Economic development · Education · New York City

What Will Come Of The American Autumn?

Is one demand enough?

The Arab Spring toppled dictatorships, the European Summer raised awareness about the consequences of austerity measures in Greece and Spain as well as minority youth marginalization in London, and the American Autumn, so far, has at the very least showed the world that Leftist politics are not dead and neither are Americans complacent or asleep.

But what will come of the Occupy Wall Street movement? I don’t think that the organizers or supporters will be satisfied with the movement unless it bears results, though it alone is certainly an accomplishment: thousands of people have marched with OWS, labor unions and universities have become aligned, and occupations have sprung up in solidarity throughout the U.S. And the general assembly, as you know if you’ve seen it, is a beautiful expression of democracy at its most direct and most representative. Every person’s voice is heard while respecting the needs of the group.

As one must-see video explainer about the democratic consensus-building process says, the Occupy Wall Street general assembly is meant to be an end in itself, not merely a means to something different.

And yet, Adbusters sent out an email today suggesting one very specific demand:

“As the movement matures, lets consider a response to our critics. Lets occupy the core of our global system. Lets dethrone the greed that defines this new century. Lets work to define our one great demand.

OCTOBER 29 – #ROBINHOOD GLOBAL MARCH

This is a proposal for the general assemblies of the Occupy movement…

On October 29, on the eve of the G20 Leaders Summit in France, let’s the people of the world rise up and demand that our G20 leaders immediately impose a 1% #ROBINHOOD tax on all financial transactions and currency trades. Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3-trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day – enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world.

Take this idea to your local general assembly and join your comrades in the streets on October 29.”

It’s an interesting idea, though questions arise such as, why 1 percent, and how can it determined what will that money go toward (“every social program and environmental initiative in the world” is quite broad)?

Nick Kristoff suggested this same idea and others a few weeks ago, in his Times column:

“Impose a financial transactions tax. This would be a modest tax on financial trades, modeled on the suggestions of James Tobin, an American economist who won a Nobel Prize. The aim is in part to dampen speculative trading that creates dangerous volatility. Europe is moving toward a financial transactions tax, but the Obama administration is resisting — a reflection of its deference to Wall Street.”

Thinking back to when I was part of a student movement at The New School, which occupied a building and tried to make demands of our notoriously inefficient president Bob Kerrey, I recall how difficult it was to agree on anything. Although we agreed on some matters and knew that our university’s leadership had to change, both in terms of its figurehead and structurally, we were all coming from different political philosophies and had somewhat different stakes in the matter. It took us a long time to draft our demands, and in the end, the main one – a reversal of a decision to destroy a building that we desperately needed to hold our library and reading room – was not granted to us. We did however end up with a socially-responsible investment committee and greater student participation in administration meetings that determined our futures.

I hope that the demands that come out of this are specific, not vague. Asking that capitalism be ended is not productive or possible. I also think demands should come one-by-one. First of all, I’d like to see OWS demand that President Obama make an official speech on his thoughts regarding the movement. It deserves a response from him. Secondly, some demands need to be made regarding corporate tax privileges and their ability to influence Congress. Thirdly, demands need to be made about redirecting government monies public services like education and health. Fourth, we need to demand that a new company or organization – I really don’t care if it’s part of the government or outside, whatever works best – be created with the mandate of ending U.S. involvement the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And finally there ought to be a demand for the creation of a sustainability wing in the White House that is granted the power to review and recommend changes to the entire energy system of our country, from the most macro to the most micro, so that we can transition out of dependency on fossil fuels and re-orient the economy with a greener framework.

And as for job creation, it should be built into every change that’s made along the way. For example, we’ll need social workers and healers to help soldiers re-adjust to life back home and deal with the trauma of their time in combat. We’ll need researchers to do energy audits in every sector. We’ll need young educated minds to work on conflict resolution programs in the parts of the Middle East where our military has helped to destroy communities.

What was it that Obama used to always say? Yes, we can? Well, Mr. President, why aren’t we?

I demand to know.

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