What Liberty Square Means: The Progress of Revolutions


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A year ago, New Yorkers watched in horror as voters in the heartland of Wisconsin replaced progressive standard-bearer Russ Feingold with a Tea Party mega-millionaire and the state’s capitol came under the control of self-described Tea Party Republicans. Months later, the impact of that electoral change became clear when Governor Scott Walker unleashed attacks on the right to organize, to engage in collective bargaining, to access health care, food, shelter and a quality education, and even on the right to vote.

Walker and his cohorts were elected because hundreds of thousands of young people and poor people, alienated by the failures of the political system, chose not to vote. They’d voted in 2008 in record numbers. But in 2010, after the Obama administration and congressional Democrats failed to end the wars or deliver a new deal for America’s poor and young people, the turnout was just not there for Wisconsin Democrats. Walker took power, and took ever more power away from regular people.

Recent politics have predominately been a struggle between the far-right and the left. Some went so far as to say that Wisconsinites deserved what they got. But the state that birthed the Progressive Party is not the state most riddled with Tea Party supporters; it is the state where people stood up to them first and hardest. The corporate funders of the Tea Party movement may hearken back to the Revolutionary era, yet what they call for is not revolution, but reaction. They want to go back in time. When they speak of the Founding Fathers, they often mean the time before the end of slavery, before labor unions were legalized, before women were considered people under law, before the civil rights era and before the environmental movement. In fact, many of them seem to want to go back to the time before the Boston Tea Party itself, to the days when only the propertied elite could vote.

What makes Occupy Wall Street, which in caricature has been depicted as the left’s answer to the contemporary Tea Party movement, different from its far-right “counterpart”?

FROM THE LIBERTY TREE TO LIBERTY SQUARE

As workers walk Wall Street every day, they traverse an African burial ground, passing over many layers of history without a thought. Let us add, in the twenty-first century, another layer. Liberty Square is the twenty-first century Liberty Tree. If you want to understand what is happening there, imagine: Under the Liberty
Tree that stood in Boston Common, early in the first American Revolution, any and all could come to air their grievances and hammer out solutions collectively, and it was there the promise of American democracy first took root. We are reclaiming a democratic practice in Liberty Square.

The fomenters of the American Revolution included people of many classes, and many more ethnicities, genders, and races than our high school history books tell. Working-class radicals worked the Boston docks, among them Crispus Attucks. There were artisans like Paul and Rachel Revere, lawyers and agitators like John and Sam Adams. The Liberty Tree was a place where all these people—many who would not have ordinarily associated with one another—could gather and unite in common cause. The biggest act of sabotage against a multinational corporation in American history began with a gathering at the Liberty Tree. That act was the Boston Tea Party.

IMPASSIONED & PROGRESSIVE

We in the occupation at Wall Street have been compared by news media to the contemporary Tea Party movement. Is this because they seem to be impassioned and we also are impassioned? Is it because they use the rhetoric of revolution? Is passion and conviction now the domain of the Tea Party? They’ve appropriated it? And anyone who also speaks of the American Revolution with passion must worry about being associated with them? Some fear the nonviolent direct action being taken at Liberty Square. They are afraid of being too impolite, too disruptive, as they ask for progress—they are afraid of appearing as fringe fanatics like the Tea Party.

Many of us in Liberty Square also hearken to the efforts of the revolutionaries of 1776. It seems both sides are eager to employ the language of revolution. What makes us fundamentally different from the new Tea Party movement is that our revolution descends from a multitude of revolutions: the abolitionist movement, the workers’ rights movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist and queer liberation movements, the environmental movement. We take great pride in the advancements of this country under all the movements for equal social, racial, gender and economic rights since this country was first founded. We love our country for its progress on these fronts. We believe in seeing more progress on these fronts. The Tea Party can only look back. We move with the flow of history, looking forward.


With contributions from B.R. Manski and Rizzo.

This post is also available in: French, Spanish, Turkish


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-William-Majkowski/1507188872 Adam William Majkowski

    The very first president of the united states who was not a lawyer or military general, was Herbert Hoover. He was the very first corporate biggy wiggy to take charge of the government. He was the very first of the new style of republicans. Republicans before Herbert Hoover stood for civil rights, and individual independence, now they are simply corporate employees. They were the party started by Abraham Lincoln to clean up the one party system, now they simply control the one party system. As history shows us in every example, power corrupts, and the people suffer. Herbert Hoover, a huge corporate conglomerate, was not ruthless and terrible. He donated huge portions of his companies’ revenue to feed people who had been displaced by World War Part One: The Royal Menace. He was a humanitarian. This is why he was accepted into the office of the president with no questions asked. In fact, it was considered a landslide victory when he was elected. “Why are you talking about Herbert Frikin Hoover, Adam?”, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you :
    The modern day republican is the fall of our country. The democrats of the 1930′s and 40′s tried to implement big government policies to hold our country together and it worked for a short time. Power corrupts. The democrats now work for the republicans. The republicans work directly for the 1% of the people with all the money. The people with the money hired the politicians to cut away their own taxes and do away with the policies that held our country together. Herbert Hoover was the model of the future american leader. He let rich people make the laws, owners of companies became owners of everything and everyone. As our country plunged into the great depression, he profited from the stock market crash as the rest of the 1% did. Where do you think the money all went? It did not just disappear. People work their whole lives to have it funneled away by these criminal families. After FDR died, Truman tried to finish his policies, as we can all see, all of those policies are gone and so is our country. We never got a new deal, we got Eisenhower/Nixon, who drafted the new world order. They drew up the world to be the way they wanted, and we are still suffering from it. Even if a decent leader comes along, power will corrupt him or her and we will wind up where we always wind up. I believe that even if FDR were immortal, and all his policies put into place forever, the corrupted people who wind up in power will abuse it and ruin everything for everyone else eventually. So any position of power must be eliminated. Achieve True Equality.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4RQ4MBUW6ZNWTYGLBJGCVXSP3U Lauren SC

      AMMO FOR THE ANTI-OCCUPY BIZ-SHILLS.
      You say “any position of power must be eliminated”. Perhaps you have some non-standard meaning in mind, but on its face, that’s the kind of naive, unrealistic (though well intentioned and likely sincere) rhetoric that serves as ammunition for those on the right who would dismiss the occupy movement as being full of childish loonies.

      Eliminating “any position of power” is clearly unrealistic in its extreme, meaning, even if one chose something like a direct-democratic process (where everyone votes on every decision), there would still need to be those whose task it was to assure the process was sound, individuals who count those votes, etc. That is to say, you CANNOT avoid specialization and authority (attorneys, police, auditors, etc.) in any system that purports to limit the behavior of its citizenry or protect the process of democracy. This was always true in ancient Athens, and will continue to be true for all modern democracies.
      BUT, limits can be placed on the power of those in such positions, and limits to their term of service can be introduced (i.e. term-limits for district attorneys, bank auditors, etc.). So, why not start a productive discussion about those limits, and various measures to add the checks and balances that are so obviously missing in the current capitalist-democratic system? My message to you, in short, is to please offer suggestions that actually would IMPROVE THE SYSTEM.
      Every empty, childish or impractical platitude that appears next to Occupy literature will serve to degrade the seriousness and the legitimacy of this movement in the public eye — remember, the whole world IS watching.
      But keep the passion, and the history — that stuff’s always helpful.

  • Ron Traver

    In my opinion OWS has something interesting in common with the Tea Party, and that is distaste for the too-cozy relationship between government and business. The TP has railed against the corporate welfare programs and bailouts that essentially let them gamble with our tax dollars. Heads they win and tails we lose. And yes, these giveaways are how democrats and republicans get re-elected.

    But does this mean that the rich get all the benefits and the rest of pay all the taxes? Yes and no. While the wealthy on average pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes, which sounds unfair, it is also seems that the bulk of total tax revenue comes from the wealthiest. So it could be argued that much of the 99% are getting much more in services than they pay in taxes. And I doubt that even if 100% of the income of the top 1% wer confiscated, even if that steady stream could be guaranteed to continue, that social programs could be funded enough to make a real difference. Just a guess, but if someone has the data and can answer this quantitatively I would be interested.

    So are businesses and corporations and capitalism just bad and unjust and eploitive by their vary nature, or have we maybe just built so many government-business inter-relationships that the system is sclerotic, inflexible and just rigged to keep the current big businesses and politicians in power? This is what I see as the real difference between OWS and TP, and would like to see a healthy debate on that.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4RQ4MBUW6ZNWTYGLBJGCVXSP3U Lauren SC

      Business and capitalism can be ‘good’.

      BUT GOVERNMENTS MUST CONTROL THE MARKETS OR THE MARKETS WILL OWN GOVERNMENT.

      Though I disagree with some of your assumptions, you ask excellent questions.

      I would say the objections of the OWS movement do not seem, to me, to really be about the 99% paying all the taxes and the 1% enjoying the benefits. If that was the thrust of it, it would be misguided. The U.S. tax system, though flawed, is not the primary source of corporate abuse or income-inequality. And it is certainly not central to the current economic collapse. So focusing too much on taxes as a basis for injustice would be a mistake.

      HOWEVER, tax law can be used as a ‘corrective’ — just as civil-court damages are used — to compensate the victims of fraud (i.e. most of the 99%). And tax law can be used as a disincentive to future abuses (e.g. a small tax on each purely financial transaction might make parasitic arbitrage schemes less attractive).

      As I see it, if the OWS movement JUST played Robin Hood and didn’t fundamentally aim to restructure the capitalist-democratic system, to protect against future abuses (both corporate and political) and to guide the markets, then your questions would be spot-on, and the answers would likely be unsatisfying.

      Long term this cannot simply be about asset redistribution; but if you could demonstrate that I systematically defrauded you, it might make sense to demand I give a good part of my gains back. And looking at a corporate board of directors system where CEOs give each other raise after raise while they demand pay-cuts from the people who actually produce product, I’d say something very much like fraud has been going on for a long time.

      Corporations, if they were just like ‘big’ businessmen, playing by the same rule that individuals play by (though on a larger scale) would not be inherently abusive. But the rules that govern them, the market dynamics that accommodate them, and their relation to government, all serve to make corporations far different than an individual person simply operating within the market to exchange goods. If current CEOs came to the employees of most corporations and said, I can offer my skills in exchange for my currently ridiculous salary, to help you maximize your market effectiveness, I can tell you what most employees would say (it involves swearing). Clearly, the system of rewards is NOT representative of a fair trade of value in the marketplace. And when corporate representatives have the ear and the pockets of politicians focused on THEIR needs, rather than on issues of market justice, well, it becomes obvious that the 1% will only further distort those market dynamics over time.

      In short, the “invisible hand” ideal is B.S! The unrestricted markets do not automatically distribute justice. And being a productive member of society will not automatically mean you are given the dignity and fair reward your productivity has earned in an unrestricted free market system. The needed civic commons (roads, hospitals, community centers, etc.) will not automatically fall out of such a system. ETC.!
      Instead, wealth begets wealth in a pure, unrestricted capitalist system; positive feedback loops assure us of that result. And that wealth can then be used to put political power in the hands of those who possess it, and that political power can then be used to entrench and enhance those profit-making positive feedback loops. You can see the cycle, right? It doesn’t end well.

      So, is it “business” that’s inherently at fault in this corrupt and corrupting money-politics cycle? I’d say, “no”. Business is about exchanging goods and services, and any system of exchange can be an instrument for good. But those exchanges must be GUIDED by a system of implicit values and goals that in fact supports the common good. Business is not a good in itself. So the challenge is to create institutions that regulate, guide, motivate, and inspire businesses to operate in support of the needed “commons” and to meet individual needs, while fairly rewarding participation. With such institutions in place, if they are carefully crafted and endowed with real power, business CAN be an efficient instrument of the good. And where are these institutions? They must be a part of government, reflecting the values that we the people have determined best serve us all, through that un-distorted process of collective prioritizing called ‘democracy’.

      In short, government must be in charge of the markets, or markets will own government. And government must guide and support the markets in very specific ways, to support the civic commons, maximize the just distribution of profits, incentivize innovation, etc. all in keeping with the values we collectively arrive at through a democratic process totally free of business-influence.

      This, I think, is one proper objective for the OWS movement, and it has very little to do with the tax man playing Robin Hood.

  • Bklynguy

    An excellent summary of the rich American historical background of OWS, showing to be a most American movement.

  • http://twitter.com/beyondpartisan beyond partisan

    How can you possibly claim to be the 99% when you completely distort and dismiss the Tea Party movement? Yeah…having to show an ID card when you vote is an “attack” on the right to vote – give me a break. It’s about stopping voter fraud – but I guess if you are part of a movement that actively utilizes voter fraud (as Obama’s supporters did in the primaries) then I guess you’ll think having to show an ID is “oppressive.” It’s precisely angry, closed-minded, chip-on-the-shoulder radicals like you that made me leave the radicalized Democratic party and become an independent. And I consider myself a feminist! Yeesh.

    • continuum

      You bagger puppets are nothing but the “simple idiots” for the establishment GOP.

      Your movement has had more than enough time to put together a coherent message that would embrace ALL Americans and not jeopardize the safety of the world, but you couldn’t get it together and got co-opted by your own financiers and were arrogant and hateful to boot, so the country is moving on.

      You obviously had fascist, regressive authoritarian tendencies prior to ever leaving the mainstream Dems and just the idea that you ever “considered yourself a feminist” is laughable, given your poisonous worldview, your desire to suppress and conquer, and your insatiable need to jump on yet another train, merely to disrupt and sow discord.

      You’ll convince no one here that your confused, paranoid urges to “take the country back” and it’s clear from your rantings that you will say anything to promote the very agenda that has brought the good people of this nation and the world such heartbreak, lack, hopelessness and misery that helped to inspire this movement in the first place!

      Just remember, you have no affect on the thoughts, expressions, and actions of the good people of this proud republic, or this budding movement.

      You have no choice but to sit, and watch, and wait.

      Please do it from a distance.

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