The first thing is to stop depending on self-appointed
leaders to tell us what to do and start telling them what we want to do. The
Occupy movement in the U.S. and Europe started with this great idea, but in the
U.S we have failed to capitalize on it. Occuoy activists rejected working with
established organizations out of fear of co-option, so rejected an opportunity
for co-operation. Meanwhile, activists
in these groups failed to hold their leaders responsible for listening to them.
In Europe and the Mideast, rank-and-file union members organized with ordinary citizens to demand real political change. When existing justice advocacy groups in Europe saw the opportunity to join forces in fighting austerity with mass strikes and sustained protests, governments fell throughout Europe. From Greece to Egypt, the common demominator was the fight against government corruption. These techniques of coordinated resistance are being noticed around the world, except apparently by most leaders of such groups in the U.S.
There is nothing to stop those who participated in Occupy and their supporters from organizing a true grassroots movement starting in their own communities and linking up statewide, nationally and internationally to build a united international front against fascism and war the like of which has never been seen in human history. At a time in that history like no other, when the survival of human civilization itself hangs in the balance, that is exactly what must be done to stop the expansion of a global New World Order that will make us all economic slaves at best and literal slaves of the corporatocracy at worst.
photo by Rob Kall
The unifying theme of protests from Cairo to Athens and Madrid is the control of governments by special interests that are ultimately those of international corporate terrorists who presume they have a divine right to rule over the rest of us. Those in the US who are aware of this existential threat to the prospect of democracy need to emulate the model of the rest of the world. Together, we can create a unified national and international movement to establish democracy, liberty and justice in the world. Citizens can decide how to deal with the international bankers who have destroyed their economies and now want to extract the last pound of flesh through austerity measures. They can hold their governments responsible for acting in an environmentally responsible way and assure that the basic needs of all citizens are guaranteed. A global democratic wakening that unites Peoples around the world in this cause can make the end of war is possible.
Progressives on the left in the U.S. face a real problem in the complacency of most Americans in the face of these grave threats. They need to understand that they are feeding that apathy by overwhelming potential supporters with a barrage of information about seemingly disparate concerns without tying these issues to the central problem of corporate corruption of the government. With dozens or hundreds of groups all presenting their own message in their own way and competing for funds and attention instead of working together, it is small wonder that most Americans are feeling powerless. It is not as if average people can put all their time and energy into so many causes, especially when leaders on the left do not present realistic solutions. Each group seems to think that if it gets enough media attention and funding it can lead the various movements, not seeing that by competing instead of cooperating they are fracturing their own movements and the progressive movement as a whole.
There are many encouraging signs that a shift may be occurring. Jobs with Justice is leading the way in showing how union locals can come together to promote not only the interests of union workers but all workers and their families. The Working Families Party aspires to become a real voice in electoral politics. Unfortunately, the current realities of third party politics have resulted in state parties tending to endorse only Democratic candidates, which defeats the purpose of having a third party. Of course, if they get enough members they can challenge the party to give the People choices of candidates who do not represent the interests of corporations. However, acquiring that power means stepping out of the shadow of the Democrats and endorsing candidates of other third parties that better represent the interest of working families.
Partnerships are also forming among groups in some movements
and more recently, across movements. Of these, the most important such
coalitions are forming between groups working for constitutional and
legislative reforms to address government corruption. A conference was held in
Washington, DC on December 10 that brought together representives from dozens
of groups in the environmental, civil rights and other social justice
movements. A central theme of the conference was how to address the government
corruption that is frustrating all their efforts.
There was a recent conference at the UCLA law school that brought together experts on the legal aspects of various legislative and constitutional approaches to ending government corruption. This was to my knowledge the first such attempt to bring together those of us who adamantly believe that only a constitutional amendment can get at the root of the problem of corporate corruption of elections and elected officials and those who believe that a legislative approach is more realistic. The important thing is that both are shining a spotlight on corporate corruption of the US government. It is conversations like this that will eventually lead to the conclusion that the two camps will best advance the cause by working together to keep this issue in the mind of the public until it realizes that it must be dealt with before Congress will address the many other critical issues that affect all Americans.
While many people wrote off Occupy when groups across the country failed to create an American Spring in 2012, its diehard members continue to organize. Some are thinking more strategically, identifying core issues that they hope Occupy as whole will adopt as their central themes. They do not want to co-opt the movement or dismiss any of the causes Occupy promotes. What they want to do is identify issues that connect the dots for a public that has largely concluded that Occupy is a lost cause because they it has failed to identify a focused set of issues and demands that could inspire coordinated actions across the country.
I met with the governmental reform working group of OWS in October and was pleasantly surprised to find that the group had developed a strategy that I have been promoting since 2009: Making support for a constitutional amendment to deal with corporate corruptions of elections a campaign issue in congressional elections around the nation. While the person who developed this plan feels that the issue of corporate personhood detracts from what he considers the main issue of money not being speech, he agrees that individual groups and individuals should promote whatever version of an amendment it favors. While this could potentially cause a problem if legislators support different forms of amendments, in the end it is Congress that will decide the final form of the amendment. It is during the deliberations about the issue are taking place that groups and individuals will be able to lobby for the amendments and legislation they favor.
Contrast these flexible, cooperative attempts at movement
building with those of the faux "coalition" of Move to Amend, whose steering
committee purports to represent hundreds of groups and over 100,000 individuals
who have signed its petition. In reality, all the signers and organization
endorsers were agreeing with was the need for a constitutional amendment that
would declare that money is not speech and corporations were not people.
It was only after getting dozens of groups to endorse MTA that the steering committee announced that Move to Amend supporters were backing specific amendment language that few of the endorsing organizations had a say in writing, let alone those who had signed their petition. The steering committee assured that there would be no effective opposition within MTA for this usurpation of authority to speak for all by making it a condition that MTA chapters and affiliates had to support without question the decisions of the steering committee. They took upon themselves alone the authority to dictate amendment language and strategy for its passage. Needless to say, they have made it clear that they will not work with any organization or individual who does not swear fealty to this small group of self-appointed leaders.
If people come to understand the manner in which the steering committee of Move to Amend has attempted to co-opt the amendment movement, it is likely that defections from the ranks of their supporters will increase. The self-limiting nature of their top-down attempt at movement building will eventually become apparent even to them. Let's hope that they will be willing to put the cause over their pride. I welcome them to join those of us who want to build a real movement around the principles of cooperation with and mutual support of those who may not share the exact same vision of the ultimate goal or the path to get there.
One hopeful sign is that MTA spokesman David Cobb has stated publicly that MTA is going to form a 501.c4 to identify and promote candidates who will pledge to support their version of the amendment, which is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign aside from the fact that Pledge to Amend does not promote specific language, only the minimum components of an acceptable amendment.
If the steering committee of MTA follows through with its own version of Pledge to Amend as described by Cobb, its efforts will be welcome. Let's hope that they come to see the value of cross-promoting the pledge campaign of United Republic, which is gathering signatures in support of their reform legislative agenda as the first step in their RepresentUS campaign. They want to hold candidates accountable for supporting their agenda once they get 1 million signatures on their petition.