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This post is inspired by my pal, Tim.  He wrote me this note earlier today:

Hey Lauren!
In anticipation of the political arguments I’ll be instigating over the holidays, I’m looking for some ‘talking points’ on the occupy movement… Do you have or know where to find something like that?

I’d already started an “Occupy Myths: Debunked” post, so I retrofitted the title, and here you go.  This related reading might also help: Occupy Wall Street Does, Actually, Know What it Wants [added 11.26.11].  Before we begin, a few points.

Be Respectful and Try Not to Get Heated

Remember, we’re a peaceful movement. Bring that philosophy with you to your family gatherings. Your diehard Uncle Harold may blow his top quoting Fox News sound bites, but your cousin Emily half way down the table, nervously nibbling her turkey, might be on the fence.  Make your arguments clear, concise, and deliver them with respect and patience.  Your comportment alone may win the debate for you.  Also, if you figure out how to stay calm, email me and tell me how you did that.

Back Up Your Arguments With Facts, Not Opinions, Wherever Possible

Educate yourself.  I’ve included links to reputable sources, and feel free to do your own research as well.  It’s difficult to argue dogma and personal philosophy, especially with inflexible family members.  People believe what they want to believe, and some people just want to hate Occupy.  Talking facts is less personal and less complicated.

Most People’s Only Source of Info is Mainstream Media

Remember two things about the big news networks like CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, FOX and so on.  1) They have one primary concern: ratings. The more sensational their “news”, the more money they make. They’re more than willing to take a small seed of a story and blow it up into something outrageous. Moreover, they’re willing to take a non-story and turn it into something that sounds a lot like fact.  2) They’re corporate-owned. They’re invested, literally, in painting Occupy Wall Street as something disorganized, ugly, detrimental to local businesses, dirty and unhygienic, crime-ridden and unsafe.

The news media is committed to criminalizing protesters and demonstrators, in order to make the moderate public fearful of the movement.  It’s a strategy to undermine the movement.  It’s an attempt to make ordinary people reject the movement instead of join up with it.  Most people’s information is coming from these sources.  So you’ll need to prepare yourself to debunk some serious inanities.

Remember, It’s Touchy

Occupy is about so many things, and the hardest pill for naysayers to swallow is that bit about personal accountability.  A lot of people want “change” as long as they don’t personally have to change anything at all.  The movement’s philosophies, when you get down to the nitty gritty, fuss with deep rooted cultural and societal norms that have kept us in a very comfortable state of denial.  Asking people to reject the things that Occupy seeks to eradicate is tantamount to asking people to rethink the very foundations of our culture, and that’s terrifying for even the most liberal among us.

So, Here We Go…

#1 | Occupy Doesn’t Know What it Wants

Variations: Occupy has no clear message; Why are you even there?; The people can’t even say/verbalize why they’re there.

I don’t recommend that you print this cartoon to bring with you.  Mostly because it’s not the whole story.  The movement is about more than just this, but what the cartoon illustrates is that we’ve said it, and we say it every day.  Saying over and over that the movement has no focus is just a way to distract an uninformed public from the very clear messages of the movement.

To get you started, here’s a shortlist of What Occupy Wants. This list is just for starters, and only touches on some of the reform we hope to see.  There are broader social constructs we’re concerned with, but that might be too much to get into on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  For these 4 points in slightly more depth, you can also refer to a related post.

  • Occupy Wall Street is concerned with the growing income disparity between the ultra-wealthy and the lower classes.  The movement believes the middle class is rapidly disappearing.  Average people are becoming poorer, while the richest are becoming richer, and before OWS, no one seemed to care.  The movement has gotten the country and the world talking about this problem.
  • Occupy wants money out of politicsWe want corporate personhood revisited by the Supreme Court.  Corporate personhood is a big issue, and one that extends beyond money in politics, but for the sake of your holiday dinner, you can discuss it in the context of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that states that corporations may donate freely to political campaigns and individual politicians.  This, essentially, means corporations can buy whichever candidate they believe will most favor their own interests.  It means that few if any politicians are truly by the people or for the people.
  • We want more regulations on big banks.  After the great depression, regulations were placed on banks that prevented them from engaging in certain risky behaviors that could jeopardize the economy…again.   The most famous regulation was called the Glass-Steagal act (GSA), named for the two congressmen who were its legislative sponsors.  The GSA, in short, prevented three big industries from co-mingling: insurance, banking and investing.  The financial sector wasn’t a fan of this act, because it kept them from making exponentially more money.  Things were going well till the late 90′s, when after decades of lobbying, a new bill was passed (Graham, Leach, Bliley) that basically kicked GSA out of the game.  The 3 industries merged, and it wasn’t long before the whole system collapsed under the weight of its own greed.  Occupy wants GSA reinstated, and many conservatives agree.
  • Occupy wants professional lobbyists out of Washington.  Big corporations spend fortunes lobbying congress.  Lobbyists write their own bills favoring their own special interests, and congress often passes them.  This means that businesses have disproportionate impact on governing law.  Bills should be passed and laws should be made to favor the majority.  Occupy Wall Street believes the majority (the so called 99%) should have equal influence on legislation.

That oughta be enough to get the dialog going, but by no means do the desires of OWS stop there.  For more, there are some very poignant and concise tweets at #ioccupybecause on Twitter.

#2 | But, what’s the ONE thing they want?

Why does there need to be one thing?  Do you have one favorite food or one single thing you love most about your child?  This is a passionate movement with many concerns, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I know people love to hit things over the head with a hammer, but let’s be dynamic in our thinking.  This is a dynamic movement.

#3 | They Should be Occupying Washington, DC!

Variations: Why occupy lower Manhattan?; Why occupy a park?; They should be occupying Congress!

I happen to agree that we should be occupying congress.  I want to see occupiers congregate in the office buildings of our elected officials with clear demands.  So let’s work on that.

The above statement does not negate the fact that the flagship (now evicted) occupation of Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park was symbolic in nature.  We occupy Wall St. because of Wall Street’s impact on Washington.

“Occupying”, though it wasn’t called that before, is not a new protest tactic.  Protesters have for decades pitched tents in city squares, or outside of corporate headquarters, in an effort to draw attention to their issue du jour.  Likewise, we’ve marched on Washington more times than I can count to protest all sorts of issues, from reproductive freedom to needless wars.  Where has it all gotten us?

In 2002, I believe, I attended an anti-war protest in DC.  Tens of thousands of people assembled on the National Mall and marched for miles through downtown DC to demonstrate our disapproval of the coming Iraq war.  Know what I saw on the news that night?  A seven minute segment on the dangers of Barcalounger hinges.  They stuck a pencil in the hinge and closed the footrest to show how the pencil snapped in two, then did it again in slow-mo…  My point is, there wasn’t a single media crew at the march.  I didn’t see any news vans or cameras.  No one was interviewed.  The next day, no one talked about it.

Cut to a decade later.  Thousands of people are pitching tents in cities the world over.  Average folks see them on their way to work, on their way to school.  It’s visible.  It’s public.  It’s pervasive.  It’s effective.  We’re talking about it.  Everyone’s talking about it!  So now maybe we can occupy DC.  But we had to occupy everywhere first, and we have to continue occupying everywhere until we see some change.

#4 | The Occupiers Should Get a Job

Variations: Occupy a Job!; Go work at McDonalds/Starbucks; Stop being lazy and get a job.

1) It’s a fallacy that all occupiers are unemployed.  Many occupiers have jobs.  They sleep at camp and go to work and come home to the camp.  Other occupiers camp a few days a week, on their days off, then go home during the work week, then come back on their days off to camp out.  Many occupy supporters, people who don’t actually sleep outside (like myself), have jobs and attend school.  We just want a better world, is all.

2) Many unemployed occupiers would love to have a job.  The point is, there are fewer jobs than ever.  Not everyone can “work at McDonalds”, for chrissakes.  That line is insanity, and I keep hearing it.  If you were a $68k a year engineer, for example, and you lost your job in layoffs, working for $7.50 an hour will hardly help keep your home from foreclosure.  Many of us went to college, and spent a fortune on degrees that we hoped would garner us stable careers for life in industries that are struggling to stay afloat.  Others attended trade school for specific professions that are no longer in demand.  Working at McDonalds is no answer to the question of where all the real jobs went.  Where they went was down the pisser when Wall Street decided to kick the global economy off its precipice.

Why should a scientist, a mathematician, a teacher, a writer, an editor, a skilled cabinetmaker, a blacksmith…have to work at McDonalds to scrape by?  The Chicago Board of Trade can embarrass themselves by throwing xeroxed McDonalds applications on the heads of the occupiers, but what they’re doing is further proving the point.  They’re showing average, well educated, highly trained and eminently employable citizens what they think of us, aren’t they?

#5 | On the Zuccotti Park Eviction: People Were Pissing in the Streets!

Variations: Local businesses were suffering; Don’t they care about local businesses in lower Manhattan?; People shit on the sidewalk; They had sex in front of people’s stores.

On Pissing in the Street & Fucking in Doorways

Yes, I’m sure some people did pee in alleys or behind dumpsters, or up against walls.  When you’re sleeping in a park, and there are 3 port-o-johns for hundreds of people, I imagine sometimes you have to pee somewhere undesirable in a hurry.  My question is…have you been on a subway lately?  They.  Stink.  I don’t see hundreds of cops in riot gear billy clubbing the homeless who take a leak on the steps of the downtown 1 train after Starbucks closes.  How about stadium parking lots after a big game?  My point is this issue is besides the point.  The media repeats this nonsense incessantly so that we’ll talk about peeing and fucking instead of ways to effect real change, or instead of helping one another to better understand a preventable crisis that’s crippled our world economy.

Over the holidays, brush this concern aside if you can, and change the topic to something more important.

Local businesses were suffering.

Downtown businesses in Manhattan were affected. That’s true.  But no Occupier ever blocked a consumer from reaching a shop. The difficulty of navigating the area around the park was due, largely, to the excessive police barricades. You just couldn’t get through.  Pedestrians were forced to walk around, so they got their pastries someplace closer to their offices. I’m sorry for the businesses that lost their early morning and lunch traffic, but let’s get real about this.  One or two coffee shops on Liberty Street should not be cause enough to end the biggest populist uprising this country has ever seen.

Over the holidays, address this item quickly if it comes up, and redirect the conversation to the issues (see #1).

On the Legality of the Encampment

John Carney, a conservative journalist with CNBC, got it right.  The question about Zuccotti Park’s private ownership has been thrown into conversation as if it’s the be-all end-all of the conversation, and it’s just not.

It’s often said that Zuccotti Park is “private property” owned by Brookfield Office Properties, but this isn’t quite true. The park was created as part of a deal in which the predecessor of Brookfield would be allowed a build an office tower beyond the limits of zoning laws in exchange for creating a park always open to the public. Brookfield’s ownership consists mainly of a duty to pay for the park’s upkeep.

It doesn’t own the property in the way that you own your home. It cannot exclude unwanted guests, it cannot close the park for even one day a year, it cannot dictate what can and cannot be said by guests in the park. The park is actually public property for which a private party has accepted upkeep responsibility in exchange for a zoning variance.

So there’s no property right at stake here to exclude Occupy Wall Street.

#6 | On Violence: The Occupy People are Violent & The Police are Only Doing Their Jobs

Variations: Occupy Wall Street is Violent; They’re anarchists; Occupy Protesters are Violent.

Occupy Wall Street is a Peaceful Protest

If I knew how to say that in 20 languages, I would.  Occupy Wall Street.  Is a peaceful.  Protest.  On the big days of the movement, when thousands amass in lower Manhattan, the predominant message passed around in the group is: remain peaceful.  At all costs, remain peaceful.  No matter what, we are a peaceful movement.  This, while cops in riot gear surround us, waving their batons, plastic cuffs strapped to their waists.  The big days are so charged, so electric.  The cops appear eager for a fight.  They appear to itch for a fight.  And while they close in, we repeat via human mic: Remain peaceful.  Yes, there are individuals and small groups in the movement who would rather have conflict.  You better believe the same is true on the cop side as well.  By in large, unequivocally, the movement is peace-minded.  Here’s one example.  The night of the final Zuccotti eviction, a block from the park where more than a thousand people had gathered, someone did a human mic and said “storm the barricades”.  The crowd responded overwhelmingly, in unison, “NO!” then repeated the chant, “We are peaceful.  Do not incite violence.”

The Cops are Only Doing Their Jobs

One of my favorite humans on this planet, and in this life, is a lieutenant in the New York (Nassau) police department.  When I stand face to face with cops at OWS, the first thing I see in their faces, behind their helmet shields, is him.  I see cops as human, despite the unnecessary violence that’s been done to me and others in the past few months of Occupy the Nation.  I see their humanity.  I see their families.

That said, the illegal, aggressive, sociopathic behavior I’ve witnessed both in real life and via videos on the web since OWS began two months ago has caused me great concern.  There are countless videos of cops beating protesters with clubs, shooting tear gas into crowds, macing peaceful protesters in the face.  One demonstrator in Oakland, an Iraq war vet, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage from a flash-bang grenade lobbed into the crowd.  Some protesters have long-term nerve damage in their hands from how tightly their plastic cuffs were kept.  Some are coughing up blood days after being pepper sprayed too closely.  One pregnant woman may have miscarried from being kneed in the belly, despite screaming, “I’m pregnant, let me out.”  The police in New York City are out of control.  They are given orders to disrupt peaceful protests with acts of aggression, and they are obeying those orders without question.

If demonstrators are committing acts of civil disobedience, they may expect to be arrested.  They may even expect to be physically dragged away.  What we should not expect, and what we should not accept, is being beaten or pepper sprayed.

#7 | On Who’s “Behind” OWS: George Soros / Van Jones / The Obama Administration / The Unions are Behind OWS

Variations: George Soros is funding OWS; Van Jones organized OWS; Who do you think is funding Occupy Wall Street?; Where do you think the food is coming from?

The Soros argument comes from this: The Tides foundation is a non-profit organization that collects un-targeted donations, and then awards various non-profit organizations grants from the funds they collect.  Soros has donated to Tides, and Tides has given money to Adbusters.  Adbusters, a Canadian anti-establishment website, posted the original OWS call to action on September 17th.  So what does this mean?

To me, Soros ≠ Occupy Wall Street.  To others, it means the opposite.  But here’s another question: So what if Soros has donated money to Occupy?  In a country where politicians are bought and sold by corporate interests on the daily, who cares if one progressive billionaire sends supplies to a movement he supports?

I’ll be honest, I have my concerns about the movement’s origins, organizers and backers.  I haven’t been able to crystalize my thoughts well enough just yet in order to write about them in a way that’s fair and informed.  That said, if I thought Soros were the “mastermind” behind Occupy, I would have a problem with the subterfuge.  I happen not to think he is.  And again, even if he were, the movement has taken on such a life of its own it’s clear that the sentiment has broad enough appeal beyond what any so called mastermind might have attempted to kickstart 67 days go.

#8 | It’s a Socialist, Marxist Cabal

Variations: They’re socialists!; You’re a socialist if you support them; They’re marxist; They want to overthrow the government; They want anarchy; They’re anti-capitalist; They don’t understand how the economy works; Capitalism is the best system; Capitalism is the only system that works.

I can’t speak for every occupier.  Some do indeed favor socialistic ideals.

I happen to think there’s value in a free market system (or free enterprise), and a competitive capitalist market.  I also think that our capitalism has gone awry.  I think it’s obvious that things aren’t panning out.  It’s clear to me that the system favors the few while actively causing harm to the majority.  I think we need more regulation.  I would like to see our capitalism redefined to be more egalitarian and inclusive.  I think no corporation should be too big to fail.  I think our type of greed-fueled corporate capitalism lacks compassion, and is leading us toward an era of modern-day feudalism.  These are all just one woman’s opinions, but this tends to be my answer to the “you’re a socialist” hysteria.  The answer is, “No I’m not.”  The answer to “they are all socialists” is, they aren’t all any one thing.

Something to understand about this accusation is that it’s used like a disqualifier.  It’s wielded like a blunt instrument to punt an opponent from a debate that’s probably on the verge of being productive.  It’s easy to point and say, “Socialist!” and then nothing else you might say remains valid, because if it falls under the socialist umbrella it’s obviously insane and anti-American, or whatever.  Ask your opponent to be more original.  This comes from one of my subscribers who commented at the bottom of this post:

One thing that I point out whenever somebody loudly proclaims this as a marxist/communist/socialist movement, is the various protests throughout American history that were painted in the same light like the Haymarket Incident and the Redneck Wars. Red-baiting is just a fear tactic used by corporate media to sway public opinion.

Wanting billionaires to pay 3% higher taxes does not a socialist make.  That said…so what if a discussion involves some of the compassionate socialist principles that make sense?  We have to be a flexible society.  We have to be willing to adapt our culture and our governance to suit the needs of a changing world.  Wanting a little change here and there does not mean you want to overthrow the government.

#9 | On Mic Checking Politicians: It’s so Rude!

Variations: You can’t just barge in and interrupt; Who do they think they are?

Some folks have problems with the Mic Check thing, where a group of Occupiers somehow infiltrates a polite gathering and interrupts it with the call-and-repeat method of voice amplification now known as the Human Mic.

I’ve devoted an entire post to this one.  Check it out, if you like.  In short, we’ve been kept on the sidelines and told to shut up for too long.  We can’t bring “our voices” to the polls, because our choices for candidates tend to already be in the pockets of special interests.  We’ve tried other ways, and we feel the only option left for us is – really sorry about this, our manners are usually much better – to interrupt.

Some mic checks take too long, and irreparably disrupt an event.  I don’t particularly care for that.  I think major event mic checks, when the group wants to make a point to an individual, should be as clear and quick as possible.  To me, that’s more effective and less alienating to moderate OWS supporters.  In the case of DOE or foreclosure occupations, those can take longer, especially if the group is trying to block a specific action like an auction or a vote.  But every group does their own mic check in their own way, and that’s fine.

Over the holidays, you probably won’t change anyone’s mind about these interruptions, but you can shed some light on what the purpose is.  They’re conscious acts of civil disobedience organized as last resort options when the community feels there’s no other way to reach an individual or an organization.  Here are a bunch of videos of public mic checks.

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If you’d like to weigh in on what topic I should cover next,

choose the topic that most interests you.

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As always, feel free to comment if you think this post needs more, and I’ll be happy to add to the list.  

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