Fresh Ideas: Shedding some positive light on the Occupy movement
“We have come here to assert our real selves and lives, to build genuine relationships with each other and with the world, and to remind ourselves that another path is possible.” – Tidal (an Occupy journal)
I’ve recently been watching democracy take place and I’m thrilled.
I’m talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement. On a recent trip to New York, I sought out Zucotti Park. I got lost a few times among the skyscrapers, but when I finally got there, I didn’t find any of the smelly hippies the crotchety right told me I would find. What I did find was several thousand people deeply concerned about the direction of our country – including me. In my view, democracy cannot long survive when income, power and wealth are too concentrated. In the words of the ancient Greek/Roman historian Plutarch, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
We’ve all heard the figures. In 2006, the top one-tenth of 1 percent of American earners had more combined pre-tax income than the poorest 120 million Americans. Regarding wealth, in 2007 the top 1 percent of American households owned 34.6 percent of all privately held wealth. The bottom 80 percent of households held only 15 percent of wealth.
When I returned home, I was happy to find Occupy Carson City, so I’ve been attending their weekly General Assemblies. GA’s, as they’ve come to be called, are in my view the heart of the Occupy movement, more than the occupations and demonstrations. GA’s are where occupiers decide on their next actions, and they also have become broadly ranging discussions about the political economy of our country.
In Carson City, Occupy is average people – employed and unemployed; facing foreclosure or already foreclosed upon; veteran political activists and newcomers (I still haven’t seen any of the “riff-raff, misfits, losers” that Chuck Muth encountered) – talking seriously and respectfully with each other about issues central not only to their own lives but to the future of our country.
If I were a political science teacher, I would send my students to watch and take part. This is what democracy looks like. These are people acting like real citizens of a democracy; not just employees, voters, consumers or borrowers. And these gatherings and discussions are taking place all across the country.
One criticism of Occupy is that there are no “demands.” Right now, my sense is that Occupy is more concerned with establishing relationships and educating themselves. It is a genuine grassroots political movement, and real movements take time to become established. That said, though, Occupy Carson City has been discussing a position statement that may include restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act and a Constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. Real ideas. Real discussions. What a refreshing change from people lining up on either side of a trumped-up political divide and shouting insults at each other.
• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a longtime resident of Carson City.