Sleeping Under The Cell Tower
With so much taxpayer money being spent on bailing out the very corporations who were causing so much suffering for so many people, there was inevitably a public backlash against the big banks and their rapacious ways. The sentiment behind what would soon be familiar Occupy Wall Street chants like “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” was welling up as Main Street reeled while the“too big to fail” corporations got rescued. All across the nation and around the world more and more people were standing up and speaking out against what they perceived as an unjust economic order that prioritizes profits over people and rewards bad actors while punishing the most vulnerable among us. The crisis even sparked protests in Serbia where the dinar, the local currency, had lost over 20 percent of its value in just under three months. Even Serbian people were paying for America’s financial imprudence. People were starting to ask: If this is really a free market system,then why are we the people compelled to rescue banks and other companies that can’t keep afloat on the merits of their own policies and actions? What’s so free about “free” markets like that? What are the forces that lead to such a sad state of affairs and how can we ensure that policies are enacted that would avert such a disaster in the future?
Some even dared ask if capitalism was irredeemable, and if another, more just world was possible without capitalism. I wasn’t ready to take such a leap. I believed then, as I do now, that capitalism paired with democracy is the best system that this species of talking monkeys has been able to devise over the course of its relatively short evolution. I believe that our best hope for averting future financial crises (and the ravages of runaway economic inequality in general), is to put into place robust checks, balances, and regulations that would, if properly implemented and managed,help stabilize markets and avoid disaster. Unregulated capitalism is all the more dangerous when you consider the revolving door between politics and business — in which former government regulators go on to work in the private sector and vice versa. This is a classic example of the fox guarding the henhouse.
As I hinted, one of the silver linings of the Great Recession was the beginning of what would eventually come to be known as the Occupy Wall Street movement. Only activists would probably remember this, but the whole idea for OWS originally came from a call to action by the self described“culture jammers” at the relatively obscure Canadian anti-consumerism magazine Adbusters who proposed an “occupation” of Wall Street. Here’s how Adbusters editors Kalle Lasn and Micah White kicked it all off in an email to their readers:Alright you 90,000 redeemers, rebels, and radicals out there,A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future. The spirit of this fresh tactic, a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain, is captured in this quote:
“The anti-globalization movement was the first step on the road. Back then our model was to attack the system like a pack of wolves. There was an alpha male, a wolf who led the pack, and those who followed behind. Now the model has evolved.Today we are one big swarm of people.”
— Raimundo Viejo, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain
The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: We talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people’s assemblies … we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future … and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Oncethere, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.Tahrir succeeded in large part because the people of Egypt made a straight forward ultimatum — that Mubarak must go — over and over again until they won.Following this model, what is our equally uncomplicated demand?The most exciting candidate that we’ve heard so far is one that gets at the core of why the American political establishment is currently unworthy of being called a democracy: We demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.It’s time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we’re doomed without it.This demand seems to capture the current national mood because cleaning up corruption in Washington is something all Americans, right and left, yearn for and can stand behind. If we hang in there, 20,000-strong, week after week against every police and National Guard effort to expel us from Wall Street, it would be impossible for Obama to ignore us. Our government would be forced to choose publicly between the will of the people and the lucre of the corporations.This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand — a presidential commission to separate money from politics — we start setting the agenda for a newAmerica.Post a comment and help each other zero in on what our one demand will be. Andthen let’s screw up our courage, pack our tents and head to Wall Street with a vengeance September 17, for the wild.
Culture Jammers HQ
Thousands of people showed up in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, which was soon permanently occupied for months by the “99 Percent.” The Occupy movement caught fire and before long a global movement of the “99 Percent” rose up to oppose hyper-capitalism and the economic inequality it sows wherever it goes. As someone who has been politically active since I was ateenager, I had felt the Occupy spirit percolating since those panicked days as financial giants fell in the fall of 2008.
I feel I should be clear about something here. While I may have been active in the Occupy movement and some of the campaigns that preceded it, I do not believe that capitalism is inherently evil, nor do I believe that the world would be better off without it. At least not in this day and age.That doesn’t mean I can’t oppose unethical or illegal acts committed by capitalists. While it should be obvious to you by now that the founder of a company called BizCloud is no anti-capitalist agitator, I couldn’t deny what I was seeing before my very eyes; that is, the devastating effects of unregulated corporate capitalism. These forces had bought off the political and regulatory systems meant to keep them in check; I felt that I had to do something to at least tell the world that hey, I see what’s going on and I’m not just going to stand by and watch it happen. Free enterprise is all welland good, but what our system has morphed into is heavy on the enterprise part but has forgotten the “free.”
Equilibrium needs to be restored to capitalism in order to save it from the worst aspects of itself. This is the angle from which I approached the Occupy movement: not as a destroyer of capitalism, but as a much-needed reality and balance check. A return to center was long overdue.I was in Belgrade at the time but the Green Movement had also started in earnest in Iran and I wanted to get involved with that too. Many Iranians were courageously demanding the removal of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the sham election of 2009. They braved beatings and bullets as they took to the streets to demand an end to tyranny and corruption and to ask, “where is my vote?”
There was, in those heady but short-lived days, a spirit of unity and hope among Iranians that hadn’t been seen in decades. It was the largest uprising in Iran since the Islamic revolution 30 years earlier— and the authorities responded with a bloody crackdown that left many dead, including Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old philosophy student whose shooting death, captured on cell phone camera, shocked the conscience of the world.