The deeply insightful thoughts expressed here remind me of my current conversations with others in Bloomington and beyond. So astonishing, what 2011 has wrought! Who would have imagined in December of 2010 that one year later, in December 2011, we would be routinely witnessing each other’s transformation back into active, thoughtful, purpose-driven citizens from our former distracted couch-potato gunged-up funk as consumers.
BTW: Especially loved the remark: “Revolution is off the table. That would be like declaring war on the Atlantic Ocean.”
Thanks to opednews.com. (Apologies for the funky spacing, couldn’t get the formatting to work.)
3 Founding OWS Members Talk About Our Broken System And How to Fix It
“If we fail to redress these wrongs, we will live with the consequences” by Jesse LaGreca
“Dissent is patriotic. Wake up, people. We need to fight back.” by Ryan Hoffman
I keep hoping to see news of Occupiers running for office in 2012 — one name on a ballot I could trust as incorruptible and not owned by some corporation. No such news yet, but it is still early in the game. The change sweeping the nation may yet find a political footing. I asked members of Occupy Wall Street to talk about fixing our broken system and their vision for the country. What follows is my interview with Lex Rendon, Ryan Hoffman and Jesse LaGreca, three founding members of OWS who demonstrate a profound understanding of history, government, and the mechanisms for creating a democratic society.
LY: What do you want government to look like?
Lex: We want to see a government free of corporate money. And that will take a regime change. The two-party system needs to go. OWS is an experiment in a new form of democracy, based on community.
Ryan: We need a government that does not enforce the law selectively, based on wealth status. Adam Smith argued against laissez-faire polices, and for big government standing up to big business. But it is not about big versus small government – it is about good versus bad government.
“Occupy’s greatest contribution is to liberate people from fear” by Lex Rendon
Jesse: I want the government the Founding Fathers intended us to have. But crony capitalism has created distortions, and millions now feel disenfranchised. Who controls government – the people or the special interests? There is a vast disconnect between Congress and the people. Military contractors want certain bills passed to fund war and we end up with an ever-expanding war budget. We need to get the money out of the process.
LY: Lex and Ryan, you were involved in the process of writing the Declaration of the Occupation. It struck me that that document bears a striking resemblance to the Green Party platform, and to some extent the Libertarian party platform. The Greens have made important strides in Germany, and they are international, on every continent, Because of that, they have the unique ability to represent a global revolutionary spring. OWS grew up without funding, and it seems, although it has never been done, that a political campaign could be run the same way – using the internet and social media – with the follow-on that the mainstream media would at some point have to acknowledge it. So I wonder if any Occupy members are interested in running for office next year for congressional seats and seats in state legislatures. Are any of your members considering it?
Lex: Several people are considering it. Some here are finding that they have a knack for politics and natural leadership abilities. A group here wants to come to consensus on backing a [presidential] candidate, but there are many others who do not support that idea at the moment.
Ryan: We operate as a gadfly to the political system. We welcome all support – we have Green Party members, Ron Paul supporters, some Tea Party people. But OWS would not have gotten the traction it has if the Tea Party had not come first. We learned from their mistakes, and we all said, “we don’t want to be like them” – the “guns, gays and God ” party. They got trapped by corporations pushing military expansion. But to answer the question, yes, it is definitely possible to run a campaign without money.
LY: Would participating in the political system compromise the mission of the movement?
Ryan: Possibly. It’s a discussion we need to have. There is no Occupy party, and there is not likely to be one.
Jesse: I have been asked to run for office, and I am considering it. But any of us who made that decision would be more likely to run as an independent than with any existing party.
LY: T he focus of OWS has shifted to stopping foreclosures around the country with Occupy our Home. Are there plans beyond that, or will foreclosures be the focus for the foreseeable future?
Lex: Our main focus is corporate control of government, but foreclosure is one of the issues [resulting from that] and what we are working on now. Down the road we are planning a move to occupy Congress.
Ryan: More children will be evicted from their homes in the next year than will have had parents file for divorce.
LY: It seems to me that there are three or four approaches to reforming a corrupt government: work within the system, by running for office and replacing them; expose corruption and hope the people will respond by throwing them out; ignore government entirely and create a community-based democratic system from within; or outright revolution, as Jefferson thought might be necessary – although I have a hard time imagining the people having a gunfight with the Pentagon. If reform fails, there is expatriation to a more democratic country, a process that is becoming more difficult, as most countries now demand a lot of capital as a condition of residency. What are your thoughts on this?
Ryan: What we are engaged in is a peaceful revolution against corporate control of government. We are committed to non-violence – there will be peaceful solutions or there will be an ugly solution. As JFK said, “T hose who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” When dissent emerged in the 1930’s, FDR said, “You’re right. Now make me do it.” Obama did not deliver on his promises. We need to make him do it. (Edit: Obama’s recent speech on inequality may be an indication that the OWS strategy will do just that. Time will tell.)
Jesse: First of all, revolution is off the table. It would be like declaring war on the Atlantic Ocean. We need to work both within the system, and be engaged in policy making, and outside of the system. We need both. The stick and the carrot. First we need to register as many voters as possible – if 70% voted, we would get a representative government. If you do not vote, you are part of the problem.We also need to be in the streets. We need boots on the ground. The only way we can counter corporate money in politics is for everybody to participate. It is now or never. If we fail to redress these wrongs, we will live with the consequences [for generations to come.] There are several options we need to look at: 1 – We need to primary Obama, primary the Democrats [as the Tea party has primaried Republicans]. Right now we live in a closed society, and Congress is in the process of closing it further. 2 -We need a constitutional convention of the people only – not the pols. 3 -We need to have a general strike. If you are going to steal our civil liberties we will steal your prosperity. There is no other way. We need to get to their bottom line. 4 – We need a “national throw your TV out the window day”. 5 – We need a Workers’ Bill of Rights, a Declaration of Economic Rights.
(edit – FDR introduced an Economic Bill of Rights late in his presidency but died before he could enact it. Everything in FDR’s plan (a living wage, decent housing, healthcare for all, a good education) was guaranteed to the Germans and the Japanese after WWII via the Marshall plan, but none of those guarantees were enacted in the United States).
LY: Last Thursday the Senate passed – with only 7 dissenting votes – the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, a bill that alters the definition and treatment of terrorist suspects in important ways. It contains some ominously vague language – “any person who substantially supports al qaeda or associated groups or is belligerent, anywhere in the world including within the United States and including American citizens” – language that could allow the military, not the police or the FBI, to arrest and detain indefinitely any person they (the military) accused ( not proved) to fit into that definition. In other words, it nullifies habeas corpus, and the right to due process for all American citizens, whether they live here or in any other country. Four amendments were introduced that in various ways removed the unconstitutional language from the bill, and all were voted down. Congressman Jerrold Nadler described the bill as “tyranny”, and constitutional attorneys call it “traitorous”. (See Colonel Wilkerson’s analysis at the above link.) It has been suggested that Congress and K Street are so frightened of a popular uprising that they passed this bill in order to guarantee themselves the protection of the military on American soil. Obama has threatened to veto it, but we have no guarantee that he will. In any case, as was shown by the assassinations of Al-Awlaki and his family (all American citizens) by drone attacks in Yemen, the president claims the right to assassinate any person, even an American citizen, without charges or trial. It is possible that this bill could be used to A put the military on our streets and B to quash dissent, What would that mean for the Occupy movement and how would you respond to it?
Ryan: If we were under martial law, I would be looking at Brazil.
Lex: The world seems to be gearing up for civil war on a global scale. We are leaderless and decentralized, and we are our own protection against the use of force. Before Occupy became a reality, I had given up on our ability to create change. Now I am in this for the long haul – no matter what.
Jesse: If Obama signs the bill, his presidency is over today. This is McCarthy on a cocaine binge. Any person could be thrown into the gulag over nothing.
LY: Are we living in an American version of Stalin’s Russia then?
Jesse: It is more like the Colonial period, when colonists lived under British law. The captains of industry make their own laws; they want the rest of us to be quiet, obedient, peasants. I fear for my country now.
LY: What else would you like Americans to know? Any closing thoughts?
Ryan: Dissent is patriotic. Wake up, people. We need to fight back. If you are not willing to say “No”, to dissent against a system that is out to cut your own throat, then you are part of the problem.
Jesse: Start reading. Register to vote. Inform yourselves. …. And if you don’t have a uterus, you have nothing to say about abortion.
Lex: Occupy’s greatest contribution is to liberate people from fear. We are being told, “If you don’t let us strip search you, the terrorists will win.” “Ownership makes you a person.” “If you run out of capital you don’t exist anymore.” Community is the key to breaking that fear. By rebuilding community, we have brought back the sense that if the system abandons you or if you abandon the system in search of something better, you will not lose your value. We validate each other and give each other the strength to keep contributing. We can build a world that makes sense – whether the people in power want that to happen or not.
Lila York is a choreographer and activist. She has traded the markets since 1990.