Occupy Wall Street: Too Big To Fail?

The combination of Occupy Wall Street and Social media may mark the end of the invisible hand. With the rise of crowd sourcing and location-based services it could be that the consumer actually solves the economic crisis. It would mean a paradigm shift from the losing battle of employee vs employer to “the customer is always right”.

Occupy Wall Street is a testament to the concept of “jobless recovery”. Higher stocks and corporate profits don’t constitute a recovery when states are cash strapped and American’s are experiencing stagnant wages and record unemployment. The fact that lower-income wage earners experience a recession first and recover last is as old as civilization, but this time things may be different. When the Occupy Wall Street movement began I was surprised only in that it wasn’t a response to a single event or catalyst. Now I’m beginning to think it could be the catalyst.

Some of OWS activities included asking customers to close their accounts at bailed out banks and switch to local worker-owned credit unions. At the Occupy Austin event a couple of speakers mentioned shopping farmers’ markets and buying local. There could be something to this, Austin not only weathered the recession better than most cities, but even corporate chains here know there are consequences to displaying a questionable commitment to the community.

People would have probably remained blissfully ignorant of wealth disparity as long the 40-hr work week paid the bills, insurance, mortgage and allows for modest savings.  According to a Wall Street Journal article 53% of workers surveyed said they’ve taken on new roles, with just 7% getting a raise or a bonus. People are catching on to the more work less pay trend. Most American’s don’t want to be rich, they want to fulfill their own pursuits of happiness.

if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria (Harvard Business Review Nov. ’10)

If our financial system were not on the brink of a double-dip recession and small businesses could get loans and hire people there would be no movement. Instead people have lost faith in their political and economic leaders whose only response has been to claim the climate is bad for “job creators”.  The Wall Street Journal reports that US multi-nationals cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s and increased employment overseas by 2.4 million. It could be that if the current leadership doesn’t get it together and address the jobless part of this recovery the people just may take it into their hands.

Advertisements

Who is behind Occupy Austin?

Several people have contacted me regarding the #OccupyAustin movement. Some thought I maybe participating, others that I might actually be a chief organizer. Neither is the case but they were all right to assume I had a strong interest in understanding what its about, who’s behind it, and what if any connection it has to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I had heard about satellite events popping up across the country but my first tangible experience with the Austin version was Oct. 5th when I came across the website OccupyAustin.org. It prominently displayed customized fliers advertising the Oct. 6th launching of the local movement. I could tell by the graphic design and advanced nature of the start up website that these folks had access to some very talented human resources. The facebook page had over 8,000 likes and the event had over 4,000 RSVPs and I began to wonder how such a movement could gain so much steam right under my nose without my knowledge. I have built many websites in my day and designed even more fliers which is why I was initially skeptical that a real grass-roots movement could work together so seamlessly, (at least digitally) without a real funding source.  This led me to believe there was most likely some preexisting group that was attempting to establish themselves as a mouthpiece of the Austin faction of OWS. I started perusing their website for clues like links to other organizations, names of prominent individuals or even sponsors. What I found was a page of over 10 email addresses all at the “OccupyAustin.org” domain. I was curious if there could really be this many individuals involved so I began sending emails. Within hours I received replies thanking me for my interest and jumping right ahead in asking me what skills I might have to offer. I explained my interest was from a media perspective but that it could offer away to help others understand what their movement was about. I was given a couple of names and signs to look for once I reached City Hall. I knew that if I wanted to understand better who was behind this intense effort I would have to get there early and start asking questions.

Once I got to City Hall at about 11am I sat for a moment and observed the crowd looking for someone who was clearly asserting authority. There were a few folks sitting around taking notes and doing busy work but it wasn’t until a young gentlemen, named Ronny,  stood before the crowd and announced a “General Assembly” meeting would be held at 3pm that afternoon that I knew who to talk to. When he returned to the crowd I visited with him and asked him a barrage of questions regarding the web site, the General Assembly and the difficulties of “representing” a movement that claimed no leader. Addressing the website first he listed an IT guy, web designer and content manager and assured they were all volunteers. He said the General Assembly met once a day and “made decisions based on consensus”. They developed elaborate hand gestures to keep meetings from devolving into shouting matches. At some point the General Assembly broke into smaller groups called “magnets” run by “facilitators” with specific issues such as media, fundraising, childcare for demonstrators, housing, legal, web and so on. Each would take minutes and report back to the GA. They then would discuss strategy and the future of the movement’s activities such as which bank to march on and on what day. Though we live in a constitutional republic this group was exercising a primitive form of direct democracy and every meeting the facilitators rotated to prevent any inkling of “centralized power”. After a few days the General Assembly released a list of  goals and demands attempting to ally themselves with the Occupy Wall Street movement that included: “economic security”, “financial fairness” and “corporate responsibility”.

I was amazed to see pop-up tents, a large PA system and a network of supply chains for food, water and even shelter for demonstrators. They attracted a little over 1,000 people that day from all demographics but generally the young and frustrated. Each day since has seen smaller numbers in comparaison but those that remain are a determined group. Ronny said they not only planned to grow the “occupation” in Austin but to help other groups across Texas organize within their cities. There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about who these people are and what they stand for, but one thing I am certain of is they are not lazy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Occupy Austin “This movement is about Democracy”

I returned to #OccupyAustin about dusk. The occupiers had grown in number to over 1,000 and the atmosphere was festive. The crowd skewed young but was at least as diverse as the city itself. There were impromptu sing-a-longs, home made signs and lots of folks who were clearly there out of curiosity.

I walked into City Hall which happen to have a council meeting in session discussing the possibility of moving May city elections to November.  Having worked as an election administrator for both the 2006 and 2008 elections I can assure moving elections to November amounts to increasing turnout. The city is also relieved of funding an additional election in the spring. Although this is a separate matter it deals directly with democracy and participation, two things that were going on in mass just outside. After speaking to one of the on-duty officers about his long day we walked to The Gingerman right up the street. We discussed what good if any could come from this gathering and all agreed supporting local business was a good way to “recycle our wealth”.  We would start with bars and breweries and dub it #occupintAustin. After a Peacemaker and a Rahr Gravel I left and headed back to City Hall.

At that point it was 11pm. I walked up to Univision doing an interview with a lady holding a POW MIA flag. The crowd had thinned some but the remaining occupiers looked as fresh and enthusiastic as I left them. I heard conflicting reports on whether the protests actually had to conclude by a certain hour but according to the chatters on their live feed they plan to be there all night. I will make my best attempt to go to City Hall and watch the march on Bank of America. There they plan to ask customers to leave BoA and join a local credit union. Should be interesting but I don’t think BoA is in the business of novel ideas. I suspect by now they’re aware of the plan and will have security or APD on hand to remove any trespassers. Its worth noting that unlike most protests I have attended this one felt it necessary to appear “pro” law enforcement. It is in at least part a branding effort but I saw multiple conversations between occupiers and officers, many speakers thanked them for being there and one read, “APD are the 99%”.

If you are interested in how to participate the General Assembly has posted list of items they need and how they can be donated. If you would like to learn more about what the General Assembly does you can read their minutes from today. The operations are growing increasingly complex and demanding and it appears to all be done by volunteers. There is a lot that can be said about these people but lazy is not one of them.

Slideshow of today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Occupy Austin at City Hall

OAoldfolksOAcutswillbenecOAbusinesssuitOAOA#OAdvooaprotest
OAcow

Occupy Austin, a set on Flickr.

I arrived about 11am at Austin City Hall for the #OccupyAustin event. The occupiers numbered about 300. There were about 5 news trucks from local Austin media who were browsing the crowd for interesting looking characters to interview. The APD was also out in force. After exchanging several emails last night with “organizers” (my word) I was most curious to see how organized this group actually was.  I spoke to “Ronny” after watching him address the crowd about the 3pm General Assembly. He said they are still working on an actual structure but they have formed committees that cover increasingly specific issues conducted by moderators and all decisions are reached by consensus. He handed me a print out of what had come of the first General Assembly held just a few days ago. It described the procedures, the structure of “facilliation teams”, hand signals for communications and an introduction to their purpose. It begins:

As a group we have decided to take n the form of Occupy Wall Street movement to have all planning and activities (from the logistics of the operation of the occupation to the planning of activities) take place through committees. The General Assembly is a gathering for these committees to report back to the group as a whole on their progress and receive consensus approval to move forward with activities that affect the occupation as a whole.

I asked about the trouble of “representing” a group that claims no leader and he acknowledged the obvious problem. Just minutes before a young woman with an Occupy Austin media pass addressed the crowd over a document being circulated that was not “approved” by the general assembly. You could immediately since her frustration as she was met with grumbles and comments from people who wanted to make it clear no one spoke for them.

My main issue with any protest movement is a lack of, whats referred to in the organizing world as, “action items”. Ronny assured me that each assembly ends with action items drawn from consensus. Tomorrow Oct. 7th they will march to Bank of America and ask customers to switch to a local credit union instead of supporting corporate banks. Another speaker suggested shopping at farmers’ markets and keeping money within the community. I think as long as the group stays flexible and organic enough to absorb the general discontent of Wall Street it can maintain successful less they fall in the trap of alienation by affiliation.

Occupy Wallstreet (Anywhere)

Today is #OccupyAustin and as I talk to local politicos about the burgeoning new “occupy[insertyourtown]” movement we speculate on how long it will be before some highly funded, issue specific group comes in and marginalizes it like the TEA Party. Within the Occupy Austin movement there is a clear structure being created with a General Assembly that meets daily and specific committees who democratically discuss issues and make plans. They have a website and are highly motivated and engaged. Their facebook page already has over 7,000 fans and today’s event has over 4,000 RSVPs. It will be interesting to see who is behind such a speedy effort to first occupy the URL OccuppyAustin.org then to create such a content heavy web presence.

The in-cohesive nature and lack of pure ideology are part of what gives these movements credibility. You can not cut the head from a headless snake, but groups like Move On are trying to shape themselves into just that. As we have seen so far celebrities and unions have “joined the fight” though no specific agenda has been outlined. Isn’t the point here though, that people are just tired of failed leadership at the hands of greed? Do they really need an agenda or specific reforms to push? Like a friend said,  “What matters is these people are getting off their asses.” At the end of the day public policy is no overnight read and is generally left for politicians, activists (which anyone with spare time can be) and business ‘leaders’ to work out. Average working class people, if they in fact have work, do not have time to become political scientists.

After a historic election of “hope and change” how did we get to a point where we have two separate organic movements against our nations establishment?  Ladies and gentlemen this is nothing new. It happened at the end of the Roman Empire as well. The young educated class who could not find work lost respect for “Roman virtue” when they saw it was really just a farce to keep the common order of things as they were. There was no real meritocracy. All any of these people want is a job where they do not feel like they are getting the screws. I see pundits refer to them as communist, socialists and anti-capitalist as if they just hate rich people. Sure those types are drawn to large gathers and protests in general. However, I suspect that these folks wouldn’t mind bonuses for bank executives if they weren’t just laid off by a bank, or if wasn’t funded by taxpayer bailout money. This is what people are tired of. Watching people who made bad decisions redistribute the nations wealth amongst themselves.

Simple question: Would our economy be in this shape if these financial executives were doing a “good job” or at least one worth 10 million a year?

Bush said it:

Some workers are being left behind in the booming economy and the disparity between the rich and the poor is growing…The fact is that income inequality is real. It has been rising for more than 25 years…The earnings gap is now twice as wide as it was in 1980. Bush said, adding that more education and training can lift peoples’ salaries.

Reagan said it:

Now try it yourself…

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: