EDITOR’S NOTE: Other than the occasional jabs at Rick Perry, we keep this blog pretty politics free. Yes, our stance is a little more on the liberal side, but that’s more a result of our lifestyle choices than an actual political position. I choose to believe that we Austinites are more open to political discussion than most folks in this fine state. With that in mind, please view today’s post as me processing my thoughts. I feel like something big is happening, and I need help understanding it. This is a conversation, not a diatribe.
Sometimes you can be hustling so much that you miss what’s going on around you. Heads down and focused, you’re moving at the speed of life. Then one day, BAM, something stops you in your tracks, and you realize something big is about to go down.
[UPDATE: Here are my 5 tips to prepare for Occupy Austin]
That’s how it’s been for me lately. With work during the day, followed by blog + music making at night, I’ve some how managed to tune out national news and Facebook. So when I saw this video of girls from OccupyWallSt getting corralled and then maced in New York City. Check it out:
At first, I was shocked: Young women trapped in a net like fish, and then with nowhere to go, they get sprayed and fall to their knees. Their screams rattling my body, I could only imagine how they felt.
After the initial shock of watching humans in agony, a next wave of shock hit me: This was happening in America, a country founded on freedom of speech. If this was happening in New York, could it happen in Austin?
The next video in my Facebook feed was this piece from MSNBC. In it, The Final Word host Lawrence O’Donnell shows several instances of people with video cameras getting physically assaulted. This includes unarmed women. He then condemns NYPD for its actions of brutality.
Everything he says is unsettling: This type of violence happens every day in America. And that’s a hard pill to swallow. But the focus isn’t on police brutality. It’s on Wall Street.
What is #OccupyWallSt?
Now that my curiosity was piqued, I looked up #OccupyWallSt on Twitter. Seconds before my search, someone else had asked: Can someone pls explain to me what the purpose of the #occupywallst protest is? Another Twitter user reponded with this:
That link takes you to this inspiring quote:
“We’re talking about a democratic awakening. We’re talking about raising political consciousness, so it spills over; all parts of the country so people can begin to see what’s going on through a different set of lens. And then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be, because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution; a transfer of power from oligarchs to every day people of all colors, and that is a step-by-step process. It’s a democratic process, it’s a non-violent process, but it is a revolution, because these oligarchs have been transferring wealth from poor and working people at a very intense rate in the last 30 years, and getting away with it, and then still smiling in our faces and telling us it’s our fault. That’s a lie, and this beautiful group is a testimony to that being a lie.
“When you get the makings of a U.S. autumn responding to the Arab Spring, and is growing and growing—-I hope it spills over to San Francisco and Chicago and Miami and Phoenix, Arizona, with our brown brothers and sisters, hits our poor white brothers and sisters in Appalachia—-so. it begins to coalesce. And I tell you, it is sublime to see all the different colors, all the different genders, all the different sexual orientations and different cultures, all together here in Liberty Plaza; there’s no doubt about it.”
Cornel West, interview. Democracy Now!, 29 September 2011
Reading that gives me chills, but what does Occupy Wall Street stand for? From news reports, the messaging feels a little disjointed–but then again, the movement is relatively new.
The first mention of #OccupyWallStreet comes from a post in AdBusters in July. Stating that money has more influence over politicians than constituents, it calls for “DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY.” It also says the blossoming movement is “a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want…”
Here’s a well-produced video by #OccupyWallSt interviewing protestors. Nice to see folks of all colors and races in this video.
It’s true. We have bailed out the banks while they continue to look for more ways to take our money. At the same time, we are cutting off access to affordable healthcare and education. We are perpetually at war. And something in my heart tells me all this happens because the corporations control the politicians. Instead of listening to the will of the people, our politicians give their ear to the corporations, the sound of cha-ching deafening the cries of the people.
It reminds me of one of George Carlin’s last stand-up routines, particularly these:
Taking that lens and focusing it on Austin, I have to question what our local government is doing to make this place a city in which common folk can live. They are doing so much to woo big corporations with tax cuts, and simultaneously courting the rich to move here. That leads to higher property taxes, which in turn, get passed on to renters. This pushes common folk further outside the city. And since the public transit in our city sucks, people have to spend more money, driving longer distances.
As it turns out, there is an Occupy Austin. And they plan on occupying City Hall starting this Thursday, October 6th, at 3PM.
But I’m still a little skeptical
I’m a little skeptical of these mass movements. Working in marketing, I know how well strong messages, emotional appeals, or branding can influence people. Like many of y’all, I voted for Obama. His message of change seemed to resonate with my feelings at the time. But ‘change’ is an abstract goal. 3 years later, I ask myself what kind of change he brought.
This post from last Thursday is a list of the demands from #OccupyWallStreet. With more than 25 grievances, it doesn’t feel focused. Remember when someone would run for Student Government back in high school, and they’d promise everything just to get you to vote–even stuff you know could never happen, like shorter classes and shit. That’s what this feels like. If they had 3-5 focused goals, it would help me understand what they wanted and where they wanted to take this movement.
On #OccupyWallStreet’s reddit, a Tea Party veteran gives the #OccupyWallStreet people some advice based on lessons he learned from his experience with the founding of the Tea Party. He makes many valid points, including the idea that the cause can get co-opted by people in already in power or corrupted by large donations from people who aren’t actually in support of the cause. And then there’s this post from Alex Jones looking at where the money funding #OccupyWallSt is coming from.
Overall, I think we as Americans need to have these discussions. Big corporations, to me, have too much influence on politicians. And while the gap between the upper class and the rest of us widens, we need to ensure that we have a seat at the table so that the cost of living doesn’t get out of control–especially here in Austin. But I’m really worried that this may be another movement that will be co-opted, funded or manipulated like the Tea Party was–or maybe its all-encompassing messaging will again capture the minds of the disenfranchised (ala Obama’s Change) and then lead to nothing, making us feel more powerless to enact any real change.
That said, #OccupyWallStreet hasn’t had a chance to define itself yet. It’s still young–and the concepts are really exciting. We’ll see over the course of the next few weeks how things develop.
Ultimately, if you think it’s about Democrats vs Republicans, you’re stuck in a period of time that no longer exists. It’s about big money vs the people. And for me, a “democratic movement” propped up and funded by NGO’s–regardless of political affiliation–is not a real democratic movement that comes from the people. I hope this one is legit.