I have just read for the fourth time, Sara Robinson's important 2012 essay entitled, "Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America"

It's not long, and one of those reads which I think every 10th grader should be forced to consume, and then be quizzed on again and again until the foundational concepts are ingrained and at least partially understood.  Until such understandings are embedded in each generation's mindshare, each will too easily fall victim to the same forces of plantation economy, aristocracy, and other rank manifestations of predatory capitalism that have soiled the one before.  Free markets have done much for civilization. But only by making them a little less free are we going to be able to constrain their raging excesses and the humanistic failures that have resulted from them.

Below are the last few paragraphs of Sara's post. They make for a tidy list of some of the greater threats posed by this centuries old culture war of inbred and nouveau-greed lording over historically disadvantaged populations of compliant serfs. It's a war threatening not just America, but the entire planetary ecosystem of our delicate species.

 

It's not an overstatement to say that we're now living in Plantation America. As Lind points out: to the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like Woodard's description of a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back.

We're now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.

Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.

The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.

The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.

The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60% of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.

Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.

Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government's job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren't just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we're no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we've always understood them. Instead, we're being treated like serfs on Massa's plantation — and increasingly, we're being granted our liberties only at Massa's pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.

How do we even begin to unmask and redress these crises of a modernist empire spiraling out of control? Will it be fixed  by carping on the marginal excesses of it, as seen in the issues of drones, national detention controversies and bank bailouts? Or will it be by finding new leadership and policy precepts that replace the ones which are clearly failing to provide for the common good? Ones not motivated by wealth accumulation or careerist ambitions, but rather by a sincere desire to advance our species toward its collective survival and some kind of satisfying intellectual and cultural status quo that endures long enough to reward successive generations without falling victim to them.

I have my ideas for getting there. I am sure you have yours. It's time we started to share them together, and out loud, in hopes of finding a brighter future before we're denied access to one by a dark and aggressively resurgent past. 

Due to my recent cancer surgery, I have lost any natural chance of having my own biological children. But I hope I have at least a few good years left where I might be able to do something to help all the other children on this rotating sphere of cosmic debris we're all traveling on.  We all get only a very brief span of years to do whatever good it is that we're going to do with them. We should probably get started.

Read the entire post. Then tweet me your thoughts.

These are two of the more important essays I've read this year. I got tired of tweeting them separately, so this post will make it easier to distribute them as a pair. I urge you to read them both because they each offer a fresh perspective on the root causes of our growing global socio–political dysfunction. Flying cars may always have been a fantasy, or they may simply not be something our plutocracy run amok cares much about. 

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

by David Graeber (co-founder of Occupy Wall Street)

Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?

And a response to it… 

Jetpacks versus Power Point Decks 

by @root_e  (armchair economic thinker and all-around smart dude.)

David Graeber wrote the first old school left wing essay I have seen in years and it makes the flabby, stale quality of much of what passes for left-wing analysis all the more apparent. Graeber asks what happened to the optimism, the technical ferment, the rapid changes and extensions of prosperity that people in the first world used to assume were inevitable:

A frequent complaint of mine and others who have supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS) from its earliest days, is that it's not demonstrated much interest or skill at organizing the coalitions that have traditonally been the hallmark of progressive political change in America.

Merely suggesting that professional organizers become involved was often met with a righteous scorn and bellicose lamentations over some imminient "co-opting" of the nascent movement that would place it in the hands of the Democrats, organized labor, the Obama campaign, Van Jones, George Soros, or whatever progressive establishment boogeyman was most feared on any given day.

But this may now be changing. MoveToAmend.org, the People for The American Way, and a respectable coalition of other progressive groups have gotten behind the Occupy The Courts campaign.  Already over a year old, and with several local ballot initiatives already passed in some communities, this action will be the first big protest to be associated with a very well conceived grass roots campaign that aims to amend the United States constitution and reverse the ludicrous Citizens United decision of the United States Supreme court. According to MoveToAmend's website, the action was largely inspired by an article by Alternet's Joshua Holland, whom I met on Twitter, have spoken with personally, and have a large measure of respect for,

While the Occupy the Courts coalition consists of some groups I have had no great affinity for most of the time, and has latched on to Cornel West and other Obama-bashing attention seekers that I have been publicly contemptuous of, it is still a fairly well conceived (if less than ideally promoted) effort of the kind that Progressives need if they are to really mount a serious challenge to the forces that have seized this country. More importantly, it can demonstrate that a symbiotic relationship between OWS and less "leadersless" organizations with focused objectives is more than possible, and even desirable. Leaderless does not have to mean no leadership, and this kind of action might give rise to an entirely new perception of the movement by the public.

And then again, it may not. While it is good that this organized action is clearly connected to the OWS movement, I am still rather distressed by the relatively poor promotion the effort has has. While I was modestly aware of its planning, I saw relatively few markers on Twitter or elsewhere to suggest it was getting the kind of push that these kinds of initiatives need. Over four months old now, and having benefited from global publicity, and the attention and support of a large number of notables, groups, and celebrities, an action like this, focused on such a universally accepted goal, should have been far larger, much better known, and prepositioned to get a lot of media coverage. I just am not seeing too much of that, and that's disappointing.

But this is just the first action, coinciding with the 2nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's descision.  Perhaps there is much more planned for the spring and summer, when the climate is more accomodating of street action.  I hope so. Now that they are officially out there, and seemingly relevant, I am going to invest some time to learn more about their future plans and will report back here.

But whatever my quibbles about it, I often publicly assert that political pragmatism demands less than ideal approaches at times, and it would be woefully hypocritical for me to not endorse a grass roots campaign as reasonable and well intentioned as this one is.

Related

I stumbled across this interview which Sarah Jaffe conducted with Steven Lerner, a traditional labor organizer, and was amazed I hadn’t noticed it when it dropped at Alternet. I’ve been looking for cogent essays that can put #OccupyWallStreet into perspective for progressives who still hear “Unions” or “labor movement,” and see Norma Rae standing on a table and waving a union sign.

Labor organizing is something most of us take for granted, but it’s a very challenging thing to do, and it’s why some get very short with #OWS, feeling that the upstart  should be more respectful of, if not outwardly more derivative of traditional organizing. But as Lerner points out, it is precisely because it’s not those things that brings the greatest learning and promise to Labor, and to much larger Progressive ambitions in general.

This terrific interview will educate people with very little background on Labor issues, just why organizing has been such a challenge for the past century, and particularly in the last 30 years. Until recently, it’s been going after corporate management, and not the people who really drive the economy.  #Ows provides a model where the fight is taken to those most responsible for our national malaise and economic meltdown.

The 99% Versus Wall Street: Stephen Lerner on How We Can Mobilize To Be the Greedy 1%’s Worst Nightmare

Earlier this year, long before Occupy Wall Street turned Zuccotti Park into Liberty Plaza, Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer with SEIU and mastermind of the Justice for Janitors campaign, wrote in New Labor Forum of “large-scale sit-ins, occupations, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience that must inevitably overcome court injunctions and political pressures.” Read more

The entire interview is vital reading, from this nugget forward:

There were many reasons why I think it worked, but one of them was that we had an analysis of who had power. In addition to the community organizing and the many different things the campaign did, the strikes and sit-ins, none of that would’ve worked if we hadn’t directed the campaign toward those with the greatest power—the people who controlled the real estate that janitors were cleaning.

For me, this interview rekindled some of my initial fire about #ows. I had flipped my position from initial skepticism, to embracing it, then back to a cautious observer posture.  There is still much to like about this nascent but still very fragile idea for a movement, and I would really like to think it can become something that doesn’t change skin quite so often, as it takes on the look and feel of whatever local Occupy event had last captured the media’s attention. Even so, I think Lerner may be overly optimistic about our ADHD-afflicted media, and how difficult it may be to bring it all back to life after a winter in hibernation. But I am encouraged by the fact that he has that optimism. 

I am also still very skeptical of the anarchic modeling that still characterizes many of #ows’s projects and planning (loosely speaking). It has strengths that need better understanding, but also weaknesses that need more open discussion without the contentiousness and acrimony that too many experience when trying to discuss the movement on a conceptual level with it’s more devoted and visible advocates.

But if enough people with Lerner’s understanding and savvy can stay involved, and nudge #ows toward less abstract, more concrete actions that middle class folks can relate to, I think there is a real chance that a permanent, sustainable #ows presence can emerge. One that can attract and hold sufficient leaders, organization, resources, and participation to sculpt an organic and sustainable organization that can evolve into a much better advocacy movement than Unions – with their necessary ties to management – could ever achieve on their own.

Before the #ows zealots start hurling rocks at me, let me say clearly that it is not my position that more Union people are needed to take over #ows. Only that more smart and seasoned activists, with rich, diverse and relevant experience to share, must ultimately get involved in the direction and planning of wherever it is that the #ows endeavor is to become. And sooner, not later.

Related

Occupy: Successes and Challenges


This is simply brilliant. I have three envelopes right in front of me.  This kind of creative non-violence is just the kind of thing that generates lots of negative branding, and makes companies crazy. Will it change much? No, not from this alone. But the more of these stunts that we pull, the more expensive it gets, and the more their board rooms waste expensive time discussing these negative branding guerilla tactics.

Send ‘em all your love. Do it now.

Please retweet the crap out of this. Use the button below. Thanks.

 

Whatever demands may come, I hope the final  “99 Percent Declaration” comes to include a bit more about the persistent racial divide in America, and its role in the economic injustices that people of color have suffered for centuries.

There was much to heed in Tim Wise’s words on last night’s Maddow show.

While warming to it, many of my PoC friends (and those I observe on Twitter) are still fairly wary of OWS. They fear that they are once again being asked to get onboard with a movement, and once over, they’ll be right back where they were before: near the bottom rung of America’s economic ladder, many levels below white America, as they always had been.

The current draft of the “99 Percent Declaration,” isn’t helping. It is so devoid of any discussion of racial inequality and injustice that there really isn’t much there to assuage their fears. The word race or color doesn’t even appear in it. Whether deliberate or not (I assume it was), the document still sends a troubling message for non-whites.

For me, and I think many of them, to set forth a declaration that tries to address every major social and environmental ill that we have, without even a brief mention of the enormous social injustices that indigenous peoples, and most people of color experience every day in America, seems almost indifferent to a clear and present historical truth about race in this country. One that is a very big problem now, and one that only gets bigger as Wall Street’s handiwork impacts PoCs with almost twice the impact it’s had on white America.

And it’s not a problem that should be waved off with patronizing gestures, or casual assertions that “Oh, this is all about our common interests first.” They’ve heard all of that before.

Hearing some of my friends go on about it has been quite the eye-opener for me. I strongly feel it will flower as an even more serious issue if the movement doesn’t take real steps to adjust to their concerns. The promise of #OWS is far too important to leave any one sector of America behind. Well… except billionaires. :)

Update

This was sitting on my desk all day, and I only now just read it after making my post above. Clearly the issue is on some people’s radar. But I feel it’s important that the wider public knows that it is, as well.

Call out to people of color from the ows poc working group

 

Occupy Wall Street, The 30 Second Commercial

Over ten days ago on Twitter, I was saying that the criticism that the #OccupyWallStreet protest “needed a message” in its early days was nonsense. Americans, nay, most citizens of the world already knew what the message was.  And that message was this:

“The 99% have a very big problem, and the 1% better address that problem soon, or things are going to get pretty ugly for everyone.”

Nope, the problem was definitely not the message. Not then, and not now. This Occupy Wall Street wake-up call to America is really so very clear and simple, this just-released video shows just how easy it is to get that message out. (I  continue below the fold after you’ve watched it.)

See? Messages are easy!

Blog posts, tweets, and videos like this are a snap for anyone who knows the problem.  And there’s a lot of those around, and soon they will be making hundreds if not thousands of such expressive message pieces all over the world. In fact, they probably made 100 of them as I typed this sentence.

And they should. But messaging about the problem is merely messaging about the problem.

Messages about the problem are not messages about the solution

The much bigger hurdle #OWS (and all of us) face is the problem of building bridges between the expressions of the message, and the policies and laws that can be enacted to respond to the messages in a free and still modestly democratic society.  And that is an outcome that most mature citizens that I know still value highly, and would like to see evolve to respond to this challenge. They don’t want to toss the baby of civilization out with the bathwater of global corporatism.

Change is good. Too much change is a Mad Max movie, and not everyone looks good in rich dystopian leather.

The long term solution (and even if the short term, if you get off your asses and drag people to vote-in some real change candidates), is to @OccupyCongress.  Unless you have a better near-term legislative body with it’s own military that we need to hear about, it remains our most immediate path to building a new tomorrow with the tools which our ancestors died building for us yesterday.

And if you think just @OccupyWallSt or even an @OccupyCongress movement can produce lasting revolution and social justice on a broad scale? Well, you might want to look into present day Egypt  for another kind of wake up call.

It’s all pretty easy on paper and via Twitter and Facebook. But making civilization work using actual civilizations is a whole lot trickier.

See Also

How the Occupy Movement's General Assembly Works

Agree or disagree with their concept and tactics, the Occupy protests are gaining momentum, and are going to be around, and growing, whether you, me or Goldman Sachs approves of them.  So I think it's important that people know what their process is.  It's really rather fascinating. Those familiar with open source software communities will recognize the ideas of Consensus, Consent, Stand asides, Objections, Block, etc. The video is long, but it really is worth viewing in its entirety, to fully grasp what works and doesn't.

Please see my discussion following the video.

 

And so…

Those familiar with democracy will recognize the problems of holding such assemblies on a city, state, or national level. You'd need "representatives" to attend them. And dang it all, those are so hard to appoint by consensus in some accountable way. It's been tried. Many times.

Thus, GAs, as they are known, useful on small scales for some kinds of actions or ordinances (like that one above), are lovely exercises in what we might call, a pre-representative democracy.

In practical usage, those often lead to the need for some form of representative democracy, often called a republic.  You remember those, right? They're kinda like the United States of America before someone broke it.

As things progress…

I will be blogging more of these concept posts as this movement gains steam. I was a skeptic, then a skeptical believer, and now I am a skeptical critic interested in helping the people of America, and the #OWS expression of rage, to find constructive missions and goals that might dovetail with the larger republic in which we are all pretty invested. Then it will either influence our debates and future, or perish into history as just another footnote of fail by those who felt it easy to casually change a system that was designed to resist change—no matter how much it needs to. I sincerely hope it will be the former.

@shoq: IN THE END, contempt doesn't make laws, and rage won't govern nations. The final frontier must be @OccupyCongress. #ows #p2 #tcot

See Also

See Update1

I am not going to go into my entire history of thinking about the Occupy Wall street movement (OWS). It’s too painful and annoying, but I want to get this out. It’s late, I am tired, and this will probably be filled with really bad typos and worse grammar. It’s going to go out anyway. I’ll have the cat edit it in the morning.

After first being contemptuous of what I saw as an ill-conceived vanity protest movement, about ten days ago, I sensed a tipping point in public and global attitude toward the OWS “movement,” and feared it would sweep all of our hard work to rebuild the President’s stature away.

Uncertain of its origins, questioning of its founders, and entirely doubtful of its fundamentals, I was nonetheless disturbed by how dismissive the Progressive community was being toward an expression of anger at what has become, unquestionably, a dysfunctional society that is on the verge of total meltdown. Sure, the kids banging drums and holding up dog-earred signs were disheveled and disorganized, but… they were also quite right.  The system our ancestors built for us has devolved into a vicious plutocratic fireswamp that is consuming almost everything and everyone, and they are damned  right to be scared and angry about it. We should ALL be scared and angry about it.  And at least they were doing what mainstream progressives should have done years ago: taken this fight to the streets.

But I was also conflicted. I know the value of organization and planning. I know the value of messaging. I know the value of inclusiveness and pluralism, and I also know that anarchist societal modeling is fun theory to talk about over coffee, but as a practical matter, its track record at governance is exactly nothing.  After poking around for 10 days, I came to the realization that the structural deficiencies of this “organization” were enormous. Not the logistics of the protesting; that was actually being handled fairly well. But rather, they had no real collaborative scheme to craft any kind of substantive policy goals or legislative missions. There was just no there there. It was, in the words of @JAMeyerson, “all about creating the crisis” and “letting *them* solve the problem.” (Them, I assumed, being the very people who had destroyed our country in the first place. Just not my first choice of fixers.)

Whether it had any real chance of success or not, I felt there would be three primary outcomes.  It would either peter out and die quickly, or reach a take-off point where it would be in a position to hurt of help Obama’s re-election effort.  The latter was something that I feel must happen, or such protests may never be likely to happen again. Call that hyperbole if you wish, but I believe it. This right wing has virtually no respect for people or precedent, and they won’t give total voter suppression a second thought from here on out. A second-term Obama veto is the ONLY chance we have of mitigating what is almost certainly going to be a Republican Senate. We may not have solutions to anything yet, but losing control of that body to these quite insane Republicans would be like trying to fix a hole in the hull of a sinking boat by first widening the hole.

And yes, while it was helping the President’s re-election, it might also popularize some really good policy ideas which I’ve advocated for a long time, including campaign reform, financial reform, a short term capital gains tax, a stock share sales tax, and a return to a far more progressive income tax

Until Van Jones and Natalie Foster revealed the amount of planning that had gone into the Rebuild The Dream movement, I really had little faith in our fragmented Left doing much of anything by November of 2012, that could save the White House or the Senate.  Ironically, just a few days before they did reveal it at the Takeback11 conference, I decided to get involved with #ows and see if this “movement” was really as open and pluralistic as they were suggesting it was, and whether we could channel all that anger and energy in a productive way toward re-electing the President and enough progressives to actually reboot the nation.

Since I quickly learned that they needed server capacity at Occupywallst.org, I was able to get my friends at @alternet to underwrite it.  Doing this, and other good deeds for them, let me see some of the inner workings a bit closer up, and try to approach things as any good faith supporter might.

And I did see some good things. I saw an interesting process of formless, leaderless organizing, that, as with the Open Source Software community from whence it came, achieve some pretty interesting results in some cases. But I also so endless layers of disorganization and fail, and a Pollyanna vision of the world that seemed to suggest that revolution would be as simple as a first session of Angry Birds on an Ipad. I knew better.

Then came the John Lewis video. I had made many apologies thus far, but how in the fuck could anyone with any capacity to forge solutions or coalitions, not get that John Lewis wasn’t just another politician they could mute with their “no top down hierarchical leadership icons ever” dictum. He was the closet thing to a role model living today when it comes to  organizing and protesting for change. What the hell were they thinking?

And the disrespect of Lewis wasn’t even as hard to take as the uncomfortable squirminess I felt at the chanting and pop-psychobabble cum empowerment training seminar gooblygook I was hearing in this “General assembly.” While watching it, I was struck by just how unscalable the model really was. I mean, if it took six minutes to decide if one man should speak, what if there had been 50? And what if all of Atlanta wanted to be at this assembly? That couldn’t work, right? So they’d need “representatives.” And that would be like… like… a legislature! OMG! A “Congress.”

While all this is going on, my trusted “liberal friends” were abandoning me, because they felt I betrayed them by “cheerleading” for an angst-ridden, pro-left-pimped fantasy revolution without a chance in hell of doing anything but firing up the Paulites, the Fedbusters, and the general cadre of anti-government types who might completely undermine Obama and the chances of saving a Democratic senate with their amorphous concepts of a sleep-over rebellion.

Perhaps my friends were right all along. But I don’t do group think, and I could not know more unless I looked further. That’s just the way I approach everything. I am loathe to condemn things which I don’t understand. So I did look, and what I saw was not completely weak, but that is not the same as being very strong. Most disturbing?  While quite cordial and pleasant, the people were not particularly open, nor eager to explore alternative ideas for approaching our problems. They were mostly… well.. anarchists. And they do what most anarchists do:  they aspire, while sounding as if all human problems can be solved with enough seminars, high-minded theories which are not open to debate, a lot of personal self-actualization, and far too much economic hooey.

Long story short? I am now of the opinion that while I sympathize with the anger and frustration of the protesters, their chances of success are so spotty, that I am just going to wish them luck, and move on to what I feel are more productive interests, such as trying to get the President’s Jobs Act past, pushing to interest progressive billionaires in rebuilding our infrastructure, and preventing these insane Republicans form gobbling up what is left of my country.

I will focus my energies on the political process I still have some faith in. I will continue to support the 99%, as I always have, but do it by helping Van Jones and the more conventional players who are working tirelessly to change the system from within the system.

I have spent my life feeling that such change is possible without first completely burning down the house. I am not going to sell out that conviction, nor lose all my friends, over an intriguing, but ultimately romantic effort that seems to only capture anger in a bottle, but does not yet, and may never have a message to cap it with. I will not oppose them, but nor will I endorse them. I will simply watch them, cheer for my country,  and defend anyone’s right to be heard in what remains of this fetid Democracy.

I am sorry this journey has been so unpleasant for my friends who may not  always understand my process, and whom I may have been less than diplomatic with, as my views and insights fluctuated with my experience. I hope we can all get past it and be friends again.

If things change, I will do what I have done all of my life: change my mind once again to fit the practical or moral dictates of the moment, as it happens, or as my conscience insists.

Thank you all for the support so many have shown me. I can only hope to repay you half as much in time.

Shoq

Update 1

As I said, I wrote this quite late. I imply above that the lack of clear policy goals and messaging were big issues for me. They never were. In fact, I defended OWS quite strongly in that regard. I do believe their primary role is to make a lot of noise, serving as that proverbial alarm clock to wake the 99%, and progressive America which aspires to serve them from their slumbers. But that doesn’t mean they can just leave all the policy making sausage to someone else and walk away. Because in fact, that’s simply telling the status quo “you made a fucking mess. Now please fix it with a bigger fucking mess.”

It’s politically immature to assume a serious movement can only be about the problem, and abdicate the solutions to some unseen force in the universe. So while they don’t need specific prescriptions for remedy, they should absolutely have clear ideas about what form the discussion to find them might take.