The Occupy Wall Street movement was a preview of a much broader revolution now underway. In light of banking scandals and revelations of government spying on its own citizens, the great irony is our rulers have left us little choice but to revolt.
Conversations of what it means to be truly free are occurring everywhere, from the traditional stomping grounds of revolution in coffee shops to high rise buildings on Wall Street itself. Occupy Wall Street changed the dialogue in Washington DC, a feat in itself, forcing the rather uncomfortable admissions by political leaders that economic disparity is of grave concern to the American people, especially for one in two Americans that live at or near the poverty level.
And although the national spotlight’s been re-focused once again to politically-motivated red herrings, the supposed budget crisis, for instance, in addition to Obama’s own audacity to propose cuts to social security, the call for revolution hasn’t been louder in decades. The great irony here is that those in charge have left very little room for anything else constructive. The political system, as it now stands, is beyond repair. Both parties are in the back-pockets of Wall Street interests. There is no political will to serve the people. This is already self-evident to many Americans, Right or Left-leaning. Now, what are we going to do about it?
evolution of revolution
It is perhaps naive to think that revolution in the classic sense of the word could occur in the United States any time soon (and could a majority of the people actually want this?) Activists are pitched against the greatest military and police state the world has ever known. But in recent history we have a few fine examples of the people changing their governments practically overnight. The Arab Spring, which directly inspired the organizers of OWS, resulted in regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Granted, these weren’t Superpower nations. The fall of the Berlin Wall (and the reunification of Germany) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, grants a little bit of hope that such drastic changes are possible within nuclear weaponized countries.
There is, no doubt, a desire to see the way our politicians respond to the needs of the people — a basic tenant of democracy which had been abandoned long ago in this country. Voting alone is not enough, and never was. Emma Goldman once said that if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal. Considering the downward trajectory of wages alone over the last 40 years, it’s safe to say no one voted for this trend (it surely wouldn’t make it onto any ballot measure!) or elected leaders solely for the purpose to grant more and more power to corporations, resulting in lower wages, the outsourcing of more jobs than what corporations actually create even as they cut their domestic workforces by the tens of thousands, but that is exactly what has happened.
So capital R revolution, regime change, is only superficial if the masses themselves haven’t revolutionized.. That is to say, people must take part in the decisions which affect their lives in a very proactive way. They must participate. In any case, a population must remain vigilant and a constant thorn in the side of government, as past social movements in the US have demonstrated. Not only that, in the 21st Century pressure must also be applied to corporate leadership in the form of boycotts, demonstrations, and direct action. What good is revolution without a change in the ways people act? What good is it if there is still rampant racism, sexism, poverty, and a tiny elite class of citizens which hold most the wealth and call the shots?
Building a new society within the shell of the old
OWS began the process on September 17, 2011. Those who occupied public spaces envisioned a world without a militaristic dictate, without a corporate mandate, among a great many other things which could only be realized in an open, free society. They practiced the age old tradition of consensus, a form of collective decision-making which incorporated the voices of all who wished to participate. This form of “horizontal” organizing stood in resolute contrast to vertical, top-down command structures which dominate much of human society. This meant there were no leaders; there would be no support or affiliation with the corrupt two-party system, or any party, for that matter. Much to the dismay of the mainstream media, this also meant there would be no list of demands.
This decision was consensed on from the very beginning. The reasoning behind this decision was that a list of demands meant submitting to a corrupt authority for approval. Unlike voting, which many see now as an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils, the consensus process granted the people the freedom to act in accordance to their needs and desires without the some watered-down form of representation. The middlemen (and women), the politicians, were cut from the equation. In essence, actions trumped demands. Occupiers became empowered to act as though they were already free – something that scared the security state to death.
In the true anarchist tradition, the Occupy Wall Street movement represents, among other things, ideals put into practice, more methodology than philosophy, more direct action than mere hole-punching at the voting booth every couple of years. Occupy Wall Street transformed the activist landscape by way of massive protests and its occupations, the likes of which haven’t been seen in generations. It has shown us that there are thousands of people across this country willing to take to the streets when provoked by a government no longer answerable to anyone but corporations, billionaires, banks, and the ruling elites.
It has also demonstrated that there is another approach to the decision-making process, one that involves all those who wish to participate. Principles of solidarity and mutual aid also bound the encampments to one another in very profound ways. Here were Occupiers that were not only responding to the needs of their close-knit activist circles, but were also providing food and shelter and medical services to the homeless and downtrodden in their communities. This living, breathing experiment was the exemplification of a society for the people, not for profit. And because of this, OWS was seen as a direct challenge to the social order, the FBI going as far as regarding “Occupy Wall Street as a potential criminal and terrorist threat”, as one recent Freedom of Information Act request has shown.
Keep in mind that OWS declared itself a non-violent movement from the start, the only violence showing up in well-documented cases of police brutality. The end result was a government crack-down in collusion with elements of the financial industry on a peaceful movement which sought to right the wrongs of the massive corporate corruption of government. OWS attempted to form a livable society right before our very eyes where freedom really was a moral value.
Contrast this with what the leaderships of the Democratic and Republican parties have to offer us: a self-perpetuating war on terror to the tune of trillions of dollars at the additional cost of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives; a society where multi-national corporations pay no or little taxes, are considered “people”, and are allowed to make unlimited donations to political parties via Super PACs, virtually guaranteeing that the corporate mandate would be followed and the quality of living for most Americans would continue to decline.
Leaders of both parties have refused to prosecute Wall Street crimes perpetrated during the 2007-8 recession when millions lost their homes to fraudulent bank foreclosures and the sub-prime mortgage crisis. When pressed for justice, we are spoon-fed the too-big-to-fail line, an excuse which offers us little more than insight into the depravity of our leaderships’ mindset. Would a credible democratic society choose to gamble their homes, investments, and livelihoods if they had a say in the decision-making? Would we choose to allow corporations to outsource our jobs oversees by the millions? For that matter, wouldn’t a free society choose free healthcare over crippling medical debt, free education over student debt with our allotted tax dollars? And would a free society really choose to have their lives governed by those who preach profit over people?
evolution of revolution: The end of OWS?
The occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City lasted until November 15, 2011, when it was brutally put down by police by orders from Mayor Bloomberg during a complete media blackout. A coordinated effort at the state and federal levels resulted in more police crack-downs, with most occupations ending well before mid-2012. A few have dissipated by their own volition since, leaving all but a few smaller groups operating well below the public radar. But this wasn’t the end of Occupy Wall Street nor the hopes of countless onlookers and well-wishers who had yet to take part.
This only marked the beginning of what is a much broader revolution which had been stewing deep in the kettle pots of revolutionist souls for a great many of years. The revolution is here, already in progress. Consider two of the most effective projects to come out of the New York City General Assembly since the disbanding of the occupation at Zuccotti, Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy. Strike Debt, through its Rolling Jubilee working group, bought up over $1 million in medical debt at pennies on the dollar in March of 2013.
In a show of mutual aid and solidarity with the people, OWS has been raising awareness about the issues of medical debt on the national stage while simultaneously acting on them. The people whose lives were directly affected in Kentucky and Ohio were no doubt pleasantly surprised when they received letters stating their debts were negated by the efforts of a few activists in New York City who organized the donation pool to make it happen. This is people power – as can only be carried out by enterprises ran by the people, for the people. Since October 30th, 2012 Occupy Sandy has continued where Bloomberg and FEMA have fallen woefully short in the wake of the destruction left behind by Hurricane Sandy. Volunteers and organizers have been involved in the toxic cleanup of mold and debris. They’ve also provided more than $1.5 million towards relief efforts as of this writing.
“The Occupy Wall Street initiative and the efforts it has spawned throughout the country are among the rare, really hopeful signs that we might find a way to escape very dark times, not just the criminality and thuggishness that Wall Street has come to exemplify, but also the vicious cycle that has been gaining strength for over 30 years, undermining the prospects for decent life for the large majority while spectacular riches are pouring into very few pockets, and the remnants of real democracy are being shredded by highly concentrated wealth and power. Ominous times, and it will become worse if people just watch passively. What you are doing is an inspiration, and desperately needed.”
The revolution carries on, unyielding. The cat’s out of its revolutionary bag. It’s not difficult to imagine when we look around at the dismal state of our education system, our decaying infrastructure, our costly wars, and shameful poverty, that the days of Wall Street tyranny – and the security and surveillance state which supports it – are numbered. Too many people have been disenfranchised from meaningful existence in a nation, we are told, is the best in the world. We are expected to pay our taxes as mega corporations and the top banks receive billions in refunds on the taxpayers’ dime annually. As the saying goes, something’s got to give. And while we wait to take to the streets and public spaces once again, we activists will pursue community-based projects which highlight the crimes of the 1% even as we address them ourselves, by our own actions, oftentimes without permits, and some times illegally — as free people do when protecting their interests and the common good against forces of lawful tyranny.
There once were free men and women in the United States who took courageous stands against the injustices of their times. We read about them in our history books. We watch stories of their lives in movies and documentaries. We idealize them on posters. We heft their slogans above our heads as we confront the forces of tyranny in our own backyards. We quote them. We Like their pictures in Facebook memes. Sometimes we listen to their exploits in our music. Or hear their names dropped in a graduation speech. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that the forces of revolution are within each of us in the here and now. We don’t have to sit by idly and wait for the day when a magazine in Canada calls for the occupation of Wall Street. Nor do we have to sit by idly for others to solve our own problems. As Occupy Wall Street has proven beautifully, even when forced off the streets by SWAT teams and riot police, there is no justification for not doing something good for ourselves and our communities by our own volition. Today, not tomorrow.
evolution of revolution: Originally published at Digital Journal