Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I went to Occupy DC today. Actually, today it was more like Occupy DC/Statehood for DC/Stop the Machine/Out of Afghanistan/Martin Luther King Jr. Dedication/Troy Davis was framed/Marxism, yay! The local DC political leadership decided to plan a march to call for DC statehood the day before the official dedication of the MLK Jr. monument. Of course, Occupy DC and all the other usual suspects had to join in.

It was fun.


"So, Joel, what do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?"

Why thanks for asking!

Occupy Wall Street is a grassroots, spontaneous outpouring of anger at the situation our country is in, and an acknowledgement that the democratic political process in the United States has failed. It has failed about as completely as it could without sparking an actual armed revolution.

The correct way to address grievances, we are told, is to lobby, write letters, and above all, vote. And vote we have. In 2008, after seven years of horrifically bloody war and the biggest economic disaster in eighty years, we replaced a WASP conservative president with our first minority president ever: a liberal, half-term senator of Muslim ancestry. If that wasn't a sign that the electorate was fed up with politics as usual, I don't know what could be.

That president has continued the last one's war policy almost unaltered - except for the new methods he has devised to flout the Constitution - and has done very little to help the millions of Americans facing unemployment or foreclosure, or hold accountable the financial sector that got us into this mess. So we voted the opposition party into power in Congress. In the past year and half, the opposition party has nearly shut down the federal government twice, nearly sent us into national debt default once, and has challenged the president on abortion, gay rights, healthcare, foreign policy, increased taxes on the rich - just about everything but help for the middle class and meaningful economic reform. Last week, after killing the president's plan to create more jobs, the Loyal Opposition unveiled its own job creation plan: repeal universal healthcare, add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, expand offshore drilling, and cut corporate taxes (in a year when GE paid NO TAXES WHATSOVER). Thanks, GOP! Glad you're taking our Third World unemployment rate so seriously.

9.1% of Americans are unemployed.

17.8% are underemployed

25% of American children are in poverty.

Average wages for middle class and poor Americans have declined by 7% and 12% respectively in the past decade.

800,000 homes will be foreclosed on this year. 1 million were last year.

All this, in the richest country on earth. That's insanity.

Mass unemployment and poverty is only the biggest crisis our country is facing. If we ever get it sorted out, we will have to proceed to tackle the debt crisis, the entitlements crisis, the immigration crisis, the environmental crisis, the education crisis, and so on. And once the crises are dealt with, we must address the host of fundamental, unspoken unjustices of the American system: regressive taxation, massive corporate subsidies that distort the free market and undermine developing economies around the world, a military budget that exceeds the combined military budgets of every other country on earth, military aid to dictators overseas, the war in Afghanistan/with Pakistan.

Do YOU think, based on the last three years, our political system is up to the challenge?

The normal political channels are not working. The media cycle, the campaign finance system, and the two-party power structure all conspire to ensure that no one who might actually fix things will win an election. The odds that the 2012 elections will bring in leadership who would enact true change are similar to the odds that the 2005 Egyptian elections would have.

And so, our dispossessed have opted for an Egyptian solution. Go outside the political process. Occupy a public space. Interrupt business as usual. Focus the attention of the media and the political class on real issues facing us, as opposed to fake ones. ("Will Sarah Palin run? Will Amanda Knox be released? Do conservatives think Obama is the Antichrist?")

Thus far, they have manifestly succeeded. And for that, they deserve our gratitude.


"What do the protestors want?" the media and conservative politicians ask over and over again. It's a fair question. I asked it myself when the protests were first starting. At that point, I didn't think they would come to anything. The fact that they have become a global phenomenon WITHOUT a clear set of demands or objectives is astonishing, and should tell us just how bad things have become. Grilling the Occupy Wall Street protestors should be the last thing on our minds. In a world in this state, we should be posing questions to our political and economic class, as they are.

But if the protestors refuse to make demands...then how does this end?

Keep in mind that the whole point of these protests is to effect change OUTSIDE the normal political/economic system. I found this statement on a pro-OWS blog: "Making demands is ultimately disempowering because it gives the other side the power to address or ignore them as they see fit."

Those words sound like academic bullhonkey at first blush. But I find them kind of chilling. By not making demands of those power, the protestors are declaring that they don't recognize the power of those in authority. Nothing short of unconditional surrender will do.

Carrying that thinking to its logical conclusion leaves us with nothing less than a dictatorship of the proleriat stepping in to assert the "General Will" of the people. Hey, it happened in Egypt and Libya.

Of course, that won't happen. But assuming these protests spread, it does give the powers that be extra incentive to make concessions, eh?

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