Tag Archives: occupy

Occupy Activist Who Was Jailed After Clearing of Zuccotti Park Now Works to …

Menacing police dogs and correctional officers in bulletproof vests greeted activist Cecily McMillan when she returned to Rikers Island last week. Stacks of disposable zip-tie handcuffs, omnipresent during Occupy Wall Street, dangled from their belts at the ready. While the sight was familiar to the Occupy activist, recently released from 58 days in the jail following a highly controversial trial, the show of force surprised her—after all, she was just there to deliver a stack of paper.

The show of force that landed her behind bars came during the chaos of the 2012 clearing of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street had made encampments to protest a broad, alarming trend of injustice in banking, housing, and other matters. In a physical struggle, McMillan says she was groped from behind by a police officer and reared back with an elbow as a reflex, but the courts decided that was assault of a police officer.

After her release from Rikers Island on July 2, McMillan immediately launched an ambitious campaign to improve the conditions she witnessed in the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s jail at Rikers. The petition she delivered on Aug. 15, which amassed more than 10,000 signatures, demanded adequate mental and physical health care for female inmates, access to an accountable grievance process, education and vocational programs, an end to a newly enforced 9 p.m. lockdown procedure, and an end to solitary confinement.

Commissioner Joseph Ponte, to whom the petition was addressed, didn’t meet McMillan and her fellow demonstrators at Rikers that morning, sending Department of Corrections Director of Media Relations Robin Campbell in his place. McMillan refused to hand off the petition to Campbell until they negotiated a sit-down meeting with Ponte to discuss the demands. That’s set to take place Aug. 25.

“We asked for an inch and they gave us a mile,” said a pleased McMillan when we spoke the day after the successful demonstration at Rikers. “Going over the [Rikers] bridge is a drastic act, but that’s what we had to do. You have to literally stand in solidarity with the people you want to help.”

Activism is nothing new to McMillan, who was union organizing in Madison, Wis., before her participation in Occupy Wall Street. But her time served in Rikers reinvigorated her interest in women-backed collective action and sparked a dedication to the cause of incarcerated women.

“I’ve never been in a position in society where 50 women of different cultures and different backgrounds, different languages, have had the time and the space and the conditions to come together as women,” McMillan said. “Rikers is the only place I’ve ever felt that against one unified problem, and it was an incredible feeling of female solidarity.”

In recent months, the spotlight has shone brightly on the problem that inspired that unity. A disturbing Department of Justice report following three years of investigation highlighted the plight of juvenile offenders at the jail, concluding that a “deep-seated culture of violence is pervasive throughout the adolescent facilities at Rikers” and noting that “the systemic deficiencies identified in this report may exist in equal measure at the [adult] jails on Rikers” as well.

According to McMillan and others, there is no question that this violence extends well beyond the juvenile facilities. Of particular concern to McMillan is the “medical and mental health malpractice and negligence” suffered by women in the Rose M. Singer Center. To address the issue, McMillan explained, the women are “organizing heavily on the inside” and are “building toward having a woman in every single dorm to investigate every single infraction by medical and mental health personnel, as well as correctional officers.”

Guards at Rikers Correctional Facility on August 15 awaiting Cecily McMillan’s arrival for press conference. (Photo: Cecily McMillan/Facebook)

Outside the jail on Aug. 19, a coalition of city council members, activists, and criminal justice experts joined McMillan to call on the NYC Board of Corrections to hire a former inmate and a former correctional officer to fill two vacancies for permanent positions, staffing that could add perspective to the board’s work.  

“People closest to the problem are closest to the solution,” said Glenn Martin, a formerly incarcerated criminal justice reform advocate and founder of JustLeadershipUSA, who joined the roundtable discussion to advocate for the two new positions.

“I have three stab wounds on my body, and all of them come from time spent on Rikers Island,” added Martin. “I’m telling you, not much has changed.”

In the midst of such violence and darkness at Rikers, McMillan found an unexpected source of motivation to work harder than ever for change.

“There’s a certain equalizing factor in the humiliation, degradation, and abuse of prison,” she said. “It’s a parallel experience that takes away all of the alienation and competition and leaves you with a sense of camaraderie and community.”

Camaraderie or not, the reason for the closeness that forms the community is the struggle.

“I’m not saying that it wasn’t horrific or abusive, but in that moment you had nothing to do but unite together in order to keep your humanity,” she said. While McMillan and her team have their work cut out for them, she has her sights set on the future: “My activism has taken a direction I always hoped it would go. I just want to keep moving forward and getting closer to what it means to be human.”

The United States Is Not a Democracy: From Wall Street to Detroit and Ferguson

The United States is not a democracy. Occupy Wall Street announced this fact to the world with the 1% and inequality. The protests in Ferguson and Detroit are bringing it to the social and political spheres. Around the world another democracy has begun to manifest itself, one organized by people, from below, in plazas, parks, schools, workplaces and on street corners – a democracy where people are no longer silent and are beginning to take back control of their lives.

There are few, if any, real democracies. The United States however, is in many ways, the worst. It is a country that declares itself the most democratic in the world, and acts as the world police based on this assumption, yet there is absolutely no “rule of the people”. This truth is increasingly accepted by most people, even Princeton University published a study in April of this year attesting that not only is the United States not a democracy, but it most resembles an oligarchy. The report states, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”[1]The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the U.S. and similar movements around the globe, from those in Greece, Brazil, Bosnia and the 15M in Spain all spoke and speak to this issue, whether using the concept of the 99% and 1% or the clear slogan No Nos Representan! (They Don’t Represent Us!). There seems to be general agreement that economic decisions are not made in a democratic way – almost anywhere. And while on the political and social front this has also been increasingly clear, it is now being brought into a more public conversation with the protests in Ferguson against the killing of another unarmed black youth, and the actions in Detroit against the cutting off of water to tens of thousand of families.

Millions continue to watch what is happening in Ferguson, with hundreds of cities and towns organizing protests and solidarity marches – against police brutality and the criminalization of young black men. Conversations, even in the mainstream media, are beginning to question the militarization of the police and use of deadly force against unarmed civilians. To not be able to walk freely in your neighborhood out of fear of being shot by the police, based on your race, and that this attack might be supported in the courts reflects a system that is a far cry from any democracy.

In Detroit, more acts of aggression are being carried out, again predominantly against African Americans. This time it is with people being denied access to water – cutting off water sources is often used as a tactic in war and is without a doubt an act of aggression. Over 15,000 homes have had their water cut off, in the height of the summer heat. While protests and direct actions temporarily put on hold the potential 300,000 more families at risk of loosing their water – those families are again at risk, with cut offs having resumed this week. Little explanation is needed here. A government that allows water to be shut off to families that have no other way to get it (collect or otherwise) is hardly one where the “people decide”.

There are few, if any, real democracies. The United States however, is in many ways, the worst.

The U.S. is not democratic. Increasingly people will agree to this, and people who are not politically active or involved. However the U.S. never was democratic, nor was it ever intended to be. In fact, a look at the “founding fathers” of modern liberal democracy reflects that fundamental democratic values, such as participation or popular sovereignty, have never been on the agenda of liberal democracy. Liberalism and democracy have been fierce enemies for hundreds of years. It was the exclusion of the social question from democratic decision-making that made the liberals accept democracy and create liberal democracy as the new form of governance of the emerging production model.

Nevertheless the idea of democracy has been a constant thread in the rule of the few with economic power, the 1%, if you will, since it can be used by critics of the existing order against their ruling interests. This is the reason why those who wield economic and political power, especially in times of crisis, as we are witnessing now in places such as the U.S, Greece, Spain and Turkey tend towards authoritarian rule and the suspension of civil and democratic rules and rights. Over the past few years the crisis of liberal democracy has become so evident that even bourgeois intellectuals cannot deny or oversee it anymore (see Princeton report). But their goal in criticizing liberal democracy is to both make the acceptance of a lack of democracy “normal” and mainstream as well as pave the way for authoritarian and less democratic forms of decision making for the sake of efficiency.

We are taught that there are certain generally shared assumptions and rights that we have as a fundamental part of liberal democracy, things such as limitations on the governments ability to restrict citizens movements and ideas, for governments not to have or use arbitrary power, that fair and free elections take place, and that civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, thought, religion, assembly etc. are respected. We are taught that these things exist and are grounded in the very nature of this democracy. But it is important to make clear those civil liberties and rights we do have are in no way an inherent part of liberal democracy. In fact they were won in long hard struggles, going back to the 19th century and took effect only after the enforcement of the new model of production. And upon closer examination, one can see that just as soon as most all of these “rights” or “liberties” were won, governments began trying to dismantle them, from the right to an eight hour work day in the US, to the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. Volumes have been written about the encroachment of rights in modern democracies, and while many are outraged, and should be, the fact remains that these rights were never a fundamental part of the conception of liberal democracy.

As Beth, an activist in the anti-foreclosure movement, Occupy Homes Bernal in San Francisco puts it, “The metaphor of democracy and the story that’s woven around it is I think a very beautiful thing, but it never has been put in effect. It’s really been used as a kind of decoy to keep people’s attention and their fury away from the injustices that happen around democracy.”[2]

Since the 1980s, the hegemonic discourse has usurped the concept of participation and used it in a neoliberal frame to outsource the state’s responsibilities on an individual level and strengthen market logic. Nevertheless it is not participation if you can choose your private health insurance because public health has been dismantled and it is not participatory if parents have to take over certain tasks in schools or neighborhoods because the state does not guarantee them anymore. The decentralization of tasks to a local level without the necessary financial resources was also presented as “local participation” by neoliberal politics. It is obviously neither participatory nor democratic if for example certain social services are handed over to communities while the financial resources to finance the services are cut to a level that no longer guarantees a certain quality and range of the services.

The new global movements break with the above concepts of representation and “democracy” and turn their backs on these systems of false democracy while at the same time opening spaces to experiment with alternative and direct democratic processes – spaces where everyone is heard and can participate in decision-making. Democratic mass assemblies have been and continue to pop up all around the globe, from the US, Greece and Spain to Bosnia, Turkey and Brazil. As many participants in movements all over the world described it, the assembly, as a modality, came up intuitively. Marianna from Athens explained, “The assembly is something many of us knew from the university, it’s something that we do, something close to us – even with all its problems. So it came up naturally, ‘we discuss now and decide what we want to do’.” Gülşah Pilpil, Gezi Park activist in Istanbul, Turkey reflected, “Since Gezi Park was evicted people gather in other parks to talk, share and to produce new ideas. In the universities, forums and assemblies have been set up by academics, students and workers.” And, as Amador from Madrid specifies, “Democracy will start to include something like this, an open space for everyone, not a privatized space for those who have economic or political power, and certainly not a privatized space for professional politicians or activists, but a space open to everyone. Democracy would be to ensure that that space stays constantly open to everyone.” 

Liberal democracy is not democratic. There is not one form of perfect democracy, but there are for sure many forms that are much more participatory and liberating than the one we have now. It is important to look to and participate in the alternative forms being developed and push them even further, such as going from an assembly of workers to a workplace take over, as has happened in a number of cities in Europe over the past year and has been going on in Latin America for over a decade, or going from demanding water not be shut off to community control of water, as occurred in parts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, or to go from protests against police brutality and harassment to community created and run police, as they have in Guerrero, Mexico. As the movements around the globe have been saying, Democracia Real Ya! (Real Democracy Now!) not as a demand, but as something we put into effect. 

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How Ferguson could become a movement

Nan Grogan Orrock defied her family’s wishes by sneaking away to join the 1963 March on Washington. But don’t ask her about Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She doesn’t remember it.

She was struck by something else.

Orrock was stunned by the marchers. They nonchalantly told her they had been fired from their jobs, forced from their homes and beaten and jailed for joining the movement.

A white student at a women’s college in Virginia, Orrock had ignored the movement until then; she’d been taught by her fellow Southerners that civil rights were “somebody else’s business that had nothing to do with me.”

“The highlight of the day was not his speech,” says Orrock, now a Democratic senator in the Georgia legislature. “My mind was on fire from all that I was seeing and hearing. I realized that I was in the presence of great courage. I resolved that day that I was going to be a part of this.”

Some people are asking if the protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, will spark a new civil rights movement. Here’s another question: What makes a movement work in the first place? Why do some movements like the struggle for civil rights take off while others like Occupy Wall Street wilt?

Orrock’s story suggests that it’s not just the big moments — the charismatic leader and the thrilling speech — that make a movement work. There are those tiny moments, such as ordinary people sharing their stories of quiet courage with outsiders, that are just as crucial. What are the ingredients that any successful movement needs?

There is a secret sauce for the weak to beat the strong, say those who have studied and participated in successful nonviolent social movements. The lessons from the March on Washington and other movements throughout history offer clues. If you want to take on the forces of power and privilege known in some circles as “The Man,” they say, you must remember four rules:

1. Don’t get seduced by spontaneity

Spontaneity is sexy. The urge to act on an irrepressible urge can inspire others. A Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire is credited with starting the Arab Spring. And who can forget the lone man who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy protests in China in 1989?

A spontaneous act gave the March on Washington its most memorable moment. King’s “I Have a Dream” riff wasn’t in his written speech. He improvised it after he completed his written speech sooner than he had planned and a gospel singer behind yelled, “Tell them about the dream.”

Yet spontaneity is overrated, some observers say. Successful movements are built on years of planning, trial and error, honing strategies for change. A good movement should already have an organizational structure set up to take advantage of a spontaneous act that grips the public.

Some movements stage their own “spontaneous” acts.

Remember Rosa Parks? Schoolchildren are taught that Rosa Parks was the quiet, bespectacled black woman who sparked the civil rights movement when she spontaneously decided one day that she was not going to move to the back of a segregated bus.

It’s a good story but bad history. Parks had been carefully chosen for that moment. The woman who looked so docile in the historical photographs was actually a tough, seasoned civil rights activist who had been with the NAACP for 12 years and had attended an elite training school for civil rights and labor activists.

Parks was just one in a line of several black women chosen to stage “spontaneous” sit-ins on segregated buses, says Parker J. Palmer, author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”

“Six or seven black women had done what Parks had done before and had simply been ticketed or arrested and certainly did not make history,” Palmer says. “I can guarantee you when Parks sat down on that bus where she ought not to, she had no guarantee that this was going to work out. In that moment, she felt very alone.”

Parks attracted attention because her arrest could not be ignored, historians say. The other women arrested were unmarried or single mothers who could be caricatured by segregationists as women of ill repute. Parks was a married seamstress who was respected in her community.

“She could not be thrown in jail and forgotten and there would be no publicity,” says Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. “She had been preparing for that moment her entire life.”

A contemporary movement in North Carolina also reveals how deceptive the idea of “spontaneous” can be.

The movement has been called Moral Mondays. News accounts say it began in February 2013 when 17 people were arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, while protesting the policies of a new Republican-led state legislature. At least 900 people have since been arrested during weekly protests over everything from the legislature’s decision to cut teachers’ pay and unemployment benefits to its rejection of expanded medical coverage for the poor and underinsured under the Affordable Care Act.

Much of the news coverage describes Moral Mondays as a spontaneous reaction to the legislature’s decisions. But the coalition driving the protests actually formed years ago to be a force in North Carolina politics and “go where the sparks go,” says the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP and one of Moral Mondays’ leaders.

“Seven years ago we started to prepare,” Barber says. “We didn’t know we were preparing for this moment. We didn’t see this day coming.”

Barber says the multiracial coalition behind Moral Mondays originally formed to push for increased voter registration, labor rights and more support for public education. It maintained its unity over the years because it knew other issues might arise and it wanted to be ready to hit the ground running.

“You have to do the hard work,” he says. “You just don’t helicopter in and make a speech. You have to build trust, talk with people and struggle with the issues.”

The coalition is multiracial and multi-issue, crucial for any movement that wants to have broad appeal. It has the support of about 150 groups, including clergy, white college students and women’s groups. Barber says he has received calls from people around the country who want to replicate Moral Mondays in other states. Protests inspired by Moral Mondays have since spread to South Carolina and Georgia.

He says the years of planning paid off when the Republican-led assembly provided the spark that helped Moral Mondays launch the “spontaneous” protests.

Barber’s advice for movement builders: Don’t wait for the right spark to organize. Do it now.

“No matter where you are now, now is the time to build coalitions,” Barber says. “You do it now because when the moment comes, the only thing that will be able to save you is to be together.”

2. Make policy, not noise

They gave the nation a nifty slogan: “We are the 99%.” But they haven’t been heard from much since. Remember Occupy Wall Street? In 2011, a group of protesters occupied a park in New York City’s financial district to protest income inequality and the growing power of financial institutions.

Occupy Wall Street generated plenty of media coverage, but it has largely faded from public attention. Yet the tea party, a conservative movement that arose in 2009 to protest government spending and debt, is still wielding influence in American public life.

Why does the tea party have more influence than Occupy Wall Street?

The tea party didn’t just make noise; it put people in office, several political scientists and historians note.

“The tea party from the outset focused on winning elections and setting up a structure that could affect the political process,” says Larry Schweikart, co-author of “A Patriot’s History of the United States.”

“The Occupy Wall Street group only wanted to raise hell.”

One civil rights leader told protesters in Ferguson that they, too, had to raise more than hell. When the Rev. Al Sharpton traveled to Ferguson, he chided black residents who complain about their city’s leaders but don’t turn out to vote in local elections.

“You all have got to start voting and showing up,” Sharpton told a black church rally in Ferguson. “Twelve percent turnout is an insult to your children.”

Successful movements just don’t take it to the streets. They elect candidates, pass laws, set up institutions to raise money, train people and produce leaders, observers say.

The March on Washington, for example, had the charisma of King. But it also had the organizational genius of Bayard Rustin, a man whose attention to detail was so keen that people wryly noted he knew precisely how many portable toilets 250,000 marchers needed.

“Occupy used a very smart tactic — sit in parks where people could join the protests,” says Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University in Washington and an expert on social movements.

“At the same time, it was just a tactic,” says Kazin, author of “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.”

“A tactic is not a movement. A lot of people got excited by the tactics, but they didn’t have a second act.”

People remember the March on Washington because it did have a second act. Civil rights leaders used the political pressure generated by the march and the subsequent assassination of President John F. Kennedy to pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, historians say.

Still, they were also willing to compromise. And compromise is not glamorous. Failed movements are filled with stories of idealistic people who didn’t make compromises. A successful movement, though, is filled with people who know that it is wise at times to compromise.

A compromise is what helped the March on Washington take flight, some historians say.

The original March on Washington wasn’t supposed to be just about race but about economic issues as well. Organizers originally billed it as a march for “jobs and freedom.”

Yet King and others de-emphasized the jobs’ focus of the march because they thought it would jeopardize the passage of the pending civil rights bill, says Podair, the Lawrence University professor.

Talking about poverty and inequality at the 1963 march would have alienated potential Northern white supporters who would have seen such rhetoric as a ploy to redistribute money from the white middle class to blacks, Podair says.

Instead, organizers reassured them by focusing on King’s dream of racial equality, he says.

“The reason they can get Northern whites to support the march is to say we’re not going to touch your wallets,” Podair says. “What we’re going to do is ask the South to give African-Americans their political rights, something they should have done 100 years ago. But we’re not going to redistribute income.”

Among the lessons any would-be protesters can learn from the leaders of the 1963 march: Don’t confine your efforts to narrow issues that only resonate with your group; broaden them so they can appeal to all sorts of Americans.

“Sometimes it makes you feel good to preach to the choir,” Podair says, “but after a while you have to go outside the church and find other people for your coalition.”

3. Redefine the meaning of punishment

On July 6, 1892, 300 armed detectives confronted a group of unionized steelworkers who had been locked out of a steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The workers, who were striking for better wages at a time when people routinely worked 12-hour-per-day, six-day weeks, fought back with stones and guns. They eventually forced the armed detectives to surrender. Three workers and seven detectives died.

That confrontation is now known as the Homestead Strike. It pitted ordinary workers against steel titan Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie eventually crushed the workers’ union, reduced wages and eliminated 500 jobs.

The past can inspire, yet it can also be intimidating. Some believe that contemporary Americans are too jaded and lazy to take the risks that 19th century workers at the Homestead Mill took. Can anyone envision striking fast-food workers fighting pitched battles against armed troops today?

One historian who has studied movements, though, says the belief that modern Americans lack the right stuff to rise up is “hogwash.”

Sam Pizzigati is the author of “The Rich Don’t Always Win,” a book that traces how ordinary Americans in the first part of the 20th century rose up against plutocrats like Carnegie to create a vibrant middle class. Pizzigati calls that battle a “forgotten triumph.”

When people experience enough pain, they will mobilize, says Pizzigati, a labor journalist and associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

“When people’s situation becomes worse, when something changes and things that people took for granted have suddenly gone by the board and they see their position in society sinking, that’s a powerful factor that can drive movements,” Pizzigati says.

He points to the Great Depression as an example. In 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, the top 1% of Americans took in 23.9% of the nation’s income. The rich ruled. (In 2007, on the eve of the Great Recession, the 1% took in 23.5% of the nation’s income, according to a University of California Berkeley study.)

In 20 years, though, a political movement arose that “totally” transformed the nation, he says. A “New Deal” coalition led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a series of reforms to protect Americans from the worst features of unrestrained capitalism. They created Social Security, strong banking regulations, raised taxes on the rich and protected the rights of unions to organize.

The New Deal is a classic example of the weak and powerless — out of work Americans standing in bread lines — triumphing over the fierce resistance of many of the wealthiest and most powerful elites in America who dismissed the New Deal as socialism and class warfare.

Pizzigati calls the New Deal an “egalitarian triumph.”

He says most Americans in the “Roaring ’20s” seemed to accept the economic inequality of that time. Few people thought anything could change, and the courts often ruled against any attempts to protect ordinary workers from workplace injuries and low pay.

Yet that same generation rose up to make the New Deal a reality, he says.

The lesson:

“As dark as things may seem at a given moment,” he says, “things can change very rapidly when a social movement takes off.”

Sometimes there is no cataclysmic event that inspires people to risk it all to join a movement. It can be the steady buildup of humiliation as people stew over being treated as second-class citizens.

Consider the gay and lesbian movement for equality. Palmer, author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” says that for years, many gays and lesbians suffered in silence as people denigrated their humanity. That changed when a critical mass decided that the pain of “behaving on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth” that they held inside was too much.

“They redefined punishment,” Palmer says.

“The redefinition goes like this: No punishment anyone can lay on me can possibly be any worse than the punishment I lay on myself by conspiring in my own diminishment.”

4. Divide the elites

It’s easy to demonize “The Man” if you’re talking with friends in a late-night dorm room rap session. But you’re going to need “The Man” if you’re going to beat “The Man,” some historians say.

“Movements at some point have to get support from the elites,” says Kazin, the Georgetown historian. “You need legitimation. You need some authorities to sort of say we may not support everything you’re doing but basically you’re in the right.”

The protests in Ferguson made so much noise in part because they drew the attention of the nation’s elite. President Barack Obama expressed concern over the treatment of protesters by police. Attorney General Eric Holder launched a Justice Department investigation into the shooting and traveled to Ferguson. And comedians Jon Stewart and John Oliver released segments on the Ferguson protests that went viral on social media.

The civil rights movement got that support from the elites when the Democratic Party backed a civil rights bill during its convention in 1948, even though Southern white Democrats walked out, Kazin says.

Five years later, another group of elites lent their support to the movement. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the separate but equal doctrine was unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education.

“The Supreme Court unanimously said that segregation was wrong,” Kazin says. “They had an impact.”

A movement, though, can’t appeal to the altruism of elites to get their support. Elites help movements when they feel their own interests are threatened, says Pizzigati, author of “The Rich Don’t Always Win.”

That cold calculus among the rich is what made the New Deal possible, he says.

Economic conditions were so bad in America during the 1930s that many of the rich in America feared social upheaval, he says. The rich were being blamed for miserable economic conditions. People feared revolution. In 1932, the Communist Party held a rally in New York — 60,000 people showed up as nervous police officers with machine guns looked on, Pizzigati says.

The people at the top feared that social instability would cause American society to crumble. They were people like Randolph Paul, a wealthy Wall Street tax lawyer who warned other wealthy Americans that they were courting disaster, Pizzigati says.

“Paul became such a fierce advocate for very high taxes on the American rich because he said that we could not tolerate the level of income inequality in the U.S., that it was going to bring the country down,” Pizzigati says.

Other wealthy Americans bought into Paul’s rationale. They allowed their taxes to go up. The Cold War helped as well. Communists said capitalism spawned yawning gaps between the rich and poor, and the American elite wanted to prove them wrong, Pizzigati says.

And they were willing to pay the price to make these changes possible, he says. By 1961, a married couple’s income over $400,000 was taxed at a 91% rate, Pizzigati says.

The rich weren’t as rich, but America’s middle class was booming, Pizzigati says.

“We had a fundamental economic shift,” Pizzigati says. “The plutocracy that had existed at the beginning of the 20th century had essentially disappeared. We went from a place that was two-thirds poor to two-thirds middle-class.”

Could people without power spark such a movement today?

Palmer, author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” believes they can. He is the founder of the Center for Courage Renewal, a nonprofit that often works with activists through programs and retreats.

He says younger activists are more adept at coalition building.

“The young people today walk across lines of difference like they’re not even there,” he says. “My generation didn’t walk across lines of sexual orientation, race or religion as easily as these kids. For a lot of them, it’s not even noticed.”

Still, there is one final lesson for anyone who wants to join a movement. Victory is fleeting and setbacks are inevitable. At times, it can seem like it was all a waste.

King fought such a letdown later in his life.

Five years after he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, he gave a different one at a church in Memphis, Tennessee. The crowds weren’t hanging onto his words like they once did. He had become unpopular because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Black militants scorned his nonviolent approach. And his plan to create a multiracial army of poor people to occupy Washington was floundering.

Yet he told the shouting audience at the Memphis church that “we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

King was assassinated the next day as he stood on the balcony of a motel chatting with his friends below.

He would not live to see his birthday turned into a national holiday. He wouldn’t see the first black president elected. And he wouldn’t see his four children become adults.

Those who give the most to a movement often don’t see the rewards of their risk.

“We plant the seeds, but we don’t know what the crop will look like,” Palmer says.

That is perhaps the harshest lesson of all.

Pro-Democracy Groups, Beijing Poles Apart Over Hong Kong Election

BEIJING—The debate over how Hong Kong elects its leader has helped expose the wide gap between what pro-democracy groups and Beijing consider acceptable.

Beijing has agreed to allow Hong Kong residents the right to vote for their leader from 2017, but wants to maintain control over the slate of candidates. From its perspective, any steps toward a one-person, one-vote system is already concession enough.

“For Hong Kong’s…

United in Hatred: Occupy and Ferguson

August 29 2014

United in Hatred: Occupy and Ferguson


Charlotte Hays

A Washington Post story headlined “Not Their Grandfather’s Protest” sought to depict the Ferguson riots, triggered by the fatal shooting of a black youth by a white police officer, as a new generation of the Civil Rights movement. Not so.

As much as we mourn the tragic death of Michael Brown, we can’t help noticing that the mob in Ferguson was destructive, hateful, and only too eager to liquidate small businesses that provided a livelihood for people whose only sin was doing business in Ferguson, Mo.

Watching the Ferguson riots on TV, I spotted a sign that said, “Begin the Class War Now.” This was a sentiment not from the Civil Rights movement, which sought to spread the promise of America, but from Occupy Wall Street, which exists to sow the seeds of envy and hatred. Lionized in the media, Ferguson–like Occupy–is a movement of fact-challenged bullies. This is not to say that we have an opinion or even would dare to theorize about guilt or innocence in the matter of the sad death of Michael Brown. The facts of that night are not yet known. The vicious aftermath can be known by anyone who has a TV.

Not surprisingly, Occupy retreads reportedly flocked to Ferguson, while Occupy websites have heaped fulsome praise on their less upscale compatriots. Oakland Occupy—last seen terrorizing shoppers, shutting down the port of Oakland, burning American flags, and trashing ATMs—even hosted a protest in solidarity with Ferguson. “Protesters broke windows and damaged property in both cities,” the San Francisco Gate reported. Now, that’s solidarity.

The Ferguson mob, like its spiritual forebear Occupy, has no respect for normal, decent, ordinary people who go to work every day to support their families. The looting and vandalism in Ferguson put more than a hundred small businesses on the brink of financial ruin. The surveillance video allegedly of Michael Brown shortly before his death committing a strong-arm robbery of a cigar store, pushing and shoving a much smaller clerk, was but a prelude to the two week’s rioting.

The Washington Post reporter who compared the Ferguson mob to the honorable and heroic Civil Rights movement diligently tried not to see what was before her very eyes, but she couldn’t avoid exposing the hollowness of what’s there: “They are fueled by rage, mobilized by social media and sometimes, or so it seems to the old guard, capable of a bit of disrespect.”

You’ve got to love that “capable of a bit of disrespect.”

Like Occupy, which was praised by Nancy Pelosi and sympathized with by President Obama, the Ferguson mob has friends in high places. The Rev. Al Sharpton, the well-known racial opportunist, who is advising the White House on Ferguson, was Ferguson’s Mark Antony, the orator of this mob, who stoked passions while ostensibly innocently praising the dead. Likewise, our Attorney General Eric Holder, who was dispatched to Ferguson by the President, appeared on the scene.

Holder’s mere presence seems to have had a calming effect—which is certainly a very good thing—but probably only temporarily, if the legal case doesn’t go entirely against the police. Like Sharpton, Holder stoked hatred, suggesting that the shooting of Michael Brown was rooted in our troubled racial history.

Certainly that history is an important backdrop to the story today in Ferguson—the suspicion which seeps into too many interactions between those of different races, and particularly when they involve law enforcement. But that history doesn’t play at all into determining what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michal Brown before Brown’s final breath.

Couldn’t Holder, our nation’s top legal executive and defender of our legal system, have talked about impartial justice and prepared the crowd for a just verdict, whatever that is? But waiting for facts is not a mob’s way.

But the rest of America should face the facts, whatever they may be, and should not close our eyes to what is happening today. This isn’t the next step in the civil rights movement, but a sad testimony to a crumbling culture and rage that pervades too much of America society.


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Occupy Television Vows to Keep Flailing Movement Alive

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which blazed brightly two years ago amid a sea of arrests, vandalism and attacks against the wealthy, is coming back in the form of an online TV channel.

Occupy Television, in conjunction with FilmOn Networks, the National Convention PBC and a new union of the groups Occupy Television, ArticleV.org, and the National General Assembly, vows to bring the group’s mission to the masses.

The channel’s backers say in a press release that recent events in Ferguson, MO, despite the public not knowing the details behind the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, are proof that the culture needs this outlet.

The channel’s mission, according to its press release:

Occupy Television’s goal is to circumvent mainstream media, with its multitude of conflicts of interests, in order to break out of the echo chambers of conventional political discussion.  The station is based on the work of Occupy community members and citizen journalists—it is TV for the 99%.

Expect OWS-friendly documentaries like Internet’s Own BoyOccupy Love and Pots, Pans and Other Solutions to be part of the programming package.

Chances are viewers won’t see Occupy Unmasked, director Stephen K. Bannon’s documentary featuring Andrew Breitbart and several colleagues revealing the true nature of the movement.

Occupy Central Or Not? Hong Kong Won’t Accept China’s ‘Sham’ Elections

A showdown is looming in this city. This week, Hong Kongers and other interested parties are likely to find out if the “Occupy Central” movement will go ahead or not. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is currently holding a seven-day meeting in Beijing to make what seems likely to be the final decision on how the people of Hong Kong will pick their next top leader.

At the heart of the debate is a fear held by many that Chinese leaders won’t uphold their promise to allow genuine elections for the city’s next chief executive in 2017. Those concerns are founded on a steady stream of comments by mainland officials extolling the need for future candidates to be prescreened by a nominating committee stacked with Beijing loyalists. Critics have labeled the requirement as a filtering mechanism that’ll result in “fake democracy.” They believe the public should have the right to select the candidates as well.

Occupy Central’s co-organizer Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, has been one of the main proponents for a civil disobedience movement if Beijing insists on sticking with its apparent plan of “electing” Hong Kong’s next leader. Tai believes the city’s resident are entitled to go through a genuine democratic process to choose the chief executive under the “one country, two systems” principle.

Hong Kong’s political system has stagnated since the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. All three of the city’s chief executives have lacked a popular mandate and generally failed to gain approval from the city’s lawmakers for any policies of significance.

The name “Occupy Central” will most likely stir up memories of “Occupy Wall Street” in New York for most readers. They have similar names and ideas, but the purpose of the actions do indeed differ markedly.

English: Protesters at the Occupy Wall Street ...

English: Protesters at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About three years ago was the first time I had heard of a movement that used the word “Occupy.” Back then, I was in New York City studying for my master’s, and Occupy Wall Street was heating up in the city that never sleeps. The activists mainly gathered at Wall Street, but sometimes they would also hold rallies at Washington Square Park – the NYU campus – and elsewhere to raise awareness of social inequality, i.e. the 1% versus the 99%.

As Occupy Wall Street is winding down, a new wave of Occupy-something is hopefully brewing in Hong Kong. Under the banner Occupy Central – the financial heart of the city – the organizers are calling on the public for a mass assembly of humanity to convey the message to the Chinese government that Hong Kongers should be able to choose their leader without interference. “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong,” as we were promised before the handover.

Comparing Occupy Wall Street that basically sought to draw attention to the longstanding economic problem of wealth disproportionately accumulating in the hands of a tiny minority, Occupy Central in Hong Kong is first and foremost a political cause. And from its very inception in January 2013, there has been an incessant debate in Hong Kong on the pros and cons of the potential movement.

Some of the voices coming out against Occupy Central see it as a reckless attempt to issue an ultimatum to Beijing when it seems more productive to aim for dialogue instead. A fair number of local officials and business tycoons have also been warning the protests would have a negative affect on the economy. While on the other side of the political divide, some radical elements from the democratic camp said there’s too much discussion, we should just storm the government.

In spite of the rhetoric and shrill warnings, the organizers of Occupy Central are merely hopeful of giving people a platform for their voices to be heard in defense of city’s core values – something many have come to conclude is being eroded under the current political system. They’ve also said that they’re ready to be arrested by the police for their planned “illegal gathering” under the current legal framework.

Whether you view Occupy Central as good or bad, history tells us that political power is almost never given away without a long and difficult struggle. The decisions reached in Beijing over the course of this week will be a signal to its neighbors and the rest of Asia as to whether it can be relied upon to keep its promises.

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What should really get you mad about Wall Street’s overpaid 22-year-olds

The young money is about to get more of it. That’s unlikely to make the Occupy Wall Street crowd happy. But maybe it should.

Goldman Sachs


, Bank of America


and JPMorgan Chase


have announced or are reportedly set to give as much as a 20% raise to their junior bankers. The latest round of announcements came this week after Morgan Stanley


kicked off the pay war for junior employees a few weeks ago. That means 22-year-old Wall Streeters, who only used to make $120,000, will now be justly compensated. Ahmen.

In a good year, those same 22-year-olds may now make as much as $175,000, according to Wall Street compensation firm Johnson Associates.

Oddly enough, the current round of pay raises seems to have been sparked by cries that Wall Street’s youngins were being mistreated. Earlier this year, Kevin Roose, a journalist at New York magazine, wrote a book about how miserable life is for Wall Street junior employees. (Read Fortune‘s review of Roose’s Young Money.) Spoiler alert: all of the bankers in Roose’s book chose to flee Wall Street. Their bucks full of money didn’t have room for their tears as well, I guess.

And perhaps that’s good for the rest of us. Smart, talented people should do a variety of things, not just what pays them most. But here’s the thing: Wall Street firms, just a few months later, are reacting. Say what you will about Wall Street, but its willingness to share profits with employees is much better than the rest of corporate America.

Nickel and Dimed, the famous book by Barbara Ehrenreich about poor pay and work conditions across the country, came out over a decade ago. How did corporate America respond? It didn’t. Wages have stagnated for the past decade. And Washington has only voted to raise the minimum wage once — in 2009.

Sure, Wall Streeters work a lot of hours. But the average American worker isn’t living a cushy life. Starbucks, responding to an article in The New York Times about workers’ hours, recently said it would no longer force workers to do so called “clopening” shifts, when they have to work back-to-back shifts that end at 11 PM and start at 5AM. But it’s still going on elsewhere.

Wall Street has a pay culture where most of the profits of the firms go to the employees. The reason is a bit historical. Wall Street firms were partnerships, and partnerships by definition tend to pay out all of their profits to their workers. Also, finance firms tend to be low-capital businesses, so they can invest much of their profits in their workers. But the pay practices on Wall Street have generally continued even after the firms have gone public, and as the firms have grown and added bank branches and things that do require some capital.

There’s no reason Wall Street’s pay practices couldn’t be exported elsewhere. Wal-Mart, for instance, generally runs a low capital business as well, yet it has long paid its workers much less than it could afford to. Wal-Mart


could learn a lot from Goldman.

Here’s the explanation in finance speak: Companies should generate enough profits to justify the price that shareholders are willing to pay for its shares. Once shareholders are no longer willing to pay up for those profits, they should invest that money elsewhere.

Wall Street firms get this. A few years ago, shareholders of Wall Street stocks traded for high valuations. Investors are no longer willing to pay up. So banks are shifting more of their capital to workers. And yes that will make it easier for them to recruit and keep workers and hopefully make them happier and more productive. That makes sense.

Likewise, Wal-Mart’s shares have faltered over the past few years. The retailer, however, continues to generate returns that are much higher than shareholders are willing to pay for. Yet, there have been no announcements of large pay raises for Walmart employees.

I have argued that Wal-Mart could increase its salaries without hurting its stock price. Shares of Goldman have not dropped on the news that it will pay thousands of employees tens of thousands of dollars more. Neither have any of the other banks.

At a time of growing concern that income inequality is doing serious damage to America — it is at least a part of what’s fueling the anger in Ferguson — there are reasons to be weary of the news that Wall Street is paying its junior banks around three times the salary of the average worker in America. But only part of the problem, and perhaps smaller than we think, that Wall Street pays too much. It’s the rest of corporate America that continues to pay too little.