American Idol or American Ideal?

Jordi Comas took the people’s mic last Friday night and led Occupy Lewisburg in an unlikely exercise he called “American Ideal.”  Offering five creative options for collective action, he then challenged the occupiers to propose their own ideas and compete in an activist “beauty contest.”

Groups of occupiers put their heads together and came up with some darlings.

“This is just a beauty contest,” Comas continued to emphasize, seemingly to no avail.  After two rounds of advocacy and voting, here is what our local occupiers came up with.

Joanne F. Henry spoke eloquently on behalf of an intergeneration collective of artists/performers who would periodically create a mobile Occupation by the Arts in response to community concerns.  Occupying an old school bus, the performers would travel to a specific local site in need of an Occupy event and create an artistic performance/installation to draw attention to the need.  By filming the artistic endeavor, the Art Bus would use various media platforms to generate awareness of the particular community issue.

“Artistic expression cuts though our thinking in a way that reading words on a page does not.  It lets us take in ideas we may otherwise brush away,” Joanne said.  “This community has such a wealth of performers. I would like to see our creations cross lines of gender, race and class to include everyone in the community and slip into many different media platforms.”

Stacy Richards shared her experience with an ongoing project in New Berlin to create energy independence at the community level.  The Community-Wide Energy Independence Project has focused for the past two years on reducing energy use through conserving energy.  The project is also exploring further energy reductions through renewable energy options such as solar PV, solar thermal and bio fuels. Financial models are being explored, including individual and community-owned renewable projects in which community members would be shareholders.

“The community is well on its way to reducing its energy consumption by 20% within three years through energy conservation in homes, churches and businesses.  They are poised to create a real alternative to fossil fuels,” Richards said. “I think we can really do this.”

Don Stechschulte offered his vision of community-based health care.

“The two most important question that determine your odds of recovering from illness, be it cancer, diabetes, HIV, are not medical.  Are you economically secure?  Do you like your job?  These are not questions that doctors are trained to ask,” Stechschulte explained.

A community health initiative would explore ways of providing economic security and meaningful employment as a means of improving community wellbeing on all levels.

“We need to take responsibility for peoples’ health and wellbeing in this community beyond the hospital and the doctor’s office and put it back in peoples lives,” Stechschulte concluded.

Kate Parker spoke on behalf of the idea of creating a Community Kitchen.

“We have it in our power, probably within this room, to feed our entire community if we want to.  Yes, it requires work to create a meal, but if you take the time and if you do it with love, you cannot only feed people’s bellies, but you can feed their hearts and souls and help them feel cared for.”

A number of occupiers spoke up in favor of this idea, connecting the idea of the kitchen to the creation of community meeting space, space for kids and parents, community education and outreach and space for the performing arts.

“It is an opportunity to spend time working together, which is something we also need to do, and when you care for people, when you offer them something with no expectations, they remember that and it creates a community bond,” Parker added.

The Community Kitchen ended up winning the title of the “American Ideal.”

“We have decided nothing,” Comas insisted.  “This is just a beauty contest, just an opportunity to generate ideas.”  And it was clear that, indeed, those present had begun to see possibilities of combining these ideas into the first sketch of a plan of action.

“We need to put a human face on the Occupy movement,” Margaret Moyer insisted, “and sharing a meal is an ideal way for people to see the real people behind this effort, and perhaps to begin to question the information they are getting on the news.”

“If you don’t like what you see on the news,” offered Steve Mitchell, drawing on the wisdom of earlier protests, “Go out and make your own news.”

It seems the seeds planted on Friday night at Occupy Cherry Alley may have already begun to take root.  If you would like to be part of the Occupy Lewisburg efforts to support the American Ideal, go to OccupyLewisburgPA on Facebook or contact me at kristjan@bucknell.edu.

Occupy Cherry Alley Interview with Mark Lawrence and Robin Jarrell

This interview highlights the importance of worker participation in corporate decision-making and the connection between Occupy Wall St. core principles and Christian values.  Robin Jarrell is rector at the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

http://www.wkok.com/1070_WKOK/OTM.htm

 

Let’s Occupy Together

(Originally Posted Nov. 5th, 2011)

I’m not sure why the media are having such trouble figuring out the demands of Occupy Wall St.  Recently, a seven-year-old girl, Celia Cooley, went down to Zuccotti Park and, posing as a reporter, she asked people why they were there (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x12iOQYY0w8).  What they said was quite consistent and quite reasonable and quite comprehensible to this young girl.  They said: We want our democracy back.

Anyone who is confused about what the protesters want has probably been listening to too much corporate news.  Corporate news stations present themselves as trustworthy and unbiased, but they are owned by large multinational corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse, and these are the folks that are benefitting from the policies that the protesters decry.

These news outlets don’t want the message of Occupy Wall St. to be heard.  They don’t want the protesters portrayed as ordinary Americans who have been bilked of their savings and booted out of the middle class and who are justifiably demanding that things change. If you’ve been watching corporate news and you are confused, the first thing to do is to broaden your sources of information.  Go to the non-commercial news sites on the Internet and listen to the chorus of ordinary Americans who are saying very clearly what’s wrong and who are making sensible suggestions about how to go about fixing it.

Here is some of what you will learn.

The economic crisis did not start because suddenly poor people started taking out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford to pay for.  It didn’t start because of some corporate bad apples. Think about it.  The job of a lender is to determine if a person is credit worthy.  The reason loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them was simply that banks no longer had an incentive to find out if people were credit worthy.  Why?  Because banks were permitted to sell the mortgages to other companies for a profit, rather than waiting to collect on the loan.  The big banks pushed loans on people because they were making profit, hand over fist, from selling these loans to investors.

Why were the investors buying bad mortgages? Because they were permitted to bundle them together with other loans to look like safe investments.  Why did these investments look safe, because the folks in the rating agencies, who were supposed to rate these investments, were not sufficiently regulated and worked in cahoots with the big banks.

The problem, in short, was not individual behavior; the problem was that the system was jury-rigged.  Corporate lobbyists took over Congress and rewrote the banking laws in their favor.  As long as home prices went up, banks made a killing.  When the music stopped, instead of taking their consequences, big banks got their insiders at the Fed and the Treasury Department in D.C. to bail them out.  Then they got their friends their in corporate media affiliates to point their fingers at the borrowers ( the ones who are now homeless) and at big government (for wasting taxpayer money).  Meanwhile, Wall St. banks go on their merry way, paying out bonus, rewarding failure, avoiding the consequences of their actions, and continuing to use our Congress as their personal playground.

That’s just wrong.  That’s why folks are on the streets.

If you are in the Tea Party, you probably believe many of the same things that Occupy Wall St. supporters believe.  People should play by the rules.  People should be punished when they do something wrong.  If you reward people for cheating, they are likely to continue to misbehave.  Like supporters of OWS, you probably believe that our government should be accountable to us, we the people, and that the government should not collude with powerful elites to deprive people of the right to a livelihood, or to kick them out of their homes.  You probably believe that government shouldn’t write laws that favor powerful interests in order to raise enough money to get re-elected.

I support Occupy Wall St.  You and I may have our differences, but I think we share a commitment to restoring the integrity of this democracy.  I think we can agree that when a government no longer is responsive to the desires of the citizens, that it is the responsibility of citizens to act together.  The government itself is not the problem; the problem is that the government has been taken over by wealthy elites who do not have our interests at heart.  It is time for us to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Republican and Democrat, on the streets of this great country and take our democracy back.

Turn off the corporate news, talk to your fellow Americans, one by one, until you decide for yourself whether what I am saying is true.  That’s what Celia is doing.  There is no other test in a democracy but that of the ability of ideas to stand the test of evidence and reason.  The values that our forbearers fought and died for are at stake.  Nothing less.

Post-Eviction Occupy Round Up

I am something of a news junkie.  When I want to procrastinate, which is a lot, I start poking around.  Rather than feel like it is all “a waste,” I thought I would assemble the best of the ‘net surfing here.  I know I can feel overwhelmed.  You too?  Then let my roamings shortcut yours.

There have been some amazing images and photographs.

This woman being pepper-sprayed was, like much photo-journalism, an accident.

What is that long, black pole behind the cop spraying?  It looks like a pike or a cattle prod.

Another bound to be iconic image.  Here we have UC Davis campus police spraying peaceful protestors.

 

The context around this UC Davis event is explained by an open letter to the Chancellor (Now, that is a creepy term.  Sounds like scary Germans) by Professor Nathan Davis.  He writes that at times protestors had their mouths forced open to get more of that spray in.  Nice.

Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats.

One of my favorite images has got to be Captain (Ret) Ray Lewis of the Phialdelphia police being arrested for marching with the Occupy movement.

The look on his face is priceless.  To me it says “I served the public and democracy for this?”

Another hopeful image is this one of U Cal Berkley students defying the order to not re-establish an encampment in Sproul Plaza.  They floated their tents!  Awesome!

OFinally, a bit on policy ideas.  I love policy ideas and looking at how do-able changes can improve a situation.  David Cay Johnston is a journalist who has written many books.  One which I own and have read parts of is Free Lunch and it is about how venally rich use government to subvert any idea of free competition to line their own pockets.  You can hear him explain this here in a 2008 interview.  For example, big box retailers often get to deduct their sales tax from their costs of building the stores to encourage “job creation.”  I had to read it three times to make sure I wasn’t mis-reading.    Anyway, this very self-described moderate journalist is great at tracking down the dirty details of a rigged system.

I found this interesting op-ed at Reuters by Mr. Johnston.  Derivative trading (like credit default swaps) when one does not actually own the underlying asset is gambling.  The parties are simply making zero-sum bets on the movement of prices.  As much as it can be gussied up to look like something useful for a real economy, the 670 trillion dollars in notional value of CDS‘s in 2008 was a huge casino.  (Notional value means what they were worth on paper.)  So, the solution?  It was already in our laws.  Such debts are unenforceable.  The supreme court, and others, have ruled that gambling debts are not enforceable (hence, the rash of mafia movies involving a certain knee-breaking penchant).  If AIG and Goldman Sachs, among others, had NO expectation they could collect on their CDS bets, they never would have made them and would have stuck to actual hedging.

Nifty.

Finally, a podcast I like, The New Yorker’s “Political Scene” is an insight-packed 12-15 minutes.  This week’s made my eyes bulge and made me start swearing aloud (which probably confused anyone near me while I was walking the dog).  I, like some tea party folks, found myself dripping in the condescension of the the liberal elites.

In a conversation about (about 7 minutes in) where it goes and how it might engage with politics, Hertzberg says they “can’t harness their own energy.”  He says “They don’t have a decision making that works.  They depend on this tribal campfire thing to go forward.”  Then, “Rick” Hertzberg finds himself wondering “what they do stand for.”  Good grief.  Among many problems with this, the most basic one for me is the way the mainstream media and journalism elites force anyone to play by their rules of matching policy to policy.  In other words, rather than understand occupy as a metaphor for public dialogue and democracy form the ground up, protestors are supposed to lobby up and have a ten point plan which will then be crushed by the resources of vested interests.  It is like playing ice hockey but being told you have to use flippers instead of skates.

 

 

Let’s Occupy Together

I’m not sure why the media are having such trouble figuring out the demands of Occupy Wall St.  Recently, a seven-year-old girl, Celia Cooley, went down to Zuccotti Park and, posing as a reporter, she asked people why they were there (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x12iOQYY0w8).  What they said was quite consistent and quite reasonable and quite comprehensible to this young girl.  They said: We want our democracy back.

Anyone who is confused about what the protesters want has probably been listening to too much corporate news.  Corporate news stations present themselves as trustworthy and unbiased, but they are owned by large multinational corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse, and these are the folks that are benefitting from the policies that the protesters decry.

These news outlets don’t want the message of Occupy Wall St. to be heard.  They don’t want the protesters portrayed as ordinary Americans who have been bilked of their savings and booted out of the middle class and who are justifiably demanding that things change. If you’ve been watching corporate news and you are confused, the first thing to do is to broaden your sources of information.  Go to the non-commercial news sites on the Internet and listen to the chorus of ordinary Americans who are saying very clearly what’s wrong and who are making sensible suggestions about how to go about fixing it.

Here is some of what you will learn.

The economic crisis did not start because suddenly poor people started taking out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford to pay for.  It didn’t start because of some corporate bad apples. Think about it.  The job of a lender is to determine if a person is credit worthy.  The reason loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them was simply that banks no longer had an incentive to find out if people were credit worthy.  Why?  Because banks were permitted to sell the mortgages to other companies for a profit, rather than waiting to collect on the loan.  The big banks pushed loans on people because they were making profit, hand over fist, from selling these loans to investors.

Why were the investors buying bad mortgages? Because they were permitted to bundle them together with other loans to look like safe investments.  Why did these investments look safe, because the folks in the rating agencies, who were supposed to rate these investments, were not sufficiently regulated and worked in cahoots with the big banks.

The problem, in short, was not individual behavior; the problem was that the system was jury-rigged.  Corporate lobbyists took over Congress and rewrote the banking laws in their favor.  As long as home prices went up, banks made a killing.  When the music stopped, instead of taking their consequences, big banks got their insiders at the Fed and the Treasury Department in D.C. to bail them out.  Then they got their friends their in corporate media affiliates to point their fingers at the borrowers ( the ones who are now homeless) and at big government (for wasting taxpayer money).  Meanwhile, Wall St. banks go on their merry way, paying out bonus, rewarding failure, avoiding the consequences of their actions, and continuing to use our Congress as their personal playground.

That’s just wrong.  That’s why folks are on the streets.

If you are in the Tea Party, you probably believe many of the same things that Occupy Wall St. supporters believe.  People should play by the rules.  People should be punished when they do something wrong.  If you reward people for cheating, they are likely to continue to misbehave.  Like supporters of OWS, you probably believe that our government should be accountable to us, we the people, and that the government should not collude with powerful elites to deprive people of the right to a livelihood, or to kick them out of their homes.  You probably believe that government shouldn’t write laws that favor powerful interests in order to raise enough money to get re-elected.

I support Occupy Wall St.  You and I may have our differences, but I think we share a commitment to restoring the integrity of this democracy.  I think we can agree that when a government no longer is responsive to the desires of the citizens, that it is the responsibility of citizens to act together.  The government itself is not the problem; the problem is that the government has been taken over by wealthy elites who do not have our interests at heart.  It is time for us to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Republican and Democrat, on the streets of this great country and take our democracy back.

Turn off the corporate news, talk to your fellow Americans, one by one, until you decide for yourself whether what I am saying is true.  That’s what Celia is doing.  There is no other test in a democracy but that of the ability of ideas to stand the test of evidence and reason.  The values that our forbearers fought and died for are at stake.  Nothing less.

Occupy Lewisburg?

This Saturday, October 15th from 1 – 2 pm, citizens of Lewisburg are gathering at the Post Office to support Occupy Wall St.

Occupy Wall St. represents a response to a serious question: What ought we to do, we the citizens of a democratic republic, when our elected representatives from the only two major parties are no longer responsive to the will of the people? Occupy Wall St. is an effort to gather the energy of those who believe that we need to restore integrity to our democracy, of those who believe we need to harness that energy in an ongoing grassroots effort to create real and lasting change.

Unlike the Tea Party, Occupy Wall St. doesn’t identify big government as the problem. Rather, the problem is that government has been hijacked by the wealthy and is being run, not in the interests of the people, but to preserve the wealth and power of the few. One of the most telling outcomes of this take-over of political power is the burgeoning inequality in our country. When 1% of the population owns and controls over half the country’s business wealth, when CEO’s are paid three hundred times as much as average workers, when wealth investors like Warren Buffet pay lower tax rates that their administrative assistants, when tax breaks for billionaire are routinely extended but funding for real social needs goes wanting, we undermine the basis for a vibrant democracy and a viable economy.

It would be one thing if the inequality resulted in prosperity for all, but the opposite is true. Splendor at Saks on 5th Avenue has been achieved at the expense of punishing destitution for much of working American. In spite of the fact that the American workforce is almost twice as productive we are taking home no more than we did in 1985. Corporations continue to offshore jobs; banks are foreclosing on record numbers of mortgages; the government stands idly by. The 1% continue to cop out of paying their fair share of taxes, and we are being asked to close schools, lay off city workers, cut badly needed services. And, of course, we are asked to put in longer hours on the job when millions are without work.

This economic crisis did not drop from the sky – it is the direct result of allowing corporations to seek the maximum profit with limited oversight from regulators and little scrutiny by the corporate press. The solution to the crisis in not to restore conditions for further economic growth, if economic growth means a continued exploitation of American and foreign workers, continued plundering of our common resources and continued release of carbon emissions that threaten the integrity of the planet’s ecosystems. What we need instead is a thorough and fearless rethinking of how we organize our economy, what behavior we reward, and who controls our common wealth.

It’s easy to write off this type of movement. But before doing so, ask yourself this question: what do you recommend we, as concerned citizens committed to democracy, do instead? Is it really possible to effect real change from within a political system when the ballot box is stuffed with money? Is it really viable to sit back and just hope things change for the better? If we are going to resuscitate our democracy, we need to begin by gathering, in public spaces and listening to each other, we need to make proposals, discuss, debate, compromise and then move forward. That is what we will do Saturday, in Lewisburg.

We will not be alone. Right now, all over the world, more than 1600 communities large and small, are organizing Occupy Wall St. actions to begin to take back our democracy. On this Saturday, October 15th, over 650 cities and towns are holding actions. Come see what this is all about and find out for yourself whether real change is possible and how it feels to be part of the solution.

This Article will appear in the Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) on October 15th, 2011