Occupy the System

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and JOSHUA FRANK

It’s not too cool to be ridiculed
But you brought this upon yourself
The world is tired of pacifiers
We want the truth and nothing else

And we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
‘Cause if you really want to hear our views
“You haven’t done nothing”!

–Stevie Wonder, “”You Haven’t Done Nothing”

There is an anger running rampant across the country. Some on the right are calling it class warfare. People are enraged. Jobs are scarce, the rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to struggle to make ends meet. Indeed, it should be classified as economic warfare, Americans are sick and tired of being pushed around. It is time to shove back.

Pizza man Herman Cain is right. The problem resides in the White House. Herman Cain is wrong. The problem resides on Wall Street. They are, in fact, the same problem: a goutish economic system that enriches the wealthy and impoverishes everyone else, a system that pillages the natural world and tramples on basic human liberties, a system that treats corporations as people and people as commodities.

The victims of neoliberal economics are easy to spot. So too are the perpetrators and profiteers of privatized markets. In many ways the occupations sprouting up around the country remind us of the outpouring of opposition to the WTO that jammed up the streets of Seattle in the late-1990s. Like that organic movement, the current protests are grassroots, and fueled, not by overt political motivations, but by a sense of justice.

Like the Battle for Seattle, Occupy America is taking place during a time when a Democrat resides in the White House. There is little question that President Clinton recklessly pursued a free trade agenda that endangered the American workforce and ravaged the environment. But today President Obama’s motivations are a bit more cavalier. While he speaks of job creation and jumpstarting the struggling economy, he simultaneously ensures his pals on Wall Street that their power and profits will remain intact.

President Clinton, like his predecessor, is largely responsible for the dire economic situation we now face. It was Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin that pushed for increased deregulation, which ended up shifting jobs, and entire industries, overseas.

Rubin even pushed for Clinton’s dismantling of Glass-Steagall, testifying that deregulating the banking industry would be good for capital gains, as well as Main Street. “[The] banking industry is fundamentally different from what it was two decades ago, let alone in 1933,” Rubin testified before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in May of 1995.

“[Glass-Steagall could] conceivably impede safety and soundness by limiting revenue diversification,” Rubin argued.

While the industry saw much deregulation over the years preceding Clintontime, the Gramm-Leach-Biley Act of 1999, which eliminated Glass-Steagall, extended and ratified changes that had been enacted with previous legislation. Ultimately, the repeal of the New Deal era protection allowed commercial lenders like Rubin’s Citigroup to underwrite and trade instruments like mortgage backed securities along with collateralized debt and established structured investment vehicles (SIVs), which purchased these securities. In short, as the lines were blurred among investment banks, commercial banks and insurance companies, when one industry fell, like mortgage lenders, others could too.

What Clinton began, President Bush only escalated with an extreme capitalist vigor. Alan Greenspan stayed as head of the Federal Reserve, continuing to press forward with his libertarian agenda of deregulation and damaging austerity measures. When Greenspan retired, Ben Bernanke, another Wall Street ally, took the Bank’s helm, and was kept in place by President Obama.

Obama wasted little time bailing out the greed-infested financial sector. When Obama took office he in 2009 he nominated Rubin-trained economist Timothy Geithner, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to serve as Treasury Secretary. Geithner, if anything, is an insider among insiders and Wall Street’s main man in DC.

It was certainly not the hope and change Obama supporters had voted for, especially in a time when the economy was suffering and jobs were scarce. Obama’s modest stimulus program did little to sustain job growth and was nowhere near the scale of the New Deal’s robust Works Progress Administration. In short, Obama has been an economic disaster for the majority of Americans, sans the Wall Street crowd that continues to profit and is protected under the guise of “too big to fail”.

Did you really expect something different from the man who begged Joe Lieberman to serve as his mentor in the senate?

It’s this entrenched, systematic refusal to challenge the status quo that is driving the animosity and outrage across the country. Wall Street is being upheld and indeed enabled by both the Democrats and Republicans, including, at the top of the stinking pile, President Obama and his administration.

The Democrats are a prosthetic party, a hollow shell for the detritus of New Deal liberalism, that maintains popular allegiance through blind inertia. For the past thirty years at least, the Democrats have functioned less as a political party driven by a tangible ideology than as a low-fat franchise of Wall Street and the defense contractors. From war to neoliberal economics, the new Democrats have pursued brutal policies, often inflicted most grievously at the party’s most devoted constituents: Hispanics, blacks, labor and the unemployed.

There’s a Wilsonian quality to Obama: trim, aloof, pedantic and shank-you-in-the-back dangerous. Obama has never wanted to be seen socializing with the poor or working class stiffs. He doesn’t even want them in his orbit, except as props behind his teleprompter. In his first three years in office, the closest the president came to such a pedestrian parlay was his famous beer summit with the Cambridge cop who manhandled Henry Louis Gates. Come to think of it, that meeting was a twofer, since it was also one of Obama’s few close encounters with a voice from black America as well.

Making the connection between the continued economic disparities on Main Street and the policies that fuel this divide is paramount to bringing about real change. As such, it’s time to Occupy Washington and make this, not only an electoral issue, but also a very real threat to our government’s consolidated power.

Obama’s first term has revealed the utter vacuity of our political system and the prodigious level of corruption eating away at the sinews of the empire. Democracy itself is being degraded. From bank bailouts and war to indemnification of corporate criminals and assassination orders against American citizens, the most urgent matters of government are now hatched without public debate in the secret chambers of power.  The majestic hypocrisy of the Democrats in a time of deepening economic and environmental crisis has inflamed the spectrum of outrage now sweeping America. But where does the movement go from here?

The 99% movement needs to forsake protest for a sustained resistance and disruption of the status quo. After all, the object isn’t reform—we’re far, far beyond that–but radical, systemic change. Its structure should remain enigmatic, diffuse, protean—too slippery to be captured and co-opted by Democrats looking to hijack its momentum. In order to maintain its integrity and political power, the 99% movement must publicly shun any perilous alliance with Democratic front groups such as MoveOn and the Sierra Club. It should reject the coruscated cant of faux leftists like Bernie Sanders, Van Jones and Rachel Maddow and instead give full-voice to the intrinsic rage of the outsiders, the disenfranchised and destitute, the left behind, the new American preterite.

It’s time for the nation to hear the spooky vibrations of a home-grown and organic movement on the march, a swarming mass of discontent that will make the financial aristocrats and their low-rent political grifters tremble in their sleep.

Let’s run the bastards out of town.

Jeffrey St. Clair’s latest book is Born Under a Bad Sky. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Joshua Frank is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached atbrickburner@gmail.com.

This essay is adapted from AK Press’s Tactical Media Pamphlet on the Occupy Movement.

St. Clair and Frank’s latest book, Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, will be published by AK Press in March.

 

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

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