Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, American autumn and the vapidity of the Times

Perhaps the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and accompanying demonstrations in Denver, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere has been best suggested by Arun Gupta:

“There are plenty of sophisticated ideas out there: end corporate personhood; institute a "Tobin Tax" on stock purchases and currency trading; nationalize banks; socialize medicine; fully fund government jobs and genuine Keynesian stimulus; lift restrictions on labor organizing; allow cities to turn foreclosed homes into public housing; build a green energy infrastructure.

 But how can we get broad agreement on any of these? “

“If the protesters came into the square with a pre-determined set of demands it would have only limited their potential. They would have either been dismissed as pie in the sky -- such as socialized medicine or nationalize banks -- or if they went for weak demands such as the Buffett Rule their efforts would immediately be absorbed by a failed political system, thus undermining the movement. 

That's why the building of the movement has to go hand in hand with common struggle, debate and radical democracy. It's how we will create genuine solutions that have legitimacy. And that is what is occurring down at Wall Street.”

Last week, the airline pilots demonstrated for two days. 300 Transit workers came down. Organized workers, who are threatened, are joining the young and unemployed. This might be the beginning of a Tahrir Square or a nationwide Madison, focused on the Wall Street source...

Now contrast the "reporting" pages of the Times. At the first appearance of the Tea Baggers, an ineptly named, often overly racist movement funded by the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey, publicizend by Fox News, with a completely incoherent stand on government – they adore big government meaning the military and police to be used against “the other,” hate, often incoherently, any decent government program to achieve a common good (“Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” read one sign). The Times blessed this misconceived movement for the parasite or miitarist state. Within four days, the Times helpfully renamed them the “Tea Party” – a brazen insult to the American Revolutionaries who fought the British.

No democratic movement from below – no movement not funded by the rich, no anti-Klan or anti-racist movement, for example - has ever been graced by a helpful christening, removing their public relations deafness, from the New York Times. On the contrary, Occupy Wall Street has been met by the Times with silence for nearly 17 days, and when attacked by the police, snickering...

On Saturday – the second Saturday in a row – the police “kettled” 2000 marchers who went to City Hall and then over the Brooklyn Bridge, and arrested over 700. The previous Saturday a police manager, in a white shirt, had tear gassed 3 women in the eyes. The NYPD is out to achieve distinction in brutalizing demonstrators because the mainly young protestors represent, as they say, 99% of us (actually probably 99.9%) against the top 1/10 of 1%, the financial predators who make billions at home and abroad while pushing ordinary Americans increasingly into the unemployed and foreclosed.

This past Saturday, the police did not warn the rest of the 2000 marchers who were coming onto the Bridge that they were arresting people ahead (that stepping off the sidewalk had been declared a crime). They even arrested a 13 year old girl in their nets. This was a completely nonviolent and legal march. The police thus made it clear that they were on the side of the top one-tenth of one per cent.

Citi Bank recently gave $2.4 million to a police security fund – for the purchase of computers. The New York police force is, in effect, no longer a public force. It has morphed into the Pinkertons, private thugs for the American capitalism of the 19th century…

The New York Times still has some reporters. The first news from the Bridge was in English and conveyed that over 700 nonviolent demonstrators had been arrested. But 20 minutes later, the Times, like a small town company paper, had removed that article and substitute a report that the police had arrested over 700 dangerous perpetrators for the crime of what one might name disturbing the police…

In Balzac’s Illusions perdues (Lost Illusions), a provincial poet Etienne de Rastignac takes a job as a reporter in Paris. He reports on a strike. The editor makes him rewrite the article. "Now," he reflects “have I become a merchant of words” (marchand des mots).

The Occupy Wall Street protest has been going on for seventeen days. The Times did not cover it for a long time, until at last a social column mocked the protestors. The only truth or even report in the Times was a brief one paragraph letter from one of the demonstrators answering this vapid “article.” He pointed out that people of all ages and races were participating nonviolently and why.

Among the stories from the previous Saturday reported on Democracy Now!, one of the arrested was a young man from Harlem, his father foreclosed and unemployed, himself unemployed, both striving desperately to keep the sister in college. He had been blamed by the police for violence, but he said, it is all on camera…

Even in this context, however, last Saturday’s front page story, “Wall Street Occupiers, Protesting Till Whenever” by N.R. Kleinfield and Cara Buckley, is bizarre. No recognition that young people, including workers, are leading revolts against austerity in London, Athens, Madrid and Cairo. No mention that they have no leadership structure, but have pioneered direct assemblies (in the Greek case, in a revival of ancient Athens - see here). Instead, mere sneering at democracy....

“A Man named Hero was here. So was Germ. There was the waitress from the dim sum restaurant in Evanston, Ill. And the liquor store worker. The Google consultant. The circus performer. The Brooklyn nanny.”

Is not the lead paragraph in a newspaper article supposed to make a point?

“The hodgepodge Lower Manhattan encampment known as Occupy Wall Street has no appointed leaders, no expiration date for its rabble-rousing stay and still-evolving goals and demands. Yet its two weeks of noisy occupation has lured a sturdily faithful and fervent consitutuency willing to express discontentment with what they feel is an inequitable financial system until, well, whenever.”

Perhaps 20% unemployment in real terms (counting those who have given up looking for work, those working part-time instead of full time - cf. David Leonhardt's very good reporting in the business pages of the Times two years ago), poverty wages for increasing numbers of young couples and their children, mass foreclosure – and billions in profits for the Street (not to mention differences in wealth which are astronomical, uncharted). The right word to describe this situation is unjust. To refer to "what they feel is an inequitable financial system" requires circumlocutory talent (try the New York Times saying "what they feel is the Holocaust" or "what they feel is slavery," and the double standard will be apparent).

The protestors might, the reporters add breathlessly…stay the winter.

Kleinfield and Buckley focus on Germ (a staple of anti-radical ideology is that the agitations come from outside and stir up the otherwise contented masses – “Germ” is a good candidate, almost out of "Contagion," for pushing this crass view):

“Like Jillian Aydelott, 19, and Ben Mason, 20. They are a couple, both having taken an indefinite leave from school in Boston to travel across the country, very much on the cheap. Stopping in Providence, R. I., five days ago to sleep at a homeless shelter [not able to look at poverty, the reporters imply slumming], they encountered a man who called himself Germ and said he was an activist. He was coming to the protest. They figured why not [they are just aimless rolling stones, not “Serious People”]. They have yet to leave.”

Ms. Aydelott’s feeling was: “Nothing is happening. People on Wall Street have all the power” [nice that her opinion concurs with the reporters’ assignment; did no one else among the 2000 there have a view? Not that such reporters can be expected to uncover the obvious...].

“The stalwarts seem to range from a relatively modest 100 to 300 people, though the ranks swelled to more than 2,000 on Friday as the protest has begun to attract mainstream attention from those disaffected with the weak economy {note the Wall Street perspective: being unemployed and homeless is not to be vilely oppressed and standing up against it, but misdescribed as “weak”] and to enlist support from well-known liberals" ["limousine liberals" like Cornel and the rest of us, no doubt].

They forget the hundreds of airline pilots and 300 transit workers who demonstrated last week. And of course teachers, including college teachers, are to be {a la Chris Christie] scorned...

Just before jumping to p. A17, a note of reality for anyone still reading:

“On Friday night, many marched to Police Headquarters to criticize what they described as the improper tactics that the police have used against their movement [the film of the police manager spraying tear gas into the eyes of three women apparently does not qualify as a fact for these fact-challenged reporters/editor}.

"(the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly has defended the actions by the police, though he has said they will be reviewed.)"

It is good that Citi, the police and theTimes front page can wield tear gas, orange nets and empty words.

But there is fear on Wall Street. If the police and the Times can’t bust up these protests, the 99%, may, as in Cairo, move. As in the no longer mentionable Madison (note how the greatest demonstration in MidWest labor history, the occupation of the state house by some 150,000 people this past spring, has disappeared, without trace, in the corporate press).

On Wednesday evening, the SEIU, the TWU and other unions will have a march in support of Occupy Wall Street. Unity is emerging between the threatened unionized and the unorganized and despised.

In Denver, there was a march of 200 Saturday. The movement is now all over the country.

Silence, lies and teargas may not be enough. An American autumn is beginning to unfold.


Arun Gupta is an editor of the new Occupied Wall Street Journal – the creativity of this movement is considerable – and the Indypendent. He writes:

“I've been going down to the Wall Street protest nearly every day. Not only is it growing, it is amazing to see how the protesters have managed to create a non-commodified radical democratic space in the heart of global capital.”

 


The Revolution Begins at Home

Arun Gupta



What is occurring on Wall Street right now is truly remarkable. For over 10 days, in the sanctum of the great cathedral of global capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army.



They have created a unique opportunity to shift the tides of history in the tradition of other great peaceful occupations from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s to the democratic uprisings across the Arab world and Europe today.

 While the Wall Street occupation is growing, it needs an all-out commitment from everyone who cheered the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, said "We are all Wisconsin," and stood in solidarity with the Greeks and Spaniards. This is a movement for anyone who lacks a job, housing or healthcare, or thinks they have no future. 

Our system is broken at every level. More than 25 million Americans are unemployed. More than 50 million live without health insurance. And perhaps 100 million Americans are mired in poverty, using realistic measures.

Yet the fat cats continue to get tax breaks and reap billions while politicians compete to turn the austerity screws on all of us. 

At some point the number of people occupying Wall Street -- whether that's five thousand, ten thousand or fifty thousand -- will force the powers that be to offer concessions. No one can say how many people it will take or even how things will change exactly, but there is a real potential for bypassing a corrupt political process and to begin realizing a society based on human needs not hedge fund profits.

After all, who would have imagined a year ago that Tunisians and Egyptians would oust their dictators?



At Liberty Park, the nerve center of the occupation, more than a thousand people gather every day to debate, discuss and organize what to do about our failed system that has allowed the 400 richest Americans at the top to amass more wealth than the 180 million Americans at the bottom.

It's astonishing that this self-organized festival of democracy has sprouted on the turf of the masters of the universe, the men who play the tune that both political parties and the media dance to.

The New York Police Department, which has deployed hundreds of officers at a time to surround and intimidate protesters, is capable of arresting everyone and clearing Liberty Plaza in minutes. But they haven't, which is also astonishing.
 
That's because assaulting peaceful crowds in a public square demanding real democracy -- economic and not just political -- would remind the world of the brittle autocrats who brutalized their people demanding justice before they were swept away by the Arab Spring. And the state violence has already backfired. After police attacked a Saturday afternoon march that started from Liberty Plaza the crowds only got bigger and media interest grew. 



The Wall Street occupation has already succeeded in revealing the bankruptcy of the dominant powers -- the economic, the political, media and security forces. They have nothing positive to offer humanity, not that they ever did for the Global South, but now their quest for endless profits means deepening the misery with a thousand austerity cuts. 

Even their solutions are cruel jokes. They tell us that the "Buffett Rule" would spread the pain by asking the penthouse set to sacrifice a tin of caviar, which is what the proposed tax increase would amount to. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to sacrifice healthcare, food, education, housing, jobs and perhaps our lives to sate the ferocious appetite of capital.

 That's why more and more people are joining the Wall Street occupation. They can tell you about their homes being foreclosed upon, months of grinding unemployment or minimum-wage dead-end jobs, staggering student debt loads, or trying to live without decent healthcare.

It's a whole generation of Americans with no prospects, but who are told to believe in a system that can only offer them Dancing With The Stars and pepper spray to the face.

Yet against every description of a generation derided as narcissistic, apathetic and hopeless they are staking a claim to a better future for all of us.

 That's why we all need to join in. Not just by liking it on Facebook, signing a petition at change.org or retweeting protest photos, but by going down to the occupation itself.

There is great potential here. Sure, it's a far cry from Tahrir Square or even Wisconsin. But there is the nucleus of a revolt that could shake America's power structure as much as the Arab world has been upended.



Instead of one to two thousand people a day joining in the occupation there needs to be tens of thousands of people protesting the fat cats driving Bentleys and drinking thousand-dollar bottles of champagne with money they looted from the financial crisis and then from the bailouts while Americans literally die on the streets.

To be fair, the scene in Liberty Plaza seems messy and chaotic. But it's also a laboratory of possibility, and that's the beauty of democracy. As opposed to our monoculture world, where political life is flipping a lever every four years, social life is being a consumer and economic life is being a timid cog, the Wall Street occupation is creating a polyculture of ideas, expression and art.

 Yet while many people support the occupation, they hesitate to fully join in and are quick to offer criticism. It's clear that the biggest obstacles to building a powerful movement are not the police or capital -- it's our own cynicism and despair.



Perhaps their views were colored by the New York Times article deriding protesters for wishing to "pantomime progressivism" and "Gunning for Wall Street with faulty aim." Many of the criticisms boil down to "a lack of clear messaging." 

But what's wrong with that? A fully formed movement is not going to spring from the ground. It has to be created. And who can say what exactly needs to be done? We are not talking about ousting a dictator; though some say we want to oust the dictatorship of capital.

There are plenty of sophisticated ideas out there: end corporate personhood; institute a "Tobin Tax" on stock purchases and currency trading; nationalize banks; socialize medicine; fully fund government jobs and genuine Keynesian stimulus; lift restrictions on labor organizing; allow cities to turn foreclosed homes into public housing; build a green energy infrastructure.

But how can we get broad agreement on any of these?

If the protesters came into the square with a pre-determined set of demands it would have only limited their potential. They would have either been dismissed as pie in the sky -- such as socialized medicine or nationalize banks -- or if they went for weak demands such as the Buffett Rule their efforts would immediately be absorbed by a failed political system, thus undermining the movement. 

That's why the building of the movement has to go hand in hand with common struggle, debate and radical democracy. It's how we will create genuine solutions that have legitimacy. And that is what is occurring down at Wall Street.

Now, there are endless objections one can make. But if we focus on the possibilities, and shed our despair, our hesitancy and our cynicism, and collectively come to Wall Street with critical thinking, ideas and solidarity we can change the world.

How many times in your life do you get a chance to watch history unfold, to actively participate in building a better society, to come together with thousands of people where genuine democracy is the reality and not a fantasy?



For too long our minds have been chained by fear, by division, by impotence. The one thing the elite fear most is a great awakening. That day is here. Together we can seize it.



Arun Gupta is the editor of The Indypendent.

WASHINGTON | 9/29/2011
Union Airline Pilots Occupy Wall Street

Over 700 hundred Continental and United pilots, joined by additional pilots from other Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) carriers, demonstrate in front of Wall Street on September 27, 2011 in New York City.

Hundreds of uniformed pilots, standing in stark contrast to the youthful Occupy Wall Street protesters, staged their own protest outside of Wall Street over the past couple of days, holding signs with the picture of the Hudson river crash asking “What’s a Pilot Worth” and others declaring “Management is Destroying Our Airline.” This comes after pilots at United asked a federal judge to halt the merger with Continental, arguing that the whole thing is proceeding too quickly.

Piloting an airplane may seem like a good line of work, a high-skilled job that places many lives in the hands of a highly skilled worker. The highly-skilled portion of this assumption is true. However, pilots are among the most dismally paid workers in the country – at least when they start flying.

According to FltOps.com first year pilots make as little as $21,600 a year. Some airlines, such as Southwest, pay more than twice that. On average, starting pay for the major airlines is just above $36,000 a year.

Fortunately for pilots, the payscale does climb and it climbs pretty high. Fifth year median pay is close to double what first year pilots earn. Top pay can be much better. The high-end of the salary scale tops out with UPS and FedEx pilots who can earn over $200,000, though most major airlines average closer to $150,000.

Notably, non-unionized JetBlue is one of the lowest paying airlines. Southwest, which is almost entirely unionized, pays its pilots almost as well as UPS and FedEx. Something to think about.

E.D. Kain





*I again except Ron Paul whose critique of militarism, even though he often doesn’t talk about it - he struck out last week on the Daily Show- is very intelligent, often comparable to Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich or John Lewis, and another world compared to Obama and the Democratic "experts."

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