  Below is a map of #Occupy demonstrations.  In Sierra County we understand there will be a couple of demonstrations.  People will get together to sit on the bench in Downieville and complain about the economy, and people will stand around on Sunday in Loyalton at the Farmer’s Market and complain about the economy.  Join one of these #Occupations near you!


Map of #Occupy protests; map is link to Mo Jo.


*Billy Holiday, God Bless the Child (who’s got his own).

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