Does #OccupyWallStreet need an alternative ‘protest’ currency?

Matthew Slater thinks it does and has a concrete proposal.

(please note Devin Balkind is also part of a working group working on a currency for OWS occupiers. For more details, see also here).

Before Matthew’s editorial, a general remark: do what degree is such a currency necessary, when the community is small enough to function without recourse to money at all?

Below the editorial, we add a number of videos on the evolution of the protest movement. Hat tip to Nicholas Roberts of for the excellent selection.. I most strongly recommend the interview with Ralph Nader.

1. Editorial by Matthew Slater:

“The activists currently demonstrating on Wall Street (and other financial hotspots) are bringing necessary media attention to the abuses of the banking system. They understand that the activities of banks, or banksters are responsible for a global misery and environmental degradation. Indeed the public at large is becoming aware of the role of ‘banks’ and ‘banksters’ in an unprecedented, continuous, and immoral (but not illegal) transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the richest one percent. They feel the flipside, the price rises, the job insecurity and government imposed austerity. The see the military aggression, the sluggardly concern for the environment, and the usurpation of the democratic organs by business lobbyists.

However few people understand the basic mechanisms of the economy, who the percevied criminals are or what the leverage points might be. Consequently the occupation’s present many vague grievances, and achievable strategies are not forthcoming.

It is my contention that the problem is deeper than even most of the activists realise. Calling for banking reform, political reform, keynsian stimulus, even writing off of debts would all alleviate the problem in the medium term, but will leave the governance process in the same hands and open to the same abuses. These reforms would not amount to a revolution in government, society or consciousness, and would be circumvented in a few years by the same interests.

What the indignants mostly don’t understand is how the design of money predicts most all of our present woes, and that real change cannot achieved without replacing the particular monetary model propogated throughout the world by the Bank of England. The USA has several times, with full awareness, understood and rejected that design, and yet as many times it has returned, by cunning and stealth, the last time in 1913 when the Federal Reserve Bank was established.

I propose that efforts be made to bring the attention of activists and public alike to money itself and to educate everyone about the design of money and the inevitable consequences of the commercial debt that passes for money today. This should be done through lectures, workshops, dissemination of books, blogging, art, media-activism etc. However underlying and preceding all of this, an initial currency design is needed. Considering that:

1. there are donations of money, food and goodwill coming to Wall St from all over the USA. Under normal circumstances, these would dispensed on some vague ‘as needed’ basis.
2. there is a tremendous amount of voluntary energy which in the conventional economy goes unrecognised, but which creates value none the less. Many people will not want any kind of monetary compensation for their work, but they would like to be at least acknowledged for their contribution. Our money system grafts the respect which is owing to hardworking and generous people into a respect for the wealth which hard work supposedly creates.
3. there is a clear and present merchandising opportunity. Souvenir notes can be issued and circulated, but also taken out of circulation as a collectable item. Not spending a note is the same as donating its value to the cause as it leaves room in the economy for another note to be spent into circulation. In fact notes could be sold directly for cash or for activism labour as part of the fundraising / awareness raising.

So how can we design a money-like instrument which will raise raise awareness and maybe (even funds), which will not be too easily compromised and which will not interfere or confuse the value of voluntary efforts? How might we introduce a system which can be used illustratively in comparison with the dollar.

Serious, long-term, monetary, or scalable designs are not necessary; we should concentrate on immediate needs and quick deployment. This money system should have easy circulation, some physical souvenir, the value should be connected to hours or to something arbitrary, but nothing connectable to dollars or priced commodities. They should be issued in a limited way in principle i.e only to those who provide value to the movement.

I propose that an attractive transferable certificate be designed, perhaps though a competition, which recognises that the bearer has supported (or has gifted to someone who supported) the occupation. The certificates would be distributed at a limited rate in the plaza, and passed on to people offering gift support from a distance. Thus the paper would propagate outwards from the occupation flowing against a flow of gifts. Holders need not give it away – they might also hold it as a souvenir, donate it back to the cause, or even attempt to sell it as a collectable. These directions would be clearly communicated on the notes and reinforced in social media. The notes could also be sold by post as a way of raising funds.

Every time the certificates change hands people will be asking – ‘what does this piece of paper mean?’. Once they are propagating, the ground is laid to use them as a teaching tool in workshops.”

2. Video: Democracy Now on the spread of the protest to more than 800 cities

3. Video: Al Jazeera’s Inside Story on the Protest at its 3rd week

4. Video: Ralph Nader on the unified faith in fairness as the core value of the protest

5. Video: Martin Bashir interviews Bernie Sanders

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