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Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

Occupy the Hood: Fighting for Those at the 'Bottom of the Bottom'

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Roger BybeeMILWAUKEE—The “We are the 99%” message of the Occupy movement has provided a unifying umbrella under which people of widely-varied backgrounds can connect their experience of America’s appalling economic and social inequality.

One of the most interesting offshoots of the Occupy movement has been the national emergence of the “Occupy the Hood” movement composed of young African-American and Latino activists. They have expanded the movement’s range of concerns beyond the politically-safe theme of the shrinkage and downward mobility of “the middle class,” by addressing the issues of “working-class and poor people,” explained Kahlil Coleman, 25, a leader of Milwaukee’s “Occupy the Hood” chapter.

“You look at cuts in jobs, schools, services, and it’s mainly affecting the bottom of the bottom of the 99%,” Coleman declared.

Exemplifying its focus on empowering the poor and pushing for new family-sustaining jobs, Occupy the Hood led a multi-racial crowd of 400 mostly young people on October 29 to the site of the former AO Smith (later Towner Automotive plant) to protest the flight of family-supporting jobs from Milwaukee and to simultaneously spotlight SB 207, a repressive piece of new state legislation that , in the words of Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller, “gives employers the right to legally discriminate against over 62,000 Wisconsin residents.”

MORE JOBS WOULD BE CLOSED OFF TO PEOPLE OF COLOR

“The bill would enable employers to reject job applications of convicted felons even if there was no connection between the offense and the responsibilities of the job, and would further allow them to fire current employees with felony records, Coleman said.

Despite its progressive reputation, Wisconsin’s jails and prisons contain a proportion of African-American males that is among the nation’s very highest. The proposed law would add new barriers to employment for African-American males, when unemployment of 60 percent or more prevails in Milwaukee.

The former AO Smith plant—a giant wasteland of ghostly, empty buildings and vast, weed-grown parking lots—symbolizes the destruction of opportunity on a massive scale.

The site holds enormous significance for the African-American community. At one point, the unionized auto-frame plant supplied 7,800 high-paying jobs, providing incomes that lifted thousands of African-American families into “middle class” living standards.

But beginning in the 1980s, AO Smith began shifting more and more of these family-supporting jobs to Mexico, converting them into mere subsistence-level jobs for desperate Mexican workers in cities like Ciudad Juarez. By 1991, Smith employed more workers in Mexico than its home base of Milwaukee. Tower Automotive bought the Milwaukee plant, and it shipped the last 500 jobs to Mexico in 2004.

“It left behind a giant ‘Dust Bowl’ in the middle of the community, with the result being much more youth violence, high infant mortality, and the closing of many other factories, shops, and restaurants,” said Coleman. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently  ran a major article focused on the Third-World level rate of infant mortality in the area, called “Where city factories, and now babies, die.“ However, theJournal Sentinel refrained from drawing the obvious conclusion that the factories and their jobs were killed off through conscious decisions by the top 1 percent, rather than just mysteriously disappearing.)

The vacant factory space held promise a year ago as the new site for manufacturing mass-transit rail equipment by the Spanish firm Talgo for a new fast-rail route between Milwaukee and Madison. But ultra-reactionary Gov. Scott Walker, now the target of a fast-growing recall campaign that has already gathered 300,000 petition signatures of the 540,000 needed to call for a new election, turned down more than $800 million in federal funding for the route, crushing the dreams of Milwaukee residents desperately hoping for an upturn in job opportunities.

The building and maintenance of the rail plan and its equipment would have generated between 5,000 and 13,000 jobs.

READY FOR THE LONG HAUL

For Occupy the Hood, the march to the Smith site and subsequent activities have illustrated its mission of both fighting concrete legislative battles of immediate importance to the African-American and Latino communities and performing educational outreach about the root causes of widespread misery in these communities.  The deindustrialization of Milwaukee—which has lost 80 percent of its factory jobs since 1977—has had a devastating impact particularly on people of color.

Occupy the Hood envisions a long-term strategy in educating and activating the African-American and Latino communities as full partners in the broader Occupy movement, Coleman stressed. “We want to be reaching more of the masses. How do we galvanize those people who won’t show up a mass meeting?”

Milwaukee’s communities of color, already in desperate shape before the last four years of ongoing high unemployment and wage-cutting, are hungry for fundamental reforms that improve their lives, but need to see proof that the Occupy movement is serious and does not serve as a political vehicle for any politician. “People want to be part of something where they can say, this really represents my interests,” observed Coleman.

“In some ways, the {African-American] community is more solid than Occupy movement itself” in its readiness for a massive movement challenging inequality, Coleman said. “People are so eager for change, but they’re not sure if this is going to be the movement that will represent them. For example, how do you keep it from being something traditional run by a politician?”

These are questions that will have to be answered over the long haul, Coleman readily admits. “The main thing is to build something long-term. After all, we are up against a system that runs most of the world,” a reflective Coleman stated.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

The Other Occupation: How Wall Street Occupies Washington

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

jilani_zaid_bioAs ThinkProgress has previously noted, the 99 Percent Movement has been set off thanks to long-standing economic inequities and and a recession caused primarily by Wall Street’s misdeeds.

But Wall Street did not engage in reckless financial behavior — which plunged 64 million people worldwide into extreme poverty — in a vacuum.

In order to engage in these practices that brought the world’s economy to its knees, Wall Street had to make sure that the federal government based in Washington, DC would both de-regulate the financial industry (and provide lax oversight) and that Congress and the Federal Reserve would bail out banks with few strings attached if they were in danger of failing. The way the financial industry and big banks won this kid glove treatment from the federal government is by occupying Washington — flooding it with campaign contributions, lobbyists, and its own staffers and executives to occupy key positions of power. ThinkProgress has assembled a rundown of three ways Wall Street has occupied Washington:

1. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Massive Campaign Contributions: On Nov. 12, 1999 President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Repealing this law was one of the top legislative goals of the financial industry. In the 1998 election cycle, commercial banks spent $18 million on congressional campaign contributions, with 65 percent going to Republicans and 35 percent going to Democrats. Securities and investment firms donated over $40 million. The mega-bank Citibank spent $1,954,191 during that cycle, and it was soon able to merge with Travelers Group as a result of the repeal of banking regulations. Between 2008 and 2010, when new financial regulations were being written following the financial crisis, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent $317 million in federal campaign contributions, with $73 million of that coming from Political Action Committees (PACs). The hold of campaign contributions is starkly bipartisan. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Real Clear Politics in an interview last year, he couldn’t get a vote on a windfall profits tax on bonuses at bailed out banks due to campaign contributors. “I couldn’t even get a vote,” Webb explained. “And it wasn’t because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren’t going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.”

2. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Its Lobbyists: One way to control what Washington lawmakers do is to give them access to exclusive funding streams that allow them to finance their campaigns. But yet another is to control the stream of information. From the deregulatory period of 1998 to 2009, the financial sector spent $3.3 billion on lobbyists. In 2007, the financial industry employed 2,996 separate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress. During the debate over financial reform last year, the industry flooded the nation’s capital with its own lobbyists. On just one issue — regulating derivatives — financial industry lobbyists outnumbered consumer group lobbyists and other pro-reform advocates by 11 to 1. In fact, by 2010, the industry had hired awhopping 1,600 former federal employees as lobbyists. Included among these lobbyists were high-ranking former public leaders like former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (MO) and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Much of this lobbying is done through elite K Street firms that specialize in hiring government insiders. Yet there are also bank-funded front groups like the Chamber of Commerce that deploy lobbyists on behalf of the big banks.

3. Wall Street Literally Occupies Washington By Placing Its Staff In Government Positions: Shortly after Clinton signed into law the repeal of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, his Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs alumni Robert Rubin left the government to work for newly-formed Citigroup — whose merger was only possible thanks to the policies Rubin championed and enacted. His compensation at Citigroup topped $15 million, not including stock options. Goldman’s alumni are found across the government, including bailout architect and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paulson’s bailout chiefNeil Kashkari, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Gary Gensler. The revolving door, of course, works both ways. Obama budget director Peter Orszag joined Citigroup shortly after leaving the government. This is just a small sampling of Wall Street’s staffers who found their way into government.

These three facets of lobbying do not include how these financial interests fan their funding out among nonprofits and think tanks, and how they fund media campaigns and public relations efforts within the parameters of the geographic territory of the District of Columbia. The amount of money spent on these tasks is likely formidable but is difficult to track.

There are reforms that can be enacted to combat this Wall Street infiltration of Washington. Ranging from public financing of federal campaigns to new disclosure laws to placing restrictionson lobbying from federal public officials, these reforms would blunt the impact of big money on federal policymaking. Yet only vigilance from the American public can get such reforms enacted.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on October 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zaid Jilani is a Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Zaid grew up in Kennesaw, GA, and holds a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Arabic from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zaid interned for Just Foreign Policy and was a weekly columnist at The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s official student newspaper. He is a co-editor at the Georgia-based blog Georgia Liberal and a regular on RT America’s The Alyona Show and The Thom Hartmann Show and has been a guest host on Al Jazeera English’s The Stream. He is also an occassional contributor to the op-ed pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His Twitter handle is @zaidjilani.

Seven Snappy Comebacks for Those Lame Anti- 'Occupy' Talking Points

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Richard EskowLame, pat, pre-packaged putdowns of Occupy Wall Street: We all deal with ‘em, whether we’re arguing with a neighbor, appearing on Fox, or answering the jeers of relatives who’ve just received a chain email that “really puts the protesters in their place.”

Here are a few easy comebacks for your next argument. They cover everything from the supposed “hypocrisy” of demonstrators who buy cardboard (really!) to snarky comments about scruffy-looking anticapitalists with beards.

1. They say “Oh, look. The demonstrators buy stuff from corporations!” You say “Whaddya expect? Corporate lackeys in government have forced everybody else out of business!”

I don’t know who came up with this lame picture, but it’s making the rounds on Wall Street – and with all the other Americans co-opted by its propaganda:

2011-10-11-lameputdownofprotestors

Hey, bankers! Is that the best you’ve got? Really? Because this picture is so lame that it actually gave us several of our talking points. We’ll start with this one:

Corporations get generous tax breaks for not hiring people and shipping jobs overseas instead. They make money from those free trade agreements pushed through by their functionaries in the government. And Wall Street’s making billions for not lending to smaller businesses that might compete with some of those mega-corporations.

Now you’re calling the demonstrators hypocrites for buying stuff from corporations. Who else are they going to buy it from? Everyone else was driven out of business!

In a very real sense, that’s why they’re protesting.

2. They say “They hate businesses!” You say “No, they hate parasiticalbusinesses.”

Want to know something ironic? If the demonstrators had their way, most businesses in this country would actually do better. Why? Because the banks aren’t lending to anybody but the mega-corporations who are already sitting on a ton of cash.

If the system was reformed, banks would lend to those smaller and medium-sized businesses that actually hire people. What’s more, debt relief for the American consumer would unleash a buying wave that would spur widespread economic growth.

These “anti-business” protesters would be great for businesses – all, that is, except for the dishonest and socially useless ones. You know, like the ones that underwrite politicians, think tanks, and television networks – who then proceed to make fun of demonstrations, as they’re paid to do.

And you wonder why they’re protesting?

3. They say “But it’s hypocritical to buy corporate products and then protest corporations!” You say “You sound like a Communist.”

That’s right – like a Communist. I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe as protests very much like these were overthrowing the Soviet empire. You know what the old-timers in those countries said back then? They said “These people are protesting the State, but they’re wearing clothes made at state-run factories and waving signs made with state resources! What hypocrites!”

(Well, they said it in Hungarian, or Czech, or Polish. But the meaning was the same.)

Tell your debate opponents they sound just like old Commies as they defend the uncompetitive, inflexible, and totalitariansystem the corporations now run. Don’t blame the demonstrators. They can’t operate within the new system until we’ve reformed the old one.

That’s why they’re protesting.

4. They say “Did you know they paid all the TARP money back? They weren’t bailed out.” You say “Fine! Give every consumer in the country an interest-free loan!”

This is one of the inept moves that CNN’s Erin Burnett tried on a protester. She, and everybody else using this line, must be either confused or financially illiterate.

Here’s how the real world works: If you (we, actually) lend the banks a trillion dollars at 3% below the usual rates, that’s the same as giving them a cash gift of $30 billion — even if they pay all the money back!

And when you count the Federal Reserve’s actions, like purchasing the banks’ toxic assets through the “Maiden Lane” dummy corporation, the bankers have gotten billions more in additional bailout money. The demonstrators are right:A few mega-banks destroyed the economy, and we bailed them out.

This argument’s as hollow as a mega-bank’s promise. And that’s why they’re protesting.

5. They say “But still, they buy corporate stuff!” You say “They’re called Occupy Wall Street, not Occupy Main Street. Anybody in that picture using an ATM?”

They keep coming back to this one, for some reason. That’s why the picture says things like “hat by J. Crew.” Oh, snap! Oh, wait — what’s your point again?

They’re protesting banks, for crying out loud, not hat companies!

As we were saying: Lame.

6. They say “These protesters don’t understand the free market.” You say “What free market?”

Economic theory says that one of the basic elements of a free market is transparency. Yet as of this writing Wall Street’s fighting tooth and nail against a process that would allow more transparency in the derivatives market. They don’t want transparency – and that means they don’t want a free market.

We haven’t had a free market for decades. We’ve had a lootocracy that makes money through deception, confusion, and obfuscation.

People should conduct their business in the light of day – and gambling with other people’s money should be illegal. The words “free market” and the phrase “Wall Street” don’t belong in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.

That’s why they’re protesting.

7. They say “Ha ha! Look at that bearded guy in the sandals!” You say “Hmmm … A bearded guy in sandals protesting the moneylenders. Where have we seen that before?”

They love making fun of the demonstrators’ looks, but it’s pretty difficult to step outside the system and live outdoors without looking a little rough in the eyes of the moneyed classes. Jesus and his disciples probably looked pretty rough to some people, too. I’m sure the rich people looked down their noses at Him after He overturned those tables. That’s not done in polite company.

Think about it: A guy rides into town on a donkey. Then he says the moneyed interests are exerting too much influence on the government – and on some of the religious elite, too. And what was that about the wealthy? Oh, yeah – “It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

3,000 years of moral law condemns people who make excess profits from money without contributing to society. Every single prophet to make those arguments – which is to say, all of them – was condemned by the plutocracy of the day.

No matter what you believe or don’t believe spiritually, it’s clear that oligarchic wealth has corrupted our politics, polluted our culture, and debased our basic sense of morality.

And that’s why they’re we’re protesting. I’ve been to New York’s demonstration, and Washington’s. Next stop is LA. But they’re all over the country.

IIf you haven’t been to one yet, why not stop by? ‘m not an organizer, just an admirer, but consider this an official invitation: Your presence is requested as democracy – and history – unfold before us.

Dress is casual. If you’re part of the 99%, come as your are. (Sandals optional.)

This post originally appeared on OurFuture.org on October 10, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician.Richard had senior executive positions at several Forture 500 firms and was CEO of two medical management companies before forming HKS. He also served as a senior consultant to the World Bank, the U.S. State Dept/USAID, and government and private entities in over 20 foreign countries. Areas of expertise included health policy, healthcare investment, operations, marketing, and strategic planning

Trumka: AFL-CIO Will Support Occupy Wall St. Protest "In Every Way' it Can

Friday, October 7th, 2011

David MobergFinally, anger at the abuses of the rich against the other 99 percent of Americans is bubbling up, giving energy to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their progeny around the country and fueling other actions.  And just as unions are throwing their support behind those demonstrations, they hope the populist upsurge on the left will energize their own planned public demonstrations demanding jobs, many of them starting next week.

Minnesotan Kim Watkins, 40, single mother of a 16-year old daughter, is one of those who wants to see action on jobs. A member of the AFL-CIO community affiliate, Working America, she has worked since she was 15. Now she is employed only part-time at a local Walgreen’s, going to school to help her job-hunting prospects, and “really struggling.“

“I feel very much under attack,” she says. “I see people being fired, wages being reduced, instead of doing things that are really common sense, like creating jobs by building infrastructure. While the top 1 percent are getting all the gains, the 99 percent of us are really suffering, and there aren’t any jobs being created.”  Next week she plans to join a tongue-in-cheek “fundraiser for the struggling rich” featuring nickel hot dogs.

Joblessness continues to be “devastating” to over 16 percent of the workforce and many communities and is “absolutely brutal” to people of color, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Wednesday as he announced the kick-off next Monday of hundreds of events for the federation’s America Wants to Work campaign.

But on Wall Street, he said, “the bonuses keep flowing,” CEO pay was up 23 percent last year, and business as usual prevails—except that corporations and banks are sitting on more than $3 trillion in cash they won’t invest to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the ailing economy.

The labor actions will push Congress to pass job-creating legislation—especially Obama’s American Jobs Act–and other economic reforms, many of which aim to better regulate the financial sector and make it pay for the damage it inflicted on the real economy and for creation of new jobs.

Trumka also endorsed the Occupy Wall Street protests, as the federation’s executive council did on a Wednesday conference call.  Many local unions in New York had already joined the protests or offered support, but more national unions have issued statements of enthusiastic support, including the Service Employees (which has long had a campaign focused on the financial sector), the Teamsters, the Bakery Workers and others.

“We will support them in every way we can,” Trumka says, noting that unions had mobilized 15,000 marchers on Wall Street a year and a half ago. “We believe as they do that the economy is shutting out 99 percent of the people. It works for the top 1 percent marvelously…But the rest of us with stagnant wages, lost jobs, home foreclosures, kids that can’t go to school, lost health care, pensions taken away and retirement security destroyed, we think there’s a different and better way….We aren’t going to try to usurp them in any way but support them. And we certainly hope they support us on our America Wants to Work campaign.”

Organized labor has three demands that are shared by most Wall Street occupiers, Trumka says. First, corporations and banks should invest their cash in America, creating good jobs. Second, banks and other holders of the 14 million foreclosed or “under water” mortgages and then ten million more expected to go sour should be forced to write down the mortgages to reflect the real, post-bubble value. Finally, the government should impose a “speculation tax,” or financial transactions tax, of one-tenth of one percent. Researchers in Europe figure a similar tax would generate $78 billion a year, and with its larger financial markets, the U.S. could gain as much or more.

A similar campaign by a labor-community coalition, Stand Up, Chicago, will direct actions towards two major financial sector conventions being held next week in Chicago—one of mortgage bankers, the other futures traders—and towards local institutions.  Spearheaded by the Service Employees Union and involving only the Teachers union from the AFL-CIO, the actions nevertheless parallel the AFL-CIO protests.

A study prepared by the Chicago Political Economy Group and released prior to the protests by Stand Up, Chicago, concluded that a twenty-five cent speculation fee paid by both buyer and seller of futures contracts would generate $1.4 billion that could fund creation of 40,000 new jobs. The report proposes a variety of public service jobs, including a community schools corps (rehiring laid-off teachers and other workers, refurbishing and increasing energy efficiency of schools, and making other upgrades) and other worker corps focused on community health, child care, jobs for youth, and neighborhood improvement.

“There’s anger and outrage,” Trumka says, although so far the anger from the right has been better organized along Tea Party lines. “We want to put that outrage to work to create jobs and restore balance to our economy.”

This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on October 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

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