Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE 99-PERCENT DILEMMA

Before I begin, I need to give you some relevant data: I am the Director of a Corporation, and the sole employee thereof. This concerned me a bit until I checked the official government figures, and I can tell you that this married-couple-filing-jointly is definitely part of the Ninety Nine Percent (the NNP). Also, I was born in 1944 (you do the math) and therefore have lived through several popular Movements, including the Civil Rights Movement (I did not go to the south to participate, but was a supporter) and the Anti-War Movement (Vietnam War, in which I did not serve, but against which I did participate in various marches, rallies and etc.). I also participated in union labor actions (I spent a night in jail as a teacher's union vice-president when all the striking workers and supporters on a factory picket line were busted by the Anaheim, CA cops who were in full riot gear and practicing for something real (I think that arrest record was expunged when I signed a statement, in order to get released the next morning, that I would not sue the Anaheim Police Department for false arrest. (There's an interesting side story here that is still germane: I was video taping (note to young people, this was an ancient way of recording video) the strike when the Darth Vader-like cops came marching in. I kept the camera rolling as a 6+ ft clad-in-black-armor cop marched towards me slapping his riot club into his thickly-gloved hand. I looked up - way up - at him and asked clearly "You're not going to hit me with that, are you?" His very clear clenched-teeth reply was "I'd love to beat your fucking brains out!!" At which point I beat a hasty retreat.)) 


OK, so you're now thinking that I digress, but I'm not. All of this is to set the stage for my following remarks about the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM). Everything I have to say has certainly already been said by pundits, bloggers and various talking heads, but you're reading my opinion (and you're entitled to it). 


I'll start with the conclusion (this is a method used by many public speakers/presenters - I always thought it was just insurance in case they ran out of time and got yanked off stage). OWSM, what is the message? We the NNPers need to know what to do that will change things. And please don't tell us that sleeping in the park is the message. 


I'm really not being harsh; in fact, I support what the park-sleepers and other activists have been doing because I have seen that it has made a difference. After a few weeks of those dirty not-just-going-away hippies being in many parks around the country, suddenly politicians - both Democrats and (gasp!) Republicans - started talking about how the OWSM was an important expression of public concern about the state of the economy and the excesses of the financial sector. Large, legitimate institutions like labor unions, as well as prominent politicos and others of the famous around us expressed their support (and sought photo ops). This thing is real, and looks like it's serious. Uh oh! Now whadda we do?


Look, the main messages of the Civil Rights, Anti-War, and now Gay Rights Movements were that very specific societal changes had to happen, and the changes had to be rooted in law. The right to vote for all citizens, the ending of hostilities in a war, the end to discrimination because of sexual orientation - these were the concrete actions. What doesn't work is trying to get the Wall Street One Percenters to change their behavior by taking over a city park for weeks or months and spending tens or hundreds of thousands of local tax dollars to deal with it. Wall Street doesn't give a shit about that, it's not THEIR money! 


So I'll lay out a couple or so ideas of specific messages and actions that I think the OWSM can use.


Occupy Congress - with meaningful work that promotes the general welfare (this last part is the job description for Congress found in our Constitution). Enough already with no new taxes on the wealthy. Enough already of enabling the Wall Street financiers, the health insurance companies, and the drug manufacturers to make obscene profits at the expense of the 99%. Enough already of cutting funding for education, police and fire departments, public infrastructure while maintaining or increasing the subsidies to big industry. Enough already of gutting the laws that regulate the financial industry and letting the "free market prevail." And enough already of partisan politics and gang warfare between elected officials to win the next election. Congress: do meaningful work for the people of this country; that is your job! 


Occupy the Courts - with legal actions against the corporate greedmeisters who engineered this global economic meltdown. Go after them, take away their money (give it back to us, by the way), and put them in jail - the regular jails, not the country club ones. Make the message very clear that if you commit fraud, if you game the system, if you cheat your customers, you will go directly to jail. Period.


Occupy Businesses - with meaningful work that will employ working people in living-wage and meaningful jobs. The business community needs to step up and help make this happen (and by the way, more and more businesses are stepping up). Government stimulus money is a good thing if it is wisely used for public infrastructure, education, health and safety projects. We haven't forgotten how to be a great nation of ideas and manufacturing; we've just let those get moved elsewhere to boost shareholders' and corporate executives' massive profits. Is the future in America really one in which the average worker is either making lattes or selling Made-in-China chatchkes at a department store? I hope not.


Finally, a few words about who the NNP - the 99% - really are. The 99% are not just people whose income is not in the top 1% category. No. The 99% are people who think a certain way. We are people who think that society should be equitable and just. We are people who think that everyone should have (actually, has a right to have) good, affordable health care, an excellent education, a good-paying and meaningful job. There are people in our society who are in the top 1% based on their income, but in the 99% based on the way they think. I recently read an article about Jerry, of Ben and Jerry Ice Cream. He said that corporations and the people who run them can be socially and environmentally progressive and still make a profit. His company is and does, and there are many more who follow that business philosophy. So let us not get into class warfare along the simple lines of 99 vs. 1, us vs. them. That won't work. People of like minds need to work together, no matter what their income or position in society. 


The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a beginning, not an end. We need to find our common voice and together articulate a clear message. We can do it. History tells us that it has been done, and can be done again. As we used to say in the day: Right ON brothers and sisters! 
















4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post, Paul. I agreed with every point.

Elizabeth

glynnae said...

Bravo Paul!! I was with you in the earlier movements, and happy to be here with you now. The 99% are even moving here in Laguna Hills, amazing given that it is the center of republicanism!! In Irvine the movement is multinational, and spans generations, I'm proud to be part of this movement of the people.

Chrism929 said...

Me too to most of that. As I see it, at this point the protest itself is the point. Human culture creation is a messy, disorganized process. The important thing here is that people in large numbers are waking up to that sense of moral outrage that drives all reform movements. Specific things to work on will come later; they're already in the process of forming up, and in the future when pundits and journalists have told their versions of events, it will all appear inevitable. That's how I saw it work in the Sixties (the actual events, as opposed to the official stories about it all). These are still very early days and the real story is that it is happening at all, after decades of people accepting things as they were.

Paul said...

@Chrism929... I agree, it's good to see people waking up and taking action. Some interesting observations: here in Portland, hundreds of people gathered on the night the police were going to clear the campers out of the park because they wanted to witness the confrontation - a new form of entertainment (watch for a new reality TV show soon). People who work downtown are complaining about their work being distrupted, or having trouble getting to work - an understandable reaction, but, can you have a protest movement without inconveniencing anyone? Not only are we not used to mass protest movements, but the public doesn't know how to deal with them.

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