Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

“People wake up”: Watch the trailer for “99%,” the Occupy Wall Street film

As of this writing, the documentary is being shown in exactly two theaters in the United States — in New York and LA. This seems like preaching to the choir, and a real shame. Is this the last gasp of a fleeting movement, or a valiant attempt to keep the conversation going? The message of the Occupy movement resonates (or should resonate) with more people than just the liberal moviegoers of Manhattan and Hollywood, and deserves to be spread more widely.


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For all humanity

A remix of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator that brought tears to my eyes:

One quibble: In juxtaposing images of both Republican and Democratic leaders as Chaplin is railing against dictators and oppressors of mankind, the video seems to suggest that all politicians are alike. Not even remotely true. And it’s that kind of blanket statement that makes people give up on the electoral process — which inevitably means that those they disagree with who are politically engaged are the ones who carry the day.

If you want to make the world better, make your voice heard — not just in the streets, but at the ballot box. The street is for the (necessary and powerful) primal cry. It’s for the tearing down of systems. But to build up and reform systems, you need politics, with all its messiness and compromise. Don’t wash your hands of it. Plunge in, and work your hands into the dirt, and make something good grow.

(via Brain Pickings)

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Living “as if”

Dance as if no one were watching (goes the old proverb, printed on T-shirts and refrigerator magnets everywhere); sing as if no one were listening; love as if you’ve never been hurt; live every day as if it were your last. It’s a cliché with a fundamental and appealing underlying truth — that we should seek to embody what we wish to make real — and it’s been expressed in many ways. Writers and actors talk about pretending to be competent at what they do, until they find that they actually are. Gandhi supposedly said “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” although his more nuanced and complex statement was actually this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Christopher Hitchens, in Letters to a Young Contrarian, called this approach to the world “living ‘as if’.” Perhaps this year, in the spirit of Gandhi (and of Occupy Wall Street), we should take the idea of living “as if” out of the purely personal realm of “self-actualization” and apply it to as much of our community as we can. Hitchens wrote:

Vaclav Havel, then working as a marginal playwright and poet in a society and state that truly merited the title of Absurd, realised that “resistance” in its original insurgent and militant sense was impossible in the Central Europe of the day. He therefore proposed living “as if” he were a citizen of a free society, “as if” lying and cowardice were not mandatory patriotic duties, “as if” his government had actually signed (which it actually had) the various treaties and agreements that enshrine universal human rights. He called this tactic “The Power of the Powerless” because, even when disagreement can be almost forbidden, a state that insists on actually compelling assent can be relatively easily made to look stupid. You can’t achieve 100 percent control over humans, and if you could, you could not go on doing so. […]

The “People Power” movement of 1989, when whole populations brought down their absurd rulers by an exercise of arms-folding and sarcasm, had its origins partly in the Philippines in 1985, when the dictator Marcos called an opportunist “snap election” and the voters decided to take him seriously. They acted “as if” the vote were free and fair, and made it so. […]

One could add further examples. In the late Victorian period, Oscar Wilde — master of the pose but not a mere poseur — decided to live and act “as if” moral hypocrisy were not regnant. In the Deep South in the early 1960s, Rosa Parks (after some arduous dress rehearsals of her own) decided to act “as if” a hardworking black woman could sit down on a bus at the end of the day’s labor. In Moscow in the 1970s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to write “as if” an individual scholar could investigate the history of his own country, and publish his findings. They all, by behaving literally, acted ironically. In each case, as we know now, the authorities were forced first to act crassly and then to look crass, and eventually to fall victim to stern verdicts from posterity. […]

All I can recommend, therefore […] is that you try to cultivate some of this attitude. In an average day, you may well be confronted with some species of bullying or bigotry, some ill-phrased appeal to the general will, or some petty abuse of authority. If you have a political loyalty, you may be offered a shady reason for agreeing to a lie or a half-truth that serves some short-term purpose. Everybody devises tactics for getting through such moments; try behaving “as if” they need not be tolerated and are not inevitable.

Live as if you’re a free citizen. Call out prejudice and unreason as if they deserve to be ridiculed. Vote as if your voice matters. Because this is all true, if we all make it true.

Peace, courage, joy, and Happy New Year.

(Photo by Ted Soqui)


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The 1% don’t get it: “What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens”

Matt Taibbi calls attention to an article at Bloomberg.com in which the much-put-upon billionaires of America frown upon the “imbeciles” of the Occupy movement for hurling abuse their way:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

Taibbi responds:

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government. […]

People like […] Schwarzman […] who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

The rest here, and worth reading.

And this is precisely why government matters — good government, independent of the moneyed interests, insuring a fair playing field for all and making sure that America works well for the least fortunate as well as the wealthiest among us. It’s John Rawls’ notion of the “veil of ignorance,” of ordering society as if we didn’t know what position we occupied in it — a call for fairness that is very much in keeping with the demands of Occupy Wall Street. If that movement has accomplished anything, it’s in driving the national conversation towards this very necessary consideration of what principles constitute a just society. And it’s a conversation that needs to keep going.

Once again, Elizabeth Warren:

A caveat: I’ve just finished reading Animal Farm again, and can’t help being haunted by Orwell’s warning about the oppressed throwing off their shackles only to become mirror images of their oppressors (or as Jenny Holzer suggests, “Change is valuable when the oppressed become tyrants”). I don’t think that’s inevitable. With foresight, and self-doubt, and an unflagging commitment to hold our leaders — and ourselves — accountable, may we all have the wits (and the decency) to avoid that fate.

(via Pharyngula. Chart via Mother Jones; lots more here.)

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A symptom of a deeper rot

A must-read: Bob Ostertag of UC Davis delivers a scathing condemnation of the militarization of the police, and demolishes the justifications for it:

Throughout my life I have seen, and sometimes participated in, peaceful civil disobedience in which sitting and linking arms was understood by citizens as a posture that indicates, in the clearest possible way available, protestors’ intent to be non-violent. If example, if you look through training materials from groups like the Quakers, the various pacifist organization and centers, and Christian organizations, it is universally taught that sitting and linking arms is the best way to de-escalate any confrontation between police and people exercising their first amendment right to public speech. 

Likewise, for over 30 years I have seen police universally understand this gesture. Many many times I have seen police treat protestors who sat and linked arms when told they must disperse or face arrest as a very routine matter: the police then approach the protestors individually and ask them if, upon arrest, they are going to walk of their own accord or not the police will have to carry them. In fact, this has become so routine that I have often wondered if this form of protest had become so scripted as to have lost most of its meaning.

No more.

What we have seen in the last two weeks around the country, and now at Davis, is a radical departure from the way police have handled protest in this country for half a century. Two days ago an 84-year-old woman was sprayed with a chemical assault agent in Seattle in the same manner our students at Davis were maced. A Hispanic New York City Councilman was brutally thrown to the ground, arrested, and held cuffed in a police van for two hours for no reason at all, and was never even told why he was arrested. And I am sure you all know about former Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull after police hit him with a tear gas canister, then rolled a flash bomb into the group of citizens trying to give him emergency medical care. […]

These issues go to the core of what democracy means. We have a major economic crisis in this country that was brought on by the greedy and irresponsible behavior of big banks. No banker has been arrested, and certainly none have been pepper sprayed. Arrests and chemical assault is for those trying to defend their homes, their jobs, and their schools.

These are not trivial matters. This is a moment to stand up and be counted.

I urge you to read the rest here. My personal reaction to the police brutality at UC Davis and elsewhere here.

It’s not just about police militarization, of course. The images are distressing, but they’re just symptoms of the much deeper rot: the social, economic, and political imbalance in America today, and the lengths to which the powerful will go to preserve the status quo. Robert Reich lays it out:

More from Reich here.

Time to stand up and be counted.

(h/t Boing Boing; photo by Stephen Lam)

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“Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable.”

And now the police are attacking nonviolent students and faculty at the City University of New York:

A birds-eye view with more context:

Cathy Davidson of Duke University calls on college presidents to exercise moral leadership:

What will we do next? We are at a turning point, a Gettysburg Address moment, where moral leadership is required, where moral authority and moral force need to be eloquently articulated before this historical moment devolves into violence and polarization. […]

We need prominent, articulate leadership that concedes that students putting their bodies literally on the line are also raising profound issues about the future of education, which is to say the future of our nation. We don’t just need better “procedures” or “task forces.” We need Lincolnesque moral fervor that honors the courage of young students who have put themselves in peril, to date with remarkable self-control and self-organization. And with the awareness that the education they support is rapidly becoming something only the elite — 1 percent — will be able to afford.

Our students are not wrong in the content of their protests on behalf of education. Calling the police does not solve their problems; as we have seen too often, it can foster violence — with an ever-more-imminent potential for tragedy.

Please, dear college presidents, stop sending for the police. Our students face a difficult future. This should not be a time to beat them up, to spray them with mace or pepper juice, to kick and hit them. On the contrary, in the brochures and in the Web sites advertising our campuses, we promise that we will inspire students to “change the world.” Isn’t that what these students are trying to do?

And if we are to call for moral leadership on this issue, surely that’s a responsibility that President Obama must meet as well. As FlickFilosopher has pointed out, he has spoken eloquently enough on the need to respect free speech and human rights in other parts of the world:

“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” — Barack Obama

But on the matter of the suppression of these rights on American soil he has so far been frustratingly silent. An Occupy protester in New Hampshire has handed him a note, taking him to task:

Mr. President: Over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested. While bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.

Yes. Are our rights not worthy of the same spirited defense as those of the people of Egypt or Libya or Syria, struggling bravely for their own freedom? Must lives be lost here, before our leaders can bring themselves to speak?

Shame on those who violate the Constitutional rights of free and peaceful citizens. And shame on those who keep silent about it.

(via The People’s Library)

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An open letter to the American soldier

If police brutality fails to put down the Occupy movement, can the mobilization of the US military be far behind? Army veteran Mitch Green makes an appeal to his fellow servicepeople:

The following letter reflects my view on the subject of civil disobedience…I offer my opinion as an Army veteran, student of the economy, and critic of an ongoing effort to wage economic war on the vast majority the population. If these words move you, I urge you to consider honestly the consequences if you decide to act.

As the Occupy movement continues to grow in defiance of the heavy-handed police action determined to squelch it, a natural question emerges: What point will the military be summoned to contain the cascade of popular dissent? And if our nation’s finest are brought into this struggle to stand between the vested authority of the state and the ranks of those who petition them for a redress of grievance, what may we expect the outcome to be? […]

I call upon my brothers and sisters in the armed forces to ink their pens and help us write these next few, and most important pages in the history of our social life. Soon, it is quite likely that you will be mobilized to aid the police in their effort to contain or disperse what their bosses see as an imminent threat to the sanctity of their authority. As that day draws near, I remind you of these familiar words:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Those that take this oath seriously are faced with a terrible conflict. You must battle internally between the affirmation that you will place your body between the social contract embedded in the Constitution and those that seek its destruction, while maintaining your loyalty to the government you serve and the orders issued by its officers. Sadly, society has placed a twin tax upon you by asking that you sacrifice both your body and your morality. This tax has been levied solely upon you overseas, and soon they’ll come to collect domestically. Your government in its expression of corporate interests relies upon your tenacity to endure, and your relentless willingness to sacrifice. And so you do.

Now, more than ever we need your sacrifice. But, I’m asking you to soldier in a different way. If called upon to deny the people of their first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievance, disregard the order. Abstain from service. Or if you are so bold, join us. Make no mistake: The consequences for such decisions are severe. You will be prosecuted under the full extent of the law. But sacrifice is your watch word.

If you’re an American soldier, please read the whole thing.

Your fellow citizens are not your enemy.

Thank you for your service.

(via Boing Boing; photo via Fear in Art)

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