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Occupy DC: Signs of the Times

The Occupation at McPherson Square inhabits an area in the NW financial district normally the domain of local squatters. In the past and up to the present, it has been the resting grounds for a number of indigents, but obviously, these days, this has broadened to include more middle-class poor.

            Occupies have sprung not just all around the country, but all around the globe, as if there is a spontaneous need to discuss global issues such as overpopulation, climate change, degradation of the environment, diminishing resources, debt indentured nations, fascist regimes, and endless expanding wars.

            This represents that "sincere spirit of inquiry after truth" inculcated in our country as early as Citizen Benjamin Franklin's Junto club. Opportunities for dialogue and airing of issues were integral to the formulation of responses to oppressive measures exacted to pay for the French-Indian (1756-66) wars. The Labor Movement, Voting Rights Act for Women, and Civil Rights Acts were all products of freedom of assembly.

            Occupy Wall Street and her sister organizations are the step-children of Public Citizen (citizen.org), a 40-year old non-governmental watchdog organization whose goals include cleaning up government (bribery and favoritism, such as Halliburton); monitoring the corporate lobbying (maybe why Obama turned down new Clean Air Act standards, http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/09/02/310929/president-obama-backs-down-on-ozone-standards/); and how powerful lobbies help keep the U.S. on track to escalate regional conflicts in Africa under the blanket cause of "fighting terrorism."

            What is real versus what is not in the fight against terrorists? Thanks to the ability to manufacture more regional conflict, it is sometimes hard to tell. This is the position taken by Jon Krakauer in his exposé on Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea; in Three Cups of Deceit (http://tinyurl.com/3fmnq42), Krakauer relates how Mortenson's bogus terrorists who held him captive were, in fact, his volunteer hosts and guide to the interior region. Does this kind of fabrication sound familiar? Yes, indeed. Part of Manifest Destiny relies upon stereotypical objectification of the Other.

            Although my visit to the Occupy McPherson was not long, it had all the earmarks of a field day for teach-ins and laboratory political science--not to mention history in the making. There is a lot more to world news than sound bites of "flushing out" Kaddafi supporters sandwiched between minute long national trivia; there is more to politics than voting once every two years. Signs such as: "Reinstate Glass-Steagall," "We are the 99%," and "End Corporate Personhood" speak to all voters and taxpayers.

            As a review, Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the Glass-Steagall Act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_Act), which enacted rehabilitation of the banking system to discourage fraud and over-speculation, to issue sound currency on "good" assets, and to prevent bank failures. Arguably it is the repeal of this act in the late 1990s which encouraged the housing bubble, and risky commodities speculation such as Enron, and other failures which has forced massive U.S. Treasury bailouts (http://www.propublica.org/special/government-bailouts). Is deregulation really good for the U.S. economy when so many manufacturing sectors no longer exist? Where is the economy headed when more and more jobs are found in the service sector, and even these are duplicable? What happens when jobs become so duplicable that unions, bargaining units, and job security are no longer tenable? Doesn't this seem to be the trend, now that more and more college graduates remain in college just because there are so few options besides completing a graduate degree?

            Also, sociologically speaking, how healthy is it for young adults have to spend so very much of their time in college. There was a time when students heeded their parents' advice to "stay in school, find a job, get married, and then settle down." But to their consternation, parents are discovering college graduates wanting to return home to live, forced to compete with immigrants for low-wage entry-level work, work which two generations ago hardly required a high school diploma. Unfortunately, first-hand observation supports that neurosis fosters combativeness, depression, and other diseases.

            It is the redundancy of service jobs, of graduates, of scarcity in salaried work, coinciding when many corporations are reaping record profits overseas that has more and more people feeling like nothing more than "sheeple." We followed, we obeyed, we sacrificed, but for what? Where is the payback? When can we stop going to school? The pity is that we know so little about the real going-ons about the day to day deals done behind closed doors in Congress or the Pentagon.

            On October 18th at McPherson Square, I gathered around as folks flocked to listen to Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School talk about "building a platform of democracy," one which, unlike mainstream media, doesn't "polarize the people" around issues such as race or party affiliation. "We don't need a third [political] party," he said, "I think we have a third party...it is the people."

            We really do need to get out of our comfort zone and start becoming more politically aware, not bury ourselves in I-Pods all the time. The brave souls at the Occupies around the country are braving inclement icy weather, for what? To prove to us that they are not the threat the media makes them out to be, but in fact, are there every day, welcoming us to visit and learn about what a grassroots movement consists of. They occupy in the hope of freeing the U.S. from the perils of the Octopus (Frank Norris).

            Occupy DC has one segment at Freedom Plaza, and one at McPherson Square, but just how many politicians have taken that short walk from the White House to discover what the people are trying to express? How many journalists are braving the brief cold that these campers have endured for nights on end?

            Occupy's message is also borne in peace, even though they are receiving unfair treatment at the hands of the police. They are merely trying to awaken the citizens to the fact that we the people have been and shall continue to be responsible for paying the massive debts accrued by a militarized America, at the behest of a covey of special interest corporations. If there are no jobs, we will also be in debt for generations to come.

            In Global Civics: Responsibilities and Rights in an Interdependent World, Brookings Institute researcher Hakan Altinay writes:

There is no reason to assume that interdependence will not continue or even accelerate in the near future. Many perceive that their ability to exercise meaningful control over their lives is eroding.  This leads to anomie, anxiety, and a diffuse backlash.....The choice is whether or not humanity will be able to hammer out a global social contract. A set of guiding principles--a moral compass--is needed to enable the people of the world to navigate the treacherous waters of unprecedented global interdependence. (4-5)

In a world filled with billions of educated people, the public deserves to have a say in a new social contract, beyond the arcane proceedings of the UN or G-20. According to David Held, professor of political science at London School of Economics:

This is both a dangerous moment and a great opportunity...the world's power alignments are shifting precisely at a moment when the traditional global institutions have become weak and vulnerable...Climate change, the reform of global financial powers, nuclear proliferation, and the future of global trade negotiations are cases in point. (Altinay 28)

Even Bill Moyers, renowned investigative reporter, has come out in support of Occupy Wall Street. He was the keynote speaker at the Public Citizens Gala on October 21st, and from the notes by George Zornick, is as forthright as ever in his constructive criticisms (http://www.thenation.com/blog/164106/bill-moyers-democratic-decency-defined-downward).

            To learn more about the fight against corruption, visit http://occupydc.org.

Work Cited:

Altinay, Hakan. Global Civics: Responsibilities and Rights in an Independent World.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2011.

Photo and article by chriswong. If you like this article, please buy a Vincent Chin DVD or T-shirt to show your support for ending the racism, inequality, hate, violence, and injustice.



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