Occupy, for the beginning is nigh


"There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization." Kurt Vonnegut
 
"We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated." Noam Chomsky
 
If we don't take action now
We'll settle for nothing later
We settle for nothing now
And we'll settle for nothing later
 Rage Against the Machine

The Beginning is Near 672
 

We have a lot of problems. War. Poverty. Racism. Homophobia. Sexism. Patriarchy. Climate Change. Unemployment. Income inequality. Political corruption. Economic corruption. It goes on and on and on.

Outside of the fact that for far too long we have been conditioned by a finely-tuned corporate propaganda system aimed at turning us into mindless, atomized, sedentary, flag-sucking consumers and spectators, one of the biggest problems we face, and which seems to be what has provoked the Occupy movements, is the inequitable distribution of wealth from the poor to the super rich. The top 1% have nearly 40% of the nations wealth, while the bottom 40% only have one-third of one percent.

Wealth disparity has never been consistent. It changes over time. In his day, Thomas Jefferson understood the problem of wealth disparity for he, and others from the Enlightenment era, understood that wealth was political power. It’s the golden rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules. For Jefferson, wealth was, much like it is today, defined by ownership of productive property. In a letter to James Madison he defined progressive taxation as the solution.

Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.

Now there is a novel idea: the poor should pay no taxes, while the rich should pay in “geometric” progression as related to their wealth. The logic is simple: those who have less can spare less; those who have more can spare more. And Thomas Jefferson was not alone with these thoughts. Even Adam Smith, the founding father of capitalism, shared them.

Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.

Smith could be talking about why the Occupy movements exist. And like Jefferson, Smith saw progressive taxation as a solution.

It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Smith also said that,

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

As well as:

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

Even former President Andrew Jackson was aware of the problem of the rich using government to make them richer while exploiting the working class when he said that, “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.”

In what sounds similar to Eisenhower’s farewell speech where upon Ike warned that, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Jackson also warned of powerful interests that "endangered" the nation: "The banks . . . save themselves, and the mischievous consequences of their imprudence or cupidity are visited upon the public. Nor does the evil stop here."

Jackson went on to talk about how, "Many powerful interests are continually at work," and have "succeeded" at getting government to shape policies that were "bearing most oppressively on the agricultural and laboring classes of society."

The planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer all know that their success depends upon their own industry and economy and that they must not expect to become suddenly rich by the fruits of their toil. Yet these classes of society form the great body of the people of the United States; they are the bone and sinew of the country; men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws and who, moreover, hold the great mass of our national wealth, although it is distributed in moderate amounts among the millions of freemen who possess it. But, with overwhelming numbers and wealth on their side, they are in constant danger of losing their fair influence in the government, and with difficulty maintain their just rights against the incessant efforts daily made to encroach upon them.

The mischief springs from the power which the moneyed interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control; from the multitude of corporations with exclusive privileges which they have succeeded in obtaining in the different states and which are employed altogether for their benefit; and unless you become more watchful in your states and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will, in the end, find that the most important powers of government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.

Of course, the working class, who Jackson called the "the bone and sinew of the country," no longer "hold the great mass of our national wealth," even if, "it is distributed in moderate amounts among the millions of freemen who possess it." The bottom 50% account for 2% of the nations wealth, and the bottom 40% have 0.3%. Whereas the top 20% enjoy 84% of our wealth, the top 1% account for a third. But Jackson is right, unless we "check" economic power they will continue to "bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.”

But, going further still, the former president remarked that, “The men who profit by the abuses and desire to perpetuate them will continue to besiege the halls of legislation in the general government as well as in the states and will seek, by every artifice, to mislead and deceive the public servants,” and that, “So many interests are united to resist all reform on this subject that you must not hope the conflict will be a short one nor success easy.”

President Jackson also said that in his “parting counsels,” he wanted to warn that, “Knowing that the path of freedom is continually beset by enemies who often assume the disguise of friends.”

According to Jackson, we “have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad.” Rather, the enemy we face “is from within . . . from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition and inordinate thirst for power—that factions will be formed and liberty endangered.”

James Madison, who was president before Jackson, predicted in 1791 that,

The stock-jobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it by clamours and combinations.

These ideas of fair pay and that the real enemy are the rich who exploit the working class are nothing new in American history. It’s just been forgotten.

So what has been going on to create such inequitable distribution of wealth?

One factor is property relations. Allowing private ownership of productive property to reward people with more money even if they don’t work as hard as those who literally make the wealth is an important part of explaining how the rich have hoarded all the wealth. It is a serious problem in itself and hopefully one that this movement will address as it grows. Because it's not just our wealth that is impacted by property rights, our "instinct for freedom" (Mikhail Bakunin) is affected to. Another important figure from the Enlightenment era who understood this was Wilhelm von Humboldt, a German philosopher.

Freedom is undoubtedly the indispensable condition without which even the pursuits most congenial to individual human nature can never succeed in producing such salutary influences. Whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being but remains alien to his true nature. He does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness. And if a man acts in a mechanical way, reacting to external demands or instruction, rather than in ways determined by his own interests and energies and power, we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.

When a minority own society's productive assets and make the rest of us sell our labor in order to make them profits we are forced to act "in a mechanical way, reacting to external demands or instruction, rather than in ways determined by" our ow "interestes and energies and power." We are what former President Abraham Lincoln would call "wage slaves."

Another factor is that taxes for the rich and corporations have been lowered considerably over the last forty years. In fact, if we reverted back to the tax rates for top earners, corporations and excise duties as they were in the 1950s there would be no deficit. It is no wonder that we have budget issues, and is outrageous that our government would waste trillions on wars and bail outs and give tax cuts to the rich, and then look to the working poor with "austerity measures."

Now some say the rich are "job creators" and that giving them tax cuts and redistributing wealth from the poor and working class to them enables them to invest in more jobs, but after four decades of such maldistribution of wealth the obvious question hangs in the air: What gives? Where are the jobs? We should be turning employers down and beating them off with sticks if the argument was valid.

"Officially," unemployment is close to 10% but it's probably closer to 20%. Poverty in America has grown to high levels with nearly 50 million now living under the Federal level. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at historic highs. If you were to look solely at corporate profits you would be puzzled at the fact that we are in the Great Recession.

Another factor in wealth inequality is that living wages for the working class have been driven down while wages for CEO's have gone up to levels unprecedented in other developed countries.

When we send our skilled jobs over seas we drive down wages. When our political and economic leaders seek to maintain an over-valued dollar, we create a trading deficit where we import more than we export, and the result is loss of good-paying jobs here so American businesses can profit off of the cheap labor of third world countries.

Right now as I write this President Obama is telling "Nightline" that he is "on our side." He is talking a lot of talk about "jobs," yet Congress just approved three "free trade" agreements (with South Korea, Panama and Colombia) that will be disastrous for American workers.

At this point in American history it should be obvious that voting is not enough. Voting is the least of our struggles. The U.S. government speaks the language of power, and there are two dialects: (1) the power of money; and (2) the power in numbers.

Considering the wealth gap between the rich and the working class it is obvious that we cannot compete with Wall Street and big business (who are the main campaign donors to the Democrats and Republicans) to influence the policies of our government. We do not have the disposable income to spend on financing their expensive campaigns and the money needed to buy them their status within government (in case you didn't know it costs a lot of pennies to purchase a spot on a congressional committee). Both parties rely on investments from the business community to fund their careers, and neither party will bite the hands that feed them. It's also worth pointing out that most members of our government belong to the 1 percent!

But we outnumber them 99 to 1!

An organized social force with a clear vision and strategy can win. From what I have gathered from the numerous Occupy events is that we have already begun asking ourselves a lot of questions like: What short term goals do we have? What long term goals do we have? How do we conduct ourselves in order to grow bigger while maintaining our independence and challenging power? The American philosopher, John Dewey is famous for having said that, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” It is an exciting time to see so many pointing out how if we are to have any success of advancing people power and making our nation a functioning democracy it will be by changing our society so that politics is NOT the shadow cast on society by big business. We can't do that by being passive-aggressive spectators, or cheerleaders for political parties, or sheep blindly playing "Follow the Leader." We have to organize and manage our own movements.

We can get their attention. We can get them to take us seriously. We can counter the influence of money in politics with people power. If we are to win any meaningful changes in our political and economic systems it will not be by voting for who gets to represent Wall Street but by occupying Wall Street and our communities, schools, workplaces and more. It is of the upmost importance that we expand Occupy to the places closest to us. The creation of neighborhood assemblies would be a tremendous step forward. We have to begin developing a culture of participatory democracy. There are ideological divisions between the participants of the Occupy movements and that is to be expected. Some of these divisions need to be addressed and not swept under the rug, but this should not get in the way of what matters most: coming together to struggle, and address our common goals. If we want good paying jobs, or to be good stewards of the planet, or to end the wars, or fight back against hatred, ignorance and bigotry, or to distribute wealth more fairly and justly . . . if we want all of that and more, then we have to keep our eyes on the prize and work together.

Another important figure in American history is Frederick Douglass, a former slave. In one of the most memorable speeches he said something that rings eternally true.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

And of course, it was Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that,

Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .

The historian Howard Zinn once noted that, "The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is." If government and business doesn't start listening they will soon find that "the People" consider them "destructive," and have begun taking Jefferson seriously.

And if that's the case, please remember one important thing: We are the 99 percent.

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