March 13, 2012

Can OWS bring down Bank of America?

by Manissa McCleave Maharawal

(originally posted here on Waging NonViolence)

The other day I sat in the living room of a friend’s house painting banners, designing flyers, scheduling nationwide conference calls, planning fun ways to protest—and discussing banks. Actually, it was just one bank in particular: Bank of America. I was at a “work party” for the Fight BAC campaign—BAC is the stock market ticker name for Bank of America—and we were preparing for last Wednesday’s F29 “Shut Down the Corporations” nationwide day of action. As we cheered the launch of fthebanks.org, put the finishing touches on a banner and discussed what we wanted from the campaign, I started having that nagging thought again: Can we really break up the largest bank in the country?

My involvement with Fight BAC began in January. The general idea was explained to me like this: Bank of America is almost totally bankrupt and is probably going to need a bailout sometime in the next year. It is already dependent on taxpayer money. This time around, there’s still time to prevent another bailout. The only way to prevent this from happening is through starting a massive public campaign to create a political climate in which an educated and empowered populace recognizes that this bank has already failed and must be broken apart. If we can pull this off, it would send a signal to the financial industry that it has to start being accountable to the public. From there, we would have a chance to change the whole system.

Instead of focusing on one of the bank’s particular practices—like the efforts against Chase’s investment in the environmentally devastating practice of mountaintop removal, or the protests against the bailouts that followed the 2008 financial crisis, after the fact—the goal here was preemptive: break up Bank of America and force a radical, necessary rethinking of our financial industry.

What is wrong with Bank of America anyway? Matt Taibbi, as usual, puts it bluntly:

This bank has systematically defrauded almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, homeowners, shareholders, depositors and the state. It is a giant, raging hurricane of theft and fraud, spinning its way through America and leaving a massive trail of wiped-out retirees and foreclosed-upon families in its wake… all of us, as taxpayers, are keeping that hurricane raging.

There is a Bank of America ATM branch on the corner a few blocks from my house. I walk by it at least once a day, often more times than that. As I look at its shiny ATMs behind the squeaky-clean glass windows, I think about the small restaurant that used to be there, about the shoe store that was there before that and about how Bank of America has failed but won’t go away. I think about how those ATMs are made possible through money that should be invested in schools, in social services, in anything other than this bank.

I also think about how the company’s stock price hit a low of $4.92 in December, losing over 55 percent of its value in the past year, including 40 percent of that in three months. I think about how it is rumored to be retreating from some parts of the country as its financial woes deepen and it looks for ways to cut costs, meaning that it will close branches in “less profitable” areas. Or how it has absorbed tens of billions of dollars in mortgage-related loses and stands to lose tens of billions more from the continuing foreclosure and housing crisis. How in October 2011 the bank moved trillions of dollars of risky derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to its retail bank, a move that effectively means that these trillions of dollars of risky investments are now FDIC-insured by taxpayers. The Fed encouraged this in order “to give relief to the bank holding company”—a justification that shows, once again, how the interests of big banks are prioritized over those of the rest of us. I think about how it is already morally and financially dead, a “zombie bank” surviving through bailouts, legal loopholes and dubious accounting. I think about how it is under investigation for predatory lending practices and about how it has invested $4.3 billion in the nightmarish coal industry.

I think about all this and get angry. I usually kick at the curb as I cross the street. Sometimes I walk on the other side of the street to avoid having to walk directly by the BofA kiosk. Sometimes I want to act like the crazy New Yorker I am and stop whomever I see in there to tell them all these things and make them promise to close their account.

To make doing so easier, the Fight BAC campaign has as its first goal a nationwide educational effort to ensure that everyone, everywhere, knows how bad BofA is and why. We want people to not have anything to do with this bank, to move their money on the March 15 Move Your Money Day (using this simple tool) and to make sure that, this time around, unlike in 2008, “too big to fail” is exposed as a myth that protects the interests of the financial industry instead of the people. But it is also a campaign to present alternatives and ideas about what we, as active citizens, can do to create real alternatives to the financial industry. One excellent example of this is the 325-page white paper that the OWS Alternative Banking Working Group wrote to the SEC. This campaign isn’t relying on politicians or the government to break up the failed banks; it’s calling on people to rethink our financial industry at its core.

Many of the actions will be symbolic: protests where people bring parts of their homes and pile them in front of a Bank of America to symbolize the way it breaks up homes through fraudulent mortgages and foreclosures; protests where we pile dirt to symbolize the mountains destroyed through coal mining; protests where we withdraw all of our money in pennies; protests where we bring our credit card bills and our student debt bills and pile them in front of the bank. We will keep disrupting foreclosure auctions to prevent houses from being sold. We will have general assemblies at their stockholders’ meeting in May, where we will hold a conversation about what breaking up the bank means to us and what we will want to do with its collective wealth—with our collective wealth.

February 29 was the beginning of the campaign. On March 8, International Women’s Day, the nationwide Women Occupy group will target Bank of America in a variety of creative actions. On March 15 there will be a Move Your Money Day during the Occupy Homes Week of Action against banks. Throughout all of this we are asking everyone to imagine what it would mean if through protests and media and educational campaigns we could break up one of the largest financial institutions in the country and, in doing so, lead the way to real alternatives.

February 16, 2012

February 20th Day of Action Against Mass Incarceration

This coming Monday, February 20th is a national day of action in support of prisoners organized by Occupy 4 Prisoners.  Here in New York City, the Prisoner Solidarity Working Group, which originally formed as a subcommittee of the People of Color Working Group, is planning a march and action in Harlem at the Lincoln Correctional Facility.  What follows is information from the Prisoner Solidarity Working Group. 

For those outside of NYC, find an action in your area here.

MASS ACTION AGAINST THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Monday February 20th, 2pm
Lincoln Correctional Facility
31 W. 110th Street, NYC

The Prisoner Support Working Group of Occupy Wall Street answers Occupy Oakland’s call to action and march in solidarity with the California Pelican Bay hunger strike, with brothers and sisters who are dispossessed by the criminal INJUSTICE system, and with political prisoners everywhere.

The Prison Industrial Complex = Capitalism on Steroids.

Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. Between 1970 and 1995, the incarceration of African Americans increased seven-fold. African Americans make up 12 % of the population in the U.S. and 53% of the nation’s prison population. There are more African Americans enslaved under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than there were in 1850.

For more information visit occupy4prisoners.org or contact F20action@gmail.com.

February 10, 2012

Room for the Poor

By  Morrigan Philips

Solidarity means that even if you win, you stand with everyone until everyone wins.

Poverty is, as the most basic definition states, the lack of resources sufficient for someone to live comfortably in society. For many, credit cards and loans have kept them in reasonable enough comfort that they have been able to put off acknowledging the grim realities of our economic system. Much of this myth of comfort and stability has fallen apart in recent years as the economic crisis has pushed more people into the uncomfortable position of realizing how close they are to a financial crisis of their own. Meanwhile, according to new poverty measures and census data, rates of poverty, particularly in rural communities and urban communities of color have risen to a 52 year high.

Complicated financial games and double speak mask much of what has been fueling the financial crisis. But as more and more people have found themselves with no work, no money and mounting debt problems, the financial tricks and gimmicks that have been keeping this wreck going seem more like smoke and mirrors.

Fueled by outrage over economic gluttony and seaming impunity on Wall Street, the Occupy moment took hold of a piece of anger lying deep in the hearts of masses of people. The proverbial pinch was being felt by too many. Pop! A would-be movement sprang forth representing those whom the promise of prosperity in exchange for hard work had been made and broken.

It should be made clear that Occupy Wall Street and the multitude of Occupies that have come alive around the US are not orchestrated nor primarily constituted by financially comfortable, gainfully employed, resource rich individuals. Plenty of unemployed, underemployed and broke ass people are taking on roles of organizers within Occupies. There are also those who rely on various forms of public assistance, both safety net programs like public housing and social security programs like unemployment. Further, the camps drew many from those forgotten and neglected corners of our communities: the houseless, those with mental health issues and substance use problems. Where camps remain these communities members also remain.

But to be clear – Occupy is not a poor people’s movement. Continue reading

February 6, 2012

Participatory Democracy and the Occupy Movement

By Katie Meta

1. Intro and motivation

The Occupy movement began in New York City’s Zucotti Park in September 2011, as a protest against economic inequality and specifically against the banks of Wall Street. Occupy quickly spread, and around the world camps were set up in public spaces, protesting against economic inequality, and organising themselves non-hierarchically, with decisions made in leaderless General Assemblies. The occupations are notable for their lack of a platform or list of demands, as shown in this statement from Occupy Oakland:

To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.

What does it mean to say that “This occupation is its own demand”? I would argue that this expresses a desire for Participatory Democracy; a political system characterised by a lack of hierarchy, in which people participate directly in making decisions that affect them. This is in contrast to Representative Democracy, in which people vote for their rulers once every four or five years but apart from that have few opportunities to participate in decision-making. At least for some participants, the purpose of Occupy is not to influence government, but to replace it.

However the form of participatory democracy practised within the Occupy movement is far from perfect, and despite the best of intentions what happens in General Assemblies falls short of full and equal democratic participation for all. Many people are drawn into this movement by the promise of openness and equal participation, and so when these promises are not realised, people drift away.

In this article I’m going to look at how participatory democracy is practised within Occupy and related movements, show some of the problems that often come up, and suggest some improvements. I’m also going to talk more generally about how Participatory Democracy can be used in other types of organisations. Finally I’ll argue that Participatory Democracy isn’t just something that just happens in meetings, and that is requires a cultural shift in the way we think and related to each-other. This shift requires hard work, but in my opinion it’s definitely achievable.

I’m not involved in the Occupy movement. However I was involved for several years in the UK Camp for Climate Action, which had a similar organisational structure. I’m going to start by describing this organisational structure in a somewhat simplified and idealised way – every group is different so this won’t perfectly match any particular group.

Continue reading

February 2, 2012

The New Normal: This militarized empty lot called home

By Puck Lo

From the diffuse clouded sunlight, which looks and feels the same in January as it does in June, to the broken glass glinting on the sidewalks, downtown Oakland is as usual. The city barely skips a beat anymore during and after the now-normal political riots that clog otherwise empty, wide downtown thoroughfares, drawing relatively little attention from non-political passers-by beyond perfunctory updates on Twitter decrying the lack of parking due to #oo or contemplating the sometimes nearly monolithic young whiteness of these latest exhilarated, raging masses.

Since the diverted building takeover on Saturday and the police riot, kettling and violent mass-arrest of marchers outside the YMCA, interest in denouncing and trying once again to co-opt and control the unruly Occupy has returned with a vengeance. Recently dormant factions of the Bay Area’s Leftish communities and political intelligentsia, often genuinely well-intentioned, are issuing statements condemning so-called violence against buildings and other inanimate objects or taking issue with the insurrectionist strategy of facing off with police and antagonizing city officials. This unnamed Occupy strategy, coupled with the hyper-militarized state of Oakland’s police force, culminated on Saturday with some 400 arrests and hundreds of thousands in city dollars spent to terrorize the populace of our fiscally gutted, deeply unequal and gentrifying city.

Not surprisingly, every faction involved is staying on-message.

The cops blame the protesters. The Mayor blames the “fringe” protesters who are out of touch with and beyond the control of the non-profits who claim to represent authentic communities. Within activist communities, pacifists blame the rioters. Non-profits blame outside agitators.

And though I agree with their overall analysis, many of the same Occupy-ers and insurrectionists who seem to value above all else militant confrontation with the police (as much as someone unarmed can actually “confront” a heavily armed force who have state-sanctioned powers to kill) now act shocked that cops don’t follow the letter of the law, white kids can get arrested for walking down a street, and jail is not a good place.

Such “politicizing” experiences of spending a weekend in jail – celebrated in the manarchist culture of back-slapping camaraderie shared by those for whom jail is a rebellious and exotic adventure – only highlight some of the many ways that privilege and punishment land unequally on the differently raced, gendered and classed bodies who get swept up in mass arrests of the 99% movement.

Let’s be clear: I can’t think of any social movement that has overthrown dictators, ousted exploitative corporations, or catalyzed its populace to build alternatives to a corrupt system that hasn’t engaged in one or more of the following militant tactics: building and land expropriations, illegality, and strategic confrontation against police forces.

Continue reading

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