Because extinction shouldn't be an option!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Occupy This: Why We Should Remain Stalwart in the Face of Eviction

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule, then they fight you, then you win."-Gandhi

Sound familiar? Gandhi's quote can be applied to just about every movement that sought to break new ground in social evolution, from the suffragists to the civil rights movement and now to the occupy movement. I didn't really hear hardly anything about the Occupy Wall St. Movement from the mainstream media for the first few weeks it was going on. Not until it really began gaining steam and other occupy encampments started springing up across the country and even abroad. Then, the pundits chimed in, especially Fox News, which had a field day decrying the college kids that make up the majority of the movement as lazy spoiled brats and old hippie stoners who couldn't zone in on a single topic.

And then came the violence, including the fractured skull of Scott Olsen, an Iraq war vet, by a tear canister flung into the crowd by police at Occupy Oakland. And by now, we've all seen the endless streaming of footage of peaceful protesters being blasted with pepper spray and tear gas.

Last night I watched live on the news as the midnight deadline to decamp Occupy Boston approached. It came and went without incident. There were no mass arrests, no conflict. I am glad it went on peacefully and the protesters held their ground (the the camp has significantly shrunk since last night, now down to about 40 campers) that night. I think the strategy was to tire the protesters out, let them think they had their last stand and then as the numbers shrunk, I think Mayor Menino will send the cops in quietly one night when there are no camera crews to catch the incident.

When the court order came for the campers to disband, it stated that the Constitutional right to free speech doesn't not include occupation. There is a chilling irony here. Back in the beginning of 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that their money is speech....So, let's get this straight, common laypeople who have suffered the brunt of the economic collapse (due greatly to the increasing corporatism of our society) do not have the right to peacefully occupy public spaces in protest of our government's wrong doings under freedom of speech, but corporations can offer unlimited campaign contributions and advertisement money to the politicians' who heed their interests under that right? Obviously, the deck has been stacked against us.

Since day one, opponents of the Occupy movement have attacked is as being incohesive and having no common goals or demands. But this isn't really true. The Occupy movement has been extremely shrewd and streamlined in their networking and communications among their individual encampments and with other encampments, and carried on the democratic process in an open, inclusive, and transparent manner that Congress could learn from. In less than two months, Occupy Boston had a functional kitchen, library, clothing barter system, and a print newspaper. They offered assistance to the homeless and the wayward and gave frustrated and downtrodden citizens a forum to vent their woes and think proactively about ways to solve our society's deepest ills.

And the demands, though there has been some deviance and versatility, show astounding uniformity, despite claims to the contrary. Throughout the movement I've seen much of the same demands: end corporate personhood and establish campaign reform, hold Wall Street legally and financially accountable for its actions that led to the 2008 economic meltdown for which the majority of us are still suffering, consider student loan forgiveness and the availability of more accessible and affordable higher education, and offer universal healthcare (or at least a form of affordable, accessible, and equitable healthcare).

There's been a lot of evidence to suggest the crackdowns and subsequent closings at the encampments were a concerted, collaborative effort among city and town governments with the aid of federal entities, which wouldn't surprise me. The reasons to force the shut down of the camps have been cited as fear for health, sanitation or safety. I wish I could see even a small percentage of this effort to end the camps put toward ending other violations in health and safety, such as the environmental hazards of mountain-top removal, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or the millions of people who die or are impoverished due to a lack of good health care and/or education. But alas, the people on top have different priorities.

Those college kids have a right to be angry. They have graduated saddled with enormous debt and poor (if any) job prospects. Unlike their parents and grandparents, they have to put off the assets and advantages of adulthood, such as buying a home and starting a family, and many of them have to go live back at home. They are screamed at that they should "get a job" when statistics show there are not many jobs out there to even get and those that do pay poorly and have little to no benefits.

Let's get something straight: no one gets to be successful completely by themselves. This is why people born to richer families and access to better health care, education, and other resources, are more likely to be successful, and those born into poorer circumstances tend to be less healthy, not as well educated, and therefore not able to rise above their class. Sure, there are those on each side who manage to defy whatever their circumstances were and rise above or sink below it. But for the most part, these stats hold true. Those who do rise from nothing, even if their family was poor, still had some help or luck along the way, whether they want to see it that way or not. And the rich corporations get rich by consolidating money and hoarding it. How do multi-billion dollar corporations like WalMart, McDonald's, and Exxon able to keep up and keep increasing their annual profits? Simple: pay your manual workers shit, hire more people part-time so not only can they not make ends meet with this job, but you have an excuse to deny them benefits, and make sure to evade environmental and other laws by exploiting loopholes to scrimp on expenses. And Congress helps them do it. CONGRESS IS COMPLICIT.

I used to work in the environmental non-profit sector. After receiving my Master's I wanted to jump back into this sector (with hopefully a hire level position and salary). But when I started interviewing, all of the groups said the same thing to me: that Congress members (and we're talking the ones with the better environmental records, mostly Democrats) wouldn't vote for any climate change legislation that coal and oil companies wouldn't agree to, and that we (environmental groups) then also had to compromise our values. So, the groups basically said flat out that they would sell out to get a bill passed on climate even if it didn't help the problem, even if it might make things worse (what with giveaways to industries on such red herrings as clean coal and carbon credit markets). This is when I knew the American people were losing, when the betrayal was so blatant that it was said outright and even the groups that were to fight for us, were giving up before the fight began.

Make no mistake, right now, corporations rule our country. They are the pimps and the Congressional reps are their bitches. They get the final say. And it's up to us to keep up the Occupy Movement or else things will only get worse. We don't have the money, but we have our voices and we have our bodies, and they should be used as instruments.

As Wendell Berry said at a moving speech he gave this fall in Cambridge (regarding why he has continued to protest strip mining even though it's still been going on for the 30 years he's been active on the issue): "It's not just about winning, though I do it with the hope of winning. It's about decency, and the obligation to make a stand for decency and refusing to accept indecency as the norm."

Let's not back down.

1 comment:

  1. Great to see a post from you Laura! I attended your class at the Arlington HS and was thinking for a while about writing about all the issues you do above, but I always feel so angry when I start doing it. It sometimes feels almost worse to have these thoughts and then write them down. But I do think it's worth it. Great job on summarizing the whole issue. Complacency is the problem we're faced with. The whole attitude of let's not change anything because there's so much money and power at the top to prevent any changes from happening. But every time I hear the words "the rich are job creators" I want to punch someone. The rich have never had it so good, nor had tax breaks as extreme as they do now, but the jobs are all overseas, not here. To claim that higher taxes on the rich would hurt jobs is just lying to our face. The only one I've heard take a stand on it is Bernie Sanders. He's my hero. Well, fellow-SUNY New Paltzian, hope to talk soon.