“ There is a Way Out of Here”
by Peter Bohmer, November 28, 2011
Talk given at November 28th Rally at the steps of the Washington State Legislature, organized by Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget and Occupy Olympia.
I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge the moment. So often, we are alienated, or apathetic to the injustices taking place every day. But we have reached a point where we can no longer accept what is happening. We have had enough! The top 1% have pushed us to this and so now, we are in the beginning phase of a global movement. I think we all know what is at stake and I hope we understand the amount of hard work and dedication it will take to accomplish real economic and social justice and liberation. We have some differences in our visions of what a just society looks like, but we know it doesn’t look like this.
We are living in a period of obscene inequality of income and wealth, a broken economic and political system that needs to be transformed not patched up. The income of the top 1% today is 42 times that of the bottom 90%. This income inequality is three times greater than the already high inequality of 1979. 25 million are unemployed with the rate for Blacks twice that of whites, 50 million people do not have health insurance, 1 in 3 are poor or near poor. Over 2 million people are in prison, millions have lost their homes or never had one.
Many, maybe most people are somewhat aware of this and the rule by and for the wealthy but had become resigned that little could be done. Some believed Obama was the answer but the Democrats have also put Wall Street and corporate profits and the war machine before people’s needs for jobs, a livable wage, and a sustainable environment. They have sacrificed immigrants. Obama raised and dashed people’s hopes. This furthered cynicism for a while but there is something new and powerful in the air.
Si Se Puede!
And we are not alone. This is an inspiring global movement-from Tunisia, to Egypt to Chilean students, to Greeks resisting austerity in the streets, to Occupy Wall Street, and the many WA Occupy movements here today. We are saying by our actions– No More Business as usual, that democracy doesn’t mean voting for the lesser of two evils. It means demanding and putting into practice, participatory democracy, in all parts of life including the economy. The impossible is becoming possible and we are just beginning.
It means not accepting a society where the top 1% have 225 times the wealth of the bottom 90%. So when Gov Gregoire says she is proposing a sales tax rather than an income tax on the wealthy because the people of Washington State have spoken, she is talking about the pre-Occupy reality but that was then and the 99% movement is now. A necessary reform is taxing high income people to fund cutbacks in basic health and education but that is not enough.
We are building a movement that unites the 99% for economic justice but that must also mean making central the needs of the most oppressed by not ignoring justice and amnesty for undocumented immigrants, by demanding major reductions in the prison population—this is one cutback in State government spending we support. Let us make sure that inside our movement and in our demands and actions, racial equality and women’s liberation and LGBT rights are also emphasized as is our support for political prisoner such as Mumio Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, as is our support for the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, and our opposition to U.S. wars such as Afghanistan. Let us welcome all people into the Occupy movement including people who look mainstream. We shouldn’t be cliquish. Let us unite the 99% while promoting and celebrating diversity and autonomy.
The labor movement is a central part of our struggle to change this country, hopefully a social justice unionism where unions are social movements committed to organizing the unorganized, who are democratic and participatory. An example is the Longshore Union , who with Occupy Oakland, on Nov. 2, shut down their port and did not have to be in the lead of the action to participate. It is also necessary the Occupy Movement understand a vibrant and bold labor movement is part of the solution, not part of the problem. The 1960’s would have been very different if the social movements and organized labor had worked together.
Let us name the system that is oppressing us. It is more than corporate power or financial capital; it is capitalism, C- A- P-I-T-A L-I- S- M. Capitalism exploits working people around the globe and the environment all in the name of profit. Human needs are never what motivates this system, only profit and growth. Some reforms are possible but they are limited. Our aim should be to connect people’s immediate needs for shelter, food, peace, quality education and health with a vision of a good society and a strategy to get there. Let us educate and build alternatives and fight the power–to transform and revolutionize this society where there is community and worker control, where everyone has a meaningful job but doesn’t have to work many hours, that is sustainable and equal across the globe, where basic needs are not commodities but basic human rights, where creativity and race, gender and sexual liberation are real—call it participatory democracy or participatory socialism or whatever you like.
I am afraid we will face more repression as the economy continues to crumble but let us be bold and think big and resist and be persistent. Our future and those of future generations depend on it.
Occupy Wall Street!
All Power to the People!