As the “Occupy” campaign continues to resonate throughout America and around the world, just seven weeks after “Occupy Wall Street” began in New York’s financial district, two campaigns in Washington D.C. — the October2011.org movement in Freedom Plaza (campaigning under the slogan, “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed”), and the Occupy D.C. movement in McPherson Square — are both still going strong, and as the first issue of The Occupied Washington Post is produced — with a front-page feature by Chris Hedges, entitled, “A Movement Too Big to Fail” — I’m cross-posting below a rallying cry for support from Kevin Zeese, one of the organizers of the Freedom Plaza Occupation, who also has an article in the movement’s newspaper.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin in January in Baltimore, when, during a visit to the US to campaign on the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, I was invited by David Swanson to take part in an event as part of the promotion for his book, War Is A Lie, and I’m looking forward to meeting him again at Freedom Plaza — and also visiting the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy D.C.” campaigners — in January, when I will be visiting the US again to renew the campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of its opening.
The Occupy Movement is not only resulting in the occupation of public space, but also in political space. We are already shifting the dialogue and the movement has just begun.
When we started planning the occupation of Freedom Plaza six months ago, our goal was to create a place where the ignored voices of the American people could be heard. They are starting to be heard thanks to occupations all over the country. If it is not clear to the economic and political elites, this is the beginning of an American revolt.
Before considering occupation, we tried other avenues: elections, lobbying, petitioning, email campaigns, telephone campaigns, marches, rallies — but they were ineffective. The country continued going in the direction of concentrated wealth, rather than where super-majorities of Americans wanted to go.
The occupation of Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington, D.C. and occupations around the country display our message of anger at the unfairness of the economy, the expanding war quagmires and the corruption of government that result in the people’s urgent necessities being ignored in favor of more wealth for the top 1%.
I don’t like sleeping in a tent in Freedom Plaza. But we see no other way to get our voices heard. We are occupying Freedom Plaza because Americans have been kept out of the political process. Money rules elections and lobbying, while the 99% are ignored.
We occupy Washington, D.C. because it is where big business money combines with campaign laws that corrupt government so that it does not respond to the people. Washington, D.C. is corporate occupied territory with 18,000 professional lobbyists, most of who work for business interests pushing the agenda of concentrated wealth.
The great health care reform “triumph” of the Obama administration highlighted how out of touch government is with the people. For more than a decade Americans have simply wanted improved Medicare and for all and removal of the unnecessary insurance industry. Instead, President Obama and the Democratic leadership pushed “reform” that further entrenched the insurance industry with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax subsidies and forcing Americans to purchase flawed insurance. They kept single payer out of the debate because Medicare for all compared with insurance-based health care is less expensive, covers everybody and improves the quality of health care.
The response to the financial crisis was also inadequate. People from Wall Street responsible for the collapse were put in key positions in the administration. Congress was unable to pass a real stimulus early in the Obama era. Instead, a weak, partial stimulus was passed that may have slowed the economic collapse but missed the opportunity to turn things around. The financial reform was inadequate as it failed to break up the big banks, bring back Glass-Steagall or adequately regulate derivatives. Last week, Citibank got off easy with a $285 million fine for the sale of a billion dollars in fraudulent mortgage derivatives, but this was only one of many corrupt Citibank deals; the rest will not even be investigated. Once again, obvious and necessary steps were impossible due to corporate power.
Occupying public space is an opportunity to discuss political taboos. As the war drum against Iran began to beat, Freedom Plaza held an Iran night with Persian food, music, dancing and discussion. We discussed why war on Iran was wrong, as well as the problems in the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel. And we mentioned a reality almost never heard in U.S. media or politics — U.S. Empire. While the military will not say how many bases and outposts it has, the most thorough review estimates more than 1,100 around the world and now a new empire of drones. The British Empire had 37 bases at its peak and the Romans had 36. The U.S. Empire is a secret to most Americans only discussed as a euphemism — policeman of the world. This false description hides the real facts of exploitation and domination. This taboo needs to be broken so Americans can debate whether empire is good for the nation and the world.
The Occupy Movement is being driven by economic insecurity. Almost all Americans feel it; that is why we are all part of the 99%. The economic insecurity is not because of lack of resources, but because political elites consistently send money to economic elites through tax breaks and giveaways resulting in the wealthiest 400 Americans having the wealth of 154 million of us, yet paying 17.4% in federal taxes while working Americans pay 25% to 30%. The tax structure needs to be restructured so wealth is taxed more than work, purchases of stocks, bonds and derivatives are taxed (we pay taxes on purchase food, clothing and shelter), and a truly progressive income tax is put in place. It is this unfairness at a time of economic fear that is driving the Occupy Movement.
A warning to the elites: occupations are only the beginning. This movement is in its early stage and is going to grow in ways that are hard to imagine right now. We know that decades of the expansion of corporate power will not be undone with one occupation. Plans are being made by some of us to move “Beyond Occupation” to the next steps of building a movement that represents all Americans — youth burdened with college loans and lousy jobs, seniors stuck in poverty retirement with their Social Security and Medicare threatened, the middle class who worked their whole lives and are now part of the long-term unemployed, live in homes with underwater mortgages and fear foreclosure, and, of course, the poor, homeless and mentally ill, whose mistreatment has become more obvious as the public space we occupy draws them to us for food and housing.
A message for the elites: This is just the beginning. Listen to us now or the price of change will get more expensive for you. What do we seek? We seek an end to corporate rule, and shifting power to the people.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Fiona Branson wrote:
…though i think someone needs to rationalise the position of the self-employed/micro + small businesses, particularly those working in the arts/social enterprise in relation to the occupy movement. many of us in this position are routinely living on incomes below the tax threshold, unable to gain access to finance to grow our ethical small businesses, and we have to run ourselves as a business in order to obtain paid employment in our sector. we’re part of the 99% – yet some of the rhetoric i’ve read paints us as ‘corporate enemy’…
Yes, that’s a hugely important point, Fiona. I haven’t looked at it in the context of the US, but here in the UK I have long recognized that our creativity is extremely important, and that self-employed people need tax breaks. There’s been a small amount of recognition of this in establishment politics. Ed Miliband, for example, spoke about it after he was elected Labour leader (although he was probably silenced by duct tape soon after), and the Lib Dems, of course, have pushed to raise the threshold at which tax begins to be paid, but no one has taken these ideas far enough. I’d like to see all of this discussed much more than it has been, as it also addresses problems involved with low-paid jobs, as well as those who are self-employed.
The political message is even clear enough for those on the right to understand: if you give us a break, we won’t be a burden on the state, but the problem with these disgraceful people masquerading as our political leaders (and Tony Blair was as guilty of it as the Tories) is that they don’t recognize independence as important, because they’re so in thrall to corporate interests, whose modus operandi is anathema to the world of small, self-employed businesses. To put it bluntly, they’d like to crush us all …
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I put this on Occupy Uppsala
Thanks, George. I’ll be posting something of particular relevance to Europe again later today. I’m finding it difficult to focus completely on other topics right now, as the various facets of the global crisis are so hugely significant. I’m really enormously grateful that the “Occupy” movement has brought discussion of these topics onto the street and into public spaces, so that they’re not just withering in a billion different atomized living rooms. It feels like we’re fighting for our very survival …
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
That’s the feeling I have. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Fiona Branson wrote:
…so here’s an advert for my micro-label, 3rd peacedriven award winning track, ‘the ukulele peace song’, out on itunes -
‘charismatic cut – this track stands out’ MUSICIAN magazine.
and that’s before we get onto itunes, aggregates, and how small labels are treated unfairly by this system….
Thanks again, George. And thanks also for the plug, Fiona!
Cindy Golding wrote:
Thanks, Cindy. Good to hear from you.
[...] also have no clue, and as a result, I was delighted, last week, to be notified by the activist Kevin Zeese, part of the October2011.org movement in Washington, DC that has renamed itself Occupy Washington, [...]
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