Thursday, June 12, 2014

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City - Thomas Jefferson is Tough Act to Follow

Originally published on on October 4, 2011.  Picture is of me at the Women's Rights Museum in Seneca Falls.  T-shirt was a gift from my friend Tom Cahill.

The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City is well worth reading. It was issued September 29 by the NYC General Assembly (apparently the "official" voice of Occupy Wall Street).  It is clearly modelled on the Declaration of Independence.  That is aiming pretty high, so I'm not inclined to be too critical.  Here is the opening:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

The grievance part is a bit of a problem for the NYCGA, as they do not have as well defined a bad guy as the colonists did.  The colonists pretty much blamed George III for everything so the grievances, some of which were not all that exciting, could always start with He and both the colonists and He knew exactly who was being referred to.  The grievances kind of worked their way up in terms of drama.  Early on we have something like:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
But then we get to:
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

Now that's a grievance.

NYCGA uses "They".  It is not clear to me exactly who "They" are and I'll bet it is not clear to "them" either.  Presumably "they" is corporations.  Whether they mean all corporations or just those that "place profits over people", "self interest over justice" is not clear.  In the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, it was clear that "He" pretty much meant all men.  It is a serious rhetorical problem for NYCGA, which I don't think they managed to work around.  I think the grievance list starts off wrong by using one of the most powerful ones right off:

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

Personally I think the "despite not having the original mortgage" weakens it.  As a matter of fact I would have left it as:

They have taken our houses.

Here are the rest of the grievances:

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

The * is to indicate that the list is not all inclusive. Maybe it's my own view but I don't think the "weapons of mass destruction" is something you can cleanly lay on business corporations.  Of course the colonists came up a little lame in their final grievance:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

There is debate about what they meant by "domestic insurrections", but one view is that they were referring to offers of freedom to slaves who agreed to serve in the British Army.  Getting "all men are created equal" in early and "That SOB is turning our slaves against us" near the end is kind of embarrassing.  As far as the merciless Indian Savages goes, the "inhabitants of our frontiers" appear to have given at least as well as they got.

Seneca Falls came up with a much better final grievance:

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her conficence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

So I'm not inclined to knock NYCGA for their effort and I appreciate the model they chose to use.  It is interesting to do a compare and contrast with the Tea Party Core Beliefs:

1. Illegal Aliens Are Here Illegally.
2. Pro-Domestic Employment Is Indispensable.
3. Stronger Military Is Essential.
4. Special Interests Eliminated.
5. Gun Ownership Is Sacred.
6. Government Must Be Downsized.
7. National Budget Must Be Balanced.
8. Deficit Spending Will End.
9. Bail-Out And Stimulus Plans Are Illegal.
10. Reduce Personal Income Taxes A Must.
11. Reduce Business Income Taxes Are Mandatory.
12. Political Offices Available To Average Citizens.
13. Intrusive Government Stopped.
14. English As Core Language Is Required.
15. Traditional Family Values Are Encouraged.

Interesting that the second grievance of NYCGA and the ninth core principle are in agreement.  Other than that I don't perceive opposition there.  At least in this statement NYCGA does not say anything about taxes or guns.  You can make inference of opposition speculating that perhaps people having traditional family values as a core principle might think that it is OK for business to discriminate in employment on the basis of "gender identity" or more likely just being kind of puzzled as to what NYCGA is talking about there.

After you are done with the Declaration take a look at We are the 99 Percent, which puts a human face on the grievances.  The biggest problem I see with the whole model is the identity of the 1%.  The critique that Doug Hirschorn provides addresses this point:

.... the top traders, banks and hedge funds are still going to out earn and generate substantial profits from speculating on the disconnects in the prices of things generated from all the moving parts in the global economy and it has nothing to do with why you lost your house or job or can’t find a job. If anything the successful ones are helping you, your pensions funds, retirement savings and the economy in general. If Wall Street stops. The world stops. Period.

Anybody you think is part of the 1% will have a story about their hardship and suffering and their fears for the future and on a world historical basis most of the 99% is in the 1%.  Still I agree with NYCGA that the financial infrastructure is not performing its societal function very well.  We have high unemployment and regular investors who are saving for their retirement face flat or negative returns.  The critique I've been hearing from the aging curmudgeons is that the capital markets have been turned into gambling casinos.  Mr. Hirschorn uses sports psychology to coach elite traders on Wall Street.  I'm skeptical about that being the ideal way for the capital markets to be working.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

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