This is not to say things are getting better for the 99 percent, in fact quite the opposite. The momentum of big business government continues to funnel money to the top while robbing most Americans of the little wealth they had. More Americans are impacted by the unfair economy, and more realize that their struggle is not their fault but the reality of living in a system with deep corruption, dysfunction and built-in unfairness. Unfair economic impacts are the compost creating fertile ground for the movement to grow.
Too many commentators focus on the lack of encampments and think Occupy is dead. Camping out in public parks was a tactic – it was not the movement or the only tactic of the movement. Too many fail to look at what members of the Occupy community are doing along with other social justice, environmental and peace activists. We report on the movement every day at Popular Resistance, so we see lots of activity all over the country, on a wide range of issues, using a variety of tactics – and we see a growing movement having a bigger impact.
There were some two-year anniversary stories that got it right. Demos published an article “Seven Ways Occupy Changed America and Is Still Changing It,” which correctly noted how we changed the debate, revived progressive populism, spurred worker revolts and challenged capitalism. Rebecca Solnit, who has been active in Occupy and other movements, made important points on the two-year anniversary. Here’s one: “Those who doubt that these moments matter should note how terrified the authorities and elites are when they erupt. That fear is a sign of their recognition that real power doesn’t only lie with them.” Occupy taught us we have power, we can have an impact. And by building an ever-bigger movement, the power structure will shake.
Deeper and Broader Resistance Movement
The day before Occupy Wall Street’s second anniversary, we talked with three people involved in the movement since its beginning September 17, 2011. Each is still active, and their involvement shows how the resistance movement is deepening.
Laura Gottesdiener is the author of A Dream Foreclosed, which tells the stories of one of the most vibrant aspects of the Occupy – Occupy Our Homes – and groups like Take Back the Land and City Life Vida Urbana they work with to stop home foreclosures and evictions. Through a range of blockading tactics, these groups have kept hundreds of families in their homes. Gottesdiener puts the mass evictions of Americans in context – 10 million have been evicted since the crash began in 2007; that is more than the number of people living in Michigan. According to the Department of Treasury, the housing crisis has destroyed $19.2 trillion of US household wealth.
Not only do activists blockade homes to prevent evictions, but they take back vacant properties, fix them up and put families back in them – and successfully pressure banks to accept this. Preventing evictions is ongoing work, because the Center for Responsible lending reported in 2011 that we were not even halfway through the foreclosure crisis. Every month, thousands are still evicted and facing foreclosure. Gottesdiener drove across country to see the nationwide reality of the movement to stop foreclosures and evictions and saw it was broad and deep, especially in the African-American community, where people see this as part of a historic pattern of disenfranchisement. The old prejudicial practice of red-lining to keep blacks out of homes transformed into predatory lending to get them in debt and then take away their homes. The resistance movement is fighting back where the government has failed to act to stop this theft of wealth by the looting class.
We are finally seeing local governments beginning to do what cities across the country should be doing – fighting back to stop the decay of their cities caused by foreclosures and evictions. In Richmond, California, where there is a Green-elected mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, the city is moving toward using its power of eminent domain to first attempt to negotiate new mortgages to keep homeowners in their homes but, if that fails, seize the homes and remortgage them for the homeowners so they are affodable. Of course, there has been pushback by the banks and the Obama administration. But so far they are on course with a court dismissing a lawsuit against them. And, now other cities are considering this approach – including neighboring San Francisco. If more cities join this effort, it will be the best thing government has done for homeowners since the collapse began.
Another example of Occupy solving problems that the government inadequately addressed is the response to environmental disasters. Occupy Sandy’s Goldi Guerra described how that movement, which got a lot of attention for its mutual aid work after the storm, is still continuing. When Sandy hit, thousands of people, mainly involved in Occupy, created a mutual aid project in Occupy Sandy. The group provided immediate aid to the people hit by the storm – tens of thousands of meals, helping to clean up houses and remove debris, providing security and an alternate place to live. Many gave Occupy Sandy more credit than FEMA or the Red Cross for their work. Now Occupy Sandy members continue their efforts by helping to restart businesses and, with Working World, by remaking businesses as cooperatives. They are working with Long Term Recovery Groups that are planning for the future. This work is also creating deep community relations across the waterfront of New York City in Queens, Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and Staten Island. People stepped in where government was failing them. Once again, Occupy and local community groups acted where government was unwilling or unable to provide adequate assistance.
We have seen other occupations doing similar mutual aid work after storms. Occupy Oklahoma stepped forward after massive tornadoes devastated parts of Oklahoma. Occupiers in Colorado are helping people in Boulder and surrounding communities by bringing aid to them after massive flooding paralyzed communities.
Our third guest, Justis Wedes, is working with a new project that went public on the anniversary of Occupy – the Occupy Money Cooperative. This group sees itself as the “start of the financial services revolution.” The Occupy Money Cooperative is a financial services project that will be owned and controlled by its members in a democratic way. They seek to provide financial services that are transparent with no hidden fees to the millions of people shut out of the banks. They will show by example that financial services do not have to rip people off to succeed and by doing so push other financial institutions in that direction. They are going to begin with the Occupy Money Card, a debit card, savings facility and virtual check book that people can use without the cost or the balances required for a regular bank account. They see it as a “bank on a card.”
The Occupy Money Cooperative is a great example of the evolution of Occupy. The movement started because of the excesses of Wall Street, the financial collapse, mass debt and an unfair economy. While the movement knows that it is going to take a mass resistance movement mobilized for change to put in place polices that end the rule of money, it also knows that right now we need to build our own institutions that can provide the services people need. This requires operating outside of government to create our own institutions. They are capitalizing the bank in a grass-roots way, seeking donations from people across the country.
Finance, the wealth divide and unfair economy are central issues among Occupy and other justice activists and many of the strongest off-shoots of Occupy are in this area. Occupy the SEC does brilliant work pushing the SEC to properly regulate the banks. Strike Debt, a nationwide movement of debt resistors that sees “debt as the tie that binds the 99%” and wants people to know “you are not a loan” has published the Debt Resistors Manual that provides people with lots of useful information about dealing with debt. And, their Rolling Jubilee project has been raising money to buy debt at 10 cents on the dollar and forgive it. They have raised $615,000 and forgiven $12,300,000 of debt.
Across the country, creative alternatives to the dominant finance and employment system are developing. These include local currencies, time banks, community-supported agriculture, farmer’s markets, worker or consumer cooperatives, land trusts to control housing prices and discussion of complementary monetary systems. There is a growing movement for public banks and remaking the Federal Reserve while people take steps to opt out of Wall Street by moving their money from the big banks. Political economist Gar Alperovitz notes that already 140 million Americans participate in some type of cooperative, including banking cooperatives. A new democratic economy is being created outside of the Wall Street-dominated economy.
Many occupiers see that one of the main purposes of the Occupy encampments was to show people that they were not alone, that a lot of people shared their values and concerns about the unfair economy and dysfunctional government. And, they showed people they could stand up. The police repression just added to showing their courage against an abusive government that was doing the work of the banks rather than protecting the constitutional rights of Americans. This courage has been contagious as we can see in many movements around the country.
The worker’s rights and jobs movements have taken off in the past two years. Strikes of low-wage workers at Walmart and fast food companies are growing. People see the reality that people should be paid a wage they can live on, not one that requires them to get food stamps and taxpayer-funded health care and housing. The unfairness of this is particularly stark when corporate profits are going through the roof along with executive salaries.
Education protests of teachers, students, families and whole communities against closing down community schools while taxpayer dollars are used to fund private schools, disguised as charter schools. People are showing they refuse to accept poor-quality education while cities build sports stadiums and give away tax dollars to big box stores. College students are organizing across the country to fight high tuition that is leading to record college debt for students graduating into an economy with low-paying jobs that do not use their educational skills.
Environmental activists have intensified their protests against the extreme energy economy that relies on risky and expensive extraction methods like tar sands, hydrofracking, mountaintop removal and off-shore drilling. At the same time, the nuclear renaissance has been turned into a nuclear retreat with companies pulling out and reactors being closed. These protests have been joined by, and often led by, Native Indians, indigenous people and groups like Idle No More.
And, for the first time, the American people have helped stop a war after a president has said he wanted to bomb a nation. The bombing of Syria may be halted only temporarily, but this is an amazing feat. It should give Americans confidence to know that they have more power than they realized so that if Obama tries again to bomb seriously, they can stop him again. If the president continues the push toward bombing, his party will pay a heavy price as people have spoken clearly against another war. And, this may be the beginning of an antiwar movement that crosses the political spectrum and can take on the challenge of ending US imperialism and militarism.
This brief review does not do justice to the depth and activity of what is occurring every day in the United States and around the world to challenge the rule of money that has created a dysfunctional government and unfair economy. We could go on for pages more describing the resistance movement we report on at Popular Resistance. Rather than disappearing, Occupy has evolved and is bigger and deeper, more connected to communities and other organizations than it was when it had encampments all over the country.
The Fertile Ground for Resistance
The movement continues to grow and broaden because of the very fertile environment created by a government that cannot respond to our demands for a fair economy and participatory democracy, that instead of protecting people’s free speech rights tramples on them with aggressive police force and that puts profits ahead of protecting the planet. The hubris and greed of those with unfair wealth has not diminished. They continue to take more, want more and create a rigged economy that serves them, not all the people.
The most recent report from the Census, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012,” shows how the economy continues to work against the 99 percent. Some key findings of the report indicate that most Americans are getting poorer. They report there has been an 11.6 percent decline in household income between 2000 and 2012 – that means that households lost $7,490 in annual income. Median earnings are dropping except for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans. Poverty is rising, with 15 percent of the population living in poverty in 2012, including 21.8 percent of children under 18 years old. This means 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty – and to heighten the dysfunction of government – Congress is talking about cutting food stamps, rather than increasing them.
More Americans realize their loss of income means increased profits for corporations and therefore increased income for stock-holding wealthy Americans. There is a transfer of wealth going on right before the eyes of the American public. People see it and realize it is because the US has a government corrupted by money creating an unfair economy.
And, it is not only income that has been lost, but the little wealth most Americans had has virtually disappeared. The Federal Reserve reported in 2012 that the median net worth of families dropped 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That means Americans lost 18 years of wealth because of the housing crisis. Of course, this affected working Americans, blacks and Latinos even more severely.
A group that is going to be severely disadvantaged as a result of the unfair economy are recent college graduates and current students. Demos reported:
“Student debt has skyrocketed over the past decade, quadrupling from just $240 billion in 2003 to more than $1 trillion today. If current borrowing patterns continue, student debt levels will reach $2 trillion in 2025. Average debt levels have risen rapidly as well: two-thirds (66 percent) of college seniors now graduate with an average of $26,600 in student loans, up from 41 percent in 1989. The rise of this ‘debt-for-diploma’ system over the past decade was largely caused by the sharp decline in state funding for higher education, which has fallen by 25 percent since its peak in 2000.”
What does this mean for individual students? If students graduate with $53,000 of debt, they will have a lifetime loss of wealth of $208,000. The $1 trillion of debt being carried by today’s millennial generation means they will have $4 trillion less wealth. Student debt already is having short-term effects: among them record rates of default, a lack of full-time, well-paid jobs and the inability to buy their own homes.
And, we see the government continuing to put in place a rigged economy for the wealthiest. One example of horrendous policy is the Trans Pacific Partnership, the largest trade agreement since WTO. It is being negotiated in secret, and its terms are classified as secret. The government’s attempt to put such an important law in place without transparency – so that people do not know what is in it – is outrageous. Obama is keeping it secret because he knows that, as former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, if the people knew what was in this agreement, it would not pass. Even operating in secret will not save this agreement, because opposition is growing, a cross-partisan alliance in Congress is developing and research is showing how it will devastate most Americans. A recent study concluded that 90 percent of Americans would see their incomes decline if the TPP became law.
And, we know it does not have to be this way. It is not a shortage of money; it is where money is used. The Federal Reserve essentially has given the big banks $20 trillion since the economic crash. In the past year, through Qualitative Easing and other policies, the Fed has given $1 trillion. As economist Jack Rasmus, who serves as Fed chair for the Green Shadow Cabinet, points out, that same $1 trillion could have been used to “create 20 million jobs at a fully loaded full-time $50,000 a year.” The American people are not stupid; we see money funneling to the top, when it should be used to build a foundation for the economy.
To underscore the fact that it is not a question of lack of money, David DeGraw writes in his two-year OWS anniversary column that according to the most recent numbers: “US millionaire households now have $50 trillion in wealth.” What is $50 trillion? In another column he explains: “One trillion is equal to 1,000 billion, or $1,000,000,000,000.00.” When we limit ourselves to not mere millionaires, but the wealthiest 400 people, they have as much wealth as 185 million Americans combined. There is enough wealth, but because of the design of the economy – not because these people are smarter or work harder – wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few.
It is not only the economy that provides reason for the resistance movement to grow: other issues, including the attack on civil liberties, especially the dragnet searches of phone calls, emails and Internet activity, are mobilizing Americans. NSA spying is creating a new wing of the resistance movement that is working to restore civil liberties and weaken the surveillance state.
And, a major impetus for growth of the resistance movement is environmental damage being caused to our food, water and air; and especially to the climate by a government that puts the profits of energy corporations ahead of protecting the environment. The government is deep in the pockets of the nuclear, oil, gas and coal industries. As a result, the government responds only if there is sustained pressure by the people. A good example of success has been the movement to end nuclear energy, which has been able to turn a nuclear renaissance into a nuclear retreat – in spite of President Obama’s support for the industry.
The Best of the Resistance Movement Lies Ahead
The combination of a movement that is growing and deepening with a government that is dysfunctional because of the corruption of money is a recipe for a movement that is likely to grow. Not only are current participants in the resistance movement building relationships and expanding their work, but they are also learning how to be effective. There is more information available about what it takes to win and more often than not, the movement is using the right strategies and tactics.
And, the movement is winning battles. Stopping a war after a president announced a plan to bomb is an amazing, unprecedented feat. And the movement played an important role in that process. Repeatedly stopping President Obama and Congress from cutting Social Security – something the president has tried to do four times since 2011 – is another important success. Forcing Wall Street’s favorite, Larry Summers, President Obama’s first choice to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve, to withdraw from contention is another victory. Keeping hundreds of people in their homes who were facing evictions and foreclosures are the types of victories that build strong community bonds and that are happening all across the country. Closing nuclear power plants across the country and energy companies pulling out of developing new plants are a major step toward a clean energy economy – as are moratoriums on hydrofracking, such as has occurred in New York. Stopping the stop-and-frisk program in New York City and moving away from the war on drugs with reform of the marijuana laws and passing a California initiative requiring treatment instead of prison for many drug offenders are all wins. And, we’re very likely to see Washington state vote to require GMO labeling, despite Monsanto and other big ag businesses spending millions to stop it.
We need to consistently highlight our successes because there is no question the government and corporate media will not acknowledge them. It is much easier to build a movement on victories as it shows people that we can have an impact and we can make a difference by being part of a broad-based popular resistance.
While media attention on the Occupy encampments was a good thing for a short time, it is more important for us to build the movement we want to see so that when the next big wave of public protest occurs we are even bigger. We have no doubt that the movement is growing, that support for our views are growing and that we are reaching a tipping point that will ensure our ultimate success. People who want to see transformative change in this country should go forward with confidence and build on the strengths we have shown. We will look back on this era in amazement of all that we have accomplished.
In a column in the Daily Beast, Peter Beinhart wrote that we may be seeing “The Rise of the New, New Left.” He focused on the Democratic primary victory of Bill de Blasio, whom some already call the Occupy Mayor, as the starting point for his analysis and described how we may be in a moment where the new political generation, the Millennials, that will shape political thinking had as its formative experience a financial collapse, where Wall Street’s excesses of greed and hubris were seen by all. They have come of age in a time of economic collapse, when government provides very little in a safety net and they see a future of low wages wherein they will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents.
Beinhart may have those economic impacts right. But rather than looking at the primary victory of the likely next New York mayor, we should look at the movement and what it is doing outside of the manipulated electoral system: The victories we have had already, the relationships and communities we are building and how the movement has forced change without spending time on elections are true signs of a potential transformative moment. As Solnit wrote on the two-year anniversary of OWS, the truth about the US economy was told in new language; reality “came to be described more accurately; so much so that the media and politicians had to change their language a little to adjust to – admit to – a series of previously ignored ugly realities.”
While politicians have reacted to the now-exposed ugly realities and a generation is being shaped by them, there is also a movement that is growing and creating the world it wants to see because of them. The movement is building new economic institutions, challenging old ones and demanding they not be ignored. The best of this new movement is very likely ahead of us.
You can hear our show “Two Years Later – Where is the Occupy Movement?” with Laura Gottesdiener, Goldi Guerra and Justin Wedes here.
Copyright: Truth Out