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QUA VADIS OWS? November 7, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Democracy, Humankind/Planet Earth, Peace, Social Environment.

As it was with the Civil Rights Movement the action of the Occupy Wall Street movement is not in the reaction. Nonviolence is a distinctive feature of the OWS movement.

A recent editorial in The New York Post if read literally and perhaps intentionally was promoting violence. Their later headline describing the protesters as “animals” was not a evolutionary observation but a form of dehumanization, suggesting some or all the people staying over in Zucotti/Liberty Park. This characterization makes violence more acceptable, perhaps imperative.

The OWS general assembly at Liberty Park comprehensively stated their grievances. None of which were mentioned, I am inferring, by the Post. The editorial argued:

Time’s up: The Zuccotti Park vagabonds have had their say – and trashed lower Manhattan – for long enough.
They need to go.
Be it voluntarily – by packing their tents and heading off in an orderly fashion.

What began as a credible protest against bank bailouts, crony capitalism and the like has, in large measure, been hijacked by crazies and criminals.
Beyond that, too many protesters demonstrate by their actions a level of contempt for residents, businesses and workers in the area that long ago crossed the line.

No one should have to put up with the incessant noise, filth and downright dangerous conditions the protesters have foisted upon lower Manhattan.
The drumming and tambourines.
The yelling and screaming.
The public urination and defecation.
The drugs.
The lewdness.
The criminals and their crimes.
It’s all got to end.
No one has greater respect for the First Amendment than this paper. Even radicals — especially radicals — have a fundamental right to public protest. We don’t even quibble with some parts of the protesters’ message — such as their resentment of the massive bailouts of banks using taxpayer money. And we certainly respect the right of Brookfield Properties, owner of the park, to permit the protests. But there comes a time when enough is enough.

Let nothing get in the way of a good story, even bother to engage in reporting by talking to the participants and then making a more reflective critique. As I understand it the police have had the square under observation since the occupation began and have undercover police within the group asking, as the Martians might, “take me to your leader”. One suspects that the tabloid, Murdochian mentality, is pretty much the same whether published in Sydney or New York. After all who can argue with financial success.

Still, I think, there are some fundamental issues. To me the Civil Rights campaign might be the best analogy, although I suggest the differences in time and technology will prove to be significant. Another obvious difference it that there is no charismatic leadership figure to provide the strategic direction and oratorical expression for the movement. On the other hand the movement is worldwide, so that the recent experience of Cairo, Madrid, Athens, Oakland, and Sydney and Melbourne can be drawn upon. For example, on a recent live stream a Sydney participant was warning people at Oakland to be careful that the police may chose to attack after people had settled in for the night.

David Kaiser, a historian, is sceptical about the efficacy of the protest. It is he writes more emotional than rational. The comparison he sees is with the protests of the 60’s. He observes:

I do not really enjoy being a wet blanket with respect of Occupy Wall Street. The country is in a very bad way, and the protesters are trying to call attention to very real problems. To the extent that they can prove that a constituency for economic reform exists, they might shift the political process somewhat, although I suspect the White House feels sure it has that constituency in its pocket already and need not worry too much about it. Yet I continue to feel that the rhetoric of many protesters has an all-too familiar ring, and that the state of the nation has led them into the same dead end that too many of my contemporaries encountered more than forty years ago: a belief that nothing less than a complete transformation of a hopelessly evil society will suffice. Since such a transformation is neither possible nor really desirable, I worry that the results of OWS, like those of the “student revolution” of my youth, will be largely negative.

David Kaiser then goes on to compare the words of a contemporary protester with those of Hilary Clinton. A rational political system, he argues, is “our only hope”. But the question is how did the interests of the few come to dominate the many in the US – and other political systems. David Kaiser does not entertain this question. Other have. For example, Thom Hartmann relates the well known memo written by Lewis F Powell to US Chamber of Commerce to the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court:

At Alternet, Andy Kroll reviews “the thirty year war”:

How did we get here? How did a middle-class-heavy nation transform itself into an oligarchy? You’ll find answers to these questions in Winner-Take-All Politics, a revelatory new book by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. The authors treat the present figures we have on American wealth and poverty as a crime scene littered with clues and suspects, dead-ends and alibis.

Unlike so many pundits, politicians, and academics, Hacker and Pierson resist blaming the usual suspects: globalization, the rise of an information-based economy, and the demise of manufacturing. The culprit in their crime drama is American politics itself over the last three decades. The clues to understanding the rise of an American oligarchy, they believe, won’t be found in New York or New Delhi, but on Capitol Hill, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and around K Street, that haven in a heartless world for Washington’s lobbyists.

“Step by step and debate by debate,” they write, “America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.”

Most accounts of American income inequality begin in the 1980s with the reign of President Ronald Reagan, the anti-government icon whose “Reaganomics” are commonly fingered as the catalyst for today’s problems. Wrong, say Hacker and Pierson. The origins of oligarchy lay in the late 1970s and in the unlikely figure of Jimmy Carter, a Democratic president presiding over a Congress controlled by Democrats. It was Carter’s successes and failures, they argue, that kicked off what economist Paul Krugman has labeled “the Great Divergence.”

There seems to be a direct link between top income earners and the military-industrial complex. I note that Herbert Marcuse in An Essay on Liberation spoke of obscenity as a critical category (OK so I had exceeded my download quota, so I took up what appeared to be a short book to read).

Still, what is to be done, beyond occupying the public space and engaging in the interesting, so have called cumbersome model of general assemblies and with side groups reporting back on their findings of special issues? Historians should recognize the resonance between the spirit at work in these discussions and the democratic impulse the English Republic and then the American Republic. Then there has be building of scale, so that more people are involved and excluded voices unheard and unheeded can be included. That process takes time. And how then can representative democracy be reinvented?

I don’t know. I was interested in the conversation between Tavis Smiley, Cornel West and Tarig Ali, who draw on the experience of South America:



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