Some thoughts on OWS and U.S.A. Politics

Reminder:  these thoughts are only my own, and don’t intend to represent anyone else.

Guess who is #1 in this list?  My hometown, Bloomington, IN:

This is not just a New York issue, an Oakland issue, or a Big City Issue.  It’s everywhere, as evidenced by the reportedly 1000+ Occupy sites around the country and beyond.

For Bloomington, my best guess is that the town’s small population overall (in comparison to the other cities on the list) makes it easier for a small number of rich oligarchs to swing the numbers.  Between the coaching staff of the sports teams, the other IU bigwigs and the Real Estate moguls, they easily overpower the undergrads, grad students, underpaid staffers, service industry workers and those left behind by shrinking/fading industry in Bloomington.

More broadly: I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street for a while now, almost since the beginning thanks the joys of getting your news from social media in addition to broadcast/cable news.  I totally support the Occupy movement in their efforts to draw attention to the economic, political, and legal inequity in the USA.

As a movement run mostly on consensus and non-heirarchical decision-making, it’s hard for OWS to show a unified face and singular list of demands.  There are as many frustrations and ideas as people involved, more even.  There are many things in this country I’d like to see changed, from campaign finance reform to lobby reform, sentencing equality, repealing the Bush tax cuts, and more.  But my list of things to fix is likely to be just slightly different from someone else’s, and because there is no One Leader of OWS, the heterogeneous opinions remain, making it harder to get across a clear message in the manner of a campaign platform.

It’s been interesting to watch OWS for many reasons, but one of the big ones is seeing consensus decision-making getting attention — I lived in a grad student Co-operative for two years, and we used a consensus system for all major house decisions, from our ‘shoes off’ policy to how to spend our food budget to how to assign tasks to housemates.  Consensus is a fantastic system if well-implemented, and if the people making the decisions are all committed to working together as a community.  At the end of the day, we all still lived together, saw one another every day, were friends and colleagues.  Trying to make consensus work with larger groups or with people who don’t know each other as well, who have the chance to easily opt-out without major consequence is likely to be more difficult.  I wish them the best of luck, and the whole process makes me remember my co-op time fondly.

Occupy has gotten a lot of attention over the last few weeks from major media outlets, even after a delay in picking up the stories.  The violent evictions of Occupy Oakland, Occupy Boston and now Zuccotti Park have only increased the profile of the Occupy activities, and exposed a number of what I perceive as abuses of power by police, conspiracy to suppress free speech and legal but objectionable use of the letter of the law to control the activists.  Legally, the private owners of Zuccotti Park have the right to change the rules of use of their property, and it isn’t a violation of the 1st Ammendment — the problem is that the seemingly public spaces are not actually public when the Powers-that-Be don’t want them to be — allowing Bloomberg to restrict how and where the Occupy Wall Street activists can practice their rights.

All protests, when they reach a certain level, are illegal.  They may be re-cast as necessary and just by the pen of history, but from the perspective of the law, many were illegal.  And when the law prevents you from making the point that you feel powerfully you need to make, you either accept that you will be arrested or you do everything you possibly can to stay within the bounds of the law.

Here are things that Occupy groups can do, and I hope they are already doing (among other things):

If they receive notice that they are not allowed to use certain seemingly public spaces, make specific petitions asking for permits for protests, asking for safe times and routes, keeping immaculate documentation so that they have evidence to show if denied permits and legal protections.  Turn the legal process into a protection — act within the law so unquestionably that no one can attempt to call you a criminal, and if you are evicted or harassed by police, you can press charges for wrongful arrest, assault, whatever is appropriate.  Now, of course, it’s damn hard to make any of that go if you’re being tear gasses, beaten with a club, or if the officer is evicting you at 1AM and covering up their face and badge.  Find out what the policies are in your locality for police accountability — are they required to give you their name and/or badge number?  What is the official channel for making a complaint about the conduct of an officer, either with the department or their municipal/county superiors?

OWS represents a whole cluster of frustrations, and the longer it goes on, the more I hope that it actually coalesces into a unified or vaguely-consistent set of calls for reform/action, so that the enthusiasm and energy of that frustration can be put into action.  I’m surprised that Democratic candidates haven’t thrown in more aggressively on the OWS side, though of course any of them who are already established are likely to have their own corporate sponsors and are already economically/ethically compromised.

One of the big things I want is for Democrats to grow a backbone.  I’m fine with compromise, in fact, our system is built on it — compromise and checks/balances.  But when compromise seems to mean giving up 95% of what you want on Every Single Thing, you’re doing it wrong.  When the people on the other side of the table consistently hold the process hostage through unprecedented uses of obstructionist tactics and economic extortion, you need to do something about it, even if that something is Ruthlessly hammering home that obstructionism every campaign season.  Things like “Candidate X’ held the U.S. economy hostage to secure tax cuts for the corporations who bankrolled their campaign.”  Things like that.  You don’t have to fight dirty to fight hard.  And there are clearly Dems who are doing it.  Folks like Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida or Candidate Elizabeth Warren, running for Senate in Massachusetts.  But when I saw Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA) on The Daily Show, she completely failed (IMHO) to explain why the congressional Democrats have let the Republicans walk all over them in general.  And while I’m too far left for most all of them, the Democratic party is where my voice can best be presented in a way that has any chance of being heard — the current system is rigged against third party candidates, turning them into spoilers that, in practice, only tend to hurt the party closest to them by splitting votes.

The 2012 elections are only going to get more omnipresent in our national attention, I just hope that politicians listen to what the OWS groups have to say as well as the Tea Party and everyone else.  And that the Dems grow themselves some gonads and take to the mat instead of making unhappy sounds and rolling over.

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