United States: Left support for Occupy Wall Street
Below are a number of statements issued by left organisations in the United States.
It is five minutes to dawn and the wind smells like freedom
By Mike Ely, Kasama Project
October 14, 2011 -- Click here for PDF version of this statement -- It is no longer five minutes to midnight. After Arab Spring leaps to Spain, and Greece, and on to New York’s Wall Street, it suddenly feels like five minutes to dawn.
We no longer need assume that there is no time to stop the world going to shit. There is an opening and we are flooding into it.
We are suddenly in a moment that is not marked by exhausted routine protests that speak for no one and speak to no one.
The oppressors (our common enemies) are no longer unchallenged — or more no longer unchallengeable. They are instead rocked backward, confused, bewildered, furious. The billionaire mayor of New York can’t clear a tiny park — and suddenly the question is not how to force the occupiers out, but whether he may be forced out of power if he pursues that course.
For so long, all of the things that leave people crying at night: the numbing global poverty itself, the painful loneliness of atomised non-community, the discarding of the old and the young, endless war for dominance, global structures of empire, the ravaging of nature, the manufacture of ignorance, intolerance and bigotry, the rape and casual daily brutality toward women — all of these things have seemed untouchable and permanent.
Now suddenly … a different day is approaching — where we can increasingly see and act in in startling ways, with rippling new impact. Ears perk up. Sights are raised. The pulse quickens. Suddenly we recognise the faces of others — once unknown to us — animated and awake with a common spirit. The powerful look discredited and vulnerable.
Morning is coming… Go and wake the sleeping ones.
The hope of a radically new society, of abolishing capitalism, reveals it is far from exhausted. No, it suddenly springs from every pore. These occupations of dozens of city squares are a wind that heralds a coming storm.
This is a mood that produces actual revolutionary movements and dedicated militants of a new truth process.
Advanced, radical and discontented people who felt alone and isolated — suddenly realise they are millions. Allies emerge out of shadows, attracted by each early flame.
Networks congeal almost overnight. New thought jumps from human to human, morphing in each passage, adapting and refining. The forms of expression shake off the old and exhausted… A new generation invents its language from the messaging in the air.
Let’s understand what this is. Let’s recognise where we stand. Let’s embrace the possibilities within the new.
This break in the norm reveals what has already moved into place, and had long been building. And that revelation transforms everything — especially because we all see it together, in common, and recognise ourselves in that picture.
Be relentlessly impatient with this criminal system.
Be lovingly patient with each other — as we find the common language to act and transform.
Listen for the new. And grasp firmly to the truths that have so long been hidden and denied — but that we are now speaking from center stage.
Let’s seize the high moral ground (a precious position to hold), and never give it up. And be aware that thugs with suits and video cameras will be coming to snatch that ground away and portray us as fools, or dupes, or barbarians at the gate.
Above all: Let’s consciously go for the whole thing!
The change we want is about taking the accumulated wealth, technology, hard work, science and connections of a complex global civilisation — and finally (finally!) putting it into the service of us all, including the very least and previously powerless among us. It is about the voiceless suddenly speaking, and the wealthy suddenly becoming silent.
This is not about “budget financing”(!) but about power in the most fundamental sense. We don’t want to tax the zillionaires of finance capital — we need to rip their zombie hands from the throats of us all… so we can breathe, perhaps for the first time in our lives. And so we can change the whole direction of the world.
The “freedom” we want is not the individual license promoted by smug Republican ideologues (the freedom of “up with me, you suck”). Instead, we need to seek the freedom of people, together, to shape their common world — an ethos of mutual caring and solidarity That is the freedom (the ability and possibility) that comes when new power of the people wrenches everything from the very few.
A revolution starts in ideas and mutual recognition. It then moves to the terrain of power.
At this moment: we can get a glimmer of how empires break, and how armies start to unravel. They don’t die on the battlefields, at least not at first — but in sudden re-allegiances of the young and awakening.
We cannot “take America back” — we never had it. But we can take over our own lives, our own planet and our common future — wrenching them away from sinister and hostile forces.
This moment of occupations is not about some concept of “America” anyway. It is global — because our society, our future and our biosphere are all global. This wave of contagious occupations and manifestations is about who will shape this beautiful blue orb as a whole. And we cannot allow that to be diminished and corrupted by slogans of America First.
The old “American dream” promised each one the ability to climb up upon the others. This new coming dream can be about a global community of mutual flourishing among human beings — about substituting community for the sale of humanity.
Let’s go for the whole thing. Let’s go for the future itself. Let’s save the only earth we have. Let’s aim to wipe out together the poverty of the many and the suffering of the abused.
Here at dawn, let’s envision the day we want, and make that revolutionary vision the centre of debate, for once, and perhaps from now on.
Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street!
October 5, 2011 -- Occupy Wall Street is just about the best thing that’s happened to America since the economic crisis first broke. Occupation is spreading. We’re standing up and fighting back. And we’re showing that another way of living together is possible.
We’re a movement of the underdogs. We embrace the unemployed, the homeless, the ex-offenders, the down-and-out and the downtrodden. We welcome those who are discriminated against, those who are outcast. That’s what democracy is all about. And we’re building an independent movement fighting for democracy.We have all sorts of folks here, people from every race, from all religions, men and women, LGBT and straight, people of all ages coming together to build a powerful force to oppose the greed and corruption of Wall Street and Washington.
We didn't start yesterday. Earlier union and community protests and occupations like Bloombergville fell on deaf ears. Now we’re getting stronger every day. The whole world is watching: and the unions and social justice organizations of New York City have arrived. We invite everyone marching today to occupy or return when you can.
We know that today the banks and corporations dominate America. We know that corporate CEOs and financial insiders collude with the Republicans and Democrats to determine the national agenda. Together they make the rules—and they make the profit. We pay the price. It's time to stop it.
We need a new distribution of wealth in this country. We need to provide jobs for all at living wages. We need free education and health care for all. And it can be done too. We need to start by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing all the troops home, and closing the hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world. Most importantly: we have to change the system.
The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City adopted on September 30 indicts corporations as responsible for joblessness, homelessness, environmental destruction and imperialism. The Declaration describes the damage done by the capitalist system in the US and the rest of the world.
Wall Street is the nerve centre of global capitalism. We are here staring the spider in the eye, but we know the problem is not the spider—it’s the web.
Right now, we’re symbolically striking at the system’s heart here on Wall Street. In the days that come, we need to go on to build a movement that can transform this system into one based on true equality and democracy. Everyone in our country—and in the world for that matter—deserves a decent life. Standing in the way of that possibility are the financial institutions clustered here on Wall Street. Standing in the way is the web: capitalism.
We need to strengthen our movement. The power of this movement is not just the individuals participating, but ties to our families and friends, to our communities and workplaces, to our unions, schools and religious congregations. We need to bring these groups together as a social force and a political movement based on solidarity between the working class and oppressed. Not their politics. Not the bankers or bosses. Not Democrats and Republicans.
Our politics are the politics of people who recognise that something has to change. Our movement is made up of youth without jobs who can’t afford school. It has to be a movement of working people who’ve lost their jobs, families who've lost their homes, and of people of colour who never fully shared in opportunity. We are working together to build the power to create a new democratic system and bring justice to our society.
How amazing and exciting that we’re here. We have to learn from the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, the indignados in the plazas of Spain and the workers of Wisconsin. Occupy Wall Street has led to Occupy movements throughout the country. We’re part of an international movement for democracy and social justice around the world. We’re part of a new movement that can change history and the direction the world’s headed. A movement that can save the planet and its people by bringing about a different system.
Stepping up the struggle
The following editorial appeared in the Socialist Worker, newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (US)
October 12, 2011 -- Growing numbers of people identify with the Occupy movement -- and are being inspired by its example to take action for real change in society.
When Ben Bernanke, the United States' head banker, says he understands why people are protesting against banks, there's two things to say.
One, it's clear that the Occupy Wall Street protest movement has shaken US politics with greater force than any event since Wisconsin's upsurge against union-busting and austerity last winter.
And two, watch your back.
In answer to a question about Occupy Wall Street at a congressional hearing, the Federal Reserve chair said: "They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they're dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can't blame them."
Bernanke isn't the only unlikely sympathiser with the Occupy movement, which has spread from the financial district of Manhattan to hundreds of cities, towns, campuses and more around the country.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, says she approves of "the message to the establishment, whether it's Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen." Barack Obama declared at a press conference, "People are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works."
This from the very people who engineered the bailout of Wall Street and made sure it got approved by Congress in 2008. Democrats like Obama and Pelosi are every bit as responsible as the free-market ideologues of the Republican Party for government policies that put the interests of the corporate elite first, while masses of working people bear the brunt of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
So those of us who supported the Occupy movement from the start and helped organise it before it became a talking point for Democratic Party leaders are justly suspicious of the claim that we're now all on the same side against the bankers.
But we can also recognise that such comments show how Occupy Wall Street and its sister actions around the country have, for once, wrenched the spotlight away from the narrow political "debate" in Washington, and cast it on the concerns and views of ordinary people.
Mainstream media coverage of the Occupy movement has gone from the usual sneering contempt for protests to a grudging recognition of the depth of frustration and anger that is being expressed through the actions. According to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, "[I]n the month before the Occupy Wall Street movement, there were, to our count, 164 mentions of the phrase 'corporate greed' in the news ... In the month since the Occupy Wall Street movement has been underway, 1,801 mentions of that same phrase, 'corporate greed,' in the news."
Occupy Wall Street has become a lightning rod for the accumulated discontent in so many corners of US society -- about unemployment and growing poverty, about the complicity of political leaders in carrying out an attack on working people's living standards, about a social crisis that is hitting especially hard in minority communities, about the vast and growing gap between the haves and have-nots in the richest country on earth.
The Occupy movement isn't only reflecting people's ideas, either. It has tapped into the widespread sentiment that society needs to change -- and it's time to do something about it.
That's an attitude that can be heard over and over again at Occupy protests: Finally, someone is taking action. Thus, the movement has spread from a core of mainly young activists who began the protests and encampment in New York City to speak for much larger numbers of people and broader layers of society.
The Occupy slogan "We are the 99 per cent" gives expression to an elemental sense that there are sides in this struggle, that our side has been silent for too long, and we're finally finding our collective voice.
In accomplishing this in just a few weeks, the Occupy movement already represents a great step forward in the struggle for a better world. And it offers hope for future steps forward, as more and more people are inspired by what they see--and join the fight.
The Occupy movement shows how quickly things can change in volatile political times.
The kickoff demonstration came on September 17 in New York, when more than 500 people gathered for a rally and then established the encampment in Zuccotti Park, rechristened Liberty Plaza in honour of Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, with its daily general assemblies that have continued ever since.
Organisers were disappointed by this initial turnout, but several factors helped Occupy Wall Street broaden its support. One was a September 22 "Day of Outrage" demonstration the day after Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis was executed. Some 2000 angry protesters marched from Union Square to the Liberty Plaza encampment -- thus, establishing the practice that the Occupy movement would become a focal point for many struggles.
Along the same lines, Occupy activists reached out to labour, offering solidarity for local battles such as a strike at the famous Central Park Boathouse restaurant. In turn, major New York City unions recognised the importance of Occupy Wall Street and endorsed it -- setting the stage for a labour-led demonstration on October 5 that brought out tens of thousands of people.
Then, on September 24, the New York Police Department did its part, unleashing officers on demonstrators during a peaceful protest from Occupy Wall Street. After this and the mass arrest a week later of demonstrators marching over the Brooklyn Bridge, even more people came to the encampment to show their solidarity against repression.
This experience, as brief as it is thus far, holds important lessons.
For one thing, while the movement's slogan "We are the 99 per cent" wonderfully expresses the determination to confront the tiny minority that monopolises wealth and power in this society, it's also crystal clear that the 99 per cent aren't all on the same side.
There's the police, for example. With attacks on Occupy encampments in Boston and Atlanta, as in New York City over the past weeks, the "boys in blue" showed which side they're on -- and it's not the 99 per cent.
Through their actions, the police are providing a fast education to anyone who believes they can be appealed to -- for example, the groups of activists who escaped being trapped on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1 and chanted, "Join us, you're one of us."
In reality, though most individual cops come from working-class backgrounds, the role of the police as an institution in capitalist society "puts them directly at odds with the aspirations and needs of the rest of the class", as Amy Muldoon wrote for SocialistWorker.org. Their job is not to "protect and serve" everyone in society, but the same ruling minority that the Occupy movement is challenging.
Even among those who have mobilised for the Occupy protests, there are political divisions that must not be ignored.
For example, right-wing libertarians who support Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul have turned up at Occupy encampments, especially in the South. They are critical of the same financial institutions that the Occupy Wall Street struggle has focused on -- but their objections come from the right. Paul supporters want to eliminate regulations on the financial elite -- which would allow the 1 per cent to grow even richer.
Paul and his supporters are viciously anti-immigrant and their opposition to "big government" stops when it comes to the state imposing restrictions on women's right to choose abortion. In 2004, Paul was the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- because he believes businesses should be able to discriminate.
To consider such bigotry part of our fight would make a mockery of the commitment to equality and democracy at the heart of the Occupy struggle -- and it would drive a wedge between the movement and many of the people who have the most to contribute to it: immigrants, African Americans and those fighting the right's reactionary agenda, to name a few.
So the Occupy movement doesn't represent all of the "99 per cent". But it certainly does give voice to a large majority of people in society -- both their grievances and the hope for an alternative to the status quo.
The politicisation of protesters and their determination to take a stand is tangible at the occupations, where both people new to activism and those with experience in other movements are part of the organising.
But importantly, these same features can be felt beyond the encampments. In Portland, Oregon, for example -- the site of one of the largest Occupy movements outside of New York City -- one Socialist Worker contributor says her workplace, in a building that overlooks the encampment, is constantly abuzz with discussions about the struggle. Each march past the building, she says, brings her co-workers to the windows to find out what's happening -- along with hours of political discussions afterward.
This is being repeated in different ways around the country. Occupy Wall Street was launched by a core of activists, many of them already committed socialists, anarchists or radicals of various kinds. But much larger numbers of people now identify with the movement, even if they have little connection with the actual activities of the occupations, perhaps because of job or family responsibilities.
What's more, the national attention being paid to the Occupy movement is infusing existing struggles with a new sense of relevancy and confidence. People committed to many different movements are being inspired by the success of the Occupy activists in making their voices heard -- and are sure to follow suit themselves.
Of course, this intense interest and support is precisely why leaders of the Democratic Party are suddenly trying to cast themselves as sympathisers with the struggle against Wall Street greed.
Our question is simple: Where were Democrats like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi when the Wall Street bankers looted the economy? The answer: They were part of the problem, from the deregulation of the financial system accomplished chiefly during the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton, to the failure of the Obama administration over the past two years to hold the bankers and hedge fund operators responsible for the disaster they caused.
The Democrats care about Occupy Wall Street if it can help them corral votes for the next election. But the limits of their sympathies are clear -- especially from the actions of Democratic mayors like Boston's Thomas Menino, who sicced the police on Occupy protesters.
That's the real attitude of the Democratic Party toward the Occupy struggle -- not the empathetic statements of Barack Obama at a press conference, but the orders of Democratic mayors to clear the streets and parks.
Many participants in Occupy struggles recognise this -- but there is an organisational weakness to the movement that gives a greater opening to such forces.
In many of the Occupy encampments, including New York City, the core activists involved in the day-to-day organising are critical of Democrats for being complicit in a system that has given overwhelming wealth and power to the 1 per cent. But the commitment of many to a particular strategy of refusing to formulate concrete demands -- on the grounds that this would either limit the appeal of the Occupy actions or legitimise economic and political structures they oppose -- actually opens a door to the Democrats.
If our movement doesn't articulate its own demands, others will have the opportunity to fill them in for us. The basic elements of what the Occupy struggle stands for are clear and supported by the vast majority of people involved -- tax Wall Street and the rich; regulate corporate power; use taxpayers' money to create jobs and meet social needs, not bail out the banks or fund wars; defend workers' right to form unions; and so on.
Such demands need to be championed forthrightly. As Doug Singsen wrote, "We can be a model of cooperation and empowerment" and still be specific and explicit about what we want.
So what comes next? The Occupy movement has shone a spotlight on the greed and corruption of the Wall Street elite -- and more generally on the inequalities and institutionalised injustices of US society. We need to keep dramatising those issues for the millions of people who are now watching the protests closely.
Part of the commitment to continue this effort will now mean preparing for the threat of further police repression. So far, crackdowns like the one that took place in Boston or the assaults in New York City have been the exception. The authorities, aware of the popularity of the protests, have avoided a frontal attack in many cases.
But they will continue looking for opportunities to gain the upper hand. Occupy activists need to be aware of this threat, with an understanding that large numbers and even wider support have always been the best defense against repression for any movement.
In most occupations, proposals to reach out to other struggles have been met with enthusiastic support, at least from the majority of participants.
This is because the connections between the different fights are so obvious. Anyone who is angry about the bailout of the Wall Street bankers will know who is paying the price -- workers in both the private and public sector, those with jobs and without. The brutal police tactics used against protesters are just a taste of what happens day in and day out in the Black community -- which shows why the Occupy movement must be anti-racist.
By the same token, it's important for every movement and struggle to recognise that Occupy Wall Street has changed the political climate and opened up a space for bolder action. There are willing and able allies to be found at the Occupy encampments -- for the struggle against war and against racism, for a sustainable environment and for LGBT equality, and many more issues besides.
In particular, Occupy Wall Street has created tremendous new possibilities in the labour movement. Union members can go beyond being sympathisers with the struggle and organise their co-workers to take part in protests. It is also crucial for Occupy activists to reach out to labour and offer their solidarity, especially in providing support for the upsurge of union battles around the country.
Many people involved in the Occupy struggle have been inspired to describe this as "our Tahrir Square" or "our movement of the squares," like in Greece. This is true to an extent -- Occupy Wall Street and the similar actions it inspired are providing a place for people fed up with business as usual to come together and take a stand.
But we also need to know what the Occupy movement is not -- yet. Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution was not just an occupation, but a mass mobilisation that was the culmination of years of organising, including militant working-class struggles. Likewise, in Greece, the movement of the squares came after a string of general strikes and a youth-led rebellion against police brutality not long before that.
Occupy Wall Street has electrified many thousands of people and is bringing together the forces that can be part of struggles on another scale, as in Greece or Egypt. But whether those forces develop depends a lot on what activists do now.
It's time to step up the struggle. In every city and town, there are teachers who are under attack, foreclosures mounting, instances of police violence. The Occupy movement can be a part of responding.
We want to build the occupations and defend them against police attack. And we also want to build a political space that goes beyond the occupations -- a new resistance that brings the spirit of the Occupy movement to workplaces, campuses and communities throughout society.