We Are the 99 percent: Grassroots organization with integrity


Americans in the “Occupy Wall Street / We Are the 99 percent” movement have been organizing themselves in horizontal (as opposed to hierarchical) democratic structures that open a window on new forms of social relations. It has been quite consciously planned that way, inspired by the experiences of the globalization movement and of the Arab Spring and Spain, and resembles the occupation of the Capitol building in Wisconsin earlier this year. Their organization through assemblies does not conform to the methods of traditional political parties.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post interviewed David Graeber, an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, and one of the initial organizers of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. He explained why the critics asking for a list of demands are missing the point of the movement quite dramatically: “You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. And it’s a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces you’re protesting. If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem.”

The way that the movement has self-organized is first of all by the occupation itself, which attempts to create a space in which direct democracy can take place. It institutes a process which allows people to come to a consensus about what their demands would be. A Declaration by the Occupation of NYC, unanimously voted on by all members of the occupation last Thursday, makes clear that at the root of what they oppose is the corporate takeover of government and all the necessities of life. The preamble states: “… that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

Liberal left groups like MoveOn.org claim that “The occupation of Wall Street—and the occupations throughout the country—are expressions of the same spirit and dynamic as the Take Back the American Dream conference.” But this is fundamentally wrong: MoveOn is a top-down group tied to the Democratic Party, a political email pyramid based on the Obama campaign. Their “Rebuild the Dream” conference is an attempt to create an artificial grass-roots movement modeled on the Tea Party.

In his interview, Graeber commented: “The real difficulty is how to work with people who are top-down and have a funding base, as it means there are things they can say in public and things they can’t, and groups where people can say whatever they want and the whole idea is to be decentralized. One problem I’ve already heard of is that people are coming in and changing the tenor of the general assemblies to speeches, and that’s not really what it’s supposed to be about. So you have to balance the aspect where you’re trying to show what direct democracy could be like and the effort to link up with groups that have a form of organization we’ve rejected.”

Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute visited the occupation at Liberty Plaza in its second week and these were his impressions: “What these people are doing is building, for lack of a better word, a church of dissent. It’s not a march, though marches are spinning off of the campground. It’s not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, ‘we matter’. … They believe themselves to represent all Americans who are frustrated by politics and finance. Whether or not this is true, what is happening is that there is a belief that their actions matter, that they themselves are moral beings who have dignity and power simply by the very act of self-expression. …

“Many of the angry establishment liberals are frustrated that this protest has no top-down messaging strategy … But these people, who represent the rump of support for Obama, are not part of the conversation here. The conversation is global. And you can sort of tell that this protest really bothers the community on Wall Street, stirring up deep existential questions for the people that work there, many of whom know there is a spectacle going on in the streets below.”

It seems to me that the point is this: by asserting their own morality despite their lack of power, they are challenging the moral authority of Wall Street, and thereby challenging the moral compunction to pay debt. But this is in fact what the economic and political power of finance is based on. By extending credit, bankers make a claim on someone’s wages or property for the conceivable future. If debt were abolished tomorrow, the hold of banks and corporations on people’s lives would be ended.

Answering the criticisms that the movement does not have clear demands, former SEIU organizer Stephen Lerner pointed out: “There are lots of people with concrete demands about principal reduction and closing corporate loopholes. We haven’t had a shortage of demands and solutions. We’ve had a shortage of mass movements that are courageous and heroic and driven by a sense of right and wrong.”

“Occupy Wall Street/We are the 99 percent” makes a more profound challenge to the system than all the policy demands of left parties put together. How far it will be possible to take it remains to be seen. But what is clear is that there is a huge reservoir of support from people throughout the country facing eviction, bankruptcy, and unemployment. Ezra Klein summed this up: “It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy – work hard, play by the rules, get ahead – has been broken, and they want to see it restored.”

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4 Comments

Filed under austerity measures, credit creation, debt limit impasse, financiers, marxism, Obama, occupy wall street, political analysis, populism, strikes, Uncategorized, We are the 99 percent, Wisconsin

4 responses to “We Are the 99 percent: Grassroots organization with integrity

  1. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”

    THE LEFT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LEFT!

  2. Keith

    This organization must expose the greed of companies, banks, and there wealthy stockholders. Always follow the money. Republicans criticize Obama over Iraq withdrawal. There is a story dated 2/7/2007, which states “Why politicians are worth buying.” The companies say contributing to campaigns is good for their interests and the country’s. General Electric says it makes political campaign contributions as part of its effort to let the government know “how its interests are affected by public policy choices” and to share insights on the effects that policy choices have in the marketplace. This list of companies are long Read it for yourself @ moneycentral.msn.com/, also read the article 8/29/2007 “Who’s profiting from the Iraq war?”

  3. stephanie Stern

    Occupy Wall Street, Please keep going. We have to get rid of the GOP controlled supreme court which okayed Citizens United which has the strong potential of ruining United States Democracy.

  4. Who is profiting from the Iraq Wars and are we really at war with Afganistan, or anyother country like Pakistan? What is really the truth and why did Obama continue the Bush Administration? Is there anything to the Bush Library that was commissioned in 2008, when it constructed an oval office identical to the one in Washington’s with all the hot lines hooked up to one in public’s Bush Library, centered in Texas? Also just how many Americans know this: There are two Oval Offices one at the bush camp in Texas and the other in Washington DC, possibly an instruction communication line telling the president just what to do? The truth is we don’t know. Truth of it is, we the people have been told many lies, over national news, truth is like the Iowa primary election, it was just high jacked by the republican party and we will never know the results, and why is it, that the republican party gets away with this stuff? Also is America now a Banana Republic or how many Americans even know what the definition of that is?

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