Why OWS Must Become the Egalitarian Democracy it Seeks - PART II
By Ernest A. Canning on 12/7/2011, 12:25pm PT  

Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world," former British MP Tony Benn said when interviewed by Michael Moore in Sicko! --- "more revolutionary than socialist ideas…because...you have the power to use it to meet the needs of your community."

"If the poor in the U.S. and Britain turned out to vote for people who represent their interests," Ben continued, "it would be a real democratic revolution."

There is a fundamental difference between guarding against being co-opted by the corporate interests which presently control the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic Parties and refusing to vote altogether as an infantile form of protest...

Democracy cannot be achieved by boycotting elections

"We must become the change we wish to see in the world."
- Mohandas Gandhi.

My October editorial, "Occupy Wall Street is No 'Tea Party,'" addressed the why of the OWS movement. This genuine democratic uprising emerged from a profound contradiction between America's "promise" and its "reality."

The American "promise" is embodied in the lofty, egalitarian principles of the Declaration of Independence, in the recognition provided by the U.S. Constitution that the purpose of government is to "promote the general welfare," and in the concept inscribed above the portico of the U.S. Supreme Court --- "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW." The "reality," as noted by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges, is that political power in the U.S. has been seized by a "criminal class" of rapacious oligarchs, whose radical goal is not merely the ability to carry out their criminal pillage of the economy and the environment with impunity, but the decimation of "all impediments to the creation of a neo-feudalistic corporate state."

Part I of this series on "Why OWS must become the egalitarian democracy it seeks" turned to how that egalitarian democracy can be achieved. I suggested the movement's consensus decision-making, while bearing a number of positives for cohesion at the local level, is, in the end, an anti-democratic prescription for gridlock --- especially when one seeks to reach out beyond the relatively small, cohesive groups of local occupiers to the whole of the 99%. If, after all, the OWS decision process can be blocked by a small minority, how is that ultimately any different from the minority controlling the U.S. Senate, or the 1% controlling the 99%.

That argument drew a lively dialogue with several Occupiers, which will be touched upon below.

A subsequent article provided the latest opportunity for Mark E. Smith, a frequent commenter at The BRAD BLOG, to again advocate boycotting all U.S. elections.

"I've been giving teach-ins and posting to various Occupy forums," Smith wrote, "and most Occupiers are able to understand that voting is the consent of the governed, and that if we do not consent, we need to stop voting."

Appalled that Smith had, on this occasion, presented a still half-baked idea by assuming the role of self-appointed OWS teacher, I replied:

I've asked Mark repeatedly how boycotting the electoral process will achieve the goal of becoming the egalitarian democracy it seeks to achieve. To date, he has failed to provide an answer.

You do not become a democracy by abandoning the political process. You become a democracy by embracing it...

Democracy Now! recently devoted an entire segment entitled "Occupy Everywhere." How can it possibly be said that the movement occupies everywhere, if, by boycotting the political process, one willingly cedes control of the legislative and executive branches of government at the local, state and federal level to corporate wealth and power?

Not either/or proposition

Norman Solomon (D) is a life-long progressive activist, the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, and a national co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America's "Healthcare Not Warfare" campaign. Solomon is also a candidate for California's new North Coast U.S. Congressional seat.

"The view that genuine progressives should leave the electoral field to corporate Democrats and right-wing Republicans no longer makes sense to me," Solomon told Professor Robert Jensen. "I used to say that having a strong progressive movement was much more important than who was in office, but now I’d say that what we really need is a strong progressive movement AND much better people in office."

Solomon's candidacy does not mean abandonment of non-electoral means for challenging corporate wealth and power. The Move Your Money Project, for example, has already proven to be a tremendous success. Between 9/29/11 and 11/06/11 credit unions reportedly "added 650,000 new members with $4.5 billion in deposits."

Occupy San Francisco went a step further by seeking to create a "people's reserve credit union" which intends to provide "micro-loans for the working poor and homeless, and subsidized student loans at low interest rates."

A general strike, if precisely linked to specific issues, can also provide a powerful, non-violent tool. In fact, Occupy movements from Anchorage to San Diego are currently coordinating on a joint economic blockade of all major West Coast ports to be effectuated on Dec. 12.

Just as one can walk and chew gum at the same time, OWS can adopt a myriad of tactics and Occupy Electoral Politics at the same time.

Right wing tactics reflect recognition of the power of the vote

The BRAD BLOG, unlike the corporate MSM, covered the recent U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings on the extraordinary, Koch-funded efforts undertaken by the GOP to strip millions of citizens of the right to vote --- seniors, students, minorities, the poor, all of whom would disinclined to vote Republican. That two-part series can be found here and here.

The hard-right's recognition of the power of the vote can be found in the desperate tactics it has adopted to try to stave off the recall of the Koch-funded, union-busting WI Gov. Scott Walker (R) --- tactics that have included death threats against those gathering signatures on a recall petition, and a reported effort to collect and destroy such petitions before they can be turned in to election officials.

If we followed Mr. Smith's brilliant advice and boycotted the electoral process, we could save the hard-right the time and money they've spent on suppressing the vote.

Changing 'how' we elect as well as whom we elect

"We're not supposed to have government of, by and for the large corporations --- or Wall Street," Solomon said, explaining his decision to refuse corporate PAC money. "Many of the biggest companies are posting record profits while many millions of Americans are out of work. Home foreclosures are sky-high, schools are losing teachers, retirement security is in jeopardy. This is completely unacceptable."

Republican Presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, the former Governor of Louisiana, has similarly determined to eschew corporate and PAC money, as well as donations larger than $100.

If the goal is revolutionary change from an oligarchic, corporate security state to a genuine, egalitarian democracy, Solomon and Roemer's refusal to accept PAC money should not be the exception but the rule. Indeed, a true (small "d") democratic revolution would entail more than finding hundreds of Norman Solomons and Elizabeth Warrens and Buddy Roemers to run and win offices at the local, state and federal levels, but in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, would be a "true revolution of values:"

We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

An anti-corporate movement must stop looking to a corporate-owned media for coverage of issues that truly matter. We must find ways to by-pass the corporate media --Internet, door-to-door, organized protests, "the people's mic" --- in order to communicate truth to the many who are affected by policies now concocted in conclaves of billionaires, like the one exposed by Brad Friedman in 'Inside the Koch Brothers 2011 Summer Seminar' earlier this year. We must strive to convince our fellow citizens to turn away from the corporate media, and especially the all-pervasive right-wing talk radio, and convince them to, instead, turn to alternative media as their primary source of news.

We must come to realize that campaigns by competing propaganda slots (aka campaign ads) play into the hands of a system where wealth buries truth --- a system where the very effort to compete on a corporate playing field further separates the working class from what little money it retains; monies that flow to the coffers of the corporate-owned media with the purchase of every ad.

We must acquire the courage to vote for a third party candidate when the difference between a corporate Democrat and a Republican is so marginal as to amount to no choice whatsoever. We must come up with creative means for escaping the "lesser evil paradigm" that is the source of our malaise.

This position is somewhat at odds with David Adkins, who argues that Occupy politics must strictly target the Democratic Party in order to extract "necessary concessions from Democratic politicians in terms of governance on behalf of the 99%." The goal of the Occupy revolution is not to persuade political elites who've sold out to the corporate security state to make "concessions" but to replace each and every corporatist with leaders whose only fealty is to the 99%.

Finally, the occupation of electoral politics must include transparent, verifiable elections where every legal voter who wishes to vote is allowed to vote, and where we can all be assured that every vote lawfully cast has been accurately counted, or as succinctly suggested to OWS by Brad Friedman several weeks ago:

Every U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older who wishes to vote, gets to vote. Period. Those votes, on hand-marked paper ballots, will be counted publicly, by hand, on Election Night, at the precinct, in front of all observers and video cameras.

Eliminating the 'democracy deficit'

In Failed States, Noam Chomsky describes the significant gap between the policy positions of the great masses of the American people and our "elected" political leadership as the "democracy deficit" --- a deficit made possible by the deceptive nature of ad-based political campaigns that leave the political elites free to serve the "substantial people."

While OWS lacks the funds that billionaire sociopaths like the Koch brothers have to pour into the system in their attempt to corrupt it, truth and the values it shares with the great mass of the American people provide a tremendous potential advantage.

It isn't just that OWS represents the interests of the vast majority of the electorate but that, when the questions move to substantive issues, polls already show that the goals of OWS are shared by a vast majority of the American electorate --- a point reinforced by an October 9 Time Magazine poll which revealed that 89% of Americans agree that Wall Street exerts too much influence on our political system; 79% feel the gap between rich and poor is too large; 71% feel the executives from the major financial institutions responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown should be prosecuted; and that only 6% of Americans identify themselves as "Tea Party" followers.

On constructive criticism

To succeed, those participating in OWS must come to appreciate the distinction between disparagement offered up by the corporate MSM and constructive criticism that is intended to enhance achievement of the goal we all share --- of becoming the egalitarian democracy we seek.

My recent critique of consensus decision-making drew sharp objections that I was being "too harsh." Occupiers on the ground commented to provide their own insight on the workings of the consensus process. Certainly, at the local level, that process, including the use of the people's mic with participants taking turns in making statements and repeating the statements of others, has benefited both group solidarity and mutual understanding.

The process is quite beneficial if it means a full airing of views, but, respectfully, it is impractical when every decision must be approved by a super majority --- especially in a nation as vast as our own. The problem isn't "representative" democracy per se, but the perversion of democracy by corporate wealth and power culminating in a system where the only ones "represented" are Chomsky's "substantial people," or what George W. Bush referred to as his "base" --- "the Haves and Have-Mores."

UPDATE 12/10/11: I noted above that Occupy movements from Anchorage to San Diego are currently coordinating on a joint economic blockade of all major West Coast ports to be effectuated on Dec. 12.

An email circulated by PDLA described this as "Occupy the Ports! A Day without Goldman Sachs!"

The email explains that the action is being taken in solidarity with port workers and truck drivers against SSA Marine, a global company owned by Goldman Sachs.

SSA Marine which has multiple terminals in LA and Long Beach and other facilities in the area, as well as terminals in other ports, is a major military contractor that ran the port in Iraq under the US occupation. In Bellingham WA, where they are trying to build a dirty coal terminal, they were found guilty of illegally building an access road without a permit. In Oakland, they were discovered to have been carrying potentially explosive cargo without warning the numbers.

The email notes that SSA’s shippers in Carson deny union representation and characterize truck drivers as independent contractors to avoid FICA taxes and workers’ compensation.

The email explains:

We are building towards a general strike by organized and unorganized workers, as a path of direct action by working people and the 99% to define and protect our own interests...The port truck drivers are threatened with prosecution under anti-trust laws if they try to organize. But as concerned residents and working people, we are able to act independently and are doing so. We understand that our action on Dec. 12 will not shut down the ports of LA and Long Beach, and we never claimed we would. Only the working people of the ports, drivers, longshore, warehouse, clerks and others have the power to do that.

The issue is also discussed at length by AlterNet’s Tara Lohan, who describes "port truck drivers" as "a class of exploited workers who are a crucial lynchpin of our economy."

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.