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Democracy Burning: Three Founding OWS Members Talk About Our Broken System And How to Fix It

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"If we fail to redress these wrongs, we will live with the consequences" by Jesse LaGreca

"Occupy's greatest contribution is to liberate people from fear" by Lex Rendon

"Dissent is patriotic. Wake up, people. We need to fight back." by Ryan Hoffman

I keep hoping to see news of Occupiers running for office in 2012 - one name on a ballot I could trust as incorruptible and not owned by some corporation.  No such news yet, but it is still early in the game.  The change sweeping the nation may yet find a political footing.  I asked   members of Occupy Wall Street to talk about fixing our broken system and their vision for the country.  What follows is my interview with Lex Rendon, Ryan Hoffman and Jesse LaGreca, three founding members of OWS who demonstrate a profound understanding of history, government, and the mechanisms for creating a democratic society.  

LY:   What do you want government to look like?  

Lex:   We want to see a government free of corporate money. And that will take a regime change. The two-party system needs to go. OWS is an experiment in a new form of democracy, based on community.

Ryan:  W e need a government that does not enforce the law selectively, based on     wealth status. Adam Smith argued against laissez-faire polices, and for big government standing up to big business.   But it is not about big versus small government - it is about good versus bad government.

Jesse:  I want the government the Founding Fathers intended us to have. But crony capitalism has created distortions, and millions now feel disenfranchised.   Who controls government - the people or the special interests?   There is a vast disconnect between Congress and the people. Military contractors want certain bills passed to fund war and we end up with an ever-expanding war budget. We need to get the money out of the process.

LY:   Lex and Ryan, you were involved in the process of writing the Declaration of the Occupation. It struck me that that document bears a striking resemblance to the Green Party platform, and to some extent the Libertarian party platform. The Greens have made important strides in Germany, and they are international, on every continent, Because of that, they have the unique ability to represent a global revolutionary spring. OWS grew up without funding, and it seems, although it has never been done, that a political campaign could be run the same way - using the internet and social media - with the follow-on that the mainstream media would at some point have to acknowledge it. So I wonder if any Occupy members are interested in running for office next year for congressional seats and seats in state legislatures. Are any of your members considering it?

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Lex:   Several people are considering it.   Some here are finding that they have a knack for politics and natural leadership abilities.   A group here wants to come to consensus on backing a [presidential] candidate, but there are many others who do not support that idea at the moment.

Ryan:   We operate as a gadfly to the political system. We welcome all support - we have Green Party members, Ron Paul supporters, some Tea Party people.   But OWS would not have gotten the traction it has if the Tea Party had not come first. We learned from their mistakes, and we all said, "we don't want to be like them" - the "guns, gays and God " party. They got trapped by corporations pushing military expansion.   But to answer the question, yes, it is definitely possible to run a campaign without money.

LY:   Would participating in the political system compromise the mission of the movement?

Ryan:   Possibly. It's a discussion we need to have.   There is no Occupy party, and there is not likely to be one.

Jesse:   I have been asked to run for office, and I am considering it. But any of us who made that decision would be more likely to run as an independent than with any existing party.  

LY:   T he focus of OWS has  shifted to stopping foreclosures around the country with Occupy our Home.  Are there plans beyond that, or will foreclosures be the focus for the foreseeable future?

Lex:   Our main focus is corporate control of government, but foreclosure is one of the issues [resulting from that] and what we are working on now.  Down the road we are planning a move to occupy Congress.  

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Ryan: More children will be evicted from their homes in the next year than will have had parents file for divorce.

LY:   It seems to me that there are three or four approaches to reforming a corrupt government: work within the system, by running for office and replacing them; expose corruption and hope the people will respond by throwing them out; ignore government entirely and create a community-based democratic system from within; or outright revolution, as Jefferson thought might be necessary - although I have a hard time imagining the people having a gunfight with the Pentagon.   If reform fails, there is expatriation to a more democratic country, a process that is becoming more difficult, as most countries now demand a lot of capital as a condition of residency. What are your thoughts on this?

Ryan:   What we are engaged in is a peaceful revolution against corporate control of government. We are committed to non-violence - there will be peaceful solutions or there will be an ugly solution.   As JFK said, "t hose who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."   When dissent emerged in the 1930's, FDR said, "You're right. Now make me do it."   Obama did not deliver on his promises.  We need to make him do it.

  (Edit: Obama's recent speech on inequality may be an indication that the OWS strategy will do just that. Time will tell.)

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Lila York is a choreographer and activist. Her website is

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