Ray St. Louis column: Here are ideas for ‘Occupy’ group to tackle
“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.”
In case you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, or getting your news only from the mainstream media (which is about the same thing), a new populist movement has taken root and is spreading like wildfire.
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) started as a modest response by a few hundred mostly young demonstrators to a call put out by a Canadian anti-consumerism magazine called Adbusters.
The “hacktivist” group Anonymous embraced the idea and helped spread the word.
The movement has taken inspiration from the Arab Spring demonstrations throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It has adopted the tactic of peaceful but unrelenting occupation of public places such as squares and parks to draw attention to grievances and spark reform.
On Sept. 17, the first protestors arrived and started camping out in Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Square, in New York City.
Although vague about specific demands, the occupation from the beginning has essentially been about economic inequality and corporate greed, rallying around slogans like “We are the 99 percent!”
It took over a week for the demonstration to even get noticed by any major media outlets, and that was only after a video clip of an NYPD officer pepper spraying several penned-in and defenseless female demonstrators went viral.
Then, a few days later, came the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge after which the ranks of the OWS demonstrators swelled by thousands.
Then the unions joined in. Then the demonstrations spread to hundreds of cities across the nation.
At the time of this writing, the local offshoot, Occupy Gainesville, was planning its first event.
Already, the right wing naysayers of Fox News and the like have begun portraying the OWS demonstrators as a destructive mob of unlawful America-hating hoodlums, or worse.
Ann Coulter, appearing on Fox Business channel, likened them to the Nazis.
Glenn Beck warned the demonstrations would lead to the guillotine and gas chambers. Millions would die.
One criticism that does apply, and even organizers will admit this, is that the movement lacks specificity with regards to its demands. But so did the Arab Spring. Like that ongoing movement, OWS is more an organic process than a disciplined political organization.
Organizers say concrete demands will come in time. To that end, I’d like to suggest a few:
1. Create a massive public works program modeled after the WPA to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, put millions back to work, and rejuvenate the American economy.
2. Reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision. End corporate personhood and unlimited corporate financing of political campaigns.
3. Take the next step by passing a law prohibiting all organizational campaign contributions of any kind. Only individual Americans should be allowed to contribute to political candidates and only up to the current limit of $2,500. Wealthy donors and special interests should not be allowed to buy politicians.
4. Bring back Glass-Steagall. Reinstate the wall of separation between regular banks and investment firms. Banks should not be allowed to gamble with customers’ deposits.
5. Call an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures for the millions of Americans under water due to reckless speculation on sub-prime mortgages by Wall Street investment firms.
6. Begin prosecutions of the Wall Street bankers and big investors who got us into this mess.
7. Rescind the Bush tax cuts on people making over $200,000 a year.
8. Make the hoarding of profits in overseas banks to avoid paying corporate taxes a federal crime.
That would be a start. I’m sure there are many more excellent ideas circulating besides the few I was able to come up with off the top of my head.
If you’ve been following my columns over the years, you know that I’ve been railing against the corporate domination of America for some time. Finally, a grassroots movement has come along to speak to that.
All I can say is, it’s about time.
Occupying for a Cause: Occupy St. Louis Continues Protest
By Rob McLean
A tent city occupies Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis. Members of Occupy St. Louis, a group that champions individual rights compared to the rights of corporations, have been at the plaza for one week.
The group “proudly stand(s) in solidarity with those whose peaceful Wall Street occupation seeks to expose the greed and avarice that have sold off the ‘American Dream’ in exchange for executive bonuses and political kickbacks,” according to its website.
People from across the region have joined the downtown protest. Kaare Melby, an archeologist from downtown St. Louis, said the occupy movement voices something he’s believed in all his life. He said money is considered speech in the United States, but that fact doesn’t stay true to democracy.
“That just doesn’t work for everyone,” he said.
Saturday morning Melby emceed the general assembly meeting for protesters. He said someone different chairs each meeting.
That spirit of collaborative leadership is at the foundation of Occupy St. Louis. Curtis, a resident of University City who wanted to keep his last name private, said there are people who facilitate the group— but no one is really in charge.
Curtis said the group hasn’t seen a lot of pushback, however during a protest at a financial building they were asked to leave the premises.
Others don’t share Occupy St. Louis’ views, including those driving by Kiener. Saturday morning a man shouted at the protesters, calling them “(expletive deleted) hippies.”
Kurt Oberreither, a student at St. Louis Community College Meramec, said last Wednesday when the Cardinals beat the Phillies, baseball fans weren’t thrilled with the protest. However people seemed to respond better to their effort on Friday.
Melby said the group had no intention of ending the protest as of Saturday.
Occupy St. Louis starts out small, but aims to grow
By Jo Mannies
If it weren’t for Wednesday night’s arrests, the public might not even be aware of the several dozen, largely young, protesters camping out in Kiener Plaza this week as they wave signs decrying corporate excesses and lack of jobs.
The Occupy St. Louis movement admittedly has a way to go before its activities can compare with the crowds that have packed Kiener Plaza over the past couple years for rallies organized by tea party groups or labor unions.
But organizers locally and nationally believe that Occupy St. Louis and its national parent, Occupy Wall Street, have the potential to build a progressive force that could attract the attention, and clout, that has given the tea party real political muscle.
“People are fed up,” said Jeff Ordower, a member of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), among the supporters of the Occupy St. Louis movement.
Occupy St. Louis has counterparts in more than 250 other cities in the United States and Canada, activists say, as offshoots of the larger Occupy Wall Street protests that have attracted thousands of dissidents to New York’s financial district. The national AFL-CIO has announced its support, and local union activists were among those joining in the Occupy St. Louis protests this week.
Said Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, in a supporting statement issued Friday: “Students, workers and senior citizens in St. Louis have joined protesters in cities nationwide, speaking out and demanding that politicians listen and take action. From Wall Street and now to the main streets of cities across the country, people are on their feet demanding change….”
The progressive online site, Daily Kos, declared Thursday, “Occupy Wall Street is spreading like wildfire.”
The national movement is centered around concerns several decades old — the demise of good-paying jobs and the belief that corporations and the wealthy wield too much power — coupled with newer criticism about Wall Street’s missteps that helped cause the current economic downturn.
But the protests are fueled by 21st-century technology — and the popularity of social media — that are reaching like-minded people seeking a way to express their frustrations and, perhaps, make a difference.
Mike Baldwin, 54, operates a nonprofit but came down to Kiener to “show solidarity with the group in New York.”
Patrick Durian, a 30-year-old hotel clerk, was drawn to the protest by his shared concern that the nation’s “checks and balances” have gotten out of whack.
A handful of corporations and wealthy Americans, he said, wield too power and control too much of the nation’s riches. “Human beings are not numbers,” Durian said. “And I take issue with the fact that money is given more importance than human beings.”
Like most of those mingling in front of the St. Louis Justice Center on Thursday afternoon, Durian had first learned of the protest on Facebook.
Ditto for Chelsea Webster, 21, a college student who works part time for a photography firm that handles school pictures. Since Monday, she said, she’s been shuttling between Kiener Plaza, classes and her job to show solidarity with people she’d never known before.
The group had marched on Thursday from Kiener Plaza to the Justice Center, which houses the city jail, to await the release of 10 fellow protesters who, police say, were arrested Wednesday night for staying in Kiener Plaza after the 11 p.m. curfew.
Some said that on Tuesday night, they had received citations but were not arrested, when they declined to vacate the park.
Those arrested included Derek Wetherell, 21, of Imperial. Wetherell, a union member who works for a local grocery, said the protesters had made a decision not to leave the park — even after being warned by police — as “a conscious act of civil disobedience.”
A spokeswoman for the Police Department said Wednesday night’s arrests were made “without incident for violation of park curfew” shortly after midnight. Those arrested face fines.
While not happy with the arrests, the protesters did compliment police for their considerate — and, to some — sympathetic behavor.
“We’ve heard from a lot of police that they do support our cause,” Wetherell said.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay posted an open letter to the protesters on his website Thursday afternoon in which he emphasized that he was sympathetic to their cause but “please obey the law.”
Slay added that the protesters already had been visible while President Barack Obama was in town and “by tens of thousands of baseball fans. Both were good occasions for you to make your point. And you did.”
Now, he suggested, it was time to go home.
But they may not be ready.
Justin Edwards, a doorman at a downtown bar, found out about the protest Wednesday night when he was walking a couple of women patrons to their car.
On Thursday, he had joined them, and was seated in front of the Justice Center, holding up a sign asking, “Can You Afford a Lobbyist?”
Edwards, 30, is a former Marine who was out of work for more than a year before a fellow veteran helped him find a job. Edwards said the frustration about the flagging economy and low-paying — or non-existent — jobs was palpable among many of his acquaintances.
Still, he suspected that many Americans are not yet angry enough to join him and others on the streets. “It’s going to take higher gas prices, higher cereal prices and higher chicken prices,” Edwards said.
John Harris, 48, said he’s willing to stick it out now. Harris has been unemployed for year and says that he and others in the same economic boat “need to band together.”
“I’ve got the time now,” Harris added dryly.