The Citizen Ed Board at the Union-Tribune weighed in on the merits of the Occupy movement, agreeing with the the general grievance but admonishing folks to stop occupying and start taking ‘real’ action. For good measure, the editorial even throws in a false equivalence to the Tea Party movement (“the biggest Astroturf operation in history“), which has been driven and funded by the Koch Brothers, Dick Armey, and other legacy leaders from the same old establishment. But those are really just ancillary ‘get off my lawn!’ issues. What’s really troubling is this zillionth attempt to sell the canard that nobody is organizing or taking real action.
You want real action instead of talk? How about a national movement to close accounts at major banking houses and put that money in community banks and credit unions? Well, we’re in the midst of MoveOurMoney week, and Bank of America has already alerted its tellers to be ready for a flood of people trying to close their accounts on November 5th, dubbed Bank Transfer Day. The effort has mobilized major progressive institutions and even prodded lawmakers towards action against major banks. And for good measure, Bank of America has caved on its proposed debit card fee, joined by SunTrust and Regions Bank.
If that doesn’t do it for you, how about a large-scale general strike being organized around Occupy Oakland? The scene where police fractured the skull of a young veteran with a tear gas cannister is now ground zero for a general strike tomorrow bringing in veterans groups, major unions and their non-unionized counterparts. Oakland teachers, Berkeley teachers, auto workers, longshoremen, carpenters, even the Phillipine Airline Employees have stepped up in solidarity. The mayor issued a memo offering city employees the day off and encouraging them to participate, the Port of Oakland has issued a statement of solidarity, even the Oakland Police are expressing their support for the 99%. And building on that effort, a campaign to occupy vacant foreclosures is set to follow. Coalitions like this don’t materialize and take concerted action out of thin air.
But what about local efforts? Well, here’s a specific proposal for the city to explore divesting civic funds from Bank of America, for one. The model for this already exists, and it’s growing. Churches in San Jose are divesting millions, and the city is withdrawing $1 billion from Bank of America because of its terrible record of failing to avoid preventable foreclosures. There’s a similar push in Los Angeles, bringing together community organizations and faith groups to divest and press the city to do the same — all as the beginnings of a national movement.
Hey, I understand. Maybe the mass de-centralization of wealth is too esoteric, or workers re-asserting ownership over the fruits of their labor is too pinko, or citizens claiming their right to assemble without prior police approval is too radical. But to continue pushing the notion that the Occupy movement isn’t successfully organizing, leading, and prompting action is simply some combination of ignorance and outright lying.
It’s been 100 years since Helen Keller laid out structural problems in America that were inspiring people to take to the streets demanding a better system. Though if I hadn’t told you, it could have been from last week:
The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease. (1911)
That Keller’s words line up so specifically with today underlines that the issues we’re wrestling with today are not superficial problems — they’re rooted in the existential tension of a free society. They aren’t going to be flipped by a month of outrage, so the implicit or explicit criticisms of a movement that’s spread to more than 1,000 cities around the world for not having congealed and successfully restructured the global economy by the end of the financial quarter are absurd.
Similarly absurd is the constant pearl-clutching that Occupy doesn’t have a concrete list of demands(!) Quick aside though: a few other organizations without a consensus on a limited, specific, and rigid list of demands includes the Tea Party, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party. ‘Economic justice’ isn’t any less specific than ‘smaller government,’ and even without a list of policy positions, it’s not hard to know how each would apply in a given situation.
Line up ten different Occupiers, and you might get ten different driving issues: Leave Afghanistan. Legalize marijuana. Reinstate Glass-Steagall. Clean energy alternatives. Throw all the bums out of office. Improve veteran care. Local and organic food. Organize workers. Safe air and water. Real foreclosure aid. All would have different first steps, but all of them are linked.
On the surface it’s a motley and disjointed collection of issues, but it would be just as accurate to see the same battle being fought on ten fronts. They all reflect the same fundamental concern: that too much power has become concentrated in a narrow elite. Would we still be in Afghanistan if the Military-Industrial Complex had half as much political influence? Would it be so hard to grow solar and wind energy if coal companies had half as much political influence? Would Wall Street be so poorly regulated if their money brought half as much political influence? Would we be seriously discussing the rollback of clean air and water protections if oil companies were only able to wield half as much political influence?
These issues all grow from the same point: the concentration of wealth is, with every passing day, more specifically equivalent to the concentration of power. And the smaller the group wielding power becomes, the less their self-interest benefits everyone else. We don’t need to theorize, we’re all living it every day.
Indeed, it’s specifically because the concentration of money and power undergirds all of these issues that there isn’t a bumper-sticker-ready platform. It’s because addressing one or several of these symptoms without addressing the root wouldn’t actually solve the problem, but fixing the root problem involves succeeding on all the fronts affected. For the UT or others to argue that occupiers should calm down and go back to the same traditional paths to power is naive at best, oppressive at worst. The problem isn’t with who’s winning, it’s with who’s cheating, and if the traditional avenues for average Americans to voice their grievances were still meaningfully open, we wouldn’t be at this point to begin with. But those structures have failed.
People can support the pressing need for action or not, support various tactics or not. But the argument that there isn’t real action happening at all should be an embarrassment to anyone.
by Lucas O’Connor