Thursday, June 21, 2012

What's with the "Occupy Wall Street" Crowd? (Part 4)


Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
This OWS movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society.
Allied Media Conference: Detroit, June 28 - July 1
by OccupyWallSt
June 20, 2012
AMC2012: Media Strategies for a More Just & Creative World
14th annual
JUNE 28 - JULY 1, 2012 • DETROIT, MI
The Allied Media Conference advances our visions for a more just and creative world. It is a laboratory for media-based solutions to the problems our communities face. Since our founding in 1999, we have evolved our definition of media, and the role it can play in our lives – from zines to video-blogging to breakdancing, to building radio transmitters and designing open-source software. Each conference builds off the previous one and plants the seeds for the next. Ideas and relationships evolve year-round, incorporating new networks of media-makers, technologists and social justice organizers. We draw strength from our converging movements to face the challenges and opportunities of our current moment. We are ready to create, connect and transform.
Keep reading for more information, or go register now at 
The AMC supports learning of all different kinds and at all different levels. The workshops are hands-on and participatory. Knowledge is passed horizontally rather than from the top down. Everyone teaches and everyone learns. At the AMC, media creation is not only about personal expression, but about transformation – of ourselves and the structures of power around us. We create media that exposes, investigates, resists, heals, builds confidence and radical hope, incites dialogue and debate. We demystify technology, not only learning how to use it, but how to take it apart, fix it and build our own. We do it ourselves and as communities, connecting across geographic and generational boundaries.
The AMC is a network of networks – youth organizations, international solidarity activists, anti-violence organizers, technologists, educators, media reform advocates, community entrepreneurs, musicians and artists, disability activists, and many others – all using media in innovative ways. Some of these networks have sprouted from the conference, grown over the course of the year, then reconvened in Detroit larger and healthier. Others have adopted the AMC as an annual point of convergence and a space to forge new relationships. Through cycles of collaboration, question-asking and experimentation, our networks continue to grow, bringing new analysis, and new tools to the AMC every year.
The deeper our networks grow, the greater our capacity grows to take collective actions to transform our world. We recognize that transformation happens through our everyday movements. At the AMC, we develop new leaders and new forms of leadership, design new methods of problem-solving, cultivate the visions of our communities and build our power to make those visions real. Our strategies for transformation don't begin or end with the three days of the conference. They evolve in our lives and our work throughout the year.
Don't Wait! Register Today at
New York Education Activists To Stage “Night Of The Living Debt”
by OccupyWallSt
June 20, 2012
New York Education Activists to Stage “Night of the Living Debt”
Action meant to raise awareness of out-of-control student debt and prompt nationwide protest
NEW YORK - Relentless tuition hikes, even at public institutions, have contributed to an astonishing student debt burden of more than $1 trillion. Inspired by student movements over the last month in Canada, Mexico, Chile, and across the world, education activists in cities around the U.S. have been organizing rallies and marches to raise awareness about the education crisis in this country. All in the Red, a New York-based activist collective, is declaring this Friday, June 22 to be the “Night of the Living Debt.” At 7 p.m. in Washington Square Park, performance artists/activists Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping will exorcise the demons of student debt, after which costumed zombies will march with pots and pans in hand through the streets of Manhattan, kicking off a summer of nationwide actions.
All in the Red emerged as a series of marches expressing our solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of students striking in Quebec against tuition hikes. Lack of affordable education and suffocating debt are even more glaring in the United States, and similar displays of protest and outrage are becoming increasingly common. All in the Red calls for a nationwide network to spread awareness and organize around the issue of student debt through direct action, political theatre, and spreading the visual imagery of the red square, which has come to symbolize this struggle worldwide.
Along with our colleagues in Occupy Wall Street, student activist organizations, and other public interest groups, we are concerned in particular with the pernicious relationship between education and debt. The predicament is compounded, both by seeming disregard from the government for the welfare of student debtors, despite overwhelming public support for student debt relief -- a petition to forgive student loans recently reached one million signatures -- and also by the predatory practices of financial services firms. We can no longer allow the shackles of debt bondage to be a source of shame. The student debt crisis must be placed at the center of our conversation about the public good.
On the “Night of the Living Debt,” Friday evening, June 22, we will rise from the grave of debt and join the struggle to end the ties that bind our education to a decadent financial system. We will call for a nationwide conversation about how we can transcend an obsolete system that enriches a few by mortgaging the futures of the many.
For additional information, contact
Twitter: @NYCStrike, Facebook: NYC Infinite Strike, Website:
After NATO: From Chicago Spring to Occupy Summer and Beyond
by OccupyWallSt
June 19, 2012
“Occupy might just be the name we’ve put on a great groundswell of popular outrage and a rebirth of civil society too deep, too broad, to be a movement. A movement is an ocean wave: this is the whole tide turning from Cairo to Moscow to Athens to Santiago to Chicago.”
—Rebecca Solnit, February 21, 2012
Article via Toward Freedom
On May 22nd, the day after the NATO summit concluded, the Chicago Tribune’s leading headline read: “Chicago keeps its cool.” Reading these four words at the airport before flying back to the east coast, I couldn’t help but laugh in disgust. Images of police repression from the past week raced through my mind; of unwarranted house raids and arrests, infiltration of activist groups, and violence against protesters in the streets. With the ghost of 1968 occupying the city’s collective consciousness throughout the month of May, NATO certainly could have been worse. But even if it is true that Chicago did not completely devolve into the chaotic melee of the Democratic National Convention over four decades before, suggesting that the militarized “Global Crossroads” managed to “keep its cool” still seemed dishonest.
Standing there in the airport terminal trying to put this whole experience into perspective, I also thought of the dozens of military veterans who courageously returned their medals of honor from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In opposition to NATO policies that have devastated these two countries, each of the veterans took turns hurling these medals toward McCormick Place where the delegates were meeting. Then I thought about the 17 busloads of Occupiers from the east and west coasts who traveled countless hours and miles just to have their voices heard in Chicago. Not all of those who traveled from out of town, though, were able to have their voices heard during the NATO summit; some of whom remain imprisoned to this day. Mostly I was thinking about the current state and trajectory of this movement of movements known as Occupy, which had such a strong presence there all weekend, and throughout the month. I thought about its vast challenges, as well as its unknown, but seemingly infinite possibilities ahead.
Confronting a War of Entrapment
"Now, years later, I still have trouble when I think about Chicago (1968). That week at the Convention changed everything I'd ever taken for granted about this country and my place in it...Every time I tried to tell somebody what happened in Chicago I began crying, and it took me years to understand why...” - Hunter S. Thompson
The first of the challenges for Occupy is the systematic state repression against the movement. From the NYPD’s early crackdown on Occupy Wall Street to the coordinated effort of mayors, along with federal agencies, across the country to contain and dismantle the encampments in the Fall, this has been an obstacle since day one. Since the Spring began, the state has further intensified its level of repression against Occupy.
On May 1st, coverage of the nationwide May Day general strike actions was obscured by an alleged bomb plot by Occupy Cleveland members who were apprehended by the FBI. It has now become clear that this was a case of entrapment and a harbinger of the state’s latest strategy: the manufacture of terrorism charges to demonize and defeat Occupy activists.
“Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies,” Rick Perlstein responded in a Rolling Stone report on ‘How FBI Entrapment Is Inventing Terrorists.’ “The authorities couldn't have more effectively made the Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if they had scripted it. Maybe that's because, more or less, they did.”
Just over two weeks after Cleveland, we saw this tactic employed again in Chicago against the NATO 3. After a late night raid on May 17, Brian Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly were arrested and charged with, “conspiring to commit domestic terrorism during the NATO summit” and “plotting to attack President Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters, the Chicago mayor's home and police stations.” Six other activists arrested in the house raid were eventually released after 48 hours but the NATO 3, who all traveled from out of town, have remained behind bars and are being held on $1.5 million bail.
“We believe these are fabricated charges that are based on police informants and provocateurs,” argued Michael Deutsch of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), representing the NATO 3.
The day before the NATO summit began, Deutsch spoke outside his clients’ hearing at the Circuit Court of Cook County: “This is a common pattern for people protesting. We know there were two police informants who infiltrated the group and we believe they’re the ones who provoked this and they’re the ones who had the illegal activity and the illegal materials. That’s our understanding.”
Despite the tireless efforts of the NLG and others, the charges of foiled “terror” plot, just as in Cleveland on May Day, served to steal the headlines and help the city justify the millions of dollars it allocated for security during the meetings. On Saturday, as protesters geared up for the march against NATO, there was a solidarity march for those arrested in the raid, keeping spirits high.
Longer term, this “ war of entrapment” will prove to be one of the greatest challenges as Occupy moves forward. This “pattern of repression” that Green is the New Red author Will Potter illustrates has been escalating against radical activists in the United States throughout the past decade. This includes the FBI entrapment of activists leading up to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in 2008, in which similar “terrorism” charges were filed against organizers, “later reduced to a misdemeanor,” according to Potter.
As the summer of 2012 approaches and Occupy activists begin gearing up to demonstrate against this election year’s national conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, it will be important to focus on political education around this phenomenon and to remain vigilant. It will also be essential for social movements to support the courageous work of progressive legal groups like the National Lawyers Guild and also independent investigative journalists whose work has helped illuminate this systematic, and illegal, government repression. Movements must also continue to support the people targeted by these tactics, for even as they are released from prison after the evidence against them erodes into fabrication, they will likely remain traumatized by the terror of the state. We cannot leave them behind in this struggle.
Beyond Chicago Spring toward a Global Summer
“Surely the only possible answer to the tired question of where Occupy should go from here is: everywhere. I keep being asked what Occupy should do next, but it’s already doing it. It is everywhere.” —Rebecca Solnit, February 21, 2012
One of the most significant developments of this month in Chicago was the role that Occupy, led by organizers from Occupy Chicago, played in reinvigorating the antiwar movement. The massive march against NATO on May 20th came out of several months of organizing by the Coalition Against NATO/G8 Poverty and War Agenda (CANG8) which include a number of people involved with Occupy. From the initial battle with Mayor Emmanuel’s office earlier in the year to obtain a permit to community outreach and education efforts, CANG8 harnessed the energy and excitement of the 99% Fall uprisings and fulfilled the expectations of a Spring resurgence. These factors made #noNATO an historic national, and even international, protest for peace and justice—the first of its size in the Obama era.
Beyond inspiring and organizing large numbers in the streets throughout the NATO summit, the Chicago Spring effectively drew connections between global poverty and local austerity, bloated military budgets and the decimation of social services. This encouraged Occupy to confront the ways in which militarism and empire relate to economic inequality while reigniting an antiwar movement in this new age of drones and secret kill lists. From the march against the defense contractor Boeing’s Chicago headquarters on May 21st to the protest in front of the Chicago“Mayor 1%’s” house against the city’s closure of health clinics, these connections were made powerfully and articulately.
Beyond Chicago Spring, we can see the ways in which Occupy is giving new life to movements across the Left in the United States. Even the White House’s last minute decision to move the G8 summit, originally planned for Chicago the two days before NATO, to the fortified bunkers of Camp David in Maryland could not stop the mobilization of thousands of Occupiers from across the country and world. Even as corporate media suggest on a daily basis that the movement is dead, the anti-NATO protests were an illustration that the Left has been strengthened by Occupy and, to some degree, unified in a common struggle against the policies and power of the 1%.
You can see this everywhere. From labor and academic conferences called “ Solidarity for the 99%” and “Occupy the System” to nurses rallying against austerity, Occupy has politicized people who have never been active in their lives and also inspired burned out activists to re-engage. It has started conversations that were not possible last summer and injected creativity and relevance to political debate and action. Of course the movement has had many serious internal problems, such as sexual assault and racism during the encampments, and the challenges it faces to stay relevant and effective are innumerable; but everywhere you look people are still occupying in various new ways. Every day in towns and cities all over the “basic message” that Slavoj Žižek identified in his October 2011 speech at Occupy Wall Street is being amplified to the world: “We are allowed to think about alternatives.”
And the tide truly is turning globally. While I was in Chicago a growing student movement in Quebec exploded into the mass revolt now known as the Maple Spring. Beginning in February as a student strike against debt after a proposed tuition increase of 75% was announced, the province has seen an unprecedented social mobilization during the past month in solidarity with the students. Montreal-based artist and activist Norman Nawrocki described it as “something that has never been witnessed here before. Old, young, politicized or not, in Montreal, and outside the metropolis, something is stirring people's minds and hearts. Something big...”
As the government in Quebec attempted to contain the uprising by criminalizing dissent and free speech, even more people have come out into the street for “casserole” marches, banging pots and pans. In solidarity with the striking students, Occupy Wall Street organizers began holding similar marches in New York which has inspired other cities across the U.S. to do the same, addressing the issue of crushing student debt here.
Meanwhile thousands were marching to block the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany’s Blockupy to protest “untamed capitalism” just as students in Chile, demanding free education, and Mexico, against media misrepresentation, were staging their own revolts. This was, and is, happening across the world, including in Egypt where the occupation of Tahrir Square brought down a dictator over a year ago. These latest demonstrations, as Democracy Now! recently reported, were in response to the military-led government’s ongoing corruption, repression, and its failure to bring former Mubarak officials and family members to justice. The Egyptian revolution, along with the Indigados of Spain last May, helped plant some of the seeds of Occupy Wall Street, of our “Tahrir moment.”
So what is in store for these movements in the US and across the world? Is this the dawning of a global summer? That is up to us.
As Rebecca Solnit wrote earlier this year: “What happens now depends on vigorous participation, including yours, in thinking aloud together about who we are, what we want, and how we get there, and then acting upon it. Go occupy the possibilities and don’t stop pedaling.”
Occupy Will Be Back
By Chris Hedges
Posted on Jun 18, 2012
In every conflict, insurgency, uprising and revolution I have covered as a foreign correspondent, the power elite used periods of dormancy, lulls and setbacks to write off the opposition. This is why obituaries for the Occupy movement are in vogue. [Photo by Paul Weiksel, Rights reserved]
And this is why the next groundswell of popular protest—and there will be one—will be labeled as “unexpected,” a “shock” and a “surprise.” The television pundits and talking heads, the columnists and academics who declare the movement dead are as out of touch with reality now as they were on Sept. 17 when New York City’s Zuccotti Park was occupied. Nothing this movement does will ever be seen by them as a success. Nothing it does will ever be good enough. Nothing, short of its dissolution and the funneling of its energy back into the political system, will be considered beneficial.
Those who have the largest megaphones in our corporate state serve the very systems of power we are seeking to topple. They encourage us, whether on Fox or MSNBC, to debate inanities, trivia, gossip or the personal narratives of candidates. They seek to channel legitimate outrage and direct it into the black hole of corporate politics. They spin these silly, useless stories from the “left” or the “right” while ignoring the egregious assault by corporate power on the citizenry, an assault enabled by the Democrats and the Republicans. Don’t waste time watching or listening. They exist to confuse and demoralize you.
The engine of all protest movements rests, finally, not in the hands of the protesters but the ruling class. If the ruling class responds rationally to the grievances and injustices that drive people into the streets, as it did during the New Deal, if it institutes jobs programs for the poor and the young, a prolongation of unemployment benefits (which hundreds of thousands of Americans have just lost), improved Medicare for all, infrastructure projects, a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions, and a forgiveness of student debt, then a mass movement can be diluted. Under a rational ruling class, one that responds to the demands of the citizenry, the energy in the street can be channeled back into the mainstream. But once the system calcifies as a servant of the interests of the corporate elites, as has happened in the United States, formal political power thwarts justice rather than advances it.
Our dying corporate class, corrupt, engorged on obscene profits and indifferent to human suffering, is the guarantee that the mass movement will expand and flourish. No one knows when. No one knows how. The future movement may not resemble Occupy. It may not even bear the name Occupy. But it will come. I have seen this before. And we should use this time to prepare, to educate ourselves about the best ways to fight back, to learn from our mistakes, as many Occupiers are doing in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other cities. There are dark and turbulent days ahead. There are powerful and frightening forces of hate, backed by corporate money, that will seek to hijack public rage and frustration to create a culture of fear. It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.
“We had a very powerful first six months,” Kevin Zeese, one of the original organizers of the Occupy encampment in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., said when I reached him by phone. “We impacted the debate. We impacted policy. We showed people they are not alone. We exposed the unfair economy and our dysfunctional government. We showed people they could have an impact. We showed people they could have power. We let the genie out of the bottle. No one will put it back in.”
The physical eradication of the encampments and efforts by the corporate state to disrupt the movement through surveillance, entrapment, intimidation and infiltration have knocked many off balance. That was the intent. But there continue to be important pockets of resistance. These enclaves will provide fertile ground and direction once mass protests return. It is imperative that, no matter how dispirited we may become, we resist being lured into the dead game of electoral politics.
“The recent election in Wisconsin shows why Occupy should stay out of the elections,” Zeese said. “Many of the people who organized the Wisconsin occupation of the Capitol building became involved in the recall. First, they spent a lot of time and money collecting more than 1 million signatures. Second, they got involved in the primary where the Democrats picked someone who was not very supportive of union rights and who lost to [Gov. Scott] Walker just a couple of years ago. Third, the general election effort was corrupted by billionaire dollars. They lost. Occupy got involved in politics. What did they get? What would they have gotten if they won? They would have gotten a weak, corporate Democrat who in a couple of years would be hated. That would have undermined their credibility and demobilized their movement. Now, they have to restart their resistance movement.
“Would it not have been better if those who organized the occupation of the Capitol continued to organize an independent, mass resistance movement?” Zeese asked. “They already had strong organization in Madison, and in Dane County as well as nearby counties. They could have developed a Montreal-like movement of mass protest that stopped the function of government and built people power. Every time Walker pushed something extreme they could have been out in the streets and in the Legislature disrupting it. They could have organized general and targeted strikes. They would have built their strength. And by the time Walker faced re-election he would have been easily defeated.
“Elections are something that Occupy needs to continue to avoid,” Zeese said. “The Obama-Romney debate is not a discussion of the concerns of the American people. Obama sometimes uses Occupy language, but he puts forth virtually no job creation, nothing to end the wealth divide and no real tax reform. On tax reform, the Buffett rule—that the secretary should pay the same tax rate as the boss—is totally insufficient. We should be debating whether to go back to the Eisenhower tax rates of 91 percent, the Nixon tax rate of 70 percent or the Reagan tax rate of 50 percent for the top income earners—not whether secretaries and CEOs should be taxed at the same rate!”
The Occupy movement is not finally about occupying. It is, as Zeese points out, about shifting power from the 1 percent to the 99 percent. It is a tactic. And tactics evolve and change. The freedom rides, the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, the marches in Birmingham and the Montgomery bus boycott were tactics used in the civil rights movement. And just as the civil rights movement often borrowed tactics used by the old Communist Party, which long fought segregation in the South, the Occupy movement, as Zeese points out, draws on earlier protests against global trade agreements and the worldwide protests over the invasion of Iraq. Each was, like the Occupy movement, a global response. And this is a global movement.
We live in a period of history the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul calls an interregnum, a period when we are enveloped in what he calls “a vacuum of economic thought,” a period when the reigning ideology, although it no longer corresponds to reality, has yet to be replaced with ideas that respond to the crisis engendered by the collapse of globalization. And the formulation of ideas, which are always at first the purview of a small, marginalized minority, is one of the fundamental tasks of the movement. It is as important to think about how we will live and to begin to reconfigure our lives as it is to resist.
Occupy has organized some significant actions, including the May Day protests, the NATO protest in Chicago, an Occupy G8 summit and G-8 protests in Thurmont and Frederick, Md. There are a number of ongoing actions—Occupy Our Homes, Occupy Faith, Occupy the Criminal Justice System, Occupy University, the Occupy Caravan—that protect the embers of revolt. Last week when Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, testified before a U.S. Senate committee, he was confronted by Occupy protesters, including Deborah Harris, who lost her home in a JPMorgan foreclosure. But you will hear little if anything about these actions on cable television or in The Washington Post. Such acts of resistance get covered almost entirely in the alternative media, such as The Occupied Wall Street Journal and the Occupy Page of The Real News.
“Our job is to build pockets of resistance so that when the flash point arrives, people will have a place to go,” Zeese said. “Our job is to stand for transformation, shifting power from concentrated wealth to the people. As long as we keep annunciating and fighting for this, whether we are talking about health care, finance, empire, housing, we will succeed.
“We will only accomplish this by becoming a mass movement,” he said. “It will not work if we become a fringe movement. Mass movements have to be diverse. If you build a movement around one ethnic group, or one class group, it is easier for the power structure and the police to figure out what we will do next. With diversity you get creativity of tactics. And creativity of tactics is critical to our success. With diversity you bring to the movement different histories, different ideas, different identities, different experiences and different forms of nonviolent tactics.
“The object is to shift people from the power structure to our side, whether it is media, business, youth, labor or police,” he went on. “We must break the enforcement structure. In the book ‘Why Civil Resistance Works,’ a review of resistance efforts over the last 100 years, breaking the enforcement structure, which almost always comes through nonviolent civil disobedience, increases your chances of success by 60 percent. We need to divide the police. This is critical. And only a mass movement that is nonviolent and diverse, that draws on all segments of society, has any hope of achieving this. If we can build that, we can win.”
March of Millions Demands “Russia Without Putin”
By Anna Derinova
Friday, 15 June 2012
“Tensions were extremely high, due in large part to the previous day’s police raids on the homes of several prominent activists.”
Moscow’s second March of Millions took place on Tuesday despite two severe storms that struck the capital — one was of meteorological origin, while the other came directly from the Kremlin, in the form of a new and unconstitutional law promising huge fines and penalties for participation in street protests.
Tensions were extremely high, due in large part to the previous day’s police raids on the homes of several prominent activists. Alexey Navalny, Ilya Yashin and Sergey Udaltsov were subpoenaed to the public prosecution office, where all but the left-wing leader Udaltsov — who ignored the order and joined his supporters in the streets — were detained for the entire day of the march.
By early morning, Moscow seemed to be on the brink of war, with its streets occupied by police vans crammed full of anti-riot squads. The Russian government gathered about 12,000 police to follow the march. The officers, ironically, were required to wear ceremonial white uniforms — the same color as the protest movement — because June 12 was also a national holiday, Russia Day, celebrating the nation’s independence from the Soviet Union.
The situation looked ominous until hundreds of people with flags, banners and placards began flowing through the center of the city, from Pushkin Square to Akademika Sakharova Avenue — named after the famed Russian Nobel laureate and Cold War dissident Andrei Sakharov. Within 50 minutes, 10,000 to 20,000 participants were reportedly on the streets. “We are here because irresponsibility is unlikely to help our children,” stated an elderly woman whose discontent with the government had spurred her to take action.
Even without key leaders like Yashin and Navalny, the level of organization and consolidation among the more than 100,000 people who eventually joined the march marked a step forward for the protest movement. Such mutual respect and commitment to cooperation were not as present in previous rallies, where participants divided themselves along several lines: education (teachers, professors, students and pupils), left-wing politics (Solidarnost, the Left Front, nationalists, anarchists), right-wing politics, LGBT, etc. Despite such a variety of movements and ideologies, no clashes, strikes or provocations took place this time. As one protester noted, “Sometimes there is no use forcing [conflict] when there is nowhere to force. Talking and listening is enough.”
There was no need even to remind people of theneed for mutual respect and tolerance. Remarkably, the police batons and water cannons were left untouched. Various opposition social and political analysts pointed out some artificiality in such behavior from both sides, characterizing the studied politeness as a reaction to the show of muscle, imprudence and harsh government repression undertaken during the first March of Millions.
Nevertheless, the protesters managed to express their demands. Opposition activist Evgenia Chirikova, renowned for leading the fight to save Moscow’s Khimki Forest, read aloud the movement’s newly adopted manifesto, which includes a call for a new law for more transparent parliamentary elections (as well as a new round of parliamentary elections in turn), a new Russian Constitution limiting presidential powers, a finite limit to the presidential term of either one six-year term or two four-year terms, more authority given to the Members of Parliament, laws that allow for local self-government and direct governors’ elections, as well as reforms in the court and law-enforcement systems. The manifesto also emphasized a relatively high level of public opposition to the state stemming from the gap in standards of living. “As a peaceful mass we have a legal constitutionally bestowed right to protest against the rotten regime and for social as well as political changes,” concluded Chirikova.
Despite the relative calm and hopeful tone of the day’s events, it should be noted that many Russian independent and opposition publications including Dozhd Channel, Novaya Gazeta and Echo Moskvi reported distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against their websites on June 12. Russian authorities are notoriously well-known for using these attacks as an instrument of pressure or blocking access to anti-government information. While independent media was inundated with DDoS, protesters had to rely heavily on social media to coordinate and share their experiences — even as hundreds of people on the government payroll, known as “Putin’s bots,” were allegedly trolling the Twitter hashtag #June12.
Whether this had any effect on the day’s events is unclear, at least judging from the surprisingly large turnout. By early evening, as the heavy rains set in, the crowd started to disperse while chanting “Russia without Putin,” as if aspiring to make a final point and manifest their demands as decisively as possible. A few persistent protestors decided to brave the elements and stick around for the planned rock concert, which was billed as “true rock for fair elections.”
While the late-night festivities were more or less a washout, it is clear that the day’s opening act — a hundred thousand people in the streets of Moscow — rocked the regime with an unexpectedly civil showing of mass protest and police restraint.
Hard work has failed us
If we are the 99 percent, why is Mr. 1 Percent within reach of the presidency? American meritocracy hasn't worked
by Joan Walsh
14 June 2012
Even before Occupy Wall Street made “We are the 99 percent” the slogan for post-financial meltdown America, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz grabbed the attention (of elites, anyway) with his provocatively headlined “Of the top 1 percent, by the top 1 percent, for the top 1 percent” Vanity Fair piece last March. It laid out not only the details of how the uber-rich had consolidated American wealth at the very top of society, but something more important and disturbing – how they had consolidated political power, which in turn continuously protected and even expanded their share of the pie. They managed to upend government “of, by and for the people.”
Thanks to OWS and the work of writers like Stiglitz, 2012 was supposed to be the year America rediscovered and tackled economic inequality. Time magazine closed 2011 by naming OWS its top story of the year, a pretty big honor for a movement that only revved up in the year’s final quarter. But that’s how much its “We are the 99 percent” framing seemed to change the political debate. Suddenly cable news shows and myriad publications that had been obsessing over the deficit and President Obama’s latest poll numbers began publishing data about the way that 1 percent had at least doubled its share of the nation’s income and wealth over the last 30 years, to proportions not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. As the GOP primaries ramped up, it seemed beyond good luck that Obama would get to run head to head against Mitt Romney, whose vast wealth, Bain Capital “vulture capitalism” career (as derided by Republican Rick Perry) and 13.9 percent tax rate made him the poster boy for the top 1 percent.
Yet Mr. 1 Percent is barely trailing Obama nationally, and he leads in a few recent swing state polls. On the question of who would better handle the struggling economy, voters give Romney marginally higher marks. What happened? In his new book “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future,” Stiglitz provides a partial answer. The Nation and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes comes at it from a different direction in “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.” The two books don’t explain everything, but they make you think in new ways about why we tolerate such vast and growing income inequality.
Paradoxically, Hayes blames the American ideal of meritocracy for our accelerating inequality. Meritocracy, of course, is supposed to be the opposite of and the antidote to aristocracy, and is often heralded as making America the land of opportunity that most people still believe it is. Yet Hayes lays out the ways it leads to a sclerotic stifling of economic mobility and equality nonetheless. For one thing, our ideal of meritocracy leads us to almost fetishize wealth and achievement, since we’re invested in believing it was earned, not inherited, and that we too may someday share it if we work hard (and get smart) enough. It’s also led us to be too trusting of elites, who’ve failed us on almost every level. Hayes takes an eclectic tour of America’s 21st century Elite Hall of Shame, from the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, the banking crash to Major League Baseball’s steroid debacle, showing how our faith in meritocracy and the leaders it produces let elites run unchecked and nearly run our society into the ground. (One nagging quibble: The Catholic Church is anything but meritocratic, and as despicable as its handling of predator priests was, I wasn’t always sure it fit the narrative.)
But Hayes identifies three problems with meritocracy that are convincing. First, it isn’t genuine meritocracy; it’s easily and almost inevitably subverted. Second, it provides an intellectual and moral justification for skewing rewards to the very top. And finally, even as it provides a pathway to the top for a comparative handful of standouts from the working and middle classes as well as racial minorities, it winds up channeling those folks into supporting the inequitable status quo when their efforts might otherwise go toward subverting it. It’s no accident that Barack Obama may be our meritocracy’s “crowning glory,” in Hayes’ words. An early progressive Obama supporter, Hayes isn’t tackling the question of Obama’s achievements and disappointments directly, but the book can be read as an extended meditation on why the great hope and change revolution of 2008 has so far left the inequitable status quo a little bit too intact.
Maybe Mr. Meritocracy vs. Mr. 1 Percent isn’t as stark a contest as we liberals like to think it is.
Hayes isn’t some naive leveler; he doesn’t think we should choose heart surgeons, airline pilots or presidents by lottery, or completely detach reward from effort and talent. He’s asking us to question the superstructure of belief and prejudice that lets too many Americans believe that the supposedly meritocratic status quo is the best of all possible worlds, the fairest (albeit flawed) way to distribute rewards.
“Twilight of the Elites” zeroes in on the elite New York public school Hayes attended, Hunter College High School, to show the way our trust in meritocracy lets us tolerate increasing inequity. Once a genuine stepping-stone for a broad range of smart kids from the city’s working class to better opportunities, providing equal access to all depending on how they scored on a single test, Hunter is now almost exclusively white and Asian. Yet its lack of racial diversity is dismissed by many as the lamentable but immutable byproduct of social forces beyond Hunter’s reach, mainly poverty and systemic historic discrimination. While Hunter still provides immigrant and non-affluent kids with a boost, Hayes also shows the way the semi-privileged and truly privileged game the system, with expensive test prep classes and other supports that are typical of the way in “meritocratic” America the rich always get richer.
Hunter, of course, isn’t the worst example of the way the wealthy concentrate their wealth and privilege by any stretch, but its meritocratic ideals help us see those ideals’ shortcomings. In a genuine meritocracy, a scrappy poor kid might move from Hunter to Harvard Business School and attain enviable wealth and power. But that wouldn’t be guaranteed to his children: One might reach Harvard, another a decent state school; the ne’er-do-well who slacked off and sold drugs might wind up in jail. In America today all three of that Harvard grad’s kids have a better than average shot at the Ivy League, and the ne’er-do-well might turn out to be a fantastic investment banker – or at worst, move from one cushy rehab facility to another. The wealthy have safety nets the poor can only dream of. Even the beneficiaries of meritocracy, once they get to the top, work to protect their status.
“Twilight of the Elites” and “The Price of Inequality” are fascinating counterpoints to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010,” which likewise details the concentration of educational privilege among American elites. But while Murray believes that sorting is a genetic imperative, and blames the immiseration of the white “lower class” on its moral failings – they just don’t get married and work hard like their forebears did! – Hayes blames meritocracy itself for providing the justification for that inequality. And where Murray insists the rich are rightly rewarded for their harder work, impeccable morality and superior IQ, Stiglitz shows how they’ve rigged the game to create greater incentives for their own achievements as well as fewer for the rest of us.
“The Price of Inequality” is a primer on how the political power of the super-rich makes them richer. Stiglitz goes into great detail about “rent-seeking,” the government-enabled extraction of money by the rich from the lower classes or the larger society, which has allowed the financial sector to gobble up a bigger share of American wealth without expanding the pie. He details the privileging of that sector, by both political parties, with lower tax rates on investment income and greater protection for bankers than consumers. Like Hayes, he forces us to question things many people take for granted — Why can’t mortgages or student loans be reduced in bankruptcy proceedings? – and shows how bankruptcy “reform” encouraged predatory lending by protecting lenders from the consequences of extending credit to people who clearly couldn’t afford it. Hayes and Stiglitz show how 21st century America protects those at the top while meting out ever more punishing, permanent consequences to those at the bottom.
Both authors note with alarm the share of wealth going to the financial sector — before the crash, it took in 40 percent of all American corporate profits – as well as the share of graduates from the best American universities. The obscene rewards at the top are drawing America’s top intellectual achievers into the financial sector rather than into pursuits that might revive rather than further deplete the American economy. As Hayes surveys corporate ethnography, he finds the word “meritocratic” and “meritocracy” used to describe kleptocracies from Enron to Wall Street, often in contrast to the “paternalistic” corporate leadership and ethos that ruled American business a generation ago.
Both books also highlight the way the social distance between the rich and the rest of us is vast and growing, and in turn prevents the kinds of political change that might reverse these trends; in fact, it encourages the opposite. Despite its concentrated pockets of (mainly African American) poverty, Washington, D.C. happens to be one of our wealthiest cities, with among the highest per capita income and the lowest unemployment rate. That has to help explain the lack of urgency to solve these problems, even among some Democrats and think-tank liberals. Meanwhile, with rewards so skewed to those at the top, they work ever harder – and especially since they can work from their iPad at their weekend home, or on their yearly jaunt to Davos, they don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t labor 24/7 too. (Of course you can’t rebuild a sewer line, security-screen an airline passenger or teach kindergarten from the comfort of your home and iPad, and the strain of the jobs held by the non-elites helps explain why they may look forward to retiring at 65, rather than the youthful 70 their betters believe would be better for them.)
Still, neither Hayes nor Stiglitz entirely explain the psychological and political forces that have caused either meritocracy or American democracy generally to result in such a brutal redistribution of riches to folks at the very top, while consigning a growing number of Americans either to poverty or the brink of it. Hayes finds that polls show Americans believe we’re a much more equal society than we are – the concentration of wealth data popularized in the last year hasn’t reached mass consciousness yet – which he takes to mean that we value equality and would support efforts to achieve it. Polls likewise show that Americans support much higher tax rates than we have currently, and greater restrictions on Wall Street. Yet those tax rates and tough, equitable Wall Street regulations continue to elude us. As I write, JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon is instructing a Congressional subcommittee on the way the Dodd-Frank act should have been written, even though he was called there to testify about Chase’s latest $2 billion loss due to a bet – excuse me, a hedge – gone bad. Why is it so hard to bring about the political change that would reverse these troubling and corrosive trends?
Hayes touches on, but doesn’t quite dive into, the trickiest question of all: The way the principle and practice of meritocracy divides liberals and the left, too.
The cult of meritocracy that emerged in the mid-20th century was an antidote not merely to aristocracy or inherited wealth, but to government patronage and widespread public and private corruption. The rise of the civil service, conditioning public sector jobs on either test results or performance, was a well-intended effort to wrest control of those jobs from politicians.
Similarly, public sector unions, now despised as the corrupt protectors of slackers and moochers, were to some extent a product of meritocracy, an attempt to protect public workers from reprisals based on politics not job performance. In New York, civil service tests and union backing helped Jewish teachers break the monopoly the Irish once had on the public schools. As police and fire departments also succumbed to civil service reform, they found ways to use testing to shield those brotherhoods from outsiders, proving that the impulse to protect what we have isn’t merely the vice of the rapacious rich.
And yet Tammany pols and urban machine leaders understood something meritocrats missed: Most people want to work to live, but they don’t want to live to work, and subjecting everyone to continuous vetting and evaluation seemed the obsession of good-government blue-bloods. Also: desperately poor people can be dangerous, and thus fear of the immigrant rabble led urban machines to find ways to employ them. Somehow the political consensus that emerged from the Great Depression found ways to balance the ideals of merit, opportunity and inclusion. The New Deal labor protections that helped build the middle class sheltered workers from the ruthless prerogatives of capitalism and its bottom line. Labor unions, generally, protected not the labor force superstar but the average Joe (and later Jane), in the name of providing the broadest possible economic security to the greatest number.
After the war, a wave of public spending built the middle class in two ways simultaneously: providing subsidies (or tax credits) for education, housing and health care, while also employing people – teachers and social workers, construction workers and police officers – to help provide those opportunities. The post-war military-industrial complex as well as the welfare state also served as a vast employment program, overseen by private sector and later public sector unions, in which we tolerated some inefficiency in the name of shared prosperity.
Paradoxically, meritocracy helped women, African Americans, immigrants and other excluded folks rise, and yet our drive for greater fairness and inclusion contributed to eroding support for that post-war superstructure of economic security and upward mobility. Continuing to open up more opportunities to those who were excluded, particularly African Americans, turned out to be divisive, even on the left. To take one example: In Hayes’s New York City in the late 60s, both affirmative action and the notion of “community control” of public schools exploded in a wave of teachers’ strikes that heralded our ongoing battles over education reform. Teachers’ unions, which once were a symbol of meritocracy, came to stand for its opposite: cronyism and protecting the incompetent. They’re even seen by some as a barrier to meritocracy, preventing generations of poor and particularly African American kids from rising the way earlier generations of low-income folks did.
I digress there neither to defend or attack teachers’ unions, but to say: in the 60s, the forces of social justice divided on the best way to attack inequality and exclusion, and in the end settled on the one principle everyone seemed to be able to agree about: equal opportunity. Yet our battle to fairly apportion jobs and services quickly became a zero sum game. “Meritocracy” came to mean including a growing but still small number of the formerly excluded – African Americans, women, some of the multiracial working class – in the upper echelons of American society, where they became advocates for the status quo. Barack Obama is meritocracy’s “crowning glory,” Hayes writes, and he in turn demonstrates its possibilities – and its limits. How can he – and we – move us to a new phase of true opportunity and greater equality?
Neither Hayes nor Stiglitz quite provides an answer. We’re in a moment when books conceived years ago but finished as Occupy Wall Street emerged are beginning to enter bookstores. (I’m uniquely sensitive to this timing as I go over my own galleys.) Both Hayes and Stiglitz nod appreciatively to OWS as one way Americans might finally fight back against growing inequality. Hayes is more optimistic about it, making a good-faith effort to link OWS to Tea Party insurgents to show that discontent with our rigged and unequal system is not necessarily a question of left vs. right. I admire his open-mindedness, but given the way Tea Party energy has been harnessed by the Republican Party on the right, I’m not as sanguine about the possibility of left-right collaborative insurgence.
On the left, meanwhile, OWS has emerged as increasingly hostile to the Democratic Party, a hostility Hayes neither justifies nor criticizes but accepts as reality. He identifies a divide on the left between “institutionalists” and “insurrectionists” that made me realize I’m a hidebound “institutionalist,” committed to pulling the Democratic Party back to its foundation in fairness and social justice, rather than tearing it down. But I recognize, as Hayes does, that the party’s increasing subservience to Wall Street and the wealthy over the last 25 years makes it an increasingly unlikely vehicle for transformative social and economic change.
I see a profound difference between the values and priorities of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but if some struggling Americans can’t, I’m not always sure I can blame them. Our Democratic president hasn’t done enough to chart the way out of the economic hole into which our supposedly meritocratic elites and both parties have plunged us. I like Obama, but I’ve always gotten why working class folks may not (and it’s not always their racism): he does exude the confidence of a man convinced that meritocracy indeed prevails and the system mainly works: it elevated him and his top deputies to the Ivy League and then the highest reaches of government, didn’t it?
I interviewed Stiglitz at the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley Tuesday night (the podcast is here), and after we’d detailed the many problems caused by inequality, he pronounced himself optimistic that we can find our way to a new era of leveling it. We did it before, he noted, after the Gilded Age, and then again after the Great Depression; we can do it again. Likewise, Hayes thinks Americans need to remember they have the power to upend the towering status quo: “We’ve been looking at the tower for so long we forget it’s made of blocks; we forget it can be put back together in a different way.” We still don’t know when that rebuilding will begin, but questioning whether our cherished ideals about creating a fair society in fact thwart it is an important first step.
The Pinkertons Head to Occupy Wall Street
Steve Horn
Nationofchange/News Analysis
Monday 21 May 2012
“Banks are preparing for Occupy demonstrations at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Chicago summit on May 20 and 21 by sharing information from video surveillance, robots and officers in buildings.”
On April 25, roughly a week before the Occupy movement’s May 1 general strike action, Bloomberg News reported that the big banks and other Wall Street firms had hired a private security firm named Securitas AB to track down activist “wolves” deemed a “business disruption” on Occupy’s May Day action, as well as during the upcoming NATO Summit protests in Chicago.
“The world’s biggest banks are working with one another and police to gather intelligence as protesters try to rejuvenate the Occupy Wall Street movement with May demonstrations,” explained Bloomberg. “Banks are preparing for Occupy demonstrations at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Chicago summit on May 20 and 21 by sharing information from video surveillance, robots and officers in buildings.”
Securitas AB is a Sweden-based firm with a subsidiary named Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, which was once Pinkerton National Detective Agency — the famed strikebreakers and union-busters behind such historical labor events as the Haymarket Affair of 1886, the Homestead Strike of 1892 and the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
Since its formation in 1852, Pinkerton has been one of the go-to bodyguards and detectives of the 1-percent. So, perhaps it is only appropriate that they have resurfaced in the attempt to co-opt and repress the Occupy movement.
Today, Pinkerton is a private sector espionage firm, with services including general surveillance, cybersurveillance, executive protection, event management, crisis management and undercover operations. Its modus operandi has stood the test of time: divide and conquer burgeoning democratic movements.
Soft Line vs. Hard Line Repression
An appropriate conceptual lens through which to view Pinkerton is that of the military’s ”counterinsurgency warfare” doctrine. Think of activists as the insurgents whose “hearts and minds” need to be won over first via “soft line repression,” and if that fails, then via “hard line repression,” or some combination thereof.
Soft Line Repression, writes Luis Fernandez, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University, “includes less direct modes of oppression, such as the control of dissent through the legal regulation of physical space.”
The premier example of Soft Line Repression in-action came in the form of Occupy having its central organizing space, Zuccotti Park, cleared out by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in November 2011. Other examples include the general process activists must go through to apply for permits to protest, the many rules and regulations for protesters demonstrating outside of the Chicago NATO Summit and Wisconsin activists being cleared out of the State Capitol Building last year in Madison, WI during the protests against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill.
Hard Line Repression, on the other hand, Fernandez explains is an array of “tactics used by such groups as the FBI to directly undermine and abolish radical movements.” Good examples include the use of tear gas on, arrests of, and spying on Occupy activists.
Because Occupy has remained steadfast in its commitment to nonviolence -- legal or illegal -- from multiple angles, “hard line repression” has become more of a key tool for the 1-percent and its protectors than “soft line repression,” which has failed to deter Occupy up until now.
As Fernandez explained in an interview with Waging Nonviolence, “You should think of hard line vs. soft line repression as a matter of function, not a one or the other type of thing...Hard or soft line repression will occur based on a calculation of what makes the most sense at any given time. You should think of it as a continuum of control or a bag of tools and you’re going to pull that bag of tools at certain times to do certain things.”
Undermining the “Pillars of Support”
Specific prescriptions about exactly what to do are best left on a case-by-case, goal-by-goal basis for those on the ground in Occupy encampments nationwide, of course, but there are a few important things to bear in mind.
Pinkerton and private security firms are effectively a key “pillar of support” to economic elites, a concept coined by Albert Einstein Institution scholar Robert Helvey in a 2004 essay. Other key pillars of support include NGOs, the media, politicians and schools.
Once the pillars are removed, the “table” on which they stand will collapse. That, in turn, is when radical change becomes not only plausible, but inevitable. As Helvey explains, “When important pillars of support are sufficiently undermined, the government, or the opposition, collapses just as a building will collapse upon itself when its support structure is weakened and gives way.”
The question with regards to private security firms like PInkerton, then, is how does a movement undermine this key “pillar of support”? Any social movement steeped in the tradition of strategic nonviolent direct action would be well-advised to learn how Pinkerton and allied groups function for the purpose of developing a strategy to undermine them.
The key here, it seems, is dreaming up a strategy that convinces the Pinkertons of the world to put down the nightsticks, tear gas canisters,and other arms and join the 99-percent.
“If you like at Egypt, when does the Egyptian dictatorship fall? It’s when the military puts down arms and refuses to attack its own people. So, if you think of the Pinkertons, boy if you can get them to agree to stop attacking you, then we’re done,” said Fernandez. “Sometimes, we think we have to fight them, but if we can get them on our side, then I think half the battle is done. The problem is that it’s so hard to get there.”
Also See:
What's with the "Occupy Wall Street" Crowd?
(Part 1)
07 October 2011
(Part 2)
01 November 2011
(Part 3)
02 December 2011