Global Day of Protest

The writing is on the wall.    After months of remarkably peaceful protests and the igniting of a global social movement that may change politics and even herald a new era, it’s time for the Occupy Wall Street movement to move to a new phase.

Winter is coming, the thousands of devoted supporters contributing time when they can are being drawn away by other life concerns, and there is a danger that the crowds could become more militant and needlessly confrontational.    With tents and sleeping bags no longer allowed at Zuccotti Park, the viability of a long term presence declines.   Continuing the occupy movement now risks losing the profound message of the need to expand democracy and transparency lost with the shift of power to global financial and corporate interests.

To mark the end — and make clear that those who are violent and destructive are not representing the movement — the Occupy Wall Street leaders should proclaim a global day of protest and solidarity for the cause of democracy and transparency.    December 1st would be a good day for that, maybe call it “Democracy day.”    They should call on everyone to come out and engage in peaceful protests to underscore the efficacy of the movement so far and show that while they’re ending the first phase, it’s not an end to their efforts.    That way the “occupy” portion of OWS ends in a confident victory rather than stories of police confrontations and declining numbers.

The next phase should be to maintain connections across the globe, coordinate protests at various points (including flash protests to show the latent strength of the movement), and most importantly mobilize and energize especially the youth to be politically active and engaged.   The US has a major election coming next year, and across the planet the current economic crisis leads to new challenges.  21st Century protests shouldn’t be run in accord with 20th Century norms; arrests and unrest is a mark of failure not success.   Occupation of space is only valuable to garner attention, in and of itself it is unimportant.

The fact is that neo-liberal de-regulation and a “hands off” approach to the economy has failed.   For thirty years government has become less willing to regulate the economy, taxes have declined, and debt has grown.  The result is a mountain of debt, the largest maldistribution of income since the 1800s, an economic crisis, and a decline in democratic accountability as non-state actors grow in prominence and power.

The “Tea Party” movement recognized this too, and their solution seems to be rooted in nostalgia.   They want to go back to the America they used to know.   At one level that’s good — they remember an America with a bustling middle class, a strong work ethic, and a sense that you are responsible for your own destiny.    I daresay OWS wants the same thing, but disagrees that you can get there just by cutting government.    That “painless” solution ignores the fact that the world is fundamentally different now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.    Some on the tea party fringe want a culture war over homosexual rights and immigration, but that’s something they can’t win — since about 1300 western civilization doesn’t go backwards, it progresses.

Some OWS folk also look backwards, to failed ideals of socialism, Marxism and big government.   Yet enough in both movements also look forward.   They recognize that high debt levels are unsustainable, that power has become centralized to a big business/big government nexus, and that average folk are increasingly unable to have a strong voice in how the polity functions.

The common bond between left and right here is a desire for democracy and a rejection of centralized power.   The left is concerned about centralized corporate and financial power while the right is more concerned about centralized governmental power, but if each is honest, they’ll realize both have a point.   Big business funds, finances and supports big government.   Big government answers to big money.  If the left and the right choose one “side” and demonize the other it just perpetuates the problem.

Expanding democracy and citizen voice will not be easy.   Due to the information revolution, the loss of sovereign powers by states and the obsolescence of current political structures, it’s not something that an election can “fix” or a few policies can address.   We’re looking at the need to transform political structures and use technology and communication to not only increase transparency but make clear how power is being exercised.

But that’s OK.   OWS doesn’t need an end game now, the fact that they don’t have specific goals and demands is a strength.  It reflects the reality that these problems require a political transformation so fundamental that we have no real understanding of what it will look like.   Right now the process of expanding knowledge about the situation and waking people up to the fact things need to change is important.   That’s why the lack of a clear agenda is a good thing — no one knows where this is going.

I hope the OWS leaders realize that long term occupation is not feasible, and that they have already had a powerful start to a movement that represents an historic and monumental shift in global politics.   They have to keep this going, and the way to do so is to move from ‘occupation’ to spreading ideas and expanding connections.

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  1. #1 by Alan Scott on November 19, 2011 - 02:14

    Scott,

    ” The common bond between left and right here is a desire for democracy and a rejection of centralized power. ”

    But what is OWS’s answer but more centralized power ? They want big socialized central government to check corporate power . Corporate power is not as centralized as Washington power is because corporations must compete with one another. Washington has proven that centralized power is corrupt . Example Nancy Pelosi has used insider knowledge to accumulate millions. Not to be outdone there is the story of the Republican politician who used confidential briefings from Bernanke to profit from the imminent financial collapse.

    Also OWS demonizes all rich. Even those who are just small businessmen and women . Their solution is Robin Hood government .

    Again exactly how is OWS going to accomplish their goals ? In a perfect world, what would happen ?

    • #2 by Scott Erb on November 19, 2011 - 03:28

      But calls for less government and less regulation lead to more corporate power and control, but unlike with government, power used without transparency and accountability. The amount of corruption evident in big banks and finance during the housing boom with CDOs, bad ratings agencies, and massive fraud by Countrywide, Ameriquest, and big financials who knew their AAA bonds were full of junk, was not seen because people naively thought the market would be better at keeping this honest than regulators.

      The idea that OWS ‘demonizes the rich’ or ‘wants more central power’ is a right wing meme that doesn’t really reflect the diverse perspectives in OWS. It’s like the right’s attempt to paint it as far more violent and unorganized than it really is — that to me suggests some fear on the right of what this movement symbolizes. I think this is a long term movement which over time will push for more global regulations on powerful transnational actors, and efforts to peer into how this massive power is being exercised and abused. Because when you get right down to it, government has less power than big money — big money can pull the government’s strings. And big money empowers government.

  2. #3 by Alan Scott on November 19, 2011 - 13:47

    Scott,

    You keep dismissing the fact that Government set the pro housing boom agenda .Business just came in and took advantage of the opportunity that Government set before it . You dismiss how Fannie and Freddie were run as retirement programs for Democrats to become rich . There were regulators who were shut down by Government leaders to keep the boom going as long as possible . These same leaders then called for the heads of Wall Street on spears when it blew up .

    Look at how Democrats regulate business. Crony capitalism . You think Obama, Pelosi, and Reid should be deciding that solar energy should win in the market place over oil and gas. Especially when a major factor in the recession is the high cost of energy .

    Government ain’t smart enough. It ain’t honest enough .

    • #4 by Scott Erb on November 19, 2011 - 13:53

      You’re objectively wrong if you blame the government for the housing bubble. This was not about getting poor people into housing, this was mostly refis and greed on Wall Street — poor people were the victims, this was led by the private sector. I’ve pointed you to evidence that explains it in detail, and I can provide more quotes. You are right that the government’s error was not regulating the big banks, and allowing them to do what they wanted. There is story after story of state DAs and government regulators being stymied by the pro-market ideologues of the Clinton and Bush administration. It was too little government that caused this. Crony capitalism is the bread and butter of both political parties because government answers to big money. Government is too weak, big money is too strong, and both parties answer to Wall Street. That’s my point — free market ideology is part of the reason government gives in to crony capitalism.

  3. #5 by Alan Scott on November 19, 2011 - 17:50

    Scott,

    UUHHH! You keep on your deregulation high horse . It was not deregulation. It was crony capitalism regulation. You did not have free markets. You had government manipulated markets . There are private sector villains , like the rating agencies. But you keep giving your Democrats a big pass.

  4. #6 by Scott Erb on November 19, 2011 - 19:35

    It was deregulation! That was Alan Greenspan, the Treasury secretaries under Clinton and Bush. They believed “the market gets it right.” If you read Nocera and McLean, or any of the other histories of that era, the catch phrase is always a belief in the private sector and free enterprise. That is why they didn’t listen to the regulators, that’s why the Feds never supported the state AG’s. And if you read through the comments above you see that I treat both parties the same way here, I’m not giving anybody a pass. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame, and they acted pretty much the same way. That’s why so much political discourse is emotional fluff like talk radio — the fundamental differences in how the parties govern are often not that great. Therefore, give the people spectacle and emotion, make them think of politics as entertainment, a “blood sport.” Get them caught up in arguing and waging ideological jihad. That way the insiders in both parties can avoid really being held accountable.

  5. #7 by Danelle on December 1, 2011 - 14:26

    So what you are basically saying overall, to avoid extreme ideologies and more of the same mistakes is that the basic feature of an economic theory is that we really should have no theory at all?

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