#OccupyOakland Raid, Bill Black, and more

by Chris Sturr | October 27, 2011

Condolences to the USA, by Erika Rothenberg

I’ve got a backlog of stuff to post–it will be mostly links, and in no particular order.  Here goes:

(1) Mike Davis on #OWS: Nice piece by Mike Davis in the LA Review of Books, No More Bubblegum. Today’s Possibly Irrelevant Image accompanied Davis’s piece; it’s from a series of wonderful greeting cards by Erika Rothenberg.  Her other stuff is great too. I especially liked: “Sorry Our Country Bombed Your Country … I want you to know that I was against it.” See more here.

One think I like about the Davis piece is his reference to They Live.  I used a still from They Live as the Possibly Irrelevant Image for a post back in January.  I remember going to a talk by Slavoj Zizek with D&S collective member Larry Peterson in which Zizek used the glasses in They Live as a metaphor for ideology critique.  (When you look through them you see advertisement for what it is, as in the picture I just linked to. You also see corporate yuppies for what they are–zombie aliens.)  It was in the middle of the 2008 primaries, and he would start talking about, e.g., the reception of Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and then say, in his Slovenian accent, “Let us put on our ‘They Live’ glasses,” before he’d lead us through a critique of the ideology in U.S. politics.

(2) Police Riot at #OccupyOakland: Speaking of California and #OWS, The Informant has good videos and other coverage of the crackdown at #OccupyOakland, which was surely a “police riot” (i.e., the police created the riot and were the ones being violent). And the NYT Lede blog was surprisingly good on it (especially in contrast to the rather lame article I found on my doorstep this morning).

And here are two great first-hand accounts of the events at #OccupyOakland.  The first is by Mark Ash, founder of Reader Supported News, A Witness to the Violence in Oakland:

The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response
and we will continue to provoke until they respond or
change the law. They are not in control; we are.
— Gandhi

If Gandhi was right, yesterday’s Civil Resistance Action in Oakland, California, achieved all of its aims. By day’s end a heavily-armed, fully-militarized police force was in control of Frank Ogawa Plaza, but Occupy Oakland was in control of the agenda.

Two major confrontations occurred between police and protesters in Oakland, both marked by non-violent restraint on the part of the protesters and a lack of restraint – each time leading to violence – by the police.

The day began with a fully-coordinated assault by riot police on Occupy Oakland’s encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza. The police have charged one protester with resisting arrest. What is not in dispute is that they used tear gas, beanbag shotgun rounds and rubber bullets. In all, 95 protesters were arrested, mostly charged with unlawful camping violations.

The second confrontation began with a rally at the Oakland Public Library. Occupy Oakland organizers obtained permission from the Oakland Library to meet there to discuss their options. The meeting was announced on the OccupyOakland website with a 4 pm start. By 4 pm, the area in front of the Library was packed with over 2,000 resisters determined to make a stand or, more precisely, undertake a march against the razing of the encampment that morning, and to reclaim it. The mood was passionate and upbeat, but there was a clear understanding that between the Library and the Plaza the marchers would be confronted by police … in riot gear, of course. Many, many of them.

As the march began I remained out in front of the crowd with about two dozen other independent cameramen and women. We tried to stay in position to film any potential confrontation between the police, who were everywhere, and the protesters who were on the march. The refrain of “Keep it non-violent!” was heard as often as “Our streets!”

Perhaps not surprisingly, media reports have chronically underestimated the size of the crowd.

Within three blocks the crowd had swelled to 2,500 strong and was growing as it ran into its first police blockade. It turned to avoid a confrontation – a process that would be repeated again and again as the police forced the march off course both south and east of Ogawa Plaza. Not that it would have mattered because the Plaza itself was guarded by over 100 police in full riot gear. No unarmed, non-violent protester had any chance of making it into that Plaza. Period.

For a time the marchers and the police continued to play out the drama in a fairly predictable manner. Time and again, it was the police escalating the situation. They began to basically break up the march. They relied on two main tactics: first, sever the march by blocking it off into sections; second, cut it into pieces by inserting lines of riot gear-clad officers into the column of marchers. That had the effect of chopping the march into sections. The other tactic was direct confrontation. Park a line of police in front of the march and say, “You’ll have to march through this if you want to keep going.” That worked for a while, but then the marchers decided that they were not going to take it anymore.

Armed only with a growing chant of “Our streets!” the marchers moved forward towards the line of police in riot gear. Shoulder to shoulder in non-violent defiance, the marchers tried to filter through the line of riot-armored police. The police attacked the marchers with their truncheons, mostly spearing at protesters’ midsections. It did not work.

The marchers took the blows, overwhelmed the police and kept on marching. The police, however, were not to be outdone and singled out one of the marchers for arrest, quickly throwing him to the ground and forming a circle around the conspicuous incident in the middle of the march. A melee ensued. The demonstrators encircled the police, shouting “Shame!” and “Let him go!” Again the police attacked with truncheons and the demonstrators pushed back with their hands. The crowd began to pelt the police with water bottles and paint … red and blue paint.

By this point the march had been repeatedly interrupted and was splintering. The police again blocked the path of the section of the march I was in, which was now moving towards the police station. This time they used more officers. The marchers halted and a standoff followed. An announcement was made on a megaphone, “This is an unlawful assembly! Disperse now or you will be arrested!” I began to work my way out of what was quickly becoming a kettle. I made it out, but another young woman did not. A riot-clad police officer stopped her and ordered her back into the crowd. So, clearly the crowd was told to disperse, but not allowed to do so. I maneuvered free and moved carefully around and back towards Ogawa Plaza. There I would find a “public plaza” under military siege. Entry would have been impossible. My cellphone and camera batteries were running low and so was I. I made the decision to pull out with the film I had.

Whatever meaning the Occupy Movement represents to the protesters who participate, to the Oakland Police Department, and the system they are paid to protect, it obviously represents something to be feared and repressed … violently, and even lethally, if necessary. The police that confronted the people in the streets of Oakland, California, were scared, their riot gear notwithstanding. Make no mistake about it. More importantly their corporate employers are scared, too.

Several Northern California police departments were pulled in to support the siege in Oakland. It was more than the Oakland Police Department itself could handle. The alternative to all of this insanity was to let the kids camp out in the park. That was apparently a greater threat than turning downtown Oakland into war zone.

Yesterday the police, the city fathers and the commercial media saw Oakland and made their decisions based on that. But they did not see the movement within its “world-wide” context. This is big … very big, and spreading rapidly across the United States and around the world. And there is no indication that police violence can stop it.

Marc Ash is the founder and director of Reader Supported News, as well as Truthout.

The second is Steve Martinot, via email from Bernard Ztangi.  Ztangi describes Martinot as “a former truck-driver, factory worker and radical academic (several books on Racism and Philosophy).” Here’s his statement:

It is 11 pm on Wednesday night, 10/27/2011, and I just got back from the most amazing meeting I have ever been to in my life. It was held at the scene of Monday’s carnage in Oakland where the Oakland cops crushed one of the most amazing demonstrations I have ever encountered.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to get down to the
OccupyOakland encampment, it was astonishing. The people there had set up a village. There was a kitchen, a restaurant, a café, a library, a first aid station, and an art department, and all of this surrounded by well over 150 tents set up on the grassy area of the plaza. They had water and sanitary facilities (provided by the OEA), a calender, and many really interesting meetings. The cops attacked Monday night around 3 in the morning, and demolished it.

I won’t waste my breath trying to explain that there was no reason to do this. The attack is estimated to cost between 3 and 5 million dollars, where a couple of thousand would have maintained sanitation, and provided a few social workers to help smooth over the inevitable conflicts that occur in small spaces across class, across ideology, and across levels of sobriety, especially among people already living on the edge because of their unneutralizable marginalization at the property interests’s hands.

The meeting this evening began at 6 pm. No cops, seven helicopters in the sky, and gradually, over the next hour, the crowd swelling to more than 3000 people. It started with an open mike on the street corner of Bway and 14th, and when the crowd got too big, moved to the amphitheater in front of city hall. By 7:30, the fence erected around Ogawa Plaza had been dismantled unceremoniously, and the helicopters were gone. The meeting turned into a General Assembly that then addressed itself to how to move forward from where they were. It was wall-to-wall people from the city hall doors to the plaza grass, and from 14st to the alley that pretends to be 15th.

A committee had written a proposal for consideration. And the meeting, all 3000 people, discussed it, considered its various aspects, and voted on it. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.

The proposal was to call a general strike to shut down Oakland on Wednesday, Nov. 2. It was not to be to the exclusion of any other actions; it was not to be mandatory, only solidarist and activist in stopping the 1%; it was to be a positive expression of the people against the hobnailed boot of the 1% that came down on Oakland on Monday night and Tuesday. The call is to stop the corporations, stop the schools and their regimentation, bring the homeless, the unemployed, the blue and white color workers into conjunction, bring the city to a halt, and bring the people to a rally at city hall at 5 that afternoon. Let all unions, organizations, neighborhood associations and asemblies, and all people get involved.

There is to be a planning meeting tomorrow, Thursday, October 27, at 5 pm, Oscar Grant  Plaza (aka Ogawa) to plan the strike. All are invited.

The proposal to call this general strike was passed by a vote.
Discussion on the proposal started around 7:30. First there were
questions of clarification. Then there were statements of concern and arguments for and against. Then the 3000 broke up into smaller workshop groups of 20 or 30 to discuss the proposal. Then people lined up to speak on it to the entire meeting. By the time the vote was taken, at 9:30, the meeting had dwindled to 1500. I know that is the size because 1442 votes were cast for the proposal, 34 against, with 73 abstaining. And the crowd was about half the size it had been at 7:30 when the fence came down.

At one point it was announced that OccupyWallSt in NYC had taken to the streets that same day and marched throughout lower Manhattan in solidarity with Oakland. They chanted “Oakland, Oakland, end police brutality.” And they sent $20,000 to OccupyOakland. A message was received that the Egyptians, in their many popular organizations, sent an expression of solidarity with Oakland, and are going to have a march on Tahrir Sq. tomorrow in solidarity with Oakland. The meeting
this evening, in which 3000 people continued the creation of a new democracy for themselves, was reported on BBC.

One things we will have to understand about this is Quan’s shift. She supported the occupation encampment up until the police and some councilpeople decided last Friday that it needed to be expunged. The charges against it were about unsanitary  onditions and violence. The city could have helped with sanitation at a pittance cost (next to what the cost of bringing police in from three other jurisdictions for the raid will be). And it could have organized encounter group sessions to deal with whatever hostilities came up. The city did actually send in some social workers, but their task was very odd. Their job was to spirit the homeless away from the scene of the action preparatory to the police attack. In other words, it took something like this demonstration/encamplment, and the planning of an attack, for the city to suddenly decide it needed to pay attention to the homeless. Sanitation and violence were not the reasons for Monday’s attack.

As a friend of mine said, when you send riot police in riot gear to where there is no riot, what you have is the hobnailed boot of power, stamping out the people for itself.

Live from the Oakland Commune.

(3) Several Bill Black Appearances: D&S author and bank fraud expert Bill Black was on the Real News Network, What I’d Demand of the Fed, and then today on KBOO in Portland, on Voices from the Edge (not sure where the streaming link is–you can figure it out–but it was a great segment about BoA shifting bad derivatives to the BoA side so they’re FDIC insured).  On Tuesday he was on On Point being interviewed by the annoying Tom Ashbrook on the topic of Prosecuting Financial Titans. (Hat-tip to Paul Piwko.) Also well worth a listen–Bill does a great interview!  Something he said in both interviews:  “A trillion is a thousand billion!”  A useful reminder, actually. Speaking of prosecuting banksters:

(4) Glenn Greenwald to Speak at #OccupyBoston; also on On Point: I had a tiny part in setting up Glenn Greenwald’s appearance at #OccupyBoston, via a friend of his whom Juliet Schor put me in touch with (because I know the ropes about setting up events at #OccupyBoston–sort of!).  I maybe shouldn’t advertise my role, since we are still trying to resolve a scheduling conflict with a couple of bands–cross your fingers!  He’s supposed to speak on Saturday at 4pm.

Greenwald was also on On Point on Wednesday, on the topic of America’s Lawless Elite. This (and his #OB appearance) are part of his tour for his new book, With Liberty and Justice for Some.  I liked the interview, and a lot of what he says is related to Bill Black’s line about fraud.

But when he seems to reduce what #OWS is all about to “unfairness,” Greenwald comes uncomfortably close to the kind of view that Nicholas Kristof put forward in his NYT column today, Crony Capitalism Comes Home.  Elites like Kristof have a big stake in drawing a line between #OWS and anti-capitalism.  Now there are all kinds of views among #Occupy participants and supporters, but to deny that there’s a strong anti-capitalist strain is just odd.  As I’ve pointed out before here, even the BBC’s report always seem to refer to the #Occupy protests, here and in front of St. Paul’s, as “anti-capitalist,” which is what I would say they are, on their face.  Whether Stiglitz or Kristof or Greenwald (maybe) want to suggest that reforming capitalism, e.g. by getting rid of cronyism or re-establishing the rule of law, is enough is another matter.  But to assert that the “rabble-rousers” at #OWS are “are seeking to put America’s capitalists on a more capitalist footing,” is just Kristof projecting his views onto #OWS.

(Matt Taibbi makes a similar argument in his Rolling Stone piece OWS’s Beef: Wall Street Isn’t Winning, It’s Cheating. I liked his piece a whole lot more than Kristof’s, but I still think he’s projecting his own views onto #OWS.)

I am interested to hear Greenwald speak, though, and I did enjoy his interview (again, despite the annoying Tom Ashbrook).

(5) Hedge Fund Guy Regards #OWS as “Mob Rule”: Amusing piece at the Financial Times, by hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio, Risk on the Rise as Political Leaders Give in to Mob Rule.

(6) Great Piece on How #OWS Confuses and Ignores the MSM: I really like this piece by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, Occupy the No-Spin Zone. (Hat-tip to TM.)  Among her great points:  there’s something ridiculous about the complaint that there’s “no message” when the whole thing is about people standing around with signs with messages written on them, and (we might add) walking around chanting messages.  The basis of the complaint is that the movement has refused to boil its message down to a sound bite that would work on Fox news (or any cable news channel–the point is not about the slant), and this has perplexed the pundits.  And the movement is also good at ignoring the pundits as they flail about trying to explain the movement.  This might be wishful thinking, but I like it:

Mark your calendars: The corporate media died when it announced it was too sophisticated to understand simple declarative sentences. While the mainstream media expresses puzzlement and fear at these incomprehensible “protesters” with their oddly well-worded “signs,” the rest of us see our own concerns reflected back at us and understand perfectly. Turning off mindless programming might be the best thing that ever happens to this polity. Hey, occupiers: You’re the new news. And even better, by refusing to explain yourselves, you’re actually changing what’s reported as news. Because it takes a tremendous mental effort to refuse to see that the rich are getting richer in America while the rest of us are struggling. Maybe the days of explaining the patently obvious to the transparently compromised are finally behind us.

In an earlier post, I linked to a piece on DailyKos by David Graeber that made the nice point that making demands of (e.g.) Wall Street or the government in a way legitimizes them;  #OWS is trying to prefigure the better society we wish we lived in.  Now, I think there will eventually have to be some demands, but this kind of point helps me understand the value of the current strategy.  Lithwick’s point is similarly helpful.

(7) Last but Not Least: Thad Williamson Speaks at #OccupyRichmond: D&S Associate and comrade Thad Williamson, who teaches in the Peace Studies program at the University of Richmond, sent us the text of the speech he gave at #OccupyRichmond on Sunday.  Here it is:

I am pleased to be here today in solidarity with Occupy Richmond, Occupy Wall Street, and the worldwide social movement against oligarchy and for democracy.

The Occupy movement is one of the most heartening things to happen, starting in the United States, in recent decades. What it shows is that the American people are not yet totally inert. It shows that the heartbeat of democracy is, despite the apathy, cynicism, and consumerism we see all around us, still thumping. And it shows that Americans and people worldwide are not going to take the domination of our global system lying down.

I have two goals in my talk today. The first is I want to explain why the Occupy movement is fundamentally, a just cause. The second is I want to put out some ideas for how this movement can grow and become not just a fleeting democratic movement, but part of a sustained effort to create a more just, more democratic economy and society that breaks decisively with the last thirty years of American capitalism. The economic justice, anti-oligarchy movement is and must be the civil rights movement of the 21st century. I mean that not just as a slogan, but to indicate we have a lot of work ahead of us. The civil rights struggle for African-Americans in Richmond and throughout the South and the entire country took place over decades, and it required incredible determined persistence and resilience over many years and many setbacks. In fact, that movement still has unfinished work, as anyone living in Richmond today knows. But there is a fundamental continuity between the struggle for racial justice and the struggle for economic justice, both here in Richmond and around the country. The Occupy events this fall have the potential to spark a new civil rights movement around questions of wealth, power, and ensuring we have a society that runs to the benefit of all 100%, not just the top 1%.. But we must understand that this is only the beginning of a long struggle that must be waged on a variety of fronts.

At this point many of the basic points about income and wealth inequality in the United States are well-known, but they cannot be overstressed. The top 1% has about 38% of total wealth in society, and over 20% of income—a dramatic increase since the 1970s. At the same time over that time period, the wages and incomes of ordinary families have stagnated or even gone backward. This has been the case even though year in and year out, workers have become more and productive per hour. The workers of today are much more productive than the workers of the 1970s, but wages have not proportionately gone up. Instead, the gains have been captured by the capitalist class, the corporate shareholders, and in effect by the top 1%.

No serious person denies these are what the trends are. But some people in the media claim that it’s a great mystery as to why inequality has increased. The implication they want to leave you with is that the growing inequality is a necessary byproduct of trends that are basically good, such as technological improvement or increased trade. But in fact, it’s no great mystery what has happened. Moreover, the stagnation of wages and incomes are not a necessary evil, but  are in fact the root cause of the current economic depression.

Why did inequality increase? Yes, there are a lot of factors involved. But here are the two most fundamental points. First, there was a concerted effort to hold wages down starting in the 1970s and accelerating in the 1980s, by repressing labor unions, refusing to raise the minimum wage, and refusing to make full employment the basis of economic policy. Unions have been in a downward spiral since the 70s, as it’s gotten harder and harder to organize or to win a strike. I have the greatest admiration for those in the labor movement who have stuck with it, but they and we are struggling on a battlefield that has been drastically tilted against labor. Second, corporate managers, who make up about 30% of the richest 1% and 40% of the richest 0.1%, have prioritized increasing their own salaries and compensation over actually contributing value to society by productive economic activity. Incentives have been skewed so that CEOs get paid more when their share price goes up. But it’s easier to make share prices go up in a hurry on Wall Street by cutting workers and providing quick dividend returns than by overseeing firms that sustain jobs over the long term. CEOs have gotten rich, in effect, by firing workers. And CEO salaries have sky-rocketed since the 70s and 80s, which accounts for a big chunk of why the share of the top 1% has grown so much. This doesn’t have anything to do with economic efficiency or because these corporate managers are so much more brilliant than the managers of the 1960s or the managers in other countries. It’s a result of a power play by CEOs within corporations to prioritize compensation maximization over employment maximization, and the utter failure of the government to regulate these compensation packages. At numerous companies such as GE and Coca-Cola, CEO compensation exceeds the amount of taxation the company pays to the federal government. Some of those companies actually spend more money on lobbying the federal government than in paying federal taxes.

How has the trend of stagnant income and growing inequality hurt the economy? At first, American workers compensated by increasing their work hours. Women increased their working hours, and two full time jobs became the norm. That allowed household income to continue to grow even as wages remained flat for a while. Then after that trend had tapped out, in the 1990s people began to finance their consumption by borrowing, via credit cards. Wealthier household made paper profits through the Internet stock bubble, before it crashed. Later in the 2000s, many households used the housing bubble to finance spending. Instead of financing increased spending and a growing economy out of real increases in income for ordinary people, we’ve kept the economy going through mountains of debt. In 2008, the chickens came home to roost, and the economy began to collapse once it became evident that the so-called geniuses on Wall Street had placed enormous gambles on derivatives that they did not really understand.

I would like to be able to tell you that President Barack Obama then came in and saved the day. But we probably wouldn’t be here this afternoon if that were the case. The truth is Obama had a narrow opening in which he could have chartered a fundamentally different course for the economy. At times he spoke like that’s what he would do. Maybe that’s in fact what he did want to do. But the fact is the policies his economic team pursued did not hold Wall Street accountable for the mess created, nor did they take the steps required to be sure that such a crisis can never happen again. The financial sector is still dominated by huge entities that are “too big to fail,” and the line between banks and investment firms has not been re-drawn. There hasn’t even been meaningful regulation of derivatives, and the consumer protection commission has been watered down. At the same time, unemployment has remained unacceptably high.

In 2008, Barack Obama was the living embodiment of the American people’s desire to chart a different course, and I supported him then as such. Today he is in danger of becoming the living embodiment of a political system that is broken, that cannot achieve its own goals, and that is too dominated by private interests and Wall Street to solve the problems that affect everyone.

That’s why we are here today. The economy is broken, and the political system is broken, for the same reason: the excessive influence of powerful corporations and the wealthy, who are determined to turn this country into an oligarchy, a country in which no matter who is elected, the big bankers and the corporate interests remain in charge.

Now lots of people who are not here are making all kinds of claims about the Occupy movement. Some people say this is the left-wing Tea Party. Let me say a couple of things about that. First, the Tea Party might have been for about five minutes an independent populist uprising, but now it’s essentially a tool of the right-wing Republican Party. Polls show a majority of Americans reject the Tea Party, but sympathize with the Occupy movement. Second, I do credit the Tea Party true believers. They at least recognized that something is wrong. Unfortunately, they don’t understand that what’s wrong today is a direct result of the anti-tax, anti-labor agenda they espouse and that has essentially governed Washington for the last 30 years.

Another thing people say is that the movement should list a bunch of demands. Some of the people are saying that because they are genuinely baffled about what this movement is all about, or because they don’t want the movement to peter out without any concrete victories. But others are saying it because, in effect, they want all of you to go home and let the politicians take care of it. Well, what I say to you today is that you can’t go home, that none of us can go home, and that this movement cannot go away if it is going to achieve anything. There are plenty of good specific ideas out there for reform and change. In fact, the White House itself has some of them. If you’re interested in detailed, genuinely progressive proposals, follow the work Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is doing now.  But staying out here is the only thing that is going to put pressure on the people in D.C. to actually follow through on any of it.

Having the best ideas and proposals doesn’t matter if you don’t have power. This movement is fundamentally about claiming and building up the power of the 99%. This is about  the 99% asserting ourselves, saying we’re here, and say we’re not going away quietly in hopes you’ll cut a backroom deal that gets a reform or two in place. And as long as we’re here, we might as well educate ourselves, and start the conversation America so badly needs: how do we build an economy that truly solves all of us, that respects the dignity of every worker and every person, that allows all of us to live decently and to flourish?

A third thing people out there in the media say is that the Occupy movement consists of hypocrites. They argue that it doesn’t make any sense to criticize oligarchy, or to criticize the economic system, at the same we use cell phones, IPhones, Facebook, and all the other modern communication tools. But that argument rests on a myth and a lie. The myth is that  having a situation in which Wall Street interests dominate both the economy and the political apparatus is somehow a necessary condition for having a modern economy. In fact, the domination of Wall Street and the drive to deregulate is what has brought down the economy, not only causing the deepest and most serious recession in two generations but also blocking the kinds of responses need to recover and prevent it from happening again. The idea that banking deregulation, unregulated derivatives trading, and irresponsible and greedy behavior by the nation’s financiers led the economy into collapse and into demands for a bailout of the rich is not crazy talk. It’s the informed view not just of the Occupy movement but also of well-informed economists and insiders, including quite a few who predicted exactly what would happen years in advance. Nothing would advance the cause of economic rationality and progress more than taking back power to regulate and shape how the economy works from Wall Street.

That’s the myth. Here’s the lie. The lie is that our current communications tools, our computers and cell phones, are the result of a few brilliant innovators like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and that their brilliant innovation justifies the concentration of wealth we see in the United States today. This is a lie in two ways. First, as a point of fact, the majority of those in the top 1% of income in the U.S. are not entrepreneurial innovators in high tech. Neither are they athletes or entertainers like Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey.  Nearly half of that top 1%, and nearly 60% of the top 0.1%,  in fact consists of corporate executives or people working in the finance industry—people who have again and again re-written the rules of the economy in their own favor over the past 40 years.

Second, it’s just not true that innovation and technology is the product of individual genius or entrepreneurial vision. Al Gore did not invent the Internet, but the United States government did. The government also created the first mainframe computer in World War II, which itself built on counting machines developed by the Census Bureau. The foundational computer language BASIC was developed with a government grant. In countless ways, we the people with our tax dollars have underwritten the development of computers and internet technology—as well as numerous other crucial fields from energy to aviation to health research.

But the point I want to make is even deeper than this. The technology we see around us, the highly concentrated wealth we see around us, rests on a common human inheritance of knowledge. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs couldn’t have existed a hundred years ago. The innovations of today rest on the knowledge developed in the past—as well as on the sweat of the workers who created a society that allowed some people to specialize in developing knowledge and technology. The great technological breakthroughs of today and of tomorrow in a moral sense belong to all of us. There is nothing wrong with creating incentives to reward new innovations that benefit all of us. But it is critical that we assure that these new technologies and the wealth they generate are in fact used to the benefit of all us, and not to further concentrate the profit and power of corporations and of the super-rich. We as a public helped pay for them, and we as human beings each have a moral claim to benefit from the accumulated knowledge of our predecessors.

Spreading the wealth around, creating an economy that works for the 100% rather than the 1%, is a precondition of having a genuinely democratic society. Here’s something that may shock you. In practice, it really would not be hard to accomplish if we were serious about it. If we redistributed just one-third of the wealth held now by the top 1% of the wealthy, we’d be able to assure that every household in the United States had at least $100,000. That would be a dramatic change, and if the Occupy movement ever settles on a long-term demand or goal, that would be my vote.

But we have a lot of work to do to get to that point. So I want to close by talking about some more immediate steps that can be taken to build a democratic economy, from the bottom up.

To create a more equitable economy, there are really two ways to go. The first is try to redistribute. I support that, but it’s difficult to achieve. The second is to create new forms of wealth and new forms of economic organization that are democratic and equitable from the beginning.  But how can we do that? Here are five specific things to do.

–First, let’s move our own money from corporate bank accounts to credit unions or truly local banks, and move our spending away from big chains to local businesses, especially those that treat workers fairly.

–Second, let’s get involved in support of local workers here in Richmond in organizing struggles for better wages and conditions.

–Third, we must realize that waiting on corporations to come in create a bunch of good jobs to improve things here in Richmond is not a good development strategy. We need to be more creative than that. We need a creative community development strategy that creates  long-term stable jobs that employ Richmond residents. This can be done by creating worker cooperatives, nonprofit corporations, and genuinely local small businesses. Cleveland, Ohio has developed a terrific model for creating new cooperatives focused on cutting-edge green technology.

Fourth, while direct action to create new alternatives is always welcome and has never been more needed, at the end of the day we cannot avoid engaging with politics and the political process. It’s the political process that sets the rules we all live by. And I would suggest in particular here in Richmond we cannot avoid engaging that other, less democratic General Assembly over at the state capitol. This city does not get its fair share of funding for schools, and this system of metropolitan segregation we live under can only be changed by the General Assembly, and the practices that hurt labor can in this state can only be changed by the General Assembly.  We need to take this struggle to the statewide arena. The corporate lobby in this state thinks they own the General Assembly, and more often than not, they are right. Until we challenge that, we in Richmond are going to be left to fight with one another over scraps.

–Finally, and maybe most important, we need to continue engage this educational process, and especially the process of learning about alternatives from around the country and the world. All around the world there are amazing initiatives and experiments in genuine economic democracy through worker-owned firms, community land trusts, community-based social enterprises, genuine community-based banks, and municipal businesses and loan funds. There also amazing initiatives and experiments in genuine political democracy, such as the idea of participatory budgeting—that is, letting ordinary people to do the work of setting budget priorities so as to meet local needs. We need to study these alternatives and bring as many as are feasible to Richmond. There are a lot of people in this town we will never convince with theoretical arguments, but you can convince them if you show them a model that works and makes sense. These are desperate times and anything that works to create jobs and uplift dignity is going to be welcomed.

My closing thought, then, is that in this movement what we do ourselves will be as important, if not more so, than what we demand of others. Our challenge is to build a movement that both demands social justice and democracy and finds creative ways to practice it.  Thank you to all of you who have brought this movement to Richmond, let’s work together to show that another, better world is as possible as it is necessary.

That’s all for now.

–Chris Sturr

 

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