Occupy… The Next Steps

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Current Events, politics
Tags: ,

My hat is off to them.  In the past few posts about the “Occupy…” protesters I suggested that they needed an exit strategy and a next step.  The occupation was getting to the point that it was beginning to sour and it was time to get out while the gettin’ was good.

I didn’t anticipate what should have been obvious.  The way things have played out over the past few days is the next step.  At first it just looked like it was going to involve the cities taking action to evict the protesters, and in some cities that is actually all that happened.  But in, at least, New York and Toronto, it has turned into a debate involving the courts and the municipal government.  In Toronto, a court challenge stating that the right to free speech trumps municipal by-laws was at least partially upheld by a local judge, frustrating the city and the police in their efforts to evict the protesters last night.  The city councilers have presented a petition to the Mayor insisting that the protesters not be evicted until the City Council has had a chance to debate the issue.

These are both important developments.  Whatever the court eventually decides, the very important issue involving the supremacy of freedom of speech and the right to protest has emerged on a real legal level.  Furthermore, the fact that elected representatives have not been permitted to weigh in on the issue of eviction has been spotlighted and exposed.  Both of these are victories for the “Occupy..” movement, as much of their message is that the 99% needs to have a voice and are tired of being swept under the rug by special interests that would like to muzzle them.  Even the heavy handedness used in some American cities to to evict protesters plays into the strategy, as it demonstrates the intolerance of government when confronted with real protest. As long as it goes away so it can be forgotten, it is tolerated.  Effective protest is not.

This morning on the news there were interviews with several residents in the city who made comments like “I thought it was a good idea in the beginning, but enough is enough.”  What an interesting point of view.  It points to the shallowness of most people when it comes to taking an interest in their own freedoms.  These people thought that the original protests were cute, but it’s old news now.  Nobody wants to deal with old news.  It’s so “yesterday”, eh!  These might be the same people whose lack of far-sightedness led them to take out loans and mortgages that they might never be able to repay, -or at least would have if Canadian financial restrictions allowed then to.

I still run into people who claim that “They don’t even know what they’re protesting.”  To believe that is to admit to blindness.  What they’re protesting has been made painfully clear.  (That all the protesters may not be in total agreement on priorities, or may not have an equally eloquent understanding of the issues is hardly a condemnation.) What they are protesting is not something that should be a momentary flash, consigned to “old news” like so many other disposable news stories.

This story is not disposable.  It is the story of fundamental flaws in our society, and while occupying a park downtown may not produce miraculous solutions, it’s a far cry better than sitting back and saying, “Oh, there’s nothing you can do about it anyways.  It’s always been like this and nothing will change it.”  Wrong.  Yes there has always been pressure for reform and yes it has not always been successful.  But the protests of the 60s and 70s led to important strides in racial and gender equality.  It led to, at least for a significant part of society, a shift of world view to a more global awareness.  What would have happened had protests and the counter culture rebellions not occurred?  They weren’t perfect.  They didn’t always have a crystal clear idea of what they were doing.  And in the end, many of their participants reneged on their own values.  But all of that doesn’t matter, because the social evolution still happened.

It’s not appropriate for people to say that they are getting bored of this movement.  It would be like people saying that they were getting bored of democracy during the Age of Enlightenment, -and I’m sure many did, leading to the establishment of tyrannical governments in the early history of several democracies.  The current movement is one wanting to reclaim the rights of the people to have their interests considered, -especially by financial institutions which are blatantly conspiring against them.  Yes, conspiring.  It is most blatant in the U.S., where financial institutions suckered people into high mortgages and loans and then bet against them in hedge funds, hoping that they would default.  We didn’t have the same scenario in Canada, …and we want to keep it that way.  In Canada, however, we are far from perfect and the protesters have plenty of issues that they want to spotlight.  Student loans, for example.

But even if there were no specifics, the sheer act of raising awareness and fostering debate is an incredibly worthwhile goal, -especially when done in a peaceful way which is as exemplary as human nature and reality allows.  By escalating the issues to the courts and to the halls of municipal government, they have upped the stakes and promoted their cause.  Well played.

Examine the video at the CBC News site.  This is the model of a responsible, peaceful and democratic social structure.  These people are peaceful, organized and relevant.  Their ideas are noble and in the interest of society.  On the other hand, Mayor Ford who has amply demonstrated his vulgar nature and whose attempt to hijack the waterfront was shady to say the least, sits in his comfortable office and enjoys plummeting support from the people who originally gave him his mandate.  Juxtaposing the two models makes you wonder exactly who should be evicted.

  1. jpbecnel says:

    The problems with the “Occupy” movement are multiple. Most of the people involved are involved for their own selfish reasons, ie. trying to have their student loans forgiven. The other major issue is not that they are trying to express their voice, but instead that they feel like they have a right to do so where ever they feel like it. While if they were positioned in New York on public property, they might have more of a leg to stand on, they are in a privately owned park. Which means that they believe that their right to speech supersedes the owner of the parks right to limit who goes onto their private property. Further it is a health and sanitation hazard to have that many people living in a central area that is not designed for occupancy. My general feeling is that if you are unemployed it is because you choose to be, if you are in college you are expected to be pretty broke, if you take out a loan you should have to pay it back and if you are jealous of what someone else has, work at gaining it don’t just sit around complaining how unfair it is that someone has more than you. This is the land of opportunity, not of handouts. I personally live near the poverty line, but I am also a 29 year old college student that is trying to work towards bettering my situation. I have been to Iraq twice with the military and have seen first hand what it is to not have opportunities, and to be poor, leaving me with the feeling that these protesters truly have no clue how good they have it here in relation to people truly suffering elsewhere in the world.

    • pwiinholt says:

      Well, if they were to express themselves only where the establishment wants them to, it wouldn’t be much of a protest, would it?
      Comparing poverty in North America to poverty in Iraq is a bit unfair. The situations, opportunities and potentials are totally different. It’s like saying you shouldn’t complain about exploitive wages while your bosses are making a fortune because you’re still making more than the guy in Thailand making 10 cents an hour. It’s apples and oranges.
      I would like to point out that the U.S. especially, is built on a tradition of questioning the status quo. The American Revolution was a landmark protest.
      It is a typical conservative tactic to lump all the protesters together as lazy people looking for freebies and handouts. It’s not the reality, although there may be some like that in there. Most are looking for a level playing field, because there’s no reason for there not being one. There’s no reason for some of the wealthy to stack the deck against the rest of society and manipulate finance in an unfair manner. That’s not looking for handouts, it’s looking for fairness, -what used to be taken for granted in “the land of opportunity”. For them to be reminded about that once in a while is only a good think.
      Human nature and the reality of the situation means that there are going to be some people in the mix of protestors who are lazy and who are expecting handouts. You’re also going to find vagrants and homeless people. It’s easy to point at a weak link and criticize. I could point to conservatives and ask if they all have guns and want to shoot Democratic member of Congress, or maybe just their children at a summer camp. I could point to members of the military and expound on a litany of criticisms and stereotypes. But that wouldn’t be fair. I think that’s what you’re doing with the Left. You don’t like or understand their ideology, and so you look for the weakest link and nit-pick at that.

      • jpbecnel says:

        I believe you mistook one of my comments, or at least twisted it. It is not a matter of hosting your protest where the “establishment” wants it, however if you are going to do it on private property then you have to understand that the lawful owner of that property has the right to say who can and cannot be there. After all it is theirs, unless of course someone believes that people shouldn’t be allowed to have a say in what happens on their own land. If that is the case it brings to the front of the argument ownership. Does the Occupy movement believe that no one is entitled to own anything? If that is the case, the “establishment” still has the right to remove the tents since the tents don’t belong to anyone. One major issue affecting world dynamics today is that people are all to quick to say “that is a conservative point” or “that is the Left’s position” How about the people make an honest attempt at looking at all sides of the equation, which would make them moderates. The unfortunate truth is that today, people see the independents and middle of the road people as being undecided, instead of valuing that they are simply trying to search both sides for the truth. One issue that I do find in your response is the use of the phrase “level playing field”. Who honestly can detail what exactly that means. Student loan forgiveness would create more economic problems as well as bring up further issues of fairness. Why would it be fair for the people that either repaid their student loans, or physically earned their “free” college through service to have to take on the burden of paying for others. Also, what is suggested we do with the established companies that new entrepreneurs will have to compete with? Do we part them out and sell them, since they have become “too successful”, or simply put a time limit on how long someone can operate a company in a particular industry? Upstarts cannot compete with established companies like Microsoft due to the amount of money they have to invest in R&D and Marketing, however why should Microsoft be penalized for their successes? If someone truly has an issue with large corporations I do suggest that they stop using technology to spread their word, since the law of averages would dictate that most people using any technology are supporting either Microsoft or Apple, which happen to be the two leading producers of both computer hardware and software. So again I would like for someone, anyone to explain to me what exactly constitutes the level playing field that people are searching for, because until that is defined in a truly fair way there will be no winners.

  2. pwiinholt says:

    I always enjoy a good debate. Thanks for engaging.

    No I don’t think the protesters should be allowed to be anywhere, and the fact that they are on private property is clearly an issue. I can only agree with that. That aspect hasn’t gotten much play up here, and I’d be interested in knowing why it developed that way rather than on public property. I’m not clear on that and it seems a bit odd.

    However, up here in Toronto, they’re in a public park and are faring no better. Here there’s the problem of the public works needing to do winter maintenance on the park and so there’s lots of reasonable points that the protesters should leave. While I agree about the public vs private property thing, the bottom line is that no matter where these protesters go they’re not going to be welcomed by some faction or other. The nature of civil disobedience is disobedience.
    As for the “moderate” position, I’d like to think of myself as being somewhat there as well. I will yield certain conservative points such as unions potentially gaining too much power, the need for fiscal responsibility, etc. I actually prefer Integral politics, as it tries to take into account all of the sides, as you put it.

    As far as student loans goes, perhaps that is the way to try to explain what I mean by a level playing field. When I was a university student in the 70s, aside from a modest scholarship in my first year, I ended up paying for all of my university expenses myself. Unlike present time, it was not customary for parents to feel obligated to pay for their children’s education. Through summer jobs and student loans, I made it through, got a job shortly afterwards and repaid my loans over a period of several years. That was the land of opportunity. That was a realistic situation where I wasn’t saddled with a loan repayment that would cripple me for over a decade, -assuming I could even get a job. It was a world where elements within big business or the government had not stacked the deck against you. It was possible then, but total mismanagement and opportunism within the system has really made that a thing of the past. It’s not a question of forgiving loans; it’s a question of why the situation exists in the first place. If the U.S. wants to win back some of its lost prestige in the world, education is going to be one of the main ways. What’s happened to make getting a decent education so much more difficulty than it was in my day? The surface issue might stand out, but it’s the deeper issue that is at the heart of the protest.

    I don’t believe in any socialist values, but I do believe that government and society has some responsibility to its members. Like in a schoolyard, it has a responsibility, not to make sure that some students aren’t more successful, or more liked, or bigger or stronger, but rather to make sure that those don’t bully the others. Give them their due. I don’t have any problem with the wealthy being wealthy. I do have a problem with them accumulating that wealth at the unnecessary expense of others. If they force workers to work unreasonably long hours to keep their jobs, or fire good workers just before they become eligible for benefits or replace loyal older workers with younger ones just because they can reduce their payroll, all so that they can squeeze a few more percentage points of profit out of an already healthy business, then that’s wrong and that amounts to business conspiring against its workers. I’ve witnessed all of those first hand, -and that’s in Canada. I suspect the U.S. has a more extreme problem.

    That was why unions evolved. The opportunism, abuse and exploitation at the beginning of the 20th Century made them necessary. Now, they may have gone too far; that’s a different debate. But the callous, indifferent, almost anti-social perspective held my many people in big business and finance these days needs to be attacked somehow. It’s a difficult task; David against a Goliath. So these protesters are doing the best that they can, operating in a situation where nobody in power really wants them be succeed and so unavoidably stepping on a few toes.
    As for Apple and Microsoft, I’d be interested in hearing what either Jobs or Gates might say on this topic. I respect both. I think they’ve earned everything they’ve attained. But the same cannot be said for others. The same cannot be said for the Wall Street gamblers who even Greenspan denounced as having a poor sense of self preservation.
    The “level playing field” IS the land of opportunity and the “American Dream”. It IS where hard work gets you ahead. I think that’s what many of these protesters are fighting for. Not free handouts.

  3. GDevine says:

    Jumping in on this debate…
    You [jpbecnel] say the people here have it pretty good so why complain? Have you remained blissfully ignorant to all the corruption within government? [Aldous Huxley feared this notion] Have you no issue with money controlling politics, controlling democracy, to the point of undermining liberties? The current political system is corporatist, where politicians become voices for mega-corporations, for banks, while the ‘people’ continuously get oppressed by this illusionary democratic system. The beast of corporatism is not only oppressive nationally, but extends its reach globally. The cultural machine and military might of the US extends a neoliberal ideology internationally becoming an imperialistic empire yet refusing to admit so. The people protesting aren’t representative of a ‘lazy hippy class’ but are largely a very aware social class that are morally outraged against the oppressive nature of this corporatist beast that the United States has come to be. The elites do not express the concerns of the majority, yet have substantial say. This leaves everyone behind – ie. The 99%.
    The ‘lack of jobs’ is not about being lazy. Did you witness the bailout? Tell me how that is capitalism? The high unemployment rate is because of the poor economic situation. This situation was because of the irresponsible actions of the banks. Of which is because of the overly narcissistic attitude extended from the neoliberal economic/political system that has come to dominant Western ideology. So these people don’t have jobs because they are lazy, or is it because of the structural disadvantage? I’d stick with the later, and I’m sure Foucault would agree. ‘No Handouts’ is what the people demand, why should the banks get a hand out for their irresponsibility in this free land of opportunity? That’s socialism not capitalism.
    To me, this ‘cleansing’ of the park, a ‘privately owned public space’, is not about property ownership, it is a justification to oppress the protest rationalized under an ownership claim. It would be interesting to look into the layout of NYC and see any other ‘public’ spaces that would be adequate for protest. Also the law behind a ‘privately owned public space’ would be an interesting topic; even the morality behind ‘owning’ public space.
    This is not a protest against merely corporations like Apple or Microsoft. You are looking too superficially. This is a protest against oppressive structural institutions and policies within Western society… within government. It is a protest against politics being ‘bought’; a protest against culture being sold as a commodity; protest against the immoralities of truth-bending in media, in politics. Capitalism is not the issue – it is excessive neoliberalism. It is the public sector being transformed into the private.
    The ‘level playing field’ concept, certainly emphasizes the ability to protest openly without being undermined; it is about inclusion not exclusion – about understanding the issue from all angles. Democracy means social equality… ‘level playing field’. The democracy we live in now is an illusion. The realities we see on the news are an illusion. The ‘level playing field’ is certainly an illusion then. This protest demands the restoration of truth within the public sphere as it attempts to surface the injustices of the political system. The occupywallstreet movement is a fight for everyone’s liberties including the ability to protest. To protest freely and openly is an inherent process standing at the foundation of a liberal democracy –to ridicule this process is to enslave democracy with ignorance.

    “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered…I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies… The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
    –Thomas Jefferson

  4. pwiinholt says:

    I love the phrase “structural disadvantage”. It sums it up nicely.

    I was thinking more about “back in the day”. When I was a kid, my parents took me to their bank and helped me open a Savings Account. The promise was that if I deposited and saved my money, they would put it to work and I would eventually benefit from it through interest. I think the interest rate for a Savings Account at that time was 8%. For every $100 you put into the bank at that time, after a year you’d have $108. That sounded like a good deal. It encouraged people to save and rewarded them for entrusting their money to that bank so that they could use it.

    How do we benefit from giving our money to the banks now? The fact is that all of their revenue and all of the billions that they made in profits years ago and undoubtedly will make again, was done with my/our money. They don’t produce anything of their own. They use my/our money to make profits. Do I see any of that money? No. The interest rates on even a savings account now is negligible unless I am willing to tie huge amounts up for prolonged periods. Banks are even finding ways to take money from me through endless service charges for the privilege of my giving them my money.

    It’s quite a shift. Can you imagine a parent taking their child to the bank now to extoll to them the benefits and virtues of opening a Savings Account? Can you imagine the bank trying to explain to the kid that they are going to put their money to work for them so that they can benefit?

    Then, the banks made you feel like you were doing them a favour by placing your money there. They worked for you. Now, banks make you feel like they are doing you a favour by allowing you to put your money there. In fact, if you’re not giving them enough money, they’ll penalize you by taking some of it away.

    This shift really tells an interesting story.

  5. Michael says:

    Ah, wordpress comment box doesn’t preserve comments! I navigated away to check how a previous commentor spells his name, and my entire posting is gone.

  6. Michael says:

    I think Occupy Toronto is now at a critical point and I think those who chose to remain, unlawfully, on the private property of others are going to dilute their message. As jpbecnel pointed out, somewhat differently, this could rapidly turn into a debate about private property rights, which is entirely a different issue. By outstaying their legal time, they (inadvertedly) agree to diluting the agenda to that particular topic rather than the bigger issues they want to protest.

    The protest is not about St. James Park, and staying there sends the wrong message (that that inconsequential piece of land is important to them). Rather, they should say, the protest continues and the problems continue. Even if you remove us from one piece of land, the problem doesn’t go away. They could have turned this to their advantage. But they have failed to do so. To, I believe, their great loss.

  7. Michael says:

    Peter: Seek out trust companies and local credit unions. Trust companies like ING and credit unions like Duca are very much like the banks when we grew up. The big banks have little to offer the average saver any more. And even less to offer to children.

  8. pwiinholt says:

    thanks Michael. Good point. That has actually crossed my mind on several occasions.

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