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Should Occupy Declare Victory and Go Home?

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Two events last week reassured the Occupy moment of its effectiveness. The first, and most covered, was the President's much-ballyhooed speech in Osawatomie, Kansas on December 6th; he echoed a number of themes present in the “New Nationalism” speech given in the same town by President Theodore Roosevelt as he prepared to run for a 3rd term under the Progressive Party banner. Both speeches spoke of a desire to end the pay-to-play, business interest-dictated behavior in Washington. While this represented a new level of thinking for the evolving politics of TR at the time, it hearkened back to speeches from the 2008 campaign trail for Obama. It wasn't anything terribly new, in this respect.

What has gotten the most play in the media has been the direct nature in which the President addressed issues of income inequality in the speech. He made the case that income inequality hurts us all. When the old columns that held up Fordism (the ability for workers to buy the products or services they produce) and the few elements of the welfare state that we have here collapse, we end up with a nation that serves the interests of the top 1% as opposed to the other 99% of us.

Now, hold on a second. Does this mean Obama gets the central tenant of Occupy Wall Street and its kindred movements? To the extent that OWS has defined its central tenants (disclosure: I have been a fierce critic of the unwillingness, deliberately or not, to formulate a political program for OWS), it does seem to be articulating a clear belief that income inequality hurts us all. And Obama’s speech doesn't come at a time when the Occupy movement is enjoying runaway success in the eyes of the mainstream media. What media sympathy the movement might have had at the start has dissipated, not due to a dislike for the message, but rather due to confusion by the masses of Americans who haven't “Occupied” as to what the motives of the movement are. All they've seen recently are the pictures of the park evictions, the pepper spray, and, if you live in the Washington, DC area, destruction of one small house.

This brings us to the second important, symbolic event of the last week. For the uninitiated: Occupy DC has been set up in a park supervised by the National Parks Service since early October. The site has been covered with tents for most of its life as a flashpoint in DC and American politics. The DC City Council has supported the occupation, and the NPS has largely left the alone. However, at some point last week, it was decided that Occupy DC would have to leave its park, much like Occupy Wall Street and many other Occupies before it. But by the time this decision was made, Occupy DC had entered a new phase: a house (or fort, or shelter, depending on who you ask) had been constructed on the site by Occupiers. Negotiations with building inspectors failed; a General Assembly Meeting to discuss the immediate future of the Occupation produced only allowance for “autonomous actions” by individuals who wished to make a statement in the face of the coming raid. Subsequently, police descended, and the structure would come down. Prior to this- there was a stand-off. Some Occupiers remained on the roof of the structure, refusing to leave, with one guy apparently remaining on top for 8 hours. Police finally had to pull them off using a cherry picker. What did all of this accomplish? What did it mean?

Some have theorized that this was meant to draw attention to the foreclosure and eviction crises happening daily in our neighborhoods. Others, including Dave Weigel of Slate.com (an even handed guy, despite being a former Reason magazine correspondent) have labeled it, simply, performance art. It's hard not to see much of this event as such. There was the house built in a National Park. One guy peed off the side of the house (some witnesses say it was because he legitimately had to go). Another shook his ass at the police for some time. Another was apparently well-known as a guy who once circumsized himself for a public art installation. I'm sure plenty of people disagree with the characterization of this event as performance art, but to the casual observer, it was at best “autonomous action” artwork, and at worst a collective freakout by a bunch of hippies. Do I wish people saw it as some sort of statement on housing issues? Sure, if that's what Occupy wanted to portray. But it's not important at this point.

If Occupy is to continue to be a cultural phenomenon with a political conscious, it's going to have to move out of the parks and play to its momentum. The conversation has been completely flipped. There was no expensive ad campaign. No barnstorming politicians. There was a Canadian magazine, but how many people showed up in these parks because of them and not because of the 99% message? It's that message that has become for our political discourse what debt and deficits were this past summer during the Debt Ceiling Crisis. The president has now given a major speech centered on that theme, one that will probably go into the archives next to his one from the 2004 DNC. Occupy didn't have a political program or a set of demands, but it had a message. That message is at the core of our political discourse (as long as we can peel people away from “shocking” entertainment-news like Michelle Bachman's latest thoughts on the gays or how Muppets are communist or whatever else bored Fox producers shove on us), and if the park phase, where the 99% message started, is over, then it's time to declare victory.

Even if Occupy heroically survives the cold winter, the story won't be the message, it will be the spectacle. The spectacle brings attention, much like the Occupy DC performance art, but the message will still be the same regardless. Continuing on as performance art risks turning Occupy into a new Yippie movement. I loved the Yippies for their sheer guts and sense of humor, but they were the comic wing of a larger New Left, and the New Left was collectively despised (or at ignored) by Middle America, blue collar joes, white collar stiffs, suburban housewives, rednecks, and the fracturing working and middle class of the early 1970s. In other words, most of the 99% didn't stand them. Before Occupy loses this moment in the sun, where even a president who very well could have taken December 6th to raise money from Goldman Sachs, rather than to channel the early 20th century Progressive, it's time to declare victory on the major central tenant of the 99% movement and move on to the next phase.

Occupy Movement at Two Months

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I'm still trying to figure out whether the Occupy Wall Street movement in all its iterations is just a passing flash of citizen frustration and anger or the start of a powerful grassroots movement for needed change in the United States. I do know that I'm no longer at an age where street theater without specific goals makes sense for me, but I give OWS credit for one important achievement. At last, the debate in this country has moved from focusing solely on how much to slash the safety net for the weakest among us to the obscene accumulation of wealth and political power in the hands of a tiny oligarchy. That can't be underestimated.

OWS has punched through the wall of special interests surrounding the mainstream media and brought that realization to the forefront of our politics, but the question for me is, What's next? Just talking about the corruption of our political system and the fallacy of "free" markets that serve only the greedy and the rich doesn't bring change.

As Adam Markwood, a development finance consultant stated in the Roanoke Times, "Our broken system has become a wealth-ocracy...in which representation is based on how much money one can throw at a political campaign. Politicians and, therefore, legislation can be bought. Legislation is a product for sale to the highest bidder, and the rich have been buying it like pigs at the trough at the expense of everyone else, the 99 percent."

I do fear that the powerful message that OWS has injected into the national political debate may get muddled and lost as OWS attempts to attract as broad a coalition of supporters as possible, thus finding itself being defined by a sprinkling of anarchists, Marxists, and anti-Semites whose presence could be used to discredit the vital message of the whole group.

Last month, I attended the first organizational meeting of Occupy Roanoke. Two things struck me almost immediately.  

Protest Song of the Times

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In a few short verses, here's what Occupy Wall Street is protesting. Use it when querulous conservatives whine there is no message, that #OWS has no demands (not yet, in a formal 18th century petition to King George form, perhaps, but so what? My thought is: This is Step One). My question is: What next? Where do we go from here?    

Another Cop-Out by Democrats: “Super” Committee Concessions

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The Democratic Party has turned its back on the working and middle-class people of the United States once again in its recent "concession" to Republican members of the so-called "super committee" established to reduce America's debt by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.  Democrats in the debt reduction committee have proposed cuts to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars towards Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. Not to be outdone, Republicans proposed even bigger cuts to these vital social programs.

Is it that our elected representatives don't "get it," don't care, or truly think they are the only ones who can put America's economic genie back into the bottle? As if the Occupy protestors needed anymore verification of their concerns, the latest political cop-out by the Democratic members of the super committee is an additional piece of irrefutable evidence. What's next, one has to wonder, eliminating benefits for wounded veterans?

A Time for Real Change

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It seemed like only a matter of time before the "Grand Ol' Party" began villainizing the peaceful "Occupy" protests across the U.S. and indeed, the process has begun. From a political standpoint, it makes sense that the Republican Party would attempt to debunk a protest movement that firmly challenges the "free market," "small government," set of beliefs shared by the Republicans and their elite corporatist cronies. But what started out as a peaceful movement of demonstrations aimed primarily at Wall Street greed has continued to be a peaceful movement, much to the chagrin of the GOP. The GOP has however attempted to capitalize on a small number of incidents such as the "kill pigs" graffiti in Oakland, CA.

Of course, the Occupy movements have never advocated any such beliefs and those among the Oakland Occupy constituency have denied that the "kill pigs" graffiti was done by anyone belonging to the movement. Unfortunately, perception is reality in the post-modern era of meaning and the Republican Party have proven themselves adept at turning the most unequivocal piece of logic or scientific certainty into just another discredited "opinion" (e.g. global climate change). Fortunately for those of us who support the Occupy movements, however, Republican members of Congress in particular have become so discredited in the eyes of the U.S. public that their distasteful political tactics will only serve to appeal to their voting base and those who oppose the Occupy movements outright.  

Can’tor Constituent at Philly Protest: “I had to travel 300 miles...

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Dee Jacobson from Cantor's district speaking in Philadelphia yesterday:
I came up here today...to stand in solidarity with you because I am disgusted with what my Congressman, Eric Cantor, is doing. I want to thank each and every one of you for being here today. I know there are thousands of Virginians who wish they could be here standing beside us. It's an outrage that I had to travel 300 miles to another state just to seem my Congressman. And then he has the nerve to cancel. This doesn't surprise me. Representative Cantor rarely holds public meetings in his district and does not put out a public schedule. I once went by his district office 5 different times in 1 week...

GOP’s Income Inequality Spokesman: Millionaire Eric Cantor

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Rep. Eric CantorFrom the International Business Times via TPM:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has had plenty of criticism for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, plans to address this week an issue that the 99 percent movement has made the central part of their platform: income inequality.

Cantor is scheduled to speak Friday at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he'll discuss income disparity and what the GOP believes government's role should be in fixing it. An aide for Cantor told Politico that the speech will address how lawmakers in Washington can help average citizens such as single mothers and small business owners, as well as "how we can make sure the people at the top stay there."

The Virginia congressman has said some Occupy Wall Street protesters -- as well as the Democrats who support them -- are essentially pitting "Americans against Americans," something he's trying to distance Republicans from by emphasizing how Americans can all "work together" to solve the nation's economic problems. However, it was only last month that many congressional Republicans used the term "class warfare" to attack a move by the Obama administration to increase taxes on millionaires.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Rep. Cantor's net worth on his most recent disclosure form in 2009 was between $2.2 million & $7.5 million. And Cantor didn't pull himself up by his bootstraps - working for his dad's real estate firm is his only private-sector job that I'm aware of. Between Rep. Cantor and top GOP presidential candidate & member of the top 1% Mitt "Middle Class" Romney, could President Obama ask for better examples of how the GOP is part of the problem?

President Obama: Martin Luther King, Jr. Would Have Challenged “excesses of...

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At this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King's teachings...we have a duty to fight against poverty even if we are well off...

...If [Martin Luther King Jr.] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other's love for this country - (applause) - with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.

All so true, as Martin Luther King, Jr. was "an impassioned advocate of economic justice as well as social justice" (according to his son, writing in today's Washington Post), in addition to full equality for all Americans. I just wish he were alive today, as I'm confident that he'd be fighting with for progress and against reactionaries, bigots, and demagogues, as he always did in his life. Thank you, Dr. King.

Hysterical Enablers of the 1%

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As more Americans begin to raise their Constitutionally protected speech in protest of the class warfare waged against them, all manner of freepers and wingers mount a heightened and extreme reaction. Perhaps none is so over-the-top (and despicable) as the ranting of Glenn Beck. By telling his minions the slanderous fiction that "They will come for you and they will drag you in the streets and kill you," Beck clearly tries to incite his minions to violent reaction against fictitious threat.

Fortunately, progressive pundits are rebutting the mischaracterizations. Rachel Maddow is rightfully outraged by the media and wrong-wing mis-characterization of the protestors. Jon Stewart has been at his best as he has skewered the hysterical reaction by the hard-"right" to Occupy Wall Street (OWS).  Perhaps not coincidentally, the show's next-day reruns on Comedy Central throughout the day have disappeared. Is this Sumner Redstone's revenge?  (You either have to watch at 11 PM or DVR it.) Paul Krugman begin his recent column as follows:

"It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America's direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.  And this reaction tells you something important - namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called "economic royalists," not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.

Eric Can’tor Elaborates on Difference Between Tea Party and Occupy Wall...

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Can anyone make sense of the latest inane, non-sensical blather from Missing Village Idiot Eric Can'tor?
"The Tea Party is very different," said Cantor. "The Tea Party were individuals that were attempting to address their grievances, seeking redress of their grievances, from the government they elected. It's different, from what I see, of the protesters on Wall Street and elsewhere, that are pitting themselves against others outside of government in America. That's the difference. As far as what Steny said... all I can tell you is, folks who were involved and continued, and continue to be so, in the Tea Party, are worried about government and its policies. It's not pitting one part of our country against another. And you didn't hear most of [Republicans] us encouraging any type of violent behavior, or whatever, when that was occuring. Everyone in this country has the right to speak out. That's the beauty of our system. But when elected leaders come in, and condone attacks on others in our country, that's not how it was [with us], it's not leadership."

A short while later, Politico's David Rogers pressed on part of the answer.

"Do you not see the government as part of the people?" asked Rogers. "You said before, the Tea Party was asking for redress against the government. Do you regret using the word mob? I mean, You say these people are divisive against other Americans."

"I did not say that," said Cantor.

"You said they were pitting themselves against other Americans," said Rogers.

"I said they are aiming their ire at others in our society," said Cantor.

"You made a distinction between that and aiming their ire against the government," said Rogers.

"Right," said Cantor. "The ire, from the Tea Party standpoint, is at Washington. It's at the government and its policies."

"And do you not see the government as representing the people?" asked Rogers.

"Sure," said Cantor, "it's of the people...

Again, can anyone make any sense of this blather? I can't(or), except to the extent that this petulant, nasty, smarmy little man-child with the IQ of an eggplant but an ambition level that knows no bounds, is working to position himself politically as the leader of the teahadists and their corporate (Koch, etc.) puppetmasters. Even if it requires him to make statements that are patently absurd, laughable, self contradictory, and just plain idiotic. What's any of that to someone like Eric Can'tor, an individual who has betrayed all the values his faith teaches him (e.g., "tikkun olam"), and who has even shown himself willing to destroy the American economy - or whatever else it takes - to advance his own political agenda. The question is, why would anyone listen to this creep?