The Occupy Movement is not only resulting in the occupation of public space, but also in political space. We are already shifting the dialogue and the movement has just begun.
When we started planning the occupation of Freedom Plaza six months ago, our goal was to create a place where the ignored voices of the American people could be heard. They are starting to be heard thanks to occupations all over the country. If it is not clear to the economic and political elites, this is the beginning of an American revolt.
Before considering occupation, we tried other avenues: elections, lobbying, petitioning, email campaigns, telephone campaigns, marches, rallies – but they were ineffective. The country continued going in the direction of concentrated wealth, rather than where super-majorities of Americans wanted to go.
The occupation of Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington, DC and occupations around the country display our message of anger at the unfairness of the economy, the expanding war quagmires and the corruption of government that result in the people’s urgent necessities being ignored in favor of more wealth for the top 1%.
I don’t like sleeping in a tent in Freedom Plaza. But we see no other way to get our voices heard. We are occupying Freedom Plaza because Americans have been kept out of the political process. Money rules elections and lobbying, while the 99% are ignored.
We occupy Washington, DC because it is where big business money combines with campaign laws that corrupt government so that it does not respond to the people. Washington, DC is corporate occupied territory with 18,000 professional lobbyists, most of who work for business interests pushing the agenda of concentrated wealth.
The great health care reform “triumph” of the Obama administration highlighted how out of touch government is with the people. For more than a decade Americans have simply wanted improved Medicare and for all and removal of the unnecessary insurance industry. Instead, President Obama and the Democratic leadership pushed “reform” that further entrenched the insurance industry with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax subsidies and forcing Americans to purchase flawed insurance. They kept single payer out of the debate because Medicare for all compared with insurance-based health care is less expensive, covers everybody and improves the quality of health care.
The response to the financial crisis was also inadequate. People from Wall Street responsible for the collapse were put in key positions in the administration. Congress was unable to pass a real stimulus early in the Obama era. Instead a weak, partial stimulus was passed that may have slowed the economic collapse but missed the opportunity to turn things around. The financial reform was inadequate as it failed to break up the big banks, bring back Glass-Steagall or adequately regulate derivatives. Last week Citibank got off easy with a $285 million fine for the sale of a billion dollars in fraudulent mortgage derivatives but this was only one of many corrupt Citibank deals, the rest will not even be investigated. Once again, obvious and necessary steps were impossible due to corporate power.
Occupying public space is an opportunity to discuss political taboos. As the war drum against Iran began to beat Freedom Plaza held an Iran night with Persian food, music, dancing and discussion. We discussed why war on Iran was wrong, as well as the problems in the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel. And, we mentioned a reality almost never heard in U.S. media or politics – U.S. Empire. While the military will not say how many bases and outposts it has the most thorough review estimates more than 1,100 around the world and now a new empire of drones. The British Empire had 37 bases at its peak and the Romans had 36. The U.S. Empire is a secret to most Americans only discussed as a euphemism –policeman of the world. This false description hides the real facts of exploitation and domination. This taboo needs to be broken so Americans can debate whether empire is good for the nation and the world.
The Occupy Movement is being driven by economic insecurity. Almost all Americans feel it that is why we are all part of the 99%. The economic insecurity is not because of lack of resources, but because political elites consistently send money to economic elites through tax breaks and giveaways resulting in the wealthiest 400 Americans having the wealth of 154 million of us, yet paying 17.4% in federal taxes while working Americans pay 25% to 30%. The tax structure needs to be restructured so wealth is taxed more than work, purchases of stocks, bonds and derivatives are taxed (we pay taxes on purchase food, clothing and shelter) and a truly progressive income tax is put in place. It is this unfairness at a time of economic fear that is driving the Occupy Movement.
A warning to the elites: occupations are only the beginning. This movement is in its early stage and is going to grow in ways that are hard to imagine right now. We know that decades of the expansion of corporate power will not be undone with one occupation. Plans are being made by some of us to move “Beyond Occupation” to the next steps of building a movement that represents all Americans – youth burdened with college loans and lousy jobs, seniors stuck in poverty retirement with their Social Security and Medicare threatened, the middle class who worked their whole lives and are now part of the long-term unemployed, live in homes with underwater mortgages and fear foreclosure and, of course, the poor, homeless and mentally ill whose mistreatment has become more obvious as the public space we occupy draws them to us for food and housing.
A message for the elites: THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING. LISTEN TO US NOW OR THE PRICE OF CHANGE WILL GET MORE EXPENSIVE FOR YOU: What do we seek? We seek an end to corporate rule and shifting power to the people.