Sunday, October 30, 2011

Did the NYC Occupy Wall Street protests happen overnight?

A Brief History of Occupy Wall Street (stories are linked, so click it to read more)

Jan 31:
2 City Council members and 22 citizens arrested to protest closing of schools in favor of charters

Feb 2:
Adbusters floats the idea of a million man march on Wall Street—organized and strategized—as a US equivalent to the protests that had been occurring in North Africa

Mar 2:
15 arrested in Albany protesting Cuomo’s budget cuts for the poor

April 3:
Over 1,000 “Bail out the People” movement protest against Wall Street. 4 arrested

May 12:
Over 20,000 protesters in NYC against the budget cuts and preferential treatment of Wall Street. Several arrested.

May 24:
33 demonstrators arrested for Cuomo’s budget cuts for schools

June 6:
Flashmob to protest Wall Street, “The Other 98%”

June 14: (from an interview with David DeGraw, organizer from OWS on 11-6-11 from Los Angeles livestream conference)
First attempt at an occupation of Zucotti park, but less than 20 people showed up. Later that night they met up with the people camping in "Bloombergville" (see below, June 14), and the merger of these two groups became the first NYC GA.

June 14:
Bloombergville! The first actual occupation!

June 29:
13 arrested to protest NYC budget cuts by Bloomberg. Camped for 2 weeks in “Bloombergville” in lower Manhattan

July 13:
Adbusters announces the Occupy Wall Street for Sept 17. The U.S. equivalent to Tahrir Square

Aug 2:
3 arrested in “naked” Wall Street protest

Sept 1:
Test run to literally occupy Wall Street, by camping. 9 protesters arrested. Plans are rearranged to occupy/camp elsewhere.

Sept 17: Zucotti Park Gets Occupied.

Oct 8: Indianapolis Gets Occupied
Over 1,000 protesters arrive at Veteran’s Memorial Plaza for a day of Occupation. About 100 break off to occupy the Statehouse lawn for the night.

Origin of this Brief History
The Indianapolis Occupation has been plagued with self-doubt arising from the perceived uniqueness of challenges we have faced. I had a conversation with one of the OWS organizers who helped me understand that Indianapolis is on the same trajectory that NYC faced. Their experiments in occupying public spaces started as early as June, and people have been getting arrested in mass Wall Street protests since at least April. The city this year has had multiple large-scale protests against government budget cuts to the poor and to schools, while bailing out banks. Adbusters has publicly floated the idea of the Wall Street protests since February, and officially announced the campaign in July. We aren’t a failure because we haven’t been able to “Occupy” Indianapolis in 2 days. We skipped the planning, organizing, and preparation phases, yet expected to be another Occupy Wall Street New York. It has been a 9 month project for New York, with starts and fits just like we had, and numerous protest/occupy experiments before the Sept 17th date to get them ready.

We are doing fine. We need to press forward. We are the 99%

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What I want for the Occupy Movement

I was recently asked 3 questions related to how I want for the Occupy movement:

Top 5 issues:
1. Public-only financing of campaigns
2. Incentivizing businesses to keep manufacturing here
3. Full funding for education and essential healthcare
4. Independent media
5. Tax reform--progressive, simplified

How do we get there?
1. Organizing: leadership development; create communication network; create infrastructure; recruit workers with specific job skills
2. Resources: finances; volunteers; political leverage
3. Framing messages in ways that a) make sense to people, b) generate excitement, c) create solidarity, d)empower people to act

Where do we see this going?
Since the French Revolution that brought us out of aristocratic hegemony, there have been two great, global, ground-up revolutions--1848 and 1968--that challenged fundamental socio-political orders, transforming worldviews and planting important seeds. This is the third—let’s make it count.

2011's Occupy Wall Street: 1968 Revisited?

I have been thinking about the relationship between the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other historical social movements (since social movements is one of my primary areas of research). This year will go down in history as another one of those where the globe seems to achieve a unified consciousness of revolution--first the Arab Spring, now Occupy Wall Street. Wallerstein, et al, wrote their classic "Anti-systemic Movements" back in 1989 (another great year for revolution), which describes movements just such as these. I haven't quite formalized my thoughts about the revolutions of 2011, but in the meantime, I am republishing an article written in 2008 to commemorate the the 40th anniversary of the 1968 global revolutions. To some degree, the similarities we see in 1848, 1968, and now today, we are reminded of what we read in Ecclesiastes: "there is nothing new under the sun."


“There have only been two world revolutions. One took place in 1848. The second took place in 1968. Both were historical failures. Both transformed the world.” Wallerstein (Anti-systemic Movements, 1989)

1968: The Year the World Caught Fire, by Chris Harman, May 2008

The events of 1968 inspired a generation and shaped struggles around the world for years to come. Chris Harman, a student activist at the time, looks back at this tumultuous year

Occasionally one year can cast a spell over the decades that follow. 1968 was such a year. Supporters of capitalism still bemoan its impact 40 years on. Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of his election declared he aimed to eradicate the "harm" that it had done. Before him it had been Tony Blair who blamed "the 1960s" for what he sees as the ills of society today.

Yet you would have great difficulty understanding why the year was so significant from most of the media coverage. It has been dominated by renegades from the left who have turned into right wing fogies, with the likes of Martin Kettle and David Aaronovitch regretting their youthful folly. Interspersed with them has been the occasional ageing hippy recalling with nostalgia overindulgence in drugs and sex. At best what happened is presented as a euphoric student rebellion against conservative social mores: a time of dropping out, dropping acid and, perhaps, challenging old sexual stereotypes.

There are very different reasons for commemorating 1968. It was one of those moments in history when it suddenly seemed that the coming together of many different acts of revolt could overturn an exploitative and oppressive society in its totality.

The year began with a devastating blow to US imperialism's attempt to crush opposition to its puppet regime in the southern half of Vietnam. There were armed risings against US troops in every city in the country, the brief seizure of part of the US embassy in Saigon, and a battle for Hue, the country's former capital, that lasted for weeks. Television screens across the world featured a US general admitting of one town, "We had to destroy it in order to retake it."

Blown apart was the arrogant assumption of the US ruling class that it could crush resistance anywhere in the huge chunk of the world it dominated. The consequences fed back into the heart of US society. The Democrat president, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), had looked forward only a few days before to a triumphant re-election; the Tet Offensive meant that an anti-war candidate, Gene McCarthy, enjoyed unexpected success in the New Hampshire primary in March while Johnson declared that he would not be standing again.

While this was happening, the rival imperialist power in Moscow was also taking a hammering. The Stalinist regime that had ruled Czechoslovakia since the Second World War split apart, allowing students, intellectuals and workers to organise freely and discuss genuinely socialist ideas for the first time, while across the border in Poland students occupied the universities and fought back against police attacks in the streets.

When we demonstrated against the Vietnam War on 17 March in London, there was not just revulsion at the barbarity of US imperialism - with the chant, "Hey, Hey LBJ, How many kids have you killed today?" - there was also the feeling that we could fight and win amid a world in turmoil. It was the most militant demonstration anyone could remember as tens of thousands of us tried to break through the police lines outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Just two and a half weeks later came the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis. People rose up in every black neighbourhood in the US, attacking symbols of authority, with young African-Americans turning away from the civil rights movement's goal of peaceful integration into existing US society towards the overtly revolutionary ideas of the Black Panthers. A week after this there was a similar eruption of angry militancy among West Germany's students at the attempted assassination of one of their leaders, Rudi Dutschke, after a hate campaign by the right wing Springer media empire. Tens of thousands took to the streets with red flags in an attempt to close down its newspapers.

May was the most amazing month. What began as a small group of activists defending themselves against a police attack outside Paris's Sorbonne university escalated into a "night of barricades" involving tens of thousands of students who drove the police from the area and caused trade unions to call a one day stoppage and demonstration in solidarity. That then showed millions of workers their potential power. Strikes and occupations spread, closing down radio, television, airports and cutting petrol supplies, until the whole country was paralysed by a general strike of up to ten million workers that had grown from the bottom up.

France's President de Gaulle had ruled with dictatorial powers for ten years, brought to power by parliament panicking in the face of the threat of a military coup. Now he was visibly humiliated. People in their millions laughed at his speeches denouncing the movement. The strikes made it impossible for him to implement a referendum that was meant to bring it to an end. The world's media talked of "France's May revolution".

In June it was the turn of the students of Yugoslavia to precipitate their country's biggest political crisis for 20 years as they battled with police in Belgrade to chants of "Down with the Red bourgeoisie."

Defiant salute

August saw the Brezhnev regime in Russia set out to crush the ferment in eastern Europe by sending its tanks into Czechoslovakia and kidnapping the country's leaders - and get a shock as it met massive passive resistance from virtually the whole population. Meanwhile, anyone who believed in "American democracy" got a sharp lesson as thousands of police viciously attacked anti-war demonstrators outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago as it chose the pro-war nominee, Hubert Humphrey, as its candidate despite him not winning in a single primary.

The Olympic Games were in Mexico City in October. They were the occasion of a massacre much worse than any we have yet seen this year in Tibet. Police cornered a demonstration of tens of thousands of students in a square away from the city centre and opened fire from surrounding buildings, killing hundreds. They forbade the press from reporting what had happened. The world's media and politicians chose to ignore the blood flowing in the streets. Instead they reserved their condemnations for victorious black US athletes who gave defiant clenched fist black power salutes on the podium - and were immediately banned from sport.

That month also saw an event whose consequences were to ricochet through British politics for the next 30 years. The armed Northern Ireland police force viciously attacked demonstrators from the nationalist ghetto of the Bogside in Derry who demanded civil rights. Inspired by the rebellions elsewhere in the world demonstrators fought back - the beginning of a great revolt against the sectarian statelet Britain had established when it partitioned the island in 1921.

But there was more to the year than just a series of exciting events. Each upsurge of struggle inspired those involved in the next, creating the sense of an international movement. People who otherwise might have regarded their struggles as over particular grievances saw they had much more general significance.

As with any great upsurge of revolt, no one expected it. The 1950s and early 1960s had been one of those periods in history in which the structures of existing society seemed frozen. The ruling powers had contained and rolled back the rebelliousness and ferment of the inter-war and wartime years. The US and the USSR had divided the world between themselves, not only geographically but also ideologically. If you did not accept the inhuman behaviour and dogmatic utterances of one you were expected to line up with the inhuman behaviour and dogmatic utterances of the other. Russian dissidents were thrown into labour camps or psychiatric hospitals, US dissidents were driven from their jobs by the Un-American Activities Committee, imprisoned like Dashiell Hammett, expelled from the country like Charlie Chaplin or deprived of their passports like Paul Robeson.

The time when the CIO unions in the US had been a radical force was long since past; the union movements in France and Italy had been divided and their power apparently broken; Britain's union leaders were the bastions of the pro-US and pro-nuclear weapons right wing inside the Labour Party; the National Union of Students was part of a CIA international front.

A stultifying conformity pervaded social life. The family was taken to mean the man working while the woman toiled in the home waiting on him with complete responsibility for childcare. Women were expected to kowtow to men, young people to look up to their elders, black people to be thankful when occasionally they were not discriminated against. In the Southern part of the US, black people were still subject to the separate and unequal "Jim Crow" status which denied them voting rights and any redress against racist thugs and police.

Liberal and Labour apologists for the system claimed its remaining ills could be cured by peaceful and patient endeavour for small reforms within existing structures. They spoke of an "affluent society" that was delivering rising living standards, of an "end of ideology" and the demise of the working class as it embraced "middle class" consumerism. It was a message which even influenced adamant opponents of the system like the German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse. He portrayed a "one-dimensional" society of people so enmeshed in the ideology of "consumerism" as to rule out any revolt in its advanced industrial heartlands.

Hardly noticed by anyone were changes beneath the surface of society that were undermining the existing structures and ideologies which justified them.

These were bound to find expression first among young people. At all times in any society they are more likely to kick back against oppressive and exploitative conditions than their elders, worn down from bearing the weight of the past. Such kicking back grows in magnitude the greater the contrast between the official conformism and the conditions in which people live. And students are especially sensitive to the contrast in present day capitalism. They are herded together in their thousands and expected to become proficient practitioners of ruling ideologies that make little sense. They also find it much easier to argue out and give organised expression to their feelings than do workers, even young workers, since they are not bound to machines or office routines eight hours or more a day.

So it was students who were the first to move in 1968, giving the impression that expressions of more general social crises were a specifically student issue - the impression that so much media coverage of 1968 seeks to perpetuate.

Already the early 1960s had seen some dissent. There had been mass demonstrations against nuclear weapons in Britain; thousands of black and white students had taken part in the civil rights movement in the US; French students had resisted the Algerian War. There was a new flourishing of such activity in 1966 and 1967, with the first protests against the Vietnam War in the US and Britain, the radicalisaton of German students after the police killed a demonstrator on a Berlin protest, the adoption of the concepts of black power and armed self-defence by African-American student activists, revolts against professorial authoritarianism and appalling conditions on the Italian campuses. The impact of 1968 was to gel these different movements together.

The Tet Offensive brought the sudden realisation that those who ruled over us were not all-powerful. So it was that in the first months of 1968 there was a rash of protests in Britain, mainly by students, against Labour ministers for supporting the Vietnam War and against Conservative politicians like Enoch Powell, Duncan Sandys and Patrick Wall for their racism. These were initially minority protests of perhaps a couple of hundred students. But a couple of years earlier they would not have been bigger than a couple of dozen. When the authorities tried to discipline protesters, hard arguing and insistent agitation by these minorities were able to swing previously liberal "moderates" - and even some outright Tories - into supporting the radical position.

In the early months of 1968 the student movements in Germany and Italy were much bigger than anything happening in France. French activists complained to one of our comrades that they did not have a movement like ours in Britain. The language of the movements was increasingly revolutionary but usually in terms of "student power" and students as "the new revolutionary class."

Those who were more radical looked to the notions spread by Che Guevara (who had been murdered by the CIA only months before) that revolution would come from armed actions in the most remote areas of Third World countries and that Western workers were "bought off" by "consumerism". This could divert them from making connections with wider numbers of people here.

This began to change with the May events in France. People suddenly saw the possibility of revolutionary change much nearer home and one which came from below, involving the mass of people. The media concentrated on the student battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris. But by the third week of May the spectacle of the working class holding to ransom the government of a major capitalist country had an impact on those fighting back against the system everywhere.

Great revolts cause a fantastic widening of people's horizons. Those who would have laughed at the idea of revolution in 1966 - or at least deemed it impossible - were taking it seriously in the summer of 1968. When Britain had its biggest Vietnam demonstration, in October 1968, the most popular slogan alongside "Victory to the NLF" (the Vietnamese liberation movement) was "We will fight, we will win, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin"; the most popular placard was of a clenched fist with a spanner and the words "Workers' Control".

Only a small minority within the student movement anywhere became committed revolutionary activists - but that minority was many times bigger than that of only six months before. The ideas of a much wider number of people were turned upside down by the experiences of the year. They began to listen, argue and discuss, and to read Marxist texts which had been all but excised from university syllabuses. The forms of social conformism that had underpinned the old ideas were also challenged.

Some of the changes were superficial but symbolically important, as when male students gave up wearing suits and shaving for jeans, beards and long hair.

There had been a very small counterculture on the margins of mainstream society in the late 1950s and early 1960s, characterised by a mixing together of those into hallucinatory drugs, left wing or pacifist ideas, avant-garde theatre or poetry, folk music and eastern religions. This counterculture had begun to find a wider audience with the "summer of love" in 1967 and the rise of the hippies. Its audience grew much greater because of the events of 1968, but also more political. It even began to influence the western world's dream factory in Hollywood, with a new wave of directors and actors producing films previously unimaginable. But in the process it was easy for people to confuse changing their own lifestyles with the revolution.

Wave of occupations

There were more profound challenges to the old conformism, even if often mixed up with the lifestyle approach. It was in 1968 that the Women's Liberation Movement was born as women activists began to challenge the sexist assumptions which the young men who had been radicalised brought with them into the new movements. The next year saw the first open organisation of gay people.

Very important for the future was the way activists drew lessons from the French events, lessons which led them to take up revolutionary Marxist ideas which had only been held by handfuls of people previously. They saw that it was not just "the people" in general that had shaken French society, but the workers.

The new student revolutionists of Italy (a fair number converts from the Catholic student organisations) turned to the factories and played an important role in the workers' strikes which swept the country in its "hot autumn" of 1969 (sometimes called its "May in slow motion"). The slogan of Students for a Democratic Society in the US had been "Half the way with LBJ" in 1964; at the end of 1968 its activists declared themselves to be "Marxist-Leninists". In Britain students went from occupations and demonstrations to leaflet the docks and the factories.

Such efforts were to be immensely important in the years that followed 1968. The French slogan after May had been "Ce n'est qu'un d├ębut" - it's only the beginning. And across the world as a whole it was only the beginning. 1969 saw student demonstrations transformed into a mighty rising of car workers in the Argentinian city of Cordoba and an autumn wave of occupations and strikes in Italy. 1970 saw the biggest yet wave of student protests in the US after Nixon and Kissinger extended the Vietnam War to Cambodia and the national guard shot students dead at Kent State University, Ohio. 1972 saw a great upsurge of popular struggle in Chile and, at the end of 1973, an occupation by Athens students which turned into a huge popular uprising that caused the Greek military dictatorship to collapse six months later. 1974 saw a coup which overthrew the 40 year old fascist regime in Portugal and opened up 18 months of ferment with revolutionary characteristics. 1975 saw a rising tide of struggle against Spanish dictator Franco that caused his heirs to begin to dismantle his fascist regime within months of his death. And in Britain we went through the biggest wave of industrial struggle for half a century, culminating in the fall of the Tory government of Edward Heath.

Students who had been radicalised by the events of 1968 were able in these years to find common cause with a layer of workers and together create networks of activists committed to social revolution in the factories, mines, docks, offices and schools.

The importance of such networks was one other lesson of the May events in France. For, if de Gaulle was helpless in the face of the rebellion from below through most of May, at the end of the month he finally found a way to bring it to an end. He relied on the cowardly willingness to compromise of those who dominated the official structures of the working class movement. Union leaders were prepared to end the general strike by getting workers back to work, one section at a time, in return for partial concessions. And the political leaders were so thrilled by the prospect of a general election that they urged an end to the strikes, even though by doing so they broke the momentum of the movement and enabled de Gaulle to win the election.

That pattern too was repeated elsewhere in the years that followed, culminating in agreements by official leaders of the workers' movements in 1975 and 1976 to campaign against strikes in the interests of "partnership" and social peace with the "social contract" in Britain, the "historic compromise" in Italy, and the "Pact of Moncloa" in Spain. Employers were not slow in seizing the opportunity to begin rooting out socialist activists and inflicting severe defeats on workers' movements that had once threatened them.

As the workers' movement went down, so did the other movements born of 1968. By the 1980s capitalism in crisis was taking bitter revenge on the hopes of that year, and by the 1990s a new conformism seemed all dominant, embodied in Blairism and neoliberalism.

There are differences with old conformism of the 1950s and early 1960s. The old suppressed open discussion of sexuality; the new extols its transformation into a commodity. The old confined women to the home; the new witchhunts mothers who will not work for poverty wages. The old believed in the right of white Western governments to use bombs and tanks to subdue vast areas of the world; the new preaches using them for mass killings in the interests of "humanitarian intervention". The old believed in deference to the upper classes; the new in the divine rights of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Just as there was pessimism among much of the left in the 1950s and 1960s, so there is today. Neoliberalism had its shadow in postmodernism, with its claim that any total challenge to the system is both impossible and dangerous. Its stranglehold has loosened in recent years, but its paralysing effects still linger on. And some of the older generation contrast their own rebellious years with the supposed complacency of today's younger generation. They forget that the millions who marched against the Iraq war are many times greater in number than those who marched against the Vietnam War. They forget how confused and sometimes demoralised the left was before the French May. Above all they ignore the way the very dynamic of capitalism itself, with its continual transformation of economic relations, forces masses of people to rebel against it, even when they themselves least expect to.

1968 showed a generation how such revolts can erupt, interact with each other and enable millions to see the possibility of a new world. That's something hated by the likes of Sarkozy and Blair. It is something the rest of us should rejoice in.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who are the 99%? It may be 47% instead...

Part II of my analysis from yesterday's blog, “Occupy Indianapolis"—Who are the 99%?

According to “Occupy” chants, it is 99% vs 1% -- 1% of the wealthiest in the U.S. have abused their wealth and power by exploiting the 99% for their own profit. Given how profoundly the wealth and income of the top 1% has skyrocketed since 1980, compared to the stagnancy of wages, and decline of wealth for especially the bottom 60%, it is an intuitive argument to make. However, does the public believe it is 99% against 1%? I believe most do not, if I may take interpretive liberties with a recent Gallup Poll: What Good is Wall Street?.

What we see in this poll is that the country is fairly split on whether Wall Street is helping or hurting us, with 45% saying Wall Street hurts us more than they help, and 36% helps us more than they hurt us. When you look at specific groups, like Libertarians, well over half believe Wall Street is more helpful than harmful. Even among “hard-pressed democrats,” the most anti-Wall Streeters in the poll, could only get 2/3 to say Wall Street is more harmful than helpful.

When it comes to who is actually exploiting whom, the question is far from decided in the minds of the U.S. public. While, in the minds of the protesters, it seems clear that 99% of us are being exploited by the wealthiest 1%, at most 45% of their fellow citizens believe this, while over 1/3 of the sample believe that the 1% are being exploited by the 99%, mooching off of welfare and unemployment benefits, complaining about not having jobs, instead of going out and getting one. Take Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s recent statement affirming that exact sentiment. While Cain may or may not represent Republicans’ perspectives about those Occupying Wall Street (and now many other cities in the U.S.), he does not seem to represent Republican sentiment about whether Wall Street is more helpful than harmful. The “Main Street Republicans” who feel Wall Street is more harmful than helpful (45%), outweigh those who think Wall Street is more helpful (36%). Cain may represent those Gallup calls “Staunch Conservatives,” 48% of whom feel Wall Street is more helpful than harmful.

It seems to me, then, that those Occupying Wall Street have some serious marketing to do, if they want to create a cultural and political shift. If 38% of the public feel that Wall Street is doing just great, then it is not just the wealthy 1% that the 99% have to convince to shape up their act. Rather, the 47% who lean towards the anti-Wall Street sentiment will have to convince that other 38%, as well as the other 15% just aren't sure. And in the process, overcome the wealth and power of that top 1% they are opposing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Indianapolis: Who are the 99%?

This weekend, protesters from all over Indiana descended on various cities to highlight the egregious abuses of power and wealth in corporate America and by the two-party system politicians. Indianapolis had well over 1,000 protesters at Veterans Memorial Plaza on Saturday, many of whom became an occupying force at the State House. The occupation is intended to be indefinite, contingent on on-going consensus decisions.

But what do they want? What is the problem these citizens are highlighting? Many of their chants and signs claim they are the 99%, signifying the bottom 99% of the population whose life chances are far different from the top 1%. Many of these individuals are disenfranchised youth who followed the expected pattern of the American Dream—they worked hard, got good grades, stayed out of trouble, went to college, many of them for advanced degrees, but there is no work. Some of their heart-breaking stories can be found in snippets at We are the 99%, and those self-submitted stories have been multiplying rapidly since the site began last month.

The problem of wealth inequality in the U.S. is not representative of other industrialized countries. In fact, of all of the top OECD countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of poverty, as well as the worst GINI score (GINI is a measure of the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest), as can be seen in Table 1. Historically speaking, this is a relatively new problem, with a dramatic difference between the wealthy and poorest in the last 30 years when you look at real income (income that takes cost of living into account), as can be seen in Table 2. When you look at the Occupy Indianapolis’ message, they are focusing on the 99%/1% split. These differences are also stark, as can be seen in Table 3.

Table 1:

Table 2:

Table 3:

The cross-cultural data points to strong economies that do not have this wealth-gap, with these rates of poverty, so this is not simply a matter of normalcy for advanced economies, nor is it a matter of a large group of lazy people who “prefer handouts to work.” Many of these individuals worked very hard, but there simply are no jobs, whether in manufacturing, or professional sectors—here in Indiana, unemployment is near 10%, and according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “full unemployment” is almost 17%. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, and professional jobs often come only with new business creation. However, creating a new business requires loans, which require good credit. As can be seen in the “We are the 99%” posts, a large chunk of these jobless or underemployed are well-educated, but have incredible debt from student loans, so do not qualify for business loans. The only form of debt that is currently increasing is student loan debt, which is, coincidentally, and fortunate for the financial industry, the only form of debt that cannot be voided through bankruptcy (see Table 4). Even if one of these individuals could get a business loan, in the current recession, there is no money for consumers to buy their products.

Table 4:

Why don’t they just vote in new representatives, one might ask? Because the representatives who get on the ballot do not represent the 99%, but rather, they represent the 1%. Given current campaign finance laws, money is buying candidates, and money is paying for winners. Political science tells us that federal representative elections can be predicted 90% of the time by who has the most money. Further, the candidates themselves do not come from the 99%, but from the wealthy 1% (see Table 5). Voting for the choice of Rich Elephant #1, or Rich Donkey #2 does not seem like much of an option. Given the “Hope and Change” that many of these youth voted for in the last presidential election, it is not surprising that they became disillusioned, when they ended up with a president who has received the most Wall Street donations as any candidate, and who, perhaps not coincidentally, gave those same contributors huge bailouts. What did he do for those youth who voted for him? He introduced a law to start charging graduate students interest on their student loans, and expanded the war in Afghanistan. For whom will these youth vote this time? Perhaps they will do what the disaffected and disenfranchised typically do—stay at home, recognizing that the two-party choice is not a choice at all, since there are no true Progressive candidates.

Table 5:

What then, are these protesters trying to accomplish? Justice, opportunity, and democracy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is Leftist Intolerance of Intolerance, Hypocrisy?

If you can get passed the obfuscation of the title of this essay, the question is essentially this: Leftists (“Liberals”) call for people to be tolerant of diversity, yet when groups (like Fred Phelps’ clan, racists, etc) express their beliefs regarding the inferiority or sinful status of other groups, is it hypocritical for those same Leftists to be intolerant of those other views? Here is an example I read today (10-1-11) on CNN’s comments about an article where Obama is going to give a speech to gay activists (copy/pasted verbatim, no alterations or omissions)

shockerwhoa3: The Bible says love thy neighbor, yet religious folk bash their neighbors beliefs. Priests and fathers say let God be the judge, yet they are judgemental about people's every day lives and their beliefs. Christianity is a bunch of hypocrites.

Osambo2: The bible also mentions ABOMINATION, terd tamper.

Regents85: you know whats funny about that is. Idiots like you preach tolerance and acceptance for gays but whenever somebody doesn't agree with the lifestyle idiots like you call them bigots and hatemongers. Respect others opinions. Don't be a hypocrite.

So is Regents85 (perhaps a graduate of conservative Christian Regent University?) correct in calling shockerwhoa3 hypocritical? In a mathematically logical sense, perhaps yes, but in an ethical and social sense, absolutely not. Mathematical logic implies basic concepts we learned in high school algebra and geometry when we learned proofs: a=b, b=1, therefore a=1. Following that same procedure, shocerwhoa3 does commit a mathematical inconsistency: intolerance=bad, I call your gay-hate= evil, therefore, I’m intolerant=I’m a hypocrite.

However, the social world is more complex than mathematical logic. In fact, most of what we say is “logical” is no more than common sense, or more specifically, what your culture believes we should all know and accept as true. The problem is that this kind of cultural-specific logic/common sense is only logical and common-sensical if you accept all of the assumptions that you personally were raised with, and there are as many different kinds of “common senses” as there are people alive. When enough of us start to agree on what is common sense, we get this synergistic energy and we all start to believe that my own personal beliefs are really true, and that everybody believes it, and if you don’t, you’re wrong.

Here is where I diverge from Regents: while perhaps shocker committed a mathematically-logical fallacy, in terms of ethics, Regents is ignoring the fact that there are profoundly different consequences for each of these types of intolerance. Regents’ and Osambo2’s intolerance leads to stripping of fundamental human rights of large groups of people, just as racists and sexists were content to disenfranchise, if not egregiously oppress, racial minorities and women. Shocker’s intolerance may limit Regents’ freedom to legislate his personal morality, and may violate his religious conscience, but it doesn’t strip him of any fundamental rights. Shocker’s position doesn’t even limit Regents’ freedom of speech (although some countries are going this route, legislating punishment for “hate speech”), but even if it did, we already agree socially that the good of the whole outweighs the exercise of some of our freedoms—take the classic example of the prohibition of falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Similarly, even if the extreme situation were to occur in the U.S., if gay-hate speech is made into an actual crime, the social goods have to be weighed—restricting your right to call other people “terd [sic] tampers” vs. denying housing or job security to an entire class of people simply because they have same-sex attractions. The situation is made even more critical when the abuse of same-sex attracted people is put into historical context—just as Jews were burned in the Nazi ovens, so were gays, blacks, and other non-Aryans. Just as Jews and “witches” were burned on pyres in the middle ages, so were gays. Today in the U.S., FBI tracked hate-crimes against gays are #2, right after race-related hate-crimes (mostly against Blacks). Youth bullying and suicide because of gay-related taunting has been a national epidemic for decades, although it has only recently been in the news. Recall Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, two high-profile gay hate-crime related murders, which represent just a small part of gay-related hate crimes.

While Regents85 and Osambo2 may or may not affirm the validity of the murder-torture of gay people just because they are gay, the issue of free speech rights brings us back to the reality of the world in which we live: free speech is important, but demonizing entire classes of people based on arbitrary and personal moral ideas, has led humanity to very dark places throughout our species history, and if you think we are getting better, just look at the 1900s…