By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
The Occupy Movement that developed in 2011 profoundly shook the foundation of the 1%. Almost instantly a new form of political power was created, all truly grown from the grass roots, and handed the 99% some REAL political capital for the first time in decades, and installed the Occupy Movement as a force to be reckoned with. Next spring promises to see more growth of this movement as the economy continues to stagnate and the government continues its dysfunction. Already, the Occupy Movement it showing its political independence: protesting candidates from both parties who are part of corrupt money-based elections. The irrelevance of the political debate, primarily between two-corporate approved candidates, will become more evident as the voices of the people grow.
How We Got Here
No doubt every occupier has their own story, this is ours. On December 16, 2010 we joined with Veterans for Peace and other organizations in an anti-war protest. The theme of the protest was developing a "culture of resistance' in the United States . Many of us spoke that day about the need for resistance, perhaps none more clearly than noted author Chris Hedges who said "Hope will only come when we resist the violence of the state. . . . those who resist here today with non-violence are the last thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration." That day 132 Americans, mostly veterans, were arrested standing against the corporate-military state that the United States has become.
The next day, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable vendor in Sidi Bouzid, a poor town of 40,000 people located in the center of Tunisia, set himself on fire in front of the municipal building seeking redress for police abuse. Bouazizi's death highlighted an unfair economy that created a life of poverty and misery for many in Tunisia, similar to many around the world. Police corruption and brutality that enforced the unfair economy sparked his suicide. His mother told TIME Magazine that his death "was about his dignity. Dignity before bread. Mohammad's first concern was his dignity." His death ignited a rebellion that toppled the 23 year old autocratic rule of Zine Ben Ali in less than one month.
The Tunisian revolution sparked revolutions that became known as the Arab Spring. Most notable was the still-ongoing Egyptian Revolution which began on January 25th receiving wall-to-wall coverage in the United States. Al-Jazeera reported a 2,500% increase in web viewership during the revolt, with more than half of the upsurge coming from the U.S. By February 11th the long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak had resigned. The Arab Spring led to a European summer, especially notable in Spain and Greece -- these rebellions also continue.
While these uprisings were occurring, the United States was already in revolt but for the most part it was not covered by the media. The media did take note of the occupation of the capitol in Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent in Ohio and Michigan, but those were the tip of the iceberg of a widespread revolt. There were protests multiple times a week on a range of issues including closings of schools, tuition increases, mountain top removal for coal, austerity measures, health care, banking, foreclosures, failure of big business to pay taxes, climate change, war, torture, Bradley Manning -- the issues and actions go on and on. There is a sampling of protest videos in this article, It Can Be Done. Now is the Time, published in July to convince people that the time was right to successfully occupy Freedom Plaza.
Even though all of this was occurring, those of us organizing the occupation of Freedom Plaza were still not sure if the American people were ready to stand up against the power of concentrated wealth that had corrupted the government. On July 13th when Ad Busters published a blog calling for "20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months," we were not sure whether this would detract or be synergistic with the Occupation of Washington, DC. After a brief discussion, we quickly reached consensus and on July 19 endorsed the action . We decided to do all we could to help it succeed, issuing a joint statement of endorsement with one of the OWS organizing groups on August 8. Organizers from Occupy Washington, DC went to the assemblies in New York to participate in making plans for OWS. Many of us were there on the first day and some stayed until our occupation began on October 6.
While 20,000 did not show up on Wall Street, a small but persistent group of people did sleep in the park and show commitment to the cause of holding the wealthy accountable. This combined with New York City police abusing their power and pepper spraying non-violent protesters who were already in their custody; and then making mass arrests of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge, led to an explosion of hundreds of occupies throughout the country . More than 1,200 Occupy camps sprang up quickly around the nation and the world. This TIME "Person of the Year" protest awakened Americans to their common economic struggles and the power of their solidarity.
The Occupy Movement had gotten the attention of the nation. The first few months had a noticeable, even dramatic, impact on the public discourse, but the first few months were not without their problems. Occupies were not ready for dealing with many of the problems that exist in our unfair economy -- homelessness, mass poverty, crime and violence -- all existing problems which were drawn to occupy sites. Decades of policies that funnel wealth to the top left many in the nation abused, beaten down and battered. The Occupies had the challenge of dealing with those injured Americans.
Occupiers were torn between taking care of as many of the 99% as they could and building an effective political movement and safe encampments. At Freedom Plaza, we invited the homeless and hungry for a community dinner in the first few days of our encampment. We quickly learned that societal and individual problems beyond our control came with them. After weeks of trying to deal with the issues we had several General Assemblies discussing the problems. We decided on a set of principles and a community occupant form that people had to sign which included those principles:
Agreement on Principles and Rules:
As an occupant of Freedom Plaza, I agree to the following principles and rules. I understand that a breach of these principles and/or rules may be reason for expulsion. I have received and understand the peacemaker process that is available in case of a dispute, and I understand that certain behaviors such as not participating in the community or violence and drug or alcohol use will result in immediate expulsion.
1. I will use my anger at injustice as a positive, nonviolent force for change.
2. I will not carry weapons of any kind.
3. I will not vandalize, destroy or steal property.