On one of surprisingly many points, I find myself in agreement with Debbie Dooley, a leader here in the Tea Party movement. The media, she says, calls describes the Occupy phenomenon as the left’s version of the Tea Party. Dooley says that’s “the furthest thing from the truth.
I concur. Occupy Atlanta, and ostensibly Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC and Occupy everything else, in my fervent hope, is almost nothing like the Tea Party.
You see, we want the Occupy movement to actually help fix our country. I view that as a sharp contrast. If Occupy does nothing more than perpetuate the political paralysis leading to America’s destruction as the Tea Party of the left, we’re all well and truly doomed.
Adbusters magazine certainly sparked the movement with its piece referencing the Tahrir Square protests – a triumph of democracy rivaling the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the fuel for the fire accumulated with every moment of the debt negotiation crisis in recent months.
Slowly, over the course of the year, as the government has slid from mere incompetence to complete political dysfunction, it has become clear to most of the people sleeping in Zuccotti Park – and downtown Atlanta – that no one in Washington can save us. A slow-motion political catastrophe awaits us, inexorably creeping forward as we watch, horrified.
Our dysfunction is so complete, we have structured our vital fiscal negotiations around the presumption of failure. Laughably, we expect the so-called super committee to come to no agreement, with each political party expecting the other to bear the greater burden of blame when the untailored budget cuts come.
Somehow, a change in marginal tax rates of three or four percent for the top bracket has become a radical political concept upon which our country will be allowed to break. A reasonable person would look at our budget history of the last 30 years and simply call for a return to tax rates for top-bracket earners and cuts to costs – perhaps from war spending? – that, at the very least, returns the country to its historical balance between revenue and expenditure.
This is a policy view held by the majority of people I’ve encountered in the movement, and I strongly suspect some version of this goal will be adopted as a formal policy objective.
Meanwhile, Greece is imploding. The maddening spiderweb of international finance – and the criminally stupid opacity of the credit default swap market – virtually guarantees that US banks will take huge hits to their balance sheets within the next year or so … which is to say, sometime during election season.
They’re going to ask us for another bailout.
None of this had to be this way. In 2009, with the closest thing to a mandate any president has enjoyed since Reagan’s second term, Barack Obama swept into office and could have pushed with maximum force for proper oversight of the US financial services industry.
He could have demanded reinstatement of the measures from the Glass-Steagall Act separating investment and retail banking. He could have demanded an oversight board to make trade in derivatives such as credit default swaps transparent. A risk regulator – yes, there’s that dirty word – could have been established to warn the markets when too many Wall Street trading desks had large, correlated risks with the potential to destabilize the economy. He could have called for rules to identify and potentially break up too-big-to-fail financial institutions before their private liabilities became our public liabilities.
I laugh at the critique of the Occupy movement as some kind of crypto-campaign strategy on behalf of President Obama. Many – if not most – of the people I speak to here carry deep disgust for the president’s inability to bridge the differences between Democrats and Republicans and to lead the country to sane policies. Calls for his impeachment are common.
But I believe that it doesn’t matter who serves as president right now. There is no near-term credible scenario in which either a Democrat or a Republican executive can muster control of the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate long enough to accomplish anything of substance, not before the continuing dysfunction of government swings public sentiment away from the party in power.
I suppose it would be easy enough to simply cry plague on both political houses and party in the street until Ragnarok, but that’s not the sentiment I’ve witnessed in the week I’ve been watching and speaking with protesters in Woodruff Park. (Its new denizens have taken to calling it Troy Davis Park, an appellation I view as distracting.)
These are the people who haven’t given up hope, but they’re no longer investing their hope in the president or in government as it works today. As long as well-financed firms can essentially bribe politicians legally through the lobbying process and campaign donations, change must come from outside of the system.
So. We occupy public spaces to draw public attention to the public’s problems. Woodruff Park, for example, would otherwise remain a gathering spot for the city’s homeless, even though it’s nestled in the middle of Atlanta. As long as we’re there, the people in that park will have access to a meal.
Locally, I would urge the Occupy movement to look for ways to get involved in public policy related to lobbying reform, public space and the ripple effects of the Wall Street meltdown and housing crisis. For example, the Alliance for Ethics Reform contains “independent groups and individuals … united in the push for strengthening Georgia’s ethics laws with detailed proposals on Georgia ethics legislation.” AER wants limits and disclosure of gifts to legislators from lobbyists, rule making authority for a state ethics commission, PAC spending limits and better conflict of interest rules.
That sounds like it’s right up our alley. As it happens, Tea Party Patriots is also a member.
I would urge Occupy to scrutinize the use of public-private partnerships with dubious benefits to the public. The 1-85 express toll lane experiment comes to mind, in which Georgia has essentially sold the right to charge tolls on a public road to private investors. We can see how well that’s working out while we stuck in traffic on the way to town with a nearly-empty lane next to us. State leaders are considering an expansion of the experiment, which would require a bidding process for private investors that’s closed to the public and an agreement not to build new roads to alleviate congestion until those investors have been repaid with interest.
Similarly, public parking in Atlanta has been effectively leased to the private firm Park Atlanta, limiting the city’s flexibility to manage this asset to the public’s benefit while infuriating drivers and business owners all over the city with hyper-aggressive parking enforcement.
I answer the charge of the crimes “communism” and “socialism” not guilty. I’m an entrepreneur, an avowed capitalist and hold an MBA from a ranked school. Wait … it’s not against the law to be a communist or socialist in America? The entire conversation about communists in our midst is absurd, a slur, irrelevant and the worst kind of unproductive emotional demogoguery. We have real problems to solve in this country. The Red Menace is not one of them.
There is a radical caucus within the Occupy movement in Atlanta. It is unclear to me how influential they will be, but they appear to be in the minority – as they almost always are, everywhere. A meeting of honest-to-goodness Communists in Atlanta could not fill the park.
But as I’ve said before, can anyone honestly say that because a handful of communists happen to attend rallies at which no one is barred, a public conversation about the issues raised by the Occupy movement lay beyond the pale? Even addressing this question feels like a moment from the McCarthy era and symbolizes the degraded state of our public discourse. Rather than discuss the actual issues of the day, we look for ad hominem reasons to avoid actual conversation.
Similarly, the incidents of disorder conservatives have latched onto as a means of de-legitimizing the movement – pictures of protesters in New York crapping on a cop car and a flag – are condemnable for the misdemeanor criminal offenses they are. Those protesters should be prosecuted as such.
I note, however, that even as I condemn the actual crimes you’ve described, I support the right, broadly, to make extreme political statements — even statements with which most Americans would disagree — as a hallmark of our 1st Amendment rights. I believe in the Constitution – the whole Constitution, not just the parts that make my argument sound more valid.
The Tea Party embraced a lack of central control at first. Virtually anyone with a microphone and a voice could speak at a meeting. More than one person took that opportunity to try to wrap the mantle of the Tea Party around extreme views that were ultimately rejected by the group. It took some shaking out, and some time. That accurately describes Occupy Atlanta right now, and, I think, the broader movement as well.