Sara Whitman

Occupy Wall Street: Generate Power

Filed By Sara Whitman | October 03, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, social movement, tax the rich

Occupy Wall Street. Speak for the 99% of Americans who are not filthy rich.

occupy-wall-street.jpgHmm. I like that idea.

I've been watching this protest for a while. Their message is not a clear, one line, snappy PR piece. It is a combination of voices, all chiming in, all asking for social and economic justice.

I really like that idea. It, however, causes problems for those who want to understand the message. In America, we have been dulled by ad campaigns for everything from dish soap to electing a President. We want to know in the length of a twitter what is going on and why.

This is not a twitter length issue. It's about banks and taxation. It's about access and loopholes. It's about greed and indifference.

Zachary heard me listening to a newscast on the internet yesterday about the protests. Why are they protesting? he asked. I began to explain banks, and laws, and corruption. He had no idea what I was talking about. Then I said, it's about the 99% of this country who are suffering.

Cool, he said. He was engaged. We watched the video of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests. We talked about standing up and being counted.

I kept away from words like "financial crisis," "economic downturn," all the nifty little catch words used in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. To explain with numbers and statistics about unemployment in recent college graduates, the hopelessness that is pervasive in a generation of well-educated yet unemployed people wouldn't have impact on him.

Why? All those numbers, I realized, leave me in my head. It takes the pain of people who cannot afford rent, or medicine, or food, into a place of theory, and economic policy debate.

It leads me away from the anguish of parents who sent their kids to college knowing they would have a better life, only to have them living at home, working minimum wage jobs, unable to repay loans. The frustration of those kids, now adults, unable to move forward as they had been promised their whole lives. No longer is the world a place where everyone gets a trophy for trying.

There is a level of despair in this country that has been medicated, sanitized and turned into made for TV movies.

On the website,, is a very real list of the pain, anguish, and frustration.

And the fear. One holding up a sign saying she is one paycheck from homelessness. Another, college educated, school loans, and no job, at 39 years old. Another, house value crashed, no retirement, at 51 years old. Yet another, 56 years old, working for minimum wage, no health insurance, no retirement.

You know the stories. You know because your friend or sibling or parent or neighbor have these stories. Now it's time to do something.

If we don't fight, if we live in fear, if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the system, nothing will change. The progressive community has all sat around pulling a Hamlet on the rock, To be or not to be, for long enough. People say protests are a thing of the past.

Tell that to the people in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Libya.

This isn't about writing a check and getting a sticker for your car. Stand up and be counted. A few hundred people can be ignored. A few thousand, minimized by the mainstream media.

Hundreds of thousands must be heard.

If you think we are living in standards far above those countries listed above, think again. The divide grows greater every day. The reality is not what you see on television or in the newspapers. Schools don't fight about Glee club spending; they struggle to hire qualified teachers. Doctors don't wander around popping vicodin and spending countless hours on a single diagnosis; they are required to hustle through patients on insurance dictated time frames, using insurance dictated tools.

And dear God, young, fashionable vampires don't exist. Our youth aren't out sucking blood in Armani, they are trying to find jobs that don't exist.

Numbers, statistics, theories are all important. Information is essential in creating change- keep the baby with the bathwater. Be aware, it can be used to create energy and it can be used to create a sense of hopelessness.

I know it is far easier and more comfortable for me to stay in my head. I don't have to feel the guilt of having, of being comfortable. The guilt, however, is my choice. People are protesting for those who have no choice.

It's not about me. It's about us. I am part of us. My friends, my family, my coworkers, my community... us.

One could say the "Arab Spring" happened because people finally gathered in enough numbers to create hope. That hope spread. Ultimately, in crowds of tens of thousands, there was much more than hope and ideals and perseverance. There was power. Not power given, but power generated by masses gathered, shoulder to shoulder.

Go join a protest. Create hope.

Generate power.

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Hey Sara. Thanks for writing this. I am greatly heartened by the Occupy Wall Street movement and all its spin offs all over the U.S. That they haven't tried to offer policy solutions is, to me, a good thing. The people powering this aren't wonks or policy makers. They are people suffering, canaries in the economic coal mine. And so, it's a movement that is a howling cry for help...and for sanity and for a return to an economy that works for all of us, not just 1%. Stop the greed. Put us back to work. Give us the dignity of jobs.

My concern is there messaging. What concrete policy proposals would they like to see put in place?

It is a common problem on the left the multitude of voices - thus your message gets muddled.

Dare I say it might be nice to see something out of them like the Dallas Principles - which concrete demands.

I am glad they are out there and their voices need to be heard- I just wish their voices had a more cogent and definitive cry.

The movement is still young, and there hasn't been a meeting of reps from any of the different cities involved yet. That needs to happen before a lot of demands are presented without some clear-headed thinkers and the voices of all of those affected heard and acknowledged. The demands will come when it's the right time.

They do have a list of demands:

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

By demands I meant grievances.

While you are right in that they do have a list of grievances, said grievances don't necessarily automatically imply a resolution. My point is, a coherent and thought out list of demands can't really happen this soon in the game. We need for the workers of the population to join the movement, bringing with them their legal teams so that we can begin to formulate what our demands are and how to articulate those demands in no uncertain terms while attempting to avoid violent inferences.

interesting. think about egypt. did they have a list of demands? sure. long long list. overall? it was about change.

this is about change. now.

You are right, of course. This whole movement is about change, hopefully change that leads us to a more peaceful and beautiful world.

In regards to those who say that the occupy wall street crowd lack a coherent message, my reply is this.

They are occupying fucking wall street. They are protesting the bankers, investors, and corporations that created the financial mess we have now and corrupted our democracy. The message literally goes with the territory. It doesn't need clarifying or coherency, merely amplifying. If one does not understand at least the broad strokes of what is wrong, I hope having been stuck under that rock was not too unpleasant.

I am one of those college students, recently graduated and unable to find work. I have friends in the same boat. I knew immediately what these protestors were saying the second I heard what was happening.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 4, 2011 4:40 AM

What Occupy Wall Street is, and what it is not

The movement that began with a couple of hundred students and youth 'occupying' occupy Wall Street is a fresh manifestation of the vast depth and spread of the radicalization flowing from the Depression that began in the Autumn of 2007.

Since that time almost 16% of workers, or 25 million workers have become more or less permanently unemployed or under employed. Those living in poverty, even by government calculations, has expanded to 46 million plus. Foreclosures increased from 239,770 homes in the first quarter of 2007 to 932,234 homes in the first quarter of 2110. Terrible wars of naked aggression for oil, land and bases have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and wasted the lives of tens of thousands of GIs.

At the same time unions have come under a sustained attack by the usual suspects - management, owners and the Chamber of Commerce - and by Barak Obama, who forced the UAW to accept big cuts in wages and benefits, scab outsourcing and a long no strike pledge. Obama got the ball rolling and right wing Governors like Democrats Cuomo and Jerry Brown and equally right wing Republicans like Walker and Scott grabbed it and ran.

For over thirty years, since Carter began the attack on workers standards of living, these attacks, beginning with the deregulation of Ma Bell and the railroads have cost hundreds of thousands of union jobs. Over time, our standard of living has declined precipitously while the rich have grown fat at our expense. Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and Obama have all added new policies to cut into our wages and increase the profits of the rich.

Those are crimes and the battle cry of millions of working is now a call to punish the criminals.

Like the events in Madison, the spread of demonstrations against the power and wealth of the rich as a class are a clear indicator that what began as shock and fear in 2007 has changed to rage and a clearer understanding that we are engaged in a - for now, defensive - form of class war.

Groups like Occupy Wall Street, with their undemocratic internal structures, lack of a clear program - a revolutionary and socialist program - and with self-appointed, unelected leaders they can't take these actions to the next stage, which will occur when working people go on the offensive to reclaim what was stolen from us.

That will occur - at its own pace - as the main battle formations of the working class unions, and soon, mass workers parties, take the field with elected leaders and a clear program. Then the battle will shift from the defensive to the offense and when we win we'll form a workers state and strip the rich of their wealth and power.