In the streets of Manhattan, during a weekend in late September, the faces of steel and concrete behemoths staring down at me, I quickly weaved my way through stopped cars. I moved with several thousand others. A collective elation filled the air, surrounding us as we sped forward. Cars honked in support, cab drivers flashed peace signs. Our signs read, “I can’t afford a lobbyist,” and, “We are the 99 percent.” We chanted, “How do you end the deficit? End the wars, tax the rich,” and, “Whose streets? Our streets!” And with genuine surprise and delight I knew, I saw, I felt that we really had taken – for that moment of that day – these streets in New York City.
That day in late September I was among the participants in one of Occupy Wall Street’s early marches. It was the first I know of during which, even with an absurdly large police presence, we walked and ran and danced off from the sidewalks onto the streets. Now, after being apprehended in a mass arrest later that day and sleeping on Wall Street and organizing at my college and watching hundreds of camps get evicted and truly feeling and knowing and acting on solidarity, everyone is wondering where the Occupy movement will go from here. As just a single person in the infinitely large mosaic of people and ideas and creations and action that makes up the movement, of course I can’t answer that anywhere close to fully. But there exists an undeniable reality of heightened awareness and vocalization among the American public of one issue which affects everyone here and all people around the world: the seizure of political and economic power by a tiny elite.
This will be the most important issue in the upcoming presidential election. It will be the most important issue of this generation. It is the most important issue currently facing humanity, precisely because it is not just another “issue.” There is no place where a separation can be made between the top-heavy accumulation of power in our society and industry’s destruction of the environment or poverty in the United States and abroad or immigration or unemployment. When several hundred people control as much of the resources and political representation of a nation as several hundred million, decisions in places ranging from the boardroom to local government to the White House to the classroom to the police department will inevitably favor that small, powerful group. Nearly every decision a president must make is affected by this corporate hijacking of our society. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Ron Paul or Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or whoever in office, they will all face incredible pressure at every turn from powerful interests pushing them to make decisions not for the public good, but for the good of the profits of corporations, profits which will undoubtedly go into the pockets of executives rather than workers.
How will each of these candidates react to the opposing forces of calcification of corporate, wealth-driven power and organized popular resistance to the gutting of American society? As more people wake up and react to their position in the eyes of an increasingly powerful elite as disposable units in the globalized capitalist machine, how will presidential candidates react to being part of this dynamic which is so much greater than any one of them? Popular opposition to a top-down society is already influencing the presidential election.
Barack Obama’s rhetoric certainly has a populist tone to it these days, but words are cheap. At the same time that he invoked Teddy Roosevelt, Obama sought to undermine Social Security, one of the fundamental social safety net programs in this country. Ron Paul and the newly Libertarian Gary Johnson, on the other hand, provide adequate solutions to some of the symptoms of this greater problem. Both are opposed to the race-driven drug war and the military-industrial complex and the empire which sustains it. They are even opposed to our modern “crony capitalism,” and in my eyes they are certainly better choices than any of the offerings of the major parties, yet their libertarian ideologies encourage corporate greed and power in some nasty ways. Actual solutions, or at least the first steps toward actual solutions, to our systematic socioeconomic inequality are present in the campaigns of the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson. Stein’s campaign is centered on the idea of a “Green New Deal,” providing employment and a fair, democratic redistribution of wealth while jump-starting American environmental efforts. Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, recently formed the Justice Party and the central theme of his candidacy is, in his words, “to change the system and get the corrupting influence of corporate and other concentrated wealth out of our electoral system and out of our system of governance.”
It is truly exciting to see candidates so adamantly opposed to the corrupt status quo. Yet no single candidacy and no single presidency and no government at all can sufficiently address this issue of power and wealth inequality. I’m coming to believe that the only way to work out all of these problems is the messy, exhausting, unpolished democratic processes we’ve seen at work in the Occupy movement. As they continue to flourish in the various situations where they’ve been tried so far, ideas will grow into organizing which will bloom into action which will ripen into sustained democratic solutions to our problems. And as those continue, as they affect many people in countless places, the seeds of new ideas to sustain and reinvigorate this process when it falters will be planted. At Liberty Plaza in Manhattan, as well as in many other cities, food and information distribution systems were designed and implemented in a highly democratic fashion as they were needed. Similar systems were established so that the Occupy community could use monetary and other resources, and consensus-based general assemblies are used to plan actions and make innumerable other decisions. Any person who so desires can address an assembly, and anyone who feels it necessary can block a group decision. It is a radical experiment in democracy and empowerment of the majority, rather than an elite few. The spirit of collective will and mutual responsibility and communal fulfillment embodied in this process offers more hope in the face of a bleak future dominated by globalized corporate power, war, and ecological collapse than any candidate ever could.
This blog entry is part of a scholarship contest: “This is an official blog entry for the YourLocalSecurity.com Blogging Scholarship. If selected, I’ll receive $1000 towards my college expenses in 2012. This scholarship is sponsored by YourLocalSecurity.com“