Nation

To Liberty Plaza’s Patriots: “Change The Hearts Of The Oppressed”

Photo: Think-N-Evolve/Flickr

Something important is happening at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The encampment that began there on Saturday, September 17th, is a vocal and stark reminder of growing American youth discontent. Banks and other corporations are sitting on record profits and CEO salaries continue to climb at an unprecedented rate, while students and the average American worker face an anemic job market and growing economic disparity. The occupation in Lower Manhattan may be the start of a sea-change in so-called American democracy. But if it is a true change (and other organizing efforts in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, including an ongoing one in San Francisco suggest that it may be), certain things must change in order for this nonviolent revolution to be sustained and really have an effect. More on that in a moment.

I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the camp. In many ways, the camp is a world unto itself: very self-sustaining, with its own media center, food area, trash committees, etc. It’s a shining example of a cooperative community. The protesters are very open to pedestrians, quite willing to engage them in conversation, and often invite the homeless to eat the seemingly-endless supply of pizza that continues to flow in from supporters across the country. The sense that the camp’s inhabitants are making history, and that they’re fighting for a fairer, more equitable system is palpable and infectious. The NYPD is increasingly using tactical intimidation in the form of brutal harassment to quell the spirit of the protesters, as this video below shows:

There have also been unconfirmed reports of alleged agent provocateurs (not uncommon considering increased counter-terrorism activity with the help of the CIA) and ordering tents and tarps be taken down during rain storms. The resolve and courage of the protesters only seems to strengthen, however: Immediately after a police raid, for instance, a march is organized as a show of strength. The marches to “the belly of the beast,” as many protesters call Wall Street, are dismissed by outlets like CNBC, who just this morning said that the occupation will fizzle out by week’s end. Presumptions like this come off as naive because they underestimate the passion, energy and commitment these young people have for their mission.

But this begs the question: what exactly IS the mission? What exactly are the demands that Liberty Plaza wants met?

Since getting back to Philadelphia last night, I’ve been able to catch up on media stories about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some outlets capture the youth energy and thirst for change accurately, while some it seems go out of their way to downplay the significance of what’s happening in Lower Manhattan. Almost none can really zero-in on one specific demand, however. As friends and family (many of whom share this anger towards Wall Street) have told me: “I still don’t know what they want.” And that may be the most accurate part of this story thus far. Watching news reports and reading eyewitness accounts, we see brave young people marching and facing ramped-up police intimidation, but the average American watching these reports can’t latch on to one specific message.

Growing a movement means bringing others from different segments of society together. It quite often starts with the radical left (intellectuals and the youth), as the Egyptian revolution this year and the student-started revolution in Poland that eventually brought down the Soviet Union show us. But in order to sustain these movements, one demand or even a short list of demands must be crafted to appeal to larger segments of society. While the people in Tahrir square had a long list of grievances, from high food prices to political oppression, eventually one solid demand emerged: oust Mubarak.

As the picture above illustrates, there are a whole host of grievances at Liberty Plaza, and nearly all of them are legitimate. There is great anger at Wall Street, hence the reason for camping out mere blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. But the connection between grievances such as “Forgive student loan debt,” or “End the wars,” or even “End corporate personhood,” is lost because there is no coherent narrative to connect those demands. A sustained campaign of civil disobedience and highly-visible public marches on Wall Street is crucial and is coalescing well at the moment. If these demonstrations get bigger, however (and there is currently great momentum) one loud and clear demand to feed to the media–and to broadcast as an invitation to Americans of all stripes to join the demonstrations–can only strengthen the movement, because when whole sections of society refuse to participate or be complicit in a corrupt system, they take away the ability of rulers to exercise their power. Hence the power of a general strike, for instance.

“The internal stability of rulers can be measured by the ratio of the strength of the social forces that they control and the strength of the social forces that oppose them.”
–”Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

So, permit me to make a suggestion: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” Getting special interest money out of politics changes the whole game, and addresses a myriad of concerns expressed by not just the Liberty Plaza occupiers, but an overwhelming majority of Americans. For example:

1) Student loan debt is astronomically high in large part because of special interest money (i.e. Wall Street banks) influencing political decisions in Washington, D.C. It’s so powerful, in fact, that chronic gamblers can discharge their debt, but graduates are unable to discharge their debt. Period.

2) Our country is in a perpetual state of war due largely to the military-industrial complex (Wall Street) occupying the halls of power.

3) Corporations are allowed to pour unaccountable and unlimited amounts of money into elections because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Clarence Thomas and the Koch Brothers, anybody?

4) The state-by-state campaign to break the backs of public sector workers’ right to collectively bargain, or to disenfranchise Democratic voters? Big-moneyed (Wall Street) interests under ALEC have literally been crafting legislation in every state to perpetuate such injustices.

Monsanto at the FDA. Oil companies and climate change legislation. The list goes on and on.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” It’s a demand that speaks to all Americans. My libertarian father, myself (a democratic socialist) and my Republican friends firmly agree on the need to get money out of politics. Special interest corruption of our democratic processes IS our Mubarak. And Wall Street is a clear-cut example of the power of special interests. It’s a perfect focal point for popular rage and misery at our broken economy.

It’s time to start organizing nonviolent civil disobedience, petitions, and other efforts in order to galvanize our country into a concerted effort to make “One citizen, one dollar, one vote” not just a slogan, but a mainstay of our democracy. Some suggest legislation. Some suggest a Constitutional amendment. Whatever the solution, we need to start that conversation. Liberty Plaza, with the world watching them and support growing, is in a perfect position to push the national conversation on corruption in our government into the spotlight. I hope they do so.

Dustin M. Slaughter is the Founder of The David and Goliath Project.

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5 Responses for “To Liberty Plaza’s Patriots: “Change The Hearts Of The Oppressed””

  1. Not buying it.

    I see no reason to crystallize the many demands into one demand for the sake of communicating through the media (“one loud and clear demand to feed to the media”). For one thing, anybody who’s waiting for our famously free press to explain things to them accurately should be really low on our list right now. For another growth should be, organic, organic, organic. Let the word be spread peer-to-peer and the demand be constructed in a General Assembly.

    “Bold, persistent experimentation!”

  2. James Casey says:

    Watching the live feeds and chat rooms there seems be a lot of rhizomic thinking going among the occupiers about what needs to happen. That’s good. Up to this point I have been a proponent of something like the “12-word” program (“End the wars. Tax the rich. Medicare for all. Jobs guarantee.”) so that it’s easy for the “media” (MSM) to pick up and repeat the message. But recently a friend convinced me that ending the ownership of our government by the uber-wealthy (individuals and corps) has to happen before any of those other things are possible. I see evidence that some of these young people get that. Working things out by consensus “does not compute” for the denizens of Versailles. That’s ok. It’s what needs to happen.

  3. Dustin Slaughter says:

    Thank you both for reading. This is an editorial, which means it’s just my opinion. There were many at the camp that felt that a more coherent message was necessary to garner public support, so I wanted this piece to reflect that too. After today’s actions by the NYPD at Union Square, I think only more public support will go to the protesters. I hope you’re both right, too. Thanks.

  4. Russ Winter says:

    Please dig a bit deeper on this, from Day of Rage website:
    http://www.usdayofrage.org/pub

    Why?
    Wall Street is a huge contributor to the political machine, which in turns enables Wall Street’s corporate plunder of our nation. Both the Democratic and Republican parties set the bankster agenda because of the MONEY. When we at US Day of Rage speak of ‘taking the MONEY out of politics’, we have no choice but to focus on the sources of the MONEY.

    Bought by hard and soft dollars, disloyal, incompetent, and wasteful interests have usurped our nation’s civil and military power, spawning a host of threats to liberty and national security.

    As Americans we may bang our head on other matters, but on this we surely agree. In a democracy: progressives; unions; conservatives; tea party; and unaffiliated Americans can govern and work things out. In a kleptocracy, controlled by the banksters, we cannot. We must stop their influence, their motives, and their tricks, from continuing to destroy our democratic republic, and together we can do it.

    US Day of Rage (usdayofrage.org) demands that money be removed from the buying of politicians who feed the Wall Street beast. We demand that the resources of our nation no longer be used to coddle and benefit banksters and their minions. We demand that the US Government diligently reign in the parasitic destruction wreaked by Wall Street. We demand that our nation no longer be held hostage to ‘too big to fail’ banks. We demand that solutions be found that stop the Federal Reserve from stealing our future.

    The American Revolution is alive and well. It’s a group of non-violent citizen nobodies who believe in the radical notion that Americans have a right to freedom of speech and the right to peaceable assembly, in deed the right to engage in politics through free and fair elections unsullied by disloyal, incompetent, and wasteful special interests that are destroying our democratic republic and preying on the resources and spirits of citizens.

  5. Tim LaRocque says:

    I wonder if there is a site set-up for everyone making photo and video documentation to download their material to so that the defense lawyers can have some evidence to assist in the defense of the protesters? There are definite abuses by Police happening, not just the big one like pepper spraying but indiscriminate arrest of protesters and too aggressive tactics. It would be nice to be able to have a central place for people to access this footage and use it for the #occupy wall street cause.

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