Has the First Amendment expired in your public square? Has your local park prioritized empty vistas over the right to petition your government for a redress of grievances, thereby adding one more grievance to the list?
Here’s a proposal. Pack up all of your grievances in a bag and bring them to where the government responsible is located. Move your protest and yourself and as much of your Occupy community as you can bring with you to Freedom Plaza — http://occupywashingtondc.org — or McPherson Square — http://occupydc.org — in Washington, D.C. You need not bring anything else. Together we can keep the DC occupations sheltered and fed and supplied with resources.
A national movement with local encampments has begun to change the culture. That should not end. Local encampments have begun to build community, to model democratic decision making, to aid the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, and to develop a culture of resistance in quiescent corners of the land. All of that should continue.
But while we’re helping a handful of homeless people, while we’re offering assistance to a dozen veterans, while we’re antagonizing city councils that didn’t create this mess, our senators and misrepresentatives in Washington, D.C., are dumping another $682.5 billion into wars and weapons, with presidential power to imprison anyone without charge or trial forever and ever thrown on top of the Defense Authorization Act like a cherry on a sunday.
While we’re educating our neighbors on the need for affordable housing, the Federal Reserve is pulling seven trillion — with a t — dollars out of its posterior and giving it to the banks responsible for the housing crisis. While we’re making sacrifices to advance a national movement to place people ahead of profits, the United States Congress is preparing massive cuts to Medicare, children’s nutrition, crumbling bridges, and national parks, plus “security” cuts that will largely avoid even scratching a military budget five times larger than that of the next most militarized nation on earth, even as the U.S. military works overtime to antagonize Pakistan, China, Iran, and much of the world.
I know Washington, D.C., is far away. But I saw New Yorkers arrive there last week by foot. And there are trains, planes, and automobiles available for the less ambitious. And I guarantee you that your local activists will raise a fund to send you to the heart of our darkness. Here’s why.
Violating our First Amendment rights, beating us with sticks, pepper spraying us, tear-gassing us, and arresting us, and thereby intimidating many more of us in other cities that have only had to resort to mild suggestions and threats: these are criminal acts. These would be the outrage constantly on the lips of every president, senator, and cabinet secretary if they were taking place in Iran. These crimes are taking place in our own country, and this trend will increase if it is not effectively resisted and challenged. The place to bring that challenge — or one key place, anyway — is the U.S. Justice Department and the government it serves in Washington.
Don’t talk to me about the “question” of whether there has “really” been federal coordination of these assaults. There has been federal U.S. provision of the weaponry to our cities as to the enemies of our brothers and sisters in Egypt. There has been federal training in the militarization of the police in our towns and on our university campuses. There has been federal toleration of outrages that shame our nation in the eyes of the world.
There is another threat to the Occupy movement, however. Beyond the cold weather, beyond the police assaults, beyond the challenges of caring for people in need who are attracted to encampments of those who care, there is the threat of co-option, of normalization, of de-radicalizing something radical. The power of the Occupy movement lies in the fact that it is not speaking for half of a corrupt plutocracy against the other half. Bringing people’s demands to the government must continue to be just that, an effort of independent people to challenge the government as a whole, along with the society as a whole, to change. The two political parties move together, and far more important than squinting hard enough to detect differences between them is the fundamental work of pushing both of them in a better direction. You can still cherish your hopes that one of them will move a bit more in the direction of decency than the other, but none of us can sit out this drive to put basic fairness and equality on the agenda in a way that has already been shown to be more effective than partisanship.
By taking our demands to Washington, we must not neglect our local work, much less the efforts targeted at Wall Street in New York. But when you protest the empowerment of corporations, the concentration of wealth, and the advancement of the war economy at the expense of our environment and security, it is important to ask whether the chief levers for changing our public policy are in your town or on the shores of the Potomac in the Pentagon, in the K Street lobby firms, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in the White House, and on Capitol Hill. Every type of work in this movement is appreciated, from your local street corner, from your house, or from wherever you can contribute it. But you should know that there is an open invitation and a camp site awaiting you in the imperial capital.
I leave you with a parable:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they appeared on every network lamenting his lack of clear demands or legislation and his failure to join forces with the Democratic Party.
Photo by Scott Galindez