By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
So much has been accomplished by Occupy and other social justice movements in the past two years that it is incredible the corporate media and their pundits do not report on what is happening around them. Despite the lack of corporate media coverage, the movement is deepening, creating democratic institutions, stopping some of the worst policies from being pushed by the corporate duopoly and building a broad-based diverse movement.
This is not to say things are getting better for the 99%; in fact, quite the opposite is happening. Big business government continues to funnel money to the top while robbing most Americans of the little wealth they had. More Americans are being impacted by the unfair economy and realize that their struggle is not their fault but is the reality of living in a system with deep corruption and dysfunction. Economic injustice is 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 and using a variety of tactics. And we see a growing movement having a bigger impact.
On the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), these writers captured the essence of Occupy. David Callahan, in Seven Ways Occupy Changed America And Is Still Changing It, 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, also made important points. She writes, “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 that we have power, that we can have an impact and that by building an ever-bigger movement, the power structure will shake. We are optimistic that the movements for peace and social, economic and environmental justice will continue to grow and find ways to work in solidarity. As the movements mature, we expect to see more successes in the struggle to weaken corporate domination and create a more just and sustainable society.
Deeper and Broader Resistance Movement
We recently spoke with three people who have been involved with OWS since its beginning two years ago. Each is still active, and their work demonstrates how the resistance movement is deepening.
Laura Gottesdiener is the author of A Dream Foreclosed. She traveled across the country to record the stories of one of the most vibrant aspects of the Occupy – the anti-foreclosure movement. This includes Occupy Our Homes and groups like Take Back the Land, Home Defenders League and City Life/Vida Urbana, which work to stop home foreclosures and evictions. Through a range of tactics, including blockades, these groups have kept hundreds of families in their homes.
Gottesdiener writes that 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.
In addition to blockading homes to prevent evictions, housing activists take back vacant properties and fix them up so families can move into them. They have successfully pressured banks to accept this as a better alternative than leaving the properties vacant.
Preventing evictions is ongoing work. 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.
When Gottesdiener drove across country to see the nationwide reality of the movement to stop foreclosures and evictions, she found that it had especially deep roots 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 neighborhoods has been transformed into predatory lending to drive them into debt 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.
Another example of Occupy solving problems that the government handles inadequately is the response to environmental disasters. Occupy Sandy organizer Goldi Guerra described how that movement continues to provide support to affected communities.
When the storm hit, thousands of people, including many who were involved in Occupy, created a mutual aid project in Occupy Sandy. The group provided immediate aid to people hit by the storm. It prepared tens of thousands of meals, helped clean houses and remove debris, distributed donated items and provided security and alternate places to live.
Many gave Occupy Sandy more credit than FEMA or the Red Cross for its quick and effective response. Now it continues by helping businesses restart and, through the organization Working World, by remaking businesses as cooperatives. It also is working through Long Term Recovery Groups to plan for the future.
This work is creating deep community relations across the waterfront of New York City in Queens, Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The goal is to empower these communities to become stronger than they were before the storm, in part so they can protect themselves from predatory practices that arise after disasters that affect low-income residents.
Other occupy groups are doing similar mutual-aid work after storms. Occupy Oklahoma stepped forward after massive tornadoes devastated parts of Oklahoma. And Occupiers in Colorado are helping people in Boulder and surrounding communities after the recent massive floods.
Our third guest, Justin 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.” It is a financial services project that will be owned and controlled by its members in a democratic way. It seeks to provide financial services to the millions of people shut out of the banks in a way that is transparent, with no hidden fees.
The Occupy Money Cooperative will show by example that financial services do not have to rip people off to succeed. And by doing so, it will push other financial institutions in that direction. It will begin with the Occupy Money Card, a debit card, savings facility and virtual checkbook 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. 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 by 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%” published the Debt Resistors Manual. And, their Rolling Jubilee project has raised $615,000 and has 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, farmers 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. A new democratic economy is being created outside of the Wall Street-dominated economy.
One of the main purposes of the Occupy encampments was to show people they were not alone, that a lot of people shared their values and concerns about the unfair economy and dysfunctional government. Occupiers showed people they could stand up. And the police repression showed 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 the growing movements around the country.
The worker’s rights and jobs movement has taken off in the past two years. Strikes by low-wage workers at Walmart and fast-food companies over the right to organize and to increased pay are more frequent. They bring greater awareness to 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 to survive. The unfairness of this is particularly stark when corporate profits are going through the roof along with executive salaries.
Teachers, students, families and whole communities are protesting the closing of community schools while taxpayer dollars are being used to fund private schools, disguised as charter schools. People are refusing 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 in a time when many can find only low-paying jobs that do not use their educational skills.
Environmental activists have escalated 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, increased resistance turned the nuclear renaissance into a nuclear retreat with companies pulling out and reactors being closed. These protests have been joined by, and often led by, Native Indian groups like Idle No More.
And, for the first time, the American people helped stop a war after a president said he wanted to bomb a nation. The bombing of Syria may be halted only temporarily, but this is an amazing feat. 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. Rather than disappearing, Occupy has evolved and is bigger and deeper, more connected to communities and other organizations, than it was when there were encampments all over the country.
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, that tramples on our Free Speech and other rights 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 only them, not all of 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 be working against the 99%. Some key findings indicate that most Americans are getting poorer. There has been an 11.6 percent decline in household income between 2000 and 2012. Median earnings are dropping except for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans. Despite 46.5 million Americans living in poverty, Congress is talking about cutting food stamps, rather than increasing them.
More Americans realize their loss of income means increased profits for corporations and income for stock-holding wealthy Americans. 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 the average American lost 18 years of wealth because of the housing crisis. Of course, this affected working Americans, particularly blacks and Latinos, even more severely.
Recent college graduates and current students are at a severe disadvantage. 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% 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.”
This means that 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 it will have $4 trillion less wealth overall. Student debt already is leading to record rates of default and the inability to buy 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 the WTO. It is being negotiated in secret, and the terms have been classified as secret. As the former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, it is being kept secret because if the people knew what was in this agreement, it would not pass. Even operating in secret will not save this agreement. 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.”
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 1000 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 reasons for the resistance movement to grow; other issues such as the attack on civil liberties, especially the dragnet searches of phone calls, emails and Internet activity, are mobilizing Americans. The revelations about NSA spying gave rise to 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.
The Best of the Resistance Movement Lies Ahead
The combination of a movement that is broad-based and deepening and a government that is dysfunctional is a recipe for a movement that is likely to grow. Not only are current participants in the resistance movement building relationships and expanding the scope of their work, but they are also learning how to be more 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, indeed unprecedented, feat. Repeatedly stopping President Obama and Congress from cutting Social Security, something the president has tried to do four times since 2010, is another important success. Forcing Larry Summers, Wall Street’s favorite and 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, as occurred in New York. Other wins include ending the stop-and-frisk program in New York City, moving away from the war on drugs with reform of marijuana laws and passing a California initiative requiring treatment instead of prison for many drug offenders. And Washington state is likely to win the 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 because it shows people that we can have an impact and we can make a difference by being part of a broad-based popular resistance.
We have no doubt that the movement is growing, that support for our views are rising 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 at all we have accomplished.
You can hear our show “Two Years Later – Where is the Occupy Movement?” with Laura Gottesdiener, Goldi Guerra and Justin Wedes here.