“This is the first time I’ve felt hopeful in a very long time.”
“Jobs, Not War. People, Not Profit.”
“Democracy, Not Plutocracy.”
Dozens of members of our Long Island peace and justice community have joined with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators at various times, in the weeks since the occupation began on September 17. Some have participated in the occupation several times. Some have stayed overnight in Zuccotti Park. One of our peace group members, a college professor, took his students to the occupation, as a field trip. The experience that the students had, being there at the occupation and speaking with the demonstrators, was the epitome of quality, meaningful education.
It was inspiring for me to be among the hundreds of people who occupied the park, as they had transformed Zuccotti Park into Liberty Plaza, a vibrant, cooperative, democratic community. Contrary to some media reports, I found that the occupiers’ community was well organized and functioned extremely smoothly. There was a welcome station, a media station, a food station, an information table, a supply station, a medical station, an arts and culture center, and a library. There were numerous working groups, handling the various responsibilities that needed to be met. Also, and importantly in my view, occupiers conducted workshops on a variety of topics, such as economic justice and nonviolent activism.
Everyone I spoke with was very friendly. Everyone seemed more than willing to help out when needed. A couple of times, a speaker asked for volunteers. Each time, several people readily offered to help with the task at hand. Throughout the day, for example, I saw people taking turns sweeping the park and keeping it clean.
As would be expected in a gathering of this size, there was some diversity of politics among the occupiers. The overwhelming sentiment, however; expressed in signs, conversations, and behavior; was that it was essential for the occupiers to conduct themselves nonviolently and that their concern focused upon the undue influence of corporations upon the democratic process and the economic well being of our people. Decisions at the occupation are made by the General Assembly, which meets twice daily. All viewpoints are aired, and decisions are made by consensus.
Much has been made of the fact that OWS has not issued specific demands. I think this was a wise decision, for this time in the evolution of the Occupy Wall Street movement. One of the primary purposes of OWS is to call attention to the concerns that the movement wants to share. There is broad agreement in OWS about these concerns. If demands were drawn up, there would inevitably be some fracturing of the movement, as there are naturally a number of opinions regarding the solution to the problems that are being discussed. Also, if the demands are not far-reaching enough, they will not reflect the beliefs of most of the occupiers, and they would not reflect a need for changes that are as extreme as I believe most of OWS would like to see. On the other hand, if the demands are too far reaching, they will be viewed as unrealistic, and the movement could lose support. Right now, the Occupy movement is growing at a fabulous pace, nationally and internationally. For now, the emphasis, I believe, should be upon fostering growth and maintaining an emphasis upon nonviolence and the need to reduce corporate control of our democracy. Policy demands can and, I believe, should be promulgated as the movement expands.
I am glad to see that organized labor, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and others have spoken out in support of the Occupy movement. The occupiers are generally welcoming of the support of these groups, but, wisely, they are careful not to allow the movement to be co-opted. Occupy Wall Street and labor, for example, do agree about much of what needs to be changed in our society. The support of the labor movement enhances the influence of the Occupy movement by directly adding millions of people to its alliance and also by opening the door to the support of millions of Americans who may be more mainstream in their lifestyles and politics than many of the core OWS participants.
The Occupy movement was clearly strengthened by the support of the tens of thousands of union members who joined the occupiers in the recent march from city hall. Also, the one thousand union members who joined the occupiers at Liberty Plaza on the morning of the threatened eviction certainly influenced Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to call off the eviction. Occupy Wall Street recently marched in solidarity with union workers from Verizon and from Sotheby’s, supporting these unions in their ongoing struggles. These are important alliances. They reflect the success of OWS. They strengthen and broaden its influence. They help to defend the rights of working people, the 99%.
The movement, of course, has now grown substantially, with occupations and solidarity demonstrations being held here on Long Island and in hundreds of cities and towns throughout the nation. The time is approaching when OWS might decide to issue demands. Some demands which I hope they will consider:
Implement a truly progressive income tax structure
Bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan; Substantially reduce the military budget
Amend the Constitution to nullify the Citizens United decision; Implement meaningful campaign finance reform
Expand Medicare, to establish a true universal, single-payer healthcare system
Strengthen Social Security; No cuts
Transition to a sustainable, non-nuclear, safe energy policy
Re-institute the provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act; Strengthen regulation of the financial sector
Guarantee collective bargaining rights for all working people
Fund job creation and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure
Occupy Wall Street benefits from the support of innumerable progressive activists outside the OWS movement. Journalist and author Naomi Klein praised the occupiers, “You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. … Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows.”
Klein spoke of the need for fundamental change in our society, and told the demonstrators that the occupation is an essential factor in achieving that change. “I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult. That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and providing health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, ‘I care about you.’ In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, ‘Let them die,’ that is a deeply radical statement.” The full text of Naomi Klein’s wonderful speech can be found here.
Journalist and author Chris Hedges details the damage that has been done to our society, as a result of corporate greed. “The only word these corporations know is more. They are disemboweling every last social service program funded by the taxpayers, from education to Social Security, because they want that money themselves. Let the sick die. Let the poor go hungry. Let families be tossed in the street. Let the unemployed rot. Let children in the inner city or rural wastelands learn nothing and live in misery and fear. Let the students finish school with no jobs and no prospects of jobs. Let the prison system, the largest in the industrial world, expand to swallow up all potential dissenters. Let torture continue. Let teachers, police, firefighters, postal employees and social workers join the ranks of the unemployed. Let the roads, bridges, dams, levees, power grids, rail lines, subways, bus services, schools and libraries crumble or close. Let the rising temperatures of the planet, the freak weather patterns, the hurricanes, the droughts, the flooding, the tornadoes, the melting polar ice caps, the poisoned water systems, the polluted air increase until the species dies.”
Hedges goes on to express the importance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as he describes the occupiers as, “the best among us.” “Those on the streets around Wall Street are the physical embodiment of hope. They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. … But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us.” The full text of Hedges’ column is here.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders writes, “The Occupy Wall Street protests are shining a national spotlight on the most powerful, dangerous, and secretive economic and political force in America.” Sanders says that the American people are going to have to “demand fundamental reform.” He says, “I hope these protests are the beginning of that process.” Senator Sanders points out, “We now have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major, advanced country on earth. The top one percent earn more income than the bottom 50 percent and the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.” Senator Sanders goes on to detail six proposals that he feels can help to “change the political, economic and financial system to work for all Americans, not just the top 1 percent.” The full text of Senator Sanders article is here.
For the official website of Occupy Wall Street, click here.
For information about occupations throughout the country, click here.
To download a PDF of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, Issue #1, click here.
To download a PDF of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, Issue #2, click here.
To download a PDF of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, Issue #3, click here.