Occupy This, Demand That

I am just back from a quick trip to Lexington, Kentucky. I had an unusual speaking engagement there, invited by groups that work to mitigate the pain and hardship of poverty and the economic crisis. Some of the people were grass roots activists. Some were poor and working people who relate to the projects. And some, very different in kind, were donors. The trip, you might imagine, was a mixed bag. But perhaps the high point was hearing from some folks working on Occupy Lexington, and hearing from them, as well, what they were beginning to hear about Occupy Louisville. They had many questions on the problems that arise in such endeavors. But the main thing for me was their energy, desire, focus and especially their awareness that what is needed is longevity. Kentucky? There is something happening here, there, and increasingly, everywhere. 


Two things kept recurring in those discussions, and in some emails I have been getting from Greece and Spain. One concern involves demands. What do we want, now? The second concern is about occupation, per se. How long does it make sense to bring people to some central location – a location hard for many to reach and return to, and often quite distant from their daily lives, albeit brilliantly chosen to resonate widely, as in the Wall Street occupation? 



Occupy This?!


Diverse thoughts are percolating on these matters. For example, what to Occupy is a question not solely in the Wall Street effort and emerging efforts around the U.S., but in Spain and Greece, too, who are much further along in the process. The inclination emerging is clear. Let's keep the city square as an occupied zone, but let's also diversify. For example, why not have occupations in parts of our city? Why not have occupations in our neighborhoods. And much more to the point, why not have assemblies in our neighborhoods? 


So, once a week, the reasoning goes, or on whatever schedule turns out to make sense, everyone assembles from city wide, taking mutual strength and mutual aid. But afterward, most of those folks return to their own neighborhoods and work hard to create venues of discussion and resistance and then governance there, with their neighbors? When the Wall Street action started, there weren't many people. Indeed, there are likely more people now from the Bronx and Brooklyn and so on, than there were at the outset, from the whole city. So why not start anew, creating feeder occupations? 


The benefits are twofold. It is a whole lot of work, but it is work that reaches out to incorporate more people, and that, of course, is what's needed. If this approach proves popular, once there are local occupations and assemblies, way more people can attend and, when they get together, they can arrive at plans for their locale that are manageable, and, most important, that can be implemented largely by their own efforts. The project starts to become one that is about taking over not a square in a city, but parts of society, as well as protesting and resisting. 


I think from what I have heard, this is where things are headed in Spain, and perhaps Greece too. So why not get a jump on a trend that will be needed here as well. This isn't to skip steps, though. First there is a city wide occupation to get numbers, confidence, and practices in place. Then, when ready, there is diversification and multiplication with subgroups developing local feeder occupations. 



Demand That?!


And what about demands? As with diversifying locales, this can be done too fast, of course. But it can also be done too slowly. At some point, coherence includes some degree of clarity. This is not least so people know what they are getting into. But it is also so people can start raising costs for elites that pressure desired outcomes. 


Of course demands in one city may not be what they are in another, or even in one neighborhood and another. So a full program is not something that spans a state, much less the U.S. On the other hand, are there a few demands that do make sense throughout an occupation movement? Of course there are. In fact, anyone at the Wall Street Occupation, or other emerging occupations, could list many worthy demands. So how does one pick? Well, a good demand resonates and educates. A short list would sensibly address the issues most inducing people's anger and desire. It would raise awareness, generate excitement, and create a context for seeking much more. 


So what is making people angry? Based on hearing folks in many places, there are three main things. First, the economy – in particular budget cuts and unemployment. Second, the media that sucks the life out of reality to deliver pap, fear, and empty jargon. And third – war. It is good for less than nothing. It kills, maims, corrupts, and is an endless spigot draining energy and labor and resources to profit the few.


Others might have a different list, maybe better, and that's what the assemblies are for: To talk about it. Think about it. And find out what resonates, and not just with those who have already turned out. It is even more important to resonate with those who are not yet involved. Remember that a list that means to serve the whole new occupation movement doesn't need to address everything because each city, region, and neighborhood will add its own locally motivated and relevant features to fill out its local agenda. So what is needed for the whole is just a really good (not perfect) short list that inspires and informs.


How about then, as a try at some demands for the economy, just two: Fair and Full Employment and Budget Humanization?


Fair and Full Employment could go like this. Suppose demand is down, 25% below what output would be if everyone was working. One option to make labor match demand is for 25% to not work. That is fixing the crisis in a way that weakens working people and the poor. Here is an opposite option. Everyone works, but for only three quarters as long as folks were working before. In this way output matches demand but with full employment. 


However, there is a problem. If working people suddenly work a quarter less than before, and they keep the same hourly wage, then they earn a quarter less than before. That would be pretty horrible. Okay, instead everyone works three quarters of the usual duration, but they do it for full wages, which means for one third more per hour.  


Except, those who were earning a whole lot already, let's say $100,000 a year or more, don't need to get, nor do they deserve, an hourly raise. So they don't get it. They work a fourth less hours and they also get a fourth less pay (so their hourly pay rate is unchanged). Now we have full employment and fairer work – because it is more justly remunerated, albeit not perfectly, yet. 


When the economy picks back up, working people are stronger, not weaker, because they are all employed. So who loses? Well, the top twenty percent in income work less and also get less – which is hard to call losing considering their high incomes. But, the top two percent still profits but quite a bit less, because they are paying all that extra in wages relative to output. It is all good. It all moves in the right direction and paves the way to move further. Working people get more leisure. People who deserve it due to being underpaid get more income per hour, and also become more powerful. Owners lose income and power. This is the way to get out of a crisis while improving the lot of those who deserve improvement.


What about media? 


Well, since current media sucks, any remotely thoughtful change is pretty likely to have some merit. But how about this? A media campaign, Press the Press, demands that every newspaper – from little towns to the Washington Post and New York Times – and that every radio station, and every TV station, all have to initiate a labor section of the paper or station – you know, like a sports section, or an obituary section, or a comics section, or the finance pages – which covers the situation and especially the desires and actions of workers on behalf of working people. More, the board in charge of the labor section is elected from the workforce in the relevant communities and the structure of decision making and payments for the workers in the labor section are what they, not the owners of the paper or tv station, decide – with the section's overall budget the same as that of the sports section, say, or the financial section.


What about the budget? 


Everyone knows what to do. Move some large percentage that is now spent on war and military boondoggles to socially beneficial uses like education, health care, housing, and infrastructure. This is materially good and empowering for those in need, and it is good for cutting back the war machine, of course. 


Who carries out the new building, the new educating, the new infrastructure development? Here is a notion. We have a whole lot of largely young people in the military. We don't call them unemployed, but there is a very real sense in which they are because their product is more harmful than it is beneficial. So cutting back the military by half – or more – includes an issue regarding lots of military bases. What are they to do? How about social projects? How about literacy campaigns? How about building low income housing, fixing leaks in homes, fixing infrastructure, putting up solar panels? (In fact, the first recipients of all this could be the soldiers doing the building.) You know all those ads about join the Marines, learn a skill. Let's make it, learn a skill that is worthy of you – and not how to kill. 


Okay, I admit, I am winging it. And I am not even going to try to polish the above – supposing I even could. There is no need to do that. The cleverness and wisdom circulating in the occupations, especially as they grow large enough and diversified enough to have demands, will have no trouble making a list like this


My main message is just that as with thinking about diversifying toward more local occupations that begin governing neighborhoods, thinking about having a short list of powerful and instructive demands is something worth considering. 

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