Why You Should #Occupy!

By Kevin Heade

But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

 

Marx, Letter from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (1843)

We are standing amidst one of the largest and most significant social movements in human history. Yet chances are, you are skeptical that those scruffy looking kids holding signs in your local park are anything more than disgruntled “hippies” or ignorant anarchists. The thousands of protestors demanding justice for the “99%, an end to corporate control of the world, and calls to #Occupy everything could change the world.

It already is changing the world, one participant at a time.

Most people won’t ever get the #Occupy Wall Street Movement. This is because most people won’t  take the time to attend a General Assembly meeting and participate in a consensus-based decision-making process. Participatory democracy is character building. It affirms the agency of the individual and the necessity of endeavoring for the collective good.

Perhaps it is this experiential process that the #Occupy Movement will be known in history.

A participant related to me the significance of the #Occupy Movement through an analysis of the relationship between developments in communication and shifts in social institutions and structures.

“Never before in all of human history,” said this 26 year-old world traveler and college procrastinator, “has participatory democracy been possible at such a mass level. Now, with social networking through the internet, it is possible for every single voice to be heard on every issue. This possibility has lead to the spread of the #Occupy Movement, and it is why we are here in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and why the protestors were in Tahir Square.”

Through all the dischord of political theory among the collage of liberals, pacifists, audit-the-Fed-types, anarchists, socialists, free marketeers, and indigenous activists, there is one resounding point of unity: the current system of inequality is unacceptable. There must be change. If not for us, for the Earth. The idea of infinte growth in a finite world is preposterous.

But, hell, this is all theory. As of now, #Occupy Phoenix is stuggling for the right to sleep. The City of Phoenix has been stern in its persistence to arrest anyone caught violating the city anti-urban camping ordinance. A coalition of human rights activitsts, including the ACLU, have challenged the city’s enforcement of the law. At least one court has held that it is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment to arrest people for sleeping in public when the city has inadequate homeless shelters.[1]

Now, in the context of 1st Amendment concerns regarding sleeping as political speech, the #Occupation is challenging the constitutionality of the anti-urban camping ordinances. One thing that has been common among many of the 951 cities in 82 countries  where the #Occupation has rooted is that the movement of the 99% has encamped itself right in the territory of the lowest portion of the 99%– the nation’s homeless. The #Occupations offer free food and accommodations to any participant, and many homeless people have found homes and roles within the movement. So it makes sense that the first wars being waged are for the right to sleep.

The support for the #Occupations continues to grow. Occupy Wall Street has raised over 500,000 dollars and the gourmet cuisine has garnered the attention of jealous stomachs everywhere. As the holiday season approaches, and winter along with it, many observers may expect the #Occupy Movement to define achievable goals so that it may claim “success” and reserve its power into a more dignified political party. But such observers will never know the successes of the #Occupation unless they were there.

Liberation is an experiential process.


[1]          Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 444 F.3d 1118, 1132 (9th Cir. 2006); Pottinger v. City of Miami, 810 F.Supp. 1551, 1559 (S.D.Fla. 1992).

10 comments

  1. Nice. “One participant at a time,” and gaining new ones every day. I’ve waited my whole life for this kind of social change and I can feel it coming, too, Kevin!

  2. Great article! Liberation is indeed an experiential process. I will be looking forward to more articles by this author.

  3. It’s an easy movement to get behind ( especially if you believe Wall Street should pay for your college) But difficult to Justify. Especially in light of the alleged ‘skills gap’

    http://www.jsonline.com/business/us-manufacturers-looking-for-600000-skilled-workers-survey-says-132023778.html

    It’s not an injustice, it’s frustration, felt by everyone, from the top one percent to the bottom .001% Trying to separate Us from Them does nothing to address the real problem. Demanding a greater distribution certainly does aide the frustration, but does nothing more than a placebo.

    I believe in standing up for what you believe is Right, but I also believe in working hard and earning your keep, as well as keeping what you earn.

    1. Tyler,

      I see that the ethos of the American Dream is alive and well in your thoughts and comments! Thanks for demonstrating that people still believe in the dream, even when all the factual indicators point out that there are deep structural flaws in the distribution of wealth in our society. As the robber barons would use Horatio Alger’s writings to justify their greed and Charles Spencer’s theories to make it seem natural, I’m sure the corporate execs who have seen their pay skyrocket (compared to the median worker)
      (See http://consumerist.com/2007/04/ceo-pay-up-298-average-workers-43-1995-2005.html )
      since America’s Golden Age also appreciate your assertion that we should keep what we earn. What the 99% are trying to point out in the OWS Movement is that the average worker has lost their dignity, freedom, and opportunity in this country. They want to keep that and raise a family on something more than debt. As for the free college concern, I am sure you are aware of the rate of tuition increases in the last two generations. The American Dream doesn’t seem to be available to the working class anymore. The #Occupation demands change!

      Thanks for sharing your views!

      In solidarity,
      Kevin

  4. The Occupy Wall Street Movement protestors want their voice to be heard. For the past three decades, corporate lobbying and deregulation has created an America where 1% of the population own 60% of all the net wealth in this nation.

    The GOP criticize the protestors as anarchists or people who want a handout. People like Paul Ryan claim America is about equal opportunity not equal results. Someone needs to tell these congressmen that America does not offer equal opportunity, and has not for a long time. All European companies have higher rates of social mobiility than good ole USA, and their citizens have more productive and healthy lives as well.

    For too long this Nation and Congress has bought into the mantra that what’s good for the bottom line is good for all Americans. They quote JFK, who said a rising tide lifts all boats. Unfortunately, this has not happened in this country. America corporations have continued to have record profits while jobs get outsourced and the standard of living for rank and file workers continued to decline.

    With the Citizens United decision, things appear to only get worse. Because it takes money to get elected, and corporations are the only entities with money, then a Congressmen must be in bed with the corporations to even get elected. The average person’s concerns and ideas about government are not even a blip on the radar screen to any Congressmen.

    The GOP have brainwashed Americans into thinking that “you should be lucky you have a job.” What this has produced is millions of Americans being “wage slaves” and are only one missed paycheck from being out on the street or one medical ailment from being bankrupt.

    Protests like the Occupy movement will start a national narrative on the inequality in this country and what federal policies need to be in place to benefit the most people. Carpe diem protestors!!

  5. There is far more social mobility in this country and the American Dream is alive and well. If you need any bit confirmation of that fact, attend a naturalization ceremony at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix. They are conducted virtually every Friday and open for the public to attend (you may view them from above the main court where you can get by climbing the stairs at its side). At my naturalization ceremony, the INS Agent asked the candidates whether any of them would like to tell the rest their story of coming to America. I cannot recount the complexity of the feelings that I experienced when a older lady from Burkina-Faso told her inspirational and sad tale about the numerous issues she had to surmount all for the honor of calling herself a United States citizen. People give up their PhD’s to become cab drivers in this country, and as a corollary, the rest of the world is far hungrier than us. If you seek answers about American’s poor economic performance or its suddenly apparent structural flaws, then consider President Carter’s speech about American malaise. Yes, the majority of the wealth in this country is owned by a slim minority of the wealthy, and perhaps the most successful investment model ever invented (the corporation) is to blame. But, while it is easy to blame the political process and then sit on our behinds and demand change, perhaps the better means would have been to get that Mathematics PhD and not blame the surge in legal immigrants out of India “taking American jobs,” or the corporations outsourcing ever more professional jobs to China because, well, it just happens to be that their kids worship Bill Gates and not Britney Spears and study Physics rather than hoping to strike it rich as an athlete. The American society that has been fed from a golden spoon for a century is as much to blame for the issues it faces today as the evil corporations.

    If the qualm of the occupy movement is with Citizens United, then deal with it through the legislature and throw the bums out. Here’s a novel idea, vote! Don’t let the 30% of Americans that does vote decide your future.

    Everyone is frustrated with the state of affairs, but let’s not forget that we do not live in Egypt, the unemployment is not as high as 30%, this is not a majority below-25 population, food concerns are not an issue for the masses, and the corrupt politicians do not this country as their backyard. With all due respect, and a lot of it is due, advocating change through a mass disorder is not the kind of answer that I can subscribe to.

    1. America is behind every European country in social mobility. Life expectancy is 38th, behind many countries in Africa. Of course in many middle eastern countries living conditions are far worse, but to say that social mobility is greater in American than everywhere else is just false. Switzerland, Norway, France and other countries have citizens that work less, produce more, and live longer.

      I’m not advocating that the American poor and middle class suffer more than any other people, far from it, what I’m arguing is that for too long this country has bragged out its total GDP, corporate earnings, and other benchmark numbers which do not tell the true story.An example is healthcare, many people claim America has the best healthcare in the world, and its true, if you are rich, America does have the best doctors and best medical institutions. However, 1/3 of all Americans lack any health insurance and the political branches in Congress do not see this as a problem. Something is wrong with this picture.

      There are countries where people in truly deplorable situations, this does not mean we should just say, “well, at least I don’t have it as bad as that guy.” Let’s not forget it is mainly American imperialistic policies which have led to these countries having no stable democratic institutions to support their citizens. American Presidents from Wilson to Bush have always favored realpolitik in the name of geographical corporate interests. This had led to truly tragic results.

      With the Citizens United decision, it is not enough to say just throw the bums out. Corporate money and special interests have infiltrated every sector of politics and unfortunately, no matter who you put into office, these people will have to pander to these special interests for campaign funding or risk not winning re election. Do you know that it takes about 5 million dollars to just run for a Senate seat today? Meg Whitman who ran for a California seat,had to spend over $100 million dollars of her own money to just contend.

      Politicians from both houses have completely forgotten about the poor and middle class. The one voice we did have, the labor unions, have been vilified and attacked by the GOP and federal regulations since the Reagen era. The protestors are here to stay and will continue to let people know that the 99% will be quiet no longer.

      1. Meg Whitman did spend close to that amount, and LOST to Jerry Brown, nonetheless. Proposition 8, despite the overall liberal attitude to gay rights in California (and I can attest to that), and despite having received increasingly negative media attention the closer it drew to the vote, still passed. I don’t disagree with your points regarding the structural flaws in this country. I myself, find Jeffrey Sachs and his theories regarding the “underclass” credible. I would love to see a robust social safety net, e.g., free healthcare and education, in this country, but I also realize that advocating for such changes would require mass social backing, particularly of the middle classes. Shutting down the Oakland harbor and preventing the blue collar labor for earning an honest wage accomplishes just the very opposite.

        The vast majority of the Americans have the necessary tools available to them to make something of themselves. It is unfortunate that most exit institutions of higher learning with a huge debt burden, making it almost a certainty that they will not jeopardize a good job for a point of view, but that is the price we pay for not having to queue in the bureaucratic mess of France’s education system. By they way, France, an enigma of social mobility? Really? I think the 10% of France’s population that consists of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants would disagree, probably by means of a riot, which they have quite often in Paris’ suburbs by my recollection. The point is simple. No, you need not share my feelings of security in the knowledge that my house will not be razed at the whim of a “public” official who neither got elected nor shares his people’s affection or support, or in the understanding that I can earn a living on the basis of merit, or in the assumption that the president of the United States will not treat the treasury as his piggy bank. Feel free to get angry and frustrated and point out the flaws of the system. Just please, do not invoke Egypt and that overused word “revolution.” There are 70% of Americans who are not politically active. Now if I ever heard of the flex capacity that is it, and a lot can be made of it.

  6. Liberation is an experiential process. You don’t just get free, you must remake yourself as a free person, as we must jointly make the society into a free one.

    I feel as though you coils have worn so much more about this-you bring up so many issues; homelessness, liberatory technology, the general cynicism of the culture…

    A friend described the movement to me the other day as a general strike of the unemployed. Not quite encompassing, but a useful way to think about it. We are more seeing the answer to the tea party movement, which I am greatful for!

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