Occupy Spring

I have a two hour break between Occupy Wall Street meetings (OWS) on what’s turned out to be yet another beautiful Spring day here in New York City, and I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. I realize that from the outside it may not be clear what’s going on. Where are our demands? What are we doing? And people certainly aren’t going to get any positive information about this movement from the mainstream media, so it’s up to people like me to get our story out in that small but fragmented way, to remind people that this movement is alive and well.

We just had our fourth Occupy Town Square (OTS) on Sunday. It also marked the first time that OTS had made it’s way outside of the borough of Manhattan. It was held at the lovely Forte Greene Park in Brooklyn. We had a wide array of local organizations, like Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) the Brooklyn Green Party, Health Care for the 99% and lots more. There were the usual array of teach-ins. C. T. Butler, co-founder of Food not Bombs, did a teach-in on Consensus. And the People’s Library was there with plenty of free books and literature for curious minds. Meanwhile the People’s Kitchen kept everybody fed. We even had a special appearance by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. You can get a glimpse of OTS in the video I put together above. All in all it was a beautiful day with stimulating conversations, teach-ins, skill shares, and lots of singing and dancing.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Spring is here and there are a ton of amazing projects underway. It seems like just about everywhere I go now I end up stumbling upon some great group of people planning something amazing. I was actually coming to Union Square today for a meeting with the bike coalition and ended up stumbling upon some of my favorite media people cooking up ways to create some amazing videos.

It’s simply breathtaking how quickly new projects and ideas take form and come to life. The horizontal, directly democratic nature of OWS is at the heart of why this is such a dynamic movement, but you really can’t see that from the outside. But rest assured, the NYPD haven’t broken our spirits. Spring is here.

Join us on May Day when we show the 1% what a day without the 99% looks like.

NYPD attacks Occupy Wall Street

Saturday March 17th marked the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. It was a beautiful and joyous day despite a dozen or more arrests for crimes like laying down and dancing. Despite the heavy police presence spirits were. That evening we had a great General Assembly with hundreds present, using two waves of the People’s Mic to make sure everyone could hear what was being discussed. We reached consensus to sign a petition to urge the attorney general to investigate the NYPD’s spying on Muslims in New York City.

It was a beautiful evening with lots of smiles and laughter. The drum circle was doing it’s thing. There were lots of hugs and shouts of, “Happy anniversary.” We had some amazing break out groups regarding what we hope to see during May Day; what we hope to accomplish. It was a beautiful moment in a movement with lots of ups and downs over the past six months.

Around 10:00pm, Michael Moore showed up with a huge contingent of folks who had marched over from Left Forum. The numbers at the park probably surged over a thousand people. People chanted and sang. Banners were erected. Blankets were brought. The mood continued to be joyous and peaceful.

At some point past 11:00pm the NYPD claimed some of the ridiculous park rules Brookfield has made up were being broken. Rules, like, no laying down in a public park. Or even better: No setting you personal property down on the floor. Rules that any sane person would laugh at. And so this is the context given to set the NYPD loose upon unarmed, peaceful people. You can watch an interview I conducted by clicking here.

The NYPD reall seemed to ratchet up the violence, particularly against women. Cecily McMillan, a 23-year-old graduate student at the New School was savagely beaten unconscious by the NYPD and then denied medical care for nearly 20 minutes. When they finally took her to the hospital they wouldn’t let her family or her lawyer see her.

By Monday afternoon the everyone who had been arrested on M17 (March 17th) was released. Dozens of supporters stayed on jail support for hours on end to make sure that when those folks got out they would be greeted with hugs, food, and lots of love and attention. Some of the arresttees talked about how wonderful it was to hear people outside chanting, knowing they weren’t alone in this.

Everyone that came out of the Tombs had similar stories of violence and threats. Threats for not submitting to iris scans, which are voluntary. Threats that if you keep protesting we’re going to beat you worst next time. The NYPD only knows violence. And it’s evident that it can’t quite figure out why that’s not working, but rest assured it’s only making us stronger. And I’ll leave you with one of my favorite chants, one we chanted as folks were coming out of the Tombs today:

1. We are the People

2. We are united.

3. This Occupation is not leaving.

Occupy Wall Street. Open Spaces

OWS Open Space Commons

I finally made it to my first Open Space event. What a breath of fresh air. In recent weeks we have reduced the number of decision-making meetings and opened up space for different types of meetings/events, like Open Spaces where we foster dialogue rather than focus on making any decisions. This was only the third Open Space event we’ve had so far but it was really great, well attended and definitely renewed my love for Occupy Wall Street and the community we are building.

For a long time after the eviction people were left without a place to soapbox and have dialogue with each other. Most of the meetings being held tended to focus on decision-making and were process driven. And this often manifested itself in the form of people speaking out of process in order to be heard about something they felt passionate about. Open Spaces provides a great venue for this.

The night started out with people able to post anything they wanted to talk about. You could post a brief description to the wall and let people know where you would be. For instance, one talk I attended was on our monetary system in section A (basically a group of chairs in a circle.) So the room was divided into little circles with each having some interesting discussion. You could stay as long or as short as you like. Some people just floated around the room from one discussion after another. Others kind of stuck it out in a handful of conversations. Each has their merit and it was interesting to hear people’s responses when we wrapped up.

As the conversation about our monetary system wrapped up I happily stumbled upon a discussion on Anarchism! There were probably about a half-dozen or more conversations going on on a variety of topics. During the conversations we had giant sheets of paper to write down our thoughts and observations that we could later share with the group.

What’s always blown me away about our Occupy community is that people really want to listen. During the occupation of Liberty Square I could sit at our labor table and just marvel at the amazing, intense, and very deep conversations happening all around me. And that beautiful spirit was very much alive at Open Space where people listened just as passionately as they spoke.

At the conclusion of the night we came together and shared what we took away from the night. One after another our beautiful community shared some nugget of insight with heartfelt sincerity. When it came to me I said, “I’m filled with grattitude for being here with all of you and I’m taking with me the importance of having space like this to dialogue with each other so that we can continue to learn and grow.”

War may be good for the economy but isn’t for democracy

Stuart Bramhall on the US war-based economy and the collapse of genuine democracy.

It only became clear once I left the US the immense sacrifices Americans make for their cheap gasoline and consumer goods. The most obvious is a range of domestic programs that other developed countries take for granted. These include publicly financed universal health care and a range of education, jobs and social programs enacted under Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, which have long since vanished. With the current War on Terror on eight fronts, even state and local tax funding sources are being diverted to military spending. In state after state there is no money to repair badly decrepit roads and bridges or provide adequate street lighting and policing. While dozens of clinics, libraries and homeless shelters shut their doors and teachers, cops and other state and local employees get laid off.

Yet the war machine rolls on and already wealthy banksters get billions more shoveled to them by the government. All this may change when, as seems likely probable, food and consumer goods continue their steady rise in price. After all, rising prices were a major triggering factor for the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Unlike the majority of industrialized countries, the US doesn’t employ a “one-man-one-vote” system of representational democracy. The only hope our Constitutional framers had of enacting their pro-business, pro-military agenda was to establish two branches of government (the Senate and Presidency) that wouldn’t be chosen by direct popular vote, in order to block populist legislation enacted by the democratically elected House of Representatives

After 8½ years experience with New Zealand’s, parliamentary democracy, I have absolutely no doubt that it’s far more democratic than the US system

While I’m not sure how the Senate isn’t elected by popular vote, the president is not. The bizarre U.S. Electoral College seems designed to allow elites to overrule the public if so desired. Parliamentary governments are indeed vastly more democractic and allow for genuine opposition parties to thrive and flourish, something our founding fathers didn’t seem real interested in.

Minority of the Opulent

When one is attempting to explain our very anti-democratic electoral college to someone from outside the US, there is usually a strong desire to explain it away, to claim it is a safeguard on Democracy. We are told it is to protect minorities. As DJ said in an earlier comment thread:

“The very premise of democracy is respect for minority opinions, especially when those opinions are concentrated in geographic regions.”

Anyone serious about democracy would agree that protection for minorities is crucial. But when thinking of this we must consider what minority is protected. Our nation, according to James Madison,  at the Constitutional convention,  should “be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” When you consider American history it is this minority that has been protected. It is for this minority that we attack and invade other nations to open up new markets to their capital. It is for this minority that we maintain military bases across the planet in nearly every single nation for the sole purpose of protecting this minorities interests. When workers strike or take other actions to protect their interests, the police step in on the side of the owning class to protect them. The constitution was not set up to protect an abstract minority. It was set up to protect the minority of the opulent. That basic thrust has not changed much over the past 235 years.

In the Federalist Paper #10 James Madison makes his argument for protecting against democracy. He tells us all the innumerable ways that we fall into factions: religious differences, different leaders, race, just about anything really. Our propensity toward falling into different factions is an innate part of our human nature, he claims. Madison goes on to explain:

So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society (emphasis added).

We’re all so frivolous, he tells us. We’ll fight over just about anything. But he admits that the most common source of faction is the “uneven and unequal distribution of property.” The minority of the opulent who own everything and leave us the scraps. All the nonsense about frivolity aside, Madison understood the real cause of trouble was that a few owned it all while the rest did without. He warned against the  leveling impulse of the masses and the need to protect the minority of the opulent.

Just look around. How are minorities doing in this country? Blacks continue to face hostile repression from homicidal police in their neighborhoods to the institutional racism of the Prison Industrial Complex that incarcerates blacks disproportionately. Native Americans have a life expectancy comparable to people in a Third World Country. Most of the work women do in our society is not valued at all. When we do value their work we pay them less than their male counterparts. Japanese Americans during World War II could have used some protection.

This nation protects one minority. The minority of the opulent. Democracy is the only cure for such a minority.