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How Occupy Is Transforming Our National Conversation

John Cavanaugh and Robin Broad
Yes! Magazine / News Analysis
Published: Wednesday 23 November 2011
In just two months, the Occupy movement has begun to unseat an economic narrative that held sway for thirty years.
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Shift your gaze for a moment from the lurid headlines of police shutting down Occupy sites in OaklandNew York and other cities to the scene on a sunny day in early November here in Washington, D.C. In front of the grandiose U.S. Treasury Department building, thousands of nurses dressed in red shirts gathered holding high large signs proclaiming: “Heal America: Tax Wall Street” and “Tax Timmy’s Friends” (as in U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner). They and their allies next marched to the Bank of America, then to the Occupy D.C. site, and onward to the corridors of Congress. Their rallying cry: a tax on the speculative trades that dominate Wall Street.

These nurses are one of many reminders of how far we have come since Occupy Wall Street pitched its first tents in Zucotti Park on September 17 and of how much the national conversation has shifted. They remind us how significant have been the successes of the Occupy movement, whatever happens to those tents

For the thirty years until September 17, the dominant national narrative was framed by the overarching philosophy of free-marketers like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Milton Friedman. Starting around 1980, they successfully sold a story-line that government should step aside, eliminate regulations, and let the “free market” and its large corporations create prosperity for all of us. As for the resulting rise in inequality? Not to worry, their storyline argued, this was not a problem because everyone had a chance to get rich and anyone who did not – well, that was their own fault.

Across the world, for years, millions of people challenged this elite-driven and elite-benefiting “Washington Consensus.” In Brazil, for example, landless workers occupied farmland and ultimately helped elect a government of the 99 percent. Similar movements helped elect governments that challenged the 1 percent in Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela, and elsewhere. 

But, in the United States, the dominant story persisted for decades, drowning out the voices of victims and critics — leaving us with a callous national narrative that tolerated obscene wealth among the few, mounting poverty among the many, and an escalating gap between the two. 

Tolerated, that is, until Occupy Wall Street.

The signs and chants of “we are the 99%” have broken the spell, liberating the public imagination to unearth the true narrative of what has happened in this country and across the world during the past three decades. 

Pay no heed to what the self-serving mainstream pundits of the 1 percent say about the Occupy movement. The reality is this: Occupy has already succeeded. It has succeeded in shaking us as a society out of our hypnosis. Occupy has already succeeded in its role as a social movement in challenging the old, faulty dominant story spread by the 1 percent and replacing it with another one that resonates with what most Americans know to be true.

The truth: The policies and practices of giant corporations and the U.S. government over the past three decades have rigged the system to benefit the 1 percent. The truth: The resulting inequality has grown to grotesque levels not seen since the first “Gilded Age” 100 years ago. Inequality is crushing millions, while destroying our democracy.   

Ignore also what the pundits of the 1 percent are telling you about who is at Occupy. The Occupy sites are not filled with partying spoiled rich college kids. There are ordinary people, some who have lost jobs, some who have lost homes, some who cannot find jobs, most who had lost hope. People who are tired of being blamed, tired of feeling alone, and tired of not being heard.

Now, they are being heard and they are not feeling alone. 

In choosing Wall Street as its main initial site, Occupy brilliantly changed the narrative to focus on the real villain: a Wall Street that gambled the hard-earned savings of ordinary Americans and precipitated the crash of 2008. A Wall Street that was then bailed out by the 1 percent in the U.S. Congress.

Pay no heed to those pundits who say that Occupy will fail unless it puts forward a specific list of specific demands. This is not the role of a social movement such as Occupy. Rather, if Occupy can keep the spotlight on this new narrative, this gives space, power, and voice to other groups to put forward specific demands on behalf of the 99 percent. Case in point: those nurses who marched with other Occupy supporters on that sunny day in early November to demand the tax on financial transactions of the 1 percent.

Indeed, as the nurses rallied in Washington, three of their leaders joined in a demonstration thousands of miles away in France, pressing leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies including President Obama to embrace this tax. Obama had previously been opposed. But, as IPS fellow Sarah Anderson reported from France: “After the protests, Obama stood up in France at a news conference with the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And, to our surprise, Obama announced that he was now open to the financial speculation tax.” 

In sum: Occupy is successfully shifting the national conversation and, in doing so, it is opening the door to a new realm of possibilities.

John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. 

Robin is a Professor of International Development at American University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is director of the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability. Over the decades, this husband and wife team has worked in a number of countries, including the Philippines.



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ABOUT John Cavanaugh
John has a BA from Dartmouth College and a MA from Princeton University. He worked as an international economist for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (1978-1981) and the World Health Organization (1981-1982). He directed IPS's Global Economy Project from 1983-1997. He is the co-author of 10 books and numerous articles on the global economy, including Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match (2008, Paradigm Publishers), written with Robin Broad.

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Keep these articles coming as

Keep these articles coming as they've onpeed many new doors for me.

When people say "OWS has to

When people say "OWS has to develop a political party to develop candidates", or something about the dire future of the movement; just agree with them, and encourage them to get right on with it by forming a co-operative with others who agree. There are lots of working groups forming in every city with an occupation.

I am really so excited about the non-authoritarian organization and non-violent action shown by protesters and by the emphasis on inclusion and learning. The way change happens really affects the results, and I agree that already a big change has occurred.

Obama said: make me do it.

Obama said: make me do it. Here is your chance Mr. President...

I have discussed this very

I have discussed this very issue with my children and other members of my family and a few friends since the early days of Reagan, deregulation and 'trickle down', in an ongoing dialogue. Some of even my own (not immediate ) family have been in disagreement with me. I always told them they were 'wannabe's who fancied themselves part of the Reaganite Country Club Set. The term '!%' hadn't yet been coined, but I certainly would have used it had it been.All the times we discussed the growing corruption of the American Dream (of a better life for each succeeding generation) and the idea of capitalism with appropriate regulations for the purpose of safeguarding the dream - I never dreamed I would see an actual nationwide (worldwide!) movement in retaliation to this tyrannical usurpation.LONG LIVE #OWS

WHAT HAS AMERICA BECOME ?!!

WHAT HAS AMERICA BECOME ?!! 1936 GERMANY?!!?

OWS / 99%, FIGHT BACK !! JOIN THE OWS / 99% “BLACK FRIDAY BOYCOTT.”

OWS and the 99% have the Power! “BUYING POWER.” It’s about time we used it. WE CAN INSTANTLY STOP THE FLOW OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
Here’s how.

WE’RE NOT BUYING ON BLACK FRIDAY.

STRANGLE THE COMPANIES THAT ARE STRANGLING US!

Companies want our money, but they don’t want to help America get back on its feet?
We are being starved, now let’s starve those greedy corporations who took our money.
We want companies to hire us, politicians to vote for us, and this is how to force it.
We have an incredible mobile army of millions and millions and millions of people!
Let’s combine the power that we all have. VOTE, by NOT spending.

Stop buying as much as you can. Stop buying from ALL of the big corporations, retailers and banks; Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite Aid, Kroger, Costco, Target, Home Depot, Best Buy, Sears, Lowe’s, Supervalu, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Georgia Pacific, RJR, Brown & Williamson, Kraft Global, Sara Lee, Tyson, BP, Shell Oil, Exxon Mobile, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Sprint, Dell, Microsoft, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Kimberly-Clark, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One, Ford, Chrysler, GM, Disney, Macy’s, Kohl’s, The Gap, Penny’s, Colgate, Nike, Staples, Office Depot, Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Avon, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Kellogg’s, Dean Foods, General Mills, eBay, etc., All of them!
Add your own companies to our list and pass it on.

Don’t use global banks. Move your money from a big bank to a neighborhood bank.
Don’t use your credit cards or ATM’s…at all.
Don’t shop any retail chain stores. Shop local, or mom and pop shops.
Don’t buy gasoline. Walk, take a bus, car pool, or ride a bike.
Don’t buy any extras like music, movies, electronics, or toys…nothing.

BUY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.
STOP SPENDING OUR BILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND WATCH WHAT HAPPENS.

Greedy global companies will be shocked and not know what to do.
Wall Street, the oil barons, corporate fat cats, stockholders, executives, marketers, retailers, politicians, and President Obama, will be asking us, the 99%, what we want!

“WE” WILL FORCE WALL STREET AND CORPORATIONS TO HELP AMERICA!

We have already started.
V

Thank you for writing this

Thank you for writing this article. You are speaking truth to power, and this narrative needs to be spread far and wide. I, too, have noticed a marked shift in Obama's stance on certain issues as they concern the financial industry. It does make complete sense that he is responding to the voices of those who now, after decades of being silent, are standing and speaking up about the growing inequities in our society.

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ABOUT Robin Broad
Dr. Robin Broad is Professor of International Development at the School of International Service at American University. She teaches courses on economic globalization & development as well as environment & development, with a focus on social, environmental, and economic sustainability.

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