“Death of a Nation”: The Future of Occupy
by Mitchell Warren
“What is the future of occupy?”
“What will happen with the Occupy protest in 2012?”
“What are the occupy protests about?”
On March 3, 1991, Rodney Glen King was brutally beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with apparently no provocation. Thanks to fast thinking and filming by a man named George Holliday, the video was broadcast not only to the entire United States but also to news agencies all over the world. The response from the public was vociferous.
The incident, followed by the acquittal of the assaulting LAPD officers, caused a public uproar and started a small war between the black community and Los Angeles police officers, culminating in a series of riots that spread even beyond California. The dissenting voice of the people (and a minority at that) was heard loud and clear, and it wasn’t long before two of the four police officers were jailed for civil rights violations. Justice had been served…all it took was a Mookie-esque explosion of violence to incite change.
An Occupy War in Progress
Now at the dawn of 2012, a year already associated with great devastation, the Occupy Protest movement is reaching its peak. Over the past several months, we have seen multiple occurrences of Rodney King-caliber assaults happening at the hands of police officials even in the United States, a supposedly Democratic nation that rises to the aid of countries run by oppressive, corrupt governments. We have seen peaceful protesters jailed, despite the fact that protesting is a universally agreed upon constitutional right. TruthQuake News has compiled a series of videos documenting the assault of police officials on Occupy protesters, which include the likes of pregnant women, college students, and an 84-year-old woman, Dorli Rainey, with industrial-strength pepper spray.
Protesters are not the only ones being attacked by police officials. The Huffington Post reported that journalists covering the event were also beaten and arrested by police officials, including RT television network reporter Lucy Kafanov, who was attacked for attempting to film the protests. “It does not seem police are making a distinction between press and protesters,” she later commented. DNAInfo editor Julie Shapiro stated that she was “grabbed and shoved across the street” by NYPD officials for “[taking] a picture.” Even right wing media publications who typically vilify the protesters have faced abuse from police officials, as ThinkProgress shares. The Daily Caller’s Michelle Fields faced abuse from the NYPD and then help from an unexpected source: protesters, who offered their assistance.
These are acts of aggression, the likes of which stirred up a minority group 20 years ago to take decisive action, but which today is dividing the masses. As 2012 approaches, public opinion is mixed on the morality and the practicality of Occupy protests.
The Reaction to Occupy Everything
The Wall Street Journal (“Populist Movements Rooted in Same Soil”; The Wall Street Journal By Gerald F. Seib, November 15, 2011) conducted national polls in the months of October and November, and discovered that approval ratings were from 22% to 59%, especially among person ages 50 to 64. The polls also found that strong support came from individuals in an income class of $50,000 to $70,000 a year (middle class Americans). Time Magazine found that 54% of Americans approved of the protests, while 23% had a negative impression. Meanwhile, Quinnipiac University found that two thirds of New York City voters supported the movement and almost three-fourths of these voters understood the demands of the protesters.
Occupiers Speak Out
“Right now many major ‘informative medias’ are continuously trying to slander the movement and provide false knowledge, but through spoken-word and the many live-stream teams around the nation, people will gain the truth and the movement will only grow stronger. As Occupy is a movement of spreading truth, don’t expect it to have a set long-term goal of ‘changing our government,’ but instead to provide the base of knowledge that is needed for others to take that ultimate step.”
-Darren, College of the Atlantic
“There has never been such a unifying spirit and location. People from all different backgrounds are coming together to share their experiences and knowledge. That’s why Occupy is working so successfully outside of the system. People don’t trust the system, but they are starting to trust each other. America was and should be driven For the People, by the People.”
“Put simply, we must become the change we seek by exemplifying viable alternatives to the status quo. This applies to economic, political, theological, military, educational, technological, etc. aspects of the culture we have been born to. In other words, it is up to us to make ourselves happen in accord with our yearning for justice and equality consistent with our individual diversity.”
“Warriors armed with empathy.”
“I have been an active occupier since Day 1 in Liberty Plaza, I see the future of the Occupy Movement as one that sets up autonomous assemblies in communities across the nation. Thousands of solidarity groups have formed spontaneously in small communities worldwide already, they are focusing on local issues and ways to support the broader movement for the 99%. I hope to one day set up community centers for ‘the people’s liberation’ that function as Occupy centers, in a way similar to what the Black Panther Party had organized in ghettos across America.”
Politicians in Washington, the targeted audience for Occupy protesters, have given a largely negative reaction to movement, from Newt Gingrich’s “Take a bath and get a job,” snark to Obama’s shrugging off the idea to investigate corruption in Wall Street by replying, “One of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehman’s and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole sub-prime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal; it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless.”
However, the lack of action coming from Washington, indeed the eerie silence of politicians, is very telling. The protesters succinctly replied for the Obama administration with a written message that was handed out to the press.
“Mr. President, over 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested while bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st Amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”
Occupy and Class Warfare
Politicians, as individuals, have varied in their reaction. Ron Paul expressed sympathy with the 99%, stating that the 1% has “been ripping us off,” while Republican candidate frontrunner Mitt Romney stated that Occupy is “dangerous…class warfare,” and Vice President Joe Biden said bluntly, “The middle class has been screwed.”
“Class warfare”, a new thought pioneered by arguably the smartest member of the Republican Party. Is Occupy actually a matter of class warfare or is it a feud between the people and the state? Was Romney’s remark a distractionary method or is it a foreboding prophecy of things to come?
Harold Gray, political commentator of the Stranger Advice radio show, states that class warfare is a defensive maneuver by the government. “It’s in the interest of the ruling elite at the head of the system, to keep us divided and fighting amongst each other. The idea of class war or police violence would benefit the State immensely. This is a Cointelpro tactic that is used to create false revolution, the result being in no change and apathy. Now grass root movements that are deemed a threat by government are co-opted and discredited. It’s easier to destroy a movement by becoming it, than to assassinate the leaders.”
The American Occupy movement motto, “We are the 99%” is in reference to the fact that approximately 1% of the population is wealthy, in comparison to the 99% who is paying for the mistakes of a minority class. According to The Wall Street Journal Blog, in order to be counted as the 1%, a household must make over $506,000. This class is a minority indeed compared to both the poor and middle class. Logically speaking, this leaves only corporation heads, politicians, and A-list entertainers, among a few others, as the 1% who control our lives.
This raises the question, is Occupy truly the beginning of class warfare, in that Occupy protesters are primarily angry at the 1%, and are merely asking the government to punish them for their wealthy status (which assumedly results from corruption)? Ironically, many of the 1% celebrities have joined the cause of Occupy and endorsed the protests, including among others Roseanne Barr, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon who actually attended the demonstration), Mark Ruffalo, David Crosby and Graham Nash and Kanye West. Even of the demonized CEOs and very wealthy citizens of the U.S. have joined the protest, including Leah Hunt-Hendrix, who said, “We should acknowledge our privilege and claim the responsibilities that come with it,” and Farhad Ebrahimi who has been participating in the protests wearing a shirt reading, “Tax me. I’m good for it.” Artist and producer Russell Simmons attaches a moral obligation to join the cause saying, “You give what you get. I want to do what I can to relieve suffering and improve the quality of other’s lives.”
This out showing of support, while inspiring to Occupy marchers, does make one question the paradoxical imagery of a wealthy person protesting the actions of him/herself. At what point are the motivations of protesters questioned? This question is not merely in reference to B-list celebrities and journalists who want publicity from the event, but also to all protesters who are asking for a change. Indeed, the question should be, “Are you ready for change?” Are the American people ready for the drastic changes for which Occupy is asking?
What is Occupy About? 10 Occupy Demands
The media has been accused of distorting and obscuring the demands of Occupy protesters in an attempt to demoralize the effort and turn mass public opinion against the protesters. Nevertheless, Occupy protesters make every effort to share their goals, and their “demands” with the mainstream media. They are as follows:
- Wall Street’s practices caused the Great Recession of 2008 (through risky lending practices of mortgage-backed securities) and so guilty parties should be punished.
- Protesters want more jobs and higher-paying jobs.
- Protesters want bank reform legislation.
- Protesters want a reduction of corporation-influences on politics.
- Protesters want an equal distribution of the income.
- Protesters want to stop police brutality.
- Protesters want Congress to draft laws against Congress passing legislation that affects corporations that they themselves invest in.
- Protesters want to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which was designed to control speculation.
- Protesters want to hold Washington accountable for forestalling financial collapse by providing bailouts to banks, corporations and brokerage firms, at the expense of the average working person.
- Protesters want the 1% to bail them out, as they are experiencing wealth (on average, $11.4 million per 1% worker) while the rest of the country faces poverty.
One misconception about the Occupy: America is that protesters are clueless about what they want and who specifically is to blame. The Christian Science Monitorknew who precisely the Occupiers were blaming, and even shared an experience of Occupiers marching up to Jamie Dimon’s house (head of JPMorgan Trust), to demonstrate their demands. However, though specific demands have been drafted by multiple sources, “veteran” Occupiers hesitate to provide specific instructions. Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones interviewed several OWS sources who actually disagreed with the notion of providing specific demands, since this would be counterproductive to the aims of United States reform. The best expressed thought from the “other side” of OWS comes from the The Liberty Square Blueprint(a wiki page edited by some 250 occupiers) which states, “Demands cannot reflect inevitable success. Demands imply condition, and we will never stop.”
Dylan Pugh of the The Pugh Foundation states Occupy has an “inclusive nature, which serves to attract individuals concerned about a myriad of issues, causing Occupy to function as a sometimes unwieldy catchall for national and international disenfranchisement.”
However, rather than see it as problematic, he says this “lighting rod effect” could potentially be the movement’s greatest strength. “The solution is not, as some have suggested, to narrow the movement’s focus. Instead, the focus must go deeper, identifying the commonality between causes and the root issues that give rise to them. In short, the Occupy movement must focus its tremendous collective energy on fixing the systemic corruption which gives rise to the vast majority of inequality.”
As of this writing, there is scheduled to be a “national general assembly” of representatives on July 4, 2012, representing 435 congressional districts, to address solutions to Occupy grievances. Whereas Rodney King once famously pleaded, “Can’t we get along?” Occupy protesters are not interested in controlling the situation, but escalating it into a fervor of justice. They are outspoken, fearless and are demanding solutions to problems only the wealthy can fix.
Occupy, Capitalism and Socialism: The Great Debate
Dylan Pugh further states the problem is with money in politics. “Nearly every issue highlighted by Occupy activists, whether environmental, social, or economic can by systemically traced back to the influence of private money in our political system. By focusing on the most fundamental causes of inequality in our nation, the Occupy movement can transition from an engaging social force to a startlingly powerful platform for meaningful change.”
One issue that seems to be neglected by the mainstream media, and even by Occupy protesters, is the ramifications of these proposed changes, and what it will mean to the “American Way of Life.” The United States was created as the Definitive Capitalist Nation, and this was a point of national pride to the majority, from the days of Revolutionaries to as recently as the Clinton administration. It’s hard to deny that many of what Occupy protesters are asking for is socialistic in nature. It may be necessary, and is necessary from the standpoint of OWS, but it is something that by all definition is “Un-American.”
The main argument that the 1% seem to have with “fixing the system” is that it will require surrendering their money not by choice and not to a charity of their own choosing, but to a populace, a state made by the people. A fix to the system will require great sacrifices, primarily from the wealthy class, and that may be a notion scary enough to cause the 1% to hate the very message of Occupy—which is “Let’s change what has worked for you.”
Expecting a change from a capitalist society to socialist republic is nothing short of miraculous. Socialism is a word that would have been lambasted in the Nixon or Reagan administration, and yet is precisely what OWS encompasses. Socialism by definition is “an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy.” The New United States provided such protests are successful, would have the people own everything—from businesses to politics to perhaps even religion and personal conscience. Concepts of “freedom” would be replaced by concepts of “fairness” and equality. Success stories like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet might not even be possible under such new conditions. Instead of the proverbial American opportunity, we would be discussing salary caps and state-ownership of the people’s assets. Then, inevitably, the people would have to discuss appropriate punishments for capitalist thinkers who refuse to cooperate in a socially-decided economy. What was once yours is now ours, not for the sake of greed or fascism, but for the sake of the national community.
Regardless of what future scenario happens, the United States that has existed for the past 200+ years, indeed, the Great Free World Experiment, will have ceased to exist. Everything red, white and blue (as in private ownership of production, individual profit, accumulation of capital and competitive markets) will become a failure in history, with George W. Bush and Barack Obama (respectively, the zeniths of Republican and Democratic ideologies) taking most of the blame. What few people realize is that when the Occupy Victory finally happens, it will be the day the American Eagle lands.
The Occupy Movement: An Exercise in Marketing
Just as Obama’s successful presidential campaign was perceived a triumph of modern marketing, so too will Occupy forever be remembered as an excellent “viral” campaign, the likes of which spread the world over. Shel Horowitz, author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet, told Subversify that Occupy actually owes many of its methods to earlier protest movements. “Occupy owes much to groups like ActUp in the 1980s, Clamshell Alliance (safe energy) in the 1970s, civil rights organizations in the 1960s, and labor unions in the 1930s.”
Horowitz further explains that the future of Occupy could very well be a long-lasting trend. “What we see in these [movements] is that while the demonstrators themselves may be seen as radical and marginal, their agendas eventually become mainstream—and so do the protestors. I remember when J. Edgar Hoover and other conservatives tried to paint Martin Luther King, Jr. as a communist…and now his birthday is a national holiday and he has a monument on the Washington Mall. In other countries, protesters—think Lech Walensa in Poland or Nelson Mandela in South Africa—sometimes become presidents.”
Many protesters and freedom activists agree that Occupy is a success solely on the basis of its “marketing” power; that is, that it forced the busy American public to stop what it was doing, take notice and acknowledge a problem that required resolution. It’s the sort of thing that has been happening in Africa and the Middle East for quite some time, and perhaps something that just months ago, would never have been predicted in the United States, supposedly a nation of iPod-carrying, corporation-fed, apathetic citizens. However, the reaction from all ages, in the streets and online, has been deafening.
Occupy has definitely made its mark, so much so that it is forcing a mainstream reaction from the powers that be. But what will happen to Occupy protesters in the future?
The Future of the Occupy Movement
“When” is the key issue however, as a victory for the protesters is far on the horizon at this point. Apart from inevitable police brutality and military aggression, what is the long-term future of Occupy? There are five scenarios that could prevail.
- A Civil War
History teaches us that violent suppression of a peaceful voice (which is currently in its infancy) is often the ignition required for a full civil war. Injustice stirs panic and violent retribution in the human species, especially among people who are poor and have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Police have already brutalized American citizens across the United States. The last step to this escalating feud could well be the massacring of unarmed protesters by either the National Guard or local police officials; a modern day retelling of the Kent State shootings. It would serve as a warning from a police state to its citizens, and a rousing call to action by protesters who now feel the issue is a matter of life and death. The civil war would be such an emotional trauma for the nation, sub-issues such as rich and poor, and socialists and capitalists, would be forgotten. The new war would simply be the people vs. the oppressive government, and it could easily culminate in a destruction of assets for the United States, leaving it a third-world nation. No wonder that Michael Moore is currently warning OWS protesters to not engage in violence even if encouraged or provoked, since the government may be “planting” agents to start rioting, so as to justify brute force.
- A Class Cold War
Provided the government resists the urge to exterminate protesters (and thus create dozens of martyrs, which will in turn create millions of soldiers) the next possible scenario is a class war, and possibly even a war of poverty if the unemployment rate continues to fall. Not only will the 99% resent the 1% for hoarding their wealth, but they could begin waging a “cold war” against employed citizens who refuse to put any serious effort into the Occupy protests, and instead choose to provide for their families and serve the state. As much as we would like to believe that this isn’t an “us vs. us” war, many personal accounts (including one by The Observer) relate dangerous encounters already taking place between 99% protesters and 1% wealthy citizens who are merely going about their business and staying wealthy. Despite the overall goodwill that we see in the media shared between protesters and the sympathetic 1% population, it’s not exaggeration to state that there is a “Join us or else!” attitude held by many (if not a majority) of protesters. Is it possible the 99% protesters will grow and turn against their own kind, “union style”, as in pressuring neutral citizens to join the strike and suffer for the good of the union? We’ve seen the precedent before with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Labor Union, and even in a small-scale with the recent NBA and NFL lock-outs. Nevertheless, at the moment, employed and unemployed protesters seem to be in solidarity, united against the unsupportive 1% and the government, as recent surveys show that 70% of OWS protesters are currently employed. The first shots of this cold war are already being fired, as police officers are justifying their assaults on protesters saying it is simply their job; their means of providing for their families. When does resisting the movement become part of the problem?
- A World War III
This article is written from an American perspective, though we are not oblivious to the fact that Occupy-like protests are taking place all over the world and have been for quite some time. Overseas protests began to generate momentum in 2011 and soon involved nations all over the world, including Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Slovenia and Finland, among many others. A World War III scenario is certainly viable, given the volatility of international relations. But at this moment people, protesters are united against their governments, not against their own people. Though demands are varied among various countries, the demonstrations and movements share this much in common: people are not happy with the way their governments are run. The true demand here is that the current “system”, which is presumably failing because of poor economy, must change. These protests could easily be foreshadowing a multi-national World War III, which is not necessarily nation against nation, but a war of all ethnicities against themselves, against their own political systems. It’s the sort of social self-cannibalism that could easily cause a worldwide catastrophe.
- The Occupy Protests Fail
Another possible scenario is that the Occupy movements will dissipate and questionable governments will continue to retain power and damage the environment, eventually strengthening an invasive, “Big Brother” type society that lords over the weak, carefully controls assets, and treats human beings as dispensable products. According to anti-Occupy officials, protesters should stop creating a ruckus and find more productive methods to express disagreement—by participating (or non-participating) in the established system. Harold Gray states that in order for Occupy to work it must cease being a movement. “It should be a new lifestyle based on breaking their chains and becoming self-sufficient. Assume your power and create the system you want instead of asking for the system to change itself. The best way to defeat it is to withdraw and stop consenting. More focus needs to be put into parallel institutions, mutualism and voluntary exchanges.”
Though this is certainly a rational viewpoint, there could be a great risk in abandoning protests (just as they are starting to force negotiations) and willfully becoming a part of the system. Namely, because cooperation with elected officials may be effectively destroying the middle class and transforming the poor class into an all new class of total poverty. Alex Mendoza of The Socialist Party USA ticket says that apparent offers for new jobs to unemployed individuals are deceptive. As an example he cites the actions of governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. “[He] has enacted economic policies which bring in a lot of new jobs, but they’re not jobs to write home about. We have good jobs being replaced by minimum wage jobs so businesses get more work for less cost and people aren’t technically unemployed anymore.” Stewart Alexander of the same ticket adds, “Businesses are hiring desperate workers at low wages to sell merchandise…This is often part time work while it lasts.” Supporting the system through governmentally-approved avenues could result in a distraction from true Occupy goals.
- A United World Government
Perhaps a united world government is a figment of the late John Lennon’s imagination, but it’s certainly a comforting one, and the dream of every socialist and capitalist. Instead of a disastrous World War III, an optimist might suggest that worldwide protesting will force governments to redesign their systems and work closely together in a united effort, in order to survive an upcoming global-warming induced deluge (and or the approaching Planet X). Indeed, the human being’s survival is dependent on a near “perfect” society of united earth citizens, no longer characterized by greed or by nationalistic ideologies. A Utopian society of agreement and respectful acquiescing may be the only way to address a protest of a different kind—the Earth’s protest. Perhaps there is no greater protest imaginable than the mass destruction of an earthquake or a tsunami, which many feel, result directly from environmentally destructive practices by energy corporations. It’s the kind of “disagreement” that frail human minds and bodies cannot ignore or mock. In the coming years, it will take one united mind to negotiate with an angry planet.
For all purposes, it will be Utopia or bust.
Mitchell Warren is a freelance writer and the author of the satire book series The End of the Magical Kingdom.