To My American Brothers and Sisters,
Gather round. There is something we need to think about. These are times that will define who and what we are as a people. Will we show the world the majestic, awe inspiring power of a free nation or give in to our inner demons of hatred and fear? I weep for the possibilities…
In the last 25 years there are two images that stand out in an age defined by video. Two images that, like all great icons, suggest so much more than the simple figures and shadings that make up a photograph. Two images that, when placed next to each other, might help us see more clearly into our souls.
Tahrir Square in Cairo. A dusty brown tank sits amongst ten thousand people, protesters who have occupied the square to call for equality and respect. Sitting on the tank are a half a dozen young men and women, grinning, waving. The hope of a better future is radiant in their faces. And there are flowers. Flowers covering the tank. Flowers being offered to the man in the camo gear who’s job it is to drive that tank. Because that tank is not there to repress and kill, it is there to protect. And the people on the tank, as well as the man it, want that picture taken. They WANT the world to see who they are and what they represent.
Tiananmen Square in China. A long line of tanks is poised and ready, preparing to roll in and squash a different group of people calling for equality and respect. A single man stands in front of them, blocking their way with his fragile body. His small size and stark loneliness stand out against the line of steel and horsepower. The men driving the tanks are faceless, unseen and unknown. The picture resonates, not just because of that contrast but because we know what happened next. We know how futile and poignant that last bit of heroism truly was.
Egypt and China. 2 images, 2 countries, 2 uprisings, 2 very different results. Things are going to be rough in Egypt. The road to a free and just society will likely be fraught with peril. But that first image will someday be celebrated. It will be displayed with pride, and that is good. The second image doesn’t exist in it’s home country. It can not be googled and the uprising is not taught in school. Young Chinese who come here to study do not, will not, believe it ever happened. And that is very very sad.
Now we, as Americans, are faced with some of the same kinds of questions, although admittedly different in scope and texture. But here too there are young people gathering across the country to demand equality and respect. They feel empowered to do so because our beloved Constitution supposedly gives them that right. We, as a people, are going to have to decide what our iconic image of this era will be. So far it seems to be a group of young women corralled and peppered sprayed. An injured war veteran being shot with a grenade as protesters try to get him to safety. Lines of riot police lined up outside a park in NYC as the mayor demands that news choppers be grounded so that no one sees what they’re about to do.
I know you’re busy. I know you’ve got ten things to do in the next five seconds. But every single one of us needs to take a few minutes today and think about who we are. Think about our finer Angels. Think about the men and women who threw tea in the harbor and armed themselves against the most powerful army in the world. And think carefully about those two iconic images. Bruce Springsteen wrote “On one hand he tattooed the word love, on the other the word fear, and in which hand he held his fate, it was never clear”. Which hand, which picture, which tank, is going to represent us?
Over the last few weeks I’ve presented the many reasons why I think the Occupy movement should be nurtured and supported. I’ve taken all those posts and arranged them into one long essay. If you haven’t read them before it should be easier to access in this format. Enjoy.
Brothers and sisters, lend an ear. Listen up to some preachin’ bout the Occupy Movement. Why? Because I’M FUCKING TIRED OF LOSING. Aren’t you?
Two nights ago in Oakland a Marine and Iraq war veteran was shot in the face with a tear gas canister. The protesters who tried to help him had a flash grenade tossed at them. What were they doing to get this kind of treatment? Exercising the EXACT FUCKING FREEDOMS that the war veteran had fought for. The time of reckoning may be coming and you’re going to need to decide which side of the line represents you and your interests.
Every single advancement in human history, from the first steps out of the woods to the civil rights movement, happened because somebody stopped what they were doing and said “Hey, THIS IS WRONG.” Usually they were ignored until a whole lot of people joined that voice and shouted “Hey, THIS IS WRONG” in unison. Eventually that voice gets loud enough and the problem gets addressed. The people who do the shouting might not have the answers but they know that you can’t make things better if nobody recognizes the problem. Occupy Wall Street is that voice and we need to join in or this country is going to be a third world shit hole before very much longer.
Gandhi quite famously laid out the obstacles facing any large group of people working for social change. First, you’ll be ignored. Second, you’ll be mocked and laughed at. Third you’ll be attacked, verbally and physically. And last, you win. Our brain dead media has certainly stayed true to the pattern, and they need to be ignored and mocked in return. First of all they’re owned by giant corporations, and that’s part of the problem. Just as importantly, the modern media is largely made up of people who just aren’t terribly bright.
Think back to every beauty pageant you ever saw. During the interview portion nearly all the little bubble-heads talk about how they want to be on TV doing the news. Now many of them are and they’re interviewing ‘political experts’ who have never done a useful thing in their lives. I’m sure you’ve seen the spectacle. Blonde bubble-head (male or female) asks experts “what do these people want?” and expert says some fancy version “we’ll have to wait and see what their demands are” or “the protesters don’t seem to know”. Of course they don’t know the answer. I’m not sure anyone does. They’re just saying “Hey, pay attention, there’s a real problem here. THIS IS WRONG.” That’s apparently a little too real and way too abstract to fill the time between Viagra commercials.
After weeks of ignoring and joking, the attacks have started. The Occupy movement does NOT hate the rich. For the most part they aren’t anti-capitalist. They aren’t just hippies or jealous of those who have done better. They’re saying that the rich and powerful haven’t played by the rules. They cheated and broken the law to get what they have, and now they’re rigging everything so that YOU don’t have a chance.
Look, the Occupy protests aren’t being perpetrated some ‘other’. They’re Americans who have a real list of grievances that they feel won’t be addressed by the current power structure. That’s all. They aren’t socialists, or Islamists or anarchists. They’re college graduates who have 100k in student loans and can’t get a job. They’re union guys who have seen all the manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas. They’re teachers and nurses who are tired of being called ‘evil public employees’. They’re family people who lost their house, their pension or their retirement to some huge bank. They’re war veterans who came home to a fucked economy and police pepper spraying innocent girls on the street. In short, the Occupy movement is you and me.
I’d like to reacquaint you with a wonderful bit of writing.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That little phrase, also known as the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, still sends shivers up and down my spine. How important is it? It’s WHAT MAKES US AMERICANS. Free speech and the right to assemble and petition the government. Wow. That’s what Occupy is all about. “Hey, you guys who have all the power, THIS IS WRONG’.
So what, exactly is wrong? I’m so glad you asked. Over the next two weeks I’m going to post 13 ideas that I think need to be addressed. They aren’t necessarily exactly what the Occupiers and pushing, but they’re broad enough to fall well within their framework and I think they represent a good starting place…
Here we go. The first of thirteen reasons why the Occupy Movement is right and must be supported…
The United States of America was organized around an amazing and revolutionary idea. It’s so profound that we somehow manage to take it for granted but it changed the way the entire world relates to governments. EVERYONE is equal under the law. No kings, no royalty, no religious leaders who are special and immune. The people entrusted with running the country are still subject to the laws of that country. Every god damned thing this country has accomplished is because of this one simple, beautiful idea.
You want the root of the American Dream? Here it is, in four simple words; EQUAL UNDER THE LAW. You want to know why that dream seems to be dying? Because that root has been severed. In 1975 a man who had never been elected to national office ascended to the presidency and the first thing he did was to pardon his predecessor’s crimes ‘for the good of the country and it’s institutions’. Gerald Ford, perhaps unwittingly, set in motion a precedent that’s killing American equality. Bad move there, Sparky.
Are you old enough to remember the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when Nixon was pardoned? Sure, the talking heads and the ruling elite agreed it was all for the best. The civil rights movement, the end of the war and Watergate had torn the country apart and we all just needed to move on. You know, start the healing process. And besides, we needed to protect the institutions of the government from the fallout of the sometimes frail people who run them. But deep down we knew that was wrong. Nixon’s greatest sin was placing himself above the law and his pardon just proved he was right.
Members of almost every subsequent administration have been pardoned or protected from investigation in order to ‘protect the office’ or ‘just move on’. Under the last president the government may have illegally tortured people, ordered wire taps and spied on it’s own citizens, used rendition to kidnap Americans and god only knows what else. The new president refused to even consider investigations ‘for the good of the country’. He told us we need to ‘move forward together’ ‘for the good of the country’. He said that dwelling on the past won’t help solve the tremendous problems of the present. Really? The abandonment of THE RULE OF LAW isn’t a big fucking problem?
Look, this isn’t just some fancy thought experiment or philosophical argument. Let’s say I rob 17 banks. When the police arrest me can I say “Hey, I realize that was wrong now but it seemed necessary at the time. Besides, people need to trust banks so advertising the thefts with a trial might cause a run on institutions and hurt the economy. Wouldn’t it be better if we all just moved on?” That is EXACTLY what your elected officials decide all the time.
It’s not just the guys in the Executive mansions. The legislative branch is just as infected with the poison of elitism. The Senate and House now regularly pass laws that specifically exempt themselves. How is that legal? Are you mad that they get amazing pensions while soldiers get crapped on? Does it bother you that they get great health care while they argue about what to do with yours? There’s been an email circulating for years demanding a constitutional amendment banning elected officials from passing laws exempting themselves. If the ruling elite wasn’t immune to investigation and prosecution this wouldn’t even be necessary.
One of the ways this bullshit has been accomplished is by distracting us with the false divide between Republicans and Democrats. When you point out that Bush did a lot of illegal stuff the Republicans immediately accuse you or playing politics. Now that the Obama administration is the one operating above the rule of law the roles are reversed. And oh yes, he’s doing it too. His Justice Department has ordered all departments to lie to courts about the existance of documents if Freedom of Information Act requests would prove embarrassing. He has an NSA group that suggests terrorist targets that can be assassinated without any trial. The TSA is running roughshod over all kinds of guaranteed civil liberties. His administration can do all this and more knowing that the next one won’t hold him accountable. There’s 35 years of precedent and it won’t be touched unless we can all somehow remember that being a Democrat or a Republican doesn’t trump being an American.
The result of all of this has been to create an elite class that is quite literally above the law. The notion that in order to protect institutions and public servants they need be immune to investigation and prosecution is mistaken. Our institutions can handle it. The precedent that, having broken the law, officials should be pardoned so that we can all just move on is cynical and evil. THE RULE OF LAW, not some dude in a powdered wig or funny hat, or in this case a really nice suit, must be supreme. Besides being deeply deeply un-American, THIS IS WRONG.
In our previous episode we discussed the fact that members of our country’s leadership have placed themselves and their offices above the rule of law. Of course when this happens a ‘government of, by and for the people’ is impossible. Elitism acts like disease, infecting all levels of what is now laughingly called ‘public’ service. CItizens no longer feel represented and every official action begins to feel restrictive and punitive. Unrest and anger seethe just below the surface, pushing those in power to become more autocratic and insulated. Thus dictatorships are born. But that was the last sermon. Let’s move on to the second serious WRONG that Occupy can address…
Funny thing about diseases. You see, they spread if you don’t treat them. And that’s exactly what’s happened with the elitism virus. What started with the highest elected office and trickled down the government food chain has now spread to a whole new class of people, the rich and financially connected. You’re not really that surprised, are you?
First, the obvious. It is abundantly clear that a fairly small group of companies have manipulated markets, committed fraud, and sometimes used out and out theft to nearly crash the entire world’s economy. I’m not going to go on and on listing the sins because that would take an encyclopedia. There are dozens of books and articles out there explaining in great detail what was stolen and how they did it. And it’s not like it’s a secret. A lot of the stuff was admitted to in front of Congressional committees. Let’s just say that literally hundreds of billions of dollars has been stolen from the middle class through stock, mortgage, and pension scams. (If you’re interested I’d suggest starting with the work of Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone for info on the mortgage crisis and a book by Ellen Schultz on where your pension money went.)
So, how many of these guys have gone to jail? None. How many have been indicted? None. Seriously investigated? None. Where are these people now? In the same jobs, with the same companies, stealing more of your wealth. Seems they’re too powerful to be accountable under the law.
But wait, there’s more. At least they lost money like every one else, right?
Nope. They MADE money. They bet against their own deals because they knew how much they sucked. And when they did bet wrong, they got bailed out with your tax dollars and were given huge bonuses. They were ‘too big to fail’. They were, and are, so important to our recovery that they can’t even be seriously questioned. In other words, they too are above the law.
One of the core values of America is fairness. If you take big risks and win to reap huge rewards, well good for you. We don’t resent your success. But that’s not what happened here. Big investors on Wall Street made deals knowing they’d win either way while everyone else paid. They broke laws, committed laughably overt fraud, and had the rules changed every time they wanted to try something else.
35 years ago pensions were fully funded. Mortgages were a good investment. Stock traders lost everything if they failed. There was money for infrastructure and schools and policemen. A family of four could live comfortably on ONE income. Now we’re even richer as a nation, but none of those other things are true. This isn’t a poor country, it’s a country full of poor people and that is a profoundly different thing.
Rich people aren’t evil. Success is good. But theft and fraud and not having to live with risk is WRONG. The wealthy being above the law is WRONG. Corporations getting the protections afforded to citizens without having to follow the same rules is WRONG.
In the last two posts we discussed the creation of elite classes that exist above the rule of law. It should come as no surprise that first casualty is going to be democracy. I hate to break it to you, but your vote is now pretty much meaningless. No hyperbole. No ranting or exaggeration. It just don’t matter that much any more.
We have what is laughingly called a two party system. Both parties have conspired to make elections incredibly expensive and both parties survive on money donated by the rich and powerful. Both parties appoint Yale graduates who work on Wall St. to run the economy for their own benefit. Neither party cares about you in the least.
Let’s look at the last election. Republicans ran on a platform of jobs and small government. Since taking power they have done focused on exactly three things; lowering the tax rates for the rich, denying voting rights to the poor, and outlawing abortion. Yep, that’s right. No jobs, a government big enough to monitor every uterus, and restrictions on who can vote. But they still start every speech with the word ‘jobs’. And oh yeah, they also killed Wall St. reform.
Meanwhile, what have the Dems been doing? Exactly what they always do. Stand on the side lines wringing their hands and fussing. They whine a whole lot about how the Republicans are doing the bidding of the rich and then they make sure that they’re just ineffectual enough to keep their big money donors happy.
Two parties. One who lies about what they do and one that lies about their intentions. And they both shut out anybody who doesn’t get with the program. There are candidates like Buddy Roemer, ex-Governer of Louisiana, who can’t even get invited to debates or on some state’s ballots because he’s running on a platform of fiscal election reform. I’m not necessarily a supporter of his, I just find it interesting that people who have his message don’t get to run.
Anyway, I’ve written extensively on this before. Scroll down a page or two and read ‘Lost and Doomed’ if you’re interested. Let’s just point out that in the last 4 years the candidate that had the most money has won 94% of all elections. Two parties and a corporate media control both the message and the messengers. Money buys access and access is everything. The elites have quite literally stolen the democracy. We live in an Autionocracy where everything goes to the highest bidder, and that, my friends, IS WRONG.
Marching forward on to number 4 of 13 reasons why shit needs to be Occupied. This one is pretty straight forward: CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE. It’s pretty tempting to go on an anti-corporate, antibusiness screed and many of my brothers and sisters on the left can’t resist. I don’t necessarily agree. Sure, many of our ‘corporate citizens’ have behaved very badly and make an easy foe. Banks and oil companies in particular have chosen polices that seem to cry out for violent retribution. But, fun as that might be, it misses the point.
I like my computer and my cell phone. I love my motorcycle. Without big corporations I might not have any of those things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money. Hell, I wouldn’t mind making a little more of it myself. Corporations are money making machines. It’s what they do and that’s good. However, that’s all they do.
People are much more complicated. Sure, we make money and earn a living but we also love and appreciate beauty. We raise children and sacrifice for the greater good. We provide service to the needy. We sing songs and play games. We hate and cry and sometimes go to war. We worship and pray and philosophize. We make irrational decisions and, quite frequently, we choose to do unprofitable things for very good reasons.
See, corporations and people are two different animals. A man who is only concerned with profit isn’t much of a man. A corporate board that isn’t only concerned with profit is violating the trust of it’s shareholders. Since people consider many things while corporations only consider profits our laws need to treat them differently. A corporation might decide that it makes financial sense to fill NY harbor with toxic waste. New Yorkers might think otherwise. Humans and corporations are different so they need to treated differently under the law. Duh. It’s the most basic of common sense ideas.
Okay, so why don’t we do it? Under our current clusterfuck of a legal system, corporations and people are EXACTLY THE SAME. Corporations have all the rights and freedoms that the Constitution guarantees you even though they are, by definition, only money making machines. Much of the damage to our systems and our way of life stems from this one simple fuck up. If we want a better society we need to redefine the rights of corporations as businesses, not people. Because the way it’s set up now is WRONG.
Let’s move on to reason number 5 of our 13 motivations for the Occupy movement. Over the last 30 years the theme of our government has been deregulation and lower tax rates. Well, of course it has. The purpose of regulation and taxation is to curb corporate power and enforce fairness. The corporations and industries who elect our officials don’t want fairness, they want to make money. And boy, have they.
This is the moment when everyone on the right gets their panties in a bunch and starts yelling “Socialist, Socialist, you hate capitalism.” Bullshit. Half of them probably couldn’t define the term if pressed. Anyway, I’m not much of a socialist, I’m a realist. An here in the real world there are two very good reasons for regulations and taxes.
In the last post I pointed out that humans have multiple motivations while corporations have only profit. This simple fact is reason numero uno why governments MUST regulate business. It allows the spiritual, ecological, moral, intellectual, and compassionate parts of the human existance play a role in social decision making. I know Ayn Rand argued that none of those things mattered, but if you follow her you’re an idiot. She died penniless, supported only by the various programs she claimed were unacceptable.
It’s okay for business to be important. Commerce matters but it can’t be EVERYTHING. Sure, the CEOs might think so, but they’re clearly biased. Think about it, a world with only economics. No love, no passion, no art, no beauty, no God. What a shit hole of a place that would be. The irony is that, for the most part, regulation helps business. Left to their own devices the financial world always gets fucked up. The regulations they loathe protect them from their own shortcomings.
Reason numero two-o is just as important. This country’s ideals have always been egalitarian. Everyone gets a fair chance. Of course whoever happens to be winning at the moment doesn’t always think that’s a good idea. They’d much rather change the rules to insure that they get to stay on top. Strong regulations keep that from happening. The financial industry has unfairly benefitted from the lack of regulation and they’re going to use the tremendous wealth they’ve gained to try to keep it that way. And that, my friends, is un-American.
Another part of fairness is the tax code. If you make more money, you should pay more money. Look, I’m glad you got rich. But you used public roads to ship your goods. You used the power grid to energize your company. Your employees were educated in public schools. Now it’s time for you to pay some of that money back through a slightly higher tax rate. That way the next guy with a great idea can prosper too.
This country is badly out of balance. The rich pay fewer taxes than their hired help. People outside Wall St. can’t compete fairly. Executive retirement packages are through the roof while the pensions of workers are disappearing and blamed for the recession. Teachers and fire fighters are demonized as ‘public employees’ while giant conglomerates pay no tax. It seems obvious to say, but THIS IS WRONG.
Elite classes above the law. Loss of democracy and loss of control over giant corporations who are treated as real people. Are you ready to Occupy yet? Shall we continue on as we still have reasons 6-13 left to cover.
Okay, let’s play a guessing game. Given that a very small group of people set all the rules and are exempt from the law, guess what happens to income distribution? I’ll give you a clue. It’s pretty much impossible to be too cynical in your answer.
Below is a really interesting little graph. Go take a look at it. The bottom line is what Americans consider a fair income distribution should look like. The yellow top earners would get about 30% of the money and all the other groups a little less. The center line is what Americans THINK the ACTUAL distribution is, giving the yellow top earners about 60% and the poorest 40% about 10%. The top line is what the REAL distribution of income is in this country. The richest guys make almost every fucking dollar while the bottom 60%, (for those who are challenged by math that means most of us) make about 7%, yes 7%, of the income. What the hell?
These aren’t just hypothetical numbers. Income for most workers has stayed flat for almost 30 years. Ponder that for a minute. Think about the wealth created in that time. Computers, the internet, cell phones, none of those industries even existed in 1980. All the wealth they created and you got NONE of it. Not one damn cent. Oh, but the top earners saw their incomes grow about 290%. That sucks.
Even if you didn’t know the numbers, you knew the truth of this. How is your lifestyle compared to your parents? How many incomes does it take to keep your family above water? How many hours do you and your partner have to work? Everybody knows things have gotten harder and now you know why. And it’s not just your private economic life that’s suffered.
You know all the income that those at the top are earning? They don’t pay a lot taxes on it, at least not as much as you pay. So your local and state governments don’t have any money either. That’s why your schools suck, your health care is a mess, and the local fireman is worried if he’ll get a pension. Stuff is trickling down, but it ain’t money.
As a society we should get a broad say as to how income gets distributed. We do that through taxation and regulation, or at least we used to. This is NOT a poor country, it’s a country with a majority of poor people, and that is WRONG.
Sometimes the ramifications of acts seem even worse than the acts themselves. It’s not enough that the top 1% of this country have taken all the money, undermined the democracy, lied and cheated in order to keep themselves at the top, and bought up all the media to control the messages. Nope. They have to go that two steps further and both demonize and humiliate those of us who work for a living.
Exactly when did being a ‘public employee’ become a bad thing? Right now they’re being blamed for bankrupting cities, destroying states with their pension plans, and killing the economy. Really? Teachers and fireman and bus drivers did all that? I can’t tell how you how much this makes my blood boil. My state is not bankrupt because some nurse who worked 40 years taking care of people gets to retire with a pension. When a politician who’s worth millions stands up in front of the microphones and starts decrying the pensions of state workers who make 60k a year it makes me wonder why he isn’t met with torches and pitchforks.
It’s not just public employees. The decline of GM was placed directly on the shoulders of the UAW union. That’s right, the dudes sucking down millions of dollars for mismanaging the company aren’t to blame. It’s the guy trying to feed his family by putting tires on the cars. It’s those damn greedy garment workers who selfishly demanded enough money to raise children that are responsible for taking all those jobs to China.
Not only is it the working class’s fault that the economy has been wrecked, they also need to be mocked. The guy that works with his hands needs to be the butt of every sitcom joke. Anyone who questions a corporation needs to be called a hippy and a socialist. Rich, self indulgent human garbage like Paris Hilton and the fucking Kardashians need to dominate the media as role models. If my daughter behaved like that I’d kill myself.
The media is pretty consistent. Trump and the rich are good. Working people are stupid. We need all need to tighten our belts. The woman teaching your kids needs to take a pay cut to her 48k salary but it’s ‘class warfare’ to suggest rich people pay a fair tax on investments. The ethos of the rich has infused and informed all of our social perceptions and that makes me want to blow shit up. Or at at least make it the 7th of 13 reasons why Occupy needs to supported. Cause boy, this shit is WRONG.
Reason number 8 makes me feel so old. Why, I remember way back to a time when citizens of this country actually cared about poor people. Politicians once gave speeches where they laid out how they were going to eradicate poverty. Voters considered this information before heading to the polls. It seems almost quaint now. Heal poverty, feed and educate poor children, make an effort to relieve suffering. How wonderfully naive. To think that, as a people, we could care about those whose lives are harder than ours. Poppycock of the highest order. What are we, a Christian country or something?
It shouldn’t come as any news to you that poverty rates have skyrocketed in this country. Nearly 25% of us (that’s right, us) don’t have enough to eat or a decent place to live. AND NOBODY FUCKING CARES. In fact, they want to punish the poor by making them give up their civil rights in order to get what little help we offer. Go ahead and call me a bleeding heart liberal, but it really bothers me to know that within a few miles of me there’s some child going to bed without dinner. Again.
Poverty isn’t rocket science. Education, good health care and a little support can go a long fucking way. But we don’t even try any more. Nope. We spend less and less on primary education. We make sure that college is well out of reach by jacking up tuition. We keep minimum salary levels low enough so that even the fully employed can’t possibly get ahead.
Seriously, think about it. When is the last time you heard any politician even say the word ‘poverty’? Dr Cornel West suggested that President Obama hasn’t served the poor very well and Democratic party apologists jumped all over his ass. Funny. 40 years ago Nixon needed a poverty plan to get elected. Now a Democratic president can’t even say the damn word. How far we’ve come as a nation.
Poverty is a problem. A BIG FUCKING PROBLEM. Politicians should be judged by how well they address it, but not any more. What would Jesus do? Who’s side would He take? If you’re a Christian you should probably think about this. And if you’re an American you should feel more than a little shame. Because ignoring poverty is WRONG.
In preparation for writing about Occupy I looked up the First Amendment. I’ve read it over and studied it very carefully. I broke it down word by word and no matter how hard I look I can’t seem to find the word ‘permit’. And that’s the 9th reason to support the Occupy movement.
‘Permit’. Funny word, and you seem to hear it a lot these days. As in “You don’t have a permit to demonstrate here” and “Staying in this public space is not permitted”. To which every single loyal American should rise up and shout “FUCK YOU”. Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say “you may address your grievances when and where the mayor permits you to” or “you may speak freely after we grant you a piece of paper that outlines the acceptable parameters”.
Here’s a quick history lesson for you youngsters out there. Those big giant demonstrations of the late sixties and early seventies, you know the ones that ended American Apartheid and stopped an evil pointless war, yeah, those demonstrations. They didn’t have permits. Why not? They weren’t necessary. This whole ‘permitting’ process is a new tool in order to keep that kind of progressive change from happening again. And like the good, scared sheep that Americans have been trained to be, nobody questions why they’re necessary or even legal. Some dude says that a permit is needed to speak or gather or sleep, and then arrests everyone because there isn’t one. What the fuck? In America?
There’s an even more ridiculous example of ‘permitting’. It’s called ‘failure to follow a lawful order’. That means the police can tell you to do pretty much anything and if you refuse, they get to arrest you. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask Naomi Wolf. She wanted to walk on a sidewalk near a demonstration. The police told her to leave. She patiently explained that she was breaking no law. So they arrested her. Look it up online. Cops are using this ‘failure to follow a lawful order’ all over the place. If you want to demonstrate in front of a police station they tell you to leave and arrest you if you don’t. Even though you’ve broken no law. How in the hell is this constitutional and legal in America?
‘Permit’. As in allow. As in we get to tell you when and where you get to exercise your rights. THAT IS NOT THE WAY IT WORKS. And don’t whine at me about needing to keep order. Democracy can be messy. Deal with it. The civil rights granted in the Constitution are ours always and everywhere, not just when some paternalistic authority lets you have them. I can’t think of anything that’s less American or democratic. It alone is reason to be Occupying because it is deeply and profoundly WRONG.
A funny thing happens to countries that decide that the rich and powerful are above the law and experience huge income discrepancies. They begin to lock a whole lot of people up. Another quick quiz. Which of the following five countries lock up the most on it’s citizens, per capita; Iran, North Korea, Communist China, Russia, or the United States? Welcome to the Land of the Free. Free to go to jail. And welcome to reason number 10 why we need to support the Occupy movement.
The answer, as you may have guessed, is the United States of America, or the US, or just us. Yep. We do. You and me. At any one time close to 1% of our fellow Americans are behind bars and that number is going way way up. Remember the 80’s with the scourge of crack and the ‘war on some drugs’? In 1990, after all of that hysteria, we had about one million people in jail. Now, just 20 years later, we have about two and a half million incarcerated. And strangely enough the crime rates for the last 20 years are LOWER than the previous two decades. What gives?
We lock people up for everything. Get drunk and punch somebody in the nose, go to jail for assault. Get mad and call someone a bad name, it’s ‘hate speech’ and off you go to big house. Smoke a joint or get laid as part of a financial transaction and up the river you go. Don’t pay your taxes, don’t get to go outside anymore. We’ve made almost everything illegal.
There are severe ramifications for this kind of social behavior. The penal code is the last refuge for institutional racism. Most African American kids grow up without dads and uncles because they’re all in jail. Entire towns have economies based on the local prison. States can’t afford to do all sorts of necessary things like provide education because of the amount they spend on prisons. Is this who we really want to be?
The sheer number of laws has gotten to be almost as ridiculous as the zealousness with which we enforce them. Meanwhile the congress exempts itself from insider trading laws in order to make themselves even richer. These priorities are absurd, not to mention just plain WRONG.
Small distinctions matter. Sometimes they even define the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. The loss of these distinctions is reason number 11 of the 13 motivations for supporting Occupy.
There are some really really basic truisms about democracies. In fact they might be so simple that you’ve never really thought about them. For example, is the military used against strictly against foreign countries? Pretty obvious, right? In a democracy we use the might of the government, it’s army, against enemies and NEVER against ourselves. In dictatorships that distinction is rarely made. Pretty straight forward.
Historically we’ve been pretty good about this. We have a military and they’re only deployed against someone else. We have a national guard and they’re deployed here in emergencies. We have local, CIVILIAN police forces that enforce local laws, keep the peace, and serve the local communities. The federal police agencies are severely legally limited as to jurisdiction. As I said, those distinctions really matter. Once the military, the feds and the local police begin to be synonymous it begins to look a lot like a repressive regime. Oops.
Yeah, oops. Have you seen the footage of recent police activities? Have you seen how local police are now outfitted and trained by military personnel? When exactly did local cops get tanks? Why is the National Guard mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why is Homeland Security funding and training our police and why are they enforcing national laws? Where the hell did the TSA come from and are they local or military or what? Why are the Feds shutting down medical marijuana outlets when your local cops are legally restrained from doing so? Oops indeed.
The loss of these distinctions isn’t just at the local police level. The big concern when the CIA was created involved making sure it stayed a civilian agency with NO ties to the military. Oops again. The head of the CIA just became the head of the Defense Department while an army general took over at the CIA. The CIA was also forbidden from spying on Americans. That’s okay, the NSA does that and without much oversight. Where the hell did the NSA come from, anyway? All the manifestations of power are being centralized in a very very undemocratic way.
Oh, I know the reason. The war on ‘terror’ means that we need to consolidate and get more efficient. Blah blah blah. To paraphrase, we have met the terrorists, and they are us. Blurring the lines between civilian and military, local and federal, is stupid, dangerous, and just plain WRONG.
Over the last decade we’ve been involved in a whole bunch of wars. Iraq and Afghanistan in an full blown way, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, et al in smaller ways. If you’re expecting some pacifist rant about lies and bad decisions, you’ll have to look elsewhere. (Hell, you can probably find those in some of my earlier blog posts.) I’m not even going to touch on the moral grounds for any of those conflicts. Instead I’m going to point out that we, as a nation, have not bothered to really get involved in our own wars.
War is a pretty damn serious matter. Deploying the military is possibly the most important decision a society can make. It involves sending young men and women to die, spending significant amounts of capital, and altering the balance of power in the world. Once the the nation has been committed to the battlefield tremendous sacrifices need to made and shared by the nation as a whole. Or not?
Here’s an ugly and damning truth: Most Americans have not been directly effected by ten years of war. They haven’t been asked to send their children to the front. They haven’t been asked to sacrifice or ration supplies. They haven’t been confronted with the difficult scenes and decisions of battles because our corporate media mostly ignores them. Perhaps most damning of all, they haven’t even been asked to pay for the wars through higher taxes. The deaths of their fucking video game avatars are probably more real than the deaths of soldiers who represent them and their way of life.
You wanna talk about 1%? Here’s a fucking 1%. About 1% of our populace is fighting a whole mess of wars for us and we can’t even be bothered enough to pay attention. The families of the military have sacrificed everything; lives, health, earning a living, raising their children. A marine from here recently died while on his 14th deployment. 14th! And the local news was so busy talking about whether Justin Beiber fathered a baby that they couldn’t find time to discuss it.
There have been sacrifices for these wars. Unfortunately those sacrifices haven’t been made by most of us. Instead we’ve put the costs on the credit card and sent a very few people to do the fighting over and over and over. This is no way to run a country and the 12th reason why Occupy should be supported. A system of government that allows for waging war without shared sacrifice is morally reprehensible as well as WRONG.
Ah yes, lucky number 13. I’ve saved my favorite for last. We’ve talked about all the political, economic, and social reasons why Occupy is both a good idea and necessary movement. But I’m not a politician, an economist, or a social engineer. (I’m not always exactly certain what I am, but it isn’t one of those things.) Maybe I’m just a nut with a blog. Well who cares. I’ll get to the point. We need to change the way we relate to the world and we need to do it now.
Our government, our media, our leadership, and our clergy have been sending one consistent message over the past 3 decades: BE AFRAID. Be afraid of the world. Be afraid of the future. Be afraid of freedom. Be afraid of anything different. And most heinously, be afraid of each other. Hate the gays. Blame the Mexicans. The president isn’t ‘one of us’. We’re the real Americans while those people over there aren’t. BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT.
The 99%. All of us. Together. Getting together to acknowledge and solve our problems in a peaceful, democratic way. Nothing to be scared of. Nothing to fear or loathe. No dire predictions or doomsday scenarios. Nobody excluded, not even the cops who are shooting them with tear gas. And all done in a nonviolent way. How, exactly can you be an American and think that this is a bad idea? Is there anything more American than saying ‘Gee, this government thing doesn’t seem to be working so let’s figure it out for ourselves, together’.
Oh, you can see the divisive amongst us working overtime to try to gin up fear. The Tea Party was better. They’re just hippies. They hate America. Every time I hear somebody attacking the 99% I’m reminded of why they need to be supported. And heed my words. The problems we’re facing are going to get addressed. If isn’t Occupy it will be some other group that is well armed and less committed to nonviolent change. You can’t fuck people over forever. Eventually they fight back.
These problems are solvable. We, as a group, can solve them. Put your cynicism, your divisiveness and your fear aside and let’s remember who we are. Americans. Capable, optimistic, inclusive, and democratic. And that can never be WRONG.
So there we have it. My 13 reasons why Occupy is a good idea. You don’t have to agree with all of them. Hell, you don’t have to agree with any of them. You just have to know the feeling that somewhere along the line in the last 30 years we got off track and that some kind of radical change is needed. Occupy isn’t perfect but it can be the vehicle that brings people back to participatory democracy.
There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of governments; dictatorships and democracies. The difference between them is best defined by looking at how authority is derived. In a dictatorship a small group of people have all the money and the guns and their raw power gives them their authority. In other words, do what I say or I’ll break you physically or economically. There are variations on this theme. The dictator can claim authority by divine right or historical precedent or ‘royal bloodlines’ but it all comes down to one simple idea: I’m in charge and have all the authority and you, the citizen, have no say what so ever.
Democracy is different. In a democracy the authority to rule comes from a social contract between the rulers and the ruled. The people set up a constitution and that document spells out exactly what authority the rulers have and, more importantly, what authority they are forbidden from exercising. The president, mayor, governor, or prime minister is just holding a position temporarily and he himself has no authority. His office does but only because we all agreed to it. Any and all authority is granted by the people being ruled rather than those doing the ruling.
Let’s look at the standoffs between peaceful demonstrators and the police. A group of people have gathered and have been ordered to disperse. When they refuse, the police move in and, using some measure of physical violence, break up the protest. My friends on the right have argued that, since the mayor and the policeman ordered them to move they were justified in that violence. The mayor and the policeman have the authority to demand compliance.
Why do they have that authority? Just because they are policeman? Just because the mayor gave an order? Because they have badges and guns? Any one of these arguments implies that they are the ultimate authority, and that, my friends, is a dictatorship.
I started this whole Occupy rant by quoting our constitution. That document and that document alone should grant authority if we are truly a democracy. The police get authority from the mayor, who gets it from the state, who gets it from the federal government, who gets it from the constitution that we all agreed to. That is our social contract. The moment that a policeman pepper spays a peaceful protester for occupying public space he, along with the government he represents, has violated that contract and no longer has legitimate constitutional authority. He must be punished or replaced and our current corrupt and monied Autionocracy makes that impossible. Without some profound changes we have to begin to accept that our democracy is lost.
I also feel compelled to say a few final words about the use of pepper spray since it has clearly become the weapon of choice among the police. Pepper spray was introduced as a non lethal alternative to using a firearm. Authorities argued that an officer armed with pepper spray (or a taser, same argument) could occasionally use it to disable an out of control person RATHER THAN HAVING TO SHOOT HIM. The spray would REPLACE THE GUN in that scenario. That argument makes a lot of sense and no rational person would disagree. So, why isn’t it being used that way?
By now everyone has seen the video footage of four young women being corralled and sprayed in NYC, the 84 year old woman sprayed in the face in Seattle and the horrific scenes of kids being sprayed in Davis, Ca. Are we to believe that, without pepper spray, the police would have shot those people? Of course not. There was no physical threat at all and I refuse to think that the officers in any of those cases would have drawn their weapon and calmly shot nonviolent people at point blank range. The spray here isn’t being used as a non lethal option replacing a gun. It’s being used as a tool for compliance and that’s a very ugly line to cross.
If you allow pepper spray to be used by police as a way to enforce their word rather than for self defense you have given the authorities permission to use pain to get their way. Do this right now or we’ll hurt you. Don’t stand here or I can, and will, hit you with a club or spray you or punish you physically until I get my way. Forced compliance through the administration of physical pain. And oh yeah, it’s legal for me to do it. That is not ever going to qualify as democracy.
I am not someone who considers themselves as antipolice. My oldest and dearest friend is a federal law enforcement officer. I think police, as government employees, have gotten the same raw deal as the rest of us. The problem is that they’re being put in an impossible position of having to enforce unreasonable laws and are not being trained or prepared to their jobs well. I myself would get frustrated and hit some dumbass with a club in many of those situations, and that’s exactly why things must change. They must be prohibited from using pain as a compliance tool for both our benefit and theirs. Having said that, the cops in Davis and all their supervisors need to go. That was just barbaric.
I was hoping that Occupy might represent some step beyond the partisan left/right bickering that has come to define our national dialogue. It’s pretty clear now that won’t be true. (I’m not sure anything short of a ground war in our streets will shut both sides up.) But I’m going to give it one more shot. I understand that my friends on the right tend to side with law and order and respect authority figures. Okay. But that respect should be only be given to the constitution, not the people it empowers to govern. The police must represent our interests, not those who have been empowered to govern us. And the police must be restrained from using pain to get compliance. To do otherwise is to choose dictatorship.
This is a great country, but right now it’s a great country with economic and social problems. All of those problems have their roots in a class of people who have become more powerful than the constitution that was supposed to contain them. The common man in the street lives with fear and uncertainty every day. Can I pay my bills? Will I lose my house or my job? In a democracy the people at the top should feel a little uncertainty too. Maybe Occupy can bring provide that fear. Otherwise we might as well have a king. Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.