The time has come for me to address the massive elephant in the room that we call American politics. There is presently a no more divisive issue in this country, even though people should, for the most part, be on the same side of the issue if they actually understood what was going on. Of course, I am talking about the Occupy movements that are in full swing all around the country. I want to explore how the Occupy movement is possibly the most real expression of politics in this country since the Boston Tea Party, and why conservatives, many of whom themselves would benefit economically if the issues that the Occupy movements are trying to raise are actually addressed, are so opposed to the movement. Before going into all of that, however, it would probably be a good idea to explain the Occupy movement, because the actual agenda of the movement has been poorly communicated to the American Public. The following explanation of the movement is based on some research I did, and watching the news for the past few months. I am pretty confident that I have a good understanding of the movement, so enjoy the potentially mind-bending nature of the Occupy movement.
For some time now, it has been clear that the interests of this countries banks and massive corporations have been governing public policy in this country, and it lead to our most recent economic recession. This is reminiscent of one of Schmitt’s theories. He claimed that if all of the people in a nation were political equals, the differences between them would emerge in another realm, namely economics, and that economics would dominate over the political realm (P. 13). The current economic situation illustrates that point. As more and more people have become voting citizens, the differences between people have become less pronounced. Now, the most significant difference between people in public life is how much money they have. The more you have, the more of a say you have. Just look at the practice of lobbying in Washington D.C. Interests groups and companies with the most money can, in essence, buy votes for the bills they want to see passed. The common person can’t do such a thing. This difference is truly what is meant by the 99% and the 1%. The 1% has the ability to have whatever they want to have done, get done because of the enormous amount of wealth that they control.
My own personal “moment of realization”, for lack of a better term, was when George W. Bush handed out his huge bailouts in 2008. Companies such as AIG and banks like Bank of America received billions of dollars of government aid, which actually came from American taxpayers. What I remember happening next was a certain controversy over one of these “bailed-out” companies using their bailout money to pay for the bonuses of their top executives (I want to say Goldman Sachs?). The 2008 bailout program was really just the tip of the iceberg. Various other enraging cases, such as the Bernie Madoff ponzy scheme (sorry Mets fans), caused even more tension among the middle and lower classes, but no real public protest was made. Things started to change, though, in early 2011 with the success of the public protests in the Middle East. Ironically, it took protests in one of the more socially repressed parts of the world to inspire the American people, whose nation hyperbolically invented the idea of the peaceful public protest, to take action against the increasingly auction-like nature of American politics. The Occupy movement is mostly known because of its self-identification as the 99%, as in what’s left after the top 1% of earners who control about 40% of this country’s wealth. Naturally, the political right has sent some furious hey-makers towards the non-violent protesters.
Of course, the first comparison that is made by the conservative media is with the rise of the Tea Party on the right over the last couple of years. No nonviolent movement has probably ever received so much opposition from so many people for such petty reasons since the Civil rights movement. It is really telling to watch Fox News and hear what their anchors and analysts have to say on the subject. The gist of what they say is that the Occupy movement is pointless and that its protesters are too violent and they should look up to the Tea Party Patriots, who have been nothing but peaceful in their demonstrations. Let me just debunk that myth right here. No one has gotten a death from an Occupy Protester. The same cannot be said about the Tea Party, who have made well-known death threats against President Obama, and may have even had an influence in the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. This hardly makes the Tea Party a non-violent movement. Compare this to some of the recent publicized instances of police violence at Occupy protests. The most famous incident, of course, was the pepper-spray incident at Occupy UC-Davis a couple of weeks ago, where the student protesters were sitting down in the middle of a walkway, and were hit with a pepper-spray that is intended for use on bears (http://aksarbent.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-kind-of-pepper-spray-did-uc-davis.html). Another case, which received nowhere near the same type of coverage, happened at UNC Chapel Hill just before their Thanksgiving break. I heard about this from a close friend of mine who attends UNC Chapel Hill, and actually lives within eyesight of the building where this happened. (The story can be found here: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/11/4ec04a8f753e7). Occupy protesters in Chapel Hill had moved into an old abandoned car dealership and, according to my friend were trying to turn it into a community center. Cops showed up in raid gear, wielding assault rifles, brandishing them and yelling at the protesters to get on the ground. The police re-routed a public bus, loaded the protesters, and sent at least 20 peaceful protesters to the police station because they thought they might have been armed inside of the unused building. The 99% has faced an enormous amount of opposition from law enforcement, considering the fact that Occupy is a non-violent movement. I believe that this is because of the powerful influence that Corporate America has on government has intervened, and their fear of Occupy has led to drastic measures.
Another infuriating right-wing response to the Occupy protesters is the 53%. The 53% refers to the percentage of Americans who make enough money to pay taxes. While this was meant to cast the 99 percenters as lazy good-for-nothings, what it really ends up doing is providing even more support to the 99%. If 47% of this country cannot even qualify to pay federal income taxes, then surely there is a problem with how wealth is distributed in this country? Also, if the 47% is the lazy group, then how about the 52% remaining of the 99% that is being represented by the “lazy” 47% that is protesting against the 1%? This is not just about poor people against rich. This is a fight for everyone.
Why do people fear the Occupy movement? Well, the only real reason for fear is if you make more money than you could ever know how to spend. So that means that 99% of Americans have nothing to fear from the Occupy movement, only gains to be had. Allow us to look at Herman Cain for a few moments. Cain, until he dropped out of the race, was one of the Tea Party favorites in the Republican Field. He has no real political experience, and has, in fact, never won an election. He doesn’t know anything about foreign policy, the President’s main duty, beyond having invented the country “Ubeki-Beki-Beki-Stan-Stan”. Based on what we know about modern conservative thought, is it possible that Cain’s existence as a serious candidate for nomination came about solely because has would have absolutely NO idea what to do in office, and thereby the Federal Government would have less power? This seems like the most likely answer. Yes, all Herman Cain truly brings to the table is his “bold” 9-9-9 plan. Wait, you want me to relate this to the Occupy movement? Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, 9-9-9, as Cain says, will completely replace the existing tax code. We would have a flat 9% income tax, a flat 9% national sales tax (which republicans HATE), and a flat 9% corporate tax. The income tax is the only one of the 3 that would actually see a reduction of the rate of taxation. While the middle and lower classes would see a lower income tax rate, the increase of the sales tax would be crippling to low-income families who spend a much larger percent of their income on groceries and gas than the rich do. The corporate tax is a tax on the goods that a corporation sales, or its own gross income. This is not a tax on individuals, but on corporations at large. Now, there is something much more sinister in this plan. Warren Buffet, a true economic savant, recently protested that his tax rate, which came out to about 17 percent, was way too low. Guess what he would pay under 9-9-9? If you said 9%, then you were thinking what I was thinking when I first read up on 9-9-9. Actually, Warren Buffet, and those who make money through stocks and financing instead of through salary, would pay between 0 and 1% of their income in taxes. How is this possible? 1st, it is important to note that 9-9-9 does not tax Capital Gains. A capital gain is a profit made through investments. This is how this country’s super rich, i.e. those the 99% are fighting against, make their money. They would be paying no income tax, and what little taxes they would pay would be in the form of sales tax, which as I said before, has a very small impact on how much money the rich end up with afterwards. Was that not enough for you? Well, here is another 9-9-9 bombshell. Ever heard of the Koch Brothers? They are 2 of the richest men in this country. They control Koch Industries, one of this country’s largest companies. They are major Tea Party supporters. And they just happened to write the 9-9-9 plan. That’s right, I am going there. 9-9-9 is just another form of class warfare. All of this coming from a man who is on the record as having said that poor people are lazy. This is the problem in our country. People want to have “less governement”, so they are willing to elect people who don’t know enough to actually do the job well. (As an aside on the conservative claim about the size of government, I would just like to point out their hypocrisy. When Republicans call for less government, they are really calling for less government involvement in the economic realm. Democrats an Republicans believe in the same amount of government, differing only in what things should be governed. Republicans want the government to regulate social issues such as rights for sexual minorities, abortions, and stem-cell research. A lot of this is because the GOP is backed by the Christian Right. Democrats don’t want the government to be involved in those issue except to defend individual liberties. Instead, they want government to regulate economic issues.)
Thankfully, Herman Cain has dropped out of the race. We can all sleep a little bit better at night knowing that no matter who wins, Democrat or Republican, they will at least have some idea what a government actually is. However, Cain was not the only candidate who has strong ties to Corporate America. The new front-runner in the Republican field has been accused by several people of having been a lobbyist for several groups, most famously Freddie Mac. The same Freddie Mac that helped start the housing crisis by providing questionable loans, and then was bailed out by the Bush administration. Occupy cannot and will not go away until the fascist corporate right is taken out of politics.
Over the course of the United States’ history, there have been several instances of a people claiming a voice for themselves. It started with the Declaration of Independence, and continued with Emancipation, Women’s suffrage, Civil Rights, and Gay Rights. Occupy is the next in this series of political action that Ranciere would see as the natural progression of politics and democracy. The 99% is demanding a voice. We (yes, we) are tired of the 1% having control over the affairs of state. The problem is that the 1% has so much power that they can just ignore us. As we discussed in class, when a group of people claims that they have a voice, their opponents can simply shut them down by saying, “no you don’t”, much in the way that the Scythian Slaves were ignored by their masters. This claim for a voice is being met with indifference from the conservative media, and with violence from law-enforcement. Despite how the movement is viewed, never before has a movement represented the interests, or General Will, of such a large group of people (I do think that a more fair distribution of wealth is our true general will. It would be in the best interest of the most people. However, the 1% has too much power, so our country cannot truly express its General Will). 99% is not a number that was made up in order to gain sympathy. It is a statement of truth. 1% of our population controls a disgusting amount of wealth. Because of its importance and true potential to affect change, the 99% is being treated with the same contempt that African Americans received from Whites during the Civil Rights Era, and that Sexual minorities received and still receive to this day. Like those fights, the noble fight of the 99% will continue.
My friends, the Occupy movement is real. The 99% is emerging to try to take a stand against corporate corruption of American Politics. It is often said that many of the Occupy protesters don’t know what they are protesting. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement, I feel that this fact is largely irrelevant. You see, while the 1% is able to throw “politicians” like Herman Cain and New Gingrich at us, we are vulnerable to their will. They want us to elect a president who will leave them alone. Why do we see so much anti-Obama propaganda from the conservative media? It is because they are afraid of what reforms President Obama, who is probably our nation’s most liberal president ever, will pass in order to take the rich out of the political sphere. (As an aside, there is a law in Canada, the Radio Act, which makes it illegal for a station to be aired if it lies on the air. For this reason, Fox News is not allowed to broadcast in Canada. Radical conservatives tried to get this law repealed so that they could launch their own station, but were denied. God bless Canada. It shows that the right wing does, in fact need the ability to use false propaganda in order to deliver a convincing message. Read more here: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/276-74/5123-fox-news-lies-keep-them-out-of-canada). Now, that is just speculation, but it fits. A first-term president gets to spend about a year governing, and then the rest of that term looking good enough to be re-elected. Unfortunately, the right-wing propaganda has seriously hurt the President’s chances of being re-elected. However, Obama has quietly been improving life for many people around the country, and around the world. Just ask the Libyans, and those who live their lives in fear of Al-Qaeda. Ask sexual minorities who now don’t have to lie about who they are if they serve in the military. Ask Latin Americans who now have a voice on the Supreme Court. Ask women, who can no longer be discriminated against for being women with their salaries. People don’t know about these things because the 1% is afraid. What does the 99% need in order to improve its living? It needs 4 more years of Barack Obama.
To wrap this up, I think it’s important to note one more time that the Occupy movement is an expression of the General Will by a people that have lost their voice. As Schmitt predicted, the economic realm has gained dominance of the realm of politics because we have created political equality. What we are seeing all around the country, and even all around the world, as similar movements are happening in several other countries, is a group that has been left without a voice in matters of state stake a claim for their voice. If that is not enough for you to see how important Occupy is, then I don’t know what else is.