You Can’t Leave Occupy Wall Street by Max Bean
My last post was called “ Why I came to Occupy Wall Street and Why I Left," and I caught a lot of grief from my readers for not giving them what the title promised: I explained why I came to OWS — that’s the easy part — but I didn’t really say why I left. It’s going to take a whole series of posts to properly explain why I stopped working on the movement, but I think it’ll help ease the suspense if I write a few words about what it even means to "leave" Occupy Wall Street. That verb, I’ll be the first to admit, was an inappropriate one.
My first month at OWS was characterized by a wild optimism, a hope unleashed. I lived in a state of constant excitement, running on so much adrenaline I would forget to eat and dropped ten pounds in two weeks. I was surrounded by dozens of others in the same state of mind. I remember one day in late October, crossing Broadway at Exchange Place, wolfing down some street food and barely tasting it, and some girl I’d never met crossing in the other direction said to me, “That’s how you know an Occupy Wall Street protestor: He’s trying to eat lunch while running through the street.” And it was true: We were all running around like maniacs, working our hearts out, because finally we’d found something worth working our hearts out for.
Like many in my generation, it seems, I had waited my whole life for a social movement whose dimensions and ambitions were commensurate with the shortcomings I saw in the world around me. By now, I am convinced that OWS is not that movement. Maybe it will grow into that movement, or maybe that movement will grow out of it. Then again, maybe that movement will never come. But this rise and fall of hope has left me and so many others not less hopeful, but more. It has been suggested that the excitement generated by Obama’s election and dashed by his presidency was re-channeled into the Occupy movement; and so many of us who have stepped back from the movement in recent weeks have departed only to search for a better movement — or else to build one. The shroud of despair, it seems, once torn, is not quickly mended.
After the longest recession since WWII, many Americans are still struggling while S&P 500 corporations are sitting on $800 billion in cash and making massive profits. Now, economists from Northeastern University have released a study that finds our sluggish economic recovery has almost solely benefited corporations. According to the study:
“Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, real national income in the U.S. increased by $528 billion. Pre-tax corporate profits by themselves had increased by $464 billion while aggregate real wages and salaries rose by only $7 billion or only .1%. Over this six quarter period,corporate profits captured 88% of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1% of the growth in real national income. …The absence of any positive share of national income growth due to wages and salaries received by American workers during the current economic recovery is historically unprecedented.”
The New York Times adds, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average real hourly earnings for all employees actually declined by 1.1 percent from June 2009, when the recovery began, to May 2011, the month for which the most recent earnings numbers are available.”
So as average wages fall, and nearly 14 million people remain unemployed, America’s economic recovery has almost entirely benefited corporations. This development adds another chapter to the decline of the middle class, whose incomes are shrinking and wages arestagnating. Last year, top executives’ salaries increased 27 percent, while workers’ salariesincreased only 2 percent. At the moment, income inequality in America is the worst it’s beensince the 1920s, as the richest 1 percent make nearly 25 percent of the country’s income.
Police Forcibly Evict Midwest Occupy Conference Participants; 14 Arrested In St. Louis
Activists in St. Louis for a national Occupy convention were arrested Thursday night while leaving a park where the city had denied permission for them to camp.
Some 600 people from all over the US are gathering in the midwest city for the second major national conference of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Scheduled events include workshops, discussions, general assemblies and a march to the famous Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River.
Organizers of the three-day Midwest Occupy Conference claim that conference participants were subjected to police brutality and that their First Amendment rights were violated when law enforcement officers with batons aggressively attacked a group of 150 demonstrators who were marching out of Compton Hill Reservoir Park at 10:48 p.m. on March 15.
At 10:48 p.m. witnesses say they observed police beating protesters with batons at Compton Hill Reservoir Park as the crowd was leaving the area. Organizers had already convinced the protesters to vacate the park and they were leading the majority of the people away when the police moved in aggressively and began making arrests. Observers watched as the law enforcement officers entered the march and started pushing demonstrators. There was shouting and chaos, then the acrid scent of pepper spray filled the air.
The activists report that police also used batons and tasers. They say at least two people were hospitalized as a result of the police actions.
The 2nd Circuit Slams Occupy Wall Street ‘Hero’ Judge Rakoff
Remember how last fall that “heroic” Manhattan-based U.S. district court judge Jed Rakoff “ripped the SEC a new one” by blocking a massive settlement the agency had proposed with Citigroup for the bank’s allegedly knowing and fraudulent acts in the run-up to the great recession? At the time of Rakoff’s decision last November, I wrote:
When U.S. district judge Jed Rakoff rejected a $285 million settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Citigroup on Nov. 28, he effectively marched out of the federal courthouse on Foley Square and took his place as the most powerful protester in Zuccotti Park. In a blunt court order, Rakoff broke with decades of judicial deference to the feds and suggested that regulators were enabling Wall Street’s efforts to hide allegedly “knowing and fraudulent” acts from the public. While the decision’s long-term effects depend on the case’s future in the courts, it could immediately impose new standards of accountability and disclosure on an often too cozy system of financial oversight.
It turns out that whole “breaking with decades of judicial deference” thing is a problem, legally speaking. On Thursday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees district courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, ripped Rakoff a new one, staying his ruling and suggesting that his decision misunderstood their previous rulings, overstepped his authority to challenge regulators and made unwarranted assumptions about what had actually happened in the case. The stay can be found here (pdf). Reports the New York Law Journal:
The Second Circuit said Judge Rakoff (See Profile) failed to show proper deference to the SEC’s judgment that the settlement of fraud claims stemming from the sale of mortgage-backed securities was not against the public interest… [and] stayed Judge Rakoff’s ruling ordering a trial in the case while the circuit considers appeals by both the SEC and Citigroup. The panel said both parties showed they would probably prevail in their challenges to Judge Rakoff’s decision… [and said Rakoff] “prejudges the fact that Citigroup had in fact misled investors.”… “[Further Rakoff] does not appear to have given deference to the SEC’s judgment on wholly discretionary matters of policy,” the circuit said [and]… “misinterpreted” certain rulings in holding it was against the public interest to approve a settlement in which Citigroup made no admission of liability, when in fact, those rulings “stand for the proposition that when a court orders injunctive relief, it should insure that injunction does not cause harm to the public interest.”… Finally, the court said it had “no reason to doubt” the SEC claim that the settlement was in the public interest…
Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the appeals court found ‘no reason to doubt’ the SEC’s view that the settlement ordering Citigroup to return $285 million to harmed investors and adopt business reforms is in the public interest. As we have said consistently, we agree to settlements when the terms reflect what we reasonably believe we could obtain if we prevailed at trial, without the risk of delay and uncertainty that comes with litigation. Equally important, this settlement approach preserves resources that we can use to stop other frauds and protect other victims.
So will Rakoff’s decision still compel higher standards of disclosure by banks making settlements with the SEC? Maybe. This win by the SEC will receive a lot less attention than the initial Rakoff ruling, even though the latter is clearly going to be reversed. So perhaps Rakoff’s goal of attracting attention to the SEC’s deal making will turn out to have been an end in itself.
Occupy Wall Street protesters marched around midtown Manhattan on Wednesday chanting anti-corporate slogans outside banks and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Scores of police officers followed the protesters on foot and on motorcycles and used metal barricades to keep them from their targets, including Citibank and Bank of America branches.
Outside of Pfizer’s headquarters on East 42nd Street, protesters unfurled a banner that said “Health care for the 99 percent.”
"I have to go to Canada to buy Pfizer drugs for half the price that I pay for them here," said Michael Miller, 68. Miller said he takes prescription drugs including Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering medication, which is sold by Pfizer.
A Pfizer spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the protest.
Protesters then headed to Bryant Park, where Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi led a teach-in about Bank of America. He described mortgage-backed securities as “banks selling oregano as weed.”
The protesters then tried to rally outside the Bank of America Tower, across from the park, but police officers kept them away from the tower, arresting a woman dressed in red tights and clown makeup. Another protester was arrested for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.
A police spokesman had no information on the midtown arrests but he said nine protesters were arrested early Wednesday in lower Manhattan and another four in the East Village.
How Occupy helped labor win on the West Coast
Defiance of labor law and movement support yield a union victory in Washington state
Earlier this month longshore workers in Washington state reached a contract with a boss that has spent the past year fighting to keep their union out. That company, the multinational EGT, sought to run its new grain terminal in the town of Longview, as the only facility on the West Coast without the famously militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). A victory by EGT would have emboldened employers up and down the coast to seek to free themselves of ILWU influence. And if the union — with the help of the Occupy movement — had not defied the law, EGT would have succeeded.
The Longview struggle began last March when, after initial discussions with ILWU Local 21, EGT announced its intention to run its new grain terminal without them. The ILWU held protest rallies, and joined the Port of Longview’s lawsuit charging that EGT was bound by the union’s contract with the publicly owned port. The union may have had a good legal case. But so did Washington’s Boeing workers when their boss blamed their strikes for its decision to take new work to South Carolina. Boeing mostly got away with it anyway.
Rather than putting all their faith in the law while EGT did its work without them, ILWU members chose to get in the company’s way. Literally. Beginning in July, union members blocked railroad tracks to prevent grain shipments from passing. According to media reports, workers also tore down fencing and dumped grain. Police charged that workers threw rocks at them; labor denied members were violent, and charged that police beat and pepper-sprayed workers without justification. The ILWU did not formally endorse its members’ actions, but its international president was among the dozens arrested. In September, 200 union members and supporters lined up outside the building housing the sheriff’s office and announced they had arrived to turn themselves in for nonviolently defending their jobs.
Interview Excerpt: Phylicia Rashad on Occupy Wall Street
Are the cuts in education one of our country’s main problems at the moment?
What our country looks at right now — there is this insidious greed and apathy. We are told there is not enough money for education, but somehow there is enough money for people to raise billions of dollars to defeat somebody in an election? Oh! Okay! Does that make sense?
We really don’t stop to think about it until we’re posed the question.
No, you don’t because you don’t read between the lines and beneath the surface. It doesn’t make sense. So, with all of the things we could do to make life better for other people, as well as for ourselves because we’re all affected by this, I think that everybody who really loves our country should stand and protest to these cuts in education. Without an educated populist, democracy cannot sustain itself. It will not be sustained. Not only that, education is the key to innovation, and that is what has kept this country in the forefront.
And what about those who are educated and can’t find jobs?
Okay, let’s go further, and I don’t want anybody to get mad, but I’ve got to say it because it’s true. Young people are usually at the forefront of change. Young people are not dumb. Young people are not stupid, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of occupy movements.
What do you think of the occupy movements?
At the core of those were some well organized and thoughtful people. Let’s just look at the price of oil. Let’s just take one thing. When did the price of oil begin to soar? Just go back. Just go back. Most of us would never guess that it would have something to do with the stock exchange.
That’s your opinion.
Historically, let’s just look at it. Go look at it. And gold, which has always been so valuable, which was devalued, and now, what happened? Just go look at it. We are capable of so much greatness, but we really have to look deeper within ourselves and be willing to uncover it and not be afraid of it. This is a lovely film [Good Deeds], but it’s really a model for something even greater.
What happens when we look inside to find what’s really speaking to our hearts? How many times do we miss the opportunities to do that?
Let’s continue with looking deeper. It appears you are saying these issues we are facing go further than just what the president has done or could do.
Oh, baby, it’s not about one man. It’s about all of us. Let’s go back a few years ago where in secondary education civics and economics were taken out of the curriculum. Without instructions in civics, do you really understand the nature of your government and how it’s structured and how it works and your responsibility as a citizen? Not at all, dear! When you hear about the soaring costs of political campaigns, this makes my mind say, “Are votes bought?” This also makes me wonder, is this what we’re extending to the world when we say, “Let’s extend democracy in this corner of the world?” Is this what we mean? You know, those men who trudged across the Delaware with George Washington had rags tied around their feet. Now, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.