Saturday, April 14, 2012

Money v. Many

The Occupy movement is preparing for spring. As part of the 99% Spring organizers hope to train 100,000 activists this week. I haven't heard if they made their goal. The tally includes me. I attended training today at the big regional UAW center in Taylor.

I believe this is the first time I spent time in a union hall. When I worked in the auto industry I had an office job at the research center. When a new union contract was signed our benefits also got better, so I appreciated their collective bargaining, even if I didn't pay dues. Most of the crowd was union members. They were a friendly bunch. They already knew about building a community and looking out for each other. They are already on the lower end of the economic scale and already eager to do battle against the 1%.

We were given a 60 page Training Guide. I haven't read it yet. The training didn't follow it page-by-page. It has a long list of organizations supporting the training and the Occupy movement. One of them is the UAW.

The program started with a video of a history of non-violent actions. I was pleased to see the gay ACT-UP protests against the high cost of AIDS drugs was included. We then wrote our one-page stories of how we are part of the 99%. Some of these stories were heartbreaking: The son who got cancer as a teen and though he is in remission can't get insurance. The daughter who lost a job and then a house. Three generations living in one house. Three friends, each with kids, sharing a small house.

I was reminded I'm pretty well off. My house has dropped in value, but I won't lose it. My pension and part time job appear secure. My investments are doing well. About all I could share was that I teach at a college and my students come unprepared for college work and sometimes run out of money before they can finish. They are too poor to get loans.

We settled on a definition of the 1%. It isn't enough to be filthy rich. The 1% are those who wield power over the rest of us to get money to flow in their direction regardless of the consequences experienced by anyone else.

Then came the movie The Heist. What we saw was a 20 minute condensation of the feature length documentary. You can see that much on the movie's webpage and look for (or host) a showing of the whole thing in your area. There is even a DVD. The movie tells what happened to get us into the mess we're in now.

Corporations were caught off guard by the progressive advances of the 1960s, which included a big increase in worker safety and environmental protections. The Great Depression prompted government insurance of bank accounts, the Glass-Steagall Act which limited what banks could do with our money, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to police corporate finance. The big thing I learned was the corporate response began in 1971, earlier than I had thought. It started with the Powell Memorandum. Lewis Powell wrote out a strategy on how corporations could create a government and economy that would serve their interests. Shortly after Powell wrote that memo Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court, where he was a moderate and a frequent swing voter.

That memo is still being followed. It has three main components.

* Attack unions. Find ways to make money off workers. Ship jobs overseas.

* Take control of government and attack democracy. Create a state of permanent war so defense corporations suck up money that would otherwise go to the 99%. Cut taxes on corporations and the rich. Gut regulations and social programs. Buy the government. Prevent people from voting. However, they (for the moment) still need our approval of the government they want.

* Divide and conquer. Make us battle each other. Convince workers that immigrants are taking their jobs. Oppose abortion rights, gay rights, women's rights, and affirmative action. Build up prisons and mandatory sentences to keep African-Americans locked out of the economy. Set false choices between jobs and clean environment.

This corporate takeover may have been championed by the GOP, but there were many willing Democrats involved, including Pres. Clinton. He signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

It is now Money v. Many. Through our numbers we have power.

We were asked to name the values important to us. We came up with: respect, dignity, family, justice, equality, future, integrity, freedom, improvement, kindness, community, compassion, love, commitment, empathy, optimism, patriotism, hard work, initiative, unity, putting others first. I love this list. These are definitely not values the 1% follow.

For the next exercise we went into another room and were assigned to tables without chairs. On the table was a large sheet of paper and a bunch of markers. We were asked to think of an ideal community, name it, and start drawing its features -- schools, churches, parks, shops, etc. -- on it. My group came up with Pleasantville. As others began drawing the buildings I started drawing a border of stick figures (I'm no artist) holding hands. A woman took a marker and drew condos over the golf course in one corner. It took us a few moments to realize she was not part of our original group and her nametag said "Mama 1% Warbucks." She tried grasping and tearing other parts of the paper and we soon linked arms to keep her out. Other workshop leaders were at other tables drawing factories on this page and offering money to allow drawing on that page. This was a good exercise to stir emotions and to prompt the group to resist the common enemy. As we were returning to our seats I drew a lake over those condos.

Civil Disobedience is a non-violent act of refusing an unjust law. Non-violent protests are twice as effective as violent campaigns. These protests accomplish several things:
* Stop an injustice
* Show refusal
* Sound the alarm
* Create a community solution

The purpose of a non-violent action is to highlight a conflict. Humans don't like conflict. That triggers the fight/flight response but we don't want to flee from the conflict and we don't want the conflict to become violent. This becomes a barrier to taking part in a non-violent action. We listed these ways that barrier manifests itself:
* Fear of police and pepper spray
* Uncertainty of what will happen (no matter how careful the planning it won't follow script)
* Feeling overwhelmed
* Fear of the consequences -- lost job, jail
* Lack of support
* Lack of resources
* Not getting others to help

Ways of overcoming those barriers include:
* Social networking
* Awareness of the reason for the protest
* Personal outreach
* Confidence in strategy and follow-through
* Overwhelming participation
* Clarity of message
* Practice
* Unity

A leader of one of the UAW locals talked about some of the foreclosure interventions the members have staged. They have prevented two. Another is being reconsidered. A protest of a fourth is planned for next week (I have date and location). The bank may be "too big to fail" but the homeowner is "too human to discard."

A couple other actions were mentioned. I'll see if I can fit them into my busy end-of-semester schedule. One of them is to show up at the GE shareholder meeting to complain that they earn billions in profits and the gov't pays them a bonus instead of them paying taxes. April 25 at 8:30 am. at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

I left at 4:00 even though the event was to go another 90 minutes. The focus shifted from general training to preparations for a specific event I can't attend. Next Tuesday, Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, will be speaking at a GOP fundraising dinner in Troy. This group is planning a demonstration outside the restaurant timed so diners must walk past the demonstrators. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is scheduled to attend, but he has a habit of canceling out of events where protesters plan to show up.

I just checked the 99% Spring website. On the right side is a photo of the guy who sat next to me during the morning session. That was fast! It may not stay there long.

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