AUTHOR’S NOTE: This essay is in part a reply to AoT’s “No, you don’t want another OWS”– I agree we don’t need another, but not entirely with the author’s reasoning why…)
People who were involved with Occupy Wall Street have an understandable emotional attachment to what they experienced within the movement. In fact, for many in this age of electronica and isolation, it was their first experience in ground level activism and social work. People cooperated, they exchanged food, medical services and felt unity. By sheer numbers, they managed to enter the concept of the one percent versus the rest of us into the National dialogue. That cannot be underrated.
In any discussion of what is next, we have to look with an unemotional, analytical eye at whether or not Occupy was or was not a success.
AoT: “The problem is that the things that made OWS successful are exactly the things people are calling to change.”
Occupy Wall Street did come up with an official statement from its onset, a litany of valid complaints – with the disclaimer that the complaints were not all-inclusive.
What it did not do, is offer any solutions, any demands, any formula for what to prioritize and how to change it. You cannot change generic drugs, student debt and make everyone a vegan at the same time. Hell, you cannot even get people to agree on meat consumption in any group.
I will, for clarity’s sake provide the list and a comment on each, but if you are time constrained, scroll past it with the observation that not ONE of these complaints were addressed, and not ONE of things changed for the 99% in any way:
~ They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
Nationally, foreclosures have dropped 3% by 2012 from the peak in 2010. Take into consideration that the most at risk had already been foreclosed on. Forbes says that the national average calculated by bank foreclosures does not factor in judicial closures.
Yet 25 states did experience upticks in foreclosure activity last year. The biggest surges occurred in New Jersey (55% increase), Florida (53% increase), Connecticut (48% increase), Indiana (46% increase), Illinois (33% increase) and New York (31% increase). Not surprisingly many of these states use judicial foreclosure, meaning the foreclosure process must circulate through the court system.
“2012 was the year of the judicial foreclosure, with foreclosure activity increasing from 2011 in 20 of the 26 states that primarily use the judicial process, and a judicial state — Florida — posting the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the first time since the housing crisis began,” explains Blomquist.
FAIL. Occupy did not stop banks or the courts from evicting people.
~ They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
TARP is still in place, and AIG is suing the government who bailed them out with our money on their shareholder’s behalf. In 2012, we bought into GM’s stocks to bail it out, and that 15 month period of payments is just coming to an end. General Motors Co. boosted Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson’s pay package by 44 percent in 2012. AIG’s Benmosche received a 24% pay boost in 2013.
FAIL. The hand outs to the haves are still happening, and the top echelons are still extracting huge bonuses.
~ They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
FAIL: There have been no substantive gains in workplace fairness, and discrimination has not been addressed or solved in any way.
~ They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
PUSH: Monsanto, GMO’s are still epidemic in our food supply; yet several states have changed labeling laws due to local activism. Thus cannot be directly attributed to Occupy, yet the awareness may be in some ways attributed to them.
~ They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
Animal testing and cruel factory farming remains rampant. While this platform plank brought animal rights activists to the Occupy table, it also proved to be one of its most divisive ideas as well. Vegans were hugely intolerant of omnivores, and largely took the role of feeding people – to ensure their dietary habits were enforced.
FAIL: Nothing changed in the practices by big ag and pharma in their inhumane practices.
~ They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
Michigan, formerly the most pro-union state voted against right to work, and the draconian measures put in place against organizing, saw the law passed anyway. Fast food workers have tried to Unionize, and have been met with little support or success.
FAIL: Unions have had losses, and no gains since Occupy.
~ They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
While college costs only rose 2.9% last year (rising more slowly is not a victory) the bulk of the class of 2013’s debt is in government loans, with graduates owing an average of $26,000. They also had an average of $19,000 in private loans, $18,000 in state loans, $13,000 in personal and family loans and $3,000 in credit card debt.
FAIL: The average student still is walking away with $35,200 dollars of debt. Occupy changed nothing about that.
~ They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
Five-out-of-ten major enterprises intend to increase the volume of application development and maintenance outsourcing during 2013, with four-out-of-ten intending to increase Finance and Accounting outsourcing, according to new research from U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG LLP and HfS Research, a leading analyst authority on global business operations strategies.
A quick google search shows even small business started outsourcing to make profits.
FAIL: It seems in the interest of making money in a collapsing economy, Occupy did nothing to awaken even small business owners, let alone the 1%’s demand for fair jobs here.
~ They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
FAIL: Corporations are still “people.”
~ They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
EPIC FAIL: Obamacare, written by these same legal teams, made forced-purchase of their private profiteering law.***
~ They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
FAIL: Spying has been broadened, not curtailed the last 3 years, in spite of Snowden and Wikileaks; they continue to justify it anyway.
~ They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
This is odd wording. They have used the military and police to quell free speech, and under NDAA (Hedges suit) have curtailed freedom of the press with the threat of indefinite detention. I would have taken them separately.
Police brutality and murder of civilians has RISEN since Occupy. Exercises in Martial Law, like in Boston have been run on our streets. No one objected.
The Press remains corporate controlled – 6 corporations still control all of our media.**
FAIL: Both police/military abuse, and propagandized media is still epidemic.
~ They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
Food recalls were up in the 3rd quarter of 2013 50% over the 2nd. There is no conclusive data about recall trends in general products since Occupy, and recall trends have too many variables to quantify. Poor manufacturing practices, pollution leaks, labeling fails for allergens; it is impossible to say what has or has not been reported.
FAIL: Occupy had no effect on recalls.
~ They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
The world’s 85 wealthiest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion, or half the world population, according to a new report from global anti-poverty group Oxfam.
That’s roughly $1.7 trillion for both the 85 richest people, and the poorest half of the planet.
In the US wealth inequality has risen not lowered since Occupy.
FAIL: Our economy is still based on predatory capitalism.
~ They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
FAIL: No regulations has been passed, nor has one dollar of influence been stopped from influencing politicians since Occupy.
~ They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
FAIL: Status quo of Oil addiction is intact.
~ 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.
FAIL: (see comment above marked *** ) The pharmaceutical companies not only helped write Obamacare, but made sure no price caps for medicines were attached to it.
~ They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
FAIL: See West Virginia.
~ They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
FAIL: (redundant – answered the same complaint marked ** above) Occupy changed nothing about the media.
~ They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
Sadly, the death penalty is still in place, and there have been others since Try Davis. This sickening process is still in place.
FAIL: Occupy changed nothing about the Prison Industrial Complex – a private for profit entity – and its human rights abuses.
|~ They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
Ohhh, boy. This is an epic statement, in the face of the systemic marginalization by Occupy Oakland’s (among others) treatment of people of color, most pointedly “Decolonize Oakland.” In Detroit, the representation of Black people, in leadership or membership was abysmal.
In South Dakota, genocide by stealing of children is epidemic, under the pretext of Family Services, who rake in thousands of dollars a child.
The separate subject of our international colonialism goes unaddressed – in fact we now have troops, bases and intel teams in more countries than ever, trying to install US-friendly interests and leaders.
EPIC FAIL: Not only did Occupy change nothing – but they themselves were guilty of colonizing Occupy in the name of white-is-right. It was appalling.
~ They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
FAIL: Gitmo is still open, we still have secret sites, and we still in an undeclared “War on Terror” that has given our elites the right to drone bomb anyone, anywhere, anytime.
~ They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.
FAIL: WOMD production was not affected by Occupy at all.
So, with all due respect for the efforts, the wonderful intentions and the abuses suffered by those willing to stand in the streets against these atrocities? Occupy was not a success. It served more as a venting of deadly energy in a safe way that the 1% knew would have no effect in them.
To them, it was barely an inconvenience and an opportunity to use the press they own to ridicule the masses as unwashed, directionless hooligans. Untrue, of course of those who created working communities; nevertheless it became thematic in the press. It was also a chance to roll out the Police State apparatus – hence scaring less militant people who may have joined in from stepping out the door.
It actually played well into their hands. Especially prior to an election they needed to win (by either brand of the Uniparty) by remaining apolitical.
It proved, once and for all, we do not own our public spaces. They knew, between the police abuse and the weather, they could well wait out those living in parks, and that eventually after raids and thefts’ taking the few possessions of the displaced, that the elements and lack of provisions would drive people to safer places to stay.
AoT who wrote the article claimed that any changes to the next movement will lose what made Occupy a “success,” but I believe by clinging to failed strategies, we would be cementing our failures in stone.
In addressing that, I will need to change the order of the author’s objections to other suggestions for the next phase of Occupy. She/he thinks none of these should change, and I soundly disagree.
1. We Need Demands.
Webster calls a demand a “a forceful statement in which you say that something must be done or given to you” implying that there will be a repercussion if that demand is not met. Unions at one time made this process productive. They would call for shorter hours, or more pay and go out on strike should those conditions not be met.
Occupy had no demands. They had a laundry list of general complaints.
Each and every complaint they made had merit, truth. Most of them could be changed by regulation – but that would take the compliance of either politicians or the 1% who fund them and own the industries whom the complaints were against. For example, nothing will change about the medical industry while insurance and pharma are in control. No regulation of their profit margin will happen when, without their donations, a Democrat or Republican could not gain an elected seat.
If, in fact, that had been the plan of attack? They could have demanded “Single Payer,” and used all their resources to address fighting Obamacare. We could have staged a national refusal to pay our insurance premiums. We could have had educational memes and commercials telling people that the rest of the world has single payer – how much cheaper it would be for them, and how much better the care would be. The demand could have the teeth of a boycott, as well as Occupying Hospitals and Insurance companies, with the added bonus of exposes run on how much money they make and individual horror stories of denied services to make that profit.
Its a lovely example, but not one I believe would have worked for many reasons. The money, and the politicians they own still would have beaten us back by media volume and arrests. It may have helped a national upswell of support for single payer, though. Obama was elected in 08 with a 74% mandate approving single payer.
That is good strategy. Find something the public already wants, and show them they can have it.
The list was too diverse, and hadn’t the declarative stance of a demand. “We demand single payer,” is far clearer than a general complaint about cutting worker’s healthcare, and letting pharmaceuticals profiteer.
Truly, in my opinion the only demands that should have been made are the core ones, the ones from which all other abuses fall: The Finance Industry.
I do not know one person who is happy with their bank, including employees of said banks.
“Break the Monopoly on our Money,” would have resonated. Why do you think to this day that bank robbers are seen in our American mythos as heroes?
In order to truly Occupy Wall Street, the demand should have been made that the Fed become nationalized and answerable to the People, and that all large banks must divorce themselves from Insurance companies (hedging their losses against policies they create) and be broken up into small local entities. Anti-trust laws were written for a reason.
By castrating the ownership of all finances from a few hands to many? Much of the power that money wields would have been wrested from the Political process. If we had gone one step further and demanded that all financial institutions be non-profit Credit Unions, even the comfortable middle class would have come on board. They would save money. The poorest would see foreclosures end, and interest forgiveness that had been demanded by the criminal rich prior.
Those demands would have been backed by everyone even in the reddest of states. Had that been Occupy’s one and only demand, we could have organized an epic removal of money from banks to credit unions, and perhaps a national boycott of paying a dime of interest when we made our house payments. “Equity Only Until the Fed is Gone! Equity Only Until ‘Too Big to Fail’ Fails!”
That is what a DEMAND looks like.
2. Occupy just needs to occupy the voting booth.
I am sure many Occupiers voted. Yet, as an apolitical – they made that point repeatedly – movement, as many voted for Tea Party Candidates as Green. In fact, I would venture to guess given no other seemingly viable candidate, the vast majority held their noses and voted for the Uniparty. Likely the Democratic, given that the more effective evil, Obama, won. Lesser of the Two Evils (LOTE) is really the root of our national psychosis that ensures nothing ever changes.
Occupy set itself up, intentionally or by default, on socialist principles. Yet, never did they endorse a single candidate that espoused these principles. To say that Occupy was a success in one breath, while on the other hand whining that a mere 10k people couldn’t have an effect on an election is disingenuous. Occupy did nothing substantive to change the list of demands, but it DID change the national dialogue. What if that power of suggestion had been focused like a laser on exposing the fact that both of our major parties are corrupt as hell, and that we needed a 3rd party? What if we had presented a “99%er Party” candidate?
With the glare of media focus at the onset, they should have chosen to run someone. Had they approached a Cindy Sheehan early on, or a Jill Stein (assuring her that it would be a Green/99% coalition party) or Rocky Anderson, or got Alan Grayson to defect to their party we could have really made a difference. There was no reason they could not have looked within their own ranks and risen an unknown to national renown.
Sure, some within the ranks would have stomped off in a huff over purity tests. The anarchists would be pissed that its “buying into authoritarianism to elect someone the boss of me,” the vegans wouldn’t vote for a meat eater. Feminists would want a woman, and people of color would want someone who looks like them in power. These things always hold true. But I believe that if we always go to “LOTE” that they would come around to whomever we found that was best for the job. In the end, not only would they have pulled the lever for the 99% party, social media alone could have made it a landslide.
We really DO have to Occupy electoral politics.
Yes, there is always a chance that someone in Power may become compromised, but if we do not try, we are starting from the position of voting for someone who has already been compromised by the money and corruption in our (laughable) 2-party system – all of whom are funded by the very same corrupt vulture capitalist 1%.
We could have used the statement of principles as a litmus test to back candidates locally and nationally.
We could have used our collective voices to say “We don’t have to pick their puppets no matter how much money they throw at it. We have a choice!”
I know “politics” is a dirty word. But truly, they are supposed to speak for us, and right now none of them do. What the hell would have been wrong with backing someone who held our principles? We could have changed our THINKING, even if we didn’t win, even if we came close. We could have changed ballot laws, and who gets invited to debates.
Not Occupying the vote was a fatal flaw… for its easier to take it seat by seat than overthrow the money backers in one fell sweep.
It is sad that no charismatic leader emerged, one with both the substance and style to garner loyalty and following. One that both listened, and modified their message to the will of the people; one that didn’t seek power but was chosen out of respect by the movement. Exceptional human beings aren’t wished into existence. Maybe there just was no one. Or maybe there was, but they were never given the chance, put down by the concept of keeping it leaderless.
The problem with intentionally leaderless movements is that you end up with a centipede with every leg walking in a different direction. Yet? There is something to be said that a leader can be targeted, assassinated, jailed and tortured. I understand that fear.
I will say, that despite the leaderless designation, every Occupy I attended in Michigan had certain people running it. Volunteers. Committee heads. Primarily white, upper class, college age students. Anyone could raise an idea, but the one chairing the discussion often dismissed them, and whatever the insular “planning group” had already decided in private became what everyone else had to follow. Occupy was not leaderless, it was publicly leaderless. For example? For one, and only one march in Oakland, the Decolonize Oakland subgroup asked that there be no violence, so that there was no excuse to have arrests made – so that in order to shut down the port, they could invite thousands of undocumented workers to join them on May Day. A group of 4 or 5 shut the idea down summarily.
All in all? We have been trained in the US to be followers. It is a grand idea to all be leaders, but we have also been weaned in personal gain and inflated senses of egos. A leader or two would have been helpful, and we should have been open to the idea had one emerged.
4. The Anarchist Effect
Occupy was started by Adbusters, originally. They are an anti-capitalist group whose intent was to change how information flowed and take the propagandist slant out.
To say it was created by Anarchists is utterly wrong. It was embraced by Anarchists in the US, to be sure, but they didn’t create it. They were very involved in making a “citizen run” society – to prove that we didn’t need government to be successful. Of course, if you measure success by sustainability? Their societies only lasted months.
I have less problem with those who, at the start, played defender of the weak: The black bloc who stood in the front lines, clashing with pigs so that the old, young or infirm could get away.
But sadly? That group became more vocal – more authoritarian, if you will – in demanding that Occupy was made in their image. It was their influence that crippled what could have been a movement that changed concrete things – like leaders, demands and having candidates.
I am no pacifist, but pointless violence became the norm. Smashing the window of the family who bought a small Starbucks franchise, the family that brought campers donuts and coffee every single morning up until that day didn’t hurt the corporation at all. It hurt a small businessman, probably disillusioned his family, and made the people who lived on the street hungrier.
It allowed for infiltration, and there is concrete proof that FBI agents and police joined and did violent acts for which to blame on OWS. Once Occupy opened the door to allowing terrorism of local people, there was no way to filter who was real and who was an agent provocateur.
For a movement to be successful, it has to have rules, and anarchists are absolutely anti-rules… other than every interaction should be by mutual consent. I am not sure where the mutual consent of that Starbucks owner comes in. I think too many were not really interested in social change as much as in venting their rage and their Daddy issues. The US-anarchist movement has little to do with the actual principles of Anarchism as Noam Chomsky has repeatedly pointed out to me on air and in email, as well as other public venues.
He agrees, the idea of consent and the idea that no man should have ‘rule’ over another, that we are all beings of intrinsic equal value, capable of informed consent over every exchange in our lives is a profoundly good idea.
However, the do-no-harm principle of it demands an informed, enlightened populace… and we are generations away from that. The no-government-at-all-NOW set is short sighted and counter intuitive. People would die, suffer, starve, and the already suffering infrastructure of public works and education would become non-existent. The most at risk already would be sacrificed in a country more prone to ‘Lord of the Flies’ than ‘Pay it Forward.’
I am not saying Anarchists should be purged from any movement going forward. They should be cautioned that the next logical step is towards Socialism until we reach a healthy, educated, secure society. Only then can the idea of dismantling structure be worked towards in any way that would be beneficial to all. If they can work within those constraints, towards a common betterment and an end goal more to their liking, fine.
Random violence would have to be self-policed, and made absolutely taboo. Responding to violence by protecting the weak when forced to, allowed. See the difference?
5. What Now?
I am sure those who were 24/7 invested at OWS are protective and proud of it as the mother of a newborn, but rationally? It was a failure. Nothing changed.
Occupy became more about real estate than anything else. A clash to say, “We can be here,” and in the end making that the primary concern was its downfall.
Its not about what park we can have, but who owns the process by which we meet our basic needs, and how fairly our lives are legislated and protected.
The next step in whatever is to follow should not be another Occupy, certainly not one as based in racism and sexism as it was. We need to change tactics that did not work.
Real change comes through whispers in the fields, they say. It is another way of saying, there is a tipping point at which an idea becomes a concern, and a concern is made reality.
We need to focus on the common ground of the 1%, banking and Wall Street being broken up. We need to focus on a 3rd Party and convince people the ONLY thing stopping that from being reality is a lie we tell ourselves… for it CAN be done, if we so choose.
So yes, Occupy the Voting Booth, Occupy Banking with the one demand of breaking the monopolies up, and the rest will follow far easier.
That is how I see it.