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17 October, 2011

Unoccupy Wall Street

My last post expressed some doubt as to the sustainability and soundness of the Occupy protests happening. It is only fair to suggest alternatives, or be branded a do-nothing whiner.

So, let's Unoccupy Wall Street. Denizens of the financial district are not among the readers here, so we can begin by claiming success in terms of the physical place, but you know that's not what I'm getting at. Divest. Don't let your money occupy their vaults.

You live near a credit union that can take care of your banking needs from saving pennies to getting a home mortgage, and they won't Lincoln and Hamilton you to death with fees. You'll be a member, sharing in the profits and governance of a financial entity beholden to a broader ownership and longer time horizon than profit-obsessed big banks. You may also have a local bank that has a stake in a healthy community and treats its customers decently. Either choice beats parking your money in an institution prisoner to quarterly profits, sophisticated (yet still fundamentally stupid) gambles, publicly-funded bail-outs, exalted executives, and just plain greed.

But I don't need to convince you why, just that you should take that step if you already have not, and make your personal finances Unoccupy Wall Street. This November, vote with your finances. While media images of hippies and anarchists doing everything from wearing sinister masks to making love easily lend themselves to dismissal or discrediting of the Occupy movement, it would be hard to misinterpret the image of a run on the banks, a line of people in front of Bank of America waiting to withdraw their funds. If I had the audience to pull it off, I'd call for November to be Vote With Your Money month, a coordinated action. Doing an Unoccupy Wall Street event during the election month (or maybe the cyclical, slower-building version of the plan: Withdrawal Wednesdays), seems like a decent strategy to focus attention and impact on the action.

The financial effect to the big financial players would be negligible to begin with, and the power would be in the perception that we commoners are sick of playing their game. But as was the case with ending South African Apartheid, a few humble divestitures can lead to a few more, and eventually reach a tipping point where continuing business as usual becomes too costly, and real progress happens. You can be the beginning.

Meanwhile, it's a matter of retreating from the various corporate territories you occupy. Get food that was grown closer to you (your own yard would be a good place to start), and processed less; go to restaurants run by local families. Clothe yourself at thrift stores and yard sales, so even if that shirt was made for a famous name brand, they don't get a cent on the transaction. Keep driving the same old car (repaired by your unemployed neighbor or a local shop) or hop on a bike or bus. Disconnect the cable and just use your phone for phone calls instead of incessantly connecting to the corporate web. Make your gifts.

So really, unoccupying Wall Street turns out to be a bunch of small, easy steps. You'll find that you end up saving money. You will be more free of the corporate matrix, and at the same time more connected to your community and interested in its welfare. In the short term, divesting improves your life. If enough people unoccupy Wall Street, then in time our nation's life will take a turn for the better. Try it.

16 October, 2011


A month after the Occupy Wall Street protest began, the movement has replicated on an international scale. I live in Olympia, Washington, where our own Occupation began this weekend. Wrapping up a year that began with massive labor protests ignited by Wisconsin's union-busting, I have to say it is inspiring to see people taking to the streets, speaking out, refusing to just sit back and take whatever abuse AmeriCo feels like dishing out.

But occupations are mostly doomed. In Iraq, the West Bank, Soviet satellites, and on down the list, occupiers find themselves at odds with local populations, trying to maintain order in places they do not know or understand, stuck fighting an opposition when they'd rather be home. Having chosen a military metaphor, the movement faces congruent difficulties. In the US, occupying private property touches a deep nerve; people in general may not care what you do on someone else's property, but they sure as hell don't want someone camped out on their private property, and will oppose on principal such action. Occupying a public park, on the other hand, creates an insurgency among the usual users and the municipal authorities charged with serving the general public, which may feel no common cause with an occupation force perceived as radicals and people with too much time and too little work ethic.

This may not be a fair perception, but it is sure as hell reinforced by corporate media, ranging from the all-out attacks by Fox and other right wing organs on 'un-American' protesters to the regular mention elsewhere of marijuana smoking, un-focused, and by implication unlikely-to-succeed, occupiers. Evil or addled, or maybe just plain naive as some pundits would have it, the story line rarely credits the movement with potential to create real change, and drags before the cameras an unending series of spokespeople who cite goals that are vague beyond comprehension, or have to do with grinding a very specific and odd ax, or betray ignorance. The resistance benefits greatly from the fact that a leaderless movement that worships free speech and personal autonomy can be "represented" on camera by the most idiotic among the occupiers.

Another flaw lies in the territory being occupied. In Manhattan, it is Zuccotti Park, which despite its name is not a public space at all, but the property of the Brookfield Properties corporation. Elsewhere, Occupy clones are popping up in public spaces, but it's not the county or city or state that the occupiers have a grievance with. Occupy a city park, and you may inconvenience the municipality, the people who the week before had gone there to feed pigeons or play with kids, but you do not hurt the corporations that looted our economy. In fact, you do them a favor, setting in motion a conflict between citizens who occupy the park and the civil servants responsible for maintaining it. If I were a Wall Street banker, I'd be laughing all the way to the, uh, my work, as city officials fretted and faced unplanned expenses while occupiers focused sizable effort on avoiding eviction and the remaining citizenry split into pro-, anti- and apathetic camps. Divide and divert, and meanwhile very little corporate real estate is occupied.

I support my family by working for money, which means I cannot go down an take part in the Occupation, at least not in the sense of living there day in and day out. I can lend support, bring supplies, write blogs and comments lauding this patriotic antidote to the Tea Party. But my occupation is something else, and I don't have time to occupy a city park. Instead, I'll occupy my house, which is actually just a tiny percentage mine, belonging as it does to the mortgage holder (in my case, this is a local credit union, and not a Wall Street bank, so mine is a peaceful occupation, nothing adversarial unless I chose to stop paying the bill I willingly signed on to). As much as I support civil disobedience and speaking out against our greedy, corrupted system, I do find myself wondering who it is that will have the time to occupy a park for weeks or months on end, and whether with all that time, they might have something to do that would create more tangible progress.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will it devolve into an extended dance party that accomplishes nothing? Will people lose interest or hope and go home? Will the clampdown roll through like MacArthur's tanks through Hooverville? Will corporations see the error of unbridled capitalism and surrender?

I'm pessimistic enough to think that those question were presented in descending order of likelihood, but optimistic enough to think that beyond the Occupy movement, there may be positive change. The protest may have some deep flaws that keep it from being sustainable in its present form, but this week people are talking about issues that were buried a month ago, and maybe in a month they'll be taking more substantive measures. Occupation may prove to be a vital step on a journey that leads to a better nation.

15 October, 2011


This year, I'll end up posting about twice as often as last year, which was twice as much as the first year of Mojourner truth. There was never any focus to begin with, but the blog has grown in various directions, and that along with the increased number of posts made me decide recently to spinn off.

So now I'll have separate blogs for food, politics, the Northwest, culture, and of course procrastacriticism. As I write this, a couple of those topics stand empty (and un-linked to) and others stay hidden (and un-thinked of). Maybe I'll cross-post here, but maybe not. Some of these blogs will die on the vine. Others may live on while the Mojourner Truth fades into obscurity. Or,...something completely different.