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Occupy 101 – We Got 99 Problems But The Rich Ain’t One

Topics: Politics | Add A CommentBy admin | October 30, 2011

Some facts about the origin of OWS that even occupiers seem unaware of, and some thoughts about what and what not to wear, and what and what not to say.

Guy Fawkes Mask
We have a strict policy of not criticizing
Anonymous around here, so if you’re with
Anonymous, wear what you like. But for
the rest of you, this is not recommended
. It’s licensed property, so every
mask you buy puts money in media
conglomerate Time Warner’s pockets.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters its sixth week, I find it remarkable that the most basic facts about it remain a mystery to many. And perhaps more remarkable that so many who complain daily about the issues that the Occupy movement seeks to address sit on the sidelines, still bellyaching. I personally have been bellyaching about the banksters since 2008. After writing a few dozen articles about bailouts, corporate capture of government , and pork-bellied politicians and having even my best friends shrug nonchalantly, I sort of gave up. But my interest in social justice was revived in early September of this year, when I first read of plans for protesters to assemble in NYC. I wasn’t surprised when the media ignored them the first week, but before the end of the second week, I told like-minded friends that if they made it past the second weekend, I might have to go join them. When 700 protestors were arrested on October 1, I knew it was “on”, and also knew there was no way I’d get to New York within the next several weeks. So that day, I set up simple site at OccupyAnnArbor.org, and started looking locally for other people who were interested. Don’t believe everything you read about social networking enabling civil protest. It may work in some situations, but in many areas, the multitude of conflicting Facebook and Meetup.com postings actually caused as much confusion as solidarity. And in my opinion, Facebook discussions tend to do more damage than good – intellectual liberals engage in wheel-spinning debate that makes them feel like they’re actually DOING something, things get factionalized, and as I’ve felt compelled to point out – clicking “Like” won’t change the world. So, in spite of the fact that this hardly qualifies as a revolution yet,  Alexis de Tocqueville’s statement that “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end” is relevant all the same. We’re mostly going to stick to history and a little opinion here. As this clip about the 1946 Oakland strikes makes clear, things can change on an epic scale in a single day when people who just want a decent living for a day’s work are deprived of that simple luxury.

How Did It All Start?

Well, aside from the fact that we’ve gone from a country that enjoyed a middle class utopia for almost half a century to a nearly Dickensian dystopia in just a decade or so, the more recent Occupy movement has an interesting and rather ironic origin. Part of the impetus to assemble in New York was provided by a poster circulated online by the anti-consumer “AdBusters” magazine, urging people to “#OCCUPY WALLSTREET. SEPTEMBER 17. BRING TENT”.  The irony of course being that an anti-consumer magazine is sold in the consumer market in the first place, and in this case, it’s a CANADIAN magazine urging people to protest in AMERICA. Around the same time, a “Tumblr” was created called We Are The 99 Percent. End of story, right? It was an internet phenomena like Howard Dean’s meteoric rise in 2004, right? Wrong. While this is the spin that it gets via today’s inept and sound-bite-driven media, it was much more planned than this. This piece by Avery Morrow explains the original occupation’s socialist roots in the summer of 2011, and does a good job of explaining why the “assembly” method is crucial to the movement’s survival.

So The Occupiers Are A Bunch Of Socialists?

Hardly. That’s the next irony, and probably a great source of frustration to the small group of socialists that were astroturfing in the beginning. While socialists will probably remain an important (if small) component of the American populace – I mean, without them, who else would warn us of the evils of capitalism as they sip a soy latte at Starbucks – they endanger their own presence at a well-organized occupy assembly as soon as they start to push an agenda. The same is true if one starts spouting a specific democratic, republican, libertarian, or any other platform. That’s a key component of the whole movement if it’s going to be successful – NON ALIGNMENT. Most occupiers with half a brain are extremely leery of becoming the next Tea Party, no matter WHO is doing the co-opting.

So Who The Heck ARE These People Then?

Well, this Fast Company piece is one of the few attempts I’ve run across that attempts to figure that out with any specifics, and in spite of the media’s seeming glee in always talking to hipsters, gutter punks, and radical students, the movement is at least a third over-thirty five, of  broadly represented income, and about 70% choose to identify as independent, not democrat or liberal as the media would like you to believe. In fact, one of the founders of the original Tea Party movement has come out in support, and the biggest direct donor so far is a former Wall Streeter who also donated to the Romney campaign. At the assemblies I’ve attended here in Ann Arbor, I’d say the usual turnout is about half students, a third of the group is over 30, and overall the non-students are a healthy mix of professionals, academics, and “regular working people”. At the first assembly here in Ann Arbor, I was briefly booed off the “podium” when I asked people if they would self-identify their ideology with a show of hands. I was quickly un-booed, and when allowed to ask if people were socialist, communist, capitalist, or “other”, the dominant voice by far was “other”, comprised of a few phrases that would best be lumped together as “independent”. The first three options inspired a very reluctant show of hands that represented about 25%, 10%, and 70%, respectively. And interestingly, some of the most committed of the very small number of full time occupiers are Europeans, not Americans.

So Why “Occupy”, And What’s With This Hippy Dippy “Assembly” Method, Anyway?

The answer to these two questions is intertwined. But first of all, the tens of thousands who protested the invasion of Iraq with virtually ZERO media coverage proved that marches are pointless unless Glenn Beck or Comedy Central are backing things. A full time occupation of a public place, testing the mettle of a municipality’s willingness to shut down free speech in a place that’s probably already “occupied” – by the unemployed and homeless – is a winning strategy. And although many of the organizers around the country who model their assemblies after the NYGA method don’t even realize it, the original purpose of this approach was two-fold, and quite intentional. First of all, simply inviting people to a public place to listen to your soapboxing will get you nowhere. But tell everyone they can have a voice, and – much like the internet – they’ll show up in the hope of spouting their two cent’s worth. The second angle is that in places where there’s a significant number of occupiers, there’s frankly a hell of a lot of time to kill, and an assembly structured in a directly democratic fashion like this will – trust me – kill some time. I jest a bit, but the method is brilliant. When an assembly is properly facilitated, collective concerns are well addressed, consensus is reached, and the human microphone serves three purposes: 1.) It mitigates rambling, polysyllabic speechmaking, which is impossible when you can only use at most five syllables in succession. This keeps things focused on immediacy; the crowd will give you a silent beatdown or verbally shut you down if you’re just opinionating.  2.) It makes the group much more visible and interesting to passersby, often pulling them in. And 3.) It actually has a powerful unifying effect on the group.

What Should I Wear?

Well, if you’re in the northern climes, something warm, obviously. It’s going to be a long winter. But if you’ve been thinking of wearing one of those fashionable Guy Fawkes masks, think again. If you’re anti-corporate, every time you buy one of those things, you’re supporting one of the biggest media conglomerates on the planet. They’re licensed property of Time Warner. They must be fairly popular with occupiers though; when I looked them up on Amazon, the “customers who bought this item also bought” suggestion was telling:

Customers who bought this...

So When Do We Get A Platform?

The reason to avoid a rigidly defined platform has been covered thoroughly elsewhere;  if poorly conceived and easily “partisanized”,  it would bring things to a screeching halt. But here’s my two cents worth about what kinds of things should and shouldn’t be part of the message:

1.) Stop talking about “the rich” and taxing them more. Do the math, and you’ll realize that this won’t fix much. More importantly, plenty of affluent moderates who might very well be supportive of “fixing” Washington and corporate influence immediately put themselves on the other side of the fence when you use the word “rich”. Wealth itself isn’t the problem.

2.) Start getting a LITTLE BIT specific. Some unifying themes are government policy paralysis, corporate personhood, and sane banking regulation. Don’t talk specifically about reviving Glass Steagal, instead point up the blatantly obvious connection between de-regulation and the collapse of the banking sytem that was prevented only by taxing our unborn grandchildren. And how heinously irresponsible that is. Talk about how if corporations have the same rights as people, we should have the same tax shelters, and how corporations should be subject to the death penalty if they take human lives. Which many of them do.

3.) Don’t try to roll ending war, health care for all, promoting gay rights, and saving the whales into the “demands”. A lot of today’s current problems are symptoms of the core problems, not causes in themselves. If you want to get specific about health care, demand that congressmen have the same plan we do. If you want to address issues related to war, talk about returning soldiers that can’t get a job.

4.) Don’t give up. We deserve a decent life for a decent day’s work, and we will take back what we deserve.

Perhaps Most Importantly, Know What Kind Of Assholes You’re Up Against

Don’t be reasonable.  The Overton Window works both ways. It’s INSANE to expect someone who has made it their life’s purpose to simply amass wealth to ever give a shit about your petty human concerns. Just read this leaflet that some asswipe on the Chicago Merc dropped on the occupiers in Chicago. It actually makes some cogent points, but mostly highlights the sociopathic mindset of a typical trade floor grunt that thinks he’s the next Gordon Gekko:

We are Wall Street, It’s our job to make money. Whether it’s a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn’t matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. I didn’t hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone’s 401k doubled every 3 years Just like gambling, its not a problem until you lose. I’ve never heard of anyone going to Gamblers Anonymous because they won too much in Vegas.
Well now the market crapped out, & even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joes are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are.
Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you’re only going to hurt yourselves. What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that.
For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much. So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we’re going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren’t going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We’re going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money.  You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.
The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it’s really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat asses land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom
We aren’t dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Mainstreet our food supply…will he? and will they?