By Farooque Chowdhury
Oakland is going to observe a general strike on November 2. The strike will be “against the growing gap between the rich and everybody else,” said the website of Occupy Oakland. “The whole world is watching Oakland,” OO said in a statement. “Let’s show [the world] what is possible.” The OO announced on its website that it is planning a march to the Port of Oakland, the US’ fifth busiest, to “shut it down.” New agency reported that tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in the general strike. It was also reported that organized labor will extend support. These are signs of growing discontent.
The decision for city-wide general strike was passed by Occupy Oakland General Assembly by a 96.9% majority. The OO has urged other groups nationwide to organize similar events.
The OO statement said: “We […] propose that on […] November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%. We propose a city wide general strike.” Now, Oakland is getting prepared for a general strike that in 1946 also observed a general strike
The OO has invited all students to walk out of school. “Instead of workers going to work […] the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.” The statement said: “All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.”
The OO has also called on people “for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.” On November 2, marches have been planned at 9 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., so that as many people as possible can participate.
The decision for the general strike came out as a result of an incident related to Scott Olsen, 24, former Marine and Iraq War veteran. Olsen sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head on October 25 with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland protest. The images of Olsen standing peacefully in the Oakland protest frontline, next to a Navy vet holding a “Veterans for Peace” flag, and the images from moments later of Olsen lying on the ground wounded have shocked all. The atrocity sparked anger leading to a call for the general strike. Olsen has become a rallying cry for the USwide Occupy movement.
Olsen served two tours of duty in Iraq before being discharged in 2010. After leaving the Marines, he was working as a system administrator for a software firm. He joined the Oakland protests with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group raising issues of homelessness and unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “It’s ironic that days after Obama’s announcement of the end of the Iraq War, Scott faced a veritable war zone in the streets of Oakland […]”, The IVAW said in a statement.
John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times writes: “We Are All Scott Olsen!” was the message of solidarity vigils, rallies and marches held in cities across the US and around the world in answer to a call from IVAW and Occupy Oakland for recognizing Olsen. Thousands attended a candlelight vigil in Oakland. In Las Vegas, an image of Olsen was projected at the site of the Occupy encampment. In New York, Occupy Wall Street activist took to the streets chanting “New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York.” In London, images of Olsen were displayed at gatherings. The buzz about the wounding of the veteran was everywhere, and was best summed up by activist protesting at Wisconsin’s state Capitol with Olsen in February. It read: “He could be any one of us.” (The Nation, Oct. 28, 2011)
The Oakland Occupy protests that began October 11 have witnessed more than 100 arrests and a violent confrontation last week between protesters and police. According to press reports, the conflict came after police dismantled the protesters’ camp for more than two weeks. Police fired tear gas over a three-hour period clearing out the camp on October 25.
Only Oakland is not experiencing steps by authorities. Steps against the protesters are being escalated as people are protesting in US cities. On October 30, about 30 anti-Wall Street protesters were arrested in Portland, Ore., after they refused to leave a park. Later they have been freed. In Nashville, demonstrators raised slogans in defiance of an official curfew: “Whose plaza? Our plaza.” State troopers began enforcing the curfew on October 27 night, three weeks after protests began. In Phoenix, a Councilman suggested charging demonstrators the costs of the city in overtime for police, and others since the protests began October 14. The cost was calculated: $204,162. Probably, it is the fee for protest in a democracy!
The issue of cost is not sarcasm with democratic rights, but the real face of a democracy that spends trillions of dollars to help its absolute minority, the finance-elites, and fails to help the suffering millions, the absolute majority. This has plainly been told by Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster in his speech in Occupy Eugene rally on October 15, 2011: “US society has become fundamentally unequal.”
In this society, John B Foster said, “between 1950 and 1970, for every additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top one hundredth of one percent received $162 dollars. But that was back when things were more equal! Between 1990 and 2002 for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of the population, those in the top one hundredth of one percent made an additional $18,000. […] In the United States 400 individuals […] own as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population, some 150 million people. […] The top 1 percent of the population in the United States owns four times as much financial wealth (excluding houses) as the bottom 80 percent of the population. […W]e live in a plutocracy rather than a democracy, where money outvotes public opinion at every point in the political process. […U]nions are on the defensive in this country. [T]hey have been smashed by unfair legislation. [T]hey are struggling to find a way to fight back. […E]lementary and secondary education system in the United States is being privatized and destroyed. […A]ll of this is related to the system of economic power, to a society that believes in the Wall Street principle, “greed is good,” the signature of capitalism.” (“Why We Occupy, What We Know”)
The worldwide monopoly-finance capital’s tricks are many, and it has to depend on its political machine. Attempts are made to avoid public scrutiny, which expose the real face of democracy and accountability. Actual amount of bail out is much more than the widely cited amount. Citing an audit by the US General Accounting Office, John Bellamy Foster said, the Fed provided more than $16 trillion in financial assistance in the latest financial crisis to the largest corporations in the US and the world. “The rich were bailed out while the majority of the population was made to pay the cost! And we are still paying!”, he said.
The present financial crisis that has built up the background of today’s occupy movement should be understood in proper perspective. The crisis has not cropped up from housing bubble, etc. that are widely being mentioned. Rather it is a terminal stagnation in the economy that Paul Sweezy and his fellow-travelers told decades back. Pointing out this Foster said: “[T]here is no real economic recovery; […] we are in a period of economic stagnation, where only the rich are prospering. That economic growth in the United States has been slowing down in each successive decade since the 1960s and is now virtually stagnant.”
Today’s worldwide movement has the painful experience of blood and tears, an inevitable output of imperialism. The Monthly Review editor said: “United States and its allies have been engaged recently in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. […A]n intervention is being planned for Iran, and possibly Venezuela. […US] military bases dot the entire globe and are increasing in numbers. […US] spends around a half a billion dollars officially on the military each year, and in reality a trillion dollars a year.”
Today’s worldwide Occupy Movement is historically significant in this world of seven billion people. “We know that we are the necessary, last defense of humanity. That we are the world’s 99%. That we will not ‘thin out’ when the weather gets bad. That we are not a mob. That we are the earth, we are democracy, we are the future. The world has been occupied too long by a tiny minority. It is time for the people to reoccupy it. To take it back”, Foster said. [Emphasis added.]
Resistance and revolts in societies have respective trajectories determined by historical and socioeconomic condition. “[…A] Great Revolt from Below was likely in the United States today, given a deep and lasting economic stagnation. But that we might have to wait three or four years, just as in the great depression, for it to get off the ground, and for the people to ignite. That, just as in the Great Depression, the revolt would not materialize until people had learned that the promise of economic recovery was false, that they had been lied to and systematically robbed. Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Eugene, Occupy the United States is the Great Revolt from Below in our time. […] Everywhere people are uniting in struggle”, said the Monthly Review editor.
Today’s movement in the US is significant. “The reason is that we in the United States live in ‘Fortress America’, the heart of a world empire. Revolts are not supposed to happen here! If a break in the wall appears, if massive protests occur, here, ‘Inside the Monster’, as José Martí called it, the whole world is suddenly uplifted and encouraged to resist. Because then they know that the empire is crumbling. Our struggles here are opening up space for resistance for all the people of the world”, John Belly Foster said.
But, it should not be expected that these public protests and the general strike are the US’ Tahrir Time. Still a critical mass of labor, and, broadly, people are in the waiting. Without their active participation the Tahrir Time will not touch ground. A general strike, part of democracy people can practice, turns political, broadly and specifically. A general strike for political rights, and based on democratic principles trains people with politics. It facilitates activate passive part of populace, and raises essential and functional political questions, which are essential parts to move forward. The plebeians’ general strikes, secessio plebis, ultimately made the patrician creditors bow down – adoptions of the Twelve Tables and the Lex Hortensia. But, it took more than two hundred years in Rome.
Dhaka based free lancer Farooque Chowdhury contributes on socioeconomic issues.