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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupy Wall Street vs. Kingian Methods

From       10-4-11

What are the Demands?

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations now spreading across the country are encouraging to be sure. It is stated that the Tahrir Square and other demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa are the model. But it is also a model of the tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square hunger strike by young Chinese activists/students in Beijing. Essentially it is one of being a “leaderless” movement with no concrete demands.  But why no concrete demands? I’m sure none of us think that the “corporate criminals” on Wall Street engaging, as always, in greed and corruption should come up with solutions…. nor Congress for that matter. Would you trust them? Of course not! That’s why the students, the labor unions, the working poor, the immigrants, the activists all over the country should come up with the solutions and make the demands.  In fact, there can be dangerous consequences in organizing efforts when there is no clarity. It’s often a matter of life and death.
In 2005 I wrote an article about Kingian social change for Counterpunch entitled A Matter of Life and Death:Misconceptions About King’s Methods for Change” and I think much of it needs to be reiterated as food for thought given the challenges to a “leaderless” anti-Wall Street movement that at this point largely lacks clarity.

I think that one of the sad legacies of the 1960’s civil rights movement was that people seem to think that demonstrations like those in the 1960’s almost magically led to changes or justice and nothing could be further from the truth. Direct action, as in demonstrations, was largely that last action in a campaign. And when people demonstrated in the 1960’s they were clear about their demands – they largely knew precisely what they wanted.
The tragic consequences of not having clarity was demonstrated in 1989 in China. I was in the Philippines in 1989 not long after some 4,000 activists had been killed and 20,000 wounded in what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing. I talked with Filipino activists who had been in constant communication with the Chinese students who were demanding democracy in China. What concerned my Filipino friends was the lack of unity, organizational infrastructure, and clarity in the demands of the students and workers to the Chinese government, which, they said, likely helped contribute to the violent response from the Chinese government. Perhaps nothing would have altered the violent Chinese government response and the Filipinos were by no means apologists for the Chinese violent behavior, but rather they stressed the need for clarity and unity in any demands for social change when challenging a powerful state.
Many in the United States want us to think about Martin Luther King’s “dreams”. Now, I’m sure King had his dreams but his primary mission, and those of civil rights activists everywhere, was about “action” coupled with concrete and definitive change. Everyone concerned about injustice should take another look at King’s nonviolent methods. Nonviolent social change requires long, hard and sustained work, research, development of solutions, and, importantly, on-going commitment. It demands far more than bringing folks together to march and wave banners.
Mass mobilization or direct action, in fact, is only one part of the non-violent methods for social change. There are other misconceptions I would like to mention but first here’s a description of the steps King and others used in their social change work.
Based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, the Kingian method for nonviolent social change is a systematic one. Here is a brief summary: 
(1) once the problem is identified it is essential to research the issue (i.e. define the problem, who are the key players, who or what is being affected) – the research and analysis should be above reproach as disputed or incorrect facts and figures can completely undermine the efforts for the evolving campaign; 
(2) based on the research, state clearly what needs to change to solve the problem and identify the strategy for solving the problem; 
(3) recruit others to join the struggle, share your findings and strategies, get their input if necessary, but essentially seek a commitment from them (i.e. this is the problem, this is what we intend to do, are you with us?) 
(4) teach them in nonviolent tactics (i.e. being non-confrontational during direct action); 
(5) attempt to resolve the problem through negotiations (i.e. negotiations with whoever controls the policies needing to be changed); 
(6) if that doesn’t work, apply pressure through direct action techniques, which at times need to be sustained for a lengthy period (i.e. boycotts, mass demonstrations); 
(7) negotiate again, if necessary engage in direct action again – often more research is required or more clarity on the solutions needs to be developed; 
(8) finally, if the problem is solved, seek reconciliation.
The first issue that gets lost is that King sought “reconciliation” with his adversaries and an improvement of life for everyone. This is the end goal and if victory is all that’s wanted then that’s not Kingian nonviolence. Reconciliation is also probably the most difficult aspect of the Kingian philosophy for activists to embrace. In his book “Stride Toward Freedom” King said that the nonviolent methods are “not an end in themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
There is almost always a misunderstanding of how to define the adversaries in nonviolent social change. Dr. King said it is not a “battle” against “individuals” who commit evil acts but against the evil itself. Regarding the Montgomery struggles, he said, “The tension is between justice and injustice. and not white persons who may be unjust.” King said further that “the nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or engaging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in-kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.”
Another misconception is that complaints can be made without concrete demands for change. Those who seek change should always develop the solutions because you don’t want to leave that in the hands of your so-called “adversary” – otherwise you’ve wasted your time. King also called for a fair hearing from the adversaries and to listen to them, as there might be some wisdom to gain from that experience, he said. However, if you don’t like what politicians or others do, you certainly don’t want them to be the chief architects in resolving problems. So don’t just engage in a “feel good” march in front of the White House, Congress, State House or Wall Street for that matter and assume that you have completed your mission, made your statement. If you haven’t developed your solutions to the problems you’re addressing, you’ve only done a quarter or less of what is necessary.
It is often thought that nonviolence and pacifism are the same. Not so! It is probably true that most advocates of nonviolence are also pacifists. Nevertheless, nonviolence is a “method for change”. Pacifism is “being against war”. Within this misconception is the assumption that nonviolence is cowardly, a “turn the other cheek” method, which is not true. As a method for change, nonviolence is confrontational. King said, “it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight.”
King said that every nonviolent campaign should be anchored in a boycott and, importantly, voter education and voter registration. While everyone could do more on this, voter education and registration are often included in various movements. Rarely these days, however, do U.S. activists choose to challenge the bulwark and muscle of corporate America, even in spite of the unfettered capitalist abuse in which we live. King wisely recognized that going against corporate America was one of the most vital ways to change behavior. Referring to the Birmingham movement, King said, “it was not the marching alone that brought about integration of public facilities in 1963. The downtown business establishments suffered for weeks under our unbelievably effective boycott.”
King once said that the “Arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice.” The Wall Street occupiers are definitely bending the arc but as King would say “Where to we go from here?” What do we want? Are the Wall Street Occupiers challenging capitalism and/or it’s corrupt infrastructure? If so, what do we want in America? What are our demands? Ever since the McCarthy era of the 1950’s Americans have generally been wary of challenging capitalism or discussing, on a consistent basis, alternatives to a capitalist system. If there was ever a time to shift that paradigm it is now!
HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news In 1985-86 she directed the nonviolent program at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.


Occupy Wall Street movement comes to Lexington, Ky.

From the Kansas City Star:


The Lexington Herald-Leader

They're a long way from Wall Street, but some people in Lexington are continuing to show their solidarity with protesters in New York who have been demonstrating in the Financial District for more than two weeks.
The Occupy Lexington Kentucky movement, modeled after Occupy Wall Street, started on Thursday, and Monday night saw a group still occupying the area outside Chase Tower on Main Street.
"We're here 'til the grievances are addressed," said Mike Davis, who was among about 30 people gathered in downtown Monday night.
Among their main concerns are what they describe as corporate greed and a disproportionate concentration of wealth.
"We are individuals gathered with voices in unison to make a stand for our right to the opportunity to live our best life," Davis said. "We want to shift the power back to the people."
The group temporarily hauled signs and a chalk board to a nearby parking lot for a "general assembly meeting" in which participants sat in a circle, using hand signals to indicate support or opposition to ideas.
The leaderless group has been using such meetings to make decisions about how to get its message out, Davis said. He described the process as "organic" and "spontaneous."
He said that at least 100 people have participated in the gathering each day; at least three people have camped out nightly downtown.
Stephen Shepard said he's been encouraged by the support the community has shown by honking horns, giving the thumbs-up sign and even dropping off pizzas and coffee as they pass by.
He said he's a University of Kentucky graduate loaded down with student-loan debt.
By contrast, Shepard said, when his parents' generation was at his stage of life, "the economy provided enough that they could buy a house."
"I think it's an uphill battle for our generation," he said.
To read more, visit

‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests spread to D.C., Boston, L.A. and Chicago

The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest movement that began last month has begun to take root nationally, with sympathy rallies planned in other major cities across the U.S.. As Colum Lynch reported :
New York’s budding anti-capitalism protest movement began last month with a vague sense of grievance over the widening gap between the rich and poor in America.
But in three weeks, it has provided fuel for a broader national anti-corporate message, drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring but struggling to define its goals beyond a general feeling that power needs to be restored to ordinary people.
Now similar protests are springing up in Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago, and organizers in Washington plan a march at Freedom Plaza on Thursday to “denounce the systems and institutions that support endless war and unrestrained corporate greed.”
On Monday morning, the scene at the heart of the self-styled Occupy Wall Street movement — Zuccotti Park, two blocks north of Wall Street — had the feeling of a street fair, with women in brightly colored wigs playing with hula hoops.
A collection of protesters wearing white face paint with streaks resembling blood at their lips conducted a “zombie parade” down Broadway to underscore what they see as the ghoulish nature of capitalism.
Despite having no single leader and no organized agenda, the protesters insist they are on the verge of translating their broad expression of grievance into a durable national cause. “The criticism has focused on the lack of cohesion in our message and demands,” said Arthur Kohl-Riggs, 23, a political activist from Madison, Wis. But what the critics don’t understand, he said, is “the value of forming a direct democratic movement” that is not controlled by political elites.
The protests gained more institutional support when a national transit union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, pledged its support Tuesday. As Michael Bolden explained:
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has been winning support from many quarters, but the latest comes from the world of transportation.
On Tuesday, the Amalgamated Transit Union, with more than 190,000 members in the United States and Canada, pledged its support.
Union officials said members of three New York City locals were at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan Monday and plan to attend a march on Wednesday. The union and locals plan to donate food and other supplies and to participate in protests in New York and across the country, officials said.
The union is the parent of Local 689, which represents most Metro employees in the Washington region.
“While we battle it out day after day, month after month, the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street sit by – untouched – and lecture us on the level of our sacrifice,” Larry Hanley, ATU’s president, said in a statement.
The Washington D.C. iteration of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has begun to coalesce around the message of the inappropriate influence corporations wield in politics. As Suzy Khimm reported:
Occupy Wall Street is still a nascent, amorphous protest movement without a specific policy agenda. But in the movement’s DC offshoot, one target has begun to come into focus: the outsized role of corporate money in politics.
On Monday, about 20 people gathered to join Occupy DC’s midday meeting in Washington’s McPherson Square, some of whom have been camped out since early Saturday morning. The group ranged from white-collar professionals on their lunch break to unemployed workers and students, one of whom was changing clothes beneath a tree in the park. Occupy DC has no defined policy agenda or demands. But when asked why they showed up, many participants could agree on one thing: corporations have too much influence over the political system
“Corporatism has become the standard, and people forget they’re part of’s power that’s come for sale,” said Brian, a 24-year-old unemployed Maryland resident, who arrived with a backpack to camp out.“Our government has allowed policy, laws and justice to be for sale to the highest bidder.”
A tall, bearded man wearing a black leather vest, Brian declined to give his last name for fear of hurting his employment prospects. But he’s vocal about his desire to fight crony capitalism in the government, arguing that it has allowed deep-pocketed donors to profit from private government and military contracts. He suggested a cap on contributions and campaign spending as one solution. “There needs to be a limit on the amount of money you can spend on elections, or can contribute,” Brian said, accusing politicians of then using the money to host lavish “filet mignon dinners” for other contributors.
The NYPD has released video of protesters from the group Occupy Wall Street as they attempted to march across Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday. More than 700 were arrested during a tense confrontation with police. (Oct. 2)
The NYPD has released video of protesters from the group Occupy Wall Street as they attempted to march across Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday. More than 700 were arrested during a tense confrontation with police. (Oct. 2)

Occupy Wall Street Protest: What the Movement and Labor Can Do for Each Other

From the International Business Times: By Dan Rivoli | October 4, 2011

New York City labor's support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations has been seen as a boon for protesters, as politically-seasoned and highly-organized local unions represent thousands of members who can be mobilized for their cause.

But the relationship is mutually beneficial now that unions have an independent and aggressive vehicle receptive to their economic policies.
"The two fit together and I could see why the unions would want to capitalize on a nascent and appealing-to-the-media movement to kind of reinforce their message," said a New York political consultant who has worked with labor in the past.
Labor last mixed it up with young, progressive demonstrators in Wisconsin, where massive protests were held this year in the state capitol building to protest newly-elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation killing collective bargaining for most public employees.
Union support for Occupy Wall Street will be on display Wednesday as a group of several labor groups and community organizations hold a solidarity march from City Hall to Zuccotti Park, the basecamp for protesters.
Working Families Party: Movement Is Inspiring
Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, a prominent labor-backed third party in New York, said the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have inspired labor in New York.
Cantor said the protesters are one of the few, if only, people arguing for changes in economic policy, such as reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, a law repealed in 1999 that separated investment and commercial banking.
"Labor is getting a lot from this in terms of the atmospherics," Cantor said.
Unions and groups participating in the Wednesday march, he added, organized it "in essence, to show their gratitude for these feisty young people down at Wall Street for shining a light on the role the finance sector has played and continued to play in weakening the economy and destroying the economy."
Whether Occupy Wall Street can translate into policy changes remains to be seen. But Barbara Bowen, president of a union representing City University of New York system's faculty and staff, said that Occupy Wall Street protesters can work toward their goal of reducing income inequality here in New York.
Sees Other Way to Address Budget Deficit
CUNY's 20,000 member-strong Professional Staff Congress, which is participating in Wednesday's march, had fought against a state budget that will let a surcharge on millionaires and high-income New Yorkers lapse this December. This tax hike on the state's wealthy has been a key legislative goal for labor in New York.
"We're in the state where there's an immediate way to address some-not all but some-of the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street protesters," Bowen said. "There is room for a new voice and new tactics to add power to the message many unions have been delivering on that millionaire's tax. But we haven't won the issue yet."
Occupy Wall Street protesters also benefit from labor's support. Their demonstrations and message will get a larger profile and will show that their message can resonate beyond the young, college-aged students and postgraduates that typify an Occupy Wall Street protester.
But Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transportation Workers Union Local 100, said he could not think of much more his union can do for the protesters. They are already well organized and have committees to handle issues like food and media, he said.
"We're not sure what we're going to do," Gannon said, "aside from moral support."

Occupy Wall Street Spreads to South Carolina

From Irmo-Seven Oaks Patch
As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gain momentum in New York City, activists nationwide are working to organize similar demonstrations across the country, even in South Carolina.
For almost three weeks now, protesters have gathered at Zucotti Park in Manhattan's financial district and the movement isn't showing any signs of slowing.
Protesters began gathering on Sept. 17 and the group has grown day by day, despite theapproximately 700 arrests made by police on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday.
Protesters are mainly gathered to demonstrate outrage over the growing disparity in wealth from the nation's richest one percent and everyone else. Others are taking the opportunity to speak out on an array of issues including the environment, military occupation, student loans, the mortgage crisis, and rising unemployment.
The growth of the movement has been fueled using social media websites like Twitter and Facebook with the main demonstration in New York identifying itself on Twitter as #OccupyWallStreet.  In effort to mobilize the movement across the country and globally, websites like have sprung up to provide information on local gatherings.
So far, groups are organizing events in Florence, Columbia and Charleston. The Occupy Columbia Facebook page has more than 900 followers as the group prepares for a planning meeting at Finaly Park at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.
The Occupy Charleston group is holding two separate planning meetings at 5:30 tonight at Kudu and Starbucks in Charleston according to their Facebook page.
In Florence, protesters are planning a demonstration in front of Sen. Lindsey Graham's office on Oct. 15 as advertised on their Facebook page and on Twitter at #OccupyFlorence.
Some have labeled the demonstration as a true populist movement and say it shows no signs of slowing down, while others are saying it lacks structure and can't last.
"It seems to be growing, it seems to be organic in that sense but we don't know where it's going and we don't know if it will last," said Fox news analyst Juan Williams on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier. "There does not seem to be any coherence to the message."
As new demonstrations crop up in cities across the U.S., it seems the jury is still out on how long the demonstrations will continue. But one message seems clear — the demonstrators want to be heard.
At this point there are no demonstrations planned in Greenville, although there appears to be interest on the other S.C. forums.
The ongoing demonstration in Columbia is currently scheduled to begin on Friday, Oct. 21, with the location to be determined during the meeting this weekend.
Do you think the "Occupy Wall Street" movement will gain momentum in South Carolina? Tell us in the comments.

Occupy Wall Street veteran gears up for 'Occupy Sacramento'

From the Kansas City Star   

The Sacramento Bee


He bought a backpack, enough food for a couple of weeks and a plane ticket bound for New York and joined a movement.
Occupy Wall Street was the objective, and Danny Garza of Sacramento stood ready to answer the call.
The U.S. Navy veteran turned anti-war activist joined thousands of others in New York on Sept. 17 to protest what they see as corporations' pervasive power and influence and to turn Wall Street into "a center of dissent," he said.
Garza, 26, a pre-law student at Brandman University, returned home this week, where plans are already afoot to "Occupy Sacramento."
Loosely organized and largely engineered through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, the Occupy Wall Street movement has quickly gathered steam, spreading to cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles and beyond.
The days of demonstrations in New York moved Garza. He had saved money for months for a decent backpack and food, finding his way to New York's Zuccotti Park "not knowing if we'd be successful. It was intense. We built up momentum real fast.
"Libertarians to anarchists were all there for the same goal. It was life-changing for me," Garza said. "There was definitely a feeling of people before profit, of helping the poor before helping the rich."
They called themselves "The 99 Percent," self-described victims of the recession, who have lost homes, jobs or health benefits and are making choices between groceries and rent.
"Everybody was there for different reasons," he said. Garza trekked to New York to speak out for campaign finance reform and against "corporate personhood – corporations being able to buy out our politicians."
"People from Texas, from Spain would get online to order pizzas for us. People were in the streets making solutions. We were getting thousands of messages saying, 'Don't give up the faith.' "
Sacramento's nascent movement held its general assembly Saturday at Fremont Park and is planning rallies downtown at 9 a.m. Thursday and 11:30 a.m. Oct. 15 at Cesar E. Chavez Plaza, Ninth and I streets, across from City Hall.
Nearly 2,000 people "like" Occupy Sacramento's Facebook page, where fliers and wall posts declare "The People are Too Big to Fail," "We Will No Longer Be Silent," and "Protest. Rally. Occupy."
Garza said the populist movement that started in the nation's financial center resonates in Sacramento and other cities.
To read the complete article, visit


'Occupy Wall Street': What Should a Populist Movement Ask of Washington?

From the Atlantic Magazine by Derek Thompson OCT 4 2011

The middle class has a thousand reasons to be mad as hell, and a thousand people to blame. In a weird way, that makes it all the harder to pinpoint a culprit.

The "Occupy Wall Street" protest might seem inchoate, disorganized, even chaotic and confused. That's to be expected. This is movement about a middle class crisis that has no easy culprit. 
If you look across the placards at the protest, there is no one cause. Some signs call for student loan reform. Some call for tax reform. Some call for legal reform. Some are contradictory, such as the calls for anarchy and better government. Some don't make all that much sense. But so what? This is a populist movement, not a campaign platform. Not yet, anyway.

The most moving part of the protests might be a Tumblr account called We Are The 99 Percent, a collection of testimonials. A homeowner who had to abandon his house. A student with $75,000 in debt. A daughter whose mother took her life after she lost her job and couldn't afford health care. What makes these stories effective is that most of them are not about pinpointing culprits. They're about explaining the crisis from the ground level. Here is the first testimony on the site today:

At 21 years old, I am...
-One semester from graduating college with a degree no one seems to hire
-In massive debt because of that once "dream degree" 
-About to become a mother to a baby whose illness has gotten us booted off government health 9 months pregnant...
-Scared for our future
-I am the 99%-
This is the Millennial crisis folded into a single story. The student debt crisis, compounded by a weak job market (unemployment is highest for the youngest generation), exacerbated by the growing cost of rent and health care.
We're living in an era of broken promises between institutions and people.
When you mine these testimonies for a theme, one comes into clear focus. We're living in an era of broken promises between institutions and people. A college degree is supposed to lead to a quality job. Instead, for this young mother, it leads to debt. A $800 billion stimulus is supposed to lead to a recovery. Instead, for the U.S., it leads to debt. An economy, built by business leaders and supported by Wall Street, is supposed create wealth that the middle class can touch. Instead, once again, it has produced a culture of debt. There is a pervasive sense that this is not how the social contract was supposed to work. Promises were broken. Somebody should pay.

It's natural to look for somebody to blame. But this isn't war. There are few easy enemies. Take, for example, the issue of college. One the one hand, the income bonus from attending college (known technically as the "college bonus") has never been higher. And yet the greatest percentage increase in unemployment between December 2007 and September 2010 is among 20-somethings with a college education. This is an easy tragedy to describe. It's harder to ascribe to a single figure or institution.

Who or what should that expecting mother blame? Expensive health insurance isn't the Republican Congress' fault. You can't blame "the rich" for rising tuitions any more than you can blame Goldman Sachs for lingering unemployment in Nevada and Arizona. The source of these problems are old trends given new strength in the recession. Entry-level jobs have declined for the middle class for the last 30 years. Health insurance and tuition costs have increased faster than inflation in every decade since the 1970s. These are complex industries dealing with global trends. So maybe that's the wrong question.

Maybe the right question is: What should this expecting mother, and people like her -- this Wall Street protest, this 99 Percent movement -- expect from Washington? What should they ask for? Higher taxes for the rich. More income redistribution. Stiffer regulations for Wall Street. These are worthy progressive causes, but I don't know that they'll make health care any cheaper or entry-level jobs more plentiful. The protesters are asking questions whose answers won't fit on their signs.