Pundits and journalists are claiming confusion on what the Occupy/Liberate movement is all about. It’s actually rather straightforward. Since I’ve been participating in some of the protests and assemblies in Oakland where I live, I’d like to share my view of the movement in this city of nearly 400,000 people:
1. The movement is driven by younger people who are fed up with business as usual:
a. Large corporations are making greater profits than ever before, but the public is the worst off since the Great Depression. The gap between the rich and the middle and working classes is wider than ever before.
b. Democracy isn’t working in the U.S. Large corporations and rich people have far too much influence on candidates BEFORE and AFTER elections are held.
c. Working people are being crushed by the economic crisis, foreclosures, skyrocketing costs of health care and prevalence of corporate greed.
d. Fairness and justice are unattainable until we make transformational change.
2. Although no platform has yet been developed, some of what we, the people, want is clear:
a. The rich should pay their fair share of the cost of running society. The money is there.
b. It’s unacceptable to continue to close and reduce fundamental programs that benefit the majority, such as education and health care.
c. The burden of debt cannot continue to grow on the backs of the average person. Regular folk are bent all the way over from the weight of it.
d. Students are outraged at the burden of their student loans, especially when good jobs are diminishing.
e. A general strike will take place on November 2, 2011, to demonstrate that business as usual must not continue while people’s suffering is intensifying. One of the targets is the Port of Oakland. Why? Because it’s the fifth largest containerized port in the country, trades some $30 billion worth of goods, has a huge negative impact on residents’ health in West Oakland, and often meets in closed-door sessions even though it’s a public agency.
3. The movement is peaceful.
a. The movement polices itself. Although right-wing columnist Deborah Saunders today called self-policing vigilantism on Forum, Michael Krasny’s morning radio show, it has in fact prevented individuals and potential provocateurs from using violence inside marches and protests. Self-policing has also managed out-of-control individuals.
b. The violence that has happened to date has occurred solely at the hands of the police and security forces. Yet police brutality is fully preventable.
c. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights, passed in 1791, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” is guaranteed. It does not say, “from 7 am to 10 p.m.” The idea that encampments justify removal or police aggression is bogus. The notion that people sleeping in tents is a major health hazard is merely justification for unnecessary police action.
4. The movement is profoundly democratic.
a. In Oakland, mainly younger people are organizing it and calling assemblies and meetings. Older people are involved as well, but are playing more of a support role.
b. The assemblies and meetings are fully inclusive of anyone who wants to participate.
c. The movement is leaderless. This is a deliberate strategy to permit a flatter and much more democratic structure of participation. Since public leaders at all levels have failed us, it’s important to organizers and the movement not to put too much trust in a few individuals at the top. Because this form of democracy takes a lot of time to get people’s input and make decisions collectively, it is one of the factors that makes the movement appear disorganized.
d. Many connected issues are being put forward and defended by participants, such as the human and civil rights of immigrants; opposition to shutting down local schools, the inhumanity and financial stupidity of the volume of foreclosures, to name a few.
e. The movement is transparent. All meetings and decisions are open.
My suggestion: If you are in a city where there is an occupy/liberate movement, (there are currently at least 462), visit the assembly and talk to people yourself. Do not let the media define for you what is happening.