How “Occupy” Is Evolving
(excerpt from, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern)
This weekend in Sacramento, Cal. the Occupy movement will celebrate its third anniversary from July 31st until August 3rd. At one time there were some people who said that the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements were headed for the dust bins of history. Time has proven these detractors to be completely wrong. In fact, it is an accurate statement to say they underestimated Occupy, the 99%, Anonymous and other similar movements like the world peace movement, et al. These movements of the people are continuing to grow due to a growing population of long-term unemployed workers, people working one or more part time jobs when a full time job with a middle class level of income are urgently needed, and growing numbers of people who have walked away from the traditional job market in exasperation. These college-educated vagabonds are living “off the grid” in shelters, tent cities, or squatting in abandoned, boarded-up houses in inner city neighborhoods.
There can be no doubt that working Americans from all kinds of backgrounds are becoming increasingly desperate about their economic situations and their future prospects. Is it any wonder that this is happening? Everywhere we look we see jobs disappearing by the millions, homes being stolen right out from under the owners through fraudulent loan and foreclosure practices, pension and retirement funds being wiped out by highly speculative investments of dubious origin by compulsive gamblers posing as financial advisers and stockbrokers, and the hijacking of our democracy through corporate “campaign donations” and “lobbying fees” that are little more than legalized bribery. Most alarming of all is the increasing lack of access to preventative health care and to higher education. I experienced this myself a number of years ago when I wanted to change careers, only to be told that I couldn’t get a student loan because my credit score was too low. If I wanted to go back to school and learn a new trade, they said, I would have to pay the tuition out of pocket. Since I was working as a “temp” IT contractor at the time, there was no way for me to come up with the tuition to pay for my retraining, and so I remained stuck in my situation, unable to improve myself even though I very much wanted to do so. What I have since learned is that what I went through when I tried to change careers to alleviate long-term unemployment is very commonplace, especially for older workers like myself (I won’t say how old). By now, multitudes of unemployed Americans who want retraining can’t get it for the same reasons that held me back, and nearly everybody else has figured out that they too are stuck as far as their professional lives are concerned. Like myself, they are furious at being backed into a corner by economic inequality, and they’re looking for ways to fight their way out of the corner they find themselves in.
To sum up our situation as America’s work force, we’re mad as hell – livid, actually – and we have collectively decided to take back from the top 1% what they took from us, since what was taken belonged to the American people to begin with. As things stand today, the elites who comprise the top 1%, and particularly the top tenth of a percent, are in very serious trouble indeed. From a political, economic or societal standpoint, I vigorously maintain that time is about to run out for the reign of the rich and powerful – especially when the US dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. Even now the elites continue to puzzle over what people want, mainly because the majority are clueless, and the rest just don’t care. Where is the list of demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they articulate an agenda? The goal can be articulated in one word – rebellion. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and to exercise power. Like myself, they have no faith – nor should they – in the political system of the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices because the news and entertainment media are bought and paid for by the top 1%. So we are creating an alternative press of our own, such as Mother Jones, Alternet, OpEd News, and others. We know all too well that the economy serves the top 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%, so we are forming own communal, cooperative, nonprofit interdependent system. This movement is just one effort of many all across America to take our country back as best as it can be peacefully accomplished.
The problem is that this is a goal the power elite find to be incomprehensible. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and full throttle capitalism are natural laws which are some kind of permanent and eternal states of being that can never be altered. What these delusional elites fail to realize is that our protest and rebellion (not just America’s, but the entire world’s) will not stop until the bonfire of the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until ownership of entire corporations is transferred from the stockholders and boards of directors directly to the workers where it belongs, most likely in the form of worker-owned businesses or cooperatives of all sizes. This Populist uprising will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working classes of all colors, the elderly, the sick, children, the mentally ill, and those being slaughtered in our imperial wars overseas and tortured in the American military’s so-called “black sites”. ‘We The People’ will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. We will not rest until students no longer have to go into debt for life just to obtain higher education, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. The rebellion will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in serious trouble. That’s also why the reason for the existence of the entire capitalist, debt-based economy is now falling into question. And that is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is happening.
The occupation of Wall Street, and the Occupy encampments elsewhere such as at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. in which I took part in October 2011, has formed an alternative community that defies the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. Even though the police have shut down the encampments in New York and elsewhere, the power elite will still lose their grip on society because this vision and structure have been imprinted into the minds of millions of protesters. The greatest gift the “occupation” has given us is a blueprint for how to fight back. And this blueprint has now been transferred to cities, parks and families facing foreclosure across the country.
The tactic of physical occupation in the case of Occupy Wall Street has been enormously successful already. We have, at least for a moment, proven that we can and will bring enormous public pressure on the top 1% in the form of these movements. We are significantly better positioned than before to make bold demands, as we can now credibly claim that our values are popular – even that they are common sense – and connected to a social base. “Occupy Wall Street” is the tactic that has launched a movement for social justice and real democracy onto center stage. It has served as the initial catalyzing symbol for what undoubtedly will become a rejuvenated civil rights movement. Hopefully ten years from now, when we look back at all we’ve accomplished together, Occupy Wall Street will be considered a critical moment that helped to spark and then build a lasting movement. “We are the 99%” has become a core message of this burgeoning movement. It emerged in tandem with the deployment of the captivating tactic of occupation. The framework of the 99% accomplishes a number of important feats:
 The 99% frames the consolidation of wealth and political power in our society – the central grievance of this movement and a central crisis of our times.
 The 99% frames a class struggle in a way that puts the 1% on the defensive, whereas the common accusation of “class warfare” has somehow tended to put a lot of people in the middle on the defensive.
 The 99% casts an extraordinarily broad net for those invited to join the movement. Most everyone is encouraged to see their hopes and dreams tied to a much bigger public issue. Thus it frames a nearly limitless growth trajectory for the movement.
 The 99% even leaves room for the 1% to redeem itself. There are many striking cases of “1%’ers” speaking out as defectors – such as former or current military and law enforcement personnel – who are as vocal as anyone that the system is broken and in dire need of replacement.
The 99% meme is a grand prize winner. It points the way toward a necessary expansion that is ongoing as I write this. It encourages us to not just act on behalf of, but alongside of, the 99%; to look beyond the forces already in motion, to activate potential energy, to articulate a moral political narrative, and to build up and strengthen our culture. The Wall Street protests must grow and spread across this country because they are the only realistic hope for change remaining for the 99% of Americans falling behind in this permanently broken economy. Sad to say, but democracy in the land of the free and home of the brave simply no longer works as it is currently being administered. Big corporations and the wealthy have hijacked the political system for decades now with their hefty donations to political campaigns and other pet projects. Their contributions guarantee that bought-off politicians pass laws and tax breaks to their benefit. It is no secret, everyone is aware of how the system works, and it must be called for what it is: legalized bribery.
With traditional democratic political methods useless, what recourse do ordinary Americans have left? We are now witnessing the only real avenue left: ordinary citizens taking to the streets and demanding change to the rigged political and economic systems that leaves 99% of us behind. It is only a start, but a vital one. Every day more people are awakening to the stark realization that the political and economic system in this country is stacked against them and getting worse. During the Vietnam era, because they were directly affected, young people took to the streets to protest the war. America’s young males were subject to a draft, and the prospect of being shipped off to die in a war they didn’t believe in angered them a great deal. And so the war planners wised up and did away with the draft, but look at what has replaced it. America now has perpetual wars for oil, using a “volunteer” military, many of whom have enlisted due to lack of other economic opportunities. Seemingly unaffected by post-Vietnam wars, students and other young people have been politically inactive since the early 1970s.
But that has finally come to an end, and I think it’s about freakin’ time! Young people are finding few jobs awaiting them when they get out of college (assuming they are fortunate enough to afford the high tuition). They graduate with no income coming in, but years of student loan debt to pay back. Those without a college or high school degree are even worse off. All of them see the sad reality, that the “American Dream” is only for the privileged few. “The reason they call it the America dream”, said the late George Carlin, “is because you have to be asleep to believe it”. If these demonstrations and protests continue to grow and expand, both here and abroad, the big banks, oil companies, billionaires and politicians will have to pay attention and give some ground. Either that, or face the prospect of violent revolution. As the late President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.
How all this will play out is still uncertain as I write this. The road to reversing several decades of unfair and corrupt politics and excessive greed promises to be a rocky and difficult one. Things could get a lot worse before (and if) they get better. But a revolution, preferably a bloodless one such as the Civil Rights, Occupy and 99% Movements, is necessary to restore democracy and economic fairness in America and around the world. With traditional methods of political change proving useless, mass protests, strikes, ‘occupations’ and other public demonstrations are the only realistic strategies left. Which is why the Wall Street occupiers and their brethren across the country (and the world!) cannot quit, and why we must all continue to grow and expand to a point that the powers-that-be realize they must give the rest of their fellow Americans a seat at the decision-making table. The occupiers and protesters cannot and will not quit, of that you can be sure. If the protests wither and die, so will what is left of America’s hopes and dreams, not to mention our freedoms. So we will not let this movement quietly fade away. On the contrary, we will continue to grow and consolidate in preparation for our next task, which is to take these Populist movements to the next level. As we do so, we will continue to remind one another of why we occupy, and why we’re not going away. The Occupy Movement and the 99% Movement, together with a host of other related social and political movements such as Anonymous, will continue to get larger and better organized over the rest of 2014 and well into 2015, using primarily the Internet and social media to accomplish their goals since it is the most cost-effective tools at our disposal right now.
Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, corporate America with their armies of lobbyists on K Street in Washington, and the military/prison/industrial complex are justifiably afraid of this global movement and what it represents. More importantly, they all remember where this movement got its start, which was in Egypt in January 2011, followed by the riots in Tunisia, Algiers, Britain and Spain in the spring and summer of 2011, plus the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Now it has arrived on American shores and firmly established a beachhead from which a worldwide movement has been launched that has captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of millions of Americans. And this movement of the people is only this – that we are sick and tired of working for bare subsistence wages that amounts to economic slavery while the stockholders and the boards of directors of these giant multinational corporations, not to mention all the cash-rich privately held companies, get to control much of America’s cash flow while paying themselves exorbitant bonuses. As I wrote in my previous book, “It’s steak for them and beans for the rest of us”, and since then the plight of the middle class has continued to slowly get worse just as I predicted it would. All these problems and issues are indicative of a broken system that is beyond fixing. The time has come to replace it. The only remaining question is, will the American people be able to accomplish this peacefully? That depends completely on how the 1% respond to the peaceful protests, public demonstrations and wildcat strikes of the 99%. If they respond with violence, there will be another American civil war, and the USA will turn into another Syria, Libya, Gaza or Greece. Let’s hope and pray that the solution will be a peaceful one.