Occupy Wall Street (OWS)'s Visual Map
•Anti-capitalist movement that seeks to create "a society of cooperation and community" – i.e., a socialist economy
•Its members refer to themselves as "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%."
•Uses "the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic" to achieve its ends
See also: USDayOfRage Take The Square
Adbusters Media Foundation October 2011
Lisa Fithian Kalle Lasn
Supporters of "Occupy Wall Street"
Launched on September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a movement whose activism is planned and coordinated via a free, open-source social-networking website that is maintained by an independent group of organizers who describe themselves as “committed to doing technical support work for resistance movements.” Strongly anti-capitalist, OWS characterizes America as a “ruthless,” materialistic society where the chief objective is to “always minimize costs and maximize profits”; where “lives are commodities to be bought and sold on the open market”; and where “the economic transaction has become the dominant way of relating to the culture and artifacts of human civilization.” The “deep spiritual sickness” that necessarily results from this repugnant philosophy of perpetual economic "growth for the sake of growth," says OWS, has caused “vast deprivation, oppression and despoliation ... to cover the world.” OWS's prescribed remedy is to replace the foregoing arrangement “with a society of cooperation and community” – i.e., a socialist economy.
During its first year of existence, OWS succeeded mainly in drawing widespread public attention to its incessantly repeated narrative of corporate greed, the inherent evils of capitalism, the injustices of financial inequality, and the need for a massive transfer of wealth from the top "1 percent" to the other "99 percent." By injecting this narrative into the political atmosphere, OWS laid important groundwork for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, which was based heavily on the fomentation of class envy and class warfare.
Kalle Lasn and Adbusters
The individual most responsible for launching OWS was Kalle Lasn, a longtime documentary producer, radical environmentalist, and, by his own telling, lifelong “student of revolution.” Denouncing American consumerism as an “ecologically unsustainable” and “psychologically corrosive” phenomenon, Lasn has long derided “the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism” as “a destructive system” that has caused “a terrible degradation of our mental environment.” He especially detests capitalism's handmaiden, consumerism, which he blames for having spawned many disastrous “environmental, psychological, and political consequences.” In an effort to “wreck this world” of consumerism, Lasn in 1989 co-founded the Adbusters Media Foundation.
Lasn reports that in mid-2011 he and his fellow Adbusters staffers, “inspired” by the events of the Arab Spring, “thought that America” was likewise “ripe for this type of [mass] rage.” “Deep in recession and with scary ecological scenarios looming,” said Adbusters, “now may be the ripest moment we’ll ever have to power-shift global capitalism onto a new sustainable path.”
Further, Lasn was confident that young Americans' “despondency” over such concerns as “climate change,” “corruption in Washington,” and the “decline” of their country, would significantly increase the likelihood that the U.S. might experience “a Tahrir moment” of sorts—i.e., an opportunity for revolutionary change. (The reference was to Tahrir Square, a Cairo plaza that was a key site during the dramatic events of the Egyptian Revolution in early 2011.) Emboldened also by “that sort of anarchy cred” which the civil disobedience/“hacktivism” group Anonymous had been demonstrating in recent times, Lasn and his Adbusters associates brainstormed ideas for effecting “some kind of a soft regime change” that would diminish the political influence of “finances,” “lobbyists,” and “corporations.” On June 9, 2011, Lasn registered the domain name “OccupyWallStreet.org” and thus gave birth to the movement which he hoped would help “pull the current monster down”—i.e., the two-headed serpent of capitalism and consumerism.
America was struggling through a lingering economic crisis at that time, something which radicals have always recognized as fertile soil for the seeds of revolution. But another key factor was in play as well: A relentless class-warfare narrative had already been injected into the political air by Barack Obama. Seeking to lay the groundwork for his reelection, the President was actively suggesting that the nation's economic recession was not so much a result of ill-advised government policies, but rather of capitalism's inherent excesses, which could be reined in only by a powerful and benevolent central government. Thus had Obama articulated a host of disparaging public references to such villains as the “millionaires and billionaires,” the “corporate jet owners,” and the “fat cat bankers on Wall Street” who allegedly were not paying their “fair share” in taxes—and who were thereby exploiting “working families” and the poor. These themes would become central to the message of OWS, and Obama himself would state that he “understand
the frustrations that are being expressed” by the protesters. Further the President would tell an OWS contingent in New Hampshire: "You are the reason I ran for office."
On July 13, 2011, Lasn and Adbusters posted an “Occupy Wall Street” call-to-action recruiting “redeemers, rebels and radicals” to join a mass protest movement “against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.” This rallying cry would prove to be what Adbusters contributor David Graeber called the “magical spark” capable of igniting a revolution.
The revolutionary tactic of choice, said Adbusters, would be “a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas [protesters who camped out for extended periods in public spaces] of Spain,” whereby demonstrators would “go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.” Toward that end, Adbusters exhorted its supporters to prepare to “flood into lower Manhattan” on September 17 and “set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months”—and to do so “with a vengeance.”
According to Lasn and Adbusters, “Tahrir succeeded in large part because the people of Egypt made a straightforward ultimatum—that Mubarak must go—over and over again until they won.” Following that model, Adbusters instructed its recruits to likewise “incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.” But that demand, explained an Adbusters communique to “radicals and utopian dreamers,” would have to be carefully worded so as to conceal its deeper motives:
"Strategically speaking, there is a very real danger that if we naively put our cards on the table and rally around the 'overthrow of capitalism' or some equally outworn utopian slogan, then our Tahrir moment will quickly fizzle into another inconsequential ultra-lefty spectacle soon forgotten."
To guard against this possibility, Lasn knew that his organization would need to articulate “a deceptively simple Trojan Horse demand” that was “so specific and doable” that it would be “impossible for President Obama to ignore.” Soon thereafter, under the slogan “Democracy Not Corporatocracy,” Adbusters demanded that Obama “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
Lasn's “Trojan Horse” tactic adhered faithfully to the methods of the famed community organizer Saul Alinsky, whose preferred brand of revolution was a slow, patient process of incremental, rather than sudden, transformation. As author Stanley Kurtz explains, Alinsky “was smart enough to avoid Marxist language in public.... Instead of calling for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, [he] and his followers talk about 'confronting power.' Instead of advocating socialist revolution, they demand 'radical social change.' Instead of demanding attacks on capitalists, they go after 'targets' or 'enemies.'”
The call-to-action issued by Kalle Lasn and Adbusters built upon groundwork that other leading leftists and radicals had been laying for decades. One of those luminaries was the neo-communist Wade Rathke, founder of ACORN. According to journalist Aaron Klein, the launch of OWS represented “the culmination” of an “anti-banking jihad” that Rathke had heralded in a March 2011 call for “days of rage in ten cities around JP Morgan Chase.” Not coincidentally, OWS's inaugural event on September 17 was widely dubbed a “Day of Rage” and was conducted in conjunction with an affiliated movement known as USDayOfRage, named after a series of Weatherman-inspired anti-Vietnam War protests in Chicago in 1969.
Rathke's radical efforts were aided by SEIU board member Stephen Lerner, a leftist organizer who aims, by exploiting the "transformative stage of what's happening in capitalism," to “literally cause a new financial crisis,” “bring down the stock market,” and “interfere” with wealthy people's “ability to be rich.” Paraphrasing Saul Alinsky, in March 2011 Lerner said of the wealthy: “We have to politically isolate them, economically isolate them, and disrupt them.” He then revealed that “a bunch of us around the country” had “decided” that JP Morgan Chase “would be a really good company to hate.” As a result, he said, “we are going to roll out over the next couple of months what will hopefully be an exciting campaign about JP Morgan Chase that is really about challenge [sic] the power of Wall Street.”
By waging such “brave and heroic battles challenging the power of the giant corporations,” Lerner hoped “to inspire a much bigger movement about redistributing wealth and power” in the United States. On September 10—just a week before the first Occupy Wall Street event in Manhattan— Lerner revealed his connection to OWS when he foretold that demonstrations would be staged “in Seattle, in L.A., in San Francisco, in Chicago, in New York, in Boston.” “We've got some stuff in Boston and New York that's going to really be spectacular,” he emphasized. “This is about building and creating power,” Lerner added. “We're not going to convince the other side that we're right through intellectual argument. We need to create power, and in a way we need to talk about how we create a crisis for the super rich.”
In the pantheon of OWS luminaries, no one occupies a higher position than Lisa Fithian, a legendary community organizer who specializes in aggressive “direct action” tactics and, as journalist Byron York puts it, “operates in the world of anti-globalism anarchists, antiwar protesters, and union activists.”
In 1999 Fithian was a key organizer of the chaotic anti-globalization demonstrations which devolved into violent riots and caused the shutdown of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle. Fithian would later say, reflectively, that she and her fellow Seattle protesters “were going after the capitalist system, the neo-liberal system.”
Since 2000, Fithian has organized all over the world against such targets as Free Trade Area of the Americas summits, IMF/World Bank meetings, G8 Summits, and a World Economic Forum in New York. She was a key planner of protests at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2000 and 2004. She currently serves on the national steering committee of United for Peace and Justice, and she has provided training and support for such radical groups as ACORN, National People's Action, the new Students for a Democratic Society, and many others.
Fithian says that she and others “who are trying to create a new world ... have to dismantle or transform the old order” which is dominated by “the corporations [and] the big banks [that] have been destroying this country.” In an effort to fulfill her moral “obligation” to “undo all the oppression” that exists in American society, she seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible.” Armed with this mindset, Fithian quickly emerged as the top street-level organizer of the OWS movement and its various urban chapters.
Describing itself as a “leaderless resistance movement” composed of “people of many colors, genders and political persuasions” whose goal was to use “the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic” to create “an American Tahrir Square,” OWS portrayed itself from the outset as an organic, spontaneous eruption of popular sentiment propelled only by the passionate commitment of its grassroots supporters. For the most part, the movement's admirers in the media and elsewhere echoed that narrative: Fox News commentator Juan Williams affirmed that OWS was both “spontaneous” and “organic.” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman characterized it as part of a worldwide pattern of “spontaneous social protests.” And congresswoman Nancy Pelosi lauded the movement as “young,” spontaneous,” and “focused.”
OWS claimed to be “fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process,” and against “the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.” Moreover, the movement sought “to expose how the richest 1% of people who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neoliberalism and economic inequality that is foreclosing our future.” “We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” said OWS. Aiming to bring the despised one-percenters to justice by “creat[ing] real change from the bottom up,” OWS declared that “the only solution is World Revolution.”
OWS's initial “Call to Action”—dated September 17, 2011 (the day of the movement's first mass gathering)—was alternatively dubbed a “call for revolution” whose intent was to collapse “the capitalist political system” where “inequality” between the “have
and have nots” had unjustly enabled the former “to rule, whether by the sword or by the dollar.” To wage this revolution, OWS called for “protests to organize and disrupt the system”; “for workers to not only strike, but seize their workplaces collectively”; and for students and teachers together “to seize the classrooms” and “free minds together” by “teach[ing] democracy”—a politically expedient euphemism for “socialism.”
As a consequence of these core OWS values, posters and t-shirts bearing anti-capitalist slogans would become ubiquitous at “Occupy” rallies across the United States. These included such slogans as: “Smash Capitalism”; “Capitalism Isn't Working”; “Death to Capitalism”; “Capitalism = Systematic Exploitation”; and “F*** Capitalism.” Some related themes, equally representative of OWS's prevailing mood, included: “Tax the Filthy Rich”; “Eat the Rich”; “Taxidermy the Rich”; “Declare War on Banks”; “Nationalize the Banks”; “Turn Workers' Anger into Communist Revolution”; “This is the Revolution”; “Worker-Communism Unity”; “Try Socialism”; “Viva la Revolucion”; “No War but Class War”; and the very creed of Marxism: “From Each According to His Ability, to Each According to His Need.”
Also popular at OWS demonstrations were t-shirts and speeches glorifying such renowned Communists as Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata and Mao Zedong; lionizing convicted cop-killer Troy Davis and WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning; promoting the DREAM Act and 9/11 Trutherism; and denouncing Fox News, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker, the Koch family, the New York Police Department, "Nazi Bankers," and Jews.
THE MOVEMENT GROWS
OWS's inaugural demonstration -- on September 17, 2011 -- drew approximately 5,000 participants. Such organizations as the AdBusters Media Foundation, Anonymous, the NYC General Assembly, Take The Square, and USDayOfRage and helped organize the event as well.
By early October, OWS had spread to dozens of cities nationwide, in each case blending its own name with that of the city (e.g., Occupy Wall Street in Oakland became known as “Occupy Oakland”). Given this development, the major media focused ever more attention on the story. During OWS's first 40 days, the New York Times and Washington Post together devoted fully 224 articles and opinion pieces to their coverage of the movement. Among the cities where OWS protesters had established a foothold were Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Lexington, Tallahassee, Tampa, Gainesville, Washington DC, Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Huntsville, Birmingham, Jersey City, Trenton, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, St. Louis, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Wichita, New Orleans, Cleveland, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Hartford, Madison, Colorado Springs, Tulsa, Chattanooga, Boise, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Nashville, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Portland (Oregon).,
OWS's major base of operations, however, was Zuccotti Park (formerly known as Liberty Plaza Park), a 33,000-square-foot publicly accessible park in Lower Manhattan. The park is privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties (BOP), a Canadian-American commercial real estate company. Brookfield Asset Management (BAM), which owns 50% of BOP's outstanding common shares, gave its approval for the protesters' takeover of the park. A few days later, the Obama Department of Energy finalized a guarantee for 80% of a $168.9 million loan to Granite Reliable Power (GRP), to support the construction of New Hampshire’s largest wind farm. The GRP wind farm project was headed by Brookfield Renewable Power (wholly owned by BAM) and Freshet Wind Energy.
OWS's OFFICIAL POSITIONS
On September 29, 2011, the NYC General Assembly—OWS's main decision-making body—adopted its official “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” condemning banks and other corporations for having placed “profit over people,” “self-interest over justice,” and “oppression over equality.” This Declaration, which stands as OWS's most important internal document, levies a host of specific and serious charges, though it adheres to the movement's policy of refraining from issuing any formal demands related to those charges. In the Declaration:
•OWS accuses banks and corporations of having “donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.”[1: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses corporations of having “influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.”[2: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses corporations of perpetuating “inequality and discrimination in the workplace.”[3: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses corporations of denying employees “the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.”[4: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses banks of holding “students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.”[5: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses corporate America of “block[ing] alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.”[6: Click here for analysis]
•OWS accuses banks and corporations of having “outsourced labor” as leverage “to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.”[7: Click here for analysis]
In addition, the OWS Declaration accuses corporations of such transgressions as: poisoning Americans' food supply “through negligence”; undermining the farming system “through monopolization”; profiting from animal cruelty; using the military and the police “to prevent freedom of the press”; deliberately failing to recall dangerous products so as to preserve their own profits; perpetuating “colonialism at home and abroad”; participating in “the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas”; and “creat[ing] weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.”
Proceeding from the planted axiom that capitalist America is an evil nation, OWS in a separate communique:
•chastised the U.S. for being “at war with the world,” and called for “ending American imperialism”
•called for an “end [to] capital punishment,” which it depicted as a practice emblematic of a racist criminal-justice system
•called for an end to “health-profiteering”
Much more follows