Three conclusions on the global importance of #OccupyWallStreet

We start with two videos, a remix by D.C. Douglas reminds us why people are there; and a great atmospheric video on the self-governance and mutual aid at Liberty Plaza; then, a number of texts: an excerpt from the important editorial by Naomi Klein; the analysis by Jimmy Higgins; and as the third text item, an excerpt from the recent editorial by Douglas Rushkoff.

1. Video: D.C. Douglas Video explains why the occupations:

2. Video: Self-governance and mutual aid at Liberty Plaza

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

* 3. Naomi Klein: we’re in it for the long haul

“Occupy Wall Street … has chosen a fixed target. And no end date. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.

Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. These principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.

We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets – like, say, the person next to you. Don’t give into the temptation. This time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before us will demand nothing less.

Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is the most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.”

* 4. Analysis of the importance of the movement:

Excerpted from Jimmy Higgins:

1. This is broad. Everybody has seen the reports, Over 200 Occupy! actions are underway or planned around the country. School walkouts are spreading. Endorsements are piling up. The media whiteout of the first couple of weeks is gone, and we have entered the “then they laugh at you” phase.

One of my first clues that this had real legs was the attention it was getting from the start on the influential left liberal Daily Kos website. An aggregated site with hundreds of bloggers, thousands of commenters and tens of thousands of readers every day, Daily Kos’s declared mission is to elect Democrats and, where possible, better Democrats. Yet overall it is a fairly left site with many self-identified socialists and a visibly high level of dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. By the end of September, it was not uncommon for a third or more of the top posts (“diaries” as they are known) recommended by member vote to be about the Occupy movement. This is as spontaneous a development as the movement itself, and demonstrates clearly how disgruntled many of the Kossacks, who think of themselves as very political people, are with a purely electoral, “politics of the possible” approach to society and government at this juncture.

An analogy: Probably high schools no longer can afford sodium acetate for their science teachers to demonstrate supersaturated solutions, but older readers may remember this one. The idea is simple. Dissolve in heated water more of a chemical than it can absorb at room temperature. When it cools down, drop in a single crystal and watch the liquid rapidly crystallize into a solid.

Occupy Wall Street! has acted like a seed crystal. It has not caused the mass anger at the way things are going in this country, but it has provided a focus around which that anger can crystallize, mobilizing both folks who have historically been active around issues like the war or the environment and regular folks who have been hard hit by the economic crunch and are both mightily pissed off about it and extremely cynical about about a “democracy” which is so permeated with corporate cash.

Because of this, the occupations also serving as a funnel through which various social movements can take action and respond to attacks. When the State of Georgia carried out its legal lynching of Troy Davis, the protest rally marched from Union Square to the encampment and then headed down Wall Street itself. There the first in a series of escalating police attacks on Occupy Wall Street! took place when the cops busted some young activists near Federal Hall. Last Sunday, several dozen teachers and college faculty showed up for an inspired action. They held a Grade-In, sitting quietly and marking tests and homework, and graphically refuting the anti-union, anti-public education lies of the right wing about how overpaid teachers are and how easy they have it.

Then came yesterday when a wide array of unions and community and student groups mobilized upwards of 20,000 people to march from the seat of city and federal government at Foley Square down to the OWS! Encampment and Wall Street itself.

2. This is a return to the Seattle moment. Pretty much everybody over 25 will remember the heady days of the upsurge against globalization and neo-liberalism as the new century began. It was famously captured in the slogan handwritten on a sign by one demonstrator, “Teamsters And Turtles, Together At Last”! Organized labor and youthful environmentalists and solidarity activists began to unite under the slogan “Another World Is Possible.”

That upsurge was derailed by 9/11, the changed focus of political discourse in the US to discussion of terrorism and what’s “American” and the need for a massive anti-war movement. The economic meltdown which began in 2007 started shifting the tectonic plates of US society again, making possible this new thing we are seeing.

The working class majority in this country, and communities of color in particular, are sharply aware of having been screwed, blued and tattooed by the banks and are disgusted with the role their elected officials have played in that. The economic pinch is the unifying factor here–from college grads enmeshed in debt and unable to find jobs, to homeowners facing eviction to 99ers who have fallen off the end of unemployment insurance, to workers facing demands for monstrous givebacks, to poor people threatened by the erosion of basic civil services. That is the foundation for Occupy Wall Street!.

But it is very much to the credit of the folks at the encampment that they realized that workers are key allies they must unite with, and that it was up to them to take the initial steps. Thus, within days of opening the camp, nine activists stood, one after another, and disrupted a sale at the high-tone Sotheby’s auction house in support of Teamster union members locked out by the hugely profitable firm. The following week 100 people from the encampment showed up at a rally called by postal unions (including my old local, NY Metro) to defend Saturday delivery and post offices in poor neighborhoods threatened with closings.

The unions too, battered by a decade of losses in membership and influence, facing savage union busting attacks, and painfully aware that there’s precious little they are going to get from the Obama administration or a divided Congress, see an opportunity to be part of a broader fight back against corporate power. And so the first steps toward rebuilding the Seattle united front are being taken.

3. This has a profound global impact. Think back to the early months of this year and how we watched when first the Tunisians and then the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square launched, then maintained and defended occupations that challenged longstanding entrenched undemocratic regimes. People around the Arab world and the globe watched, transfixed, and tried to figure out how to replicate these magnificent uprisings. Even here, it provided massive inspiration and something of a template to the working class and its allies in Wisconsin.

Well, trust me, the US is far more visible on a global scale than Tunisia. From pure self-defense, people across the planet keep one eye on this country at all times. And now they are watching very closely indeed, They want to see what we, the 99%, can do against such a powerful and deadly enemy, one with claws sunk in their own countries, and with their junior versions of our 1% in power at home.

Tbis is very clear in the message from left wing Chinese activists and intellectuals in support of Occupy Wall Street! published here at Fire on the Mountain a few days ago. Describing the repression we face here, they mention how much worse it is elsewhere, like in China, then matter-of-factly say, “There is nowhere left where we can live and die as people.”

We must not turn our heads away from what this implies. The battle launched by Occupy Wall Street! is one in which the stakes are the future of the planet. No wonder Occupy! actions have broken out in more than a dozen other countries, in which contradictions had not yet reached the intensity they have in Spain and Greece, where far more massive battles have raged for months.

This means that what we do in the coming months as the movement unfolds is a contribution to the people of the world. Stepping up is our internationalist duty. To stand aside from this unfolding movement or critique it at a remove is to abdicate that duty, to settle for being Americans, instead of standing with the world’s people.

In closing, I have only argued here the importance of Occupy Wall Street and the movement it has spawned. I have not commented on its shortcomings–like the weaknesses of “leaderless resistance,” the chasm between the relative handful of full timers and the millions who will want to be part of the action but whose lives do not permit them to set up camp on a city street indefinitely, the replication of hierarchies of privilege under the banner of horizontalism. I have not addressed the challenges–like doing outreach, preparing for more violent repression, avoiding suffocation in the embrace of the Democratic Party and its allies and fronts, I could write a basic list of things that need consideration as long as this article itself.”

* 5. Douglas Rushkoff:

“We are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement, which — unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign — does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint.

Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system — and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem.

Are they ready to articulate exactly what that problem is and how to address it? No, not yet. But neither are Congress or the president who, in thrall to corporate America and Wall Street, respectively, have consistently failed to engage in anything resembling a conversation as cogent as the many I witnessed as I strolled by Occupy Wall Street’s many teach-ins this morning. There were young people teaching one another about, among other things, how the economy works, about the disconnection of investment banking from the economy of goods and services, the history of centralized interest-bearing currency, the creation and growth of the derivatives industry, and about the Obama administration deciding to settle with, rather than investigate and prosecute the investment banking industry for housing fraud.

Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher. What upsets banking’s defenders and politicians alike is the refusal of this movement to state its terms or set its goals in the traditional language of campaigns.

That’s because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.

Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.

But unlike a traditional protest, which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution, Occupy Wall Street just sits there talking with itself, debating its own worth, recognizing its internal inconsistencies and then continuing on as if this were some sort of new normal. It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement’s Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library.

Yes, as so many journalists seem obligated to point out, kids are criticizing corporate America while tweeting through their iPhones. The simplistic critique is that if someone is upset about corporate excess, he is supposed to abandon all connection with any corporate product. Of course, the more nuanced approach to such tradeoffs would be to seek balance rather than ultimatums. Yes, there are things big corporations might do very well, like making iPhones. There are other things big corporations may not do so well, like structure mortgage derivatives. Might we be able to use corporations for what works, and get them out of doing what doesn’t?

And yes, some kids are showing up at Occupy Wall Street because it’s fun. They come for the people, the excitement, the camaraderie and the sense of purpose they might not be able to find elsewhere. But does this mean that something about Occupy Wall Street is lacking, or that it is providing something that jobs and schools are not (thanks in part to rising unemployment and skyrocketing tuitions)?

The members of Occupy Wall Street may be as unwieldy, paradoxical, and inconsistent as those of us living in the real world. But that is precisely why their new approach to protest is more applicable, sustainable and actionable than what passes for politics today. They are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are attempting to run our economy is no longer appropriate to the task. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.

And in the process, they are pointing the way toward something entirely different than the zero-sum game of artificial scarcity favoring top-down investors and media makers alike.”

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