Monday, November 5, 2012

Occupy Wall Street-- a Year Later
When groups of mostly young people descended on Zucotti Part on September 17 2011, mainstream observers expressed exasperation: " They never tell us what they want; they do not have a program." These observers were looking for a limited list of demands: new government programs, new legislative agendas, or ending existing programs and agendas. The observers were looking for appeals to existing power holders.
Even observers on the left had elegant phrasing to conceal what Occupy Wall Street had said very loudly and clearly. The observers on the left talked about Occupy Wall Street "putting process in place of program." The Occupiers were accused of being so riveted on the General Assemblies and their procedural innovations that they forgot to decide what they stood for.
Surprise! None of that is true.
The Occupiers made a series of statements. They made them over and over for all to hear and read:
America is radically unjust and injustice is spreading like a virus. We are living though a veritable epidemic of injustice.
America is unjust because our decision making processes are infected by this plague of injustice. Rarely do those in power listen to ordinary folks. No one listens to the poor--both in the inner cities and in distant rural counties.
No more graphic evidence exists for that than the current electoral campaigns. By the time it will be done, the Presidential campaign alone will have cost the mind-boggling sum of $2 BILLION. What did they need all this money for? Did Obama and Romney come to every town in the US or, if they could not go there themselves, did they send a trusted emissary and sit down with citizens and ask: what is hardest for you now? Do you have any suggestions for us ? Here is what we are thinking of doing. What do you think about that? Together the candidate and his voters would try to work out a good plan—far away from Washington, corrupt legislators and lobbyists. (In Vermont, US Senator Bernie Sanders has been doing this for years, sitting down for long conversations in hundreds of towns. Vermonters have responded by re-electing the avowed socialist, Sanders, for many years. Polls have him currently ahead of his Republican challenger by 40%.)
That would be costly but it would not demand $2 BILLION. That money goes to selling us a bill of goods. It is tempting to say that the candidates are selling themselves to us but even that is not accurate for what we are being offered are neatly dressed up Barack and Mitt dolls—no more than virtual President and Challenger. Two Ken dolls with their Barbies decorously in the shadows behind them. Obama and Romney are not offering to represent us and asking us what they should be doing on our behalf. No, they are telling us what to think. They obviously believe that it will take a huge, high pressure sales job to get us to fall in line. They are not asking for our vote, let alone for our thoughts and suggestions. They are manipulating us big-time-- and being quite open and shameless about it—into pulling their lever on the voting machine. The appeal is strictly to our emotions, not to our intelligent and thoughtful self.
There is no conversation between citizen and politicians in the modern US. The politicians, their wheels greased by $2 BILLION from multimillionaires, are telling citizens what they should think.
The presidency has become a giant tube of toothpaste.
Politicians and millionaires have all the power, as the existing political communication--there is no conversation--shows. They have the goods and are trying to get us to buy them. They care for our opinions only to fine tune their advertising messages. Our opinions have no effect on policy. Is it any wonder that these powerful people make decisions that are inherently unjust?
The Occupiers uncovered the injustice of political communication where the powerful manipulate the people who do the work in America. Justice in communication, democracy, involves conversations premised on equality: everyone participates equally, everyone is taken equally serious, all decide on policies together. This is the democracy Occupy Wall Street advocated.
But they also practiced it. What they advocated was not one more well meaning but untried reform project. The many people in Zucotti Park, in many other America cities and in many cities all over the world demonstrated that democracy, justice in politics, shared and equal participation in political decision making would work. It would keep sizable groups housed and fed. It would provide medical services, maintain security and deal effectively with breaches. Incidentally it provided shelter and food for homeless people.
No one claims that the hard work of General Assemblies in Zucotti Park are a ready made template for reorganizing American politics. But American politics as it is today does not work either. It may work to keep people running on the treadmill in their cage. But it does not produce a democratic politics. It does not produce a democratic society. It does not produce JUSTICE.
In order to produce a just society where everyone has the means to have a good home-and-work life, we need to all be able to participate in carefully producing policies. No one has a blueprint of how to change over from what we call “democracy” today—a vast effort to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge—to different ways in which different groups-some large, some small—will be able to work out just policies together in conversations where no one is the boss, no one is in charge because they are property owners, everyone is equal.
The Occupiers elaborated methods for holding equal, efficient conversations. If America wants justice it will have to do the same.
If America wants democracy it must do what the Occupiers did and sit down and talk to each other about how we will run our affairs. As long we leave it to the owners of power and money to decide everything we get not JUSTICE but a big, fat NOTHING.