Something To Think About

November 18th, 2011

I’m going to interrupt our irregularly scheduled nudity to take a detour into what is going on in our country right now. Friend, model and intelligent, thoughful person, Theda, works in NYC near the Occupy Wall Street area and has been going by there and keeping tabs on what is going on…and writing updates on facebook that I’ve been enjoying. Today she wrote an insightful essay about the situation there. It deserves a wide audience, so I’m going to stop writing and just let you read what Theda has to say:

The American dream is now the American fantasy
The most amazing thing about Occupy Wall Street may be how radically the news coverage has diverged from the reality of the protest. Even NPR’s coverage doesn’t quite mesh with my own experience.

Pardon me while I go bullet pointy on the whole thing, but I’m tired of re-writing this over and over, so this covers a bit of everything. Please note that I have only been to the original Zuccotti Park encampment, so I can’t speak of the other occupations with any degree of accuracy. I’m certainly not going to rely on 3rd hand reports.

This was written in bits and pieces, both before and after the eviction. So if the writing isn’t quite cohesive, eat me…

The protesters don’t even know why they’re there.

Between 100 and 200 people were sleeping in a park for eight weeks through rain, snow and freezing temperatures with limited access to plumbing and constant threat of arrest. And you think they didn’t know why? Every single Occupier can give you a reason for making him/herself uncomfortable and vulnerable. Maybe many of those reasons will sound foolish and some will be downright stupid, but they know why they’re there. The fact that not everyone’s reason is identical does not mean they “don’t know why they’re there.”

What are their demands?

“Demands are for terrorists.” There are no official demands from the movement as a whole and there probably will not be. There has been a declaration and a FAQ, which are worth reading. Despite the lack of demands, there are some key points of policy that come up frequently:

1) Overturn Citizens United. Corporate personhood is a slap in the face of democracy. Corporations are not people, but they are composed of people who already have the right to vote and openly donate to the candidates of their choice. Not that there wasn’t plenty of soft money floating around prior to Citizens United, but this decision is an open “fuck you” to the average citizen. Campaign reform is required to level the political playing field. Only the wealthy are in a position to run and only with the support of even wealthier corporate interests. That’s plutocracy (or plutarchy, if you prefer).

2) “Too big to fail = too big to exist.” Reinstate Glass-Steagall and break up trusts. If Glass-Steagall had not been repealed in the mid-90s, “Too big to fail” wouldn’t have become our mantra has we handed out hundreds of billions in corporate welfare.

3) Open and regular audits of the Federal Reserve that will probably result in, at minimum, a drastic restructuring of our central banking system. You will also find quite a few who wish to dismantle the Fed all together.

4) Repeal Bush-era tax cuts on the top earners. The top marginal tax rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, yet the rate of unemployment is near that of the Great Depression. Top earners are defined anywhere between $250k and $1.3 million per annum, depending on who you ask and what mathematical formula you use. After 30 years of Reaganomics, it should be abundantly clear that the wealth is not “trickling down.” When allowed to retain more of their capital, the rich do spontaneously become “job creators.” In an unsteady economy, the wealthy invest conservatively and save. That’s why they’re wealthy.

5) Hold financiers accountable for the fraud involved in the subprime mortgage securities fiasco. The handful of civil cases against powerful bankers have been largely unrelated trials.

The government caused this housing bubble to burst by forcing banks to make bad loans.

No one was “forced” to make subprime loans en masse. And no one was forced to rebundle those bad loans as mortgaged backed securities, slap triple A ratings on them and sell them off at a tremendous profit. This is an incredible line of bullshit and no one with any real knowledge of events believes this. But it is awfully nostalgic to blame Jimmy Carter, isn’t it?

They’re just trust fund kids looking for a party and handouts.

Risking hypothermia and arrest is not a party. And if they were trust fund kids, wouldn’t they already have all the handouts they could want? There was certainly plenty of signage about student loans, but very few (if any) actually believe they shouldn’t have to pay them back. Some of those signs about “student bailouts” were tongue-in-cheek references to corporate bailouts. Others were about restructuring the student loan system in such a way as to minimize defaults by the under-employed. It isn’t pretty.

They’re homeless and/or criminals, not productive members of society.

In the last few weeks of the Occupation, more of NYC’s homeless flocked to the park. For the most part, as long as they were polite and helpful, they were welcome. There was some concern that the Occupiers’ kitchen lacked the resources to feed the city’s entire homeless population and various proposals were raised to minimize “freeloading.” No, this is not ironic. Occupiers actively participate in any of a number of working groups. An internal security detail evicted the violent and drug users as needed.

There is some indication that the NYPD deliberately sent vagrants, drug addicts and sex offenders to the park as part of an effort to discredit the Occupiers and drive them out. There is little proof of this. It’s totally expected that the word would get out and how much role the police played in that hasn’t been proven. It could have been just a handful or a department-wide effort.

In any case, it’s worth noting that not everyone in the park was a protester or a park resident. There are many people who visited only briefly and many who only participated during the day or after work. And of course, there were those merely looking for a meal and a place to sleep, but I find it hard to blame them.

They should “occupy a job.”

Roughly 70% of the protesters are employed and quite a few more are retirees. A recent poll found the age group most supportive of Occupy Wall Street is 50-64. In fact, as the Occupation wore on, the average age of the crowd increased drastically. By the last week, I was seeing at least as many gray heads as dredlocks.

The protesters themselves are a remarkably diverse crowd. You do have your share of crust punks, white boys with dreds and aging hippies, but you also have WWII veterans, economists, professors, union leaders, entrepreneurs, librarians, nurses, teachers, Lego men

“Redistribution of wealth” is class warfare and tantamount to stealing.

Isn’t it, though? America’s wealth has been redistributed at an alarming rate since the 1980s. A more progressive taxation plan could slow or reverse the process that’s been eating away at the middle and lower classes for decades. To parrot a common talking point, why is it only class warfare when the poor and middle classes fight back?

The protesters are jealous and just want what the 1% have.

If you mean opportunity and an audible voice in government, yeah. If you mean their piles of money and mountains of toys, not so much.

The movement is anti-capitalism.

The majority of protesters are not seeking to overthrow the entire free market. I’m sure some of us would love to live in a Marxist utopia, but that’s not realistic and there was never certainly a consensus on such a thing. This is not about capitalism or corporatism so much as it is about the abuses of capitalism and corporatism.

The movement is anti-Semitic.

There was one anti-Semitic protester (who had other protesters next to him with signs reading “this guy is crazy” and “asshole”), but he’s the only one I know of. There was also one seemingly anti-Semitic heckler that some sources have tried to pass off as a typical protester. He’s been trying to become youtube-famous by uploading videos of himself being obnoxious for a long time and shows no preference in whom he annoys.

I did, however, see a number of anti-Zionist protesters objecting to the United States’ unfaltering allegiance to Israel. Some of them might also have been anti-Semites, but some of them are Jewish. Israel is not the sum total of Jewry and there are many among us who long for an amicable settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis, including homelands for both.

Regardless, local rabbis held kol nidre and simchas torah services for observant protesters and interested onlookers. In addition to the Jewish services, there were frequent meditation and yoga groups. Religious intolerance was never part of the game plan.

The Tea Party never had complaints of assaults or resulted in arrests.

The Tea Party never tried anything so drastic as an indefinitely established Shanty Town near centers of business (and they were quickly co-opted by the same corporate interests that Occupy Wall Street is protesting). Perhaps if the Tea Partiers were committed enough to protest around the clock for eight weeks, they would have run into the same sort of problems (assuming they came as unprepared for violence as the Occupiers have). We’ll never know. The primary difference in ideology is with whom the bulk of the blame rests. The Tea Party blames government. Occupy Wall Street blames everyone. but mostly the corporate lobbies.

You’re protesting in the wrong place. You should be in front of the White House/Congress.

There have been numerous Occupy DC events. But when you’ve come to the conclusion that all your elected officials are really corporate puppets, you go to the puppet masters, not the puppets. Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Obama and his advisers are responsible for this movement.

Maybe, but not in the way you think. Obama was the Left’s small ray of hope and we’ve been severely disappointed. This is political learned helplessness. Under the current system, no one with the means to run for major office could possibly be on the side of the middle and lower classes. The campaign costs are too great. Obama is not terribly popular among the protesters and this is no diversionary tactic. Obama may end up being the lesser evil in 2012, but he’s no longer anyone’s ideal.

The unions, George Soros and the Working Families Party has been paying people $600/week to protest.

New York’s Working Families Party advertised for people to work for their established party. No one at Occupy Wall Street has been paid cash by anyone to protest. Prior to the eviction, they were “paid” in meals and bedding. Thousands flocked to a small park due to their own convictions.

I read that someone at Occupy DC “admitted” to hiring migrant workers, but nowhere other than a few conservative blogs. Nor have I seen the exact quote in context, so I’ll reserve judgment on that. With ten of thousands of participants all over the world, it’s far fetched to believe even a substantial minority were on the payroll.

The Occupations accomplish nothing.

Occupy Everything has, at least temporarily, turned the national dialog from ceaseless debates about raising the debt ceiling versus destroying our position in the global economy to issues that weigh heavily on the minds of average Americans.

The unemployment rate exceeds the number of available jobs by a large margin. Many of those who are employed are underemployed and can only afford basic needs, which may not include paying off tens of thousands in student loan debt. Many more are being denied cost of living increases in salary and are therefore inching towards underemployment. Manufacturing in America is almost dead. Preventative health care is a luxury. Multitudes feel they’ve been systematically disenfranchised. The vocal occupation forced the media and our governing officials to focus on the people’s immediate concerns.

More obviously, the Occupy movement campaigned for Americans to close their accounts with “too big to fail” institutions and move their money to local banks and credit unions. Hundred of thousands have. More Americans have switched in the last month than in the entirety of 2010. An exodus of about one million customers won’t collapse any of the large banks, but it will make a statement and hopefully lead the banks to reconsider some of their more usurious practices.

The Occupation has cost the city millions.

The city is going overboard with barricades and additional police. There have been permanent police posts in the immediate area for years, but adding 20-30 officers to stand around and clear the sidewalk and erecting a barrier maze on Wall Street is overkill. However, I’m sure the Blue Shirts appreciate the over time hours.

The protesters made every effort to police and clean the area themselves (up to and including cleaning the bathrooms at the nearby McDonalds), and were quite successful given the unique circumstances.

Local residents and businesses are suffering because of noise and sanitation issues.

Per an interview with the president of the local community board, the community was largely in support of the protesters’ right to remain. There were multiple meetings between the community board and OWS representatives that resulted in the bulk of the Good Neighbor Policy, which included limited hours for drumming and forbids drug and alcohol usage. Since I wasn’t there overnight, I can’t say how closely the policy was adhered to at odd hours.

The primary complaints from residents and small businesses were about the police barricades. They were removed (probably at the behest of Donald Trump) briefly, but many were put back up within hours. The mayor claimed the protesters took to the street when the barricades came down, but I saw no evidence of this. I took a walk over there when the barricades were down and the streets had roughly the normal amount of tourists photographing each other in front of the NYSE and Federal Hall, but not a single protester. I asked around the encampment if there had been any sort of march down Wall Street that evening and no one knew anything about it.

Zuccotti Park encompasses the entire (small) block. Except during some of the larger marches and media blitzes, there have been no building entrances blocked. The sidewalks were mostly crowded with onlookers stopping to read signs and talk to protesters, who stuck close to the perimeter of the park. The food carts are still there, and if anyone had a legitimate complaint about their business, it’s them. (Especially the vendor who had his generator confiscated by the FDNY as a “fire hazard.”)

Furthermore, the encampment itself was becoming a tourist attraction. People on their way from the NYSE and the 9/11 Memorial made Zuccotti Park one of their stops. I’ve been asked for directions to “the” park. “See the city” tour buses come down lower Broadway frequently and passengers would often wave, cheer and take pictures as they passed.

I neither saw nor smelled any evidence of public defecation or urination so often mentioned in the news. Some nearby residents volunteered their bathrooms for showers, so most of the Occupiers were reasonably clean. The city refused permits for port-a-potties, but an organization nearby eventually donated space for that purpose.

Drum circles suck.

Yeah, they really do.

The “people’s mic” and hand gestures are ridiculous.

The NYPD prohibited bullhorns and other forms of artificial amplification. The “people’s mic” is a work-around. On a cognitive level, repeating what you hear facilitates comprehension. So while it feels cult like initially, it’s actually a lovely example of a disparate group cooperating to insure everyone has a say (aka hippie shit).

The hand gestures were developed to reach a consensus in an orderly fashion without interrupting the speaker. It’s easier to determine how popular or unpopular an idea is by wiggling fingers than by a cacophony of clapping and/or booing. And yeah, spirit fingers do look stupid, but they work.

Disrupting the subways will only inconvenience the working class people.

I’d really, really like to know where this “OccupySubway” rumor was started. To my knowledge, there was never any intention of disrupting anyone’s commute. The itinerary for November 17th I was given mentioned nothing of the sort. And it never happened. My only guess is someone misread that the events planned at several subway hubs were actually intended to take place in the subway and off it went through social media until major networks were reporting fictional pandemonium. There was plenty of real pandemonium in the streets, but I somehow managed to miss all of it.

New York, Occupy Movement, Politics, Theda, Uncategorized | Comments | Trackback

3 Responses to “Something To Think About”

  1. 1Robert
    November 19th, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    Thanks for putting this on your blog. There is very little truthful reporting on any of the Occupy events.

  2. 2Dave Swanson
    November 19th, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    The media, especially NPR is controlled by money handed out by the Government. NPR in terms of Federal dollars allocated to its existence in budget every year, and all others in terms of profits generated from advertisers based on the number of viewers and listeners. That money filters down from big corporations that profit from the Government’s tax breaks.
    This post was a refreshing look at reality. Something you won’t see or hear on TV or radio.
    Thank you. Both of you.

  3. 3theda
    November 19th, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

    For the record, of all news sources (including The Daily Show), NPR came closest to a very balanced report. Their live reports this Thursday kept me abreast of events while I was stuck at a desk hovering above them. Guests on WNYC to discuss the protests have included several OWS reps, the president of the Community 1 board, both Keynesian and Supply-Side economists and the assistant police commissioner.

    And the local host who had all those people on had a man call and scream at him for 10 minutes for being “supportive” of the movement and how vile the protesters were. I commend Brian Leher’s cool head.

    The amount of funding from the Corporation for Public broadcasting is greatly exaggerated. NPR is primarily funded by affiliates, who are primarily funded by private donations, particularly in large markets like NYC.

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