Archive for the Occupy Wall Street Category

On Wall Street Protests and the Legacy of Dr. King

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 22, 2011 by playthell

King of the Great Mall

The dedication of the monument to Martin Luther King was unveiled on Sunday, October 16, 2011.  Forty-three years after his assassination, every segment of American society can identify with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Conservatives sing his praises and liberals honor his contributions to racial justice.  There is a remarkable consensus on the historical significance of the civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Social movements are unpredictable.  Throughout American history, social movements have had a profound impact on American civilization.  Social movements tend to propel the society forward yet there are instances when social movements have been regressive.  The “Know Nothing” movement in the 1850s aimed at Catholics manifested a bigoted sense of who or what constituted America.  The Know Nothing’s were vehemently opposed to immigration that would ethnically diversify America.

Another social movement that kept America backwards was the “Jim Crow Movement that captured the race interest of southern whites in a strange quest to preserve the privileges of the ante-bellum life that supposedly flourished prior to the 1860s Civil War.  Jim Crow reigned supreme until the challenge of the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Regressive social movements are usually born of fear. Progressive social movements are born of hope.  Progressive social movements invariably deepen the democratic process.

Jim Crow!


The minstrel character that came to exemplify racial segregation

Although there is a certain unpredictability about social movements, there are discernible forces that serve as a catalyst for mass uprisings. At the end of World War II, there had occurred a sizeable expansion of the black industrial workforce who were organized into unions.  Many African Americans had fought in the war against the fascist undemocratic forces. Obviously, once they returned to American shores, they were quite strident about asserting their democratic rights.

Many from this burgeoning working class/middle class generation were sending their children to black colleges in the south and elsewhere.  Church leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. were ready to throw off the yoke of racial subservience and take to the streets to demand fundamental changes in the cruel world of Jim Crow.  The world was changing rapidly. The Third World was breaking the shackles of colonialism and marching towards self-determination.

The civil rights movement was inspired by the anti-colonial struggles and challenged the Jim Crow status quo. America’s political establishment unwillingly accommodated themselves to the demands for equal accommodations, the right to participate in the political process, and for the statutory elimination of employment and housing discrimination.

Martin Luther King’s mass movement had precipitated historical changes and pushed American civilization closer to becoming that city on the hill.  But King’s vision of America took him beyond civil rights. He became increasingly critical of America’s involvement in the war in Viet-Nam and was incensed by the plight of the poor.  He became pre-occupied with rampant economic injustice.  He intervened in the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He made plans for putting together the poor people’s campaign in the nation’s capital.  At that juncture in the midst of a new struggle that had yet to become a mass movement, Martin Luther King was assassinated!

The momentum for social justice was buried with Dr. King.  Nonetheless, other social movements deepening the democratic process in America emerged. The feminist movement sought to transform male hegemony in the home and in the public sphere.  Women sought to enter the workplace, equality, to shatter glass ceilings and to change the gender dynamic in American society.

The feminist movement changed the gender complexity of American society.  Nowhere is that more manifested than in the sphere of higher education.  Women are equally represented in undergraduate education, graduate education, and doctoral programs. In the case of black women, they have outdistanced the men.  In the words of Julius Nyerere, while the men walk, the women run.

The gay and lesbian movement has made painstaking progress in recent decades.  The struggle for sexual equality has been advanced but there is still great resistance in civil society, in religious circles, and in the political system. Those objectives are essential to deepening the democratic process.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement epitomizes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In an age of revolutionary technology, conventional political actors take the position that the jobless and powerless must wait for the magic of the marketplace.  The Nero-like Congress plays the fiddle while the circumstance of the sixteen million unemployed workers and the multitude of underemployed continue to deteriorate.

Occupy Wall Street has not only gone national. It has gone global.  Globalization as it took root bred a certain degree of mass paralysis.  Now the communication revolution that is an integral part of globalization is also instrumental in fostering a culture of resistance. At the time of his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a drum major for justice and his life had a remarkable impact on America and across the world.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a clamor for social and economic justice.  At this juncture, the vision is not being projected by any one leader but by a grassroots mass uprising that has captured the imagination of what is left of Fanon’s wretched of the earth.

Night falls on tent city outside Philly’s City Hall


As the Occupy Wall Street Movement Spreads

Anti-Wall Street Protestors in Rome!


The wrath of the people in the Eternal City

The Protest Bug spreads to Asia


Anti-Wall Street ghosts On the streets of Seoul

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By: Dr. Basil Wilson

Originally published in Carib News

On Wall Street and Economic Inequality

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 14, 2011 by playthell

Civil Servants Struggling for Bread

Working Americans are Standing up to the Plutocrats!  

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has sprung up in a number of key cities after its genesis on September 17, 2011 in New York City.  The protesters in New York City have taken over John Zucotti Park and have triggered a grassroots movement that is appalled at the high level of social injustice in America.  The Movement is still a trickling tributary and some have argued that the objectives are too amorphous. On my visit to Zucotti Park, I was surprised by the miniscule nature of the Park. 

The people gathered in the Park had their cups runover.  They were mostly college educated middle class young men and women who had played by the rules, taking out loans to snatch an education, and had collided with a political system growing increasingly undemocratic, a system where money-lords controlled lopsided decision-making. One of the slogans repeated by the protesters is that they constitute ninety-nine percent of the population yet the one percent kept downloading the lion share of the nation’s wealth.

Will the Occupy Wall Street Movement capture the imagination of the quizzical American electorate and change the dialectic of electoral politics?  The movement represents the Winter of Working Class discontent.  They along with Americans of all stripes are contributing to sites on Facebook, on Twitter, and on internet sites established to facilitate and make the non-violent uprising into a mass movement.

In Zuccoti Park

All races and ages were representin!

During the Obama Presidential election of 2008, there was much talk about whether we had entered a post-racial America.  There are many aspects to this discourse but one critical aspect was young America getting to a point where race was declining in significance, to use William Julius Wilson’s words, and class was becoming increasingly salient.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the making is about class and democracy.  This burgeoning grassroots movement has within it the seeds to challenge the hegemony of Wall Street greed.

When the Tea Party popped out like a Jack-in-the Box after the election of Barack Obama, it began as a grassroots movement financed by big capital. It is is opposed to big  government, big spending, bank bail-outs and federalized health care.  After the 2010 election, the Tea Party elements elected to the United States Congress were instrumental in changing the conversation. They had the nation fixated on deficits and debt.  Joblessness took a back seat.  Legislation passed by the 2010 Congress focused on spending cuts and were oblivious to jobs.  Spending cuts in a time of economic downturn only makes the plight of the jobless more hellish.

There is a confederate syndrome to the Tea Party adherents.  They are for having everything settled at the state level yet they are supportive of corporate capital.  The Tea Party has not been able to put forward a jobs program to put Americans back to work.  These older, very white, fairly well-off supporters, as the Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman remarked, have no sense of science and have no workable ideas about the business of governing other than to reduce the taxes on the wealthy and give them the opportunity to have more than 25 percent of the wealth.

President Obama after the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, calculated that to win a second term he had to run as a centrist with the expectation that he would hold his Democratic Party base and capture a majority of the independent voters. The center in American politics has come apart.  The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party into looney right wing self-righteousness. The Occupy Wall Street movement, if it catches fire, is going to pull the Democratic Party to embrace critical issues of social justice.

It is not surprising in an age where class is trumping race that Herman Cain has emerged as a possible Presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Cain, who slept through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has become an articulate spokesperson for the Tea Party’s simplification of complex  American realities.  His solution to the economic crisis is reduce corporate taxes to 9 percent, income taxes to 9 percent, and a value added tax to 9 percent.

Right wing conservatives have been clamoring for a flat tax but are not in favor of flat bonuses, flat health care and a flat educational system.  Cain’s 999 plan to fix America’s economic woes would push up the Gini Index – a measure of the distribution of wealth in our society, which is one of the worse in the western world – and make the slice of the 99 percent even more miniscule.  It would wreck social security, Medicare and Medicaid.  It would turn America into a place where wealth would be so terribly skewed that Charles Dickens’s London would appear progressive!

Occupy Wall Street must take its time and explore a new paradigm for America.  We live in a time of great confusion.  Even as clear a thinker as Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that the solution to concentrated investment capital is to break up those holdings.  But there has been an inexorable tendency towards greater and greater concentrations of investment capital historically.

Thus the critical question for the Occupy Wall Street Movement is: what democratic interest  should that concentration of wealth should serve?  Underlying the newly surfaced voices is the demand that those entities must be structured in a way that is commensurate with democratic precepts.

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

The people chanted as they marched 

Steve Job didn’t settle for shopworn technology.  He invented gadgets that enriched human lives.  What the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks is an America that enriches the lives of the 99 percent, not just the one percenters and not those who shamelessly cover up the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street.

 

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* By: Dr. Basil Wilson, Political Scientist 

Originally published in Carib News, 10/15/11

Is the Liberal/Left Self Destructive?

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Katrina Vanden Hueval: Editor of The Nation

Notes on the Folly of the Left

The protesters  in the nascent movement have been criticized for being too decentralized and lacking a clear list of demands.” writes Ms. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the influential left/liberal journal of opinion “The Nation” regarding the Wall Street rebels.  She goes on to pronounce: “But they are bearing witness to the corruption of our politics; if they made demands to those in power, it would suggest those in power could do something about it. This contradicts what is, perhaps, their most compelling point: that our institutions and politicians serve the top 1 percent, not the other 99.”

Not content with spewing this bit of spurious prattle – since it is only those in power that can solve our problems – alas Katrina’s analysis goes quickly downhill and descends into pure  foolishness: “The movement doesn’t need a policy or legislative agenda to send its message. The thrust of what it seeks—fueled both by anger and deep principles has moral clarity.”

This would be quite sufficient if we were discussing the mission of a Church or Synagogue, whose raison d’etre is helping their supplicants find “moral clarity.” But the aspirations and goals that she ascribes to the movement can only be achieved through the art of politics – which is the process by which relationships of power are formed.  To conclude otherwise is to retreat into fantasy!

Speaking of the burgeoning movement against criminal avarice of the Plutocracy symbolized by the anti-Wall Street Protests she tells us: “It wants corporate money out of politics. It wants the widening gap of income inequality to be narrowed substantially. And it wants meaningful solutions to the jobless crisis. In short, it wants a system that works for the 99 percent. Already Occupy Wall Street has sparked a conversation about reforms far more substantial than the stunted debate in Washington. Its energy will supercharge the arduous work other organizations have been doing for years, amplifying their actions as well as their agendas.”

Bill Mahr: An insightful, witty, comedian….

…..But no political philosopher!

Apologist for the apolitical confusion of the Wall Street activist appears to be  multiplying like wild rabbits.  The kind of well intentioned albiet confused blather we hear from Ms. Vanden Heuval is repeated ad nauseum among the liberal/left cognoscenti.  It is echoed in the smug too-clever-by-half drivel spouted by Bill Mahr on the Rachel Maddow show recently.  Silly Willy went to great lengths to poo poo the importance of politics, and gave but little indication that he clearly understood who the real enemy is, let alone how to develop a strategy to defeat them.

Indeed, intellectual leaders of the American left actually encourage this kind of misguided and dangerous thinking on the part of celebrity entertainers like Bill Mahr, whom Isometimes think is taken far too seriously – after all, clever and verbose fellow though he is, he remains a clown of renown, not a scholar whose opinions are based on years of serious study!

Ms. Vanden Heuval has no such excuse alas.  As the majority of her commentary on the anti-Wall Street rebels, “Will Occupy Wall Street’s spark reshape our politics”  demonstrates, Ms. Vanden Heuval is a woman of surpassing intelligence. And as Editor of the “Nation” magazine she has rich sources of information readily available to her

Yet these facts beg the question of how she could have concluded the following: “Many, if not most of the protesters are openly wary about the embrace of the progressive establishment.  Rightly so. The movement, unlike the Tea Party, is not based on electoral strategy, and there is a concern about being co-opted.” This kind of flawed thinking led the demonstrators to deny Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to speak in Atlanta, turning away a powerful natural ally.

When we consider that the Tea Party strategy resulted in the election of over eighty Congressman, who succeeded in blocking funding for President Obama’s regulatory regime to check the power of the Wall Street Bankers and stop them from driving the economy over a cliff again – and the American people being soaked for hundreds of billions to bail them out – plus just last night we saw the Grand Obstructionist Party kill the President’s jobs bill, it is fair to ask is the liberal left self-destructive?

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 12, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Wall Street Rebels End Up like Jack the Bear…

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Great Passion but little Politics

…..Making tracks but getting nowhere?

In my first commentary on the Wall Street demonstrations I questioned whether this budding movement was revolutionary or anarchistic, and concluded that thus far it was closer to anarchy – which is a synonym for political chaos.  This observation elicited a howl from many of those who support the demonstrators; some even suggested that I opposed them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is because I share their outrage at the Wall Street Robber Barons, and the decadent Plutocracy they serve, that I offer up critical analysis in the hope that it might have some effect on the debate about the direction of this budding movement that has now gone nationwide through the agency of social media.  I want them to succeed in curtailing the power of the Plutocrats, but I know from many years as a participant observer and serious student that all successful mass transformative movements must contain certain factors.

The most important of these factors, after defining the enemy, is to put forth a set of realizable demands around which one can rally and organize the masses.  These demands are defined by what the movement stands for, which is usually determined by ideology.  In the absence of a unifying ideology the movement lacks coherence and thus it becomes unclear what their objectives are and confuses the masses.

The demonstrators say they are patterning their movement after the Mid-East uprisings collectively labeled “The Arab Spring.”  Yet a close look at those social upheavals reveal a world of confusion which could easily end up with the cure being worse than the disease, as governments fall with no organized political formation capable of taking power and governing.

There is no chance of this in the US, because no unorganized rag tag force is going to bring down the American government.  And no highly organized force operating outside of the two party system is going to change the American capitalist system, whether armed or not.  This is the problem I have with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Yesterday I spent considerable time among the demonstrators listening to their vision of the mission they have undertaken.  And I found them as confused as two weeks  before in both their objectives and how to achieve them.  The most common theme in their arguments is that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans; hence they are above politics!

When John Was their Age 

He was fighting against armed fascist! 

They demonstrators exposed the depth and pervasiveness of this belief by denying Democratic Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to address the demonstrators in Atlanta.  Not only does Lewis share their feelings about the criminal maldistribution of wealth in the US, but when he was their age he was the leader of an organization that played a critical role in a mass movement that qualitatively changed American society for the better.  Here was a staunch ally in Congress who could transform their demands into legislation and put it before the Congress for a vote.

Then the demonstrations would have specific achievable goals to organize their activism around!  They cannot achieve their hopes and dreams by any other method. Yet they turned Congressman Lewis away. If the anti-Wall street rebels do not soon get a grip on political reality –which is to understand how change is actually made in American society – their boisterous demonstrations will be all sound and fury…signifying nothing!  Like Jack the Bear, they will make tracks but get nowhere!

The Beat Goes On! 

Intoxicated by the Afrocentric Polyrhythms

An Aroused citizenry is on the March!

But where are they headed?

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Text and Photos by: Playthell Benjamin

* Picture of John Lewis: Smithsonian Institute

October 10, 2011

It’s a Barnum and Bailey World!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 4, 2011 by playthell

Protesting the Wall Street Plutocrats in California

“The whole world is in trouble…and the danger zone is everywhere”
Percy Mayfield, Bluesman

Revolution or Anarchy?

As I look at the mass uprisings against government authority around the globe it is clear that they are a class of phenomena that share several fundamental features. They are leaderless, present no specific demands, and possess no ideology or theory of change that envisions the new society they wish to construct.  In other words they are spontaneous combustions directed by social media like Facebook and Twitter, which has bypassed the organizational stages that all the successful mass transformative movements in history have evolved through. Thus their prospects as agents for qualitative change appear more illusionary than real in spite of their zeal.

Although they often refer to themselves as revolutionaries, which mean they are about the  business of making a revolution, the young people who are participating in these uprisings appear fairly clueless about the history and character of successful revolutions in the modern world.  The most shocking sign of their naiveté is the belief that they can accomplish radical change in a complex mass society like the US while bypassing politics – which is a process that requires serious discipline and organization.

Yet we see this naiveté in youth driven uprisings around the world; it is no wonder that many participants describe themselves as “anarchist,” and sing the praises of anarchy despite the fact that anarchy is a synonym for chaos.  In Israel for instance, we hear 26 year old Yonatan Levy refer to the tent cities that have cropped up in urban areas to protests the concentration of wealth in a small elite, the domination of government by ultra-Orthodox Jews and the absence of affordable housing as “a beautiful anarchy.”

In Spain, where the official unemployment rate is 21% – the highest in the industrialized world – we hear Marta Solanas, a 27 year old demonstrator in Madrid declare “Our parents are grateful because they are voting…we’re the first generation to say voting is useless.”  Clearly these demonstrators, who were 70,000 strong, have not pondered the riddle of how they are going to persuade the masses of Spaniards to join a revolution when they can’t convince them to vote for the issues they deem of critical importance.

The real difference between the vision of these youths and their parents is that their parents lived through the fascist period under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, thus they know the difference having the right to vote for their leaders can make in the quality of life…or one’s chances in life. This naviete plagues the growing anti-establishment movement from Israel, to Greece, to India, to England to Wall Street.

And while the demonstrators in the “Arab Spring” were forced to resort to violence because there was no alternative avenue to change, such as in the democracies, their lack of a clear cut vision of the society they are ushering in is a contradiction they share with other demonstrators around the world This is abundantly clear in the statement that appears on the website recruiting people to join the Wall Street demonstrations, either as physical actors or support groups; which describe their nascent movement in the following terms:

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring   tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

The apolitical confused nature of the burgeoning demonstrations on Wall Street was made crystal clear by the ubiquitous gadfly Michael Moore, who has long been a foe of the shenanigans of the “economic royalist.” When asked if they were demonstrating to force Congress to fund the agency
tasked with carrying out the President’s rigorous new regulations of Wall Street, or to force them to pass the President’s American Jobs Act, Big Mike glibly replied “We’re beyond all that.”

While one can sympathize with the demonstrator’s motivation and objectives, the serious student of revolutionary movements cannot fail to conclude that an unorganized headless host challenging the citadel of world financial power, but could not present a list of realizable demands if the Robber Barons capitulated and were willing to deal today, has about as much chance of changing the modus operandi of the financial elite as a chimp has of performing the Paganini Variations for solo violin.

Hence from all the observable evidence I am convinced that what we are witnessing is anarchy not revolution!  And if they don’t build an organization and coherent ideology they will not win the support of the public and they will be crushed by the police power of the state…a scenario that we are already beginning to witness.  Let us hope that the entrance of organized labor into the fray will give this populist revolt some real direction and increase their chances of having a positive impact.

The People are on the Move

But Where Are they Headed?

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 4, 2011

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