New Year’s Eve 2013 was a nice experience. There was a noise demo against the Prison Industrial Complex at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (right next to 1 Police Precinct) which was cool. There were probably about 150 to 200 people present, spirits were high, there were no arrests, and it was fun.
The next event in lower Manhattan was a New Year’s Eve party in Zuccotti Park. To usher in the countdown an Occupier stood on a bench and spoke proudly about a coming year of Global Occupation, and a people’s movement rising up against the 1%. Well I hate to say this… but, no.
I don’t see another year of Global Occupation. I see protests and activism and demonstrations taking place all over the world on a great variety of issues; from President Mursi declaring his authority over the courts, to gang rape. Do I see much of anything going on in America though? Yes, I do.
There was activism in Wisconsin for Governor Walker’s recall (which was unsuccessful). There was activism against “Right to Work” legislation in Michigan, which overthrows union strength. Walmart workers started organizing and did walk-outs across the country. I had the honor of documenting the first day of striking by the Fast Food industry in New York.
What has Occupy done though?
With the exception of the 99 Pickets, Occupy pretty much became a charity. A much needed charity, yes, certainly.
A charity though nevertheless.
Occupy Sandy did heartwarming things in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. All of the organizational skills and social media know-how, which made the original Occupy Wall Street movement a sensation, were put to use to bring aide to victims of devastated communities. It was an amazing sight to see and something which only the most out-of-touch person would ever dare criticize. It was such a good effort there were even several memes going around Facebook joking about Occupy Sandy volunteers feeding FEMA workers. As we later found out it was actually the relief efforts volunteers provided which gave most of the help. Even Mayor Bloomberg, indirectly (and begrudgingly), thanked Occupy Sandy in a press conference for their work. FEMA, on the other hand, has received much criticism from the residents of Staten Island and Rockaway. Does this relief effort directly address income inequality though?
Strike Debt launched a Rolling Jubilee which has proven an extremely clever offshoot of Occupy Wall Street. As I write this the jubilee has raised enough money to cancel $10.6 million of debt and I believe they already sent out debt forgiveness letters as well. They are now waiting to hear back from recipients for confirmation.
This is another brilliant effort. The idea behind the Rolling Jubilee was (among other things) to highlight something which the government could do for those who are on the road to becoming debt slaves. It has brought attention to the idea that debt is not necessarily something to be ashamed of and it highlights just how universal an issue debt really is. It also encourages mutual aide.
Since their efforts to build a debtor’s movement began I have seen more information circling the internet about the proportional differences between interest rates on bank accounts and the interest rates on debts. This drives home how unfairly difficult it can be to pay off the debt. The question that needs to be posed now is:
Does the Rolling Jubilee do anything more than clean up the banks’ mess?
Both Occupy Sandy and the Rolling Jubilee are fantastic offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They are however lacking in certain crucial areas.
Occupy Sandy provides relief to storm victims and tries, among other things, to make said victims aware of the disaster capitalists who may come take advantage of the devastation. Go look at Mayor Bloomberg’s Rapid Repairs project, for example. It has already been likened to a development initiative with a more attractive name.
The Rolling Jubilee takes a burden from people’s shoulders, tries to take the shame out of debt and actually allows them to focus back on their lives to pay for necessities.
What is the problem though?
Neither Occupy Sandy nor the Rolling Jubilee address Money in Politics. An issue which actually has the most public support of any issue in the country. (See reference article) They address related issues, yes. Crucial issues, yes. They provide relief in areas where no other relief is being provided, yes. Do they address the root cause though, Money in Politics?
Not at all.
It pains me to say so after seeing so much community building and mutual aide come out of these two wonderful projects but they just don’t address the issue at the core of everything. Seriously, Money in Politics is such central cause of the problems in this society, the recent Sandy Hook elementary school shooting can be traced back to it because of the lobbying influence of pro-gun advocates. Everything goes back to the influences of Money in Politics. Hence the tagline from the S17 Occupy Wall Street anniversary demonstrations “Follow the money.”
Where does the money lead to? Wall Street. No where else. The money leads back to corporate greed, financial sector misdeeds and income inequality. Those three societal plagues can all be traced back to the influences of Money in Politics. Where does the trail of money lead to? Wall Street. No where else.
Occupy Sandy and the Rolling Jubilee, in effect do nothing more than provide direct relief. This is why I said above “Occupy pretty much became a charity.” Now understand I have no problem whatsoever with charity. Charity is wonderful and is always needed. Furthermore, charity (as done through Occupy Sandy and the Rolling Jubilee) could spark conversations, and this is always a good thing. Charity however is no way to build a mass movement. It’s a way to draw some incredibly positive press. It’s a way to debunk every defamation of the word “Occupy” which the Mainstream Media has proliferated. It’s not a way to build a mass movement though. Charity is not something people will rally behind to affect positive social, political and economic progress. Charity is not a rallying cry for affecting policy. It is a catalyst for support if anything.
One needs to ask where you go after cancelling debt or providing hurricane relief. The devastation left by the hurricane will eventually get cleaned up. So long as money influences politics though carbon emissions will probably continue to increase, with mounting deregulation, causing hurricanes to grow in severity. So long as money influences politics more debts will always be created as you often need a bank to fund a political campaign; and it’s the banks who impose the debt.
Occupy Sandy and the Rolling Jubilee, although brilliant, strike me as the most perfectly shaped and colored branches of a tree. These two branches however, seem to be without their root anymore as the root is Money in Politics and this issue is not being addressed on anything more than an intellectual level. What happens when a branch has no roots? It hits the ground.
I remember seeing an excellent video of an orientation being given by an Occupy Sandy member at the 520 Clinton Avenue church. In the video the speaker does a brilliant job of helping volunteers to understand just how manipulative the system can be. However, as a viewer I found some parts to be an orientation deriving from too much of an intellectual standpoint. For example, I know what “anti-oppression training” is. Most others do not. Even if a volunteer goes to explain to their friends what anti-oppression training is they will likely not do a very good job. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I could give the best explanation for it. If I have that trouble, after a year and a half of being involved with (and then reporting on) Occupy’s development, a new volunteer is not going to get it so easily.
They will likely just walk away thinking “Man, shit’s fucked up and bullshit!” If someone were to ask them to explain why “shit’s fucked up and bullshit” there’s a chance they might just draw a blank. The hope is this uncertainty could inspire more research, influence conversations as well and get people interested in more discussion. This is very helpful as most “outsiders” are not as aware of the particulars of debt, global warming, inherent/institutionalized racism, disaster capitalism, carbon emissions, etc., as many in Occupy Sandy are. In fact, as is common in America many people actually try to avoid these issues and just go about their days thinking “well what can you do?” This has been the ethic for a few decades now (we didn’t get to this point overnight). So the resulting conversations from Occupy Sandy relief efforts are essential to spark organization and community development, which is crucial. More is needed though.
There are a lot of people who aren’t aware that we managed to melt the arctic through carbon emissions and global warming this year. A lot of people in this country barely even know which Amendments to the constitution are which. Go ahead and throw the terms “anti-oppression” and “disaster capitalism” at them on their first day of Hurricane Relief Volunteering; see how well they remember it…
In the short-term, as well as the long-term, Money in Politics remains the root cause and it will only further corrupt this country. Unless it can be brought to the forefront for heated, focused discussion and debate leading to organization. Turn on the TV. People are actually addressing Global Warming now a bit. Hurricane Sandy made it so we couldn’t ignore it anymore. No one ever talks about Money in Politics though. Why not? They have vested interest. No one is driving the discussion on this topic anymore. Occupy Wall Street made the topic unavoidable for its 2 months in Zuccotti Park. Now, the conversation which was started has been co-opted by the status-quo once again and Money in Politics is no longer addressed.
So long as there is no focus on Wall Street or Money in Politics, in a direct way by the public, progress will not be made in this country. The Occupy Movement got the support it did because of the issue it attacked, the location it was in, and the timing (a year before an election cycle). It’s possible, because of what has already been accomplished, another group might pick up the Money in Politics torch and carry it. This would be fine so long as someone is doing it, but unless there are connections made to Wall Street and Money in Politics the country may not change any more than politically savvy legislation. Also, don’t rely on government to get money out of politics. They are profiting too much from it. Instead, ask what the penalties on politicians are for having money in off-shore accounts and what conflicts of interest politicians may be dealing with.
One way to connect Money in Politics to Occupy Sandy would be to point out the speed at which Wall Street recovered and compare it to the recovery of devastated areas. As I understand it people in more affluent zip codes received hotel accommodations after the storm. Did people in Rockaway, Staten Island, Coney Island, or anywhere else get hotel accommodations? Seriously, the Goldman Sachs headquarters never lost power during Sandy. The New York Stock Exchange got power back within a few days. How many homes are still powerless? How many people waited in lines at gas stations? Did you ever see the wealthy waiting in gas lines?
With regards to the Rolling Jubilee a connection to Money in Politics could be how lobbying keeps debt rates high. There could be a point made of how the interest rates on Student Debt (the largest debt in the country right now) were almost raised last summer. The bankers didn’t get their way on that one because of public pressure. These are just ideas, and they may in fact be terrible ideas. I really don’t know many of the technical issues behind debt but I’m sure some others who read this do and could find a connection.
To create a mass movement in this country you do not go after global warming, or the military industrial complex, or the prison industrial complex, or debt, or racism, or sexism, or equal rights, or free trade agreements, or anything else. Those issues, unfortunately, will be regarded as fringe issues in a larger society which has undergone a massive shift to the right. To create a mass movement you address the one thing that people care about most in a consumerist society.
Why do some have an unfair amount more than others?
Money corrupts politics. It’s that simple. Get it out.
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