Category Archives: Occupy movement

Inspired and Inspiring, Young People will Change the World

We are living amongst the largest generation of young people in history; young people who are better educated, better informed and more widely connected than ever before. Around 42% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, 25% are under 15 – that’s 1.8 billion. The largest group is in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age is only 19, compared to 38 in America, and an ageing 45 in Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe.

This huge army of young people is cause for great optimism; they are more politically and socially engaged and certainly more environmentally aware than previous generations, are less conditioned by ideologies, and despite the widespread notion that anyone under 35 is self-obsessed and uncaring, in many cases they are the ones leading the global charge for change. They abhor dishonesty, don’t trust politicians and rightly believe that unity and tolerance of others are essential to right relationships and social harmony.

Many feel frustrated at the state of the world they have been born into, are angry with inept politicians and unaccountable international institutions, and enraged at the environmental vandalism that is taking place throughout the world. Anger and disillusionment has led to committed engagement among large numbers of young people throughout the world; they swell the ranks of the global protest movement forming the vanguard at demonstrations for action on climate change, demanding social justice and freedom, rational changes in US gun law and an end to austerity and economic injustice.

They formed the driving force behind what were arguably the two most significant social/political movements in recent years: the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and whereas in the past young people have been less engaged than older generations in voting and party activism, this too is changing – in Britain, for example, the Labour party, with an overall membership of 504,000 – the largest in Europe, has over 100,000 members under 25, and they are extremely active.

As well as demonstrating, working on environmental campaigns and human rights issues the impulse to contribute to the local community is strong, and many act upon it: a survey made by the Royal Society of Arts in Britain found that a staggering “84 percent of young people want to help others,” and that “68 percent of young people have participated in volunteering or other forms of social action.” These statistics reflect the high level of social responsibility that exists in countries throughout the world amongst this generation. The study also revealed that whilst there is a strong desire to bring about large scale change, working locally to support someone in need – befriending, or helping an elderly person with their shopping, for example – is recognized to be of enormous value.

It is a generation brought up with social media and, according to The Millennial Impact Project, they use it alongside traditional forms of participation.  Millennial’s “interest in the greater good is driving their cause engagement today, and their activism (or whatever you want to call it) is increasing.”

Inspired and Inspiring

Appalled by the level of inaction and the scale of the crisis, large numbers of young people have committed themselves to the environmental cause. One of the most inspirational forms of climate change activism is the Schools Strike for the Climate initiated by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg. Following a record-breaking summer, in August 2018 Greta began a solo protest for climate change outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Every Friday since, instead of going to school she sits outside her country’s parliament: she has vowed to “continue to do so until [world] leaders come into line with the Paris agreement [on climate change].”

Apathy is often disguised by arguments of individual inadequacy in the face of the scale of the problems confronting humanity. Well, a loud answer to such feeble excuses is Greta Thunberg’s one-girl protest; following her example hundreds of thousands of school children around the world have staged their own School Strike for the Climate. Although all teaching bodies should support the actions, some don’t, and whilst disappointing, their view is largely irrelevant; what matters is that teachers, along with politicians, big business and the general public pays attention to what these young people are saying: keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewables, live environmentally conscientious lives; it is our future you are destroying, act now before it’s too late.

The man-made environmental crisis is the result of a certain way of life, an approach to living that places enormous value on material wealth, on image, pleasure and success. It is, we are told, a ‘dog eat dog’ world in which only the ‘strong’ survive. This fear inducing view has polluted life, fueling social division and widespread mental health conditions, particularly amongst under 25 year olds. In November 2017 the World Youth Parliament met in Beijing to discuss, ‘Interpersonal Relationships: Keys for a new Civilization’.

In their conference report they call for the creation of a kinder, friendlier society. They extol forgiveness, which they describe as the “most sublime and integral form of love” and make clear their view that the current “competitive culture (which places our goals against the goals of others) and the wrong use of technology” is detrimental to human well being. And they should know: as a result of the ‘competitive culture’ and the pressure to ‘achieve’ – in education, in a career and socially – unprecedented numbers of young people are suffering from anxiety and stress, panic attacks and depression, leading some to self-harm and suicide.

Despite being conditioned into competition by an outdated education system, which is designed to train compliant workers, not free-thinking creative individuals, young people instinctively recognize that cooperation, not competition is an integral part of human nature, and that working collectively for the common good is the best way of dealing with the many challenges facing humanity. It is, in fact, the only way we will overcome the various crises confronting us; unity is the way forward and young people know this.

The future belongs to the 3 billion or so under 25 year olds of the world, many of whom are inspired and inspiring. If we are to collectively overcome the challenges facing humanity we need to listen to what young people have to say, to draw on their energy and dynamism; they are in tune with the times, are overflowing with creativity and are a powerful voice for change.

Long Live the Armed Struggle!

Murdering Truthsayers 

I am thinking of Karen Silkwood for some odd reason. Murdered November 13, 1974 as a twenty-eight-year-old labor union activist and chemical technician working for a nuclear power plant, Kerr-McGee Cimarron River nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. The industry was supplying nuclear fission rods for reactors. She found violations of health and safety regulations, and well, the story of this ordinary woman with an ordinary life has turned into a cause celebre with Meryl Streep playing her in a 1984 movie.

Karen was pursued by some dark figures on a cold night, and the manila envelope she was carrying with the evidence of safety violations bound for the New York Times inside her crashed Honda car mysteriously disappeared. She lay there dying.

Run off the road of protest and combating injustices and war. So go the lives of political prisoners, but in a much more tortuous and protracted way as Linda G. Ford develops in her spot-on book, Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart.

One such hero is Marilyn Buck, who was serving an 80-year sentence for aiding and abetting Assata Shakur’s escape, for a Brinks robbery and the bombing of the Capitol in protest of US role in Grenada and Lebanon. She was on the FBI’s “shoot to kill” list.

Women engaged in serious struggle with ties to Puerto Rican and Black liberation movements were given harsh sentences, and imprisoned where gulag-like, tortuous and isolating conditions were ramped up because of these political prisoners’ gender identity.

Exclusion and isolation are the tools of a fascist society, as these female politicals’ lives as activists, both peaceful and militantly violent, demonstrate over the course of four hundred years of this country’s white history.

“The women politicals jailed in the 80s would face a situation designed to destroy them as political activists, and as women,” Ford writes in the section of the book she tags as, “The Threat of Armed Struggle Against American Imperialism Posed by Defiant Revolutionaries Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg and Their Comrades Has The Facing Authoritarian Measures Designed to Destroy, 1960-1990.”

Jailers who willingly neglect the health of prisoners. Prison medical experts denying basic life saving treatment. Massive censorship of prisoners’ reading and writing. Male nurses ramming fingers up a political’s anus and vagina. Locked in High Security Units in what Silvia Baraldini called “a living tomb . . . a white sepulcher.” She was part of the May 19th Communist group and Black Liberation Army. She was charged with BLA robberies – however, she was in Zimbabwe when one of them took place.

I was arrested in 1982 on RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations, laws mean for the Mafia) charges accused of having aided members of the Black Liberation Army in a conspiracy against the United States. In reality I participated in the escape of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur who now lives in Cuba.

Rosenberg was sentenced to 43 years in prison, three for refusing to testify before the grand jury or give the names of members of the May 19th Communist Organization group.

These are bombings against imperialist targets:  a federal building on Staten Island (January 1983), the National War College at Fort McNair (April 1983), the US Senate in November 1982, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building in April 1984, the South African Consulate in September 1984, and the NYC Policemen’s Benevolent Association in February 1985.

Laura Whitehorn stated the last action (no person was targeted or hurt) was done because the NYC association supported cops “who had killed innocent civilians.” Whitehorn stated she readily participated in the bombings as an underground warrior as protest of US imperialism in Lebanon, El Salvador and Grenada.

“If you live in a country doing illegal acts, you have to take steps, or you’re complicit.” The author Ford follows up Whitehorn’s strongly put if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem rejoinder with …

And if you break a law doing that, you become a political prisoner. 

Susan Rosenberg is another hero of resistance Linda forges as a real icon of the revolution: she was charged with involvement in the Senate, War College and NY Police bombings, but those were eventually dropped. She would later be tried in a FISA court – foreign intelligence surveillance act.

Judge Frederick B. Lacey didn’t consider she and her co-defendant, Tim Blunk, were part of an organized illegal resistance movement acting out of conscience against US actions in Central America, racism in South Africa and the oppressive COINTELPRO, according to Ford.

Rosenberg and Blunk were hit with possession of guns and dynamite charges, although there was no link they used them. She got 58 years in the federal penitentiary, twice as long as for the average first degree murderer. Bail was $5 million and no parole recommendation was provided.  Ford:

To US authorities, she represented the absolute worst of the 60s rebels: she was a BLA, Independista and Weather Underground sympathizer/activist, and she was a female and a lesbian.

No food for two days, no time to wash up, and she was beaten and left in a cold cell, in solitary confinement. The entire process of the fascist police state in this country is a psychological hell, designed to strip people of who they are, to erase their identity.

There was absolutely nowhere to go; it felt like death. All that lay in front of me were the ruins of my life. I was losing even my favorite color, favorite food, favorite season.

There is something so compelling in Ford’s unleashing of the floodgates of truth in this book, and the tides have shifted even more dramatically against revolt, against resistance, against simple discontents. Imagine, this faux pacifism of the bourgeoisie, peering through their looking glass designed by Hollywood and a fine Merlot, even barely entertaining the idea that armed revolt and violent overthrow are necessary components in righting all the wrongs in this country. Those middle and upper middle classers look for total destruction in countries their tax dollars and sometimes their direct employment support, but when it comes to the assault of everyday structural violence meted out on their fellow citizens, these middlings — who take their marching orders from the elites who pull out the Clinton America Must Have 100,000 More Police card every single time Hillary Clinton declares we are in super predator country – do not question the complexities of cause and effect when a society is over-policed, under organized, and flooded with privatizing all things American.

The tough times for prisoners like Rosenberg always get worse in America. The High Security Unit at Lexington is a doozy – a maximum security hell-hole – a chamber of horrors —  and set up by the best and the brightest of American corporal technocrats who show their love of the macabre Russian prisoner gulag or Nazi concentration camp techniques.

Historian Laura Flanders called the HSU an example of punishment “designed to experiment with the effects of physical deprivation on female inmates.” The myth (lie) that the US doesn’t use torture to coerce people to give up their politics is busted every time in Ford’s recounting of the fascism deployed by the American political/policing corporate Mafioso. Spending your entire sentence in solitary confinement “unless one renounces her beliefs” is against the laws of international conventions on torture and against the US Constitution’s first amendment.

The day before Slick Willy Clinton left office, in January 2001 Rosenberg was granted clemency after 16 years and three months inside. She worked for a human rights organization — American Jewish World Service — and fought to reform prison. She taught literature at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York until the college caved and did not rehire her. In her 2011 memoir, American Radical, she is defiant, proving she was not destroyed by American fascism, but conversely overcame the illegal and unethical torture and censoring with her political beliefs intact.

I tried not to weep. If I did I was afraid I would drown in the waters of my soul . . . The government’s goal was to destroy us through isolation, through exile, life sentences, medical negligence, and horrible physical conditions. In that they failed.

In May 1994, Marilyn Buck, the remaining female member of the May 19th Communist Organization,  talked about why she was a political prisoner, then locked up at the Shawnee HSU at Marianna prison.

I am a white woman from the middle class who has refused to accept the great American social contract: democracy for the white few, unmitigated oppression for the colonized and exploited many. I am despised because I have rejected and betrayed the bonds of white privilege, have defended Black people’s rights, and have engaged in the struggle to defeat U.S. imperialism, to support national liberation struggles and the right of all peoples to self-determination. I am censored, locked behind walls, and watched.

After starting her second prison stint, Buck talked of the repression orchestrated in Capitalist America, after earning a degree in psychology, working for fellow political Abu-Jamal and thrown into solitary after September 11 as a potential terrorist. She served 33 years of her 80-year sentence. “The exclusion from society is their weapon”, she writes. “Isolation silences voices of resistance and reverberates into society to stave off action. Destroying one’s political identify renders them as un-beings, but more destructive is that police fascism of America stifles the context from which to organize social opposition and organized resistance within the society.”

Think of the isolation and torture of a Nelson Mandela and African National Congress in South Africa. This need in the US to repress/destroy revolutionary movements goes way back against those dissidents and others who refuse this imperialist state, as Mary K. O’Melveney opined: punishing “those who resist racism, genocide, colonialism and imperialism.”

It is a legacy of an existential nightmare, and endless justice denied to politicals because the US expunges the very fact (history of) it has pursued relentlessly political dissidents they have then caught, prosecuted, persecuted, tortured, and many times disappeared. The lives of these women individually and collectively have been resuscitated by Linda G. Ford, and her book serves as testimony and a testament of the great harm done by our government in the name of capitalism/imperialism utilizing the most crude and sophisticated methods of anti-democratic repression.

Buck wrote in 2000 that more women political prisoners will emerge, and with Code Pink rabble-rousers, the Native American water protectors around facing federal charges and decades of incarceration, and the many women who have drawn and quartered the racist and misogynistic history of modern America in the Black Lives Movement, she was right. She implored that we all have a duty to resist and buck “the rapacious, anti-human system.” One will not see this call to action in today’s political leaders and intellectuals; in fact, this country is about protecting the trans-financial, military and global corporatist forces that make up the police state that denies equality and justice.

Over the course of the past 19 years, America has turned on itself, thrown the gates of freedom into the scrap pile of gauntlets and barricades built to prevent or forestall unfettered access by both the government/police state and corporations/trans-finance to not only pry into our lives, but to exact more than a pound of flesh from us as citizens, a term now code-switched to “consumers,” and on a larger gradient of more applicable descriptors for we, by, for, because of the people tethered to this non-democratic morass of penury and punishment:  suspects, persons of interest, pre-accused, targets, marks, inmates, disenfranchised, dispossessed, the other, the accused, evicted, foreclosed upon, fined, levied, sterilized, patients, the sick, mentally infirm, audiences, focus groups, and the taxed and damned!

In this book, Ford exposes the Post 9/11 systemic sickness of oppression and disappearing all administrations on both aisles of the political heap have green-lighted. Here, a chilling account from Moazzam Begg, 2012, about another political, female, we go hand-in-hand with in Ford’s book:

Of all the abuses [prisoner Abu Yahya al-Libi] describes in his account, the presence of a woman and her humiliation and degradation were the most inflammatory to all the prisoners [at Bagram] – would never forget it. He describes how she was regularly stripped naked and manhandled by guards, and how she used to scream incessantly in isolation for two years. He said prisoners protested her treatment, going on hunger strikes, feeling ashamed they could do nothing to help. He described her in detail: a Pakistani mother – torn away from her children – in her mid-thirties, who had begun to lose her mind. Her number, he said, was 650.

So, little known Aafia Siddiqui is highlighted in this book as a victim of “American white supremacy and imperialism; enduring the consequences of an extreme anti-terrorist/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center.”

She was educated at MIT as a neuroscientist and worked in the US for years. Her Muslim activism got the fascist Attorney General John Ashcroft interested, and he put her on his watch-list. All the accusations of terrorism proved baseless, yet the FBI, CIA and American military tribunals held on like a rabid dog. She was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters on the payroll of the Americans, with her three children snatched up too.

The youngest was immediately killed, and the other two imprisoned separately for years. Dr. Siddiqui was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American empire.

Oh, the irony! January 15, 2019 and the Pedophile President Trump has nominated William Barr for attorney general. Barr served (sic) as George H.W. Bush’s AG from 1991 to 1993. That was a short time but enough to pardon six Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal and then oversee Guantánamo Bay military prison opening up. Mass incarceration at home and designing a secret National Security Agency mass phone surveillance blueprint were two of his fingerprints that have followed us all into 2019. What would those women politicals say today about the Islamophobia?

What would they say about the limp, weak, conniving questioning by both sides of the political dung heap during this fascist Barr’s confirmation hearings? Barr sounds like the quintessential white supremacist, privileged, Ivy-League educated (sic)  elite that an Obama or Clinton or Trump or Bush presses the flesh with on a daily basis.

Ford puts a lot into context in her chapter titled: “The Empire Strikes Back: American Imperial Authorities Disappear, Torture and Destroy Aafia Siddiqui; and Routinely Jail Female Anti-Imperialist Dissenters, Muslim Women and Whistleblowers, 1990-Present.”

The three presidents in charge from 1990s until 2018, have had somewhat different doctrines of global empire: Clinton prepared the way, Bush implemented the 9/11 unleashing of new military adventures, and Obama (continued somewhat clumsily by Trump) streamlined, codified and expanded Bush’s new global warmongering.

A world of smart bombs, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Taliban, collateral damage. Invasions of Iraq. A world of 300 nuclear bombs in Israel, Saudi Arabia aligned with the Zionists, Israel First pledges by US elected politicians. A world of Exxon more powerful than most nation states. This new spasm of fascism was codified with the Bush Doctrine. Chalmers Johnson stated this concept of World Domination by the USA  was laid out in 2002 at a West Point Academy gathering: Bush stated that “. . . our policy would be to dominate the world through absolute military superiority and to wage preventive war against any possible competitor.”

Things from the ‘60s through the ‘90s are dramatically different in terms of how the police state operates and how far-reaching now the American project to dominate, steal, harass, kill and contain has grown. Let’s look at Chalmers Johnson in an article for the Nation September 27, 2001 and then from his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which Ford includes in her book:

The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders who then became enemies only because they had already become victims. Terrorism by definition strikes at the innocent in order to draw attention to the sins of the invulnerable. The United States deploys such overwhelming military force globally that for its militarized opponents only an “asymmetric strategy,” in the jargon of the Pentagon, has any chance of success. When it does succeed, as it did spectacularly on September 11, it renders our massive military machine worthless: The terrorists offer it no targets. On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil.” In his address to Congress on September 20, he said, “This is civilization’s fight.” This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values–as a “clash of civilizations,” in current post-cold war American jargon–is not only disingenuous but also a way of evading responsibility for the “blowback” that America’s imperial projects have generated.

The Nation, Johnson

Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an every-growing list of foreign countries . . . . But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew and had experienced over the last half century – namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be,, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.

Blowback, Johnson

We are all terrorists, that is, those of us who use words, placards, hacking, bodies, grouped protests, and two-by-fours in an attempt to stop the juggernaut of corporate power and collusion with their government. Little Eichmann’s and henchmen and henchwomen in the Military-Pharma-Ag-Energy-Legal-Edu-IT-AI-Chem-Finance-Insurance-Med Industrial Complex. The new red scare is green, as in eco-terrorists. The anti-Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement is the new terror against the American Israel way of life. Anyone questioning Zionism or the Israeli policy of apartheid and genocide is the new-old-future enemy of the State of Fascist America.

You get arrested and prosecuted for setting up camps in public places, for throwing stage blood on the gates of Air Force installations that are harbingers of death missiles. You get thrown in jail/prison for torching a few internal combustion SUV’s. Jail-and-hard-time for protecting your Native American holy places. Jail time for putting water and food in the Arizona desert for migrating undocumented immigrants.

Jail-jail-jail, felonies-felonies-felonies, misdemeanors-misdemeanors-misdemeanors, eviction-eviction-eviction, bad credit reports-terminations from jobs, failure to pay taxes.

Americans are the enemy of the state, and when that American is a woman political activist – that can be a woman against death squads trained-supplied-abetted by USA, or someone wanting to expose the death camps of concentrated animal feeding operations, even a woman in a tree protesting the cutting of old growth forests, especially a woman on the streets proclaiming the end of violence against Black men, women, children. The enemy of this state is anyone, slipping into board rooms at college campuses fighting the rape culture, or getting into city hall meetings and decrying gentrification, or women building homeless camps or distributing clean needles.

You can be Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, 78 and 68 years old respectively (in 2015), who committed themselves to nonviolent protests. Eric Schlosser interviewed them, and the two told of being “shackled and chained, strip-searched in front of male guards, locked in filthy cells with clogged toilets and vermin.”

That global war on terror hit these sisters broadside, including Sister Jackie Hudson, for coming onto the grounds of a Minuteman II silo in Colorado.

They wore white jump suits embossed with Citizen Weapon Inspection Team; hammered railroad tracks, drew a cross in their blood, banged on the silo, and prayed. After their arrest, they were left on the ground for three hours. (Ford)

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.

Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to a Committee from the Workingmen’s Association of New York,” March 21, 1864

I am now thinking about Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, three Maryknoll sisters and a lay missionary murdered in El Salvador. Thirty-eight years ago this past December 2, 1980, beaten, raped and murdered. They were working on international humanitarian aid projects, which were counter to the USA’s project of terror in Central America, under Jimmy Carter, who suspended aid to the Salvadoran Army, for a brief moment, and then reinstated it. The women were murdered by and with the collusion with US trained thugs who attended Fort Benning’s notorious School of the Americas.

Under Reagan and Bush Senior, the civilian murders in Salvador and Guatemala, to name two, continued with US backing, both material aid/advisers, and political and diplomatic (sic). In El Salvador’s Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reports:

During the Reagan years in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements … but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of government terror in El Salvador. [23] Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them.

I was in Central America then, and throughout the ’80s. The blasphemy of America then, and the outright denigration of those nuns by many in America, to include the media and politicos, was telling to me in my formative years as a newspaper reporter along the US-Mexico border. One can’t go back or turn one’s back on the act of bearing witness to crimes against humanity. For me going on 45 years of journalism and activism, America has lived up to its Murder Incorporated moniker.

The work of people like Linda G. Ford give some sustenance for me to continue fighting the oppressive and repressive mindset of the American individual and the system protecting those individuals.

I’m now thinking about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  I ended up in Spokane, May 2001, and quickly found out that Spokane, Washington, was where free speech was officially banned by the city fathers and thug cops. She was there, as a 19-year-old in December 1909, and arrested and jailed. She went to lumber camps in Montana and Washington, speaking at IWW meetings. She stated she fell in love with her country, calling it,

… a rich, fertile, beautiful land, capable of satisfying all the needs of its people – It could be paradise on earth if it belonged to the people, not to a small owning class.

She wrote about the experience in Spokane in the Industrial Worker and The Socialist, two journal articles that inspired other protests to the authorities.  She wrote about being safer with others locked up, rather than being alone. In Spokane, a jailer approached her at night, and while all the other mostly prostitute women had complied, Flynn told him to take his hands off her and he left her alone. Her article  “resulted in matrons for women prisoners in Spokane.” She was acquitted after two trials of “conspiracy to incite men to disobey the law.”

By the age of 15, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a committed socialist and was arrested, with her father, for public speaking without a permit. They were finally released on bail at 2 am. At their trial, the judge advised Elizabeth to go back to school for a while longer before she became a teacher. (Ford)

Defiant, she read the theories of socialists Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy and of anarchist Peter Kropotkin, as well as delving deeply into Marx and Engels.

Here’s what Flynn said at age 73 in 1963:

I was a convict, a prisoner without rights, writing a censored letter. But my head was unbowed. Come what may, I was a political prisoner and proud of it, at one with some of the noblest of humanity, who had suffered for conscience’s sake. I felt no shame, no humiliation, no consciousness of guilt. To me my number 11710 was a badge of honor.

Being a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA), for Flynn and others was about following through with American roots and American ideals. Defending constitutional rights made them good Americans. It was Flynn who supported her constitutional right to political belief and free speech, yet these arguments were for naught, as she said: “in the United States – boasted citadel of democracy – we were prisoners for opinion under a fascist-like thought control act.” Ethel Rosenberg was not defended by the CP, until after her death row orders were imminent. The CP defendants were “arguing their Americanness, when the Rosenbergs were in jail after being convicted of being totally un-American and dedicated to the downfall of the USA.”

Ford goes into great detail about the Ethel Rosenberg case, but the final argument against her American assassination vis-à-vis a death sentence comes from many scholars, including the 2010 book, Final Verdict, written by Miriam Schneir and Walter Schneir:

The evidence against Ethel “was so weak that it seems incredible today that she was even indicted, much less convicted and executed.”

It is clear there are fractures in the American “left,” whatever that is, and to this day, many leftists distance themselves from Ethel Rosenberg, which Ford finds counter to what her book on Political Prisoners is attempting to do:

To me, it is essential to include her as a woman political prisoner, and the only woman executed by the federal government since Mary Surratt was hanged for allegedly being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Rosenberg was a victim of a terrible, extreme, and wholly antifeminist time, which saw women in stereotypical ways, ways which often contradicted each other, making it difficult for women to achieve any acceptable balance. Ethel Rosenberg had been a young activist, a worker and union leader, an aspiring singer/actress, and like a good 5os woman, gave it all up to be a (nervous and anxious) wife and mother. As it turned out, she never came up with the right combination of certified female traits to convince her jailers that she was worthy of any sort of fair treatment.

Reading about Lynne Stewart and Assata Shakur in Ford’s book is both insightful and complimentary, even though their lives are divergent, and the time periods of their incarceration and prosecution are separated by more than four decades.

Ford does both women justice in their own lives plagued with injustice. Shakur still is alive in Cuba; Lynn Stewart died of breast cancer.

Here, in her own words, Shakur:

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

— “I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”, Counterpunch, December 30, 2014

I first introduced myself to Linda Ford when I read her work at Dissident Voice on Red Fawn Fallis. I wanted to interview her about the stories of women Native Americans prosecuted and imprisoned for their valiant and righteous stand against the energy thugs and US government goons protecting the illegal interests of the big energy purveyors.

Here’s what Ford wrote in her intro paragraph about Red Fawn Fallis:

What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power.  After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her.  Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration.  For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.

— “Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops“, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2018

She was kind enough to submit to some lengthy questions by yours truly after the first part of this discussion/book review went live at Dissident Voice last week (January 13): “In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals.”

Here is that Q and A:

Paul Haeder: Great book, great histories revealed. What one or two women you discovered in your research have inspired you to continue your own dissident writing? Why?

Linda Ford: There are many, many but I guess I would choose Assata Shakur and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as the biggest inspirations.  Assata Shakur is my cover photo because that image represents a perfectly lovely woman, shackled by her countrymen, and dragged to a murder trial for a murder she never committed, which the authorities knew, all because she dared to be part of a real resistance movement in the 60s.  She had tremendous courage and the courage of having and living consistent principles.  She never gave in.  She fought back against white supremacist oppression—and also against sexism in the Black Panther Party.  Plus she got away!  She was one of the very few to get out and away from very possible execution in jail, helped by her comrades, including sister politicals. Go Assata!  Exiled in Cuba, she’s still considered an enemy of the US.  She’s an inspiration to me to reveal the oppression and racism that is American society.  I framed a quote from her:  “I just have to be myself, stay as strong as I can and do my best.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a political prisoner and proud of it and the reason I wrote the book, curious to see how many other women were political prisoners throughout America’s history.  Turned out there were a lot and it took me about 10 years to find out how many and how that evolved.  What I identified with as far as Flynn was concerned was that she was always, throughout her very long career, for the workers and always fighting against the horrible inequities of capitalism.  Coming from a rural working class background, and having come up against elitism disdain because of it, especially in my academic career, I share her politics.  I also like the way she insisted that socialism, especially Debs-style socialism, was American–and had a proud history in the worker and farmer rebellions starting in the late 19th century, against capitalist American authority, repression and violence.  At her trial in the 50s, she used the arguments of Lincoln to show how steeped Communists were in American political philosophy.  Good luck there, of course.  And I admire her for staying with her socialist convictions, her work for unions and fairness, in spite of unreliable (male) relationships.  She reminds me of what real socialism is and what real feminism is and how what purports to pass for them now—is not it.  She reminds me of how important it is to continue to challenge the pseudo socialists and feminists of today.

PH: Women political prisoners is a fact most Americans have a tough time squaring with their own delusional educations, magical thinking and exceptionalist crap. How do you talk to the average person about what you have found to be a massive, concerted and systematic system of our police state, going on 400 years?

LF: Talking to “average person”?  Well, they think I’m crazy.  That’s why I read CJ Hopkins, John Steppling, Glenn Ford—and Paul Haeder!  I read people who let me know that I’m not crazy—that being what Lynne Stewart called a “left-wing wingnut” is okay.  Especially since the Russia hysteria, and my stubborn refuting of it, people shake their heads and some recommend I read certain articles or attend certain lectures to put me on the right path. Others avoid me. It really is like the 50s!  Some people I talk to about women as political prisoners and what they fought identify with parts of it.  In rural New York you do have strong anti-capitalist/banker sentiment.  And some are willing to believe my huge amount of research probably did uncover some truth.  But the book presents way too much bad news for most people—whether rural small town neighbors or academics or liberal Democrats who don’t want to deal.  In order to accept the entirety of what I’m arguing—that an authoritarian American government with its police, military, and corporate-led structure has systematically worked to destroy political dissent—people have to deny an entire corporate media/education/government authority as they know it.  You would have to understand that NBC’s Lester Holt is lying.  So it’s a tough sell.

PH: There is a deep chill in this country that has solidified in the past 25 years, and especially after US Patriot Act and the Obama Administration’s move to curtail our freedoms, that stems from a country that is so fixed on giving corporations ALL the power to strip our Constitutional Rights as workers. How do we inspire young people to be dissidents and to risk a lifetime of penury and imprisonment (both in the carcel state as well as in their lives as workers, renters, precarious citizens)?

LF: Inspire youth to dissent—there’s another REALLY tough sell.  My last teaching job was at Colgate, so not a lot of worker activism for sure; they weren’t buying all the Native American or female tribulations I told them about for the most part.  They weren’t necessarily buying my relentless socialist feminist history.  But there were some pretty strong feminist students.  Some youth can identify with dissident heroism.  Some can see the reality of the job world, and the evils of war and racism.  I see groups of students who have lived through mass murders at their schools, doing rallies, going to legislatures and Congress.  And I see them turned away for their efforts.  That is a hard but very true lesson of what it might take to change the violence- as- fabric of this culture.  They need to decide to be in it for the long haul.  But it starts with a dose of reality eye-opening.

PH: Many Americans, unfortunately, relish the American police state and the war state, largely because of brainwashing and shifting baseline syndrome. Where do you see some of these heroic women of the past fitting in today in this Homeland Security loving populous?

LF: There’s a good question.  How about all those TV shows with cops, FBI, CIA, homeland goons?!  Wow, talk about brainwashing.  I think Mother Jones, Ma Bloor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—would be so appalled today.  These are socialist union people in a world where capitalism has gone completely insane.  All their work, all their suffering, jailing, all for naught.  Workers have less than zero power—so many have had to give up.  And the populace, as noted, brainwashed thoroughly that that’s their fault, that socialism or dissent is evil and un-American.  (Ohhhh—Venezuela!!)  People have been conditioned—and they can also see the evidence—that it’s hopeless to resist.  If you do resist our basic inequality, like Occupy, or like some teacher unions, there is a huge oppressive countervailing apparatus to put you down.  Some female protests continue though.  Anti-imperialist dissenters just keep it going.  As I wrote in Dissident Voice on January 8th, women like former nun Elizabeth McAlister continue to bear witness against nuclear insanity.  She fights even though she doesn’t expect success, with the “absurd conviction” that her protest can make a small difference.

PH: What key points have you learned in your research, interviews, studies and writing?

LF: Well, what I’ve learned has added to my radicalization big time.  I believe that socialism is the only way, that patriarchy and racism remain really really bad today; they’ve taken different forms over time but they are there.  Many American women remain heroes and still fight against what’s wrong in America anyway.  From my interviews I’ve concluded that these women radicals stayed radical.  It hasn’t mattered to them which administration is in power.  It’s depressingly obvious to me how incredibly strong our capitalist culture is now, and the close connection it has with government authoritarianism—fascism.  And how present-day fascism enhances patriarchy, racism and anti-Earth policy.  By the end of the book, I had some rants going against it all—it became a jeremiad for me, a` la Anne Hutchinson.

PH:  Naomi Wolf wrote about fascism under W Bush. In her book, The End of America.

The 10 essential steps the state must implement to take total control are:

  • Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  • Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  • Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  • Set up an internal surveillance system.
  • Harass citizens’ groups
  • Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  • Target key individuals.
  • Control the press.
  • Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  • Suspend the rule of law.

Seems like she was 300 years too late. However, this is United States of Amnesia, Groundhog Day, and plagued with consumerist and spectacle loving people. Discuss.

LF: Interesting choice.  Well, one thing I have to confess is that books like this—out in 2007—is about Bush fascism.  I get itchy about books that seem to indicate that such American fascism started with Bush, or grew appreciably more.  And she does seem to say that given time, Democrats can change the laws.  I liked Jules Boykoff’s book, 2006, Suppression of Dissent which talks about how American protest has been dismantled by a media-state partnership, by talking about Black Panthers (60s) and Judi Bari (90s); and also Bill Quigley, writing in 2011 about how police have become SWAT teams which have become military operations against protesters.  And in my book, I obviously argue that American fascism is from the way-back.  It’s like people who argue, “Well, hey Trump,” like he’s the be-all and end-all of bad American government, when mostly Obama did the same but he’s apparently now a god.  Anyway.  Wolf’s 10 steps—My women have seen all of that, and before 2007.  You’ve got internal/external enemies as in communism and terrorism, or wartime enemies leading to imprisonment.  Secret prisons we have as in black site prisons for Siddiqui, or the conditions for the women prisoners of the Lexington High Security Unit being kept quiet—conditions of extreme torture.  Plus most people don’t know we have many many political prisoners in jail, mostly in solitary—like Red Fawn Fallis and Aafia Siddiqui and Marius Mason at Carswell, TX.  The paramilitary was at Standing Rock, but also used against Mother Jones.

And surveillance—oh yeah—Standing Rock, Occupy, and also against the National Woman’s Party in 1917, done by the brand new FBI.  Government has harassed citizen groups from the pro-Palestinian to those equated with Communism in the 50s.  We’ve seen arbitrary detention of suffragists, Occupy protesters and, of course, lawyer Lynne Stewart.  Stewart was also a targeted key individual, as was Ma Bloor in the 40s, Wounded Knee resisters in the 70s and Standing Rock protectors a couple of years ago.  Occupy tried not to say who their leaders were to avoid that.  The press is totally controlled now, except Dissident Voice and a few stalwarts, but a controlled media was used against Shakur and the Panthers, Siddiqui, Judi Bari and (“Red”) Emma Goldman.

Political dissidents have been considered traitors—especially in wartime, WWI being an egregious example, as also the communists, the Ohio 7 and Weatherwomen, even 83-year-old Plowshares nuns. The lack of the rule of law is definitely horrible today—that’s why Lynne Stewart was jailed, because she tried to fight for that principle—no defender rights, especially against “terrorists”, but it was no picnic for Communists or Japanese-American women jailed for their race. Wolf’s is a useful list—and again, government control gets worse and worse and people don’t seem to notice, or want to notice, much less fight it

PH: Now universities, businesses, Homeland Security, police, FBI, banks, state, city, county governments, police forces, private corporations seemingly work together to quell dissent, quell debate, stave off any criticism of the vanguard and elites. Are we in very different times now, and how and why, than when the Weather Underground, BPP, et al were protesting and dissenting in the 1960s-’90s?

LF: Well, things are different now and mostly not better for dissent, but as I’ve argued, it’s never been good.  For instance, in the 1960s to the 90s, the media was not completely controlled, so you could have some truthful coverage, some anti-authority coverage, some sympathy for dissenters which is hard to find now.  It was not Standing Operating Procedure to use an all-out military attack on just about any or all serious protest.  After the Kent State student killings in 1970, as a student, I joined a very big rally which shut down the Northway in Albany because of what the National Guard did.  So a different time in that way—constant protest is needed now over police/military brutality in this country.  And look what happens—Sandra Bland was killed in her cell and Rev. Joy Powell was railroaded on a murder charge after they took on police brutality against Black Americans.  There is no habeas corpus or fair legal treatment; there is ultra surveillance—and there is a very tight and efficient bond between Big Business and global elitist government.  There is brainwashing with an emphasis on sexist, racist and vacant thinking; workers have no power, and no jobs.  So—here’s what’s the same as the 60s—we need a revolution!

Act Now To Protect Our Right To Protest

The radical attack on our constitutional right to protest in Washington, DC needs to be stopped. The National Park Service (NPS) has published proposed rules that would curtail First Amendment rights to assemble, petition the government and exercise free speech in the nation’s capital. Together, we can stop this proposal from going forward.

Popular Resistance submitted comments to the National Park Service and is working in coalition with numerous organizations in Washington, DC to protect our constitutional rights. We will be joining with other organizations in submitting coalition comments. We need everyone to participate, submit a comment this weekend, the deadline is Monday.

Tell the NPS why protest in Washington, DC is important, your experience with protest and why these new restrictions will make it difficult to exercise your constitutional rights. Your comment will be the evidence courts will consider in reviewing these proposed rules.

Submit your comment here. The deadline is Monday, October 15th. More specifics are provided below. Please act today. 

This is part of the effort to curtail dissent in the United States

The proposal would result in people being charged fees if they hold a protest. That means in order to exercise your constitutional right, the government can charge you for the police barricades, the Park Service police time and even their overtime. And, if you hold a concert with your protest where people make speeches, play music or use spoken word, you can be charged for that exercise of Free Speech as well.

While the “pay to play” rules have gotten some attention in the media, that is just the beginning of the restrictions. The area around the White House would basically be off-limits as they would close the walkway and sidewalk in front of it. This area that was used by suffragists to appeal to President Wilson for the right to vote would no longer be available. There are hundreds of protests every year around the White House as this iconic spot has been used for protests on civil rights, opposition to war, protection of the environment, urging climate justice, for economic fairness and so much more. It is used to get the attention of the president to use the presidential power to pardon, as we did in the campaign for Chelsea Manning directed at President Obama.

In this time of immediate news coverage and the ability to use social media for breaking news as it happens, NPS proposed restricting “spontaneous demonstrations.” Rather than the current rule, which presumes a permit is granted if it is not denied within 24 hours, the NPS would now put such requests in limbo and have until the last minute to deny the permit. And even if a permit is granted, the proposed rules would allow a permit to be revoked for any infraction of the permit.

Under international law, no authorization should be required to assemble peacefully, and a system of prior notification should only be intended to allow authorities to facilitate protests and peaceful assemblies. This standard would be a standard consistent with the US Constitution which forbids the abridgment of the rights to assemble, petition the government and to speak freely. The permit process already violates international law, making it more restrictive moves the United States further into the territory of a rogue nation that ignores the law even though it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992.

The proposed rules would also limit the size of signs and banners in many parts of the city and asks whether more parks should be labeled as parks that do not allow protest. And, in response to the Occupy protests, the NPS would limit vigils and encampments to one month — letting the people in power know that long-term protests are only a short-term threat.

Read the twelve ways that the proposed protest rules would restrict our constitutional right to protest in our call to action.

Protests are increasing and will continue

Protests have been escalating in the United States since the 2009 economic collapse. That collapse was followed by a wide range of protests at banks and the Federal Reserve as well as in state capitals across the country. That was followed by the sustained multi-month protest of the Occupy encampments in hundreds of cities across the country. Out of police violence and killings of black people came the Black Lives Matter movement, and out of the poverty wages of low wage workers came Our Walmart and Fight for $15. As the US moved to become the largest oil and gas producing nation in the world — at a time when climate change science said we should build no oil and gas infrastructure — protests across the country against pipelines, compressor stations, export terminals and other infrastructure grew. This climaxed in the No DAPL protest at Standing Rock, and continues to build.

There has been a dramatic increase in protests since President Trump was elected president. In the last year, one-fifth of people in the United States say they have participated in a protest, rally or other First Amendment event. A recent poll found, “One in five Americans have protested in the streets or participated in political rallies since the beginning of 2016. Of those, 19 percent said they had never before joined a march or a political gathering.”

This is a time to be protecting constitutional rights, not curtailing them. People understand the government is not listening to them or meeting their needs and are protesting in order to be heard as they face economic insecurity – high debt and low pay.

Efforts to curtail protest are a sign that the movement is having an impact. We are building our power and are getting more organized. We have the power to stop these unconstitutional restrictions on our right to protest.

We urge you to join us in taking action today. Submit a comment explaining why the right to protest matters to you. It can be brief or long or somewhere in between.

Together we can keep building a movement for transformational change. Economic, racial and environmental justice as well as an end to war can be achieved. We are closer than we realize, efforts to stop us are a sign that the power structure is afraid of the people organizing to demand change.

A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash

When the global financial crisis resurfaces, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

*****

A full decade since the great crash of 2008, many progressive thinkers have recently reflected on the consequences of that fateful day when the investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, foreshadowing the worst international financial crisis of the post-war period. What seems obvious to everyone is that lessons have not been learnt, the financial sector is now larger and more dominant than ever, and an even greater crisis is set to happen anytime soon. But the real question is when it strikes, what are the chances of achieving a bailout for ordinary people and the planet this time?

In the aftermath of the last global financial meltdown, there was a constant stream of analysis about its proximate causes. This centred on the bursting of the US housing bubble, fuelled in large part by reckless sub-prime lending and an under-regulated shadow banking system. Media commentaries fixated on the implosion of collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps and other financial innovations—all evidence of the speculative greed and lax government oversight which led to the housing and credit booms.

The term ‘financialisation’ has become a buzzword to explain the factors which precipitated these events, referring to the vastly expanded role of financial markets in the operation of domestic and global economies. It is not only about the growth of big banks and hedge funds, but the radical transformation of our entire society that has taken place as a result of the increasing dominance of the financial sector with its short-termist, profitmaking logic.

The origins of the problem are rooted in the early 1970s, when the US government decided to end the fixed convertibility of dollars into gold, formally ending the Bretton Woods monetary system. It marked the beginning of a new regime of floating exchange rates, free trade in goods and the free movement of capital across borders. The sweeping reforms brought in under the Thatcher and Reagan governments accelerated a wave of deregulation and privatisation, with minimum protective barriers against the ‘self-regulating market’.

The agenda was pushed aggressively by most national governments in the Global North, while being imposed on many Southern countries through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s infamous ‘structural adjustment programmes’. A legion of books have examined the disastrous consequences of this market-led approach to monetary and fiscal policy, derisorily labelled the neoliberal Washington Consensus. As governments increasingly focused on maintaining low inflation and removing regulations on capital and corporations, the world of finance boomed—and the foundations were laid for a dramatic dénouement in 2008.

Missed opportunities

What’s extraordinary to recall about the immediate aftermath of the great crash is the temporary reversal of those policies that had dominated the previous two decades. At the G20 summit in April 2009 hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, heads of state envisaged a return to Keynesian macroeconomic prescriptions, including a large-scale fiscal stimulus in both developed and developing countries. It appeared that the Washington Consensus had suddenly lost all legitimacy. The liberalised global financial system had clearly failed to provide for a net transfer of resources to the developing world, or prevent instability and recurrent crisis without effective state regulation and democratic public oversight.

Many civil society organisations saw the moment to call for fundamental reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as a complete rethink of the role of the state in the economy. There was even talk of negotiating a new Bretton Woods agreement that re-regulates international capital flows, and supports policy diversity and multilateralism as a core principle (in direct contrast to the IMF’s discredited approach).

The United Nations played a staunch role in upholding such demands, particularly through a commission set up by the then-President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the ‘UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development’ proposed a number of sensible measures to protect the least privileged citizens from the effects of the crisis, while giving developing countries greater influence in reforming the global economy.

Around the same time, the UN Secretary-General endorsed a Global Green New Deal that could stimulate an economic recovery, combat poverty and avert dangerous climate change simultaneously. It envisioned a massive programme of direct public investments and other internationally-coordinated interventions, arguing that the time had come to transform the global economy for the greater benefit of people everywhere, including the millions living in poverty in developing and emerging industrial economies.

This wasn’t the first time that nations were called upon to enact a full-scale reordering of global priorities in response to financial turmoil. At the onset of the ‘third world’ debt crisis in 1980, an Independent Commission on International Development Issues convened by the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, also proposed far-reaching emergency measures to reform the global economic system and effectively bail out the world’s poor.

Yet the Brandt Commission proposals were widely ignored by Western governments at the time, which marked the rise of the neoliberal counterrevolution in macroeconomic policy—and all the conditions that led to financial breakdown three decades later. Then once again, governments responded in precisely the opposite direction for bringing about a sustainable economic recovery based on principles of equity, justice, sharing and human rights.

A world falling apart

We are all familiar with the course of action taken from 2008-9: colossal bank bailouts enacted (without public consultation) that favoured creditors, not debtors, despite using taxpayer money. Quantitative easing (QE) programmes that have pumped trillions of dollars into the global financial system, unleashing a fresh wave of speculative investment and further widening income and wealth gaps. And the perceived blame for the crisis deflected towards excessive public spending, leading to fiscal austerity measures being rolled out across most countries—a ‘decade of adjustment’ that is projected to affect nearly 80 percent of the global population by 2020.

To be sure, the ensuing policy responses across Europe were often compared to structural adjustment programmes imposed on developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s, when repayments to creditors of commercial banks similarly took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. The same pattern has repeated in every crisis-hit region, where the poorest in society pay the price through extreme austerity and the privatisation of public assets and services, despite being the least to blame for causing the crisis in the first place.

After ten years of these policies a new billionaire is created every second day, banks are still paying out billions of dollars in bonuses each year, and the top 1% of the world population are far wealthier than before the crisis happened. At the same time, global income inequality has returned to 1820 levels, and indicators suggest progress is now reversing on the prevention of extreme poverty and multiple forms of malnutrition.

Indeed the United Nations continues to face the worst humanitarian situation since the second world war, in large part due to conflict-driven crises that are rooted in the economic fallout of the 2008 crash—most dramatically in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Countries of both the Global North and South remain in the grip of a record upsurge of forced human displacement, to which governments are predictably failing to respond to in the direction of cooperative burden sharing through agreements and institutions at the international level.

Not to mention the rise of fascism and divisive populism that is escalating in almost every society, often as a misguided response to pervasive inequality and a widespread sense of unfairness among ordinary workers. It is surely reasonable to suggest that all these trends would not be deteriorating if the community of nations had seized the opportunity a decade ago, and acted in accordance with calls for a just transition to a more equitable world order.

The worst is yet to come

We now live in a strange era of political limbo. Neoclassical economics may have failed to predict the great crash or provide answers for a sustained recovery, yet it still retains its hold on conventional academic thought. Neoliberalism may also be discredited as the dominant political and economic paradigm, yet mainstream institutions like the IMF and OECD still embrace the fundamentals of free market orthodoxy and countenance no meaningful alternative. Consequently, the new regulatory initiatives agreed at the global level are largely voluntary and inadequate, and governments have done little to counter the power of oligopolistic banks or prevent reckless speculative behaviour.

Banks may be relatively safer and possess a bigger crisis toolkit, but the risk has moved to the largely unregulated shadow banking system which has massively increased in size, growing from $28 trillion in 2010 to $45 trillion in 2018. Even major banks like JP Morgan are forewarning an imminent crisis, which may be caused by a digital ‘flash crash’ in which high frequency investments (measuring trades in millionths of a second) lead to a sudden downfall of global stock markets.

Another probable cause is the precipitous rise in global debt, which has soared from $142 to $250 trillion since 2008, three times the combined income of every nation. Global markets are running on easy money and credit, leading to a debt build-up which economists from across the political spectrum agree cannot last indefinitely without catastrophic results. The problem is most acute in emerging and developing economies, where short-term capital flowed in response to low interest rates and QE policies in the West. As the US and other rich countries begin to steadily raise interest rates again, there is a risk of a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets that could trigger a renewed debt crisis in the world’s poorest countries.

Of most concern is China, however, whose credit-fuelled expansion in the post-crash years has led to massive over-investment and national debt. With an overheating real-estate sector, volatile stock market and uncontrolled shadow banking system, it is a prime candidate to be the site for the next financial implosion.

However it originates, all the evidence suggests that an economic collapse could be far worse this time around. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ problem remains critical, with the biggest US banks owning more deposits, assets and cash than ever before. And with interest rates at historic lows for many G-10 central banks while the QE taps are still turned on, both developed and developing countries have less policy and fiscal space to respond to another shock.

Above all, China and the US are not in a position to take the same decisive central bank action that helped avert a world depression in 2008. And then there are all the contemporary political factors that mitigate against a coordinated international response—the retreat from multilateralism, the disintegration of established geopolitical structures and relationships, the fragmentation and polarisation of political systems throughout the world.

After two years of a US presidency that recklessly scraps global agreements and instigates trade wars, it is hard to imagine a repeat of the G20 gathering in 2009 when assembled leaders pledged never to go down the road of protectionist tariff policies again, fearing a return to the dire economic conditions that led to a world war in the 1930s. The domestic policies of the Trump administration are also especially perturbing, considering its current push for greater deregulation of the financial sector—rolling back the Dodd-Frank and consumer protection acts, increasing the speed of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and more.

Mobilising from below

None of this is a reason to despair or lose hope. The great crash has opened up a new awareness and energy for a better society that brings finance under popular control, as a servant to the public and no longer its master. Many different movements and campaigns have sprung up in the post-crash years that focus on addressing the problems wrought by financialisation, which more and more people realise is the underlying source of most of the world’s interlinking crises. All of these developments are hugely important, although the true test of this rising political consciousness will come when the next crash happens.

After the worldwide bank bailouts of 2008-9—estimated in excess of $29 trillion by the US Federal Reserve alone—it is no longer possible to argue that governments cannot afford to provide for the basic necessities of everyone. Just a fraction of that sum would be enough to end income poverty for the 10% of the global population who live on less than $1.90 a day. Not to mention the trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen that have been directly pumped into financial markets by central banks of the major developed economies, constituting a regressive form of distribution in favour of the already wealthy that could have been converted into some form of ‘quantitative easing for the people’.

A reversal of government priorities on this scale is clearly not going to be led by the political class. They have already missed the opportunity, and are largely beholden to vested interests that are unduly concerned with short-term profit maximisation, not the rebuilding of the public realm or the universal provision of essential goods and services. The great crash and its aftermath was a global phenomenon that called for a cooperative global response, yet the necessary vision from within the ranks of our governments was woefully lacking. If the financial crisis resurfaces in a different and severer manifestation, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

Much inspiration can be drawn from the popular uprisings throughout 2011 and 2012, although the Arab Spring and Occupy movements were unable to sustain the momentum for change without a clear agenda that is truly international in scope, and attentive to the needs of the world’s majority poor. That is why we should coalesce our voices around Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of everyone to the minimal requirements for a dignified life—adequate food, housing, medical care, access to social services and financial security.

Through ceaseless demonstrations in all countries that continue day and night, a united call for implementing Article 25 worldwide may finally impel governments to cooperate at the highest level, and rewrite the rules of the international economic system on the basis of shared mutual interests. In the wake of a breakdown of the entire international financial and economic order, such a grassroots mobilisation of numberless people may be the last chance we have of resurrecting long-forgotten proposals in the UN archives, as notably embodied in the aforementioned Brandt Report or Stiglitz Commission.

The case of Iceland is widely remembered as an example of how a people’s bailout can be achieved, following the ‘Pots and Pans Revolution’ that swept the country in 2009—the largest protests in the country’s history to date. As a result of the public’s demands, a new coalition government was able to buck all trends by avoiding austerity measures, actively intervening in capital markets and strengthening social programs for the less privileged. The results were remarkable for Iceland’s economic recovery, which was achieved without forcing society as a whole to pay for the blunders of corrupt banks. But it still wasn’t enough to prevent the old establishment political parties from eventually returning to power, and resuming their support for the same neoliberal policies that generated the crisis.

So what must happen if another systemic banking collapse occurs of even greater magnitude, not only in Iceland but in every country of the world? That is the moment when we’ll need a global Pots and Pans Revolution that is replicated by citizens of all nationalities and political persuasions, on and on until the entire planet is engulfed in a wave of peaceful demonstrations with a common cause. It will require a huge resurgence of the goodwill and staying power that once animated Occupy encampments, although this time focused on a more inclusive and universal demand for implementing Article 25 and sharing the world’s resources.

It may seem far-fetched to presume such an unprecedented awakening of a disillusioned populace, as if we can expect a visionary leader of Christ-like stature to point out the path towards resurrecting the UN’s founding ideals of “better standards of life for everyone in the world”. Unfortunately, nothing less may suffice in this age of economic chaos and confusion, so let us all be prepared for the climactic events about to take place.

Tenth Anniversary Of Financial Collapse, Preparing For The Next Crash

Jail Bankers Not Protesters, Occupy Wall Street, 2011 (Photo by Stan Honda for AFP-Getty Images)

Ten years ago, there was panic in Washington, DC, New York City and financial centers around the world as the United States was in the midst of an economic collapse. The crash became the focus of the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain and was followed by protests that created a popular movement, which continues to this day.

Banks: Bailed Out; The People: Sold Out

On the campaign trail, in March 2008, Obama blamed mismanagement of the economy on both Democrats and Republicans for rewarding financial manipulation rather than economic productivity. He called for funds to protect homeowners from foreclosure and to stabilize local governments and urged a 21st Century regulation of the financial system. John McCain opposed federal intervention, saying the country should not bail out banks or homeowners who knowingly took financial risks.

By September 2008, McCain and Obama met with President George W. Bush and together they called for a $700 billion bailout of the banks, not the people. Obama and McCain issued a joint statement that called the bank bailout plan “flawed,” but said, “the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.” Obama expressed “outrage” at the “crisis,” which was “a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years.”

By October 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), or bank bailout, had recapitalized the banks, the Treasury had stabilized money market mutual funds and the FDIC had guaranteed the bank debts. The Federal Reserve began flowing money to banks, which would ultimately total almost twice the $16 trillion claimed in a federal audit. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that the Federal Reserve gave over $29 trillion to the banks.

This did not stop the loss of nine million jobs, more than four million foreclosures and the deep reduction in wealth among the poor, working and middle classes. A complete banking collapse was averted, but a deep recession for most people was not.

The New Yorker described the 2008 crash as years in the making, writing:

…the crisis took years to emerge. It was caused by reckless lending practices, Wall Street greed, outright fraud, lax government oversight in the George W. Bush years, and deregulation of the financial sector in the Bill Clinton years. The deepest source, going back decades, was rising inequality. In good times and bad, no matter which party held power, the squeezed middle class sank ever further into debt.

Before his inauguration, Obama proposed an economic stimulus plan, but, as Paul Krugman wrote:

Obama’s prescription doesn’t live up to his diagnosis. The economic plan he’s offering isn’t as strong as his language about the economic threat.

In the end, the stimulus was even smaller than what Obama proposed. Economist Dean Baker explained that it may have created 2 million jobs, but we needed 12 million. It was $300 billion in 2009, about the same in 2010, and the remaining $100 billion followed over several years — too small to offset the $1.4 trillion in annual lost spending.

New York Magazine reports the stimulus was “a spending stimulus bigger, by some measures than the entire New Deal.” But unlike the New Deal, which benefited people at the bottom and built a foundation for a long-term economy, the bi-partisan post-2008 stimulus bailed out Wall Street and left Main Street behind.

Wall Street executives were not prosecuted even though the financial crisis was in large part caused by their fraud. Bankers were given fines costing dimes on the dollar without being required to admit guilt or having their cases referred for prosecution. The fines were paid by shareholders, not the perpetrators.

Protest near Union Square in New York, April, 2010. Popular Resistance.

Still at Risk

Many of the root causes of the crisis remain today, making another economic downturn or collapse possible. The New Yorker reports that little has changed since 2008, with Wall Street banks returning to risky behavior and the inadequate regulation of Dodd-Frank being weakened. Big finance is more concentrated and dominant than it was before the crash. Inequality and debt have expanded, and despite the capital class getting wealthier in a record stock market with corporate profits soaring, real wages are stuck at pre-crisis levels.

People are economically insecure in the US and live with growing despair, as measured by reports on well-being. The Federal Reserve reported in 2017 that “two in five Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense.” Further, “more than one in five said they weren’t able to pay the current month’s bills in full, and more than one in four said they skipped necessary medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it.”

Positive Money writes:

Ten years on, big banks are still behaving in reckless, unfair and neglectful ways. The structural problems with our money and banking system still haven’t been fixed. And many experts fear that if we don’t change things soon, we’re going to sleepwalk into another crash.

William Cohen, a former mergers and acquisitions banker on Wall Street, writes that the fundamentals of US economy are still flawed. The Economist describes the current situation: “The patient is in remission, not cured.”

From Occupy Washington DC at Freedom Plaza

The Response Of the Popular Movement

Larry Eliott wrote in the Guardian: “Capitalism’s near-death experience with the banking crisis was a golden opportunity for progressives.” But the movement in the United States was not yet in a position to take advantage of it.

There were immediate protests. Democratic Party-aligned groups such as USAction, True Majority and others organized nationwide actions. Over 1,000 people demonstrated on Wall Street and phones in Congress were ringing wildly. While there was opposition to the bailout, there was a lack of national consensus over what to do.

Protests continued to grow. In late 2009, a “Move Your Money” campaign was started that urged people to take their money out of the big banks and put it in community banks and credit unions. The most visible anti-establishment rage in response to the bailout arose later in the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both groups shared a consensus that we live in a rigged economy created by a corrupt political establishment. It was evident that the US is an oligarchy, which serves the interests of the wealthy while ignoring the necessities of the people.

The anti-establishment consensus continues to grow and showed itself in the 2016 presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They were two sides of the same coin of populist anger that defeated Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Across the political spectrum, there is a political crisis with both mainstream, Wall Street-funded political parties being unpopular but staying in power due to a calcified political system that protects the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans.

Occupy Wall Street 2011

Preparing for the Next Collapse

When the next financial crisis arrives, the movement is in a much stronger position to take advantage of the opportunity for significant changes that benefit people over Wall Street. The Occupy movement and other efforts since then have changed the national dialogue so that more people are aware of wealth inequality, the corruption of big banks and the failure of the political elites to represent the people’s interests.

There is also greater awareness of alternatives to the current economy. The Public Banking movement has grown significantly since 2008. Banks that need to be bailed out could be transformed into public banks that serve the people and are democratically controlled. And there are multiple platforms, including our People’s Agenda, that outline alternative solutions.

We also know the government can afford almost $30 trillion to bail out the banks. One sixth of this could provide a $12,000 annual basic income, which would cost $3.8 trillion annually, doubling Social Security payments to $22,000 annually, which would cost $662 billion, a $10,000 bonus for all US public school teachers, which would cost $11 billion, free college for all high school graduates, which would cost $318 billion, and universal preschool, which would cost $38 billion. National improved Medicare for all would actually save the nation trillions of dollars over a decade. We can afford to provide for the necessities of the people.

We can look to Iceland for an example of how to handle the next crisis. In 2008, they jailed the bankers, let the banks fail without taking on their debt and put controls in place to protect the economy. They recovered more quickly than other countries and with less pain.

How did they do it? In part, through protest. They held sustained and noisy protests, banging pots and pans outside their parliament building for five months. The number of people participating in the protests grew over time. They created democratized platforms for gathering public input and sharing information widely. And they created new political parties, the Pirate Party and the Best Party, which offered agendas informed by that popular input.

So, when the next crash comes. Let’s put forward a People’s Agenda. Let’s be like Iceland and mobilize for policies that put people first. Collectively, we have the power to overcome the political elites and their donor class.

Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification

My previous post was about the firing of a cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung after its editor became concerned – though, it seems, far from sure – that a cartoon he had published of Benjamin Netanyahu might be anti-semitic. Here is the image again.

As I argued then, the meaning seems pretty clear and uncoloured by any traditional notion of anti-semitism. It shows the danger that Israel, a highly militarised state, will use its win at the Eurovision song contest, and its hosting of next year’s competition in occupied Jerusalem, to whitewash the sort of war crimes it just committed in Gaza, where it has massacred large numbers of unarmed Palestinians.

In fact, the cartoonist is far from alone in highlighting such concerns. The New York Times has reported delight among Israelis at the prospect of what they regard as a “diplomatic victory” as much as musical one. And, according to the Haaretz newspaper, the Eurovision contest organisers have already expressed concern to Israeli broadcasters about likely attempts by Israel to “politicise” the competition.

Among those responding on Twitter to my post was Naomi Wolf, a US Jewish intellectual and feminist scholar whose body of work I admire. She disagreed with my blog post, arguing that the cartoon was, in her words, “kind of anti-semitic”.

In our subsequent exchange she also noted that she was uncomfortable with the fact that the cartoonist was German. (For those interested, the complete exchange can be found here.)

In the end, and admittedly under some pressure from me for clarification, she offered an illustration of why she thought the cartoon was “kind of anti-semitic”. She sent a link to the image below, stating that she thought Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu had echoes of this Nazi image of “the Jew” alongside an Aryan German woman.

Frankly, I was astounded by the comparison.

Nazi propaganda

Cartoons in Nazi propaganda sheets like Der Sturmer were anti-semitic because they emphasised specific themes to “otherise” Jews, presenting them as a collective menace to Germany or the world. Those themes included the threat of plague and disease, with Jews often represented as rats; or secret Jewish control over key institutions, illustrated, for example, by the tentacles of an octopus spanning the globe; or the disloyalty of Jews, selling out their country, as they hungered for money.

As Wolf notes, anti-semitic cartoonists would give the portrayed “Jew” grotesque or sinister facial features to alienate readers from him and convey the threat he posed. These features famously included a large or hooked nose, voracious lips, and a bulbous or disfigured head.

So how did the cartoon of Netanyahu qualify on any of these grounds? There is no implication that Netanyahu represents “Jews”, or even Israelis. He is illustrated straightforwardly as the leader of a country, Israel. There is no sense of disease, world control or money associated with Netanyahu’s depiction. Just his well-known hawkishness and Israel’s well-documented status as a highly militarised state.

And there is nothing “grotesque” or “other” about Netanyahu. This is a typical caricature, certainly by European standards, of a world leader. It’s no more offensive than common depictions of Barack Obama, George Bush, Tony Blair, or Donald Trump.

So how exactly is this Netanyahu cartoon “kind of anti-semitic”?

Limiting political debate

What follows is not meant as an attack on Wolf. In fact, I greatly appreciate the fact that she was prepared to engage sincerely and openly with me on Twitter. And I acknowledge her point that judgments about what is anti-semitic are subjective.

But at the same time ideas about anti-semitism have become far vaguer, more all-encompassing, than ever before. In fact, I would go so far as to say the idea of anti-semitism has been metamorphosing before our eyes in ways extremely damaging to the health of our political conversations. It is the current mystification of anti-semitism – or what we might term its transformation into a “kind of antisemitism” – that has allowed it to be weaponised, limiting all sorts of vital debates we need to be having.

It is precisely the promotion of a “kind of anti-semitism”, as opposed to real anti-semitism, that has just forced Ken Livingstone to resign from the Labour party; that empowered Labour’s Blairite bureaucracy to publicly lynch a well-known black anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth; that persuaded a dissident comedian and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Frankie Boyle, to use his TV show to prioritise an attack on a supposedly “anti-semitic” Labour party over support for Gaza; that is being used to vilify grassroots movements campaigning against “global elites” and the “1 per cent”; and that may yet finish off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, currently the only credible political force for progressive change in the UK.

None of this is, of course, to suggest that Wolf would herself want any of these outcomes or that she is trying to misuse anti-semitism. I fully acccept that she has been a strong Jewish critic of Israel and doubtless paid a price for it with friends and colleagues.

But unlike Wolf, those who do consciously and cynically weaponise anti-semitism gain their power from our inability to stand back and think critically about what they are doing, and why it matters. There is an intellectual and cultural blind spot that has been created and is being readily exploited by those who want to prevent discussions not only about Israel’s actions but about the wider political culture we desperately need to change.

Israel and Jews

In fact, the mystification of anti-semitism is not new, though it is rapidly intensifying. It began the moment Israel was created. That was why a Nazi cartoon – drawn before Israel’s establishment in 1948 – could never have been described as “kind of anti-semitic”. It simply was anti-semitic. It attributed menacing or subversive qualities to Jews because they were Jews.

To understand how the current mystification works we need briefly to consider Israel’s character as a state – something very few people are prepared to do in the “mainstream”, because it is likely to result in allegations of … anti-semitism! As I observed in my previous post, this has provided the perfect get-out-jail-free card for Israel and its supporters.

Israel was created as the national homeland of all Jewish people – not of those who became citizens (which included a significant number of Palestinians), or even of those Jews who ended up living there. Israel declared that it represented all Jewish people around the world, including Wolf.

This idea is central to Zionism, and is embodied in its Declaration of Independence; its constitutional-like Basic Laws; its immigration legislation, the Law of Return; its land laws; and the integration into Israel’s state structures of extra-territorial Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency.

A dangerous confusion

It is also why the rationale for Israel is premised on anti-semitism: Israel was created as a sanctuary for all Jews because, according to Zionists, Jews can never be truly safe anywhere outside Israel. Without anti-semitism, Israel would be superfluous. It is also why Israel has a reason to inflate the threat of anti-semitism – or, if we are cynical about the lengths states will go to promote their interests, to help generate anti-semitism to justify the existence of a Jewish state and encourage Jews to immigrate.

So from the moment of its birth, the ideas of “Israel” and “anti-semitism” became disturbingly enmeshed – and in ways almost impossible to disentangle.

For most of Israel’s history, that fact could be obscured in the west because western governments and media were little more than cheerleaders for Israel. Criticism of Israel was rarely allowed into the mainstream, and when it did appear it was invariably limited to condemnations of the occupation. Even then, there was rarely any implication of systematic wrongdoing on Israel’s part.

That changed only when the exclusive grip of the western corporate media over information dissemination weakened, first with the emergence of the internet and satellite channels like Al Jazeera, and more recently and decisively with social media. Criticism of Israel’s occupation has increasingly broadened into suspicions about its enduring bad faith. Among more knowledgeable sections of the progressive left, there is a mounting sense that Israel’s unwillingness to end the occupation is rooted in its character as a Jewish state, and maybe its intimate ideological relationship with anti-semitism.

These are vital conversations to be having about Israel, and they are all the more pressing now that Israel has shown that it is fully prepared to gun down in public unarmed Palestinians engaging in civil disobedience. Many, many more Palestinians are going to have their lives taken from them unless we aggressively pursue and resolve these conversations in ways that Israel is determined to prevent.

And this is why the “kind of anti-semitic” confusion – a confusion that Israel precisely needs and encourages – is so dangerous. Because it justifies – without evidence – shutting down those conversations before they can achieve anything.

The Livingstone problem

In 2016 Ken Livingstone tried to initiate a conversation about Zionism and its symbiotic relationship with anti-semites, in this case with the early Nazi leadership. We can’t understand what Israel is, why the vast majority of Jews once abhorred Zionism, why Israel is so beloved of modern anti-semites like the alt-right and hardcore Christian evangelicals, why Israel cannot concede a Palestinian state, and why it won’t abandon the occupation without overwhelming penalties from the international community, unless we finish the conversation Livingstone started.

Which is why that conversation was shut down instantly with the accusation that it was “anti-semitic”. But Livingstone’s crime is one no mainstream commentator wants to address or explain. If pressed to do so, they will tell you it is because his comments were perceived to be “offensive” or “hurtful”, or because they were “unnecessary” and “foolish”, or because they brought the Labour party “into disrepute” (Labour’s version of “kind of anti-semitic”). No one will tell you what was substantively anti-semitic about his remark.

Similarly, when pressed to explain how Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu was anti-semitic, Wolf digressed to the entirely irrelevant issue of his nationality.

This is the power and the danger of this “kind of anti-semitic” logic, and why it needs to be confronted and exposed for the hollow shell it is.

A mural becomes anti-semitic

The next stage in the evolution of the “kind of anti-semitic” argument is already discernible, as I have warned before. It is so powerful that it has forced Corbyn to concede, against all evidence, that Labour has an anti-semitism problem and to castigate himself, again against all evidence, for indulging in anti-semitic thinking.

Corbyn has been on the defensive since a “controversy” erupted in March over his expression of support back in 2012 for street art and opposition to censorship amid a row over a London mural that was about to be painted over.

After he was elected Labour leader in 2015, the first efforts were made to weaponise the mural issue to damage him. The deeply anti-Corbyn Jewish Chronicle newspaper was – like Hanitzsch’s boss at the Süddeutsche Zeitung – initially unsure whether the mural was actually anti-semitic. Then the newspaper simply highlighted concerns that it might have “anti-semitic undertones”. By spring 2018, when the row resurfaced, the status of the mural had been transformed. Every mainstream British commentator was convinced it was “clearly” and “obviously” anti-semitic – and by implication, Corbyn had been unmasked as an anti-semite for supporting it.

Again, no one wanted to debate how it was anti-semitic. The artist has said it was an image of historical bankers, most of whom were not Jewish, closely associated with the capitalist class’s war on the rest of us. There is nothing in the mural to suggest he is lying about his intention or the mural’s meaning. And yet everyone in the “mainstream” is now confident that the mural is anti-semitic, even though none of them wants to specify what exactly is anti-semitic about it.

The 1 per cent off-limits

Much else is rapidly becoming “anti-semitic”. It is an indication of how quickly this slippage is occuring that repeating now a slogan of the Occupy Movement from only seven years ago – that we are ruled by a “global elite” and the “1 per cent” – is cited as proof of anti-semitism. The liberal New Statesman recently ran an article dedicated to proving that the articulation of basic socialist principles – including ideas of class war and the 1 per cent – was evidence of anti-semitism.

On Frankie Boyle’s popular TV show last week, comedian David Baddiel was allowed to misrepresent – unchallenged – an opinion poll that found 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters agreed with the statement “the world is controlled by a secretive elite”. Baddiel asserted, without any evidence, that when they spoke of a global elite the respondents were referring to Jews. What was this assumption based on? A hunch? A sense that such a statement must be “kind of anti-semitic”?

Lots of young people who support Corbyn have never heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and have little idea about Der Sturmer or Nazi propaganda. More likely when they think of a secretive global elite, they imagine not a cabal of Jews but faceless global corporations they feel powerless to influence and a military industrial complex raking in endless profits by engineering endless wars.

The mystification of anti-semitism is so dangerous because it can be exploited for any end those who dominate the public square care to put it to – whether it be sacking a cartoonist, justifying Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians, destroying a progressive party leader, or preventing any criticism of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism destroying our planet.

Bitcoin, Innovation of Money and Reinventing Activism

Bitcoin’s price explosion made news headlines this last year. Topics of digital assets entered onto dinner tables and friendly chats at work places. Fever of the digital gold rush that has swept mainstream finance became contagious. Institutional funds are now entering into cryptos, seemingly hedging their bets with their “sugar high” bubble economy. Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan CEO who previously slammed Bitcoin as a fraud is said to be regretting his claim. He now praises the blockchain, the underlying technology of Bitcoin. Goldman Sachs recently acknowledged Bitcoin as money, comparable to gold. The firm is already setting up a trading desk for digital currencies.

While Bitcoin is gaining traction in financial circles, Naval Ravikant, the CEO and co-founder of Angel List saw this technology’s profound socio-political impact. He noted, “Bitcoin is a tool for freeing humanity from oligarchs and tyrants, dressed up as a get-rich-quick scheme.” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also recognized the revolutionary power of this money based on math. At the end of 2017, from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been confined more than five years, Assange tweeted, “Bitcoin is a real Occupy Wall Street”.

What is this disruptive force of Bitcoin? The Occupy movement that had spread over dozens of US cities and across many countries created a wave of uprising. It inspired a new vision of politics outside of the electoral arena. Now, years after Occupy’s demise, this new innovation of decentralized digital currency could offer a way to reinvent activism, helping all around the world to organize and create radical social change.

The era of creditocracy

First, let’s look back at the rise of OccupyWallStreet protest. The movement kicked off in New York’s financial district in 2011, uniting people from all walks of life under the banner of the 99% against economic inequality and corporate greed. Occupy emerged within a cultural milieu of transparency, spearheaded by WikiLeaks’ disclosure of documents pertaining to government secrecy and corruption.

The insurgency in lower Manhattan marked a peak of disillusionment about the current state of democracy. People began to wake up to an invisible hand of the market – 1% global oligarchy, that was controlling resources through money based on debt. In the article “Student Debt Slavery: Bankrolling Financiers on the Backs of the Young”, attorney and author Ellen Brown described the advantage of “slavery by debt” over owned slavery, which was an idea argued in a document reportedly circulated during the American Civil War among British and American banking sectors. Brown showed that while slaves need to be housed and fed, “free men could be kept enslaved by debt, by paying wages insufficient to meet their costs of living”.

This debt-based financial system has become what professor and veteran of the Occupy movement Andrew Ross calls a “creditocracy”. In this, ordinary people with student loans, medical and credit card bills have become indentured servants. Ross explains how it is the Western version of a “debt trap”, where debts are piled up with monthly credit card balances or underwater mortgages that cannot be ever paid to ensure continuing revenue for the banks. He notes how this is similar to the developing countries that fell under IMF dependency in the course of the 1970s and 1980s.

In the era of creditocracy, ubiquitous anonymous corporations keep the force of control invisible, making people obey their rules. MasterCard tells their customers who the master is with exuberant charge-back fees and penalties. VISA maintains US hegemony of the world, denying access to finance for refugees and immigrants and assisting US government sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran that challenge dollar supremacy. This is a two-tiered financial patronage network that exempts fees and extends credit lines to the rich and privileged, while it exploits the poor by seizing their funds and engaging in predatory lending.

Creditocracy now expands around the globe and threatens civil liberties. Recently, PayPal came under scrutiny, with their failure to provide services in the West Bank and Gaza, while making its service available in Israel. This payment processing company was accused by pro-Palestinian activists as enacting “online apartheid” against Palestinians.

Vision of new democracy

It is people’s indignation against this systemic economic oppression that sparked revolt at the center of world finance seven years ago. Occupy was unprecedented in its scale and its unique style of no central coordination or formal leadership. It was a move away from electoral politics and top-down decision making to the principle of consensus and direct action, which activist scholar David Graeber described as “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free”.

During the early days of this movement, the mainstream media criticized demonstrators for not having a clear mandate. Yet this lack of demand was a strength and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of power structures that protesters were challenging. What unfolded then was a new form of activism that truly channels uncompromising power of ordinary people. It was an activism that doesn’t acknowledge external power or seek for permission. Instead it encourages people to change society by simply building new alternatives.

This was a seed for a real democracy that is horizontal and participatory. It was manifested through activists’ effort of creating people’s libraries, media hubs and kitchens and forming a new way of governance through mic check and General Assemblies. This vision of organizing society through mutual aid and voluntary association went viral, spreading with internet memes and Twitter hashtags, creating solidarity across borders.

Cypherpunks write code

Occupy’s permissionlessness, without a need to refer to central authority, is embodied at the core of Bitcoin. The idea of Bitcoin was introduced in a whitepaper published in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. It is clear that the anonymous creator of Bitcoin was concerned about deep corruption of government and their mishandling of monetary policies. This was shown in the message embedded in the genesis block of the block-chain. It contained a headline of a newspaper that read “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.

Richard Gendal Brown, chief technology officer at software firm R3, provides a summary of the invention of this open source software:

Bitcoin is the world’s first system of digital cash, which allows peer-to-peer value transfer over the internet with no reliance on third parties. It is built on a new invention, the decentralized global asset register. This global asset register is the world’s first decentralized consensus system.

What is behind the protocol of a truly peer-to-peer currency is a revolutionary mind that refuses to obey the command from above and declares independence from all that claim authority. This fierce autonomy is the moral value of cypherpunks, a group that emerged in the late 1980s, who saw a potential of cryptography as a tool to shift balance of power between the individual and the state.

Cryptographer and one of the notable cypherpunks Adam Back, who was cited in Bitcoin’s whitepaper for his invention of Hashcash described the ethos of cypherpunks as that of writing code. This is an idea of making changes by creating alternatives. Back noted how pressuring politicians and promoting issues through the press tends to be slow and create an uphill battle. He pointed out how instead of engaging in the political process through campaigns and appealing to authority for changes, people can simply “deploy technology and help people do what they consider to be their legal right”. Then society would later adjust itself to reflect these values.

Network of resistance

While the mainstream media is obsessed with Bitcoin’s price and investors speculating gains in their portfolios, this technology’s defining feature lies in censorship resistance. The integrity of Bitcoin relies on decentralization, which is a method to attain security by flattening the network and removing levers of control, rather than performing checks and balances of power that tends to concentrate through control points inherent within the system, seen in the existing model of governance. This unprecedented security creates a network of resistance resilient to any forces of control.

When governments that are meant to defend civil rights act against their own people, Bitcoin preserves the network value of public right to free association and speech and distributes this to all users. This right was claimed and exercised in real time. In facing the illegal financial blockades imposed by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, WikiLeaks showed ordinary people how they can circumvent and combat economic censorship with Bitcoin.

As the whistleblowing site continues to publish CIA Vault publications, political persecution intensifies. Now the Freedom of the Press Foundation, an organization that was founded to tackle attacks on free press, decided to terminate processing of donations for WikiLeaks. In response to this new political pressure, Assange urged supporters to continue making contributions with cryptocurrencies and unleash the power of free speech that belongs to all.

As trusted institutions and governments are failing, people around the world are finding their own path of self-determination. In Argentina, as the Peso has been steadily falling since the country’s 2002 economic collapse, Bitcoin adoption has been accelerating. Bitcoin historian and former tech banker who goes by Tweeter handle @_Kevin_Pham noted, “Bitcoin’s killer app can be found in Venezuela, it’s called: ‘not dying.’” As hyperinflation is rendering their national currency worthless, Venezuelans are flocking to Bitcoin as a safe haven to store their savings.

In Iran, the government came on full force, engaging in internet censorship and cracking down on protesters who revolted in response to the country’s long economic stagnation. It was reported that leading up to the civil unrest, the Bitcoin community has grown with more people entering into cryptocurrencies. In Afghanistan, a company that advocates Afghan women’s computer literacy empowered women with bitcoin, helping them gain financial sovereignty.

Permissionless activism

The Occupy movement ignited aspirations for the rule of the common people, verified and upheld by a network consensus created through people’s trust in one another. Yet the enthusiasm for real democracy that was mobilized through social media could not withstand state coordinated police crackdowns. With the eviction of encampments and squares, people’s power that had arisen then dissipated.

Now, with Bitcoin surging, a new stream of disruption is emerging. These old financial engineers aim to protect their dying fraudulent world of central banks by upending their speculative casino with this hyped crypto market. As incumbent banks geared with regulatory arms try to control the bubbling civic power, perhaps this technology calls people to rise once again to halt financial aristocracy by innovating the ‘activism without permission’ – this time with better security and robustness.

Knowledge of computer science empowered by the ethics of cypherpunks now provides a viable platform for people to occupy society with their heart’s imagining. Sovereign individuals can now defy the rule of creditors and create their own rules, ending financial apartheid and discrimination. They can coalesce to fund independent media they support with their money and defund wars that they oppose. Permissionless activism can bring a jubilee, making rapacious debt obsolete through each individual simply walking away from this erroneous system, uniting with those who share goals to create a new economy.

The imagination of this invention opened the potential for a radically different future. From Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery Alabama to occupiers’ adamant refusal to make demands, Bitcoin’s networked consensus creates an autonomous currency that allows all to move struggles of the past forward.

The rise of Bitcoin is poised to disrupt the world of creditocracy, as we know it. As the price rally continues, many now proclaim the rise and rise of Bitcoin! The question that remains is: Can our imagination rise with the revolutionary force this technology brings? Bitcoin already unleashed a potent power within. The future is now in our hands. It is up to each person to claim this power and show the world what democracy really looks like.

 

Preparing For The Coming Transformation

The year 2017 has been another active year for people fighting on a wide range of fronts. The Trump administration has brought many issues that have existed for years out into the open where they are more difficult to deny – racism, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy and the crises they create. More people are activated and greater connections between the fronts of struggle are creating a movement of movements. These are positive developments, bright spots in difficult times. They are the seeds of transformative change that we can nurture and grow if we act with intention.

The crises we face have been building for decades. They are reaching a point of extremism that will create an even greater response by people. What that response is, where it goes and what it accomplishes are up to all of us to determine.

The overreach by the plutocrats in power may bring a boomerang effect, energizing the population to take action and demand the changes we desire and need. We may reach a moment, a turning point, when the movements for economic, racial and environmental justice, as well as peace, can win significant changes, beyond the comfort zones of those in power. The boomerang will only occur if we educate and organize for it, and its size will also depend on us.

We have no illusions that this work will be easy. Those in power will do all that they can to derail, misdirect and suppress our efforts. Our tasks are to resist their tactics and maintain our focus on our end goals. This requires understanding how social movements succeed and being clear in our demands for transformative change.

We see several key areas where people are energized to work for changes that are opportunities to expand the current movement of movements into a powerful force that will overcome the stranglehold by the corporate duopoly parties. This is the first of two articles to help prepare us for the work ahead. In the second article, we will describe these key issues in greater depth and what we need to do to create the transformative moment we need.

The Long Development of this Transformative Era

The era of transformation has been developing over many decades. If we view it through presidential administrations, a frame of reference used commonly in the United States, we see that both major parties represent the interests of the wealthy and corporations, not the majority of the population, and that they effectively divide and weaken popular movements.

After Bill Clinton’s administration loosened regulations on finance, setting the stage for the 2008 crash, brought in trade agreements like NAFTA and weakened the social safety net, and George W. Bush’s administration expanded military aggression around the world and the domestic security state, as well as further enriching the wealthy, people were hungry for change. Barack Obama effectively built his ‘hope and change’ campaign around this desire, vaguely but eloquently promising what people wanted. His words allowed people to imagine that a transformation was coming.

Obama raised expectations, but he did not fulfill them. His cabinet was made up of Wall Streeters from Citigroup. He continued and expanded foreign wars, the wealth divide grew and tens of millions went without healthcare even after his private insurance-based Affordable Care Act became law. The frustration that had been building during the Clinton-Bush years burst onto the scene with Occupy, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, debt resistance, immigration reform, Idle No More and other fronts of struggle.

After Occupy, the media told us the people’s struggle went away, but, as we show in the daily movement news reporting on Popular Resistance, all of those struggles expanded. The corporate media’s failure to cover the national mass protest movement does not change reality — the resistance movements continue, are growing and are impacting popular opinion and policies.

Where We Are and What We Must Do

In 2013, we wrote a two part series describing the status of the movement and what the movement must do. In the December 2013 article, “Closer than We Think” we described the eight stages of social movements, an analysis by long-time civil rights and anti-nuclear activist, Bill Moyer. The movement had gone through the “Take-Off”, Stage Four of the social movement when encampments covered the country, seemingly overnight, and brought the issues of the wealth divide, racist policing, climate change, student debt and other issues to the forefront. The meme of the 99% against the 1% illustrated the conflict between people power and the power holders. We passed through Stage Five, “the Landing,” where the encampments disappeared and people asked, “What happened? Did we accomplish anything?”

Our second article in January 2014 focused on the tasks of the movement and explained that we were now in Stage Six, the final stage before victory. This is a long-term phase that could last years where the goal is to build broad national consensus of 70% to 90% support among the public for the goals of the movement and to mobilize people as effective change agents.

During this phase, the contradictions in the system become more obvious to people. For example, as the United States and world experience the harsh realities of climate change in massive storms, widespread fires, droughts and famine, the government’s response is inadequate. When Obama was president his administration was an anchor on the world, weakening international climate and trade agreements. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, used her influence to promote fracking. The Trump administration has gone further, denying climate change, erasing words and phrases that describe it from government reports, silencing scientists and undermining the inadequate steps made to confront climate change that were put in place in the Obama era.

The inadequate response to the climate crisis is one example of many multiple crisis situations that exist in which the government does not respond, responds inadequately or even takes actions that make these crises worse. In some cases, the power holders go too far, as we see in the recently passed tax bill, designed to protect the donor class, and in abusive police practices as the racism and violence of our society are exposed. The overreaction in the end helps build the national consensus we need to achieve our objectives.

The contradictions arise because there are obvious solutions to each crisis we face, but those in power refuse to put them in place. National consensus for these solutions grows during this phase, and the failures of the money-dominated political system become more obvious.

As a result, a transformative moment is building now. It can be seen in the 2016 presidential campaigns where people showed frustration with both corporate parties. Electoral challenges inside the parties showed populist anger based on hundreds of millions of people struggling every day to survive in an unfair economy. Donald Trump built his campaign around economic insecurity from the right and Senator Bernie Sanders did the same from the left. Now, Trump is betraying conservative populists with economic and healthcare policies that add to their insecurity and with the wealthiest cabinet in US history serving the interests of Wall Street, the self-interest of elected officials and adding to the distrust of the DC duopoly. The realization of Trump’s betrayal is only beginning to show itself in the lives of those who supported him.

The Democrats have been struggling to come to grips with how they lost to Donald Trump. A large part of the party is in denial, blaming their failures on the fiction of Russiagate — claiming the Russians were responsible for their loss rather than a widely-disliked candidate who represented Wall Street and war for her entire career. The Democrats continue their internal divide: the divide between Wall Street donors who want the party to serve their interests and voters who want the party to represent their interests. Invariably the Democrats will be unable to turn their backs on their donors and will nominate a fake change agent who will spout popular progressive rhetoric and dash those hopes when in office.

It is critical for us to step out of the limitations of two and four year election cycles and recognize that social transformation does not arise by electing the perceived least evil. Social transformation occurs through a people-powered movement of movements that arises over decades of struggle and shifts the political reality so that the power holders must respond.

Issues Driving the Backlash 

There will be a backlash. It will look to the Democrats like a backlash against Trump’s extremism, but it will be broader. It will be a backlash against the extremism of the corporate duopoly. Their bi-partisan policies always put the wealthy and big business interests first. The boomerang will be built on the conflict between the necessities of the people and the planet vs. the greed of the wealthy.

There are a number of fundamental issues that are priorities for large majorities of the population, around which people are mobilizing and where national consensus is developing. They have the potential to connect our movements into a powerful force.

One of our tasks is to develop clear demands so that we cannot be side-tracked by false or partial solutions. If these fundamental issues are addressed through bold and transformative solutions, they will shift the political culture and our political system in a significant way towards the people-powered future we need. They will create change at the root causes of the crises we face.

These transformative issues include economic inequality, lack of access to health care, ensuring Internet freedom and a people’s media, confronting climate change and environmental disasters, ending US Empire and militarism at home, and addressing domestic human rights abuses, whether it is exploitation of workers, mass incarceration, racism or disrespect for Indigenous sovereignty. Throughout all of these issues there is a thread of racial injustice so our struggles must not just solidify around class issues, but must also solidify around the necessity of ending systemic racism.

We will address these issues and next steps in greater depth in the first newsletter of the new year. We wish all of you a peaceful week and hope you are able to spend time with loved ones. We are committed to being with you through the struggle and to doing all we can to stop the machine and create a new world.

Media as Ideological Consumerism

Living on the canals and rivers of London for many years, I came within close quarters of some of that city’s most desperate inhabitants, namely those who live on narrowboats because living in London has, in recent years, become horrifically expensive and beyond the means of most, even when flat sharing. Yet, reading the media reports from the BBC, a media corporation which is obligatorily funded by British residents, it would be easy to think that there is no economic inequality in the country, that homelessness is not rising at record rates, and that all the British are just thrilled about the impending royal wedding next May.

The fact is that media often sells the public an image that functions in diametric opposition to their best interests. We have seen this in the analysis of U.S. elections and how conservatives consistently vote against their own interests when selecting the best candidate and we are seeing this in recent years with the media’s liberal use of “clickbait” as headlines mislead the reader as we are drawn in only to find a flimsily concocted story.

“Fake news,” ironically one of the President Trump’s favorite phrases, is precisely how he gained access to the White House.  Still, we are given so much fake news that we must struggle to find the least fake news to read during our morning coffee.  We are living in an era where even a morsel of truth is better than the vast numbers of publications where “news” has been replaced by ideological dogma, such as the new millennium’s penchant for prescriptive list of items that women must do or stop doing.

Media has radically shifted its mandate in recent years having come to take on the role of the advertiser, selling an ideal lifestyle and political ideology, instead of reporting on the mechanisms of power which are forcing ideology forward, revealing who is sponsoring these narratives, how these ideological mechanisms are being bought and sold, and why. I am most concerned that in an era where the average American university graduate is indebted for an average of 21 years to repay student loans while their salary is not commensurate to their investment and more and more people are surviving simply by accumulating debt on their credit cards.  The economic crisis has been largely cast as a government one, but the reality is that media has played a large role in towing a line of personal wealth, despite the fact that 68 percent of Americans have destroyed their credit before age 30 and credit repair will likely be their only way forward under a lifetime of growing economic despair.

How did the media come to dominate the role of ideological mouthpiece for consumerism instead of being a transparent vehicle which reports and queries such ideologies?  It would be useful here to examine the interconnectivity between these media messages where economic hardship is swapped out for images of glamour. Certainly, there is a well-known link between how advertising promotes a product through creating a desire for said product. But how might media function to promote ideology in much the same way that advert campaigns sell perfume or car tires?

In Ways of Seeing Berger discusses this link between image and how people perceive themselves:

Publicity is the culture of the consumer society. It propagates through images that society’s belief in itself. There are several reasons why these images use the language of oil painting.  Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property. As an art-form it derived from the principle that you are what you have. It is a mistake to think of publicity supplanting the visual art of post-Renaissance Europe; it is the last moribund form of that art.

Here Berger analyses the notion that somehow art is “pure” and devoid of any commercial value as he demonstrates how economic structures absorb messages from culture and the art world to sell these repackaged messages once again. Berger’s thesis?  That “without social envy, glamour cannot exist”:

Glamour is a new idea…when everybody’s place in society is more or less determined by birth, personal envy is a less familiar emotion.  And without social envy, glamour cannot exist. Envy becomes a common emotion in a society that has moved toward democracy and then stopped halfway, where status is theoretically open to everyone but enjoyed by few.

The oil painting and the publicity image are not so dissimilar:  reality is based on paintings, art reflects reality,  and then art becomes co-opted by media to give prestige to the product when sold. It is the value of the artwork as possession, as having x value, that elicits this cycle of art as ideology. The consumer will forever want this ideal because what she is buying is ephemeral.

The well-known television series, Mad Men, was in many ways a critique of how media has taken hold of our society, of culture, and of the individual from herself, such that the focus of the plot ultimately fell to the protagonist whose job it was to show us how shallow we all are in the face of consumerism.  As Don Draper states: “People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.”  Emotional lack and need feeds the machinery of consumerism as ideology and ideology as product.

John Berger’s task in Ways of Seeing and later the BBC series of the same name, demonstrates how markets create their own demand by utilizing emotion—be it glamour, pleasure, possession, prestige, future dreams—in order to ensure its hereafter? Or might things have changed since the 1970s?

Berger states in the narration of his BBC show: “The highest value of this civilization is the individual ego,” and he demonstrates his point through the images and messages of a British advertisement for Pimms. He leafs through the magazine and placed in juxtaposition to this advert is a story about refugees in East Pakistan with an accompanying text appealing to a political conscious and the next page, an ad for another alcoholic beverage Martini. There is, according to Berger, no coherence between these images and text: “Reality itself becomes unrecognisable.”  And this is salient point especially today. What do words mean when images of Pakistan, England, and elsewhere are juxtaposed to realities of “over there” where the fundamental message is that we deserve to drink Pimms and those people over there deserve what happens to them:  “What happens out there, happens to strangers whose fate is meant to be different from ours.”

Today, two generations after Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) was released on the BBC, we have an explosion of images coming to us through television, print media, and the Internet, all which function to imbue “truths” through their hyper-multiplicity and repetition.  There is no change in the way that we are sold “things” as objects or in the form of ideology.  Wealth abounds virtually such that the impoverished reader is allowed to identify with this mediatic fiction which manipulates economic inequality, where those on one side are deserving of wealth, those on the other side are deserving of death. It is the ultimate in naturalizing social, political, and ethnic hierarchy.

“Whatever happens in the dream is meant to happen to us,” says Berger.  Publicity implicates that there are simply those who are meant to be included, and necessarily those whom it excludes are negligible.  The fact that you matter also includes the unfortunate fact in our world today, many others simply do not. Ideology as media message attempts to render invisible this “sad fact” replacing political analysis within the surrogate model of a new, happier reality. Indeed, that dreams is meant to happen uniquely to you.

Desire, glamour, future dreams, social mobility—these are all part of how products are advertised and marketed.  The idea that “you are unique” hinges upon this social suspension of reality and the belief that the subject really does have a choice from a plurality of possibilities (ie. Pimms versus a humanitarian disaster) while paradoxically being unique in the world of choices.  The images might say multiplicity, but the message—as Don Draper knows all too well—is choice.  She is one person buying this product which means she is not only unique, but she holds the power.

What happens when you take advertising from the 1960’s and analyze it in the terms of the information highway of our contemporary world?  How has media changed and how might the consumer body (and consumerism) have changed in a world where we have billions of images and messages floating around cyberspace every second?

In Amusing Ourselves to Death Neil Postman compares the Middle Ages (belief in the authority of religion) with our contemporary world (belief in the authority of science (58). Along with science, technology, and orbiting narratives of progress (60), Postman argues, comes a new problem which he calls the “information glut” which leads to “information chaos.” According to Postman, none of our problems are due to insufficient information, but from a lack of the ability to analyze and prioritize it. We can’t answer the question of the purpose our information is supposed to serve. So managing information has become the key issue (J. Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society). Postman goes on to explain the cultural impact of printing, and aligns printing, telegraphy, photography, broadcasting and computers as the technological driving forces in changing cultures which together give us access to instant, indiscriminate information.

The result is that we accommodate ourselves to new technology in a world where technological progress has become the chief aim of life (70).  Postman applies this notion of technological progress to advertising contending that advertising is less about the product and more about the consumer. Market research, not product research, is key today. And the questions of marketing and advertising are no longer how to reach the consumer but rather what is wrong with the consumer? How can this product be seen to fix that other, fictional problem?  Postman views that the problem of media is not really about advertising itself but the holistic worldview of technopoly which brings together concepts of progress and consumption, and where tradition is the obstacle (ie. he describes Christmas a “culture rape”).

During London’s “Occupy LSX” in 2011, I was shooting a film at the protest locations and interviewing many people who came in daily to participate as well as those who were living in tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral.  The occupation site was disheveled, there was no main organizer or leader of this occupation as hierarchies were denounced in this movement, chaos ruled and handmade signs abounded.  I walked around the camp daily filming and talking with protestors. Many—most even—would cite quotations from the Internet hit film Zeitgeist when I would ask them what they hoped to accomplish.  Ostensibly from the Left, many of these individuals would talk about the “system,” “the Man,” and most would recite this line as if a memorized chorus: “One day, machines will do everything and we won’t have to work.” I would interject and say, “But most everyone I know loves to work.  Don’t we need work to fulfill ourselves? I do!”   Another said, “But that is how the system wants you to think? There is enough money out there that we don’t really need to work.  One day we can all be sitting at home all day playing video games.” I responded that this seemed like a very bleak future, and a boring one at that.  I asked them to tell me more about this “system” and none could elaborate it aside from clichés of our being brainwashed, our being forced into this “system,” our being unhappy in “this system.”

By the end of my weeks filming at St Pauls, it was unclear to me what this system was or if their system was any different in structure to ethos.  In having discussions like this over several months I came to experience that at the heart of Occupy LSX included zero organization, no plan for understanding its greater constituency, and this protest lacked any coherent message or guiding force.  If anything could have used Don Draper, it was Occupy LSX.  For every single protestor I noted bought their food from the most exploitative of UK food chains, Tesco Supermarket, where £1 of every £8 in the UK retail market goes.  Their actions were in complete contradiction to their words and sadly these protestors did not even realize it.

It was this moment that led me to understand how political activity can mirror the consummation of messages and how advertising has become an irrefutable tool for mass communications today—even if that message is anti-consumerist.  Postman’s technopoly demonstrates how all messages of protest failed (in London) because there was an appeal to rationality whilst the images of the protest were, if anything, anti-rational.  Like LSX needing to find its willing consumer to come into its makeshift tea tent to discuss a future revolution, all advertising projects require the investment in belief.  Postman moves Berger’s connection between rational thought and advertising into a completely new dimension where now the “truth” no longer matters:

By substituting images for claims, the pictorial commercial made emotional appeal, not tests of truth, the basis of consumer decisions. The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide that it is difficult to remember that there once existed a connection between them. Today, on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people. The truth or falsity of an advertiser’s claim is simply not an issue. A McDonald’s commercial, for example, is not a series of testable, logically ordered assertions. It is a drama-a mythology, if you will-of handsome people selling, buying and eating hamburgers, and being driven to near ecstasy by their good fortune. No claims are made, except those the viewer projects onto or infers from the drama. One can like or dislike a television commercial, of course. But one cannot refute it.

Indeed, we may go this far: The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products….And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. The television commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas.

So the “system” of the protestor living in a tent for half a year would seem to be the holistic social space wherein everyone—these protestors included—recreate their own communities, their own notions of change and even revolution.  Certainly, the “system” is not a unilateral mass of power being speculated onto the multitudes by some overlord. But it is a discourse for reading society and for understanding which individuals take part and which opt out.  When looking very closely at how these new products exist in all their forms—from green energy tools to donations to the Red Cross to helping victims of a natural disaster—we can notice a trend in how the “system” is very much reflective of our cultural and social values, constantly shifting and changing into something else. Thirty years ago North American women were sold on margarine, today they are told it is toxic to the body with informercials running 24/7 about how low density fat will kill you.  Now buying butter makes the subject feel as if life will never end for her.

So if we must speak about “the system”—or any system for that matter—it is the one in which we have made ourselves simultaneous subjects and objects of ideology whereby consuming helps us be better people.  Today the narrative that media tows is very much in line with turning the reader/spectator of news into the subject-object of a political ideology that seeks its own end by amassing believers. In not fulfilling the mandate to reveal the facts and expose “the truth about the facts” as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel maintain as the role of journalism, we are simply allowing media to become a pipeline for corporate and elite interests.

We can give way to these economic and political giants, or we can demand regulation of media that might allow it be more about investigation and presenting of the facts over political partisanship and ideological pantomime.  To pretend that we are absolutely powerless and surrender ourselves to “the system” does not seem to be a healthy or constructive approach to countering the force of fake news or ideological propagation within media.  It is up to us to hold our politicians and media accountable.

They say: There is No Alternative

We are living in times of increased global economic injustice, suspicion against the establishment and a political terrain that is being redrawn to such an extent that few analysts really understand what is happening. Rarely have we seen such political mobility and possibility for change. But the ruling political consensus in Europe and the western world seems unyielding: “There is no alternative”.

*****

The political and economic framework tells us that it is hard work, credits and consumption that the citizen must relate to. And when this machinery does not deliver, it is the citizen who takes responsibility. A time of considerable levels of unemployment and social exclusion is the most common medicine. The underlying message is that a continued development of democracy is not possible; which is why another society, characterized by participation, tolerance, security and quality of life cannot be realized either. Why do politicians’ ability to deliver stop at everyday politics, blocking strategies and just fishing for votes, and why is it no longer possible to discuss visions and a further development of our society? What is it that caused everything to be locked in a vice?

Sometime in the 80s, the free market had to be given even freer rein as it surely “knew what was best for everyone”. Politics was to be detached from the economy while banks were given wider freedom to act as creditors in order to be able to boost consumption and growth. Politicians and economists agreed: “There is no alternative”.

The increased lending led to debt crises in the 80s and 90s; the old, familiar story about money and credits lacking coverage until they are forced to be repaid, thus revealing the con. We know it in everyday vocabulary as a “real estate bubble”, “finance bubble” etc.

With globalization, capitalism grew out of its national costume. The boundless financial industry set the new world culture. Everything had to move faster, be easier, be temporary and follow the rapid twists and turns of the financial markets. “If there are no jobs in your area, uproot your family and move somewhere else.” The connection to political parties and unions dwindled; the old society was perceived as rigid, slow and unworkable.

In this new era of financing, people were urged to go beyond their own capacity to pay by consuming with their future income. Another way to circumvent the natural laws was the new consumerism. The simple principle that demand creates supply had expired. Instead, supply was first created, after which, with the help of marketing, demand as well as the necessary consumption culture was introduced, as illusory as tobacco advertising and bank credits. There are hundreds of bread brands in your supermarket, but not quite the one you want, right?

The new society characterized by individualization, efficiency, strategic thinking and less cohesion slowly emerged from the 90s and into the 21st century. The ideological breadth of politics in the 70s had shrunk to a red-green-blue alloy; a unanimous work- and consumption ideal; a culture originally created with a liberal intent now became a period of political narrow-mindedness.

Then came the 2008 financial crisis; the 150th since the late 19th century. The same repetitive process of interest rate cuts, increased lending and bursting bubbles. Millions of people were hit by unemployment, lost their homes and were forced to pay for the financial feast when countries had to skimp on health care in order to pay interest rates. Politicians and economists in the western world nevertheless agreed: “There is no alternative”.

The politicians’ democratic contracts with the citizens were no longer possible to maintain. The old principle of letting politics control the worst inventions of capitalism had, in a few decades, been transformed into allowing them instead to protect the financial world from too much democratic invention. Politicians’ solidarity with the finance industry became stronger than that with the citizens. A new caste of those in power emerged, a layer, a hybrid of politicians, economists and technocrats, an ever-deeper establishment.

Above this layer, a clique of powerful oligarchs, especially in the financial industry, has strengthened its position. They act beyond national borders and regardless of countries’ state budgets, unemployment, material and social misery; unquestioned and protected in the name of globalization.

Over the years and strangely enough to the astonishment of many, populism and the criticism of those in power has increased. The Occupy movement after 2010 should have been an alarm call. The prolonged breach of contract between the rulers and the masses has created a protectionist prairie fire all over the western world on the theme “We’ve had enough!”.

The threat of the European Central Bank and EU politicians in 2015 to close Greece’s banks and openly reject a democratic referendum was an assault; they might as well have rolled in with tanks, but that would have even more blatantly dented the illusion that the EU stands for peace. When democracy in Greece was put out of action, Europe’s deep establishment stood silently watching. They probably thought: “There is no alternative”.

Destructive extremism, antagonism and resignation over the way society evolves is not created by undemocratic forces or political loonies, it is created and maintained by all our common politicians, by EU technocrats, lobbyists and other influential people in our society. They argue that people’s dissatisfaction threatens “the democracy” but their democracy is merely a mantra, a washed-out club badge, pie-in-the-sky with populistic connotations to make people swallow a societal structure which passed its sell by date long ago. This cannot be diverted simply as a matter of correct or incorrect facts; it is a question of a proper social culture or not.

The options consist of a long-term shift in the view of democracy. Politicians must return to their employers, the voters, and guarantee the most basic economic conditions. Health care must be released from economic frenzy and all the ill-health and pessimism it creates. It is time to delouse society of wrong thinking, such as that there are insufficient financial resources while at the same time a small percentage of the population possesses enormous wealth. Also, politics must not be a choice between an economic autocracy or a state autocracy.

Politicians need your help; they need to hear the voice and clear message of the people. They must be directed to completely different politics and to a developed democracy that dares to remake and make right. They will not like it, they will bark, growl and threaten – but there is no alternative.