Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What about the OWS Movement?

The Occupy Wall Street movement started more than five weeks ago, on September 17. Beginning in “Liberty Square” in Manhattan’s Financial District, it has now spread to over 200 cities in the United States and to over 1,500 cities worldwide where similar actions are taking place.
Not surprisingly, there have been diverse evaluations of the OWS movement. In general, many Republicans and most conservatives are critical of it; many Democrats and most liberals are supportive.
In talking with one caller early this month, for example, Rush Limbaugh called the people demonstrating with OWS “crazy,” “stupid,” “abject tools,” and “idiots.” Many people on the right would not go that far in maligning those involved in the OWS movement, but they are quite negative about the whole thing.
On the other hand, liberal groups such as MoveOn.org and Nation of Change are highly supportive of the OWS movement and are helping to supply things they need.
Herman Cain seems to be the most outspoken Republican presidential candidate on this issue. About three weeks after the movement started, Cain declared that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are un-American and against capitalism. He also said the protesters shouldn’t rally against Wall Street bankers or brokers because “they’re the ones who create the jobs.”
On Sunday afternoon June and I stopped by the lively Occupy Kansas City group. Ironically, the protesters' meeting/camping spot is just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where Cain was the chairman of the Board in the mid-1990s.
We talked with several of the people working with Occupy Kansas City. They didn’t seem to fit the description Limbaugh used for people in the OWS movement at all. At the information table we talked with a level-headed young woman who is a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. At the same table was Melissa, a bright-eyed student from nearby Penn Valley Community College.
At a table close by was Dr. Fred Whitehead (b. 1944), former professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and editor of Freethought on the Frontier (1992).
Occupy Kansas City was sponsoring the “Day of Learning” on Sunday. When we were there, two groups, most seated on the ground, were listening to talks about common concerns. The “lectures” were low-key, sounding like what you would hear in a college classroom. They were anything but rabble-rousing.
As seems to be true for the OWS movement nationwide, there is not yet a clear focus concerning the goals of Occupy Kansas City. Some of the people we talked with, such as the semi-homeless woman with three children, were there out of frustration. She has tried hard for years, but is having a hard time finding work that pays a living wage.
At the very least, it seems that the majority of the people participating in the OWS movement want “economic justice,” which includes some adjustment in the current economic structure of the country that allows the top 1% of the population to possess 43% of the financial wealth of the nation and the bottom 80% to have only 7%.
Because of that disparity, and the continuing high rate of unemployment and personal debt, the OWS movement is probably going to be around for quite some time. And the people involved in the movement need support and understanding far more than criticism.
And, then, there is this poster to consider:


  1. Two brief comments from esteemed Thinking Friends, one local and one from Kentucky:

    "A very helpful reflection, Leroy. I applaud the movement."

    "Leroy, I applaud your going to meet the folks and talk with them. Would that we all might do that."

  2. I think there are 3 reasons the US system has been tilting towards utter kleptocracy in recent decades:
    1. Our system mainly uses First-Past-the-Post election rules that tend to foster effective single-party rule, and so there have not been enough competitive elections, especially in "more local" elections.
    2. The increased aggressiveness of $peech since the 70s.
    3. The Cultural Wars Wedge Issues that neither party's leaders have any incentive to reframe effectively.

    My belief is that if we adopted the use of 3-5 seat Proportional Representation for US/state representative elections and city council elections, it would go a long way to 1. increase the number of competitive elections, 2. empower third parties to check the influence of $peech on both major parties, 3. give outsiders like us the chance to reframe the cultural war wedge issues, or moderates exit-threat from their party when it panders too much to their extremes.

    This is what I blog about at "A New Kind of Third Party". It is more or less what is going to be pushed by FairVote in the coming year(s) and I hope you can help us to raise awareness about it.

  3. Some of the man-on-the-street type interviews of OWS, even by CNN, really have been quite comedic. My favorite was one who championed de-funding the Department of Defense and establishing a Peace Corps(?!? completely unaware that it has existed for 50 years).

    But the anti-establishment Republicans (anti- Karl Rove) are blossoming as well. With many fed up with partisan polarity, maybe a third party could emerge on the heals of the smoke-filled back rooms of the Democratic and Republican conventions.

    Thankfully the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution encourages public debate (and there is much to actually debate - not the faux televised variety). But with internet communication debate may become as ugly as it was pre-Revolution and pre-Civil War.

    But you are right, facts should be verified, and ad hominem scorned. (And comedy should be encouraged by all sides to maintain a balance in politics.)

  4. If you want more debate and less virulence and voices for dissenters/minorities via third parties, it is critical to incorporate the use of multi-seat PR into our political system in "more local" elections that o.w. tend to rarely be competitive and thereby interesting...


  5. We live in a sound-bite world where sound bite solutions are failing us. The hidden genius of OWS is to create a space where deeper complexity can emerge. In that space this conversation has gravitated toward electoral reform, one of those complexities usually lost in the chaos.

    Mathematicians have made various studies of electoral systems, and have come to the conclusion that, of available electoral systems, ours is one of the worst possible. It creates a subtle barrier between the voters and their options.

    Unfortunately, there are powerful forces in our country that benefit from this barrier, and they are not only defending, but also striving to extend the barriers. The various voter suppression techniques being deployed around the country have been called a "New Jim Crow" movement, echoing both the strategies and the rhetoric of the 19th century roots of Jim Crow.

    Which circles us back to Occupy Wall Street. Neither economics nor voting systems exist in a vacuum, to be analyzed as intellectual curiosities. Both are highly political, and must be addressed in a political setting. Today, that setting is Occupy Wall Street.