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#J17- Occupy Congress

I copied this shamelessly from DCBlogger at Correntewire:

I have a spot on the Trenton, NJ bus.  The more people there, the better.  I’d love to see more chemists and biologists go.  There are so many of us out of work and the country doesn’t know it.  We had good middle class salaries.  Since 2008, the money for research has dried up.  We’re in bad shape up here in the northeast.  It’s not that far to drive from NJ to Washington.  You could be there in 4 hours.  Get a posse together and go.

Marsha and Partition Function are going as are some people from Corrente.  This is a birthday party I do not want to miss.

Hmmmm…

Just posted at NYCGA.net

PS: OWS is looking for housing accommodations for occupiers.  If you have space and want to help, contact ows.housing@gmail.com.

Also, OWS would like to help St. Paul’s and St. Andrew’s church pay their heating bills.  This church has been hosting dozens of occupiers a night since OWS was evicted from Zuccotti Park and the heating bill is about $300/night.  See this page for more details.

OccupyWallStreet: Puppies vs Babies- Round1

 

In no particular order, babies and puppies spotted at various occupy events around the country including Seattle, Austin and NYC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OccupyWallStreet: Nucleation and crystallization

Update:  Here is a photoessay from The Atlantic of last weekend’s OccupyTogether rallies held throughout the world.

In one of the more recent comment threads, r u reddy pointed me to a guest post that David Graeber wrote for NakedCapitalism about the origins of OccupyWallStreet and asked me if I cared to comment.  Why, yes, yes I do.

But first, I would like to point out one line that caught my attention in Graeber’s piece.  It’s about Obama and young people:

How, then, do you expect a young American voter to feel, after casting a vote for a fundamental change to our political and economic system, on discovering that in fact, they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative?

And that right there gives you an indication about where Graeber is coming from.  To him, it is Obama’s betrayal of “young people” that he appears to be most concerned about.  In his post, he uses the words “young”, “youth” or “student” 2o times.  Granted, it’s a long post but by the time you’re finished reading it, you get the distinct impression that young people with student loans are the ones suffering the most in this economy. How does Graeber think the unemployed middle aged professional feels about the election of a man who she knew would be a moderate conservative during a period of economic crisis?  It just goes to show that Graeber doesn’t understand his movement.  So, what is David missing, because this thing is still solidifying and we’re not certain what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.  Here’s my comment response with editing:

I think David Graeber gives himself and his friends too much credit. Remember, the PUMAs were in Denver with much the same grievances. We were the working class (of all ages, genders, educations and professions) that got thrown under the bus in 2008. And there were hundreds of people who showed up in Denver at the PUMA headquarters.  During the convention, this blog’s readership spiked to 52,000 unique page hits in a 24 hour period.  There were many people who were deeply concerned with the direction the 2008 election had taken.  From what I can tell, this movement might have started sooner if the left itself hadn’t sat on it.

The problem is that there was no way in hell anyone other than Obama was going to get the nomination no matter how valid the challenger and justified the cause. So, we had to wait through a couple of years of Obama trying to parley with the repulsive Republicans, knowing that he was going to be a disaster. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out what Obama really stood for after his scorched earth policy in the primaries, the way he accepted the treatment of voters in Florida and Michigan, his thin voting record, his vote for telecomm immunity, his campaign’s tolerance of overt misogyny against Hillary and Palin, his courtship of evangelicals coupled with the disappearance of reproductive rights issues from Democratic congressional candidate’s websites in 2008, and his acceptance of millions in campaign funds from the financial services industry.  If young people had unreasonable hope about what Change!™ Obama was going to bring, it’s because Graeber and his buddies at DailyKos whipped them into a frenzy.  We regular people who saw Obama for the passive, opportunistic, investment class wannabe that he was had to live in the wilderness while people in Graeber’s cohort fell madly in love and then out of love with Barry. It was DailyKos that lead the jeers and taunts against us by scornfully calling us a “shrieking band of paranoid holdouts”. Jane Hamsher called us a “certain kind of woman” and to this day, most of the left blogosphere can’t get over the conditioning that associates PUMA with racism and bitter menopausal women who don’t have college degrees.  But now that the Graebers of the country are over their infatuation, the revolution can return to it’s regular program already in progress.

Secondly, I see this from a chemistry perspective. In supersaturated solutions, you can frequently get crystallization to occur by scratching the inside of the beaker with the sharp end of a glass rod. The scratch provides something called a nucleation site onto which a crystal can build. At a certain point, crystallization becomes a concerted process and the crystals fall out of solution. But it won’t happen unless conditions are right for crystallization. The concentration of the solution has to be high enough, the temperature has to be just so, it has to be scratched or seeded.

This is what we have with OWS. The conditions were right for crystallization and the movement fell out because they picked the right spot to scratch.
I see a lot of blather about anarchism and anti-capitalism and blahdeblahdeblah. I’m not sure those things are as relevant as Graeber makes them sound. That’s because the 99% consist of more than the friends he has with the crushing student loans and you will find people of all ages, genders and backgrounds at an occupation site. That right there should tell Graeber something. This was a movement waiting to happen that goes way beyond his little circle of progressive activists. This is a movement for former PUMAs as well.

And the movement is going to be what it’s going to be. It is an open source concept. That means that the users determine the way the end product works by collaboration, iterations, feedback and adjustments. Anarchism means absolutely nothing to me. (well, I know what it means, I just don’t think it’s a particularly good working model) Neither does tearing down a capitalist system. I don’t think the vast majority of regular people want to tear down the system. I think they want out from under its grasp.  They want an economy that works for them.   That may mean reviving and reinforcing the rules or setting up a parallel economic system without Wall Street’s dirty mitts on everything but whatever that means, the open source model demands that it is responsive to the users and can’t be determined beforehand by people like Graeber.

So, I think what Graeber and his friends did is scratch the glass. The public was ready for this. And now, he and his friends need to lose their egos and join with the rest of us so we can get things done.

By they way, Graeber is overlooking the strength of this movement if he thinks it is centered on young people. The reason it has become so incredibly successful is that when there is a big march, it is the regular working stiffs who show up to them. If it were just students, the media would have an easier time writing them off. But it’s not just students. It’s union people and unemployed people and teachers and actresses, and chemists and older people and families with kids. The 99% percent really means just about everyone.  It doesn’t mean “all 99%-ers are equal but some 99%-ers who are young with student loans are more equal than others”.  Some of us have mortgages and no jobs.  We count.

When I was at the march on October 5, I saw why the thing was taking off. The marchers looked like everyday people, not like a college pep rally. Graeber is already out of touch with his own constituency. Not only that but as wonderful as young people are, I’m surprised that OWS hasn’t taken advantage of the technical expertise of some of their sympathizers who are NOT 25 years old. We might be middle aged but most of us cut our teeth in the internet age. We wrote the first web pages, configured the first apache servers and played with the tools that brought us smartphones and social media. We learn quickly. It’s stupid to leave all that knowledge and experience on the table in order to celebrate youth to the exclusion of all else.

For example, there are a lot of unemployed scientific researchers right now.  To pass on all that talent, experience and insider knowledge while the OWS young people go on at length (and quite foolishly sometimes, IMHO) about the dangers of modern pharmaceuticals would be to miss out on an opportunity to make pharma work for the public at large and not just the big corporations.  Instead of going off on uninformed tantrums about how evil pharma is, they could be spending their time figuring out how to set one up that would be responsive to them.  Like having the 99% own the patents and decide what therapeutic areas to explore. I am willing to help take on this kind of working group on if there isn’t one already formed.  Preserving our scientific infrastructure is extremely important and there is all that talent and knowledge out there. This is something that “young people” and social scientists are unlikely to get a grasp of without our help.

If Graeber wants to keep this movement going, it would be much better to make middle age sexy and invite as many working class people in to share what they know that they have learned after years of experience. Youth is wasted on the young.

******************************

When I think of OWS, this is what I see – here’s another video of protestors singing Do You Hear The People Sing in the rotunda of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.  Yes, there are young people.  But they are not by any means the majority or the only ones with a grievance.

OccupyWallStreet: American Exodus

The Israelites were the original Occupiers

OccupyWallStreet is befuddling the “experts”.  It defies categorization.  Are they Democrats?  Radical Marxists?  A new generation of hippies?  Naive?  Or the true brilliant 11 dimensional chess players that Obama could only dream to be? What?  WHAT??

While the pollsters and pundits try to figure that out by using their standard questionnaires that neatly files the subject into bins that can be mined later, Mike Konzal at Rortybomb took a different approach and analyzed what the 99% had to say about themselves without the filter.  He wrote a script to parse the data from the “We Are the 99%” tumblr entries.  I think you can do this using python, regular expressions and the natural language tool kit (NLTK) if any enterprising Conflucians want to do it themselves (I might ask the kid to teach me).  Then he tallied up the most frequently appearing words, minus the promiscuous ones, and peered at the entrails.  What he found was a bit of a shock because we joke around about how the country has changed but when you see it in the data, it’s not so funny anymore.  Here are his initial findings:

So if the 99% Tumblr was a PAC, what would its demands look like, and what ideology would it presuppose?  Freddie DeBoer is discouraged after reading the 99% tumblr. He’s concerned it reflects a desire for restoration of the glory days of the 90s-00s, which concerns him because “this country cannot be fixed by wishing to go back to the economics of 2005.”  Concerned that the solidarity is one that, at most, is a I-got-mine-you-go-get-yours form of neoliberalism (as he imagines it, “I went to college and I don’t have the job and the car and the lifestyle I was promised”), DeBoer is worried that We Are the 99% isn’t “a rejection of our failing order. It is an embrace of it in the most cynical terms.”

With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.

Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here.  Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.”  And think through these cases.  The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land).  In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.

The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent.  There isn’t the affluenza of Freddie’s worries, no demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical ”Ownership Society” banner.  The demands are broadly health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

It’s awful that it has come to this, but it also is an opportunity.  As was discussed in the monetary debate from earlier, creditors aren’t bosses; their power is less coercive and much more obviously based on socially-constructed fictions, laws and ideas.  As Peter Frase pointed out:

Indeed, widespread and large debt loads are one of the most important ways in which my generation differs from those that immediately preceded it…This has direct implications for the left: more than once, older comrades have noted to me that it has become much more difficult to live in the kind of bohemian poverty that sustained an earlier generation of young radicals and activists…

And there may be some advantages to a politics centered around debt rather than wage labor. The problem confronting the wage laborer is that they are, in fact, dependent on the boss for their sustenance, unless they can solve the collective action problem of getting everyone together to expropriate the expropriators. Debt, on the other hand, is just an agreed-upon social fiction denoting an obligation for some act of consumption that has already occurred. The only way to make people respect debt is through some combination of brute force and ideological legitimacy–a legitimacy that we can only hope is starting to slip away.

Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are.  There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health.  There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net.  Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%.

So, how will OccupyWallStreet and the 99% turn these problems into policies that will address the reality of day to day life for the average American serf beaten down by debt?  This is a good question and, in part, also relates to the insistent demands from the naysayers and right wing noise machine that OccupyWallStreet define itself, right this very minute!  And put together a list of demands that you want fulfilled so we can tell you how unrealistic they are and make you go back to your sorry little lives, you losers.  Isn’t that right, you Tea Party lurkers and Glenn Beck fans?  You want instant answers so you can shoot them down.

Which brings me to George Lakoff.  Lakoff has also been studying the movement’s language and asking himself why it resonates so well with the American public.  What he sees is a conflict between two moralities:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Though OWS concerns go well beyond financial issues, your target is right: the application of these principles in Wall Street is central, since that is where the money comes from for elections, for media, and for right-wing policy-making institutions of all sorts on all issues.

I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific policy demands. If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed.

It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature, that occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail.

We Love America. We’re Here to Fix It

I see OWS as a patriotic movement, based on a deep and abiding love of country – a patriotism that it is not just about the self-interests of individuals, but about what the country is and is to be. Do Americans care about other citizens, or mainly just about themselves? That’s what love of America is about. I therefore think it is important to be positive, to be clear about loving America, seeing it in need of fixing, and not just being willing to fix it, but being willing to take to the streets to fix it. A populist movement starts with the people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.

This sounds pretty close to what we’re seeing, I think.  It also explains why Elizabeth Warren, while sorting through the data on why Americans go bankrupt, was converted from a Republican to a Democrat earlier in her career.  Well, that’s back when Democrats actually gave a shit.  She says that when she first starting sifting through the cases from bankruptcy courts, she had a built in confirmation bias and was sure she was going to find people who lived the high life and spent too much or lazy people or hedonists or whatever the Glenn Beck types think.  But what she found was that many of these people were undone by sudden unemployment, changes to their family lives or chronic and severe illnesses.  They hadn’t done anything differently than millions of their fellow Americans.  They had just hit a patch of really bad luck and found that there was no real safety net for them.  They got sick, they lost their jobs because they got sick, they lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs, they lost their savings because they had to pay for their healthcare, they lost their houses because they lost their savings.

When Elizabeth Warren speaks to people, they know that she understands what they’re dealing with because she’s seen their lives in detail.  It also explains why Barack Obama is so completely unsuited for his role right now.  If this is a battle between two moralities, then using the approach of compromise is doomed to failure.

As Lakoff says, “A populist movement starts with people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.”

The 99% are all of us who just a few years ago were living what the right would consider righteous lives.  We are good citizens, we are taxpayers, we are loving parents, we are dedicated employees.  And through no fault of our own but the speculation and moral failures of the financial sector and the politicians that serve it, we are thrust back into a subsistence kind of existence that was familiar to our ancient ancestors.  We are burdened with debt, servants to a moneyed class, beaten down, tired and looking for a break from the endless cycle of always having to sell ourselves to make next month’s rent or COBRA payment, heating bill or food for our kids.  Now that the pain has bubbled up to the middle class, where professionals with advanced degrees and years of experience find themselves working far from home on contracts with low pay and no benefits, the chant, “We are the 99″ has real meaning.  We are all in the same boat and we must take on the oligarchs.

Which reminds me of Exodus.  The bible tells us how Moses lead his people out of Egypt but archeology tells us a different story.  Back in the day, in 13th century BC or so, Egypt was a superpower whose reach stretched over the Levant area.  The ruling class in the Canaanite cities was Egyptian ruling over the locals and using them as slaves and the artisan underclass.  At some point, the underclass decided it had had enough and a rebellion ensued, ending Egyptian reign and,  with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, plunging most of the Mediterranean into a dark age.  There may have been a Moses but what the archeological record looks like is a spontaneous and leaderless uprising that spread from city to city.  Egyptian rule ended in Canaan and, along with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, the Mediterranean region plunged into a dark age. When the Israelites took up their pens a few centuries later, they were writing from a culture where the former slaves had made the laws.

OccupyWallStreet: The people in the park

These are pictures of OccupyWallStreet in Zuccotti Park taken on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011.  The freaky people can be found on the perimeter of the park facing outwards, which is one of the reasons I suspect some of them were hired by Fox News.  On the interior of the park, all ages and ethnicities can be found.  As you can see, the vast majority of people in the middle of the park are perfectly normal looking and acting.  It’s just that you have to pass through a phalanx of some pretty strange looking people to get to the middle.  This is a shame because, even though the passersby could see that there were a lot of typical, average people in the park, the media audience won’t know that because that’s too mundane.  What’s so fascinating about potentially meeting your neighbor at an occupation?  Let’s be voyeurs and take a picture of the scary looking guy with the tattooed face!

The park is full.  There are people sleeping it off in sleeping bags in unexpected places.  It’s hard to see how they manage to sleep with all of the activity going on around them, especially when there’s a good possibility that they could get trampled.  There’s really nowhere to sit so the plantar boxes and stairs are where people congregate to rest, if you can find a bum sized space.

This guy was brave or trying to demonstrate his arithmetic skills.  Most people stopped to talk to him  and he seemed to be having some good interactions.

This is where you can leave your ideas for the OWS think tank.  Keep in mind that the occupation is prohibited from erecting structures in the park so makeshift tables and recycling/sanitation bins made of cardboard pop up here and there.   If you have an idea and you want to develop it into a policy with other 99%-ers, you can contact the think tank at OWSthinktank@gmail.com.

It’s impossible to keep all religion out of the park.  The Hassidim are celebrating Sukkot this week and are looking for Jews in the park to perform a blessing.  I thought it was kind of nice.  It’s a “green” holiday.  Partition Function was singled out by a boy of about 11 who made him bless the four directions with the palm fronds.  Then he turned to me and asked, “Are you Jewish?”  “1/8th”, I replied.  “Mother or father?”, he said, hopeful that he might have snagged another one.  “Father”, I said.  “Nope”, he said, and moved on.  For a brief second, I was crushed.  But I got over it.

The scene below is more representative of the occupiers of Zuccotti Park.  I include day trippers such as myself.  Many people came and stayed for awhile.  There seems to be more men than women, although at the General Assembly, the genders seem more evenly split and the directing facilitator that night was female, with a big voice.  About the GA, there is a reason why they use the People’s Mic and hand signals.  There is no voice amplification allowed in the park.  To get a permit for a megaphone would cost more money than they have.  So, the people’s mic is necessary to make sure everyone can hear what the speaker says, while the hand signals cut down on clapping and other noise that tend to interrupt these kinds of meetings and drown out the speaker.  It’s very effective, you can hear the speaker pretty well and it forces you to listen closely.  I think it’s brilliant.

This picture is rather big and may be partially cutoff in your browser.  In mine, I can only see the left half of the picture.  Open it in a separate window to get a better view of the 99% in Zuccotti Park.  Note that the smoothie stand on the right makes a nice bubble tea, if you’re into black tapioca balls in your drinks.

{{snicker}}

A revealing peek into the relationship between the finance industry and the Democrats came to my attention via Atrios via Greg Sargent at The Plum Line.  It’s a Politico post on the bankers’ outrage that the Dems are trying to work both sides of the OWS phenomenon.

After the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a recent email urging supporters to sign a petition backing the wave of Occupy Wall Street protests, phones at the party committee started ringing.

Banking executives personally called the offices of DCCC Chairman Steve Israel and DCCC Finance Chairman Joe Crowley last week demanding answers, three financial services lobbyists told POLITICO.

“They were livid,” said one Democratic lobbyist with banking clients.

The execs asked the lawmakers: “What are you doing? Do you even understand some of the things that they’ve called for?” said another lobbyist with financial services clients who is a former Democratic Senate aide.

…This cycle Democrats have a particularly tough sell, since they pushed through a financial regulatory reform law last year and Mitt Romney has emerged as a Republican presidential front-runner, whose deep Wall Street ties clash with Obama’s recent populist overtures. The lip service to occupiers is only hurting an already rocky relationship.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said one in-house financial services lobbyist. “It just makes it harder for people who are Democrats in New York, Boston, Chicago to on the one hand be demogagued and then be asked ‘Hey, you can get your picture with the president for $30,000.’ It doesn’t square.”

I never thought I would ever be able to see the banker’s point of view but I have to admit they are right.  Democrats are notoriously fickle, disloyal and self-serving.  I have been feeling the very same sense of anger toward the Democrats since they managed to get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and then played a tricky little game of withholding one or two crucial votes that would have made the difference between good legislation for the 99% and a bill that has a nice sounding name and little else.  Can we say Ben Nelson when it comes to abortion funding in the Affordable Care Act? I think we can. How about Bart Stupak?  And remember those crazy dreams we had about the public option that would have forced the insurance companies to compete?  Where was Joe Lieberman on that?  Christopher Dodd, where were you when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was defanged and deep sixxed as an “interim affiliation” of the Treasury Department run by Tim Geithner, a guy who hated Elizabeth Warren?  Shall I go on?

For far too long, Democrats have been calling us up, asking for money, scaring us about what would happen to the economy and reproductive rights if the Republicans got control.  Finally, after all our contributions, phone banking, canvassing and advocacy for them, they got what they wanted.  And instead of actually defending the values their constituents thought were important, they acted all helpless.  I mean, what did we expect from them?  They only had all the power they needed.  Don’t even get me started about how they threw their base under the bus and rigged the primaries so they could benefit from all that financial industry cash that would be flooding into the DNC coffers in 2008.  What was it again?  $28,000 per donor?  That might account for the substitution of student council president type congressional candidates for more liberal candidates in 2008.  Maybe that’s why Eric Massa and Anthony Weiner had to go and why Charlie Rangel had to be sidelined.  They were made examples of what would happen if others acted on their more Democratic impulses.  It all makes sense now.

I don’t know what’s more laughable, that the bankers’ are pissed that the OWS movement may give them real competition for the money of the 99%, forcing them to compete for that money in a free market, capitalist manner for a change, or that the Democrats think that a pathetic letter of support is going to help them win elections next year.

It’s too late.  You can’t be trusted.  You’ve let the middle class down so badly it is unforgivable.  The OWS movement is making people think that maybe there is a way out of this economic and political trap they’re in and that the solution doesn’t include Democrats.

We’re walking out of this relationship and even though we don’t know what the future holds, it feels good to be free.

You can’t have it both ways.

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