May 20, 2013
Thank You for Standing Up
Posted on Jan 23, 2012
By Chris Hedges
Our efforts must be directed toward acts of civil disobedience, to chipping away, through nonviolent protest, at the pillars of established, corporate power. The corporate state is so unfair, so corrupt and so rotten that the institutions tasked with holding it up—the police, the press, the banking system, the civil service and the judiciary—have become vulnerable. It is becoming harder and harder for the corporations to convince its foot soldiers to hold the system in place.
I sat a few days ago in a small Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington, D.C., with Kevin Zeese, one of the activists who first called for the Occupy movements. Zeese and others, including public health care advocate Dr. Margaret Flowers, set up the Occupy encampment on Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. They got a four-day permit last fall and used the time to create an infrastructure—a medic tent, a kitchen, a legal station and a press center—that would be there if the permit was not extended. The National Park Service did grant them an extended permit, and Freedom Plaza is one of the encampments that has not been shut down.
“We do have a grand strategy,” he said. “Nonviolent movements shift power by attacking the columns that hold the power structure in place. Those columns are the military, police, media, business, workers, youth, faith groups, NGOs and civil servants. Every time we deal with the police, we have that in mind. The goal is not to hit them, hit them, hit them and weaken them. The goal is to pull people from those columns to our side. We want the police to know that we understand they’re not the 1 percent. The goal is not to get every police officer, but to get enough police so that you have a division.”
“We do this with civil servants,” he went on. “We do whistle-blower events. We go to different federal agencies with protesters blowing whistles and usually with an actual whistle-blower. We hand out literature to the civil servants about how to blow the whistle safely, where they can get help if they do, why they should do it. We also try to get civil servants by pulling them to our side.”
“Individuals become the media,” he said. “An iPhone becomes a live-stream TV. The social network becomes a media outlet. If a hundred of us work together and use our social networks for the same message we can reach as many people as the second-largest newspapers in town, The Washington Examiner or The Washington Times. If a thousand of us do, we can meet the circulation of The Washington Post. We can certainly reach the circulation of most cable news TV shows. The key is to recognize this power and weaken the media structure.”
“We started an Occupy house in Mount Rainier in Maryland,” Zeese said. “Its focus is Occupy the Economy. This is the U.N.’s year of the co-op. We want to build on that. We want to start worker-owned co-ops and occupy our own co-ops. These co-ops will allow Occupiers to have resources so that they can continue occupying. It will allow them to get resources for the community. It will be an example to the public, a public where a high percentage of people are underemployed and unemployed although they have a lot of skills. People can band together in their community and solve a problem in the community. They can create a worker-owned collaborative of some kind. They can develop models of collective living.”
“We looked at polling on seven key issues and found supermajorities of Americans—60-plus percent—were with us on issues including health care, retirement, energy, money in politics,” he said. “We are more mainstream than Congress. We aren’t crazy radicals. We are trying to do what the people want. This is participatory democracy versus oligarchy. It’s the elites versus the people. We stand with the majority.”
The Washington encampment, like many Occupy encampments, has had to deal with those the wider society has discarded—the homeless, the mentally ill, the destitute and those whose lives have been devastated by substance abuse. This created a huge burden for the organizers, who decided that they were not equipped or able to deal with these wider, societal problems. The encampment in Washington’s Freedom Plaza enforces strict rules of behavior, including an insistence on sobriety, in order to endure through the winter and ensure its own survival. Other Occupy movements will have to do the same.
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