Monday, November 7, 2011

Layer 494 . . . Occupations, Protests, International Solidarity, Common Spaces, Common Goals, New Possibilities, Reality Checks, Two Bills and the Tobin Tax

We live in interesting times - when revolutions break out in autocracies, when politics a la Blair/Brown/Mandelson/Gould are said to give you cancer, when the Church of England is  forced to re-think its subservience to the City and bankers.

It's surely no exaggeration to say that the times we're living in are very much like the Sixties - with people all over the world asking questions about values, about ethics, about capitalism, about lifestyles, about democracy and about systems of government that seem only to perpetuate the status quo - to the severe disadvantage of the 99%.

Only it's much better this time around. It's no longer just students and trade unions marching on the streets of London, Paris, New York, Athens and California - it's people from right across the political spectrum joining in with the questioning and the challenging, the marches and the occupations. Middle class people also seem to be waking up to the fact that they're being screwed by the 1%.

This time around we have the Internet and the ability to talk to people around the world - for free! To have video conferences if we feel like it. We can also self-publish our thoughts and ideas, and send them at light speed around the world - and all for free!

I remember back in the sixties and seventies, teacher trade unionists complained about their managers' ability to speak with one another at any time of the day by telephone. No texts or tweets or emails or even mobile phones back then! Workers and protestors no longer need to laboriously arrange meetings in order to share thoughts or information or documents with one another.

Our voices can be heard, ARE heard, and will be heard. Even the 1% are being forced to listen - and be somewhat afraid.

For so long now the 1% have had the terms of debate entirely in their favour, as capitalist ideology, embourgeoisment and apparent material prosperity held sway. But the times they are a'changing.


I love Gary Younge's columns from America.
Who knows where the occupations are going – it's just great to be moving
As Wall Street wormed its way into everyone's life, so Occupy protests grow everywhere: symbolic for now, but changing debate

It is fitting, given the nature of the bailouts and hundreds of thousands of repossessions triggered by this economic crisis, that resistance to it would at some stage become a battle over public space with the risk of mass evictions. In the last few weeks, as popular support for these mostly peaceful protests has grown, the struggle for the right to stage them at all has intensified. From Vancouver to Melbourne and Boston to Bournemouth, encampments have been raided or banned.

Their ubiquity is testament to the breadth of appeal for this broadside against the political and financial elites and the converging crises in our economies and democracies for which they are responsible. The occupy model can be replicated because in one sense Wall Street is everywhere. It has insinuated itself into the lives of every pensioner, student, parent, library user, bus passenger, public employee and homeowner. It needs no translation. Every country has one. Every town and hamlet feels its influence.

For the protesters, however, this also makes it a particularly slippery adversary. Unfettered by national boundaries, unregulated by supine politicians and unaccountable to anyone, neoliberal globalisation is a force without a face and a system without a centre, offering little in the way of identifiable, resonant, physical targets. So if Wall Street is omnipresent, it is no less elusive: it's everywhere until you try to find someone responsible for the mess we are in, and then it disappears.

The Occupy movement has provided a large tent in which a range of previously atomised struggles can now camp. It's a place where those working against war and to protect environment, library services, legal aid, public healthcare, public sector jobs (to mention just a few) have been able to find one another. Every weeknight in Nashville between 100 and 150 people meet at 7pm for a general assembly which is open to the public. Laura Wallace, who works to distribute local foods from local farms, helps moderate the meetings. "I've lived here for five years and I never knew these people were out there," she says. "It's really exciting to be part of this bigger group that comes together in a common space with a common goal."

The occupations have shifted the conversation about what the problem is. Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless. Politicians went almost unchallenged as they variously identified the troublesome 1% as Gypsies, Muslims, asylum seekers, trade union activists or public sector employees. Now we are back to talking about the people who created this crisis and the system that sustains them.

The very things that make [an occupation] cumbersome make it authentic. Its leadership and its base are one and the same thing. No corporate money sustains it; no cable station is dedicated to promoting it, no individual speaks for it.

Those who deride it for its lack of concrete demands simply don't understand its strategic function. There is no lack of specific suggestions out there for how to democratise our institutions and confront inequalities. What's missing are real democracies, free of corporate influence, that are capable of accommodating and enacting those demands even when they have majority support. The movement exists virtually without reference to electoral politics because the problem is not programmatic but systemic. When what is both desirable and popular is no longer achievable, politics is transformed from the art of the possible to the task of creating new possibilities.

Fortunately that task has long been joined in myriad ways by people, rooted in communities and workplaces, who have been fighting foreclosures, redundancies, service cuts and tuition hikes, who refused to accept there was no alternative. The strength of the Occupy movement at this stage resides in its ability to act as both conduit and co-ordinator for those fragmented groups: a doula for a revitalised, progressive coalition.

In few places has this been as evident as in Oakland, where after a brutal raid on its camp, occupiers called for a general strike, which shut down much of the city, including the port. A friend, who had initially been reluctant to participate, decided to down tools and join the throng.

Hope where there was cynicism; solidarity where there had been suspicion. The occupations are more effective as a launch pad than a destination. Nobody knows where this is going. It's just great to be on the move.

St Paul's, the church's reality check
The Occupy London protest has been a PR disaster for us, but Christianity started badly too. We can learn

by Rev Richard Coles

Amid the shriek of comment, the thump of rolling heads, the dissonance of Renaissance polyphony and Imagine played on a ukulele, one thing is certain about the St Paul's protest camp. It is a reality check – for the City, obliged to ask why a Mongolian village has appeared amid the towers of London; for the protesters, obliged to come up with a more coherent strategy for defeating global capitalism than morris dancing; for the media, reduced to turning thermal-imaging cameras on to the camp by night.

It is also a reality check for the church, and we seem to have come off spectacularly badly. On one thing all agree: for us, it has been a PR disaster. I feel very much for the departed chancellor and dean, good and faithful servants both, yet something within me shouts, Hallelujah!

Christianity at its best has always sought a horizon beyond catastrophe. While such an outcome may seem remote at the moment, this debacle at the very least obliges us to think about where we stand in relation to the powers of this earth, and the powerless and marginalised. "What would Jesus do?" the protesters' banners ask, rhetorically.


Two Bills

Bill Nighy seems to me to be a very good man, as well as a good actor, who's become a strong advocate for a 'Robin Hood Tax'.
A Robin Hood tax could turn the banks from villains to heroes
An EU-wide Robin Hood tax is close to becoming reality. Cameron must now tell the City to get on board


by Bill Nighy

It's a script that even Hollywood might have balked at. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the second world war, a small band of merry men and women hatch a plan to protect the poor by taking on the world's titans of finance and making them pay their fair share to society. In the final scene Goldman Sachs transforms into the good Samaritan, generating billions to tackle the world's problems.

Sound far-fetched? Not after the European commission formally brought forward proposals for an EU-wide tax on financial transactions involving shares, bonds and derivatives. The announcement – accompanied by comments from Algirdas Semeta, the tax commissioner, linking at least some of the proceeds to fighting poverty and climate change – is just the latest sign that the Robin Hood tax (also known as the "Tobin tax") is on the verge of becoming a reality.
Bill Nighy takes Robin Hood tax to the G20
The actor, campaigner and Oxfam ambassador explains why the G20 can no longer ignore financial transaction tax at Cannes

Bill Nighy is not your usual film star. Gaunt and diffident, he turns beetroot red at the mention of his Man of the Year title (editor's special prize), awarded by GQ magazine and the idea of posing on the red carpets of the Cannes film festival fill him with dread.

But the man who played the dissolute rock star in Love Actually has arrived in the glamorous Cote d'Azur town to lobby the G20 community on the virtues of a financial transactions tax – the so-called Robin Hood tax.


I've never seen Bill Gates as a particularly bad capitalist, and he's certainly doing his bit at the moment to help the wretched of the earth, through his own charitable foundation and through his support for the idea of a Tobin Tax.
G20: Bill Gates adds his weight to calls for Robin Hood tax
Financial transaction tax could raise £30bn to fight poverty, Gates will tell leaders

Despite hostility from Britain and the US, the Microsoft founder will add weight to the growing campaign for a so-called Robin Hood tax when he tells the two-day summit in Cannes that a levy on finance would help hard-pressed rich nations to meet their aid pledges to the poor.


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