Monthly Archives: August 2011

Will Occupying Wall Street be America’s Tahrir Square Moment?

A year or so ago, the notion that Americans would descend on lower Manhattan to set up peaceful barricades, outdoor kitchens and attempt to camp out for a couple of months would seem unlikely, if not laughable.

But on September 17th, 2011, that’s just what’s going to be attempted.

Maybe this isn’t so surprising, though. After all, it has become abundantly clear that a prolonged occupation of America’s financial nerve center is absolutely necessary. As The Project and others have stated before, traditional parliamentary avenues to remediate grievances have been corrupted by powerful interests, not the least of which is Wall Street:

1) Big banks are pushing hard to walk away from mortgage fraud with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and the Obama administration is perfectly fine with that, even going so far as to remove proponents of a thorough investigation into Wall Street malfeasance.

2) Wall Street influence has infected the highest levels of the SEC, the very agency that’s supposed to regulate the market.

3) Unfavorable opinion of Wall Street is at an all-time high, Bloomberg finds:

“Most people interviewed in the Bloomberg National Poll say they don’t like Wall Street, banks or insurance companies and favor letting the government punish bankers who helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

4) And yet, not a single prosecution has come down from the U.S. Department of Justice for any of Wall Street’s casino capitalists.

When government becomes unresponsive to the needs of the people and fails to punish the very criminals that were bailed out by the American taxpayer, the people must (as our ancestors did for labor and civil rights) organize nonviolently to take matters into their own hands.

The Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStreet) movement will demand an end to “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” The organizers state: “The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America”[emphasis mine]. By attempting this occupation, the organizers hope to strengthen and amplify their message to D.C. that politicians must begin addressing the problem of special interests’ influence on government.

People from across the country “have stepped up to organize this event, such as the people of the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage” (an interview with the latter organization can be found here.) The hacker group known as Anonymous, which has recently been organizing protests against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), has now joined the movement as well.

How successful will this effort be? Things could get sticky. An occupation of the Street has never been attempted before. Wall Street has a strong security presence, especially after September 11th, 2001. And it’s not clear, with heavy NYPD interference quite likely, just how many people will end up staying past the weekend. The true test of this movement, then, will be its commitment to persistence, and also how much media attention it receives. A movement truly fails only after it gives up.

During a Project interview with Alexa O’Brien (@carwinb), an organizer with US Day of Rage, she said of the influence Tahrir Square is having on reclaiming democracy here in the U.S.:

“I see an American moment coming to America. It’s not that Tahrir isn’t inspiring. People all over the world are facing tremendous challenges in the face of globalization, increased institutional complexity, and ancient problems of just and stable governance. But our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”

I think that’s an excellent place to start from when organizing nonviolent resistance against the American oligarchy, don’t you?

Subscribe to the Project to stay up to date on this and other upcoming actions. We will be on the ground covering #OccupyWallStreet. Please contact us if you would like to participate in covering this event as either a journalist, photographer, or filmmaker.


In Praise of the Artist: “The Artist as Worker”

I happened upon this inspiring, brilliant and dare I say righteous piece completely by accident. Lisa Miles (@lisamilesviolin) has written an essay that captures what it means to truly be an artist, noting that during the age of FDR and the Works Project Administration, artists very nearly came into their own as workers in the eyes of American society. And in so doing, they created socially and politically relevant work, unlike much post-modernism, the bulk of which was and continues to be politically neutered and irrelevant to the pressing social and political issues of our time. Artists are survivors. Lisa’s piece also makes the point (perhaps indirectly) that life should be about loving what you do for work. I know an idea like that is a luxury in today’s economy, but I think we as a society need to start making work more than just a means to make a living. Capitalism has marginalized work to fit a bottom line, instead of making it something as meaningful on not just an economic level, but a spiritual and emotional one.

I’m proud to bring Lisa on board the DGP, as she’ll be an occasional contributor now. I hope you enjoy this essay. Please consider visiting Lisa’s website, where you’ll find other great writing and artistry.

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The Artist as Worker

The scare and struggle surrounding a person’s livelihood has suddenly become common denominator in this country. Workers simple and schooled, both with equal pride, have faced significant questions about the integrity of their professions, let alone the viability of their chosen occupations. Auto workers and bankers looked for signs last year– newfound public appreciation or government help spurring sales, confidence in the market, or perhaps literally the blinking exit to another arena to save face.

One group of professionals has continually weathered this storm, however. The nation’s artists. As to whether it makes it any easier to ride out, when many are now suffering, remains to be seen. But due to their strong sense of identity (and the fact that they are used to being poor) they will come out the other end intact– more than can be said of other occupations.

Artists as workers is a concept still un-embraced, despite FDR’s inclusionary attempts with the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Artists almost flourished for a small time then. Notice the talk is of artists, here– not so much art organizations. (Much could be written, with artist testimony, on the questionable support of arts organizations to this nation’s actual individual artists.) This definition includes but is not limited to musicians, theatre artists, filmmakers, painters, writers, sculptors, poets, dancers, storytellers, photographers, composers, performers and illustrators (and especially the independent ones, creating new, not derivative, work).

Like the nation’s newly unemployed or underemployed, creative artists are constantly searching for work, looking for viable opportunities for their skills, remaking their roles to fit current needs, and struggling to make ends meet.

Some of the more successful artists are simply blessed with being more resilient and lucky. All those with genuine talent, though, and with an accumulated body of work (albeit little money) have an integrity that can not be swayed externally from their already fragile position. All deserve a better lasting situation in our American society.

The most visible products to come out of the WPA were the bridges and public park structures that many Americans are familiar with, so much in evidence still to this day. But the WPA had many subdivisions, one of which was the Public Works of Art Project, or Federal Arts Project. Its subdivisions were the Theatre Project, the Writers Project, and the Mural and Easel Projects. Produced in cities all across America were new works for the stage, writing both creative and to chronicle, and easel paintings, lithographic prints, posters, watercolors, murals and sculpture, plus more.

Works were made for and distributed to public schools, libraries, planetariums, city and county buildings, housing authorities, garden markets, post offices, park structures, and other tax-supported institutions. It was indeed a ‘shovel-ready’ project (or rather brush and pen) that utilized talent to meet need. Governing bodies other than the WPA partially funded the work. City and state governments and colleges were on board with the creative-economic collaboration. Private recipients included hotels, homes for the elderly and banks.

Associated with the Federal Art Project were the Museum Extension Projects, which employed (as described by program material of the time) “research-workers, draftsmen, artists, sculptors, photographers, model-makers, and other men and women from the professional and technical groups.” Just a bit of material produced: “models of historic locomotives, frontier forts, historic buildings and mankind’s homes the world over, all built from scale drawings based on authentic research; plastic replicas of fruits and vegetables, reptiles, and topographic relief maps; costume color-plates; dioramas; and puppets and puppet play scripts and properties.”

The major uses of the products were as instructional aids, but also for cultural and beautification purpose, with so many public and even private institutions benefitting. Early American reproduction items were produced, to be included in both the Index of American Design and a book on Americana sponsored by the Library of Congress. Historical societies employed writers’ summary essays, as well as theatre artists’ conveyances, of items cataloged in their collections. The value of such vast creative output was deemed a necessity in the realm of public education and cultural betterment for all of society.

Though likely much of the work produced for schools hasn’t survived the touch of youth, time itself hasn’t dimmed direct evidence that the WPA’s Art Project positively affected our nation. Arts project output can be witnessed in natural history museum collections display, and in murals and canvas still visible in public structures of every city– nostalgic momentos of a brief time when public policy actually addressed artists’ dire need for work.

The Great Depression was devastating to most people, and yet ironically, creative artists found themselves considered for the first time with their inclusion in President Roosevelt’s project linking viable work with skillful individuals in need. The economic downslide actually helped– for once, a means by which creative workers could earn a living with their abilities!

FDR’s programs were intended to give not a handout, but an opportunity (previously unconsidered) to employ workers. Homer St. Gaudens, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, wrote in 1941 that the previous decade was one in which approx. 4,000 artists “were certainly in the submerged social strata. There was appropriated [with the WPA] a sizable sum with which artists, 90% of whom were to be on relief rolls, were [instead] employed at wages of from $69 to $103 a month.” (The American Artist and His Times, NY: Dodd, Mead & Co.)

Artists not only earned money for their basic livelihood, but gained a new sense of outward respect. Through the ages, they have either embraced self-worth or risked insanity. Now at least in the U.S. government’s eyes, artistic ability was finally seen as a viable part of society. Un-legislated individual viewpoints would prove much harder to change.

Former NEA Chair Jane Alexander spoke last year in support of the arts’ inclusion in President Obama’s economic stimulus package, on the heels of protestation by Lousiana Governor Jindal and others deriding what they did not want to understand. She of course well knew the increased stigmatization of the arts that took place in modern-day America at the time of Reagan’s de-funding of the NEA. Her words were significant, stressing the need and value of the country’s artistic output. For though FDR was mindful of the economic suffering of artists in addition to blue-collar workers, possibly enabling the general public to better understand their plight, any public good will would be soon enough squashed (as the Federal Arts Program would hit political pressure and the economy bowed to war).

The opportunity now in 2010, as we pull ourselves out of the Great Recession, is for the work of artists to take a new place in the economy. Discussing the benefits of WPA-like support for creative workers is called for. As well, when business and industry pick themselves up and dust off, they will need to take on Edgar J. Kaufmann’s courageous call for art in commerce. He who utilized art’s beautification in his Pittsburgh department stores, as well as commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build the masterpiece Fallingwater home, put out a call to muralists in a 1930 store pamphlet, and noted, “the fact that today we are the richest of nations places on us the added responsibility of giving greater momentum to cultural development than it has ever received from any people. Business and industry must accept a share of the responsibility which opportunity imposes.”

But let’s face it– most skills bring money in good times. Creative work has never, really. Dancers, writers, composers, painters, actors and more struggle every day to make a living. Creative artists, like all people, need work in order to survive. It is a terrible predicament to be good at something, to know you have a unique ability to do something that not everyone can, to even recognize that those abilities could creatively transform problems into solutions and certainly should have a place in our society– but to see little prospect of work.

All artists need opportunity to earn money utilizing their talent, doing what they do best. (This should be as much the American Dream as home ownership). That opportunity can be in so many forms, including (the very overlooked) schools and institutions hiring professional artists en masse for residencies; people hiring live musicians, esp. those writing original work (not simply derivative top 40 pop); community businesses adorning their walls not with usual-fare ‘doctor’s office prints’ but the work of local painters; performers and sculptors being commissioned to create for public and private enterprise; and grants and fellowships being awarded to individual artists who have a body of quality work to show the world, with more waiting in the wings.

In order for there to be work for artists, some subsidy may need to happen. In our land of plenty (should we be able to call it that anymore), it is certainly a shame that artistic ability has never garnered better wage. We have found our way around tremendous problems (and now stare at more daunting ones), and yet we have never tackled the idea that cultural work is indeed still work. That creative workers shouldn’t be always expected to live in poverty due to the (lack of) valuation of their skill.

For sure, artists got through, however narrowly, the slump– whether tagged recession or depression– intact. But they have always needed more than that just to get by, far beyond the here and now of common economic suffering. It is rather simple, really. Artists need to be employed– with consideration given to the full meaning of that word. Something with lasting impact is called for. Whether it be the jump-start of a Federal Program, or simply a long-deserved recognition and understanding from the rest of the country, spurring on employment opportunity. For indeed artists are workers.


Obama Administration Protects Criminal Banks


So the Obama administration is once again allowing banks to dictate to them how it’s going to be. The administration fears that by pursuing an investigation into mortgage fraud, the economy could collapse, so the White House and Department of Justice’s solution is to impose a $20 billion fine and let criminal syndicates like Bank of America can walk away. Never mind that over $60 BILLION in state worker pensions were destroyed in Florida ALONE due to bad mortgage-backed securities. The working class gets punished through no fault of their own, while Wall Street criminals get a slap on the wrist.

New York Attorney General Schneiderman has refused to go along with Wall Street criminals’ strong-arming. I think we should contact his office and commend him for standing up to the banksters and the elite’s puppets in Washington, D.C., don’t you?

From The Young Turks:


Covering Up Wall Street Crimes: Matt Taibbi Exposes How SEC Shredded Thousands of Investigations

Amy Goodman: “Senator Grassley said the files include “important cases such as the investigation of [Bernard] Madoff, Goldman Sachs trading in AIG credit default swaps in 2009, financial fraud at Wells Fargo and Bank of America in 2007 and 2008, and insider trading investigations at Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers, [and] SAC Capital.”

It is glaringly clear that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the government agency charged with policing Wall Street malfeasance, has a deeply corrupt agency culture. According to Matt Taibbi, the SEC is made up of two basic factions: the career investigators–“they’re more like cops,” says Taibbi. “And the guys on the upper level are more like political appointees who come from all these high-priced Wall Street banks, and they’re rejecting a lot of these important cases.”

After a brave SEC whistleblower named Darcy Flynn came forward with the evidence destruction charge, the SEC has apparently ended the practice, but the Wall Street sympathizers who now head the SEC are still in charge. How can the SEC be trusted to police the same forces that caused the ’08 collapse when their sympathizers are running the show?


America’s Day of Rage Is Coming, and It’s Just the Beginning

We now have a political system that is blatantly manipulated by a jaw-dropping amount of cash from both corporate, and to a lesser extent, organized labor. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited amounts of special interest money to be poured into political advertising and political action committees (and with no accountability), the power of ordinary citizens–of the individual, the foundation of a healthy democratic political system–to participate in the democratic process is now alarmingly eroded. Combine Citizens United with the fact that a coalition of corporate interests called The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has designed and lobbied legislation on the state level that is in the process of disenfranchising millions of voters under the guise of “voter fraud,” and it’s abundantly clear that the end of the American democratic experiment is very much within sight. In fact, it may already be too late.

Resistance, however, is alive and well in the United States. Just ask Alexa O’ Brien (@carwinb), an organizer for the grassroots organization US Day of Rage (@USDayofRage). I caught up with her via email last week, and we discussed this budding political movement which partly draws inspiration from the Arab Spring, but just as much from what she witnessed in the Wisconsin labor battle:

“USDOR began the night of March 10, 2011 when I created the twitter profile @USDayofRage. I was watching coverage of events in Wisconsin. I had been covering the ‘Days of Rage’ – people’s non violent protests from Egypt into Europe for several months by then, watching those events unfold on Twitter and Facebook.

What I saw that night in Wisconsin was a dangerous level of cynicism towards government.

Every institutional underpinning that upholds the principles of our democratic republic is buckling under the weight of entrenched interests and outdated ideas about the world we live in and the challenges our nation faces.”

The idea behind this new movement is simple: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” In other words, it’s time to return the democratic process to the hands of those for which it was originally intended: the American people.

“Special influence corrupts our political parties, our elections, and the institutions of government. Bought by hard and soft dollars, disloyal, incompetent, and wasteful special interests have usurped our nation’s civil and military power, spawning a host of threats to liberty and our national security. The problem is not a left or right issue, it’s an American issue.”

And this entails fighting back against special interests–both on the left (unions, etc) and the right (corporations, etc), it must be emphasized–to create truly “free and fair elections.”

“Free and fair elections inspire good citizenship and public service, because they engage the intelligence and genuine good will of the American people. They produce the kind of stewardship our nation desperately needs, because they ensure that citizens can influence their destiny, and make genuine contributions to society. Free and fair elections remedy the myriad ills and abuses of a corrupt and illegitimate government, which preys on the resources and spirits of citizens.” [Emphasis mine.]

I asked O’Brien what kinds of tactics US Day of Rage planned to use:

“[The planning committee] started off with a broad state-by-state strategy. Building local and state associations or assemblies of people, not parties around our mission: ‘One citizen. One dollar. One vote,’ and around four principles…

1.) Non-Violence

2.) Principles before Party.

“We are an idea, not a political party. We place principles and our objectives before any party or personality. Therefore, US Day of Rage will never endorse, finance, or lend our name to any candidate or party. We support a citizens right to so affiliate, and we understand that individuals and groups participating in the US Day of Rage may be so affiliated.”

3.) Volunteer.

“Every US Day of Rage organizational committee on the state, city, and federal level should be entirely self-supporting, declining outside contributions from any political party, association, or candidate. US Day of Rage is not a money making operation. We are volunteers. No treasury should be kept. We do this lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary aim, reforming our elections. Our logo and content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License, unless otherwise noted. Use it, just don’t abuse it.”

4.) Autonomous Except in Matters Affecting the Whole

“Individual city, state, and federal assemblies, organizations, and demonstrations are autonomous, except in matters affecting the whole. We do not support, for example, violations to our principle of non-violence. USDayofRage.org is here to help facilitate city and state level organization, and to organize the federal protest at the US Capitol.”

“Our purpose is to reform election law at the state level, and then turn our attention towards Washington. We encourage people to engage in state level strategies for referendums, citizen lobbying, and non-violent civil disobedience.” [Emphasis mine.]

And state-level organizers have indeed begun planning in 13 states and three cities, which will start with protests in Idaho on Sept 16. Then on September 17th an endorsed call to action to #occupywallstreet, an occupation of America’s financial nerve center by “an independent public NYC assembly to camp on Wall Street,”according to O’Brien.

All of this planning by US Day of Rage and the NYC grassroots assembly of Occupy Wall Street conjures up memories of Egypt’s own Day of Rage and their historic stand at Tahrir Square. And recently, Al Gore called for a Tahrir Square moment in America. I asked O’Brien if she thought the U.S. was approaching such a moment, and if she was concerned that Americans are too complacent:

“I see an American moment coming to America. It’s not that Tahrir isn’t inspiring. People all over the world are facing tremendous challenges in the face of globalization, increased institutional complexity, and ancient problems of just and stable governance. But our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”

She added later that she doesn’t think Americans are complacent, only demoralized and disengaged from the political process.

The non-violent struggle to reclaim our democracy from powerfully-entrenched special interests will indeed be an uphill one, and will almost assuredly be fraught with setbacks. Yet not acting to save this country from the corruption that holds us all hostage simply isn’t an option. Not only do we have a moral imperative to try and change the system for the legacy our ancestors created for us, but for future generations as well. Those future generations will look back at our struggles and hopefully gain inspiration and resolve to continue the fight where we left off, if we fail.

“…our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”

One citizen. One dollar. One vote.

Subscribe to The David and Goliath Project for updates within the next few weeks on US Day of Rage, plus other news.


Art is Resistance: US Day of Rage artwork

I was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with Alexa O’Brian (@carwinb) this week. O’Brian is an organizer for US Day of Rage. While I’m distilling her words into an editorial (and what inspiring, wise words she shared with me) on this very green, yet rapidly growing grassroots movement, I came across some awesome artwork from Michael Parenti (@exiledsurfer). Check this stuff out and be sure to share it with others. And while you’re at it, what grievance(s) will get you out into the streets on Sept 16th? List them in the comments and we’ll tweet them. We need more resistance art like this!

Bradley. Manning.

More art can be found on Parenti’s website here. All images are released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Stand with Verizon workers.

Verizon makes billions in profits, pays nothing in corporate income tax, yet asks 45,000+ of their workforce–the backbone of the company, the people who built its infrastructure–to make concessions by stealing their benefits, and to use “the Wisconsin playbook” by destroying collective bargaining. Share this video and visit the link below to see how you can help:
http://www.cwa-union.org/pages/verizon_facebook_and_twitter