Sunday, June 29, 2014

Keeping the OWS Fires Burning

Occupy Wall Street protesters, the 99%, are pulling up stakes and leaving areas all around the world.  Regardless the perceived problems with diversity within the protest platforms, you've got to admit it was pretty impressive how many people in so many different cities were able to rally together to fight the power!

If we compare it to the civil rights movement, the beginnings are not dissimilar.  Both had to contend with a media backlash of course.  But there are a couple of  marked differences in how the civil rights movement was able to really take off.  First, the civil rights movement had several remarkable people who rose up to lead.  The OWS group needs a good speaker to unify the people.  We need a Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. - an excellent speaker who is intelligent and really understands the background and the direction we need to move in and who can excite the masses passionately.  Maybe Tom Zolot (check out how he controlled the situation at about 5 minutes into the video) who was one of the protester who got pepper sprayed.   We need someone who says things like this:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Or this:
I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation. - Malcolm X
The movements differ significantly in how concrete they are.  The civil rights movement had tangible obstacles to overcome.  They could individually fight by daring to sit in the wrong place, marry the wrong person, move into the wrong neighbourhood, go to the wrong school....  By contrast, the OWS movement is ineffable.  It's harder for individuals to use small daily acts of bravery to take it down.  There are things that people can do, but they're not as visible, not as public.  We don't all notice how many people are in on it, so it's hard to gather speed.  On the bright side, because we can't make those small daily public acts, maybe this movement can be less violent.  Maybe we can effect change without anyone getting hung or raped or stabbed.  In the states, there was about as much violence during Black Friday shopping sprees as there were at the protests.  This is the pepper spray revolution!

So, is it over?

It doesn't have to be.  Here are some ways individuals can help change the world, some individual acts that really do make a difference:

First, get educated on why people are so riled up.  There are many movies out about the scandals that have brought all this to a head.  For my money, the very best is The Inside Job.  I summarized it here if you don't want to watch talking heads for two hours.  In a nutshell,
Progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each crisis is worse than the last, yet few people are being sent to prison despite fraud that caused trillions of dollars in losses to private citizens.
Secondly, move all your money out of banks and into a credit union, then tell people what you did.  What's the difference?  A bank is a government or privately owned business that gets to decide what to do with your money (even in a democracy).  When you pay interest on loans, it makes the people who own and run the bank a little richer, and banks are allowed to gamble with your money on the stock market.  A credit union is a co-op, a collective in which you're a member with the rights of membership including having a say in things.  They're often not-for-profit (except in Canada where they're allowed to make some money).  Typically when you pay interest on a loan it goes into the system and benefits everyone involved including you.  It's the difference between Potter's Bank and the Bailey Building and Loan:

Third, avoid paying years of interest on loans.  Back in the day when I was buying a house, there was a formula for mortgage lending that stopped people from buying something they couldn't afford.  It kept some people from owning homes they wanted, which infringed on their freedoms some criticized, but it ensured that nobody was in a bind if the interest rates went up.  I had a 40% down payment on my first house by living in less-than-ideal conditions for several years while I saved every single penny.  Now you can buy a house with as little as a 0% down payment!  That's veryvery dangerous.  If the interest rates go up and the house prices go down, then you can lose your house yet still have a mortgage to pay.  Can you afford to rent somewhere AND pay a mortgage on a house you lost?  The tent cities outside wall street and government buildings are down, but the ones in inner city side streets and parks, those made out of necessity because people have lost everything, are still standing and will be for yet another winter.

Mainstream media will tell you that raising the required down payment is "closing out home ownership to people" - which it is, but why is that a bad thing?  It's ensuring that people who can't afford a house, don't try to buy one until they've saved up more money.  And this site makes a compelling argument for just avoiding the whole home-ownership process to begin with.  In the end, renting isn't throwing away money; you actually end up further ahead.  But we're sucked in to believing that a house is part of the dream, part of being a grown up.  We think we want the right to make our own mistakes, but most people aren't able to see how the whole system operates well enough to make true informed choices.  There are too many sneaky weasels in the mix.

Fourth, this one is harder and more contentious, but if you're community minded, and you can afford the necessities easily, then voluntarily reduce your work hours.  This typically means giving up your benefits too, so make sure you can afford to do it.  We don't have enough work to go around.  Media (dictated by government and big business) suggest that interest rates are rising much slower than reality.  Get a crash course in these fuzzy numbers here.   We have a lot more people, and a lot of labour is being outsourced, so there's going to be rising unemployment.  If we can't change the way business works, maybe we can share the wealth by sharing jobs.  It also requires buying fewer luxuries, which some say will destroy the economy and everything will collapse.  I don't buy it, and neither does Tim Jackson in Prosperity Without Growth.  But that's a story for another day.

Fifth, write letters to political figures under the illusion of true democratic governance and tell people whenever you send them.  Demand clear, financial transparency.  Hold them accountable for their actions.  Should the elected officials who were in on all the deregulation be taken to task for that?  Should the bankers who got rich by insuring faulty loans be arrested for fraud?  Tell them to take out loopholes in the tax system and/or to raise taxes on outrageous luxury items (a second home, a yacht...) and eliminate them on necessities.  Recognize though, that if you get a little extra money, you'll be the one paying more taxes.  But if we want to reduce the huge rich/poor gap we have right now, then that's the way to do it!    

Cross-posted from Project Earth Blog, November 27, 2011

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