Last night my husband and I were in the city for an art opening, and we decided to head down to Wall Street to check out the occupation. Zuccotti Park was much smaller than we had imagined it to be. Tucked-in amid blocks of buildings, the peaceful little gathering huddled in the shadows. Meanwhile across the street, the extravagant, garish, brightly-lit construction of the ballsy “freedom” tower dominated OWS. Tourists lingered in awe at the gripping symbol of the fear that dictates our foreign policy and federal spending. Several unabashed “Silverstein Properties” signs hung along the fencing. In the cool autumn air, we were feeling unusually happy and carefree, like a couple of rebellious teens, and my husband tried to write “pull it” on one of the signs, but the Sharpie ink magically evaporated on the weirdly smooth surface. Creepy.
In comparison, the sleepy little OWS group seemed pretty ineffective. We came away from the evening convinced of the futility of any movement against such a powerful and complete mechanism as the Military-Banking-Insurance Industry-run government that, like an abusive spouse, gets the best excuses from the very people it victimizes. It was late-ish, around 10PM, and most of the protesters were already abed. In the daylight maybe things are livelier and more impressive. While we were there, there was only a small meeting going on in one corner about the OWS budget. As at any co-op board meeting, too much time was spent of deliberating whether or not so-and-so should be reimbursed for paint supplies or batteries and etc. My husband and I voted, he yea I nay, then we strolled arm-in-arm around the camp a couple of times, checking out the tents, tarps, and the guy at the anarchist information table whose sign read, “Vote for Nobody” which seemed pretty unnecessary, since the US already has lower voter turn-out than any other industrialized country in the world, lower than some African countries where you get shot for turning up at the polling sites.
Occasionally we made knowing eye-contact with other couples like us, bathed and combed, taking in the sights. Although we are honestly interested in the political and economic issues that have prompted the occupation, we nevertheless fell into being mere tourists gawking at spectacle. I couldn’t help but think about the money that might be made off activist-tourism souvenirs. The camp includes a DIY sign-making station and I made the sign my son is holding in the picture. I bet I could get $4 a sign. O darn. Was I not supposed to think that? That’s the sort of thing you start worrying about when you are down at OWS. But, I hope, this is a very unfair characterization. Anarchists and communists are relatively rare, right? And I hope that they all realize, despite the many “corporate greed” themed signs, that some corporations make useful products, share profits with employees, pay their CEOs equitable salaries, and are not enormous monopolies capable of dictating government policies. Power corrupts, be it economic power or government power. We can’t put the blame on corporations for the way they have taken over our poor innocent government. We suck as a country. We the people. We have mindlessly consumed the garbage that has been fed to us for decades and now we are paying for it.
OWS has offered lists of grievances, which vary depending on what website you visit. The media keeps urging OWS to settle upon a single agenda. I understand why they resist. But what the movement should do is make a “to do” list instead of a list of demands. The “Bank Transfer Day” was a good start, encouraging people to move their money to local credit unions. Let’s face it, the 99% have no power except as consumers. We are really good at consuming. While the amount of money most of us have in savings or checking won’t make that much of a difference (in fact, Wells Fargo dissed Bank Transfer Day by saying they’d rather not have “unreliable” customers anyway), we can make a difference by not using credit card or debit cards anymore. The big banks take huge profits from merchant fees, a cost which is passed along to the consumer. Nevermind the Durbin Bill. Use cash. And since many people use plastic strictly for the convenience of tracking expenses, some young OWS entrepreneur might come up with an alternative process for that and make millions. Oops, there I go again.
After the big banks, the next enemy of the 99% must be the insurance industry. Obama’s plan just makes the situation worse by forcing everyone to give money to the insurance industry. I mean, really, who thought of that idea? Not the Democrats surely. O, right it was the Republicrats. The Green Party‘s single-pay health care proposal is an improvement but it just replaces one bad middle man (the insurance industry) with another one (the government). The Libertarian Party proposes health insurance deregulation allowing more companies to compete for customers, which would at least eliminate the crony capitalism, but it wouldn’t eliminate the middle man. If Occupy groups wanted to really do something to change things they could turn themselves into powerful consumer groups that could negotiate directly with hospitals and medical groups for 50% discount on all services (this is what the insurance companies do, and what people like me without insurance already do). If OWS could negotiate with the medical industry to serve people directly, squeeze out the insurance industry profits, the costs of medical services could surely go down by that amount. Hospitals could offer their own memberships to consumers to cover them, for a small monthly fee with a high deductible, for complete coverage for wellness checks and catastrophic illnesses. Many years ago the government, lobbied by big HMOs, started “regulating” local insurance co-operatives out of business that offered coverage like this. HMOs are prepaid health plans: you cannot call them insurance plans. See http://healthdemocracy.org/ to see what some people are doing instead of waiting for the government to do something. One of the benefits of the consumers dealing directly with the medical industry is that corporations would no longer be responsible for providing health benefits to their employees. (This is a weird custom anyway. Why should health coverage be connected to place of employment and what about people who don’t work or who are self-employed?) Fix the problem by removing our dependence on corporations for health coverage. Victims of abuse are taught not to try to “fix” the ones abusing them and that’s just what OWS is trying to do with government corporate reforms.
The OWS General Assembly demands a lot of things, but does not specifically demand stopping the military spending, which could easily pay for all entitlements. Some estimates say that 20-38% of the federal budget goes to defense. There would be plenty of money to help our poor and disadvantaged if we stopped the illegal, undeclared and dangerous foreign wars. Tax the rich and expect the government to redistribute that money equitably? Really? What f#@king planet do you live on? If the 99% would just stop giving their money to the rich who are tied to the Military Industrial Complex, we would have a more direct solution to the problem. Every Occupy Supporter could file war-tax resistance claim and donate that portion of taxes to charity. See http://www.wartaxboycott.org/ for an example how some groups are doing this already. The legal risks are there, but they become much less the more people take part. We are not safer making war overseas. Halliburton is not your daddy. We cannot go by what we have heard was written about 911 in Popular Mechanics or by what our friends have said or heard. Read the NIST reports (WTC 1&2 WTC 7) yourself and then consider Newton’s third law, which says that falling material cannot accelerate through the path of greatest resistance–unless explosive are used to clear the way first. Three independent agencies have found high-tech explosives in the dust: NIST refused to test for explosives. See http://www.ae911truth.org and then cry about all the money for war that you have a-okayed. I understand why NeoCons want us to spend money on wars that profit them, but there is no excuse for all the Liberal Democrats who have pooh-poohed conspiracy theories based on what they’ve read in the popular press or seen on cable TV or heard from friends. No excuse whatsoever. The problem is not conspiracy, it’s conformity. Popular Mechanics? really?!
Most of our problems come down to our tendency to conform to what our neighbors and doing and thinking instead of thinking critically for ourselves and doing research. Unfortunately, the news media has taught us by example that “objectivity” means delivering at least two opposing opinions on an issue. “Objectivity” should mean presenting facts to back up opinions. I remember when journalists used to sound like Joe Friday. Now articles are virtually indistinguishable from the inflamed posts in the comments sections. Why isn’t there an alternative news agency available on the Internet that provides evidence for all claims? Alternet is every bit as guilty as Fox News on this account.
There are organizations dedicated to consumer education, such as http://www.greenamerica.org/ which lists responsible corporations. Better yet do your own research. Buy local and buy less. While it’s sad that we have less power as citizens than as consumers, it’s a fact we have to accept until our buying practices help bring an end to the crony capitalism and too powerful monopolies we helped create.
p.s. These “political” posts are exercises to prepare me to write my next novel Locus Amœnus.