Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's Not About Occupying Wall Street But How Best to "Occupy" Ourselves

In the 1960s, college and university campuses, known for their apathy, began to erupt into political activism. Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to move to the back of the bus, inspired many to stand up, or perhaps more appropriately, "sit-in", for racial equality. Her actions had sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a young preacher, Martin Luther King Jr., who led the boycott, wrote a book: Stride Toward Freedom.

Motivated by King's words, on February 1st, 1960;  four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical School, David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil, sat down at a "whites-only" Woolworth's lunch counter and ordered coffee. Following store policy, the lunch counter staff refused to serve them.

The next day, 27 young people appeared at that lunch counter to protest the store's actions, and engaged in a "sit-in". The third day there were 60, and the fourth, more than 300.

Their actions ignited a wave of student sit-ins, and despite beatings, arrests and the sting of fire hoses, the protests continued to grow, in much the same way that the Occupy Wall Street protests are growing today.

Many who marched for equality then, were from the privileged white class, but knew that segregation was fundamentally wrong.  Many Occupy Wall Street protesters have jobs.  Others are retired and don't need jobs.  They just understand that 1% of the citizens should not control all the wealth, and more importantly, that governments should not be catering to that top 1%.

As Bill Maher said this week, they do not oppose capitalism, but only those who have abused it.

I read a column on a U.S. site, critical of people like Susan Sarandon and Kanye West, lending support to the occupiers.  After all, they are hardly one of the 99%.  But having money does not mean that you can't empathize.

To the movement, 'Wall Street' is not a noun.  It is an adjective to greed and injustice.

The actions taken on that bus in Montgomery or that lunch counter at Woolworths, did not single handedly change the world, but were the catalyst for much needed change, that has greatly influenced how we feel today.

When it was learned that Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, had a ranch named "niggerhead", the public reacted with shock.  Fifty years ago they would not have batted an eye.

Since the 1960s, the right-wing has tried to push back the Civil Rights Movement, in the same way that they are trying to discredit this one.  They have failed.  Their money has bought power, making it easy for someone like Stephen Harper to enjoy it, but they have not been able to change our core values.

In 2009, Conservative insider Tom Flanagan, wrote a follow-up to his 1995 Waiting for the Wave -- WFW: The Reform Party and the Conservative Movement.  I thought there might be some revelations, but it still has just enough fact to make the non-fiction category, but barely.  This must be what he meant when he said that something "doesn't have to be true, just plausible".  I'll call this book convoluted plausibility, and leave it at that.

However, I took exception to his list of Reform Party accomplishments, aside from the way they connived themselves to political victory.  Flanagan suggests that Reform's legacy is that politicians now talk about "families", saying that (the late) Jack Layton was just as likely to propose policies to help hard-working families, as Stephen Harper. (p. 215)

Would that be the same Stephen Harper who boasted that one of his National Citizens Coalition accomplishments, was killing the baby bonus?  It wasn't scrapped of course, but adjusted based on family income.  And let's not forget this one:  "Universality has been severely reduced: it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy... These achievements are due in part to the Reform Party..."  - (Stephen Harper, speech to the Colin Brown Memorial Dinner, National Citizens Coalition, 1994.)

What Reform attempted to do was redefine what constitutes a family, by marginalizing any who don't fit their mould of stay at home mother, working dad, conforming children.

Before Harper was born, politicians put families on the agenda.  It was called The Welfare State, and it has served us well.

Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney, now claim to understand why the Occupy Wall Street protesters are angry.  Flaherty says:  “Income distribution is important and there is a concern that a very, very small group of people have very large incomes and that others do not have those same opportunities.”  He fails to mention that his policies have helped to create that gap.

If he was sincere, he would vow to roll back corporate taxcuts and refuse to continue with the Mike Harris/George Bush "red tape commission", that will remove all safety and environmental standards that impede the top 1% from getting richer, while putting the bottom 99% at risk.

A perfect example of this is with Maple Leaf Foods.  The Harper government began allowing food processing plants to inspect themselves, resulting in the death of 20 Canadian citizens, who didn't get the memo.

Yet now those "job creators", who have not only benefited from deregulation, but have also enjoyed enormous tax breaks, are going to layoff 1550 workers.

The whole neoconservative agenda is a crock.  Just ask Rick Salutin.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has the potential to change how we view financial inequality, in the same way that the Civil Rights Movement changed how we viewed racial inequality, and the Womens Movement, gender inequality. 

In Kingston, Ontario;  there is a small group of protesters, camped out in a city park.  They are breaking bylaws, but our mayor has promised not to move them, because their message is too important.  Local citizens come by on a regular basis, with food and messages of support.

It is quiet, non-violent, civil disobediance.

We can no longer rely on politicians to do what is right.  We are the ones who must draft policy and set the agenda.  It only takes a few, and then a few more, and a few more, and a few more ................

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