The Washington encampment, like many Occupy encampments, has had to deal with those the wider society has discarded -- the homeless, the mentally ill, the destitute and those whose lives have been devastated by substance abuse. This created a huge burden for the organizers, who decided that they were not equipped or able to deal with these wider, societal problems. The encampment in Washington's Freedom Plaza enforces strict rules of behavior, including an insistence on sobriety, in order to endure through the winter and ensure its own survival. Other Occupy movements will have to do the same.
"We don't want to become a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter," Zeese said. "We're a political movement. These are problems beyond our ability. How do we deal with this? Let's feed the Occupiers first, and those who are just squatting here for free get food last, so if we have enough food, we feed them. If we don't, we can't. We always fed people, of course. We usually have enough peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone. But as we debated this issue, we stated talking about things like 'how about a Freedom Plaza badge, or a Freedom Plaza wristband, or a Freedom Plaza card.' None of those ideas were passed. What we ended up developing was a set of principles. Those principles included in them participation. You can't be there because you want a [tent] or free food. You have to be there to build the community and the movement. You have to participate in the general assemblies."
"The first principles, of course, were nonviolence and non-property destruction," he said. "We don't accept violent language. When you're violent you undermine everything. If the protesters in [Manhattan's] Union Square, who were pepper-sprayed, had been throwing something at the police, you would not have had the movement. It was because they were nonviolent and didn't react when they were being pepper-sprayed that the movement grew. At UC Davis, when those cops just walked down the line and sprayed, the nonviolent reaction by those kids was fantastic."
"We constantly kept hearing in the beginning what are our demands, what are our demands, is our demand to meet with Obama?" Zeese said. 'We said: 'Oh no, that would just be a waste. If we meet with Obama he'll just get a picture opportunity out of that. We won't get anything.' You don't make demands until you have power. If you make demands too soon, you don't demand enough and you can't enforce the demand that you get. So if you get promised an election, you can't enforce that the ballots are counted right, for example. We realized late into our discussions -- we had six months of planning, so four months into it -- 'we don't have the power to make a demand.' That was very hard for a lot of our people to accept."
"Instead of making demands, we put up what we stood for, what principles we wanted to see," he said. "The overarching demand was end corporate rule, shift power to the people. Once you make that as your demand, as your pinnacle, you can pick any issue -- energy, health care, elections -- and the solution becomes evident. For health care it's get the insurance companies out from between doctors and patients; on finance it's break up the big banks so that six banks don't control 60 percent of the economy and break them up into community banks so that the money stays at home rather than going to Wall Street; energy is to diversify energy sources so people can build and have their own energy on their roof and become energy producers. The overarching goal was: End corporate rule, shift power to the people. We developed a slogan: 'Human needs before corporate greed.' After that, everything fell into place for us."
When the congressional super committee was meeting, the Occupy Washington movement formed its own super committee. The Occupy Super Committee, which managed to get its hearing aired on CSPAN, included experts on the wealth divide, fair taxation, the military budget, job creation, health care and democratizing the economy as well as giving voice to the 99 percent. "The 99%'s Deficit Proposal: How to create jobs, reduce the wealth divide and control spending" resulted from the Occupy hearing. The report made evidence-based recommendations Zeese knew would not be considered by the Congress, but he saw it as foundational for the movement.
"History shows the demands made by those in revolt are never initially considered by government," he said. "Our job is to make the politically impossible the politically inevitable."
I do not know how long it will take to dethrone the corporate state, but I do know it is a dead and terminal system of power. As the global economy deteriorates and climate change causes greater disruptions, these corporations will be increasingly discredited. I know the iron grip of corporations over our lives will, eventually, be broken. The corporate state will, like all wounded animals, lash out with a blind fury, which is why I suspect we have been given the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the military to arrest and hold U.S. citizens without due process. It will increase pressure to become crueler and more callous at the base of the columns it depends on for survival. And eventually it will break. No one knows how long this will take. It could be months, years, maybe even a decade, although the massive assault by the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem will probably force a popular response sooner than we expect. The only question is how much damage these corporations will be permitted to inflict.
I attended a rally Friday night in Foley Square, a few blocks from the criminal court where I had spent the morning. It was part of the Occupy the Courts event held across the nation to protest America's corporate coup and the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. It was cold and blustery. Snow was on the way. Many in the crowd of a couple of hundred were visibly chilled. I spoke about the movement. I spoke about the lawsuit I have brought against Barack Obama and the secretary of defense to challenge the National Defense Authorization Act. I spoke about the inevitability of the Occupy movement.
I realized, afterward, I had forgotten to say what was most important. I forgot to say thank you. Thank you for standing up to corporate power on a cold winter's night. Thank you for making hope visible. You must never underestimate your power. I was sentenced in the day. I was exonerated in the night.
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