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Air Occupy Interview with Noam Chomsky, 12/11/12

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LM: - Occupy Our Homes, especially in Atlanta and Minnesota, but also all over the United States, and there's a lot of conversations that are going on on hubs like It feels to me like its been an organic community action, and people talking to each other, and I was just wondering if you could speak to the newest developments?

Professor Chomsky: Actually, that book you mentioned is really a collection of talks and interviews. The Occupy movement began last September, September a year ago. It was a brilliant tactic. I was surprised; frankly, i would never have guessed that it would have worked. But I was wrong - it worked very well. But tactics are tactics. They have a kind of half-life. They don't go on, and you can't use them forever. They lose their efficacy. They just don't achieve anything after a certain point. Even just the actual "occupy" tactic couldn't really be carried on for very long. Like in most places, you couldn't carry it on over the winter. It's just impossible. So I think a move had to be made - and by last winter, it was beginning to be made - towards diversifying the activities, reaching out beyond the kind of people who were able to sit in Zuccotti Park, or Dewey Square, or where ever it is for day after day in tents. Not a lot of people can do that. Reach out to communities, to other sectors of the population, and try actually to engage the "ninety-nine percent" in these activities and these long-term programs. And the kind of things you've mentioned are steps in that direction, very healthy steps. I think that's the way the movement ought to be developing.

You can never predict where a popular movement is going, and how it's going to succeed. That's never been possible. It's not possible now, and you couldn't have predicted that for the Civil Rights movement, the Antiwar movement, the Womens movement, anything. But this one has been pretty successful, I think. In fact, surprisingly so, to me. And it has a lot of potential, but I think it is going to have to go in the kinds of directions you mentioned. Also, spreading out into neighborhoods. There were these Occupy the Hoods efforts, which I don't know how far they've gone, but I thought they were a very good idea. There was at one point an Occupy the Dream movement; that was an interesting one that brought together Occupy activists and activists from the old Civil Rights movement. The dream that they were talking about comes out of the Civil Rights movement. It's not the dream that we hear about on Martin Luther King Day, his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, but his actual dream of the one that he worked on until the end of his life, and that he expressed again in a very eloquent speech just before he was assassinated. The dream that there would be a general movement of the poor - not a civil rights movement. He called it a human rights movement. A movement of the poor for the things that people have a need and a right to like housing, and food, and decent jobs, and so on. That's the dream. And Occupy the Dream was a way of bringing together the Civil Rights movement, which achieved a lot, but then was aborted as soon as it began to turn to class issues. Revive that, and link it up with the Occupy movements and many others that have developed in recent years, and that could be a major popular movement. Occupy the Dream was a good slogan, but it has to be implemented. There are lots of other things that are very important, like the things you mentioned -- foreclosure, the Sandy rehabilitation, and so on.

JB: I wonder if you might speak a little bit more about the need to build coalitions like that. I've always viewed Occupy as sort of a cathartic reaction to the financial circumstances and viewed it as sort of an umbrella of lots of different grievances that people in the park had, and how we've linked those up whether it be labor concerns, environmental concerns. I think there was some orthodoxies at some of the camps that people were afraid that OWS would be co-opted and the ideology of OWS - what ever that was at the time - was going to be spoiled somehow by including other groups, progressive groups.

Professor Chomsky: You know, this is not a membership movement, so I don't know what it means exactly to include or exclude other groups. If people want to participate, great. They may participate with the same kind of general goals but specific interests. Like should you include foreclosure movements? Yeah, I think you should, even though they are not the same as the effort to institute a financial transaction tax, which would be very important for dealing with fiscal problems. But it doesn't get anywhere because the banks don't like it. Crucially - here I agree with you totally - it has to include the Labor movement. Unless the Labor movement is revitalized - and its under severe attack right now, I saw it again up in Michigan a couple days ago and today - the Labor movement is under severe attack. Unless it is revitalized the way it was in the 1930's, it's very unlikely that there will be a really mass popular movement that will be successful.

Actually, you see this elsewhere, too. In Egypt, for example, it is not talked about much, but a core participant in the Tahrir Square demonstrations, the other uprisings, a core participant is the Labor movement that has been a very militant force for a long time. And when it joined and began to participate, it really began a mass movement. That's what's happened in the past in our own history. It happened in the 1930's, it happened in the late 1800's. The United States happens to have a very violent and repressive labor history, much more so than other industrial counties. This is a business-run society to an unusual extent. There have been several, very large militant popular movements based on labor and in earlier years, on farmers. The biggest popular, democratic, radical movement in American history was the Populist movement based on the Farmers' Alliance and the Knights of Labor, a huge labor movement. The Farmers Alliance was based in Texas, which was the center of radical, agrarian activism and pretty radical, incidentally. Shows you how the world has changed. That was crushed by force and by racial strategies to divide people. The Labor movement was virtually dead by the 1920's, revived significantly in the 1930's. That's the main force that led behind the New Deal legislation and the fairly successful economic development period in the 1950's and 1960's. Greatest growth in American history, an egalitarian growth and so on. That was also the background for the achievements of the 1960's. That's been under severe attack and the Occupy movement ought to be working really hard to link up with it. Those are collaborations that I think are going to have to be crucial.

LM: I have a question for you, and this one comes from actually one of our listeners. It's about the recent organization of "unskilled" labor, such as workers in the fast food industry and Walmart workers, and whether you see that as possibly the future and a way to revitalize the labor movement.

Professor Chomsky: Yeah, certainly is. Things like that have happened over and over. Remember the Farm Workers' Union which developed in the early 70's. These were poorest of the poor. That is happening right now in Florida with tomato workers; it's happening with Walmart's workers. These are sectors that want to be organized and have a right to be organized, have definite and legitimate demands, and they should be linked up with other popular movements. I mean, take something as simple as the minimum wage, which places a kind of a floor under survivable existence. It's not so much, but at least you can survive on it. For years, after the New Deal right through the 50s and the 60s - this relative egalitarian period - the minimum wage was linked to productivity of labor. Which is just right. The more that people produce, the more the wage ought to go up. Not just into the pockets of rich bankers, but into the pockets of working people. That's what the minimum wage does. Starting in the 70s, in particular under the Reagan backlash, this changed. By now the minimum wage is way below the productivity level. In fact, if those policies - the New Deal and post-New Deal policies - if they'd been continued to the present, the minimum wage now would be almost 25 dollars.

LM: Unbelievable.

Professor Chomsky: And that's the minimum wage, the point of and level of survivability. Well, you know what wages are like now. These are very specific goals that ought to be achieved, and I think it can get mass support, including the kinds of people the questioner is asking about, who are in fact carrying out courageous and extensive activism now, like the farm workers did in the early 70's. Of course, they were under plenty of attack. Those people who are old enough to remember will recall Ronald Reagan when he was the Governor of California, very ostentatiously eating lettuce in public at the time when there was a lettuce boycott to show his contempt for working people and his hatred of the poor. That was considered a great thing on the right.

SM: You talked about growing up in the 1930's, and people working together, an overall sense of hope that we could get through it together, and that that's lacking now. I presume because of the propaganda, the public dialogue that just demonized anyone who is not rich.

Professor Chomsky: has demonized? - sorry, demonized who?

SM: Anyone who is not rich, you are a failure...

Professor Chomsky:  Oh, yeah - you know, if you can go back 150 years - this is an old story in the United States - go back 150 years to the origins of the Industrial Revolution, right around eastern Massachusetts, where I am. Working people bitterly opposed the way in which industrialization was being carried out. There were powerful working class forces then. They had a labor press, maybe the freest press in American history, which was very lively written by working people, a lot of it written by young women coming in from the farms to the then textile plants, the old factory girls, and it is very interesting to read. They were pretty radical. They thought that those who work in the mills should own them. They denounced the industrial system for taking away their rights, for turning them into machines, for depriving them of their culture. In fact, they had a high culture. But one of the things they denounced was what they called the "new spirit of the age": gain wealth, forgetting all but self. That's 150 years ago -

SM: Wow.

Professor Chomsky: It was an effort then to impose the "new spirit of the age," just what you described: gain wealth, forget about anyone else. Well, it has been 150 years of massive efforts to drive that pathological concept into people's heads, and it continually gets resisted because it's totally inhuman. But it eats away, it has an effect.

By now you see it in various places, and it shows up in policy formation. So for example, there's a major attack on social security and public schools. Okay, why? Well, I think that one of them is claimed to be an economic problem, but it isn't. If you look closely, that's a farce. But I think the main reason is just this: social security is based on the principle that you care about other people. So if there's a disabled widow across town who doesn't have any food, you care about her. Not if you accept the "new spirit of the age," then you don't care about her. And that concept of solidarity and concern for others, that has to be driven out of people's heads. Public schools, it's the same. I don't have kids in school anymore. In fact, I don't even have grandchildren in school anymore. So if I accept this doctrine, why should I pay taxes? What do I care if the kid across the street goes to school? Well, if you want a pathological society, yeah, that's right. If you want a society that's moderately humane and civilized, it's outrageous. That struggle is going on constantly. It is a leading factor of deep-seeded American, right, conservative propaganda. You can't even say its conservative because it's pretty much across the board. I hear it from students at the University: why should I care about anyone else?
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The attack on labor benefits from this. The attack on labor uses other propaganda techniques. Take what's happening in Michigan where the right wing, which happens to control the state legislature, is trying to ram through what is called a "right to work law." If you ask people on the streets, should there be a "right to work law," they say sure, why shouldn't people have a right to work? But that name is not what the law is about. What the law is about is the right of workers to get the benefits of unions, union protection, but not to pay for it. So it is the right to scrounge. That's exactly what a right to work law is. If you have a state that has a right to work law, if you have a unionized factory, the workers have been able to get maybe decent contracts, decent wages, safety protections, pensions, and so on. If they get that through organized activity through the union, then if somebody says look I don't want to pay my union dues, but I want those protections, that's what the right to work law allows. Well, if it was described that way, it wouldn't sound so attractive. In fact, quite the contrary. But the name is never questioned. In fact, you have to look hard to find this analysis, although it's not profound, it's right below the surface. In two minutes thought, you can see it, but fact that's not what you are presented with.

JB: The right to work for less.

Professor Chomsky: Yeah, listen I'm sorry but I have to leave - I have another interview coming along.

JB: Great - well, we really appreciate your time and your insights.

Professor Chomsky: Good to talk to you - Bye.

LM & SM: Thank you.

JB: Take care - Bye.
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Liz Myers is one of 3 co-hosts of Air Occupy radio show, broadcast every Tuesday at 11 am ET from Daytona Beach, FL on WELE Goliath Radio 1380 AM and online at Liz has a J.D. from the University of California, Davis School of (more...)

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Air Occupy Interview with Noam Chomsky, 12/11/12


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Read this interview with Noam Chomsky.  ... by Liz Myers on Monday, Jan 14, 2013 at 3:09:19 AM