Answers to My Friend Phil’s Questions Regarding OWS and the 99% Movement

This post is the result of questions posted on my facebook page by a friend of mine, regarding Occupy Wall Street. It is quite lengthy, but they were significant questions. Phil’s message is in bold. My responses are in regular font.

hey man, nearly everyday I log in here I see some post from you regarding the protest that you are seemingly involved in…as I only watch from afar, I have several questions for you so that I can better understand what it is that you/your cohorts are trying to acheive…

Sorry for the delayed response. The questions are deep and important and I think everyone has an interest in this type of discussion. That all said, a lot of effort and time has to go into answering these. I was in jail for a couple days and had a funeral and other family things to attend to this weekend so I couldn’t address them right away. I will try to do my best to answer them now. Additionally, when reading the discussion, please keep in mind that I am not speaking for the movement. These are my thoughts and opinions.

Some people, who don’t know him, have asked me about Phil’s post regarding his intentions and such. Obviously, I cannot speak for Phil and hopefully he will respond if I misrepresent anything. So I want to provide some background information and thoughts on this discussion before I answer the questions. First of all, I consider Phil a friend of mine. We met in school while pursuing our graduate degrees at NYU. We haven’t seen each other in a year or so but we spent many nights after class, having drinks with our classmates, and discussing these type of issues of politics, economics, humanity, etc. Phil worked (maybe still does) on Wall Street (I believe trading???) and is extremely knowledgeable of markets, finance, economics, and so on. He knows what he is talking about from an academic and practical perspective. He is also a genuinely good-hearted dude who intellectually pursues ideas and ways to make the world a better place. He cares about the well-being of people. I understand that the tone of the questions may have appeared to some of my friends as confrontational, and I am not capable of affirming or denying Phil’s intentions, but I want to say that I think it is necessary to have these discussions among friends. My friends are welcome to challenge me and disagree with me. This does not change the friendships. Phil and I are friends from having these types of discussions and from respecting each other’s opinions. My point is, even if he intended to have a confrontational tone, this is not a bad thing as far as he and I are concerned. We are able to have this type of dialogue with this type of tone. It is how we know each other. I believe he respects my opinions, as I do his, and I think it is better for someone who disagrees or thinks they disagree to speak up and create dialogue than to judge from the sideline and say nothing. So, whatever your feelings on Occupy Wall Street, I ask that you do not judge me and do not judge Phil for our opinions, we are both good, caring people. Especially to those who do not know him. Our opinions and beliefs are informed and valid.

1) what is the ultimate goal of this movement?

There are several reasons why this question is difficult to answer. You have to understand the way the movement is developing. There are several levels to the movement and different dynamics at each level. So there is the actual occupations. Here I am referring specifically to the people living and working in the parks. These occupations have several functions. The most important are 1. They are protests. People being there is a statement. Something along the lines of “we are so fed up with the status quo, we are willing to be here, showing that dissatisfaction, all the time”. Exactly what aspects of the status quo that upset people vary, but there is a general discontent. This protest element also is to raise awareness of the general discontent, anger, etc. Whatever, the affect or implications, agreements and disagreements, this protest has let people know we are there. Even though it is heavily distorted in the media, this awareness is crucial to growing the movement. 2. The occupations in the parks serve as a place to work on the issues we are dealing with. People come to the park and nearby locations to get information, share information, work together, etc. We have general assemblies where people can get information, share information, network, etc. Basically, talking to other people and groups who do different types of work so you can contribute, coordinate, collaborate, etc. So this type of work is also happening online and in community spaces like churches and schools. Maybe the need to have these type of meetings outside will diminish overtime, but right now it is important to be outside, at least part of the time, to be easily accessible and because being outside and bearing the elements makes a statement. 3. The occupations in the parks also serve as little communities. They serve an immediate need, which is providing people with services. We provide food, healthcare, education, etc. All donated and free. * A side note here, for those opposed to government healthcare, this is a good way to explore alternatives to public and privately funded healthcare. This is healthcare provided by doctors, nurses, holistic healers, etc, to people who cannot afford it, for free (not saying this is the solution, just saying there are things going on worth exploring). So in these communities there is the politically element that I wrote about in point 2 and the community element. Beyond the discussions and ideas, these create practical issues and problem. Not only do we have to address these problems, we need methods to address them. A huge aspect of this movement is redefining and refining the process of community, social, political organization, etc. This does not mean, necessarily an overthrow of the current system. Some of us want that, some of us don’t. The results of that are uncertain and the process is still developing and probably will continue to develop.

So, once you understand the process of the movement, the “ultimate goal” question becomes increasingly vague and all I can really do is give you broad umbrella ideas. I’m not even sure if they qualify as “goals of the movement.” Let me throw out what I’m talking about and take it with a grain of salt. For goals, I would say most people want change in the current economic model, political representation, and the interaction between the two. Basically, most people think and feel, the current way these forces function do not work for the benefit of the people and planet and they want something better. I’m pretty sure even you agree with that (correct me if I’m wrong). I have friends and family on Wall Street that agree, 100 percent with the system being broken, horrible, corrupt, etc. Now, how we make those change is a subject of heated debate within the movement. I understand fully that this movement is painted as a left-wing, socialist. I’ll tell you right now, these people are there and they are welcome.  When you start along the lines of “everyone wants a hand out”. Well, that’s an unfair characterization. Some people who want the government to do everything are probably there too. But, being angry about student loans, predatory lending, healthcare, and most important, so much tax money going to bailout big banks, does not always mean these people want handouts (in some cases it does, in some it doesn’t). There is a lot of room for discussion and debate here. Besides the left-wing types, we have lawyers, business owners, cops, soldiers, teachers, etc left and right people, all with different ideas how to create the changes we want. In fact, we need the media to go away and we need more conservative voices to come help. The media pigeonholes us as a crazy left movement and then people who do not associate themselves with “the left” avoid the spaces where all voices are welcome. We cannot come up with solutions if we don’t have people coming and sharing different ideas.

So to sum up, I think the goals are along the lines of 1.) a cultural shift. We want people to interact differently than they do, participate in the political discourse beyond just voting and acting out on what they are against (I know that seems ironic because of the “anti-wall street” message but that message is an anti-status quo message, many people want Wall Street folks involved eventually to make this about the 100%). This side note is a lot to get into, sorry if it’s ambiguous, it’s not the point, and we can get into more if necessary. 2.) An economic shift. We want a more equitable society. Again, how we get there is undetermined and the movement is only determining that method by trying to create and expand space for the discussion. On this point, I know you might feel like the methods are shutting people out. I admit, especially with the media portrayal, people are closing off to it. However, if it keeps going like this, it will expand enough and people will get involved who may feel shut out now (like people who feel the movement does not represent them). Right now, we are spreading into communities and getting more people in the discussions. This takes a long time. There’s nothing we can do about that. 3. We want a change in political representation. I’ll say it again, HOW that is accomplished is undetermined. We just are trying to expand and get more and more people involved to have their voices heard and then they can figure out how they want to be represented. Maybe the current system would stay even if the movement grows, but, if it does, people will have more influence on their representatives because they will be speaking collectively. (This seems like a good idea to me. It’s basically just getting people out and talking again).

Everyone should realize this annoying and confusing fact. As a movement, we do not try to prevent autonomous actions. We stand against things like hate speech and violence, etc. We try to mitigate and deal with those types of issues but it is difficult for a movement like this. We have methods I can get into if people are curious. More importantly, the movement is largely based on nonviolence and love for others and respect for other opinions. We try to push a culture of these principles. But autononmous actions make it annoying and confusing from an outside perspective because they may appear to represent things that they don’t. For example, a list of “demands” appeared on th facebook page called “Occupy America”. I was reported in the news and looked pretty official. This was an autonomus action by a group of people in the movement, who do not represent the whole movement. But you wouldn’t know that from the outside. In consensus at Zuccotti Park, demands lists  get rejected because they don’t represent enough people. Also, when we reach consensus at a specific place (say Zucotti Park), the decision only represents the people in that place, not the whole movement. Tell me if this isn’t making sense. This can make it confusing, but we are willing to deal with it because we want to expand and grow and include other people, so we cannot make decisions that represent people that are not involved yet or in different locations. There is a lot of autonomous actions and statements across all the occupys that do not represent all the movement. Sometimes they represent a small minority. I understand, it is difficult to dig through the mess of information. That’s just how it is right now. People are working to make it better and more efficient as the movement spreads.

Finally, one purpose is to begin and maintain localized general assemblies. Obviously, these happen at Zucotti, but they are popping up all over the city and other places nation wide. This is a crucial culture shift, hopefully, not temporary. If we can keep people engaged in the decisions that impact their own lives, we can change anything we need to.

2) why are you specifically taking part in this “movement”?

(I think the quotation marks are a little unnecessary. It is a movement, even if you disagree with it.)

I am specifically a part of this movement because I believe in change through social movement. I am not satisfied with the current economic, political, and social models. These ideas of everyone having a valid voice and self-determination is something I have always believed in. I don’t get into much of the debates of one “side” versus the other. I believe most differences can be reconciled if we get passed the mainstream discourse. Our debates are largely framed by nonsense. For example, we may argue over healthcare, but we both want the same type of results. We all want people to be healthy and cared for and get the services they need. We may even go further and fight over how much the government should or shouldn’t be involved. And then further how much taxes we should or shouldn’t pay to accomplish such a goal. At the root of such a debate, we would all prefer to have everyone have their needs met and not have a huge government and high taxes. So the conversation is really about how to accomplish a better society. Instead of putting two ideas opposed to each other, or putting up one idea and voting for or against it, I think we need to figure out a better way to combine ideas. I mean what if we had a system of coordinated volunteers to provide healthcare to those that couldn’t afford it. We could coordinate these efforts through local governments instead of federal and we could do it through with a substantially lower cost? Maybe this is stupid, but I throw it out and you (and hundreds of others) say “that won’t work because…” we address the “because” and so on and so forth. If experts and people were having that discussion publically, I doubt we would end up with the current system.

The movement attempts to create space for people to construct solutions form differing points of views. Again, a slow process. But there is a place for everyone’s opinions in this type of discussion. My personal role, why I am involved, is to help facilitate these discussions. I have my beliefs about what I want. But I’m not so closed off to other ideas that I am not willing to listen to others.

I want something different and better. I define “better” as more equitable for people and also something that respects ecological limitations of the planet. How we accomplish that, I believe should be a combination of many ideas. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter panaceas. I think most solutions will be highly localized. I am also involved in the protests because I believe any dissent must battle the overwhelming corporate PR and advertising industry. So I add my voice to the movement to help make it louder. I also feel very welcome and accepted by the people there. I think that most people there are open and interested in hearing a variety of opinions. I think that is the right way to be. And for those that are closed off and ignorant (left, right, or whatever), there are enough reasonable voices like mine, to try to show there are different sides to all stories. I like participating in it, I believe in it.

Finally, I think everyone should voice their opinions in public discourse. These occupied spaces are a good community platform for participation. I feel obligated to participate as a US citizen, same way I do to vote. I have always used resources available to use my voice and to listen to other voices.

3) how do you think shutting Wall Street actually accomplishes anything other than angering folks who work on Wall Street – not the supposed “1%” – who may have sympathized with your cause?

The shutting down Wall Street thing is part of the protest element I spoke of earlier. Generally, we do not “shut down wall street.” On November 17th, we had a morning action with this aim. I think a show of power like that for us is probably necessary. My personal belief is that we should minimize our confrontational tactics against “the 1%” and try to focus more on engaging the 99%. But I understand the need to make a powerful statement every so often. Unfortunately, we need to show people we have some strength behind us. There are many people who support stuff like this but won’t participate until they know it is significant. These actions help us grow.

As far as your point about angering folks, I feel bad about it. That morning, I saw some people going to work on Wall St who still support us. Obviously, a lot of people were annoyed with us blocking their commute and don’t sympathize. I did feel bad. Most people who work there are regular working people and good people and part of our definition of the 99 percent. I don’t disagree with you. Maybe there is a better way. Maybe we will find it. I am not saying I think we should not do that type of protest. It may be necessary. I don’t know for sure. We, as a movement, have definitely made mistakes, and will make more. Hopefully, we learn from them. I think the shutting down Wall Street stuff is largely symbolic. And even though it was portrayed the way it was in the news, the message does get out to the masses. We can show people the true side of the movement as it grows.

Ironically, even many officers I spoke with in jail said the support the movement and hope we achieve some real changes.

4) why do you protest downtown when the majority of banks are headquartered in midtown?

The short answer here, I think , is that it is symbolic. I wasn’t part of the original planning. I came like a week in. But originally, the idea was to actually be on Wall Street. It’s symbolic. “Wall Street” is a metaphor for the governing economic institutions. So, actually being on Wall Street doesn’t work so well legally or logistically. Zucotti Park, one block away from Wall Street, is a privately owned public space which made it a space we could occupy legally, 24 hours a day. Everyone down there is aware of that most of the action takes place in midtown. But protests are largely based on symbolism and imagery.

5) besides what seemingly is just living in private/public spaces, is there an actual political arm of your movement using the system to cause change?

There is no political arm per se. I mean, democrats try to co-opt it, but the movement, as a whole won’t tolerate it. Again, there are autonomous actions where people are trying different political organizing and voting campaigns, etc. But the political organization of the movement is really about creating space for everyone to have a say and constructing solutions based on all opinions. I’m not sure what this will turn into as far as how the movement interacts with representatives. There are many possibilities but hopefully it doesn’t turn into another political party or worse, a wing of the democratic party. That would suck. Maybe people will continue to meet and share info on different bills so everyone can have more info on a bill when they tell their rep how to vote. Or maybe people will come together and work on their own legislation. This stuff is uncertain. And long term affects are far off. As of now, people protest or support different political actions based on their own ideas. If there is a march for something, you don’t support, you don’t go on it, or you organize something else. That’s pretty much how it is right now.

6) do you feel that some of the ideals you/your movement espouse are in opposition to traditional American values, and if so why wouldn’t you or other memebers of the movement emigrate to other states who shared the same values as your movement rather than force the movements upon the population?

Ok. This is pretty much the love it or leave it question. I think to frame it like this, is a bit offensive. I think the principles of the nation allow for a wide range of ideas and beliefs. The founding documents set up freedoms, like speech and press, and create a system of checks and balances, with people power of voting thrown into the mix so everyone has a say. While some things are difficult to change, it is literally set up to allow change. To suggest that because someone disagrees with what you think are American values, they should leave the county, is unfair. American values are many things and there can be many interpretations of them but they are based on freedom. In a country based on freedom you should not take the love or leave it stance. People need to be allowed to voice their opinions and work toward the changes they desire. Other people have the right to voice different opinions and stand against change. The country was founded on dissent, the Declaration of Independence explicitly states that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government if it no longer represents them. Not that everyone in this movement are advocating abolishing the government, but the founding documents, structure and organization of the government and political system, and the history and progression of the country are all set up to allow people to work toward changes.

I am going to make a quick stab at what I think you mean by “opposition to American values.” If I’m off the mark, correct me. I think you might be talking about capitalism vs socialism or the idea of keeping what you work for. The capitalism vs socialism debate is an oversimplification. We have a mixed economy. Our debate on capitalism is more a debate on regulation and deregulation and a debate on degree of taxes and what to do with taxes. So that type of debate is going on within the movement. People have all kinds of ideas. There are many people who are involved in the movement who consider themselves pro-capitalism, pro-business, etc. There are people who want more socialist type of organization. So the movement is not against American values. It promotes American values as far as free speech and voices etc. As far as the economic side of things—capitalism vs socialism or the idea of keeping what you work for, etc. I would say that the movement doesn’t have a stance on that. The movement is about people coming together and finding solutions. People in the movement have a full spectrum of ideas and beliefs on that stuff. I think most people are not opposed to someone who works hard being able to get ahead and have more than others. I am speculating based on my experience but I think most people are concerned with the degree of inequality and what the work is people are doing to accomplish that inequality. I haven’t heard anyone say a small business person who works her ass off and makes a good living should be taxed on principle. It’s more the extreme profits from unethical activity people oppose. Not to say there are not people there who want everything communally divided. I’m sure there are, but they are one opinion in a group of many opinions.

I don’t think the movement is forced on the population. If you take the total of what I said about the movement and about the nation, I think there is no forcing of anything on the people. I realize that some people near Zucotti feel inconvenienced by the presence there (many also love us there) but that isn’t the same as forcing some ideology on people.

7) do you or the majority of the folks along with you have jobs, if so, how do they make the time along with work to protest during the day and if not how are you/them being supported (and making efforts to find employment)?

The movement is made up of a wide variety of people and it is much more than Zucotti Park and the other parks. I was working at a restaurant full time and applying to jobs abroad. I left my job to support this movement fulltime and am figuring out ways to support myself as I go. This is a personal decision, based on many factors. It is not the norm. I have worked my whole life, since I was young. I worked in construction jobs in family members’ businesses before I was old enough to get working papers. Started working in a restaurant when I was 15 and became a manger after a couple years. I was a correctional officer for a year. I worked in a hospital and in a school with children and adolescents with development disabilities for several years. I paid my way through undergrad working more than fulltime. I chose to not work through my grad program because I wanted more time to dedicate to my studies so I have significant amounts of loans from that experience.

My father was a veteran from the Vietnam War. He struggled his whole life with the affects of that war (and our family did as a result), he attempted suicide several times, and died of a drug overdose several years ago. I tried to join the marines when I finished high school but was met with the strongest possible resistance one could imagine, from my mother, who lived with the effects the war had on my father, I could not join. While you asked specifically about jobs, I am bring up military service because I think many people who are tossing around the job questions are doing so with implication of laziness, entitlement, and anti-americanism with those questions. (I do not think this was your intention, Phil, but it is relevant to questions other people raise).

I’ve worked my whole life, will continue to work my whole life, I pay taxes, and I love my country. I am not working for pay now, but work full time, more than 12 hours everyday on this movement, because I believe it is necessary. When I am employed again, I will pay back the debt I accrued and make up for the lost time. I am not lazy, nor do I feel entitled. I believe everyone should be taken care of, but I am more than happy to be on the side of service more than a recipient of service.

The movement has every type of person you can imagine. The unemployed and homeless are there more often than most because their situation allows it. There are people who have money and living space but stay there because they are working on the movement. There are people who work and have full time jobs and come there as much as possible in their free time or work on the movement from home.

There are some efforts to help get people work. A lot of these efforts, as far as I know, are new and developing. This is becoming more possible as we spread into the communities and meet regularly with people living there. This is happening in various communities and spreading. I have been helping organize in West Harlem where I live. I think we need more people working on getting people jobs. We will see what happens as these efforts grow. One benefit has been the networking aspect of getting so many people together.

8) do you honestly believe the rhetoric that you/your movement represent 99% of American citizens?

I don’t think everything that every person in the movement says represents 99 percent of the population. The 99 percent is based on a statistic of wealth inequality. One percent of the people controlling 42 percent of the wealth in the contry. I think it is sort of an arbitrary number. I would prefer that the movement eventually transition to representing 100 percent (or maybe 99.9 or something, not sure).  I don’t think any capitalist rhetoric or socialist rhetoric or any other specific and defined model represents the whole population. Chants like “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” represent a genuine frustration of people.

Maybe you could be more specific about what rhetoric you are referring to, but if your specifically talking about the claim that “we are the 99 percent.” I don’t know, the number 99 doesn’t matter to me. I think the movement represents everyone in that all voices are given a space and welcome (or should be). I don’t want to try to define you and your beliefs but I there are business people and finance people and conservatives, etc who are part of the movement and do not agree with what you would think the movement is based on the media portrayal. So the reason I think the movement does represent the 99 or 100 percent (or will  as it grows) are the reasons I discussed earlier. There are all types of different voices and perspectives involved and the platforms, processes, and methodologies we are trying to promote allow everyone to have equal say, no matter where you stand on the spectrum. It’s a lot to take on and it is slow and sloppy but the tools are there and everyone is working on making them work and be better.

Someone coming down promoting the current Wall Street model, I’m sure will meet with a lot of resistance, but if they are willing to engage in dialogue, they will be heard by most people there. Most people I know on Wall Street and in businesses want change though. Many of these types of voices engage in the discussions. We need more of these voices.

There probably isn’t any statement anyone can make that would represent 99 percent of the population (aside from extremely vague statements). The reason I think this movement can represent the 99 percent is because of the model that allows and includes all voices. That is what represents the 99 percent, rather, the 100 percent.

Of course, we have to see how things progress.

naturally a long list of questions as I have pondered these and many others regarding this movement and don’t know anyone else involved with the protest…hope all is well

I think people who are not involved, don’t go there, or go down for a short amount of time and watch from a street corner cannot possible understand the complexity of the movement. It takes time to get in a talk to people and participate in a few things before you can understand what is going on. People who have to rely on corporate media, or really any media, are going to have a difficult time understanding it. Unfortunately, too many people spend minimal time in the park and feel they are capable of judging the entire movement and put out blogs, videos, and reports that are very misleading. This is not much different than what the press did to the tea party. They painted the whole movement like a bunch of crazy people and ignored their valid concerns. It’s very disappointing.

I hope all is well with you too. We should get together and talk more of this through. And you should go to some discussions and see how people are having these conversations.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Love or Hate Occupy Wall Street, it is Now a Question of Freedom

I loved looking at their eyes, seeing their faces as I walked circles around the outside of the newly barricaded Zucotti Park. It was Liberty Square only the night before, but on the morning of November 15th it was vacant of all liberty. I consider myself a reasonable person; I will not hate men and women who work for the NYPD just because I don’t agree with the actions of some. I’m certainly not going to act violently toward them. I am consistently one of the voices (among many) preaching nonviolence at the front line of these stand-offs with the NYPD. Earlier that morning, at 2 a.m., I stood a block away, barricaded from Zucotti Park, trying to promote a peaceful resistance to the violent eviction. I am not someone the police officers should hate. In a different setting, many officers and I would agree on a lot of issues. We all think that corporate and government power is out of control, however, these officers “have a job to do.” Despite that job, their eyes and faces paint a complex picture of the human element behind the helmet and mask. 

The range of emotion among the officers seems to cross a spectrum like any other. They are indifferent to us, hate us, are annoyed by us, agree with us, and maybe even love us. Some talk to us for hours while we stand in front of them, some won’t even look at us, some mock and threaten us. Civilians follow a similar spectrum. With the protesters gone, many residents and Wall Street workers, fed up with the protestors presence, walked by a bit excited the morning following the eviction. Smiles on their faces, many gave a thumbs up or shook the hands of officers. “Great job,” they said.

As one tall, prestigious-looking gentleman walked by, shaking an officers hand and clapping, I couldn’t remain quiet. I clapped loudly behind him. “Good job guys! Oppressing free speech! Way to go!! Eff the first amendment! We only have a right to free speech when we agree with you! Thanks guys!” I yelled. The man turned around and walked slightly in front of me as I followed. He said “I have a right to my opinion.” I replied, “I agree, you do. I fight to protect that right, but your opinion is that I don’t have a right to express mine.” We had a little exchange. Part of his argument was he strongly believes people have a right to use the park. Of course, I agree with that. But I reread the constitution. Come to find out, there is nothing in the Constitution regarding a right to use a park. Maybe the right to publicly assemble, but that favors my point more. And my point is, no one should be celebrating the restrictions on anyone’s freedom. Just because you do not agree with how someone uses his or her freedom, does not mean you should praise the forces that oppress it.

If we are talking about the right to use the park, why is your right to use it is more valid than mine? Is your leisurely stroll through the park more valid than my use of space for chats with visitors because mine is associated with a message you think you don’t like? I feel sorry for those that judge strongly, as it appears their opinions are based on ignorance. The media plays a large role in framing what they think the protest is, rather than what it actually is. It would be hard for American to disagree with what the movement is really about.

The camp at Zucotti is an assembly of people, exercising their free speech to figure out better ways to hear everyone’s voice, and to bring power back to the people, away from corporate power and an over-inflated government. You may disagree with some of the opinions in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point. You may disagree with some of the methods in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point! Come. Disagree. Or better yet, if you like, start your own assemblies in your communities where people can come and discuss issues, agree and disagree, but find solutions together. What I don’t understand is the joy people expressed, knowing people’s freedoms were violently oppressed, and you cannot deny that is what happened.

Clearly, we need to question what happened on November 15th. The sudden, harsh, and secret crackdown in the cover of night, with the eyes of the “free” press strategically blocked by barricades and trucks, is something no one should tolerate. I want to ask these officers if, when they were young and in school studying history, for example studying the civil rights movement, how did they feel about those stories? How did they feel about, reading about the forces that oppressed the voices of Americans because they were people of color? Did they feel anger toward the oppressors? Did they ever wonder if they would one day be the oppressors? Officers on the NYPD need have a personal challenge ahead of them. They need to decide, at what point are they part of something that violates what they believe in. At what point, does “doing their job” go beyond the rhetoric of “public safety,” and translate to oppressing dissenting voices.

We all have “a job to do” but if we believe in freedom of speech, than we all need to stand up for everyone’s use of it, especially when we do not agree with the message because that is when it matters most. If you only believe in freedom of speech when someone agrees with you, then you don’t believe in freedom of speech at all. Make no mistake, our camp in Zucotti Park IS a statement. It says, “everyone can have a voice here.” It is us, using our right to assemble, as an expression of frustration with the state of our country. Violating that is an affront on the foundation of our nation.

How to Kill the Occupy Wall Street Movement

There has been an underlying current of disenfranchisement in the country. Economic and political institutions (and the people running them) have failed us miserably. They have robbed us of our freedom and our self-determination on almost every level. With an abundance of consumerism and materialism, coupled with the lack of capacity to affect the quality of one’s own existence in a meaningful way, our society has systematically suppressed itself from what it really means to be human. People want their voices heard! This is why the Occupy Wall Street protests have exploded across the American landscape, popping up in over one-hundred cities within the first month.

It was no surprise when the corporate media and politicians tried to ignore us. They were hoping we would go away. However, in any smart leadership, holding power means hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. While the mainstream media ignored us, you can bet Wall Street was doing anything but ignoring. On the contrary, they have teams of risk management experts watching our every move. They are preparing and planning how they can kill our movement and mitigate the impact as much as possible.


Social Movement theory suggests five ways a movement declines: Success, Organizational failure, Co-optation, Repression, or Establishment within mainstream society.[1] The lines between reasons for decline are blurry and usually more than one will apply. They can be impacted by internal or external forces.

Based on combining these scenarios (excluding repression because it appears to strengthen not weaken us), I will argue that there are two ways that corporations, banks, and people that own our politicians and our economy can strategically kill our movement. And you can bet they are gearing up for both. The first one is co-opting the movement. And the second one is appeasing the movement. This does not suggest a conspiracy theory model; it is really more of a system analysis. Politicians typically care about one thing over all else—their job. Therefore, Democrats, who are less open about their pro-business stance than Republicans , see this movement as an opportunity to gain some approval. Bankers, corporate heads, and lobbyists will be more than happy to take steps to help Dems cash-in on this movement rather than leave it to chance. One thing we can say about Wall Street, they love them some certainty. As far as with the appeasement route, it is not crazy to think Wall Street planners are seeing the potential risk this movement presents. With that, why wouldn’t they plan to cut their losses? In other words, why wouldn’t they figure out, if they had to make some compromises, what the strategy should be to minimize losses?

Let’s briefly explore these options.

Co-opting the Movement

Be honest. Wall Street does not care if Republicans or Democrats staff Congress and the White House; they own both. According to one survey, 70 percent of protesters do not identify with either the Republican or Democrat parties. However, 27 percent do align with the Democrats.[2] With this knowledge (and the inaccurate perception that this is predominately a left-wing movement), there will most likely be a continuous, strategic attempt by the Democrats to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the same way the Republicans did the Tea Party Movement. In an open letter from an alleged former tea partier, the author warns of such a co-opt. “We were anarchists and ultra-libertarians, but above all we were peaceful. So, the media tried painting us as racists. But when that didn’t work they tried to goad us into violence. When that failed, they killed our movement with money and false kindness from the theocratic arm of the Republican Party. That killed our popular support.”[3] The author goes on to warn that corporate and government employees from the liberal side will infiltrate the movement with support, the media will portray the movement as opposing the right, and a Democratic sympathizer will befriend the movement (gaining support from many in the protests) to hijack and neutralize it.[4] The early signs of this attempt are already happening with high-ranking Dems like Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama supporting the message. [5]

In the classic version, co-optation “occurs when movement lead­ers come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents”.[6] Because we have a leaderless movement, I combine the idea of co-optation with establishment with the mainstream, which is when “goals or ideologies are adopted by the mainstream and there is no longer any need for a movement.”[7] Of course, this outcome could be defined as a success or failure depending on how you define mainstream. In this example, the mainstream is the current political system. If the Democrats adopt our ideologies in the current, narrow, bi-partisan American political system, we will not achieve a massive cultural shift and the movement declines in failure. However, if our goals of horizontal democracy, everyone’s voice being heard, fair economy, etc. are adopted by mainstream American people (meaning almost everyone) then our movement will decline in success.


Appeasing Enough to Get By

If the Democrats can’t hijack our movement and embolden Obama to raise some taxes on the rich to show support for the people, the next step will be appeasement. All the leadership has to do is figure out the bare minimum concessions it would have to make, to satisfy enough of the movement to the point that people would stop fighting and go home, thereby deflating the movement. In this scenario, many would view the decline as resulting from success and many as resulting from failure. This is why a list of demands like the one released on the Occupy America Facebook page are so dangerous at this early juncture.

Let politicians and businesses run through a list of demands and negotiate an outcome and we could be left with the usual bare minimum that ultimately changes nothing. This will create a fractionalization within the movement where high percentages of the 99 percent, whose individual needs were met, think, “we won!” and go home (even if those folks preparing demands would prefer an all-demands–met-in-full or nothing scenario). Factions of the movement that aligned with one demand or another would be established within the mainstream without fundamentally changing the culture.

The movement is happening so fast that no one knows what to make of it. Liberty Square serves as the ground-zero of the Occupy Wall Street/99 percent movement. People are looking to Liberty Square because it is essentially where the movement began, because of its proximity to Wall Street, and because of the overall size of the Occupation, events, and marches. People everywhere are wondering how they can be involved and help the cause. The media is flooded with analysts trying to deconstruct the movement and its demands. What’s terrible about this is that people are responding. For example, a “demands group” has emerged at Occupy Wall Street. Someone responded on saying “a group claiming to be on the verge of issuing demands for #OWS has gotten the attention of a story hungry media. We are our demands. #OWS is conversation, organization, and action focused on ending the tyranny of the 1%”.[8]

*Just to be clear, at OWS everyone has a voice and is entitled to use it as they chose. I have not worked with the demands group, so I do not know what they are working on. However, any I would disagree with any demands that attempt speak for people who do not endorse the statement i.e. the rest of the movement and future of the movement. I think “demands” are better stated as goals and are fluid and directed to the people involved, not the government and corporate powers.

A movement that represents the 99 percent based on horizontal democracy should be extremely cautious about releasing demands. First, it is far too early to claim we know what the 99 percent want. We feel great when twenty thousand people flood Times Square and Occupies in over one hundred cities throughout the country. We talk about how the police are escalating the violence because we are winning. (And winning we are!) We have so much momentum and the movement grows exponentially every week. It’s truly amazing. But hubris could be our downfall. There are almost 313 million[9] people in this country. 99 percent of 313 million? 309.87 million people. We cannot speak for them before we have spoken to them. Second, demanding anything from the one percent is essentially telling them what to give us, instead of being the society we want to be. A better option would be to gather the people and allow them to create alternatives—no demands required. This takes patience.


Focusing on Goals

While we probably have to make certain transitions at the federal level, like ending the FED and getting the money out of politics, people are discovering that they can find solutions and alternatives by talking to other human beings. Maybe we don’t have to demand these things or, if we do, they don’t have to be a focus of the movement. At Liberty Square, people can have a voice that is heard. Right now they can be the politics of the square through horizontal, participatory democracy. They can affect the policies that govern the park and the Occupy Wall Street protests. As this model spreads, people could bring it back to their communities, make the necessary adjustments, and affect policies that govern their own communities.

In the meantime, we could focus on goals. The difference is that we are not asking (demanding) anything of anybody. Goals are for US to achieve. I do not see anything wrong with setting goals for ourselves. Let’s set the bar high and see how much the power of the people can really do. These goals should be broad enough to include a diversity of opinions and people across the American (possibly Global) landscape. Gathering the 99 percent seems like a reasonable goal in line with the movement – possibly create general assemblies all across the nation. “We want freedom for all, without regards for identity, because we are all people, and because no other reason should be needed”.[10] We can achieve this by spreading a massive cultural shift that targets the way people interact with each other on social, political, and economic terms—human relationships—the formation of “a society of cooperation and community.”[11] That can be our goal.


[1] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. 2.

[2] Carl Franzen. ‘Occupy Wall Street Demographic Survey Results Will Surprise You’. < http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo. com/2011/10/ occupy-wall-street-demographic-survey-results-will-surprise-you.php >(10/19/2011)

[3] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’. (10/20/2011).

[4] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’. (10/20/2011).

[5]  Rick Klein ‘Democrats Seek to Own “Occupy Wall Street” Movement’. Oct. 10, 2011.<>. (10/19/2011)

6 Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. 4.

[7] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. 4.

[10] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. < /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).

[11] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. < /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).

Rethinking the Notion of Freedom.

The focus for the idea behind capitalism, both in method and purpose, is individual freedom: among the noblest of causes. Many proponents of capitalism hold individual freedom as their highest cause. However, upon further analysis of the notion of freedom, we realize that unchecked individual freedom naturally hinders freedom of other sorts, including individual freedom of others. Because total freedom is impossible for everyone to have, there must be limitations. Therefore, we must redefine our understanding of freedom to what it really is: a system of balance. Once we understand this we can start to analyze the trade-offs we must make to maximize everyone’s freedom in an equitable way.Most people fear government control and its infringement on freedom and thus create ways to mitigate it. They should. However, we must also fear infringement on freedom from other sources, especially ones that we, as people, have little or no control over. Consider two things. One, total freedom for everyone is not only impossible, it is undesirable. It would be difficult to find a person who would argue with this fact. And two, achieving desirable freedom, whatever that may include, necessitates a balance of forces. Therefore, a check on all sources of illegitimate power is necessary, not just on government power. But before we know what freedom we have (or don’t have), we have to know what freedom is, right?

A simple dictionary definition of freedom yields the following: 1. The condition of being free from restraint.  2. Political independence.  3. Possession of civil rights, immunity of arbitrary exercise of authority.  4.  The capacity to exercise free choice, free will.

Freedom from restraint?  Immunity from arbitrary authority?  Free choice?  They all make sense but somehow these definitions seem ambiguous.  There is a reason for this.  Freedom is an idea, a concept; it is not concrete, and it is not black and white.  We know when we feel free and when we don’t, but none of us feel completely free all the time (unless we are ignoring the obvious).

Impossibility of Freedom

None of us can feel completely free all the time.  It is absolutely and totally impossible on this planet to be a completely free creature. In our current society, our government provides and protects our freedoms.  If the government provides our freedom, than we are not totally free.  It’s not necessarily a bad deal. In fact, in a democracy, everyone has some say so you have some control as an individual. It is undesirable to have a free society that is free from any form of government, because we assume if we all had total freedom, with no governmental control, than the more powerful people in society would be free to take advantage of the weak and even harm them without repercussions. We, as people, prefer and generally accept our government’s control over us rather than the unpredictable control of who ever finds a method of power over others.

Redefining freedom

Instead of hearing the word “freedom” and believing it as one universal concept, we should first begin to understand “freedom” as a system of balance.  It is a balance between allowances (rights) and restrictions (regulations). Restrictions protect us from other citizens that could hinder our freedoms. Over time, Americans have learned, and are still learning, that if we have our government put restrictions on others, then, because it is only fair, we must accept those same restrictions on ourselves.  Similarly, if we are allowed a certain freedom, then other people should have that same freedom, whether we agree with what they do with it or not.  What is true for one person should be true for all people.  If we cannot accept this one simple truth, than we are hypocrites.  The challenge is to find the balance of allowance and restrictions as it best serves all people.  This dilemma raises some more questions.


The Freedom Trade-Offs

Each “freedom” we have, also restricts others at the same time.  So when we consider freedom, we have to be able to accept, or deal with, the limitations put onto us because of others having that freedom. Here’s a good one to ponder: the “right to bear arms”.  Maybe it means everyone has the right to have a gun, maybe not. I’m not concerned with the meaning right now so much as the implication of how exercising that right impacts freedom. With this great freedom of bearing arms, the bearers exercise the right to feel protected because they have a gun, which makes them feel safe from harm.  This is considered a freedom from fear BUT because one person has a gun, other people around that person are restricted on their freedom from fear because now they are likely to be fearful of the person with the gun.  Even if the others get guns, it does not remove the fear because the fear is caused by others having a weapon that can kill them.  In other words, even having your own weapon does not completely remove the threat of another person’s weapon. With rights come natural restrictions.  Some are more obvious than others because, like with guns, they threaten our physical safety directly.


Freedom of speech, to offer another example, creates restrictions on our safety, just not as obviously as a gun.  If we allow everyone to have freedom of speech, then we have to allow people to say things that we might think are unacceptable and can make our society worse.  This applies especially to people on television and radio because they are in positions to reach a large amount of people and possibly effect their opinions.  Depending on one’s opinion, it is possible that these people are corrupting our society.  Thus the freedom to speak freely hinders everyone else’s freedom from the resulting consequences of speech that we do not like or think may harm society.  For example, we may get upset that certain programs are allowed on television because we do not want our children seeing sexual or violent scenes allowed on the airways in the name of free speech.  Many people would love to shut up people like Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh, but to do so we have to restrict freedom of speech, which could snowball into quite the mess.  It is a hard line to draw no matter what right you consider.  Just to clear, I am not saying that having certain freedoms are not worth the trade-offs, I just want to point out these types of trade-offs are inherent to freedom. These are just some examples that highlight the conundrum of the notion of freedom. Remember, what is true for one must be true for all, so we need to find a balance.

For all…

In our current version of a capitalist system (which is far from a real capitalist system) that promotes individual freedom above all else, we lose out in many freedoms as well. Instead of recognizing the balance and the trade-offs that are necessary, we instead have allowed individuals to strip us of our freedom to enjoy a clean and sustainable environment. We have allowed our freedom to have decent wages and healthcare. For many of us around the country and world, we have giving up our freedom to simply have enough food. Please do not mistake this, as a debate between capitalism and democratic socialism that plagues our corporate media. I am not discussing whether or not the government should provide these service. Instead, I am highlighting the fact that by allowing a few to plunder the earth without limits in the name of “individual freedom”, we have given up our freedom to get these things for ourselves. Just as we must analyze how our so called political freedoms require a balance, we must analyze our notion of economic freedom. Unchecked individual economic freedom hinders other individual’s economic freedom of pursuing a quality livelihood.

You ARE the 99 percent.

Over the past few weeks, I have spent as much free time as possible at Liberty Square, even sleeping on the pavement there. As you may know, thousands of activists have been gathering at Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza) in lower Manhattan about two blocks from Wall Street. However, unless you have been there, you many have a very misguided understanding of what is going on there. With thousands of people gathering in lower Manhattan for over two weeks, many of them camped out in the park for the duration, partaking in two or more marches per day, and with similar movements now popping up all over the nation and abroad, you might think there would be sufficient coverage of the events in the mainstream media. You would be wrong. Instead, reporters and cameras come in and out all day, most with a preconceived notion of what their story will be and proceed to film, edit, and add their monologue to push their own agenda. Allow me to offer you SOME of the real story.

A group of activists has occupied Liberty Plaza next to Wall Street to express our mutual disdain of the current state of affairs. While there are many reasons and personal stories that reflect the discontent, a common thread is we feel disenfranchised because of the institutionalized power and wealth in huge corporations and banks. Less than one percent of the population reaps the benefits of this power and wealth on a grand scale. They control our political and economic landscape. We want freedom for all people. We believe that as long as the abundance of wealth and power remain accumulated in less than one percent of the population, and in these large, undemocratic institutions, genuine freedom for all is impossible. Everyone has an interest in returning the power of self-determination to the people; well 99 percent of us do.

The movement is large and growing rapidly. Many people have been staying at Liberty Plaza night after night. Some have mattresses, air mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets, or tarps to sleep on. Beyond those living in the park, thousands of people pass through every day: some campaign with us for a couple of hours, some march with us, some just walk around and observe. The questions that everyone asks are the same: “why are you here?”, “what’s the point?”, “what’s the end game?”, and “what are your demands?”

This movement is much more complicated than those simple, sound-bite questions. The questions AND the answers are much deeper and complicated than that. While everyone gathers to show their contempt for corporate greed and its power over our political system, there is not one unified message as of now as to what should happen, and there doesn’t need to be. There is a full spectrum of participants here and the opinions regarding problems and, even more so solutions, vary. However, people should recognize that in many ways ONE end result has already been accomplished. We are here. We are living change. It’s organic and at times sloppy, but it is real. We are raising awareness and showing people that you can take control over your own life. You can meet people and talk to them. You can organize your own political discourse and democratic experience. The movement holds one or two General Assemblies every day. We organize them without hierarchical leadership and with true democratic principles. Everyone really does have a voice. This is a major accomplishment in and of itself. As for the external impact we will have? Give us time. The movement is spreading. Occupiers are popping up everywhere. We will let the people decide. After all, we have 99 percent of the population’s needs to consider.

So in response to all these questions, I ask you this: “Are you living to your fullest potential?” For most of us, the answer is no.

If you believe we need to end corporate personhood (and/or); we need to end corporate lobbying and political representation (and/or); we need equal political representation, open sources, and transparency in government and policy (and/or); we need to stop environmental degradation and exploitation and hold violators accountable for their destruction (and/or); we need diverse political representation, not just two very similar choices (and/or); every gender, race, religion, and people deserve respect and equality; (and/or)….

then you are the 99 percent.

If not now, when?


I chose the title ‘One Voice’ for this blog because of its dual meaning. On the one hand, this blog is a direct representation of one human voice—mine. In the natural process of human growth, my opinion can be fluid. My overall philosophy on humanity is constantly being refined and sometimes redefined as my life unfolds. Through One Voice, I hope to perpetuate a synergy of relationships between readers and myself with the overall goal of enhancing our lives, perspectives, and impacts on the world around us. On the other hand, ‘One Voice’ is a simple statement of solidarity among like-minded people who agree (or in some cases even disagree) with the overall philosophy and inclusiveness of One Voice. While I find it difficult to define my beliefs in simplistic terms like ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘liberal’, ‘conservative’, ‘communist’, or whatever other labels we can throw out there, I think the spectrum of my philosophies, as well as their place on the greater spectrum of philosophies, will become increasingly clear through my posts, as I have no intention of objectivity.I am not ready to categorize my blog just yet, however, the broad focus will be global and human issues. (What? …I said “broad”). Some might call it a political blog, but I’m not purely concerned with politics. My concern is the well-being of human beings and the global environment. So, in some respects, politics are crucial. More importantly, I am looking to promote and provoke discussion for systematic improvements in human relations on a global scale.

The majority of the economy is global. Even goods and services, relatively untouched by international forces, are impacted by historical repercussions of those forces. As social scientists, we, all too often, isolate and compartmentalize issues for the purpose of ‘scientific analysis’ thereby disregarding (or at least mitigating) the interconnectedness of institutions, systems, structures of people, states, and issues that create the realities we aspire to change. We cannot understand (and therefore alleviate) poverty, human rights abuses, and suffering without a justifiable historical analysis of global political and economic structures and their impacts on the localities we work with.

I will cover issues of economics, environments, politics, human rights, human relations, equality, fairness, freedom, and justice (to name a few) with the overall belief that that the systems of global human interactions are significantly flawed. Because I am a patriotic American, and unfaltering critic of the American government, I will also discuss the role of the US in these issues the issues I domestic topics. Some posts will be abstract, conceptual, and philosophical in nature while others may be a straightforward analysis of the day’s events.

Whatever the post, I hope to inspire or perpetuate some real, human, open-minded discourse as well as provide some clarifying analysis regarding the connections among complex realities. Most importantly, I hope to build a significant enough readership that will create a productive synergy of thought so we all can engage with, and learn from, each other.