Tag Archives: Wisconsin

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that upholds the principles of our democratic republic is buckling under the weight of entrenched interests and outdated ideas about the world we live in and the challenges our nation faces.”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

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History Demands Nonviolent Resistance from Us

We are living in extraordinary times. The gulf between rich and poor has widened to its greatest since the Gilded Age: executive salaries have skyrocketed 23% in just over a year, while wages (when adjusted for inflation) have lost ground since the 1980s. Based in large part on a corporate-backed, state-focused legislative agenda called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) unleashed by radical conservative legislators and governors, women’s reproductive rights are facing an unprecedented, nationwide assault. Public education is being dismantled, and its carcass fed to private enterprise. The assault on collective bargaining, which began and has succeeded in Wisconsin, is the first step in what promises to be a protracted dismantling of public sector workers’ rights across America, followed by the rights of private sector workers. And last but not least, efforts to restrict voting rights are well underway. On a federal level, social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are on the chopping block—and under a Democratic president, no less, who habitually acquiesces to corporate influence.

Extraordinary times indeed. Pennsylvania is no exception.

Governor Tom Corbett, according to the July 3rd, 2011 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer, issued his “maiden budget [which] makes deep cuts in aid to schools and colleges and slices millions from social-service programs that provide job training, health care, shelter, food, and counseling to the poorest citizens.” His cuts also include $212 million from community colleges and $220 million from the state’s 14 colleges (which include University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Pennsylvania State University, and Lincoln University.) The evisceration doesn’t stop there, however. Governor Corbett wants to cut $900 million from special education, teacher training, tutoring, and other aid to public schools. In other words, he’s willing to destroy the future of our state’s children and young adults, all so he can pay back his corporate benefactors, who happen to be the charter school corporations that largely funded his campaign for Governor. Corbett is willing to feed our public infrastructure to free-market capitalism, so that a select few reap large profits at the expense of the working and middle class.

This is class warfare, and it’s time Pennsylvanians begin fighting back. But how do we fight back effectively?

We often cling to the misconception that real change comes from parliamentary measures and the ballot box. But in so doing, we each shoulder a forgetting that meaningful reform, be it in labor struggles or the civil rights movements of our past, were not accomplished through legislation. Reforms were, and will always be, achieved by direct action. In spite of itself direct action has at times turned violent (as the struggle for labor rights illustrated), but just as often it manifests its message in non-violent civil disobedience: sit-ins, marches, boycotts. The machinery of government is slow, and it suggests through its impotence the need for responsive measures. The groundwork for peaceful, radical reform techniques has already been paved for us in historical stone. We as a people now need to find the courage to throw ourselves at “the machine.”

Our American ancestors did it in Selma, staring down police brutality, angry segregationists, and lynchings. Exploited factory workers in early textile mills of New England at the birth of the industrial revolution did it. And now our Arab brothers and sisters are doing it.

Imagination and a commitment to non-violence are the only guidelines:

Crash a governor’s press conference with your school choir to poignantly illustrate the impact cuts to education programs will have on public schools.

Organize a church group to pray-in at a fracking site to rail against the immorality of natural gas corporations who don’t pay an extraction tax, while Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens suffer a 50% cut in low-income health care services.

Hold a teach-in inside a bank, like US Uncut Philadelphia (of which I am an organizer, in the interest of full disclosure) has done on numerous occasions, and invite media to draw attention to the fact that major banks like Bank of America don’t contribute any income taxes despite paying their investment bankers billions of dollars in bonuses.

Stage a sit-in at the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, or the state capital, protesting how our state loses hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue because PA-based corporations don’t pay their fair share (unlike small-business owners and the working class.)

Organize a rally of small business owners to protest against large corporations exploiting tax loopholes.

How do we organize into a non-violent force that our government must reckon with? I’ll use the Egyptian revolution of 2011 as an example.

The main thrust of Egypt’s Arab Spring demanded that Hosni Mubarak step down as leader. He represented the corruption and tyranny that was oppressing the Egyptian people, and that made basic necessities like food, education and employment unreachable. There’s a buzzword that covers things like that: it’s called freedom, right? The Egyptian activists’ strength, in my humble analysis, relied on three key factors: 1) their ability to frame their demands into one succinct statement; 2) that statement’s simplicity bonding otherwise disparate interest groups together to rally as one, building a coalition for Mubarak’s ouster; and 3) the movement using their growing numbers to solidify a mass presence who would no longer be ignored.

We are now in a struggle to regain our freedom from corporate aggression. Basic necessities like education, health care, and gainful employment are becoming increasingly inaccessible to a growing swath of Americans, and while the solution to these problems is admittedly complicated, there is one demand that activists both in Pennsylvania and across America can rally behind: corporate America is gaming the system. As a result, our country’s revenue stream has starved, and it has little allowance left for those basic freedoms and necessities. It also cannot be denied that normal channels to redress grievances are failing in large part because these corporations hold a tight grip on the levers of government. We must make it clear that we will no longer be ignored, and that the time for passive opposition (letter writing, petitions, and even voting) alone simply will not do anymore. Come August, when Congress breaks for recess and comes home to hold town halls with their constituents, we must make our message loud and clear: We will not tolerate corporations gaming the system at the expense of working-class Americans and our most vulnerable neighbors. And we must proclaim and make good on our promise to engage in non-violent disruption in order to ensure that we are taken seriously.

Like Tahrir Square, which brought together the Muslim Brotherhood, trade unionists, students, women’s rights groups, and others, so we must be unified and strong behind our message of corporate fiscal accountability, because it is this issue that Americans of all stripes—be they small business owners, students, teachers, public employees, the unemployed, church groups, etc—can, and must, rally behind.

Political scientist Gene Sharp (whom Egyptian activists credit in-part with galvanizing them to resistance) writes in his brilliant book, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice And 21st Century Potential: “While individual acts may at times not have much impact, the defiance of organizations and institutions—for example, trade unions, business organizations, religious organizations, the bureaucracy, neighborhoods, villages, cities, regions and the like—can be pivotal.”

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This piece is cross-posted at Raging Chicken Press.
Dustin M. Slaughter is the Founder of The David and Goliath Project


US Uncut Olympia Occupies Capital Building, National Protests Planned for this Weekend

Activists, including members of a grassroots network called US Uncut Olympia, held week-long demonstrations at Olympia, Washington’s state capital building, culminating in the occupation of the capital rotunda for 3 days. According to the blog, Occupy Washington, there were 50 activists who staged the act of civil disobedience. Their actions were aimed at proposed budget cuts to a variety of public programs. Austerity measures like this are taking place all over the country, as conservative governors and state legislatures roll out unmitigated assaults on the working and middle class.

Also from Occupy Washington: “The proposed budget removes the basic support framework for the most vulnerable members of our community including seniors, people with disabilities, low income families, students, and single parent families. At the same time, the budget includes over $8 billion of lost revenue in corporate tax exemptions [emphasis mine]. Those inside are demanding an end to this dichotomy, effective action from the legislature to close tax loopholes, and restoration of basic services. Their rallying cry is, ‘No more cuts until fair taxation!’”

The activists were forcibly removed by state police on Saturday night.

Their rallying cry, “No more cuts until fair taxation!” echoes similar calls from their national counterpart, US Uncut, which is a network of citizens dedicated to exposing corporate tax evasion, and highlighting the effect this missing revenue has on community education, low-income healthcare, and other vital public services.

Since its inception almost two months ago, they have staged well over 150 protests and acts of civil disobedience, including occupying and shutting down major bank branches owned by Bank of America, and other corporations. US Uncut has drawn their inspiration from UK Uncut, who began pushing back against their own country’s austerity measures.

Actions in over 30 U.S. cities are planned for the weekend of the 15th this month, timed with the arrival of Tax Day on the 18th. Telecommunications company Verizon is expected to be the focus of US Uncut’s efforts, where “bail-ins” will occur in stores, and in tandem with UK Uncut, who will focus on Vodafone, Verizon’s sister company.

Not having paid federal income tax in two years, Verizon made over $12 billion in profits last year, and were it not for tax loopholes the company exploits, it would have owed $4 billion in taxes. That amount, for instance, would have made every single proposed budget cut in Pennsylvania unnecessary, where millions of dollars in cuts to public education and low-income health care are being proposed by Governor Tom Corbett.

To learn more and get involved with your local US Uncut chapter, visit their website.