Monday, December 5, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Democracy.

Democracy is a central concern of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Everybody is invited to speak at meetings. Everyone is listened to carefully. Often the whole group repeats the words of the speaker so that everybody hears them. More important is the commitment to making decisions by consensus. The final decision of the meeting must satisfy everybody there. Everyone is heard to the extent that his or her opinions are incorporated in the final decision.
Inclusion and equality are key values. In this democracy there are no leaders ordecision-makers.Everybody participates in making the decision; everybody takes their turn in running meetings. This participation by all requires that there be no secrets. Whatever information is available to one, must be made available to all. It also requires that everybody be as truthful as possible. Political participation is degraded when the citizenry is being lied to and misled by politicians or their misleading advertisements or by spokespersons who massage the news.
Pundits insist that there aresecretleaders in these meetings. But that's playing on words. To be sure in any group some people are more articulate than others. Some people have a way with words; others have to struggle to say what they are thinking. Some people are incredibly energetic; others less so. Depending on the subject under discussion, some people are more knowledgeable than others. There may well be leaders in these meetingspersons who are more articulate, more energetic, that informed. But all of that does not allow some people to make decisions and to impose them on others. The decisions are made by everyone and by consensus. Whatever leaders there may be, they do not have greater decision-making power than anyone else.
Think how this differs from what we calldemocracyin America today. Decisions are made in secret. This past week, Bloomberg News discovered that the Federal Reserve Bank has been lending trillions of dollars to big banks who were kicking ordinary people out of their houses when they couldn't pay their mortgages. What is more, a court order was needed before the Federal Reserve Bank would disclose this program. When important information is being withheld from citizens they obviously are unable to participate in decision-making.
Similarly, politicians lie consistently. They make promises during their campaigns which they have no intention of keeping. They claim to hold views which, as soon as they have been elected, they turn out to reject. Do your elected representatives listen to you? Well that depends on how big check is you just handed them. Did you procure the services of a high-priced lobbyist? If not forget about being listened to.
Ordinary citizens rarely get a hearing. They certainly do not influence the decisions made in Congress.
Occupy Wall Street reminds us that what we ordinarily calldemocracyis not real democracy at all. It is an oligarchy of the people with lots of money and theirexpertadvisors. We owe a great deal of gratitude to this movement to recall us to our democratic project and to remind us that in recent years we have pretty much abandoned it, substituting an oligarchy for democracy, the rule of the rich for a government of all.
But, the critic says, you cannot run a country of 360 million people by meetings where everybody participates and has a say, where every speech is repeated word for word and people go around wiggling their fingers.
For sure. In small groups, we are able to put our ideals of full participation in discussion and decision-making into practice. We are not so good at doing that in larger groups and organizations.
But Occupy Wall Street rightly insists that this is what we are committed to. It also points out to us that we not only have stopped trying to improve our democratic procedures, but we have allowed the cheats, the manipulators, the tools of the corporate elite to corrupt our democracy.
We are fortunate that there are still Americans who want to have a real democracy. We must support them in their struggle because they are fighting for democracy for all of us.