Jim, you have challenged me to be specific about an agenda for Occupy Wall Street. I guess I would ask you to be specific as to why you think a specific agenda is needed and/or would be effective? As you say, there are a lot of people there who seem to have a lot of agendas, a lot of ideas. I think the call for specifics come from right wing talking points trying to discredit the movement, and that if they got too specific now it would disenfranchise those who are there that don’t have those specific points in mind. They aren’t writing a brief for the Supreme Court, or even writing a bill to submit to Congress. And that I think is the overriding element of the movement; the people feel they are no longer represented by their elected representatives in Congress, or even allowed to be part of the conversation. Until they are in the conversation and are listened to by the people they have elected, I would ask in what way specific demands would be useful and not just tilting at windmills. When the movement reaches the point where the elected people in Washington have to pay attention, there will be plenty of time for specific legislative ideas. If the movement gets too specific now, it will just let the opposition focus on that one thing to try and discredit the movement.
We have discussed at length in previous posts the many things that the American people overwhelmingly support and that aren’t even allowed to be discussed in Washington, including a public option for health care to tax increases on the wealthy.
And really, what were/are the specific demands of the tea party? I don’t remember demands that they be specific about what they want. It seems they want to get rid of government, but is that specific? Did they present bills they wanted passed? What is meant by being specific. It all seems a talking point designed to criticize the protests because they don’t know what to do with them and they fear a true populist movement that isn’t beholden to the government or to corporations.
All that said, there are plenty of specifics I agree with, and some I have previously pointed to in earlier posts. I would start with Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, in a column I have previously linked to, where he says “The virus that has undermined the GOP and is weakening U.S. democracy is corruption. Our Supreme Court has made the United States the only democratic nation where bribery is constitutionally protected, where corporations have the privileges of citizens but none of the obligations, and where money is equated with speech. Dirty Energy has bought the party of Lincoln and now calls the shots.” The problem is corporate personhood. As long as corporations are legally seen as having all the rights and none of the responsibilities of actual people–which is where we are at right now–then there won’t be real progress towards where we need to go.
A sign at the protests in New York reads “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” Less you think it is all anger, another sign said simply, “I care about you.” That made me think of something I heard one of the protestors say when interviewed and asked about the difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. He said the Tea Party seemed to be anger combined with fear, while Occupy Wall Street was anger combined with hope. I do hope that turns out to be true. I think it does hit the tea party on the head, with their cries to get the government out of my medicare, their constant complaints about government and fears of government take over of health care, government taking away their guns, etc. What they never noticed was that corporations (with too much help from the government) took away a lot of their money and rights). (If you want specifics on that, read previous posts pointing to the shift of wealth upwards towards the top one percent. Read Jonathan Turley’s writings on civil rights under Obama).
Occupy Wall Street, rather than fearing government, seems to want to improve it, to be heard, to get their voice into the conversation.
If you want more specific demands, for when the appropriate time comes, I would point to Matt Rothschild’s column in the current issue of the Progressive. It is available online only to subscribers, so I will quote briefly from it here:
“What to do? An old slogan of the surrealists applies here: “Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible.” It was a slogan that the French students adopted in their uprising in 1968. We should adopt it again today. Instead of going along with the neoliberal acquiescence that so typifies the Obama administration, we should put forward robust demands that will lead us toward the kind of society we want to build and inhabit. Instead of letting Obama and the Republicans raise the retirement age for Social Security, we should demand lowering the retirement age to fifty-five. Instead of going along with crimping Social Security benefits, we should raise them, as the labor writer Thomas Geoghegan recommends, from their current level of, on average, 39 percent of pre-retirement earnings to 50 percent. Instead of defending the minimum wage of $7.25, we should insist on a living wage of at least $10 an hour and then peg that to the inflation rate, as Ralph Nader has proposed. Instead of allowing the unemployment rate to hover around 9 percent, we should demand that the government directly employ people until everyone who wants a job can get one. Instead of working longer and longer hours, including forced overtime, we should insist on a shorter workweek of thirty hours. Instead of being coerced back into the workplace shortly after we have a kid, we should demand one year paid family leave, as they have in Europe. Instead of letting the right wing cut back on school funding so that class sizes, K-12, exceed thirty pupils in many places, we should limit them to a maximum of twenty. Instead of accepting the loan burden for students going to college, we should demand—as students are doing in Chile—free quality college education for all. Instead of allowing a child poverty rate of 21 percent, we should demand that no child live in poverty. Instead of accepting the role of the private health insurance industry, we should demand Medicare for all. None of this is too much to ask. Nor is an economy freed from fossil and nuclear fuels.
“We can’t afford it,” people will say. I refuse to believe this. Whenever a President wants to go wage a war somewhere, he can always find $3 trillion to do it. Whenever the banks need bailing out, suddenly trillions more become available.”
If you want to read the whole column, subscribe. It’s well worth it. In any case, the society he describes here is one that I want to live in, and it is one that is possible. Maybe we can’t get all the way there, and the Occupy movement has arisen because the moneyed powers have pushed us so far from it that people are waking up to what has happened, to the fact that our country and democracy has been hijacked by the wealthiest one percent (and really the wealthiest one tenth of one percent), and we want our country back. As Greg Brown sings in his 2003 song Homeland, “I want my country back, and a good dream to stand up for.” For now, that is specific enough, and hits me where it counts.
If you need more specifics that I agree with, see Senator Bernie Sanders, the New York Times today on how Britain has proven that austerity measures are not the answer to our problems, and the Times also on the Republicans vs. the environment. And just for good reading on comparing today to the 1930s, Joe Nocera is right on in his column on the book Since Yesterday, which I read a couple decades ago. And Krugman was right on yesterday, showing how divorced from reality all the Republicans running from president are. It’s interesting that there are demands for specifics from the protesters on Wall Street, but the punditry seems to just let the Republican candidates sling fantasy at each other, with seemingly no demands that they specifically address reality.