What is the nature of this movement?
In the late 1700's, a group of guys, later to become known as "The Founding Fathers", embarked on a bold mission to form a new kind of Government, one that Abraham Lincoln would later describe as "a new birth of freedom... Government of the people, by the people, and [here's the important part] for the people." The waters into which the Founders endeavored to plunge were largely uncharted. Such an egalitarian vision of governance was audacious and earth-shaking, so much so that many of the Founders were not especially confident about its chances of success. Thomas Jefferson thought this experiment to be so tenuous that it would require "Periodic revolution, at least once every 20 years,” as “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”
The Founders were aware that various forces are constantly at play to dismantle the efficacy of a truly democratic state, and that the maintenance of the same would require work , as well as the participation and action of an informed populous. Freedom, in other words, is not free.
Threats to our democracy manifest themselves in many ways. Sometimes, they come in the form of bombs on a Hawaiian military base, and sometimes as planes crashing into office buildings. Such threats are rightly met with the defiance of a united American people.
Sinclair Lewis said, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” In that same category, I would place threats that are wrapped in comfort, security, and plentiful media propaganda. Such threats are myriad, pervasive, and insidious.
In the over 200 years following the inception of our democratic experiment, we have experienced a slow revolution in America. The invaders use their tremendous wealth to buy politicians, influence the media, create fake grassroots movements, and to subvert the democratic process. The American public, subdued by the opium of television, microwave dinners, and just enough wealth to keep them fat and (sort of) happy, were caught largely unaware.
The revolutionary power to which I refer is , of course, corporate power ( I realize that the other facet of this revolutionary force is big money/ Wall Street interests. Besides being cumbersome to type, I am accustomed to using the phrase "corporate power" to encompass all facets of this multi-sided coin. I have been writing about the problem of excess corporate influence on politics for some time. I'm not very new to this movement.)
The corporate revolutionary force has adeptly used its great financial resources to establish an ideological infrastructure in this country that is designed to support its political ends, both by direct and indirect control of the media, the co-opting of political parties and movements, and the infiltration of the essential nature of our economic and cultural structure. The central ideological meme that the corporate revolutionary force has implanted in our collective American consciousness is as follows; "What is good for the Corporation, is good for America." Despite rather glaring evidence to the contrary (more to come), the American people have largely bought this message without reservation.
Perhaps more troublingly, we have learned to think of ourselves as powerless against the seething tide of the corporate juggernaut. The Corporate forces are so entrenched, pervasive, and so intrinsic to every aspect of our lives, that even if we see the problem , we are conditioned to pop open a Budweiser© and a bag of Doritos©, slide down in the Lazyboy©, and flick on the Game©.
Quiet the mind, numb the soul.
That is where the Occupy movements come in. We seek to put forth a vigorous reaffirmation of foundational American ideals. We the People are still in charge. We don't have to accept any nonsense from this insidious revolutionary force. They do business here at our leisure. Their right to make money ends where the interests of the average citizen begin. Their right to influence policy and politics ends where the interests of the average citizen begin.
Why? Because we say so. This is government for the People. This Land is Our Land.
Why is corporate power inherently a social problem?
Essential to the understanding of the dynamic which exists between the corporation and the culture in which it operates, is to understand the distinction between the Corporation, as a legal entity, and the individuals who operate within the corporation. Though individuals operating in a corporation may themselves be moral, patriotic people, they are trumped by the structural nature of the system to which they find themselves subject. This "structure" is inherently amoral, expansive, and disloyal. By design, corporations have but one driving force: The Profit Motive. They have no mechanism for any other mode of action. Put another way, people who are in charge of making decisions for corporations are structurally barred from incorporating morality into the decision making process. Free from the encumbrance of morality, corporations find themselves at a tremendous advantage over traditional businesses, and they begin to behave like viruses, and inevitably embark on a race to the ethical bottom. And why not? If they don't, some other corporation will.
It must be said that this problem is no one's fault, exactly. It is simply an unintended consequence of the corporate structure. It is a problem that must be fixed one way or another.
But don't corporations sometimes voluntarily do good things? Maybe, but only as a side-effect of The Profit Motive. Corporations will exploit, pollute, corrupt, influence, and subvert to the fullest extent of their capacity to do so, in order to serve the profit motive. Legally, they are compelled to do so. If a corporation were to knowingly take actions that were contrary to its ability to make profit, they could be sued by their shareholders.
It is for these reasons that corporate power must be seen as an inherent threat to the health of a democracy.
It is for these reasons that it is dangerous and absurd to give corporations the same rights as Human citizens to influence the political process (See Citizen's United vs. Federal Elections Commission). A healthy democracy depends on its citizens to consider not only what is good for the individual, but also what is good for the nation as a whole. Corporations have no mechanism for considering anything but their own Bottom Line.
If we accept that corporations are a necessary evil (which I will concede for the moment), the only reasonable way to safely incorporate them into the fabric of our society is to curtail, as much as possible, their ability to influence policy. It is also necessary to regulate, inspect, and monitor the crap out of them. Another step would be to educate the populous in our public schools about the dangers of corporate power. They are, after all, enemies in our midst; revolutionaries who seek to wrest our democracy from the control of the people. Thomas Jefferson said that "The price of freedom is constant vigilance." The vigilance that Jefferson prescribed is needed now. This is your call to arms.
"But Trey," you say, "aren't you laying this on a bit thick? I mean, I don't feel exploited or manipulated. And besides, I like my Budweiser© and Doritos©. Also, check out my nice house and my nice car... Life is Good©!"
The affluence that has been bestowed upon us comes at a terrible price. This Deal with the Devil is costing America its soul. The corporate lifestyle, with television, automobiles, junk food, recreational consumerism, and climate control as its central defining characteristics, has come with a number of problematic strings attached. First, the corporate lifestyle has served to divorce us from the natural environment from which our species has arisen. Whether this is by design or not, I don't know, but it certainly serves corporate interests by engendering complacency and dependency among the people, while simultaneously cultivating an indifference to the environment that is being eviscerated in the process.
Let me offer a few other examples.
My favorite example (and please stay with me here, this is a little different than Trey just going off on his vegetarian issues) is the industrial animal farm. We kill tens of millions of animals per day in America. But for many of them, death is a welcome respite from the terror and horror they experienced during their short life. Many of them were raised in complete darkness, emerging only briefly to have their throats slit. Many are raised in cages in which they can't stretch their limbs or turn around. When they get sick, they are thrown into big festering piles where they slowly dehydrate and die, and are then shipped to our landfills. Also, these animals are often fed a diet that routinely includes antibiotics for 2 reasons: 1) because infection is rampant in industrial animal production systems, and 2) for complicated reasons, to accelerate the growth of the animal. This practice is breeding drug-resistant strains of bacteria, which endangers the human population. Eliminating the use of antibiotics would result in an approximately 1% per pound increase in the cost of chicken. I'm guessing that most of us would rather have effective antibiotics around and pay 1% per pound more for chicken, yes? Why is this practice ongoing then? Can you say "Pharmaceutical Industry Lobbying"?
The meat industry pollutes our air and water, usurps our energy resources, spews millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually, exploits its workers, and exercises grossly inflated influence on our democratic process and our culture in general. It doesn't have to be that way.
People will generally fall into one of several categories on the issue of inhumane and unsustainable meat production:
1) The immoral position: We deserve to exploit animals to whatever extent we may in order to make meat as cheap as possible. We deserve this because we are more powerful than them.
2) Denial: We aren't really treating animals that badly, are we? (Is it mere apathy, or is it by design, that so few people know anything about the way their food is produced?)
3) Complacency: I don't like the fact that we treat animals inhumanely, and that I help fund the practice, but what can I do?
Maybe I'm an optimist, but I suspect that most people fall into the last category. Corporations have made us feel powerless to mitigate their inclination to commit immoral acts. They are using our money to do this. This is killing the soul of our nation. We can stop this tomorrow if we have the courage and the will. This we can do through the political process if it is functioning without undue corporate influence.
Example #2 American corporations are involved in exploitative and inhumane labor practices all over the world. That shirt you just bought for $6.99 at Wal-Mart could easily have been produced by a 7-year-old girl in Vietnam working 14 hour days. This kind of exploitative practice is to be expected. Corporations have no incentive to refrain from any manner of moral transgression to serve The Profit Motive. Once the corporate virus is unleashed, the inevitable race to the moral bottom is underway. Quite frighteningly, is it certain that we are nowhere near that bottom yet. It is essential for the health of our democracy , as well as the future of our world, that we do not find out at what depths that bottom lies.
People will generally fall into one of several positions on this issue of exploitative labor practices:
1) The immoral position: We deserve to exploit people to whatever extent we may in order to make products cheaper for Americans. We deserve this because we are more powerful than them.
2) Denial: We aren't really doing that to little girls, are we?
3) Complacency: I don't like the fact that American corporations are using my money to exploit people, notably children, all over the world, but what can I do?
Maybe I'm an optimist, but I suspect that most people fall into the last category. Corporations have made us feel powerless to mitigate their inclination to commit immoral acts. They are using our money to do this. This is killing the soul of our nation. We can stop this tomorrow if we have the courage and the will. This we can do this through the political process if it is functioning without undue corporate influence.
Example #3: Corporations have ravaged our great land and the ecology that depends on it. There are countless examples. A particularly nasty one that has been in the news lately is the practice of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas and oil from geological formations (a process known as "fracking"). This process is controversial because it involves pumping millions of gallons of chemicals permanently into the ground in order to fracture the rock so that gas can be removed. The industry has so far been able to successfully argue that they don't have to tell the EPA exactly what chemicals they are pumping into our ground. Think about that for a second: Oil companies have successfully refused to tell the EPA (the public agency charged with protecting us from environmental harm) what they are permanently pumping into our earth. That's crazy, isn't it? How can they get away with that except by exerting excessive power over public agencies? There is no reason any corporation should be able to place itself in such a position of superiority over the American public's right to know what, exactly, is being visited upon the Earth beneath their feet by some sleazy corporation. We have the power to protect ourselves and the Earth from corporate greed. Do we have the will to exercise that power?
People generally fall into one of several positions on this issue:
1) The immoral position: We deserve to pump millions of gallons of chemicals into the earth in order to make energy cheaper, regardless of the effect such practices may have on local communities, ecosystems, or future generations. We deserve to do this because we are more powerful than them.
2) Denial: Surely the oil companies wouldn't knowingly do anything dangerous to our world, would they?
3) Complacency: I don't like the fact that oil companies are poisoning the earth, but what can I do?
Maybe I'm an optimist, but I suspect that most people fall into the last category. Corporations have made us feel powerless to mitigate their inclination to commit immoral acts. They are using our money to do this. This is killing the soul of our nation. We can stop this tomorrow if we have the courage and the will. We can do this through the political process if it is functioning without undue corporate influence.
I think I could go on for days. And I regret to fail to mention the income/tax disparity that seems to be part of the core of the movement, but the figures are out there, and I fear that whatever audience that may have stayed with me so far may be growing weary of my tirade. But let me say this, over the past decade, the top 10% of income earners incomes has grown while the middle 50% has been essentially stagnant. The top 1% has risen faster than the top 10%. The top .1% has risen faster than the top 1%, and the earnings of the top .01% have skyrocketed. This fact prompted Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to call the disconnect between the "upbeat" economic news and the public’s negative attitude towards the economy, “the sixty-four thousand dollar question” in 2006. Truly mind-blowing.
There is a brave new dawn that awaits us if we believe in it. We can work to fulfill the promise of the foundational American vision for the world only if we are willing to step outside our comfort zone just a little bit. That promise is one of freedom, egalitarianism, justice, and self-determination, and maybe even that we Americans can be a collective instrument for the betterment of the world. In order to do so, we must take back control of our political system. We can return control of our once-great nation to We the People if we only make the choice to do so. What we must understand is that the corporate revolution is one made of propaganda, fear, and complacency. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Can we free our minds from corporate oppression, as a people? If our minds are free, our government must follow. Where has complacency gotten us, as a nation, or indeed, as a human race? The choice is ours, the time is now.
What, specifically, are the goals of this movement?
The only really straightforward "demand" that I think most of the people involved in this movement might agree on is that something be done to remedy the problems that have been created by the Citizens United decision. Ultimately, we need to go much further in limiting corporate influence in elections, but that would be a good start. The simplest way, as far as I can figure, to accomplish that goal would be to publicly fund political campaigns. The only argument I have heard against doing this is that Corps will be less able to have their interests represented in the political arena. Uhm... yeah.
Also, what I think would constitute minimal success is to initiate a new dimension to the political conversation in America, so that, for example, a politician's platform will routinely include what he/she plans to do to curtail the problem of corporate power and foster the health of the middle class. Moreover, that a particular politician might be under undue influence from corporate interests should disqualify him/her in the eyes of the voting public. This would require a considerable psychological shift in the collective American consciousness, and it would take a sustained effort.
But more broadly, there needs to be a new and brighter vision in the American psyche about what we want to become as a nation. The current trajectory of maximizing the wealth of a small few, at great material and spiritual costs to the rest of us, is inconsistent with the soul of We the People. Where does such a trajectory ultimately lead us? We need to dismiss this culture of money-worship and introduce a new paradigm in which prosperity is not measured by the health of the corporate bottom line, but by the power of the people to determine their destiny and live better, and ultimately, to be better global citizens. Do we want to let Kraft© and Coca-cola© export the obesity problem that they have wrought here, to the rest of the world? Or are we a strong enough people to export an invigorated American brand of sustainable people-power to a world hungry for real leadership? What do we want to become? Fatter, stupider, lazier, more complacent, more dependent, more mentally oppressed? Or can we do better than that? Guess which path we will take if we remain tied to the corporate mission.
This is a struggle that will happen mainly in the minds of the People. What I am suggesting here is primarily that we collectively start believing in our ability to create a better future than the one being shoved down our collective throats by some very inept and misguided people. It is a complicated and seemingly elusive problem, but we humans have done some pretty amazing things so far in this world. We have also done some pretty terrible things. We must remember that, in each moment, we have choices. We are more powerful than we think.
The goals of the Occupy Movement are to preserve the integrity and strength of our democratic experiment. This is a struggle that must continue. The vigorous participation of an informed populous must be involved in this ongoing struggle if it is to be instrumental in maintaining the viability of our democracy.
So what can I do, as a concerned citizen?
1) Vote. Unless there are some serious shenanigans afoot of which I am unaware, votes still get politicians into power. The beauty of this whole problem is that we don't even have to take up the sword to fix it. We just have to be aware, active voters. Right now, the Green Party has among its policy goals, to more vigorously limit the damage large corporations are able to inflict on our society. They are rather non-existent in our current political landscape, but they need to be supported if only to apply pressure to the mainstream parties.
While, currently, meaningfully altering the corporate/social paradigm in America is not really on the radar of our Democratic party, at least they are in favor of regulations that mitigate the damage that corps can do, and they also seek to increase corporate taxes, both of which are steps in the right direction. It is possible that the Democrats, as they are currently configured in our political landscape, are too beholden to Corps to change meaningfully enough, but doing so would certainly be the most expedient pathway for the Occupy movement to affect change.
Generally (despite sporadic, and seemingly vacuous and bizarre proclamations to the contrary), the Republican party seems to essentially be in favor of maximizing corporate power and influence, at the expense of We the People, by whatever means necessary. I can't figure out why any Republicans should remain in power.
As far as I can comprehend, comparisons between the Occupy movement and the Tea party are utter nonsense. Seemingly, among the Tea Party's primary goals is to remove hindrances to corporate power. Sorry, where are the parallels?
2) Think. I have a moderate level of faith in the American people's ability to ascertain a reasonably good path for the nation, as long as they are free from corporate influence. Therein lies the problem. Before we can change the world, we have to change ourselves. We all have a role to play. We must stop thinking of ourselves as hopeless subjects of the action that is happening around us, and begin to think about taking advantage of our potential role in making a change for the better. Generally, better thinking makes for better citizens, and better citizens make better worlds.