Category Archives: Occupy movement

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”.

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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.

Resist the Duopoly: Because Judas’s Party Can’t Defeat Trump’s

Author’s Note: This is the second and final part of my call-to-arms series “The REAL Trump Resistance: An Anti-Duopoly Occupy.” Given the importance I attach to its message, it’s written to be understood on its own. But for still deeper understanding—especially for supporters of third parties—please read Part 1.

REAL Anti-Trump Resistance: Grassroots War on Our Diseased Duopoly

As Henry David Thoreau quotably put it, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the roots.” And if mainstream media is any guide, there are many thousands hacking at the branches of the evil Trump administration to none who are striking at its roots. But, of course, mainstream media, self-censored by the profit-making agendas of its ever-fewer corporate conglomerate owners, never goes to the roots of anything. Least of all does it go to the grassroots, where the only principled resistance to Trump—the only resistance not contaminated by corporate, Deep State, or partisan agendas—actually exists.

As members of that grassroots resistance—the only group with a serious, pinpoint diagnosis of the Trump evil—we face a grievous communication problem. But no worse a problem than that faced by Occupy Wall Street when, in the wake of a global financial crisis triggered by a reckless and fraudulent financial system, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

Considering we face the same corporate media hurdles, we should also consider the Occupy movement’s incontestable success in propagating its message of class warfare between “the 99% and the 1%” despite those hurdles. Indeed, while changing some tactics based on changed political circumstances, we should wholeheartedly embrace the Occupy model of making a movement the megaphone for a political diagnosis mainstream media, left to its own devices, would never dare touch. The real anti-Trump resistance can only succeed as a spontaneous grassroots, Occupy-style movement. Anything else is corporate astro-turfing, and fully merits our movement’s scathing term of contempt— the “McResistance”.

Make no mistake, the Trump administration is a grave evil, fully demanding organized resistance, and I have a serious bone to pick with fellow progressive activists who try to highlight the badness of today’s Democratic Party by claiming it is not. Much as I share—and seek to make nationally shared—their revulsion for today’s Democrats, they only muddy a laser-sharp diagnosis by their attempts to whitewash Trump. As I remarked in Part 1 of this series, Trump is “a Guinness World Records champion for moral, intellectual, and experiential unfitness to lead a global superpower.” And what makes him especially atrocious is that his personal unfitness forces him to delegate (or rather, abdicate) governance to extremist Republican colleagues. As Noam Chomsky (considering Republicans’ commitment to climate destruction) well put it, “The Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in world history.” Anyone who fails to see today’s Republican politicians in comparably grave terms is failing at diagnosis.

Rather than reducing Democrats’ culpability, duly acknowledging the full evil of Trump and today’s Republican Party only increases it exponentially. For, as the rest of this article shall argue, the evil of today’s Democratic Party consists precisely in being the party of Judas. And just as the New Testament Judas—for the sake of his thirty pieces of silver—did not personally crucify Jesus, but only (ultimately and indirectly) turned him over to the brutal Romans, so do Democrats (by incurable addiction to their donors’ silver), betray our nation to utterly brutal Republicans. It is as “the party of Judas,” betraying Americans—above all, the most vulnerable ones—to Republican brutality for sake of donors’ silver, that the real grassroots resistance must oppose Democrats as well as Trump.

Democrats Actually DO Stand for Something: Betrayal

In an insightful recent article, political writer and cartoonist Ted Rall asks, “What do Democrats want?” and answers his own (probably rhetorical) question by saying, “No one knows.” In fact, as a political associate of the penetrating Chris Hedges, and as an astute commentator in his own right, Rall likely knows pretty damn well what Democrats want. So, taking his question as rhetorical, we should read his article as really being about the political messaging of a party split between an outgunned populist wing (tolerated because it gives Dems their last shreds of populist legitimacy) and a controlling corporatist Clinton wing hell-bent on serving the party’s high-rolling donors. Since the party’s controlling corporatists wish neither to commit themselves to too strong a populist message, nor to explicitly state the open secret of whom they really serve, the party’s message does come across as a befuddling muddled mess.

But, for our purposes, Rall’s question can be usefully rephrased as “What do Democrats stand for?” For, unlike Rall’s rhetorical question, our factual one doesn’t require us to look for consistency in the diametrically opposed wants of a controlling corporatist and an outgunned populist party faction. Rather, taking control of the party by its corporatist Clinton faction as fact, and ignoring Democrats’ muddled messaging in favor of their consistent long-term behavior, we can obtain a very clear answer to our question. Namely, today’s Democratic Party stands for betrayalbetrayal of both democracy and the party’s traditional poor and working class base. And—what counts most for our grassroots resistance purposes—Democrats recently cemented their commitment to betrayal by arguing their legal right to betray their voting base in a court of law.

In short, the Democratic National Committee’s assertion of party bosses’ legal right to choose nominees behind closed doors (thereby treating the DNC’s own charter as toilet paper) is a humongous deal—so “nuclear” in its potential damage to the Democratic Party’s reputation—that the political establishment’s mainstream media minions have imposed a virtual blackout on reporting it. So nuclear, I’ll argue here, that a well-orchestrated campaign to spread news of the argument—with the proper contextual framing—could launch a new anti-duopoly Occupy. And the proper contextual framing is that the DNC legal argument doubles down on Democrats’ long recent history as “the party of Judas”—the party of betrayal. The DNC argument, (and this is its greatest significance) in fact, confirms Democrats as an arrogantly unrepentant Judas: a Judas on steroids.

Judas on Steroids: Of Hillary Clinton and Sheldon Cooper

No one I know of would choose Judas as their favorite Biblical character. But if Hillary Clinton were being honest with herself—as she almost never is with anyone outside Wall Street—she very well might. Indeed, Clinton’s leaked statement (from a well-paid private speech to her Wall Street cronies) that politicians need a public and a private position amounts to embracing the political Judas role, offering publicly what the unwashed masses—“the basket of deplorables,” in Clinton’s own words– desire politically while being fully intent on betraying them for whatever she and her fellow oligarchs decide on behind closed doors. A “Judas kiss” is always planned in secret.

It’s especially telling to read the context she provided her Wall Street “best buds” for a politician’s need for public and private positions: “But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least.” A statement that provides especially compelling reason to think Clinton’s real motive for violating State Department rules—and risking national security in the bargain—with her private e-mail server was precisely to keep “everybody” from “watching.” Above all, those really deplorable everybodies who make FOIA requests.

If we imagine for a moment that one of Clinton’s “private positions” is a secret admiration for Judas, we arrive at an excellent analogy for the outrageous stance on betrayal now taken not just by Clinton, but by her entire controlling wing in the Democratic Party—and hence by the DNC. In one hilarious segment of TV’s The Big Bang Theory, resident antisocial physicist Sheldon Cooper is asked whether he really disliked the Christmas special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sheldon responds, “On the contrary, I found the Grinch to be a relatable, engaging character.” For Sheldon, the “buzz kill” that utterly spoils the festivities is when the Grinch “succumbed to social convention and returned the presents and saved Christmas.”

For most New Testament readers, Judas is decidedly not “a relatable, engaging character.” In fact, his name has become a historical byword for betrayal, one of the ugliest human traits. If anything makes the Biblical Judas engaging and relatable at all—if also tragic—it’s his remorseful suicide upon realizing the moral enormity of his betrayal. But simply extrapolating from their behavior, one can easily imagine Hillary Clinton—and her whole party-controlling wing of corporatist Democrats—finding their ultimate “buzz kill” in their once-admired Judas’s “succumbing to social convention” by his inexplicable bout of remorse. So they’re determined for just this once to not be like Judas—in the only trait that gives him any redeeming human value at all.

No matter how bad his opponents, a known political Judas—above all one who doubles down on his “Judashood” rather than repenting of it—is incapable of winning elections. Especially when he gets all self-righteous and sanctimonious over it, morally extorting voters into accepting him as his unrepentant, unreformed Judas self by the sheer badness of his opponents. Rewarding the atrocious behavior of a political Judas—above all, an unrepentant, sanctimonious, and bullying one—is guaranteed to repulse voters. That, in a nutshell, is why Democrats lose election after election, betraying us to the lawless brutality of anti-government Republicans.

The party of Judas simply cannot defeat the party of Trump.

The “DNC = Democracy Never Counts” Campaign—Launchpad for a New Occupy?

Social movements are by nature unpredictable, so it’s extremely perilous to predict what will launch one. But since we at Progressive or Bust think an anti-duopoly Occupy-style movement is the only politically effective form the grassroots anti-Trump resistance can take, we’ll soon start a campaign that’s at least a plausible stab at launching such a movement. Whether or not our campaign results in launching the needed movement, we feel anything that sheds public spotlight on the DNC democracy-betraying legal argument—its “Judas argument” is worthwhile in itself.

Although the needed grassroots movement must delegitimize our unspeakably dysfunctional duopoly, our campaign must logically start by attacking Democrats. Democrats, using their subservient corporate media and plutocrat-funded organizing, have substituted their shallow, hacking-at-the-branches “McResistance” for the real grassroots resistance that needs to form. Such a grassroots resistance needs to steal the media stage from the establishment Democrat McResistance—and to simultaneously delegitimize that faux resistance. Ultimately, the delegitimizing message in the one just sketched: that the party of Judas simply can’t defeat the party of Trump—and is therefore unfit to lead the anti-Trump resistance. Publicizing the “nuclear” and radically under-publicized DNC legal argument—framed as an anti-democracy “Judas argument”—will make our case that Democrats have legally formalized their status as “the party of Judas.” If they don’t intend to go on betraying their working class and progressive base, why are they claiming the legal right to do so in court?

We think our proposed “DNC = Democracy Never Counts” campaign has a killer message, one well suited by its logic to launch a grassroots anti-duopoly revolt movement. So naturally, the question arises of what we intend to do to spread it. The answer is that we intend (in the spirit of the Indivisible Guide compiled by Democratic Party operatives to hound Trump Republicans) to relentlessly confront Congressional Democrats with their party’s legal argument by every means of organized civic engagement. We’ll demand that they take a public stand on it, automatically consigning to a well-publicized “Judas list” every Congressional Democrat who fails to take a public stand against it.

Obviously, to carry out such a campaign effectively, we’ll need large numbers of participants. Although I pitched my Part 1 article to show third-party voters the stake they have in an anti-duopoly movement, proponents of reform the Democratic Party from within have much to gain from joining this campaign as well. Obviously, anyone serious about reforming Democrats must seek universal condemnation of the DNC’s anti-democracy legal argument.

“Birddog the Duopoly”—Naming a Movement from Its Key Tactic

A final thought. One preferred tactic of the DNC = Democracy Never Counts campaign—because it’s so effective at both scaring politicians and gaining publicity—will be bird-dogging Congressional Democrats about their stance on the DNC’s “Judas argument.” While initiated by the campaign, the tactic (applied to politicians of both parties) may prove especially suited to the Occupy-style anti-duopoly movement we hope it succeeds in launching. Why? Well, because, to stymie Occupy, the police state (with the connivance of most of our politicians) tightened its screws—both laws and police tactics—to prevent “occupations” from appearing on our streets. That’s why it’s especially appropriate that we birddog politicians—to punish their participation in creating the anti-First Amendment police state. It’s too early to say, but perhaps (as with Occupy), the anti-duopoly movement’s key tactic will give it a name: “Birddog the Duopoly.” But in any case, our success will be measured by making politicians dread us—to the extent they wish they had Occupy back.

If you’d like to get in on the ground floor of this upcoming campaign—and prospective movement—please join our Facebook group Progressive or Bust.

It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.

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The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemenis facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources, in a 21st century world that is wealthier and more technologically advanced than ever before? It was only six years ago that East Africa suffered a devastating drought and food crisis, with over a quarter of a million people dying from famine in Somalia (including 133,000 children), and millions more left with a legacy of chronic poverty, hardship and loss of livelihoods.

In the wake of this appalling human catastrophe, the Charter to End Extreme Hunger was drafted by NGOs from across the world, calling on governments and aid agencies to prevent hunger on such a scale ever happening again. But the underlying principle of the Charter to take early and large-scale preventative action has essentially remained unheeded. Early warning signs for the latest crisis were visible months ago, yet the international community again failed to respond in time to avert an entirely predictable and avoidable famine. So much for the “Grand Bargain” struck at the World Humanitarian Summit last year, which agreed to a package of reforms to the complex international emergency system under the empty slogan: ‘One Humanity, Shared Responsibility’.

This fact should be emphasised, as we always have the power to avert and end famines, which are largely man-made and preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need. To be sure, the challenge is now historic with increasing “mega-crises” becoming the norm, mostly caused by conflict and civil war rather than natural disasters. Far from stepping up to meet urgent funding appeals, however, donor governments have not even met half of requirements in recent years, leaving many crises and nations pitted against each other for resources. Meanwhile, wealthy nations are recycling old aid pledges as new money, and the purported annual increase in overseas aid is failing to reach the least developed countries. The Trump administration has pledged no new funding to the emergency famine relief appeals this year, instead announcing plans to dramatically cut foreign aid expenditures and voluntary contributions to UN programmes like the World Food Programme (WFP).

The tragic consequences on the ground are inevitable, as demonstrated in Somaliland where the WFP is providing emergency food aid for a few thousand people at a time, when the need is upwards of 300,000. In South Sudan, nearly one out of every two people are in urgent need of food assistance, yet only $423 million has been received out of a requested $1.6bn. Across North-East Nigeria, where 5.1 million people are food insecure out of a population of 5.8 million in the three affected states, the response plan still remains only 20% funded.

Of course, aid alone is not the solution to extreme poverty and hunger. In the long term, the answers for avoiding hunger crises lie within developing countries themselves, including supporting local food production, enhancing community resilience, and guaranteeing social services and protection for the poorest – all measures that rely on effective national governance. Beyond the need for material resources and financial assistance, there is also a need for long-term approaches towards conflict prevention and peace-building, placing the politics of famine at the heart of any international efforts. A huge part of the battle is not only raising vital funds, but also devising the correct response strategy and securing necessary access in complex, fragmented war zones.

At the same time, addressing the root causes of today’s escalating food crises depends on a turnaround in the foreign policy agendas of competing nations, which are either directly or indirectly responsible for many of the wars across the Middle East and Africa that have led to a record high of global forced displacement. The deadly conflict that is ripping apart Yemen continues to be facilitated by the UK and US governments, who are propping up the Saudi-led bombing campaigns through extensive political and military support, including billions of dollars’ worth of weapons sales that dwarf the amounts pledged in aid.

This is clearly the opposite of policies that can make countries like Britain and America “great” again. The world cries out for a new strategy of peace and generosity to replace the self-destructive policies of “national security through domination”, which urgently calls for a modern global Marshall Plan for investment in education, health, water, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure across the world’s most impoverished regions. Fully-funded aid shipments in place of arms shipments; an end to drone attacks and military “special operations” within countries like Yemen; the spearheading of much needed diplomacy in all war-torn regions; massive transfers of essential resources from North to South – such is the only way to show true political leadership in the face of entrenched global divisions and escalating human suffering.

As STWR has long advocated, an intergovernmental emergency programme to end life-threatening poverty is the very first step towards achieving a more equal and sustainable world. It must be remembered that the four countries grouped together by the UN as a food security emergency are, in fact, only the worst instances of a wider crisis of hunger and impoverishment. Millions of other marginalised citizens are also suffering from soaring food insecurity worldwide, not only across Africa but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, the Oceania, and so many other regions. According to the UN’s official statistics, there are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of North America and the European Union. Every day, around 46,000 people needlessly die as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, the vast majority in low-income countries.

The reversal of government priorities that is needed to ameliorate this immense crisis may never be achieved, unless world public opinion focuses on the worsening reality of poverty in the midst of plenty. Never before has it been so important for an enormous outpouring of public support in favour of sharing the world’s resources, thus to guarantee the long-agreed socioeconomic rights of every citizen, no matter where they live. Against a backdrop of rising nationalist sentiment, anti-immigrant rhetoric and huge funding gaps for humanitarian causes, it is up to ordinary people of goodwill to stand in solidarity with the world’s suffering poor majority.

The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now concentrated on one simple and unifying cause: for the rapid implementation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowhere in the world are these long-agreed rights guaranteed for everyone – concerning adequate food, housing, healthcare, social services and social security for all. But there can be no greater example of the lack of these basic entitlements for a dignified life, than the fact of millions of people dying from hunger across vast neglected and conflict-ridden regions. Hence the need for endless global protests to begin with a united call for wealthy countries to redistribute all necessary resources to those at risk of starving to death, above and beyond the UN’s modest appeals for humanitarian funding.

The situation today is potentially even more catastrophic than in the 1980s, when Bob Geldof and Live Aid were at the forefront of a public funding campaign for victims of the Ethiopian famine – eventually resulting in the loss of almost one million lives. To stop a repeat of this tragedy occurring on a potentially even greater scale, it will require much more than one-off public donations to national charity appeals. It will also require countless people on the streets worldwide in constant, peaceful demonstrations that call on governments to massively scale up their efforts through the UN and its relevant agencies. Is it not possible to organise a huge show of public empathy and outrage with the plight of more than 100 million people facing acute malnutrition worldwide? For only a grassroots response of this exceptional nature may be enough to awaken the world’s conscience – calling for food and medicines, not bombs; standing for economic sharing as the only way to justice. Surely there can be no greater cause and priority at this critical hour.