Freedom and democracy are our birthright. As human beings, we are born with the potential for both great individual achievement and great social cooperation. This is why freedom and democracy go hand in hand, inspiring in us a new vision for a better society.
This vision of freedom and democracy played a role in the founding of the United States of America. Now, this vision is being reborn in the streets of America. I’m writing this message today to explain my understanding of our new democratic uprising and call on you to join us in the streets in support of a new development in the American practice of freedom and democracy.
Oddly enough, this most recent chapter in the history of American democracy was sparked in large part by a non-profit organization with its roots in Canada. AdBusters describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age”. The subtitle of their magazine is “The Journal of the Mental Environment”. For over two decades, AdBusters has been publishing their magazine and challenging corporate dominance of our economic, political, and mental environment in a variety of ways. Now, their “Occupy Wall Street” campaign has grown from a call to action on their website into a national [and increasingly global] Occupy Together movement.
This genuinely grassroots movement is grappling with the question of how to respond to the ways in which transnational corporations have looted our economy and corrupted our democracy. As a long-time advocate for environmental and social justice, I’m well aware of the fact that large corporations often tamper with our democracy and make life harder for the rest of us. In the past, this behavior on behalf of corporate criminals has often only sparked a public response from a relatively small group of activists. The difference at the moment, though, is that a majority of Americans are feeling the crunch in a personal way and now seem to be connecting the dots between their personal struggles and the consequences of corporate malfeasance on American society.
So what do we do about it? Whether you’re a Real Life Superhero or just an everyday citizen who’s tired of being ignored by politicians and left behind by a faltering economy, it’s time for you to make your stand. Wall Street banks and other transnational corporations have swindled this country out of trillions of dollars by bullying or buying our politicians, getting increasingly rich off of the deepening poverty of hard-working Americans, and leaving nothing but pollution and illness and shattered dreams in their wake. If we love our communities, if we love our country, if we love this nation and the principles of freedom and democracy that it was supposedly founded on, we will find a way to stand up to these transnational corporations and reclaim our economy and our society from their grasp.
If you don’t usually goes to street protests, you may be reluctant to participate in something like this. At first, you may not like the idea of going out in the streets to demonstrate against the economic and political policies of a government that claims to be your government. But consider this: these demonstrations going on right now are more than just a bunch of protests. They are living experiments in direct democracy that are intended to respond to our shared economic and political politics democratically and serve as an example to members of Congress, to the American people, and to the world of what a real democracy looks like.
How are these demonstrations models of democracy?
At Occupy Wall Street and many of the other demonstrations springing up around the nation, the people in attendance are holding what is called a General Assembly. These General Assemblies are opportunities for everyone present to talk about the problems we face, make proposals about different courses of action, and decide together on what actions will be taken by the group. The General Assemblies in NYC and elsewhere are using this democratic process both to organize their ongoing occupation of public spaces and to come up with a list of concrete demands for Congress that are intended to address the root problems of our current economic and political crisis.
When you see news reports in the corporate media about how demonstrators are getting arrested and how they supposedly don’t have a clear set of demands, it may seem like people are just upset or just out there to complain about a variety of different issues that don’t have any clear relationship to one another. But these General Assemblies have helped these demonstrators to organize numerous committees to distribute food and supplies to people, keep the public space that they’re occupying clean and safe, coordinate interaction with the media, explain the process to newcomers, and discuss complex economic and political topics in an open forum where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone can make a difference in deciding what courses of action are taken to remedy our nation’s problems.
Yes, it’s a messy, complex process. But it is clearly a democratic process, and it deserves the support of everyone in this country who loves freedom and democracy. These demonstrators are asking some of the hard-hitting questions that members of Congress ought to be asking. They’re coming up with solutions that Congress ought to implement, and they’re doing it in a way that Congress could learn from. Honestly, what members of Congress should do is come out onto the streets with the demonstrators and take notes on what a real democracy looks like!
This is why I’m asking you to support your local General Assembly, whether it may be on the streets of New York City or in the heart of Small Town USA. Here in Carbondale, Illinois, we’ve started an Occupy Carbondale movement that has already seen tremendous success, especially for a city of our size. We had about 50 people at our first meeting and about 75 at our first demonstration. If you live in Southern Illinois, I invite you to join us for our next meeting where our nascent General Assembly will decide on the details of if, when, where, and how we will start up an ongoing 24/7 occupation of public space like the ones going on right now in NYC, Washington D.C., and other cities across the nation.
Whichever General Assembly you support, and however you choose to support it, you’re playing an important part in a movement that has the potential to change America and the world. Nobody knows exactly where all of this may lead. But since it’s an opportunity to challenge the corporate takeover of our society and learn more about democracy along the way, it’s definitely worth it.
Support your local General Assembly today! Visit Occupy Together to find a General Assembly or other related event near you. If you can’t find one, start one. Other General Assemblies will help you. Together, we can make our vision for freedom and democracy a reality!