By Richard (RJ) Eskow, originally posted at Huffington Post, October 3, 2011
Even the sympathizers don't always get it. I'm sure I get a lot of
things wrong too, but here's one thing I do understand: Change doesn't
begin with policy. It begins with perception. And you don't change things by asking. You change them by acting.
But it begins with perception. "All money is a matter of belief," as someone once said.
In the New York Times, Nick Kristof
shows that he understands the #OccupyWallStreet movement more than most
of his peers. "The protesters are dazzling in their Internet skills,"
he writes, "and impressive in their organization."
But like many other sympathetic observers, he misses their most
important point when he says "the movement falters in its demands"
because "it doesn't really have any."
As a movement participant told the Take Back the American Dream conference this morning, "We don't have demands. If we make demands of Wall Street, we're saying that Wall Street has the power."
But the fact that the movement doesn't make demands of Wall Street -
or Washington, for that matter - doesn't mean it doesn't have demands.
It does, but they're not directed at Wall Street, or K Street, or
Pennsylvania Avenue. They're directed at you. And at me, and at every
other citizen in this country.
To be sure, these "demands" are't couched in the strangely
condescending and hostile language of all the Democratic fundraising
emails going around lately. ("You think of yourself as a smart voter,
don't you?" said one I got this weekend). These "demands" come in a
friendler, more respectful tone, that iof one person saying to another,
"Hey, did you see that?"
Some mainstream liberals and politicos rolled their eyes at the
protestors' response to requests that they come up with "one demand."
Their "one demand" page
includes the execution of Troy Davis ("Ending capital punishment is our
one demand"), Yahoo's blocking of emails that included the occupywallst
URL ("Ending corporate censorship is our one demand"), and a list of
others: "Ending health profiteering is our one demand." "Ending
American imperialism is our one demand."
That was a signal for the snark to commence. "I'm not a genius at
math," said one commenter, "but I've been counting these demands and
I've gone way past one." Meanwhile well-intentioned voices like Kristof
and my friend Mike Konczal helpfully
provided them with policy demands. And they're good ones: A financial
transactions tax. Investigate Wall Street crimes. Cancel excessive
But the "one demand" that matters most is directed at our society, not
our policymakers, and it's much more fundamental than these excellent
ideas. The demand is this: "Come back to sanity." That's the underlying
demand that unifies all those items on the #OccupyWallSt website. Our
culture is insane today, and they recognize that. Create a transactions
tax, and they'll simply rob us another way.
"Sanity: The ability to think and behave in a normal and rational
manner; sound mental health. Reasonable and rational behavior." Oxford Dictionaries Online
The scope of our confusion and delusion can't be addressed by
specific policy measures, any more than you might have overthrown
Mubarak's regime in Egypt with a "single demand" to end the torture of
political prisoners, or fixed elections, or the theft of the nation's
billions by Mubarak and his cronies. The first step is to lift the veil
from everyone's eyes, as they did in Egypt, to say to others and to
themselves: "This isn't democracy - and it isn't inevitable. We can
Why mention Troy Davis and the death penalty while you're demonstrating
against the power of corporations and the big banks? Because executions
are a diversion that corporate America throws at the people to draw our
attention away from their misdeeds.
The public's getting upset: Wage inequality is worse than its been
in modern history. Bailed-out bankers are still paying themselves huge
bonuses with taxpayer money. Our corporate politicians always know what
to do in a tight spot like that: Kill another black man and change the
subject. That's how Troy Davis fits into the demonstrators' "one demand."
Why is "American imperialism" on the list? Because politicians in both
parties are determined to cut Social Security and Medicare, even as they
support military bases around the world and prosecute two unnecessary
wars. Those bases and those wars enrich the corporations that serve the
Defense Department.'' Those wars are a symptom of democracy hijacked by
Why is "corporate censorship" on the list? Because in both a literal and
metaphorical sense, certain information is marginalized or blacklisted
in our social media and our traditional media. A majority of Republican
voters - not Democratic voters, Republicans - want to protect
Social Security benefits and close tax loopholes. A vast majority of
Americans want the government to create jobs more than it wants deficits
to be cut..
But try finding a news report about the budget that doesn't treat these
ideas as marginal, extreme, "lefty," and impractical. See how hard it
is? That's corporate censorship.
In every voice, in every ban,
the mind-forg'd manacles I hear.
Here's how insane this country has become. You can find "liberal"
pundits and leaders from both parties on every channel who will condemn
American homeowners as morally bankrupt and unworthy of help. But the
banks they trusted, who sold them mortgages on the false promise that
real estate values would rise forever, and who then when on a crime
spree, walked away free. And their CEOs are broacast and quoted as they
were legitimate, mainstream American voices.
While the middle class dies and the ranks of the poor swell, this
country is talking about cutting the government's spending. Whil one
home in four is underwater, this country's worried about the financial
health of banks. While we fight two unnecessary wars, war criminals like
Dick Cheney are given television platforms as if they were simply
representing a different political point of view.
We executed an innocent man in Georgia while guilty people on Wall
Street go free. That's insane. Conservative Democrats whose views are
far to the right of Richard Nixon's, and sometimes even of Ronald
Reagan's, are considered the "left" side of the debate. That's insane.
How do you end insanity? By seeing the reality as it is - not by seeing parts of the truth, but by seeing the whole.
You start by seeing that we're being run by, and manipulated by, a
system. It's a corporate system that drives our politics, our news, and
even our entertainment. You begin to see it as a system that's
overthrown our basic values and discarded our basic sense of decency,
replacing themwith an exaltation of consumerism and a condemnation of
People have been waiting for someone to connect the dots. They've been
waiting for someone to explain how these forces act together and work
totether to exploit us. They want to know how and why they'e been losing
their wealth, their security, and even their self-esteem.
The #OccupyWallSt protestors are succeeding. They're carrying the
message - and they're being heard. They've won over the Transit Workers
Union, the Airline Pilots Union, the SEIU, and - in an echo of Tahrir
Square - soldiers in uniform who are willing to defend them. You don't
do that by proposing a financial transactions tax, as important as that
is. You do that by demanding an end to the insanity, the madness that's
being manufactured and distributed every day by the leaders of corporate
John Samuelson, head of the Transport Workers Union, told Keith Olbermann that his union and the protesters are "singing the same song."
My work takes me deep into the weeds of economic policy, but there
comes a time to recognize that a financial transactions tax - necessary
as it is - is not a "song." Before the words, there's the music. And
it's the music that makes us dance.
"Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery,
none but ourselves can free our minds."
Being as analytical as he is, Konczal's post delves deeply into the
theories of anarchist movements and "autonomous zones." It's a
fascinating read, even if you've read up on this sort of thing. But the
main point is: This is a song, not a policy platform, and there's no
one composer. Everybody's making it up as they go along, and everyone
else is welcome to join - as long as they don't lose the beat.
Let's compile our list of policy ideas. They're badly needed. But
first comes the song: End the corporate-driven insanity. Restore the
values that have guided our country for more than 200 years. Make us
human again. Make us a community again. Make us sane again.
Oh, wait. I almost forgot to tell you who said that "all money is a
matter of belief." It was Adam Smith, who's been adopted by the
free-market types as their philosopher/guru. Smith was right. A change
in the money begins with a change in our minds. And as the Who used to
say, "the kids are alright."
See you at the demonstration.