Read this if you are serious about changing the United States of America.
Protesting is a great thing, but protests in America have a history of being pointedly ineffective. Conversely, European protests almost always bring change. There are some things we can learn from this.
If you’re an American, the ideas you have about how to protest are probably American ones. I’m going to ask you to forget almost all of them. I know it seems like many failed protests are the result of an ignorant government, but there are many things we can do to improve our odds.
First, a warning. There are a few key dangers in a protest — especially one of this magnitude — and unless we make ourselves aware of these, they could ruin everything. Protests are a great thing when done properly, but the entire movement can be spoiled by the smallest group of wayward extremists. The worst of these extremists experience the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which causes an inability to comprehend that you’re acting really crazy.
The majority of attendees at any protest are good people who came for good reason. This holds especially true with the occupation protests happening now. You guys are awesome, and I appreciate that more than I can say. I love you, and I love your dedication. But there are a few mistakes that most people don’t even realize can really hurt the protest and water down the message we’re trying to send.
I used to live in Helsinki, Finland. I saw protesters outside of the Parliament building every single day, and I asked my host mom why they bothered.
“What do you mean why do they bother? Because they have an issue. This is how they solve it.”
She explained that in Finland, and in most of Europe, protesting works. The politicians need only look out their window to see a clear, unified message on the peoples’ signs, and their message was understood, which fueled real action. Each day focused on a different issue. Never was more than one thing requested at a time.
This is a photo of a Finnish protest against proposed nuclear plants:
And this is a photo I took on the morning of the Occupy Los Angeles march to City Hall:
At first glance, these are just two pictures of protesters on the steps of government buildings with signs. But their differences are really important in understanding why one works and the other often does not.
The most obvious difference is the amount of people, of course. But after taking into account that there are six million people in the entire country of Finland, we can put that aside. After all, the more people, the better. We have them there, and that’s awesome.
But now look at what the people are wearing. The people in the first photo don’t work at the Finnish parliament, and they’re certainly not working in that photo. But they’re dressed in business attire simply because they mean business. Even behind the goofy masks and costumes, we can see the collared shirts and dress shoes. If we dress like we don’t take ourselves seriously, we can’t expect anyone else to take us seriously, either. I’m not saying that the people in the Occupy LA picture are terrible dressers. But consider this: If your attire says “We should play ultimate frisbee after this” more than it says “We’ve come here because we mean business,” then you might be doing it wrong. I purposely omitted the photos of those who were dressed as “hippies” from head to toe, because they were not in the majority. But in order for our demands to be taken seriously, we need to step up our game.
You may not believe that appearance makes a difference, but in a protest, media coverage is vital in spreading our message. Those who are unfamiliar with our movement (there are still many) are much more likely to side with the folks in the first photo than the ones wearing tie-dye shirts and bandanas over their mouths. Why? Because people have sympathy for people they feel they can relate to. And we need those middle-management types on our side just as much as we need everyone. We are all victims of a broken system.
Imagine learning about the Occupy Wall Street movement for the first time. What does a Guy Fawkes mask mean to an average American? If it requires an explanation, it’s a bad idea, because the explanation will likely never reach the viewers. All they know is what they see, and most will only join in if they understand and appreciate what they see. We’re asking people to take time off work to protest against something they aren’t even sure they understand. We need to fix that by being obvious in what we present to the public. And bandanas over our noses and mouths will likely only send the message that we expect to need to shield our faces once this movement escalates to gas weaponry. That’s not a very welcome invitation to come out and join us, is it?
Maybe you believe that you will eventually need to shield your face. It’s hard to ignore the pepper spray incidents our friends in New York have faced. But I hope that you hope that doesn’t happen here. So far, the LAPD has been nothing short of generous to us. Even in a permit-crazy city like LA, we’re being allowed to make the grass outside of City Hall our temporary homes — without any formal permission. That’s amazing.
And no matter your past experiences, please remember that not all cops are bad. In fact, most are good. It takes a brave person to join a police force in a city with a significant rate of gang-related crime, and most power-hungry evil people would steer clear of a job where they risk being shot to death every day. The LAPD is here to protect us, and even if they bother you for a minute, it’s only to protect someone else. Please don’t forget that. Never take it personally, because they don’t know you. That’s why they have to make sure you’re a good guy. Let them know, without a doubt, that we all are. Those officers are in the 99% with us, and they know it. They just can’t show it while they’re on duty.
Chanting is a great way to draw attention to our cause, but only specific chants should be used in a serious protest. I witnessed dozens of passers-by during the march asking what exactly we were protesting. Many people answered with things like, “the 1% ruined the economy and the 99% are paying for it.” This is the basic idea, but those people often still leave confused. Protests should be specific, and even though this one is leaderless, we know what it is we want. Drum circles only make us look like the protesters of our ineffective past. Drums are fun, but they have no place at this protest, because they have absolutely nothing to do with our message or our movement. I don’t expect them to disappear, but know that they don’t help the rest of the world take us seriously.
Also in the 99% are the people who live around City Hall. As part of a peaceful protest, it’s only right that we do our best to keep it down at night. A neighbor informed me yesterday that there were loud PA’s being used in the middle of the night, and equally loud choppers had to be called to investigate the noise. She didn’t deserve to lose sleep, and neither did any of her neighbors. We must remain peaceful, and that means respecting time-appropriate volume levels too. Consider using the ingenious human microphone concept employed by the Wall Street occupiers. One person speaks, and all the others repeat at speaking level so everyone around them can hear.
We’re not here because we hate laws, we hate the police, or because we hate anyone. This is a movement of love, and an overwhelming amount of protest signs confirm that. If we break a single law because of our peaceful protest, we have become criminals. We can do this right, and we can keep the LAPD as our most important allies for the duration of this protest. I’ve heard rumors of small groups acquiring plastic handcuffs and plotting retaliation measures in case the LAPD tries to arrest anyone. This is a TERRIBLE IDEA. Even wearing bandanas on our face sends a message to the police that we don’t trust them. But if we remain peaceful, law-abiding, and respectful to our neighbors and our officers, we have no reason to lose trust, and they have no reason not to trust us.
We’re here because the system is broken, and it’s hurting us. As true and powerful as this message is, it is a complaint without a solution. I’ve seen many proposed solutions on signs, but they’re all different. The European protests I witnessed always focused on one single request, and the request was a solution created by the people. It was never simply “this isn’t fair.” It certainly isn’t fair, but as it stands, the only way for We, the people to regain representation in the political arena is to repair the corporate-controlled campaign system. Once corporate campaign buy-outs are made illegal, we can elect representatives that represent us. If corporations can’t fund them anymore, they have no reason to pass legislation that puts corporations before people.
Many people — powerful people — are doubting us. I saw this article in The Atlantic just minutes after posting the blog you’re reading. The reason they are wrong about our impending failure is because this is an issue that transcends party lines. It affects all of us. This is not about the left or the right. From Tea Party to Socialist Party, we are too far united to turn on each other because of petty platform disagreements. We are all just people, and this is a struggle between the people and the corporations. We outnumber them by hundreds of millions. That’s huge.
We need to focus on one request at a time, and demanding the outlawing of corporate-funded political campaign bribes will make the long road ahead much easier for all of us.
We need as many signs as we can to say the same thing. Deliver the same message. We want a law to protect the people from political campaign funding by corporate interests. This is what we need first, and we will get it if we stick together.
We’re just getting started, so let’s take simple steps to get the ball rolling. We are all prepared to work to achieve every single goal on our signs, but we can’t expect it all at once. It’s time to focus, because it’s time for Wall Street to recognize that we are the majority, this is a democracy, and we mean business.
Apparently the livestream was down during this part of the meeting, but it left a lasting impression on me, and I wanted to give my best recollection of what happened for those who couldn’t be there.
The End Police Brutality Committee was one of many who came to the mic to discuss their group’s aims, vision, and meeting times. Their premise was a basic one: educating protesters on how to defend themselves from potential police abuse of power by way of classes during the day.
One conflicting issue brought up at the GA (General Assembly, a daily meeting of all occupiers) about this group was triggered by an individual’s personal story about requesting to join their private Facebook group, posting a sort of dissertation on open discussion about his problems with things like the group name, and then being removed from the group after his controversial post was deleted. This story resulted in a bit of an uproar from the GA. The FB group’s administrator stated that she had gotten 5 or 6 messages from other members asking that he be removed as he made them uncomfortable.
Another point that was brought up about the group was that since the LAPD has been so cooperative with us, what reason do we have for a group on FB called “End Police Brutality at Occupy LA” if there is none, since anyone on the internet can see that and get the wrong idea, and the police may stop being so cooperative. There was also a concern about using the name “Occupy LA” to represent our cause on an issue that was not voted or agreed on by the GA.
A different guy got up to make a point, started with, “Of course police brutality is a real thing, and I don’t think anyone believes it’s a good thing,” but he was interrupted by a commotion in the back of the crowd.
Apparently someone had taken it upon themselves to print a list of the group members page from Facebook and give it to the police. I’m not sure how this was discovered, but a member of the group (the admin of the FB group) emerged from the commotion with the list in her hand, extremely upset, and said, “Is this the kind of movement you’re a part of?” She said she was leaving our moment, and others went with her.
I’m personally extremely disappointed that it ended this way, as this was put on the agenda to be discussed and debated at the next GA meeting. We’re working to gain members, but at the same time we’ve managed to alienate others and force them to leave. We are many people with many different issues, and whether or not our opinions are popular, everyone has a right to make their case and be heard.
1. Political parties are completely made up. They’re not real. And on that note, they’re not even logical. There are roughly 350 million people in the United States, and it is highly unlikely that any one of them fosters beliefs that align perfectly with the manifesto of either the right or the left wing. Choosing a party to join is something we’re all asked to do at some point, but it never makes sense. I’m a registered Democrat, but I’ve never actually believed that I’m a Democrat. It was just “close enough.” I don’t think “close enough” should be good enough anymore. We should ditch the parties that are trying to tell us what kind of person we are.
2. Once a person reads something, everything they read in opposition afterward will somehow seem harder to believe. This isn’t universally true, but when proven, it’s difficult to counter. Example: an article was published by several news outlets two weeks ago stating that 11 Occupy L.A. protesters were arrested at a Bank of America rally. Of course, that wasn’t true. Occupy L.A. agreed long ago that civil disobedience (breaking the law in protest) is not our style. But even after contacting the news sources directly to clear up the mistake, and tweeting and Facebook updating until my fingers were bruised, many people still believe, and will always believe, that 11 Occupy L.A. protesters were arrested that day in an act of civil disobedience. Something like this may seem minor, but I’d wager that the majority of Americans would decide against supporting a movement that breaks laws. And for so many people, we might as well have.
3. Political protests in the United States carry, to varying degrees, a permanent stigma of “complaining.” While the right to assemble and peacefully protest was once considered among the most patriotic and powerful forms of democratic participation, most post-Vietnam era displays have been met with criticism and downright disapproval from large groups of Americans concerned that their sympathy will be misconstrued as gutless whining. Several folks my parents’ age have popped into our protest camps to flat-out apologize for the difficulties we’re facing. “Hey, I just wanted to say it’s amazing what you guys are doing, and on behalf of the protesters of the 60s, we’re really, really sorry for messing this up.” They seem to remember a time when protesting was something to be proud of. And, stigma aside, maybe it still is. When I decided to join the Occupy Wall Street movement, I called my Conservative Christian parents, half-hoping they’d discourage my decision and present a better solution for fixing the gross underrepresentation of America’s majority. Instead, I was met with overwhelming support from both of them. “Frankly, it’s about time people did something about this,” they said. They wished they could tell me the system was fine, and our complaints were minor, but everyone knows, they said, that this is a huge injustice that’s gotten way out of hand.
4. Police brutality still exists. It’s a human responsibility to weigh every aspect of what you’re presented in order to form an educated opinion, and despite having been raised by a police officer and witnessing the system firsthand, I can’t deny what I’m seeing all over. I will still say this: most cops are good people. And most of what you read about cops will inherently be bad, because “good cop” stories are frankly just not that interesting. My dad is a good cop who has fired several bad cops, and he admits they exist. And I respect my dad, possibly more than anyone else in the world. But my dad works in an office in upstate New York, and I’m living in a tent on Los Angeles public property, watching like a hawk the footage of my fellow protesters suffering what are very clear and obvious acts of violence meant to quell a movement which challenges the status quo.
5. On that same token, resentment toward authority by protesters is often misguided and frankly, a terrible idea. If an officer tries to arrest you for peacefully exercising your right to protest in the public square, that officer is wrong. And more than likely, his superior has authorized “use of force” due to “escalating violence” which isn’t actually happening. But if an officer, security guard, or even a manager asks you to remove yourself from private property, that’s it. They have every legal right to do so, and if you argue, you are wrong. Fighting with police because they asked you to do something reasonable and legal just to show them your rebellious attitude is one of the worst things a protester can do for their cause. Many people already label us as clueless hippies who don’t understand how the world works because we refuse to join it. To argue against authority demanding something they’re allowed to demand only reinforces the stereotype that we don’t understand. If you don’t like the fact that many federal buildings are privately owned (I don’t like it either,) make that another goal. But until the law is changed, you must realize that this movement does not hinge on being allowed the use of private property because you want it. This movement is much bigger than that. If someone asks you to move, do it, but don’t forget it. We are the very people who can change the law that allowed them to move us, but it will take time. We should be patient and stay focused on the bigger picture. The more small conflicts we face, the longer it will take. And the sooner the better.
6. There’s nothing actually wrong with being a hippie, except for the fact that it’s uncool. I will likely never go full-hippie, but to discredit the entire subculture as without value seems a bit ignorant. Some cool things about hippies:
- They love love. Sounds like an empty sentiment, but our system could certainly use a little more Jesus-style empathy and human decency. But not too much or then we’d be Europe, right?
- They’re skeptical to the status quo. Skeptical may be an understatement, but they’re an important counter-balance to those individuals who refuse to lose faith and trust in a government that deserves neither.
- They’re extremely welcoming, and often open-minded to the ideas of others. Again, isn’t there something to the claim that America is at least somewhat lacking in those two areas? Some things hippies could maybe work on include mental cognizance, hygiene, and effective public speaking. But they’re important, just like every other American subculture. Let’s not strip them of their validity just yet.
7. A huge amount of people have no idea to what extent America’s major banks have broken laws. The blame lies partially on news articles labeling the banks as “misbehaving” rather than criminal, which is slightly more accurate. I’m just going to throw some things out here right now, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em: Bank of America foreclosed on huge numbers of mortgages which were being paid on time every month. I’ve met two people here so far who were victims of this “robo-signing,” a bank practice where foreclosures were decided by computers. So imagine you had a nice house, paid your mortgage every month, and suddenly, the bank took your house away. And there was nothing you could do. This actually happened to at least hundreds of families around the country. The banks admitted it, and the government is taking its sweet time investigating. More than likely, the banks will reach a settlement with the government where they use the money they made from the illegal practices to prevent any actual punishment. Sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin your day. But you ought to know this.
8. An unusual amount of people at this protest really know their shit. I want to close with a rather profound text message from my tent-mate about why our opposition might exist: “We’re not just up against the direct messages of the 1 percent, but an American mythology of success that many people fiercely cling to. To some, it’s like we’re attacking their religion of personal responsibility. Shaking the roots of their whole belief system, which is why people call us ‘losers,’ ‘radicals, ‘anarchists’ and think we hate America.”
We know what people are saying, and if you’ll give us the time, we’d like to tell you those things aren’t true. We’re here because we love America, and if we didn’t, we would leave. We want the jobs to be here again. And we’re here because nothing we say seems to matter to our legislators as much as the unethically powerful voices of the wealthiest 1%. Corporate America is more than encouraged to make its money, enjoy its success, and be proud of what its earned. But when Corporate America goes beyond the boundaries of our democracy and takes away the voice of the majority, we’re going to set up tents — just to remind you we’re still here.
Petty community grievances and committee warfare at Occupy LA will ruin us, just like they ruined the government we’re trying to change.
The landscape of the Los Angeles occupation site has changed drastically over its 26 days. By the end of week one, we looked in amazement at the functioning tent city we had somehow already created. Through donations, great ideas, hard work and an unbridled sense of community, we had transformed the north lawn of the Los Angeles City Hall in to a spectacle of proud citizens dedicated to restoring democracy in the United States. By day, we stood along roads holding signs which introduced passers-by to our many thoughts and problems. By night, everyone in sight gathered around the north steps for the general assembly meeting. Committees were born, philosophies shared, and gradually, support from the citizens of Los Angeles began to grow.
As support grew, so did our occupation. After the second week, tents were appearing scattered throughout the south lawn. In mere days, so many tents occupied the south side of Tent City that it became the obvious new location for the nightly GA. Soon, the Media and Welcome committees would also call the south lawn their home. The occupation was fast-growing — with no apparent end in sight. I decided to move in. It was impossible not to. I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from such a beautiful, organic thing — by the people, for the people.
It was a world where money and status meant nothing. Everyone had a skill, a vested interest, and they worked for each other. Jobs were plentiful, and every committee needed help. The Food Tent, the Welcome Tent, the library, Media Tent, First Aid, and so many others. You did what you were good at, and hopefully, someone would feed you. Sometimes there was no food, but it was hard to notice a skipped meal amid all the work. We put in 18 hour days, and we never wondered what we’d get out of it. All we knew was what we hoped the achieve through being a part of a world-changing effort. And that was more than enough to keep us going.
So where are we now? Hundreds of people have settled into jobs on committees, and hundreds more have perhaps resigned to occupied unemployment. Like society’s unemployed, it’s not our business to ask why. All we can do is hope they’re still with us. Shouting matches are a common wake-up call, sparked by drugs or theft. The well-situated drum circle is a subject of debate among protesters of varying philosophical and spiritual backgrounds. Constant percussion ensemble can be observed any time night has fallen, continuing without a single pause until the shouting matches begin at sunrise. To some, the drumming is necessary in keeping the peace, and holds spiritual importance to many occupiers. But for others, the constant banging serves to keep them from sleep after a day of work. The jury is still out.
Other debates include whether residents should be given food first, and food regulations in general. The local health department has visited our encampment several times, reminding us to serve food only from restaurants, stores, and “certified kitchens.” This makes donations, our main source of meals, much harder to come by. As a result, many people are hungry. And many of these hungry people are occupiers — residents of Tent City. It was proposed to dissolve the food tent and simply pass donated meals amongst ourselves in a picnic style. Unfortunately, the health department caught wind of this plan and made a special visit to inform us that it doesn’t work that way. They fear, albeit reasonably, an illness epidemic caused by misprepared food. We’re still hungry.
Meanwhile, some hypoglycemic protesters have begun to turn on each other with claims of certain committees or groups being favored over others. Plans of rebellion can be heard brewing within the tightly-knit neighborhoods inside of Tent City, often without ever having brought the grievances to the alleged tyrants themselves.
With all of these distracting issues at hand, it has become apparent that many of us have perhaps lost sight of the shared reason we’re all here. In the beginning, we consented on an “agree to disagree” approach when met with differences irrelevant to our common aims. We took pride in our ability to make everyone heard, no matter how crazy or unpopular their opinion may be. We at least promised to listen, and listen carefully. Now it seems more likely that any new idea presented will be met with the hostility of our own egos fearing an uprising of theirs. We no longer trust our brothers and sisters. We allow ourselves to feel wronged by every new decision, no matter how reasonable or democratic its origins. We’ve stopped listening, and instead started judging. Rumors run rampant, creating unfair stigmas. When this began, we were a family. What happened to us?
The solution to this rapidly-growing problem can only be found within ourselves. This movement is our own — we didn’t just end up here by circumstance. We chose to live together in these closely-spaced tents. How can any of us feel victimized when we are all leaders? We created this town, and we inadvertently created its problems, too. We should know better than to point the blame away from ourselves, like we see irresponsible government and corporate entities do constantly.
Everyone has problems. But it’s up to us, and us alone, to solve these problems we created. We are better than them. We are a person. A movement. And we are hurting ourselves by wasting our time and energy focusing on things we may never agree on. Maybe you hate drum circles. But don’t hate the drummer, because he is our brother. We all need each other. The people, united, will never be defeated. We must set aside our differences and unite as one power.
Bank of America’s website says they prefer you close your account by letter. So they’re getting a letter, and here it is.
For lack of scanner at the occupation, these are stitched-together webcam photos. Scroll past each photo for the text version.
Dear Bank of America,
As per your preference, I am hand-writing you with a ballpoint pen in regards to terminating my account. You may ask why I should do such a thing, but perhaps you already know. The reason for this letter is simply that I know too much.
I first chose Bank of America in 2008, while I was living in Florida briefly. I liked you so much that upon my return to New York state, I went through the trouble of opening a New York account. We were young, careless. But perhaps a bit too careless.
Bank of America, I wish I could look past how you’ve changed. You were ”too big to fail” in a nation where size matters. But you did fail. You failed me, and you failed so many who trusted you.
When the government bailed you out of a financial catastrophe, you promised you’d get better. You swore to me, to everyone, that you’d make things right again. And we believed you, because you did fun things like letting us put neat pictures on our debit cards.
But it only got worse from there.
”I’ll create jobs!” you told us. I guess you meant you’d create them overseas. You could have mentioned that, you know. You paid back your bailout loans, with interest. You smiled and donated to communities. Though times were rough, your profits were higher than ever.
Little did we know that those profits came from those you chose to bully. When I read you’d been foreclosing on homes of people who had never missed a payment, I didn’t want to believe it. ”No,” I told myself. ”My bank wouldn’t do that.” It hurt me to know that you’d been dishonest with me, but it hurt me even more to hear the stories of your victims.
You ruined their lives, Bank of America. These people had families, responsibilities. You used our trust to manipulate the judicial system. You stole the homes of people who make less in a year than Brian Moynihan makes in a day. You became an unrecognizable monster, B of A.
Maybe you’ve forgotten when it’s like to be human. After all, Capitalism is about clawing your way to the top — but at any expense?
That’s where a moral question comes in. Did you mean to hurt these people? Are you that far removed from the identity of the human race? I don’t know. My government tells me corporations are people, but clearly, that can’t be true. People can’t do what you did. And people can be put in jail. Where could we possibly jail you, Bank of America?
For years, you and your fellow corporations have had a large hand in legislative matters. You knew just how to change the rules to make the game easier for yourselves. Perhaps you call this Capitalistic Democracy, but I call it Oligarchy.
But even with all the legislative influence you possessed, you failed to pass a law allowing you to seize the homes whose original mortgages weren’t even yours. Then, you did just that. Most American prisoners committed crimes against one victim, or sometimes none. But your crimes robbed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their entire homes. And we have no prison big enough for you, so what do we do when you’re found guilty? Make you pay a portion of your ill-gotten profit? Not even drug dealers have that option.
Bank of America, you and I both know that you’re not really a bank. You’re an investment firm that gives loans to people you sometimes hope won’t be able to pay you back. Most people don’t know that when they deposit money into their accounts, you take that money and gamble with it on Wall Street. By the way — you have a gambling problem, but that’s a topic for another time.
But people are beginning to learn your tactics. If that worries you, there’s good reason. I’d even go so far as to wager (something you’re fond of) that the majority of Americans would appreciate a repeal of the Citizens United case, if they knew what it was. And hundreds of thousands of us are explaining it to news cameras every day from our occupation tents. Those who were fortunate enough to avoid your mistreatment are becoming wise.
I hope that someday soon, corporate interests like your own will no longer be the loudest voice in our political system. And we’re working on it, twice as hard as you’re working to retain your power.
It must be nice, Bank of America. After Glass-Steagall moved out, you were free to invest whatever you wanted, wherever you wanted, without even letting us know. The repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake, because it’s clear now that you can’t be trusted with much responsibility. And once the judges find you guilty, maybe we’ll have another visit from that age-old regulatory banking act. It’s sad that a grown corporation like yourself needs a babysitter to stay out of trouble.
I suppose I should admit this now, before you hear it from someone else: I’ve joined a credit union. They’re not as big as you are, but that’s kind of what I like about them. They work in the interest of their members, not investors. Their lobby offers free light and dark roast coffee, and they gave me the cutest miniature water bottle on my first visit! Oh B of A, they’re wonderful! I never thought banking could be so exciting. They sent me four free checkbooks yesterday, and they even reimbursed me for the ATM fee you charged for withdrawing at their branch.
One of your representatives spoke at a Los Angeles City Council meeting recently, and I was in attendance. He told the council, ”You need banks.” If only he had known about credit unions! They deal with local government, too!
Bank of America, I hope you take something from this letter. I know this isn’t the first break-up you’ve endured, and I’m confident there are many more to come. But I hope my note finds you well. I really want to see you get better. We all do. But maybe your wake-up call will only come when you’ve been held accountable for your gargantuan mistakes.
Please close my accounts, numbers ________________ and send the remaining funds by check to _____________________.
I’m sorry it had to end this way. I hope you understand my decision.
A primer on why we occupy:
The U.S. is a constitutional republic, wherein the elected representatives of each district are tasked with representing the interests of their constituency. The motivation behind the Occupy movement is based on the belief that our legislators are no longer representing the interests of their constituency, but rather the interests of whomever funds their campaign most heavily. That is something with which the average American can not compete. Since money is now considered speech by the US government, and there is a gross wealth disparity here (38th worst in the world, going by our GINI coefficient), the system is currently functioning so that our votes mean almost nothing. Regardless of who wins elections, most politicians will be bought by corporate or union interests: whoever has more. This is against the very foundation of a represenatitve democracy, and since voting no longer works, the only remaining form of democratic participation in our government provided to us by our founding fathers is the right to peaceful protest. It was afforded just for cases like these.
Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the Occupy Movement. Each paragraph will be followed by a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) for those who prefer abridgment.
Please note that I am in no way a representative, official or unofficial, of the Occupy movement. Please also note that no one is, even if they say they are. We did that on purpose. Those who claim to represent us are often the same people whose personal agendas would never pass consensus at an Occupation General Assembly.
Why do you “occupy?”
The short answer you may have heard: We’re dedicated to protesting the vast injustices that have been committed by a powerful few, and ignored by our corporate-sponsored government. Corporate criminals ought to be held accountable for stealing homes, money, jobs, committing major fraud, and taking advantage of government bailout loans. We’re tireless because every day, we see and feel the pain of the poor financial decisions made by those powerful few while their profits are higher than they’ve ever been.
The more explicit answer:
The U.S. is a constitutional republic, wherein the democratically elected representatives of each district are tasked with representing the interests of their constituency. The motivation behind the Occupy movement is based on the belief that our legislators are no longer representing the interests of their constituency, but rather the interests of whomever funds their campaign most heavily. Since money is now considered speech by the US government (see the Citizens United ruling), and there is a gross wealth disparity here (38th worst in the world, going by our GINI coefficient), the system is currently functioning so that our votes very often mean nothing. We decide the winning candidate, but regardless of who wins any election, politicians must be bought, if they haven’t already, by corporate or union interests: whichever has more. In the U.S., 85% of the time the candidate with the most campaign funding will win the election. It’s no longer practically possible to win an election without huge amounts of money, and most of that money inevitably comes from the same corporate interests that benefit from legislation passed by those to whom they contributed huge amounts of money. This is against the very foundation of a representative democracy, and since voting no longer works, the only remaining form of democratic participation provided to us by our founding fathers is the right to assembly in peaceable protest. It was afforded just for cases like these.
This idea transcends partisan lines. Both major parties, frankly, suck at representing American interests. We’re angry. We tried voting, but since they’re all corrupt, that didn’t work either. So we’re doing the other kind of democratic participation thing. We’re protesting until we’re heard by those who have ignored the people for a disturbingly long time.
tl;dr: The government is terribly corrupt, ignoring the people, and our votes (on either side) aren’t changing anything. We’re protesting because we love our country but hate what they’re doing to it. And we’re staying in tents because that’s difficult to ignore, and makes it much easier to collaborate with each other on solutions, consensus, and fact-based knowledge.
Why do you hate rich people?
We don’t. I respect and appreciate every honest businessman who works hard to succeed and grow their business. If you’ve earned your massive wealth through honest means, you are a testament to our nation’s innovation and I thank you. But not every extremely wealthy person in America worked their tail off to get there honestly. Some were born rich, and some broke a lot of rules to get to where they are. It’s these people who buy off the government so that the very rules meant to prevent financial abuse can not be used against them. These corporate greed-hounds and their lobbyists are some of the biggest criminals in this nation, and their malpractice has led to thousands of illegal foreclosures on now-homeless families, millions of pre-planned loan defaults, and a country of people feeling the burn of an economic recession. There are two types of human greed: one provides ambition to make a company greatly successful, and the other prompts already-wealthy people to manipulate hoards of people, their families, their homes, and their media, to make themselves more wealthy at any expense. The first kind is okay, and can perhaps be credited with many of America’s previous Capitalistic successes. The latter is Disney-movie-villain disgusting. If we can agree that thieves deserve to be jailed, let’s agree that thieves on a much larger scale deserve the same. If you can’t get rich by playing fair, you’re probably not that great at business anyway.
tl;dr: We aren’t mad at rich people, and we’re not jealous of rich people. What we are is outraged at those few people who use their wealth to control the government, manipulate the public, and bastardize the legal system to allow them to constantly get away with committing outrageous large-scale crimes and business fraud at the expense of the American public. Why aren’t you mad?
What do you stand for?
A return to democratic representation. Members of this movement have all kinds of ideas — good, bad, and downright crazy — for how to fix this economic mess we’re in. But the one thing we can all agree on is that the people deserve to have a say in how their government is run. Most Americans are struggling financially at the same time that money is being proven to speak louder than words in our legislative arenas. A quick look at publicly-available campaign contribution data, compared with each politician’s voting record, will show an obvious relationship in how laws are being passed and interpreted. Both Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty of accepting contributions, support, and lobbyist perks from the most crooked of all corporate money. Politics should be about people, not money. Despite previous court claims, corporations are not people. People are people, and our system was designed so that the peoples’ votes matter. We can disagree on everything else, but once we (all of us) reclaim the representation we deserve in our government, we can stop duking it out and just vote it out. The candidate with the most votes should win based on merit — not money. If we can agree on that, we can disagree on everything else and still work together to fix things. This economic standstill is helping no one. United we stand, but divided we fall. Which do you think is happening right now?
tl;dr: We stand for the freedom of Americans to choose representatives who legislate in the best interest of those who elected them. That’s it.
Do you have specific demands?
Not currently. Several weeks ago, the Occupy Wall Street GA released a Declaration of Occupation here: http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/ . It was passed unanimously by many other occupations around the country, but it is not a list of demands by any means. It’s more of an official answer to the “Why?” we kept hearing. This movement is unique in that it is not made up of a group of like-minded people. We are all extremely different, and disagree on so many things. But we’re here because we’re frustrated. We all have different things to say, and none of our elected officials are listening to any of us. Those we’ve given power to simply don’t care about what we have to say anymore. It’s the very fact that our differing opinions aren’t being heard that has brought us together. And decades of biased American media aiming to sell news instead of reporting honestly has succeeded in separating us even more. We recognize the danger in a system that lies to its people in order to further separate them. Those in power recognize the danger in a system that unites the people, providing them the power to vote on issues that may strip the powerful few of their privilege. The more we bicker amongst ourselves, the longer the government/corporation collaboration can keep its power and wealth. To have the small groups of occupations decide how the country should fix its problems would be wrong. We’re protesting for an America that allows each person one equally-valued vote each, and makes decisions based on what the people want. Like I said before: If we can stop bickering for just a little while, we can vote it out later. All of it.
tl;dr: No. We’re just groups of citizens. We’re supposed to elect representatives who put practical demands to vote, in the interest of the people who elected them. We just want the ability to do that again.
What is “the 99 percent?”
I am, and by the laws of statistics, you probably are too. Wealth disparity is an interesting thing that means the amount of difference between how much of your nation’s wealth belongs to your rich people, and how much belongs to everyone else. Our wealth disparity as calculated by the CIA is, I kid you not, somewhere between Bulgaria and Cameroon. See for yourself: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html . It’s an unfortunate fact that right now, 1% of Americans own about 43% of the money in America. At first, it may be tempting to tell yourself that they must have earned that money or they wouldn’t have so much of it. But is an America where roughly 400 people own more wealth than half of the entire nation COMBINED (that’s 17.5 million people. Combined.) really considered a success? We feel that in a nation where 99% of us are considered poor compared to the wealth of America as a whole, something must be wrong. And as it turns out, the reason the rich keep getting richer is because so many of them have realized that their money speaks louder than our words, and they can use their wealth to pass laws that benefit only them. We don’t hate the player — we hate the game. And we’re out here to change the rules of this grossly disproportionate game so we can all have a chance to get off the unemployment bench and show some hustle again.
tl;dr: 1% of Americans own 43% of America’s wealth, and the decisions they’re making with that wealth very clearly are not helping anyone but themselves. We (you too) are the remaining 99%, and we recognize what a ridiculous proportion that is. It’s the reason we keep saying it.
“Okay, so I agree that the government is corrupt, corporate crimes should face punishment, whatever. But I’ve seen these occupations on the news. Maybe there are a few reasonable adults out there, but to me it looks like a bunch of kids who don’t feel like getting a job sitting outside, playing the victim card, blaming the rich, and not wearing shirts. How is this going to help draw attention to your cause?”
You’re reading this now, aren’t you? None of us has any authority to accept or reject members of our movement (barring those who blatantly create a dangerous environment for other occupiers), and that means you’re going to see a lot of people you normally wouldn’t hang around. As for what you’ve seen on the news, I can explain the following firsthand as a part of the Occupy LA media team: There is nothing more frustrating than watching a powerful media machine carefully construct a presentation that frames a logically reactive political movement, something to which you’ve dedicated your livelihood, as a group of entitled college kids trying to live off the taxpayer’s dime. If you can admit that America’s mainstream media is a corporate-controlled mess, then you should know better than to believe what they’re trying to sell you. The news you see on television is tasked with making a profit, while independent media on the internet won’t stand to benefit at all from whether or not you watch their YouTube report. Caveat emptor. Be very cautious when a snake-oil-selling reporter tells you that the Occupy Movement, a movement which would threaten their control over the way the game is currently played, is nothing but a bunch of hippies creating a nuisance. We never planned to create a counter-media committee within these occupations, but in light of how the mainstream media has been portraying us to the rest of America, we’ve had to. To see media from the source, take a look at our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages. Links are below.
tl;dr: Mainstream media news outlets will gladly report anything they think might help them profit. The very foundation of our movement goes against their power to decide what the truth is in an attempt to manipulate you, me, and both our neighbors. They’re lying about a lot of what’s going on at these occupations, mainly because if they made us look good, people would support us, and they’d lose their power. Beware of that before you decide if you’re against what we stand for.
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. But remember that we have no time to bicker. Now is the time to patiently discuss with other Americans our shared frustration of this mess we’re in.
A green tent
City Hall South Lawn
Occupy Los Angeles
Live updates on the movement:
America’s founders are revered throughout history as valiant and wise revolutionaries who fought together to create this great country. But have you ever wondered what Paine, Washington, Jefferson and the rest would have to say about the Occupy Movement? These strikingly relevant quotes may surprise you.
“And I sincerely believe… that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”
“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat in our drink, in our necessities and comforts, in our labors and in our amusements, for our callings and our creeds…our people.. must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread...”
“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
- Thomas Jefferson
“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the land that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
“If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
- Samuel Adams
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”
“If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained — we must fight!”
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
- Patrick Henry
“Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the world that a free man, contending for his liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
“My anxious recollections, my sympathetic feeling, and my best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.”
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, ‘till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.”
“The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”
- George Washington
“The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.”
“Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”
“It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.”
- Benjamin Franklin
“A generous parent would have said, ‘if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”
“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”
“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
- Thomas Paine
Is it so presumptuous to wonder if our founding fathers, if alive today, would protest these injustices alongside us? Is it so absurd to imagine Thomas Jefferson pitching a tent with the rest in a public park? After all, protest was tantamount to the founding of our nation. The repair of a broken government is the responsibility of its people. Indeed, those who recognize the injustice in our government ought to protest, lest they be charged with less-than-patriotic apathy.
If you can’t stomach the sight of young people giving a fuck, you’re a piece of crap.
If you have the gall to go up to someone with more motivation than you have to better the society we both live in and berate their efforts, then you’re a piece of crap. And I am tired of pieces of crap who think that being a piece of crap is an awesome thing to be. It’s not. Look at yourselves. You’re feces.
If you don’t wanna participate in our representative democracy, that’s fine. But if you’re apathetic because you know that nobody listens to you, and you think you can turn around to the people trying to improve your country, and talk down to them like you’re better than them, then you are a gigantic piece of crap. And America needs less pieces of crap, so either get off your ass and admit that you deserve a better government, or shut the fuck up and at least be a quiet piece of crap.
The more piles of crap I encounter, the more I realize that America is just a giant minefield of crap piles who listen to other, bigger piles of crap tell them how to be a proud piece of crap.
If you have a job you hate, and you worked for thankless years to get there, then I implore you to try to berate me for protesting that. If you can honestly look me square in the eye and tell me that I’m less of a person than you for believing that we all deserve better, then you are a piece of crap whether you realize it anymore or not.
If you think that people who invested tens of thousands of dollars in a degree they can’t use are acting entitled when they protest the foundations that caused that reality, you are disgusting.
If you’re unhappy with your life, and you use that as an excuse to try to make other people give up their protesting to join you in your misery, then you can kiss my ass.
If you think you know all there is to know about a movement you’ve never learned a single truthful fact about, then you are a pretentious, ignorant, uneducated piece of crap.
If you’re ashamed that you’ve raised a young person who is out there on the streets petitioning our government for a constitutional redress of grievances, and you don’t even know where in the constitution that is, then read a god damn book, you festering pile of dumb.
If you solemnly watch Fox News and use the commercial breaks to talk about how much my friends and I must not shower, and you’ve never met a single one of us, you should go fuck yourself.
If you witness daily reports of a desolate job market, and within that hour complain that Occupy Wall Street protesters need to get a job, then you have got to be one stupid motherfucker. Do you hear yourselves?
So to all the stupid pieces of crap who don’t learn shit before they talk shit, fuck you, fuck your lazy attitude toward our nation’s problems, and don’t project your insecurities on the young people spending their days fighting for your stupid fucking freedom to be able to talk all the bullshit you want. Because without us, there is no hope. And we’d hate for America to become that big country that used to be awesome.
You are outrageously self-important pieces of crap, and even if you can’t see that, everyone else can. You deserve to be what you are, but the rest of us who actually get off our asses to try to fix things deserve better. I implore you to go be miserable somewhere else.
Anti-intellectualism put us here.
The more Americans read, the more we’d understand. But naturally, some systems depend on the public’s lack of understanding. So these systems created distractions, making use of America’s affinity for flashy entertainment. And they won.
Now, America’s presidential debates utilize the same sound effects and fanatic coverage as its televised sporting events. Books are “stupid,” according to every high schooler’s Facebook profile page ever. Facts and logic fall far behind belly-fire and edgy attitudes in the citizen’s pick for office. Americans demand to know which candidate is bold enough to stand up to the establishment.
What we often fail to recognize is what caused these candidates to succeed in becoming options at all — they created and comprise the very establishment we despise. The establishment that has become so expert in gaining power has also become expert in knowing exactly what we want to hear, and wrapping it in just the right package to appeal to today’s concerned American.
It’s been a long time since America’s had a genius president. It’s been a long time since brain-power topped the list of reasons to support a candidate. In America, the establishment decides who to sponsor, what they’ll stand for, and what they’ll do in office once they win. George W. Bush and Barack Obama sure seemed pretty different four years ago, didn’t they? Now, it’s clear that their policies that affect us the most are identical — and not surprisingly, so is most of their campaign donor lists.
Are you tired of working hard to promote a choice candidate that ultimately serves to disappoint you? Are you tired of making excuses for poor representatives you really used to believe in? Then let’s take a lesson from this mess.
We should know better by now than to trust any candidate backed by millions of special interest dollars. Those special interests aren’t yours or mine, and they don’t belong in the political arena. They’re the interests of a small group of people so extremely wealthy, it would be impossible for most any of us to save up a year of their salary in our entire lifetime.
Don’t hate rich people. They’re people, in the club for a variety of reasons. But please, take the time to look into how a candidate answers questions, and compare them to facts, logic, and what you know you know. Do this, or we will all pay the price for our ignorance.
The special interests profiting from the recession have little pressing desire to fix these problems they created. We have to. The vast amount of data on the Internet can help us form educated opinions on issues where both parties have failed.
Knowledge used to be power. We can use the Internet to earn that power back again.