Back around May or June a bunch of us announced plans for this coming Thursday, October 6th, to occupy Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., not for a march or a rally, and not for a day or a weekend, but to create a central space for an ongoing occupation from which we would engage in nonviolent resistance.
We were inspired by the Arab Spring and Wisconsin and working for a U.S. Autumn. Now of course we are also inspired by the Occupation of Wall Street. It’s been wonderful to see more and more people and organizations compelled to join in that action, and to see militarism and plutocracy opposed together by a movement that refuses to be dumbed down into a sound bite.
Over 150 organizations are part of the planning for Freedom Plaza at October2011.org and all are encouraged to join. Wall Street’s servants on K Street, in the Pentagon, and in our government may be feeling comfortably distant from Wall Street right about now. But I don’t see any reason to support protests of the wealth that corrupts our government and not protests of the government corrupted by that wealth. Choosing to be corrupted is an active choice. Corruption is not something imposed on helpless victims.
We chose October 6th because the Afghanistan War was due to begin its second decade. Over 4,000 people have taken this pledge:
"I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine to demand that our resources are invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning ."
I hope you’ll go and pledge the same at October2011.org
It has been three years now since a Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said the United States had repeated all of the Soviet Union’s mistakes in Afghanistan and had moved on to new ones. Mistakes is a common euphemism for crimes and other words that we would be applying were ours the country violently occupied, were ours the bulk of the deaths and misery, were our doors being kicked in and our loved ones disappeared, were the missiles hitting our homes.
Every year, of course, as British Member of Parliament Rory Stewart recently pointed out, top western officials have claimed that whatever year it was would be the decisive one. And each year it has not been. This past week, the United Nations reported an increase in violence in Afghanistan of about 40 percent over last year. NATO deemed that story inappropriate and announced its own findings the very next day. It turns out that, if you believe violence isn’t violence when it’s committed by the United States and allies, then you can look at certain types of violence initiated purely by Afghans and identify a dramatic decrease of… wait for it… 2 percent.
But don’t book that Afghan vacation just yet.
Migratory birds have been avoiding Afghanistan for some years now. Afghans with higher educations have been leaving for decades. War profiteers, and occupation profiteers, and so-called reconstruction profiteers seem to know their way out. But imperial rulers, whether British or Soviet or U.S., Nobel Peace Prize winners or otherwise, seem utterly incapable of withdrawing other people’s kids from Afghan wars until no other option remains.
And why this inability to leave? Why stay? It’s not to track down Osama bin Laden on the off chance he wasn’t really given that proper Muslim sea burial. It’s not to find the number 8 regional leader in al Qaeda, and certainly not to oppose the Taliban which feeds off the occupation. It may be for politics, but U.S. opinion polls could hardly scream "Get out!" more clearly. It is almost certainly for profits and pipelines and permanent bases. A U.S. executive, er excuse me "job creator," told NPR this summer that if the occupation of Afghanistan were scaled back he really hoped there could be a big occupation of Libya.
But there’s apparently another reason why armed U.S. citizens and their foreign workers are still in Afghanistan, and it’s not to keep us safe. The 2006 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, among other studies, made clear that these wars make us less safe, not more. Almost four years ago, at a conference in Washington, D.C., on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin listed ways to reduce the threat of terrorism. Afterwards, journalist Gareth Porter asked him whether ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should have been on his list.
“You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”
“Why not,” Porter asked.
“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”
Since then, of course, a lot more people have died in vain.
This is what it comes to, and why nonviolent occupations of our own back in Der "Homeland" are required. Our government has gone insane. It is killing people purely because it has already killed people.
War was banned by the nations of the world in 1928 and an 85-1 vote in the U.S. Senate in 1929 following a decade of work by a peace movement that refused to give up. And now we accept war as the air we breathe. In 2008 we may not have voted in "four more years," but we did get four more wars: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, added to Iraq and Afghanistan, with routine murders of particular human beings and those standing too close to them now openly inclusive of U.S. citizens.
To a growing extent, we see through this just as we see through austerity, environmental destruction, corporate welfare, and political corruption. But merely waiting for another money-soaked, gerrymandered, cable-tv-controlled election on unverifiable voting machines is not going to be sufficient. We’re not against elections. This is not either-or. We’re not against elections: we’re demanding reforms that would allow us to have meaningful elections. But redirecting OccupyWallStreet energy into elections, as was done to Wisconsin, would be an act of betrayal.
Super Congress Member John Kerry’s home state is fifth in the nation in military spending, employing lots of registered voters building machines of death for Raytheon, the former head of which company was brought in by the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of Defense and who told the Washington Times in June, "The wars of the future will be longer, deadlier and waged against a more diverse variety of enemies than ever before."
Super Congress Co-Chair Patty Murray, Democrat from Boeing, since 2007 has taken $276,000 from war industries, Max Baucus $139,000, Dave Camp $130,000, John Kerry $73,000, and so on. The President who must sign or veto whatever comes out of the Super Congress and the Less Than Super Congress took over $1 million from war industries just in the 2008 election, not to mention $39 million from finance, insurance, and real estate. Targeting our social safety net is a goal that Wall Street and the military industrial complex have shared for many years. And of course the general corporate exploitation of foreign resources and workers depends on the threat of military force. Military spending has increased at the President’s request each year since 2008 as well as since 2001.
Thanks to Occupy Wall Street, a conversation has been launched about the damage the wealthiest one percent is doing to the rest of us. California just pulled out of a mortgage fraud settlement deal that is expected to let the crooks off easy. Who’s to say Occupy Wall Street didn’t influence that decision.
The Super Congressional crusade to slash spending can only be carried through without causing massive misery and death in one of two ways, neither of which the U.S. Congress or President wants to touch, but both of which are central demands of the Occupation movement. The first is to significantly raise taxes on the super wealthy. The second is to significantly cut spending on the military. A progressive demand right now is not "Jobs Not Cuts" but "Jobs Not Wars."
Seventy members of Congress have pointed out that ending the two biggest current wars in fiscal year 2012 would save $1.8 trillion over the following decade, above planned savings from promised reductions in troops. But war spending is pocket change in comparison with the overall military and security budget. Economists have studied the impact on job creation of various types of government spending. It turns out that we could have full employment in the United States purely by redirecting a fraction of the Pentagon’s budget. We could create 29 million jobs above and beyond reemployment for workers displaced in a conversion, just by moving funds from the Pentagon into education, healthcare, clean energy, and tax cuts. This calculation, if not my ideal plan, would leave military spending in several departments including Homeland Security untouched and leave the Department of So Called Defense more money than it had 10 years ago.
Leon Panetta, who holds the position that we used to more usefully call "Secretary of War," considers $350 billion over 10 years, or $35 billion per year, to be serious cuts to the national security budget. But he’s discussing cuts to dreamed of future budgets. The current budget would still increase under those so-called cuts. But imagine really taking $35 billion from a budget of well over a trillion. (According to Chris Hellman of National Priorities Project, the security budget is $1.2 trillion, including the spy agencies and various other departments.) That would be a cut of less than 3.5 percent.
China spends about $114 billion per year on its military. Let’s generously assume there are enough hidden costs in China’s budget to double it to $228 billion. And let’s assume that we must spend twice as much as they do, because…. well, just because. Now we’re at $456 billion. How do we get from there to Panetta describing a U.S. security budget of $965 billion as the lowest we can safely go, and a budget of $950 billion as "doomsday"? Is the danger here to us or to the profits of the weapons makers who are also demanding that any cuts made be made to troops’ benefits rather than to weaponry?
“Every gun that’s made," said Dwight David Eisenhower, "every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed." It also signifies death and injury to those on the receiving end, almost all of whom are non-Americans. But we cannot have a movement in this country demanding funding for anything decent or humane without having a movement to restrain the machine that is sucking down over 63 percent of discretionary spending (including care of veterans but not including Homeland Security or interest payments on war debt), serving as our biggest polluter of the natural environment, and providing the leading justification for eroding our civil liberties.
These are the demands we will bring to Freedom Plaza beginning Thursday:
- Tax the rich and corporations
- End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
- Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
- End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
- Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
- Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
- Get money out of politics
There’s a widespread belief that such a list of demands must be reduced to one bumper sticker. But is what I just read really too many words for people who pass 10,000-word laws meant to govern us? There are 100s of times as many words as in this list of demands in the instruction booklet for a blueray player, something your average American seems able to handle. Nobody insisted that Thomas Jefferson reduce the Declaration of Independence to an eight-second sound bite. We aren’t going to win this by getting pithier, and let me let you in on a little secret: Corporate television doesn’t dislike resistance to corporate power because its advocates are unskilled at framing and messaging. We aren’t going to win this by kicking ourselves. We aren’t going to win this by dividing ourselves: we need to be willing to stand in uncomfortably large coalitions, side by side with people who like different parties or candidates or who hold what we think are bizarre views of the world. In Freedom Plaza there will be no promotion of any party or any candidate. We will be speaking as we the people to them our government.
And we will have a lot more fun than can be had sitting home and griping or even engaging in all variety of other useful activities, from phone calling to emailing to tweeting to sitting in conferences listening to me. I mean way more fun, the kind of fun in solidarity with others that medical science says is good for our health, the kind of fun that can take young people buried in student debt and joblessness away from enormous signing bonuses offered by the war machine. Young people will be reached in Freedom Plaza through seminars, libraries, outdoor films, and the experience of democratic decision making and risk taking. And the price is right. Compared with $259 per night here in the Hilton, the accommodations in Freedom Plaza will be priceless.
"Power concedes nothing without a demand," said Frederick Douglass. "It never did and it never will."
* Remarks at Take Back the Dream conference, October 3, 2011.