Friday, October 7, 2011

There's no shortage of raw material

Protests have a desperate air about them that tends to cast a pall over the proceedings.  It takes a lot of courage and persistence to walk into an angry mob of cops when there is absolutely zero assurance that what you are doing is worth the time and energy.  Since damn few of us come naturally equipped with the required amount of courage, the only thing that keeps protesters marching is the fury, and fear that comes when there aren't better alternatives.

So the reality that protests almost never accomplish anything and often result in a lot of cracked skulls is on this occasion matched by an almost infinite supply of desperate and thoroughly fed-up people.  One of the wonderful ideas of the OWS crowd has been to create a web site with pictures of folks describing their motivation for protesting called We Are The 99%.  I have included a couple of samples but these things number in the 100s.

What They've Come to Find at Occupy Wall Street Is America
October 5, 2011 at 1:16PM by Charles P. Pierce 
NEW YORK — Sal Cioffi and Randy Otero are union electricians from Local 3 of the IBEW in New York. They're working on the Freedom Tower a few blocks over in lower Manhattan. Over the past couple of days, they've taken to having their lunch in Zuccotti Park, in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have set up camp here. The event has grown sufficiently that it's now attracted almost as many food trucks and mobile falafel units as it has television-news trucks, so there's always some place for Sal and Randy to buy lunch. So they park themselves on the stone bench, put their hard hats on the ground and, almost organically, they become part of the event.

"We've had demonstrations, and it never makes the news," says Sal. "We could have 10,000 workers demonstrating, and it won't make the news. At least, something like this, they get the publicity." 
"We had a rally for the workers, two months ago, and we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, and there were people crossing that bridge for an hour-and-a-half, and it didn't hit the news," Randy adds. "All organized labor, no press coverage whatsoever. 
"Now, this here, they're not leaving, so the media has to cover it. And it's very close to Ground Zero, and once the police get involved, they have to cover it." 
"They're waiting for someone to do something wrong," Sal says. 
What the two of them have found for themselves, here amid the guitars and the drums, and the indistinguishable forms shifting in their sleeping bags against the advancing autumn chill, is a public space for ideas. If the primary criticism of the ongoing demonstrations is that they seem to lack, as a hundred media reports have put it, "a cohesive public message," that is also one of their great strengths. This is a very loud and clear yawp against the irresponsible use of power by unaccountable institutions, including, increasingly, the government itself. The protests here are omni-directional. They appear inchoate because their target is so diffuse — an accelerating sense in the country that there is no pea under any of the shells, that the red Jack is not in the deck, that the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition. This is a protest about declining wages and corporate greed, about baroque financial schemes and the unfathomable fine print on the back of your credit-card statement, about a grand critique of mutated capitalism and outrage at the simple tragedy of foreclosure fraud. So, for today, Sal and Randy are sitting on the stone bench and talking about the life of a union electrician in New York City in 2011 and, in what they say, there is the shadow of all these other things, waiting for one slip, one accident, one missed paycheck. Except for the very few, economic survival in America is a fragile, perilous journey over an increasingly narrow road. That's the cohesive public message here in the park, if you can see past all the dreadlocks and hear it over the drum circles, which most of the mainstream coverage of this event has been sadly unable to do. 
"We have 200 guys out [of work] now," Sal explains. "There's a 60-week wait now if you get laid off today. That's the wait now, but the wait's going to get longer because it always does. The 70's were bad — the late 70's — but this is worse. Sorry to say it but, if that didn't happen down here — 9/11 — we'd have had a lot more people out of work." more

Rescuing America from Wall Street

By Harold Meyerson, Published: October 4

Better late than never, the movement to take America back from Wall Street has arrived. On Wednesday, the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street encampment will swell as Move­ members, union activists and ordinary disgruntled citizens join the demonstration against our financial sector’s misrule of the American economy. What’s more, long-planned anti-bank demonstrations in major cities this week are growing beyond their organizers’ fondest hopes as the Wall Street protest movement catches fire. 
The anti-bank campaign has in fact been incubating for years — a “seed beneath the snow,” as the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once termed the slow-to-arrive left. The sit-ins, teach-ins and street demonstrations popping up in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are formally the handiwork of a coalition of community groups that recently gathered together as the New Bottom Line. Many of these groups have focused on immediate goals — such as stopping particular banks from foreclosing on more homes. They, along with unions, have demonstrated on Wall Street many times since the 2008 financial crisis. But only now, as Occupy Wall Street — an organization that they didn’t create — has grabbed the public imagination the past few weeks, are the myriad mobilizations commanding the media’s attention. 
“It’s a confluence of planned and unplanned demonstrations,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime organizer for the Service Employees International Union who once spearheaded the union’s successful campaign to organize big-city janitors and today helps guide the groups in New Bottom Line. “We build on each other. We go ping-ponging back and forth.” 
Planned and unplanned, the groups are coming together. The imminent mixing of largely young and countercultural Wall Street occupiers with more seasoned and hard-nosed unionists and middle-class liberals may produce some clashes of style, but their shared anger at what banks have done to them — to all of us — should be sufficient to cement this nascent coalition. It had better be. 
At the moment, this fledgling movement is awash in a range of demands. Occupy Wall Street has tended toward the amorphous, expressing a generalized rage at economic inequality and financial hegemony. The New Bottom Line groups, and the wonks of the anti-bank left, have more concrete demands, including modifications and cancellations to student and housing debt, a financial-transaction tax, and the reinstitution of the 1932 Glass-Stea­gall Act (which would make garden-variety banking safer and less speculative by rebuilding the wall between commercial and investment banking). more

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