Last Saturday while in New York City I went downtown to visit the Occupy Wall Street group and also ended up walking in their protest march around big bank buildings. A terrific experience with a huge group chanting things like “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”
My first impression was absolute amazement at how many police surrounded Zuccotti Park, as massive a police presence as any I had ever seen in countless news accounts of protests in other countries, including those trying to overturn awful regimes. No wonder that New York City has spent over $3 million so far on policing the Occupy events.
As I slowly walked through all the groups at the park seeing how things were organized, how people were living and having occasional conversations I became increasingly impressed. The park is really very small. So there is very little space to walk around and some people are sleeping under various kinds of coverings. Most exceptional of the high quality of place is that it is like a small village with a medical center, food serving area, library, makeshift clothing store, including someone with a sewing machine tailoring clothes, and even two people offering haircuts.
Overwhelmingly, the whole park area was exceptionally clean, and there was a large set of cleaning utensils and I saw one person going around sweeping a small amount of litter. None of the flower beds were destroyed.
The choice of foods and their quality were exceptional, especially considering that the city outlaws any open flame cooking or heating equipment.
From my conversations and what I listened to demonstrated that the protestors were highly informed and totally committed to their Occupy goals. Something that does not get enough attention is that a good fraction of the protestors are not very young people, many are in the sixties or seventies. A large number of people in the park were busy working on their laptops. I saw no evidence of alcohol or drug use. And protestors were well dressed, always courteous and very friendly.
Many of the group’s serious discussions and votes are held in offsite locations.
There were a very large number of media people around and inside the park; they also followed the marchers.
Much of the information about the Occupy movement in downtown Manhattan is seriously misleading. Most ludicrous are criticisms by many politicians and media pundits that specific policy proposals are missing. The clear success of the Occupy movement as evidenced by an explosion of similar groups in countless US and foreign cities is a testament to its success, not to mention endless media coverage.
The central and correct focus of the Occupy movement is on the failures of the banking and finance sector that has provided insane money rewards to those that have raped the US and global economy and caused great harm to the 99%. Economic inequality and injustice that come from both a corrupt political and economic system owned by the rich and powerful corporate elites are what I and many others have been writing about for years. To get bogged down in very specific policy actions would not serve a useful purpose, especially because the Occupy movement sees nothing positive about the two-party plutocracy running and ruining the US political system. I sensed no faith whatsoever in Democrats, including President Obama, and Republicans and their Tea Party supporters.
If the Democrats or Obama try to convert the Occupy movement into something that serves their political ambitions it would be a shame, especially if it succeeded to any extent.
Even without conventional “leaders” the Occupy movement is succeeding at being a direct democracy and its organizational capabilities are outstanding. They have been receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and also huge quantities of boxes of donated materials stored somewhere, much of which have not even been opened yet. I think mainly because of too little space in the park. Clearly, as some polls have shown, there is massive public support for the Occupy movement. It has what it takes to last for a long time.
The big question is how true and deep reforms in our political and economic system needed to fight economic inequality and injustice harming most Americans will be achieved. In this regard, one of my hopes is that the Occupy movement in the US will get behind the effort by Dylan Ratigan at getmoneyout.com to get a constitutional amendment that would get money out of politics. This is the only way to directly fight the corruption of government by rich and powerful interests. The path to getting such an amendment, however, is through the use of the Article V convention option in the Constitution, not by relying on Congress for proposing something to reform it. Supporting use of the convention option is something I hope the Occupy movement will also support. I now have more hope that the much needed Second American Revolution may happen.
~ The Author ~
Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Sprawl Kills – How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money and Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. He is a former Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources at the National Governors Association and a senior staffer for the U.S. Congress.