The midterm elections were a wake-up call. Voters had given up on the Democratic party as irrelevant – not really on their side, so they didn’t bother to show up at the polls. But there are end-of-year holiday season bright spots for progressives as we think about the coming year’s fights.
People are becoming more active with protests over issues like low pay and police treatment. Locally people are putting core progressive policies like fighting pollution, raising the minimum wage and giving people sick days off into effect. And there are signs that the national Democrats are starting to “get it” that they have to demonstrate they are on the side of regular, working people.
People Becoming More Active
Madison, Wisc. and the Occupy movement were flare-ups of popular protest that focused the national discussion on inequality. There are signs that people are starting to become even more active. Black Friday saw the largest strikes ever against Walmart, with employees demanding a living wage. There were pickets and strikes at 1,600 stores in 49 states.
Who is our economy for, anyway? In the United States We, the People are supposedly in charge and our country and economy are supposed to be managed for the public good. But that isn’t how things have been working out, is it?
Let’s take a quick look at America over the last few decades.
We used to have a social contract. We invested in top-notch infrastructure (like the interstate highway system) and education (the best universities and research), and then tax the resulting gains at very high rates, to recirculate those gains for the benefit of all of us. Broken Social Contract
Then the contract was broken. Starting in the 1970s a cabal of wealthy businessmen and conservative ideologues organized and funded an attack on We, the People government, manipulating public opinion and our political system, gutting the regulations and trade rules that protected us and our way of life, privatizing — selling off things We, the People own — and killing the tax-and-invest cycleso they could keep the gains from all of that prior investment for themselves. Blanket Of Propaganda
To provide cover for the operation these agents of the 1% spread a thick blanket of propaganda, using every technique in the modern marketing book. They divided us by race, religion, gender, sexual preference, even pitting people who like quiche and lattes against those who like beer and sausage. To cripple potential opposition they infiltrated and fractured key institutions, and turned the public against the news media. They developed a professional career-path system that rewards those who play along with the corruption and destruction and punishes those who do not. To cripple dissent they used ridicule, shame and intimidation. Destructive Choices Come Home To Roost Since then things have steadily fallen apart. The infrastructure is crumbling. Unemployment is extreme. The country has very high debt. The trade deficit is extreme. Half of us are poor or nearly poor. Inequality is at the highest levels. Bailouts For The 1%, Sell-Outs For The 99%
When things hit the fan it became clear that our country is no longer run for the good of We, the People. When it came down to it, a few got special treatment, the rest of us got … uh, less-than-special-treatment. (And weren’t even kissed.)
When the financial crisis occurred Congress was told they literally had only hours to come up with hundreds of billions to bail out the too-big-to-fail banks, and they did – with almost no conditions. We know now that the Federal Reserve also stepped up, providing trillions to the big banks, even hundreds of millions to bankers’ spouses! State and local governments, institutions and smaller businesses? The unemployed and millions facing foreclosure? Not so much. Plutocracy Not Democracy
They provided assistance for the giant financial institutions of the 1%. Instead of providing assistance to the 99& — We, the People — our government instead cut the things We, the People do for each other. It was made clear that this country is now a plutocracy, not a democracy. System Of Control Breaking Down
It is clear where we are. But it is also clear that the system of control is breaking down. The elections of 2006 and 2008 shook the foundations. Democracy tried to reassert control. The behind-the-scenes system of lobbyists writing legislation that passes under cover of “studies” from corporate-front think tanks, telling us this is for our own good, propelled by a flurry of corporate-funded op-eds, stopped working. After the bailouts for banks / sell out for the rest of us, people started figuring things out. In response the 5-4 Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, flooding the system with corporate money.
Instead of stealth takeover masked by propaganda we now see blatant grabs of wealth and raw power poorly disguised. Now the control is in our faces every day. Even constant filibusters of acts that might help We, the People were no longer enough to keep a lid on. So now it is shutdowns, hostage-taking, refusal to follow laws, refusal to prosecute, threats to take down the government and/or the economy. Now more visible methods of suppression are in use — batons, tasers and pepper spray. Waking Up
Everyone has been frustrated, discouraged, betrayed, scared and angry but without a focus for action. Then came the Occupy movement, people actually showing up and showing how! It resonated. People responded, and the conversation of the country was pulled out of the propaganda fog, at least for a while. Stephen Lerner, interviewed by Sarah Jaffe for AlterNet, discusses where we go from here, saying, “[I]t’s an exciting feeling to see something a lot of people spent a lifetime hoping for –this kind of dramatic increase in activity that targets financial capital, those who really control the country.” On Occupy Wall Street, Lerner says,
Everybody knows they’re getting zapped by banks, and what’s so good about Occupy is that it’s put that front and center. The fact that they were in Wall Street, I think everybody forgets. It was not Occupy a park somewhere, it was the fact that it was in the middle of the financial district. And I think on an intuitive level, people all over the political spectrum understand that those guys are at the center of how the economy is organized in a way that doesn’t work for most people.
On Wall Street’s position in our economy,
I don’t think people are mad at somebody who invented a product or founded a company. It’s that people see that Wall Street is not productive. Their wealth and their riches, they do not come through any normal means — they come through cheating and gambling and ripping us off, which I think troubles us in a different kind of way.
I don’t think anybody should view a sort of holiday or winter lull in activity as a sign of anything. As people have said, movements ebb and flow, and whenever we look back, spring is the time that things take off again. It’s really important that people not say “Oh, everything was front page news and now it’s not.” People instead should be stepping back, saying, “In three months we did more than anybody imagined we could do, now it’s time to step back and figure out the next stage.”
Now comes the long slog of organizing people into focused action to take back our country from the 1%. Van Jones has been laying the groundwork, joining with MoveOn.org and other organizations to organize the Rebuild the Dream movement, and its Contract for the American Dream. Please visit and get involved.
Here is Van Jones at Netroots Nation, talking about the American Dream movement:
Organized labor is fighting, too, with new tactics and getting more people involved. They are focusing on labor’s role in creating a middle class in America. The recent Take Back the Capitol demonstrations are a case in point. In conjunction with many local and national organizations SEIU brought unemployed people to the DC to occupy the offices of 99 legislators, asking for jobs programs and extensions of unemployment benefits. They also marched on “K Street” – the symbolic center of lobbying activity.
Here is AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, Take Back the American Dream conference in October, calling for “a massive, militant movement”:
Trumka told the audience that the right wing is “banking on an upside-down America for its path to political power.” Trumka said that now is the time for “a mighty movement for jobs and a just economy,” adding, “We won’t stop fighting, shoving and kicking until everyone is back at work.”
Here is Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, talking about labor support for Occupy Wall street, and holding Wall Street accountable:
Here is Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen discussing the fight for the middle class on The Ed Show.
Up To Us
What happens next is up to us. Don’t be discouraged. “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
THIS is what democracy looks like. Here are Wisconsin protesters chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like!”
For those of us who can’t get enough, here is 13 minutes of THIS is what democracy looks like!
Last week’s Take Back the Capitol action brought two or three thousand unemployed people to the capitol. These representatives of the 99% went to the offices of 99 Senators and Representatives who now represent the 1%, where they were ignored and doors were closed on them. Some members were filmed fleeing down stairwells or hiding in copy rooms. So the next day the representatives of the 99% went to the people who really make the decisions. They marched on K Street, the symbolic center of the lobbying industry. They went to political fundraisers, and even to the Chamber of Commerce.
Here is a collection of videos of legislators fleeing their constituents who were there to represent the 99%, asking for JOBS and for extensions of unemployment benefits:
Just The Right Time
Take Back the Capitol seemed to happen at just the right time. “Occupy” camps across the country are being cleared, and newspapers were starting to talk about the movement as if it was over. Then this mass action descended in the nation’s capitol making noise and drawing attention.
The powers-that-be might have thought they had suppressed this movement, but the movement seems to be stronger than ever. As Lee Camp said, “Pepper spraying #occupiers is like throwing water on gremlins, you just get 10 times as many.”
Human Red Carpet
One of the best creative actions was a protest at the Chamber of Commerce, where the Take Back the Capitol people formed a “human red carpet” so the 1% could literally walk on the 99% as they entered the Chamber’s holiday party.
Several dozen Occupy DC protesters rolled out the human red carpet for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s holiday party at their Washington, DC headquarters this evening. The Chamber is the nation’s largest corporate lobby group. As guests entered, protesters shouted, “You walk on our rights, now walk on us!” encouraging attendees to trample on the activists laying underneath the red carpet painted with “99%.” No one did, sadly, at least while ThinkProgress was in attendance.
In Washington, hundreds of people, either from Occupy D.C. or bused in from around the country, participated in a “Day of Action: Occupiers Unite” to target K Street NW, where many of the capital’s lobbyists are based.
The protesters succeeded in crippling downtown traffic for much of the afternoon, blocking intersections as they chanted and formed human chains. More than 70 people were arrested, but many Occupiers will tell you that can be a good thing, because it means the world will keep watching.
… The K Street action came on the heels of a similar protest called “Take Back the Capitol,” during which hundreds of demonstrators from around the country parked themselves on the Mall. The group is backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union and the progressive activist group MoveOn.org.
It wasn’t the slick suits, pricey heels and sense of purpose of the congressional staffers that Susan Wilkinson saw this week on Capitol Hill. What stung about crossing paths with them, she said, was this: “They wouldn’t make eye contact with us,” the unemployed Seattle activist recalled Thursday. “When did I get invisible?”
Wilkinson was among hundreds of angry Americans who streamed through Washington and its corridors of power this week to command attention for the 99 percent of Americans that protesters claim are struggling to survive the recession. They were hard to miss.
Occupiers from all over the country marked the 3rd day of the ‘Take Back the Capitol week’, in Washington DC, with an event called ‘Make Wall Street Pay’ in which hundreds blocked several intersections on K street. Ultimately the protesters focused on 2 intersections: K street & 13th and 14th st nw, in which they decided to block the traffic flow by staging a sit-down and lying on the ground until arrested.
Newt Gingrich witnessed the Occupy movement up close and personal Wednesday night.
Protesters crashed his presidential fundraiser at a restaurant next to the storied Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown D.C., about a baseball’s throw from the White House.
. . . Gingrich held the $1,000-a-plate fundraiser as his campaign is trying to become a national organization–and pay off all its debts.
Our Reports From Last Week 99% March On K Street To Take Back The Capitol From The 1% As Unemployed Seize K Street, Time To Amplify Pressure On Congress Unemployed Confront Congress At Take Back The Capitol It Keeps Going
People have had enough and are finally realizing they can speak out against the abuses and insults that the 1% are heaping on the rest of us. Last week it was blocking unemployment benefit extensions, so 2 million more of us will lose all income at the end of the year. It was blocking the appointee to head the new consumer financial protection agency, so backs and credit cards and predatory lenders can keep running their scams. What will it be next week?
It was predicted that the cold weather would stop the occupiers. It was predicted that clearing out the camps and using the intimidation that comes from masses of policy in military hardware using pepper spray and batons would suppress the movement. It didn’t. Instead the movement moved on DC and into the offices of the legislators and then down to K Street and the Chamber from where the legislators get their orders and the fundraisers from which they get their corporate cash for use smearing the good people who try to fight them. Where next?
I am in DC covering the Take Back the Capitol “99 in DC” events. On Tuesday I wrote about the efforts of unemployed people and others to get in to talk to their senators and representatives. (Watch some of them tell their stories.) On Wednesday they marched to “K Street” – the symbolic ground zero of the corporate takeover of our democracy. But first…
When I was waiting to get on the plane to come here the jetway was backed up. Now that the airlines are charging $25 just to check a bag, everyone brings their bags on and tries to cram them into the limited on-plane carry-on space. But of course, the airlines aren’t paying the flight attendants more because of the extra work this causes. So this guy come pushing his way down the left side, shouting, “First class, out of the way, first class, let me through,” because he missed boarding first, and he was entitled to already be on the airplane and not have to wait in the line like the rest of us.
The rest of us are supposed to walk past the already-seated, first class passengers, eyeing their large, comfortable seats, while they sip their champagne mimosas, and look important and … rich. We’re supposed to envy them, and hope to eventually be among them. But until then we are supposed to be grateful that they “create jobs” and allow us to serve them. This is America today.
Outrages like this been getting worse and worse, and have reached a breaking point, with many of us unemployed — because actually, the rich don’t “create jobs, WE do! So the rest of us — the 99% — have been getting mad about things like this for a long time, and are finally starting to show it, now that things have gotten so bad. Across the country people are “occupying” places and ideas that have been taken over by the 1%. They are letting themselves get angry about the things that have been happening, the change from democracy to plutocracy, the way the big corporations and Wall Street now make the rules while they don’t themselves have to follow the rules.
Not only has our Congress come under the control of the 1%, they have done very little to help the 99% through this crisis that was caused by the 1%. This Congress — the first since the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court — has done nothing to create jobs while doing a lot to kill jobs, and worse, at the end of this year extended unemployment benefits run out and 2 million people will lose their entire income.
Take Back The Capitol
So this week Take Back the Capitol brought unemployed people and others to Washington to confront their members of Congress and the lobbyists on “K Street” that they work for, to demand a change. Today they marched on K Street, the center of lobbying activity. CAF intern Sean McMartin was observing and writes,
On December 7, 2011, a date 70 years after Pearl Harbor, another piece of history was made. Supporters of the American Dream Movement and several other organizations from all over the country marched from the National Mall up to K Street in Washington. They came to protest their outrage with the rich, corporations, and the special interests, many of which have lobbyists with offices on “K Street.” They shouted they were the 99% of the country, who have not fared well over past few years with high unemployment and stagnated wages.
Just before noon the people from the Take Back the Capitol came to the intersection of 16th and K Street, which became the epicenter of the protest. Occupy DC, which happened to be camped only a block away, saw what was happening and came out of their tents to join the protest. Then a group came marching from the west, too, as Occupy DC came from the east. The coordination was something to see in real time and represented several groups coming together from all over the place.
The police had to use their cars to block off a perimeter for the protest that involved 14th Street to 17th Street and I Street to L Street. Even policemen on horses,not seen often in Washington, were used as a show of force. There was no violence from what I could see, but a good old protest where people come together to show their outrage with the status quo.
Pedestrians going to lunch stepped out of their offices to witness history in the making. They took out their cameras and smartphones to record history as it happened and some even shouted their support for the movement.
After 1 pm city workers and police ordered the protestors onto the sidewalks and of the streets. The protestors slowly but surely followed and cleared the streets as were told.
Wednesday morning, protesters organized by the ADM swarmed the headquarters of major corporations and financial institutions including Verizon, General Electric, Capitol Tax Partners, the American Bankers Association and the financial lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford.
A labor organizer said the protesters targeted corporations and lobbying groups representing companies that have paid more in executive compensation and lobbying in recent years than they’ve paid in taxes, citing a recent study by Public Campaign.
Hundreds of protesters from around the country converged on Verizon’s headquarters, chanting slogans like, “whose street — our street” and “shame on Verizon, pay your fair share.” Verizon employees and building staff looked on from the building lobby as protesters swarmed by.
Protesters also marched around the front of the American Bankers Association, where extra security had been put in place to prevent outsiders from getting into the building.
About 20 protesters were in the lobby of the Capitol Tax Partners’ building for a brief time, according to a source in the building.
Also on Wednesday, activists aligned with the Occupy D.C. movement based in McPherson Square marched to protest the Podesta Group, one of the city’s most powerful lobby shops, which has close ties to the Obama administration.
Here is a collection of photos and videos from the action at K Street (click through for videos)::
Today thousands of unemployed people and others came to D.C. to tell Congress and “K Street” that they need jobs not cuts; that we should tax the rich, and that unemployment benefits must be extended before they run out at the end of the year.
I am in Washington to join them at the Take Back the Capitol “99 In DC” event. This is not the OccupyDC group, but it is supportive and very much like the Occupy group, with “Mic Check” and “We are the 99%” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” chants going on everywhere. (Special note: There are no drum circles!)
The center for the activities is a series of large tents on the Mall in front of the old Smithsonian building. There is a stage for entertainment in the evening, a food tent with GREAT food, a New Media tent, a Peacekeepers tent, and other facilities. The event is organized by a number of groups, including the Service Employees International Union, along with local groups around the country. I talked to several people who came out from Idaho last night who organize food distribution and other services for poor and unemployed people, and they had stories about the terrible way unemployment is affecting people there.
Today people gathered in the morning in groups to prepare to visit members of Congress. There were three tents where groups gathered. There was the A-G tent, the H-O tent and the P-Z tent. I was joining the group that was heading over to Rep. Darrell Issa’s office, and thought it was appropriate that we would meet in the H-O tent because he is such a big corporate … well, you know. Anyone Can Visit
A lot of people don’t realize it, but anyone can visit the office of any member of Congress. You can come to D.C. and locate your member of Congress’s office and go in and say you live in that district and want to say, “Hi.” Or say other things. They work for you. Everyone in our delegation was from California, which is why Rep. Issa was chosen for a visit.
The group walked in the rain down the mall to the Capitol and turned right to the Rayburn building where some of the members of Congress and various committees are located. We had to pass through security which involved putting any bags and computers through an X-ray machine, and walking through a metal detector. We didn’t have to take off our shoes. Rep. Issa’s Office
The group collected and went to Issa’s office, walked right in, and asked to see the Congressman. He was over at the Capitol, an aide said she would speak with the people there, but the people wanted to see Rep. Issa himself. She asked if the group could please move to the hall, and they said they would wait right there, thank you. After some back and forth, please clear a path for visitors, please move to the hall, I’ll meet with you instead, etc., she called the Capitol Police who said that the office had requested them to please leave. So they left the office and waited in the hall.
After a while the group decided to leave a few people at Issa’s office and head over the another California Congressman’s office, Rep. Dan Lungren. They arrived at Lungren’s office, same story, we want to meet with the Representative, the aid said she would talk with them, no thanks we want to talk to the Congressman himself, etc. But this office did not call the Capitol Police, and they were especially nice, even bringing water and coffee. (Pretty good coffee.)
Meanwhile Rep. Issa showed up at his office, demanded that the people there show ID to prove they are from his district. One of them was, but she pointed out that Issa gets campaign money from donors and corporate PACS from all over the country, and that his committees represent the entire country, so why wouldn’t he talk to citizens. He said no, booted them from his office, and took off.
This is going on in offices of dozens of members of Congress today, demanding that the 99% and the unemployed be heard, just as much as the corporate donors and billionaires be heard. They are asking for unemployment benefits to be extended, and for infrastructure projects that will employ millions and improve the economy, providing jobs for the long term. They are asking Congress for legislation to allow judges to “cram down” mortgage amounts so people do not lose their homes. They are asking for tax increases on the rich and new taxes on Wall Street speculation to pay for essential services so those services do not have to be cut.
Tomorrow they are going after K Street.
This is a slide show of pictures so far:
50 seconds in, they spray the guy’s face from maybe 8 inches away. The guy was completely passive, peaceful.
This is done to try to put down demonstrations against the inequality and injustice resulting from the tax cuts and other policies that favor the wealthy few and their giant corporations.
These demonstrations are occurring because the 1% and their giant corporations have had their taxes lowered so much that our schools are suffering, the infrastructure is crumbling, etc. They don’t pay taxes, WE pay taxes and OUR taxes are used for this – to put down people who are demonstrating.