This was a great roundtable discussion on the current state of the Occupy movement, some ideas and analysis, and possibilities for moving forward.
I typed out part of the transcript of the roundtable on the fly, so please excuse lack of proper punction, etc. – I just wanted to get it out, and I don’t have time to format it.
The whole thing is worth reading, but for those in a hurry or just scanning, see especially the indented paragraphs with stars at the front. Those were some of the best points to my mind. (or, if you have the time, you can watch the video at the below link.)
we’ve been asked not to call it Zuccotti, because that is its slave name. we’re going to call it liberty square because it’s been reclaimed by the people.
this is one of the most remarkable movements I’ve seen in my lifetime. this is not a traditional movement; it does not follow the motifs of conventional organizing.
**this movement has spread like wildfire. it has been very uplifting and heartening to see. so many have decided that they are just going to occupy. they don’t have to call into central command for permission; there are no dues to pay; there is no leader to get permission from; there are no subcommittee meetings; a few people in fayetteville, ark or grass valley, california just decide to occupy, and 400 people show up.
everyone feels like they have permission to be their own leader.
the movement has already had some important victories. it has alleviated despair in this country. it has killed apathy. it has changed the conversation in a profound way. they are talking about the real issues now that matter to americans (jobs; millions of homes under water; 50 million don’t have health insurance; 40 million in functional illiteracy; 49 million living in poverty – the nation that the banks and corporate wall street have created.
who organized this movement? BP organized it; Goldman Sachs organized it; Citibank organized it.
there were events and people who helped spark this movement, but it was all already boiling just beneath the surface.
we have a great history behind us. there are very similar movements going on around the world (tahrir square; the indignatos in spain), and they have similar values: we organize around direct democracy and egalitarian values. this is a big reason why we have been successful.
85% of graduates this year are moving back in with their parents. that’s never happened before.
The tea party comes from a similar mindset as we do (though with some differences as well): they have legitimate grievances.
**this is a struggle not a protest. it is about making a new space. we are trying to rebuild; to start a discussion about the many things wrong that are never really discussed. now we’re starting to talk about wealth and equality and about greed. there is a real shift in terms of the mentalities of people, that we are riding. because of what they did to us. 47% of the wealth is owned by the top one percent. and that number has been going up since the new recession.
and the idea that we are broke – that has been really pissing people off. because we know that’s not true. this is the richest country that has ever existed; with the richest people that have ever existed – and none of them pay anything. and the idea is that we have to pay for their mistakes?
(moderatore: occupy has been criticized as being white and middle class. but occupy has been shifting; many occupiers have gone into harlem and put their bodies on the line.)
occupy was very smart not to have demands right out the gate. it is not a campaing. it is a struggle. organizations do campaigns; and movements do something else – they shift the public will. this is its primary “job.” so occupy does need to have autonomy.
at the same time it has to be very close to people fighting local struggles, the working class fighting for their jobs; the poor fighting for their homes. so occupy has to have autonomy, but it has to be very close to other local struggles going on.
**diversity is not enough. the real question is: are the people coming to occupy able to participate and bring occupy into their neighborhoods. it’s like when you go to a party and you hate the music, but you have no ability to change it. if you don’t like the music and you can’t change it, you’ll likely go home. so the question is not about getting people of color to the occupy movement; it’s can they change the music in a way that helps them stay at the party.
racial hierarchy. racial discrimination. racial exploitation. it is important to recognize the roles that these played in getting us into the terrible place we are today. the mechanisms and structures designed to take things from people of color, and they ended up adversely affecting people much higher up in the economic hierarchy, and that is why those people “came over” to the side of the 99%.
**The American pulse for democracy, the thirst for equality, for freedom, is a little like an underground river, that has run underneath the surfaces of American history from the beginning. And it has barely been visible, at least to the established powers. It gets misled, deflected, stymied in different ways. But it continues these ideals, the original promise of what this country could be. And I told myself: okay, I don’t know if anything changes now, but I’m gonna do what I can, to be in that stream, with the others in history, to keep the candle lit and aloft.
**Then, sometimes, often unpredictably, this underground river gathers force and it bursts to the surface, and everything is changed. and you can read american history and find those moments, which changed everything and opened the vista of a different country.
I think that is what we are experiencing right now, I mean that. and we know it’s a high-risk enterprise to build a social movement. many are crushed, and the ideas are pushed back out of the public square. but they continue somehow, and many of them come back a generation, or two generations later. so we have to take that long view of what we are doing.
I see an ironic resemblance between what’s happening right now and the populist movement of the late 19th century: 1870s, 1880s, 1890s. these were farmers in the south and midwest mostly, who were being crushed, stripped of their property and turned into peasants, by pretty much the same forces we’re up against today: the industrial capitalists, the bankers…and yet they rose among themselves. they knew this about their situation: that nobody was on their side. certainly not the moneyed classes and the economic system, and not the government either. so if they were going to change anything, it had to come out of themselves. so they started having meetings, first in Texas, and then ideas spread… I urge you to read Lawrence Goodwin’ s history The Populist Moment. I promise you will be inspired about the capacity of American potential, and you will understand how hard it is to do what we are trying to do.
this is a no kidding around moment – we have to succeed. so much is riding on this moment. this is thrilling as well as terrifying.
I think we are winning. we actually won something today. just a few hours ago the white house announced it is going to have a new environmental review for the keystone pipeline. (that review is going to take at least a year. the company building it has stated that it cannot sustain a delay; its investors will lose interest. the pipeline will likely be rerouted around…but the company, transcanada, stated that if it does so it will be too expensive to continue. so we believe that this delay will kill the pipeline. if it doesn’t, there is a long list of people who have signed pledges stating they will put their bodies on the line, stand in front of the bulldozers. so we’ve put them on notice.)
when we first started struggling against this pipeline, we thought we were surely going to lose; we thought we had a one percent chance of succeeding. we found though that the occupy movement has changed things, has enabled successes like this one. this kind of cronyism and corruption (that we exposed in the transcanada pipeline struggle). so there has been a clear connection between these two campaigns.
we’re occupying wall street bc wall street has been occupying the state department.
**I don’t think we would have won without occupy wall street. I can’t imagine how we could have. and this is what it means to change the conversation. this goes back to the issue of “they don’t have any demands, they don’t have a program.” there are already victories happening. and this is just one example of it.
they now have 14 functioning bicycle generators.
I compare this movement to seattle, that was the last time we were putting corporate capitalism on trial. 9-11 put an end to that movement – we suddenly had to fight wars, and torture, and the whole bush agenda. but the movement seattle started didn’t go away; it went underground, where it’s been still working things out, figuring out how to articulate new ideas. now we have ten years of this experience to draw on; the solutions that have been come up with regarding ecological problems are the same as for the capitalist problems. it’s the same logic of maximizing profits that are th
[moderator: what is the relationship between this movement and the state?]
**I don’t know what its relationship to the state is. I certainly believe that we do need strong state action and strong state intervention. but at the same time I think that the kind of action that we want from the state can systematic devolve power to the community level and decentralize it. all of these examples: economic localization, community-based renewable energy, cooperatives – all of them devolve power and decentralize it. but these alternatives are less profitable, by their very nature (anybody can put a solar panel on their roof and have energy, which is why there is such momentum against them from corporate America, bc they want huge centralized solutions because they are way more profitable. that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit, it just means you can’t make a stupid profit.
if you look at what there is so much outrage over, it’s that concentration of power, that vertical power. so the solutions have to disperse power.
the neoliberal program is already a train wreck as soon as you attempt to attend to the ecological crisis. this is why the right is denying climate change in record numbers: their entire ideology could not perform the necessary changes (the level of emissions cuts that science demands: 80% or more by 2050, and they have said, you can’t do that within out model, so this must be a socialist plot) required to reckon with the climate science. none of their program – cuts to social spending, laissez faire govt, privatization, an attack on the public sphere – can survive. bc in order to address the climate change needs, you have to intervene massively in the economy, invest massively in the public sphere (in infrastructure).
but just bc you invest in the infrastructure does not mean that you can’t hold the transit system accountable to the people who ride it.
this is going to move really fast. you can’t create a tipping point – it just happens.
they are running scared. they are frightened. in the republican debate one of the candidates had to claim to be part of the 99%. they are even using the language now. bc they created all this pain and suffering, bc it is their boot that’s on the necks of the american people and so many others around the world, and people want that boot off of their necks.
there are 400 that have over a 150 million. but they only have 400 votes, and that must really be bothering them. “but we can buy candidates. but we can’t go in the booths and put our hands on everybody’s lever. I know, okay, we’ll just feed them a lot of nonsense on tv, and that’ll get them really afraid, and then we’ll make their schools so crappy that they won’t know when we are trying to manipulate them with fear. and this is how we’ll do it.”
we have been trying to keep the bare threads fo democracy that are still their intact. there aren’t many left, we are just barely hanging on by a few fo those threads. but one of those threads is one person, one vote. and they can’t do anything about that. what’s great about this movement is, we have to get out of our victim role. occupation is a dirty word. but the movement has taken this and turned it around: Now we’ve owned the word: “no, we’ve occupied you now. we’ve occupied the washington post. we’ve occupied the wall street journal.”
**I please want to second what naomi has said. this is the no kidding around moment. my friends, please: the ship has sailed in; the ship will leave. this is our moment: but this moment will only happen if every single one of you goes home tonight and says: “What can I do? What am I doing to be part of the occupation? What can I do to Occupy wall street?” I’ve seen Occupys that are two people big. And this is where it’s gotta start. It always starts this way. Marx, he just had Engels; that’s all he had. They were just two dudes sitting around in London, and they just had this idea.
**So if you are watching this, and you are sitting in some out of the way place, you already own it. This is already your country. You have been occupied by wall street. Your homes have been occupied by wall street. your government has been occupied by wall street. your media has been occupied by wall street. and its okay for you to say: “Not any more. Those days are over!” End of story!