Occupy Wall Street May Be Moving To L.A. For Winter
"L.A. is going to blow up over the next few months and through the winter," DeGraw, who coined the "We are the 99 percent" slogan, said. "The winter is brutal. People in New York are talking about coming out here. We're going to keep pushing, but it's definitely going to slow [OWS] down. You are all going to have to step up. It's your turn to lead the leaderless."
DeGraw was the final speaker to take the mic at last weekend's Teach-In on Occupy L.A.'s 37th day of occupation. The 2-day event featured activists, economists, and performers discussing ways to move towards "social and economic justice and sustainable alternatives for people and the planet."
DeGraw frequently reminded the crowd, which was filled with Guy Fawkes masks and winter coats, that despite his active participation in the movement from early on, he could not call himself or anyone else a leader. He even felt uncomfortable sitting at the table by himself; he asked audience members to come fill the seats beside him, so as to remind everyone of the decentralized quality of Occupy.
DeGraw explained where the grassroots efforts initially sprung from, and the mounting frustration that came from countless failed attempts at mobilization. He was among the 14 individuals who occupied Zuccotti Park on the first day of protest, June 14. In his report, "The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America," DeGraw determined that there were four million people on food stamp programs within a 15-minute subway or bus ride from the New York Stock Exchange. He wanted to get one million people in the park that day, but got barely over a dozen.
"We almost had more TV cameras than people down there that first time," he said. "We were very successful in getting attention, but if you didn't build critical mass, the attention is fleeting." He continued, "I had been hoping for this for three years. That first day was incredibly depressing."
That's where Adbusters and Anonymous came in. The two organizations were instrumental in keeping Occupy afloat at its inception.
"If it wasn't for Anonymous, the 99 percent would have been done a year and a half ago," DeGraw said. "In my personal opinion, Occupy Wall Street is the offline version of Anonymous. People put forth an idea, and if that idea is good, people will gravitate towards it and it will essentially become legitimate. That's what's happening with The 99 Percent Declaration right now."
He later added, "The [Adbusters] readership was perfect for this movement. Their support of the situationist movement and the ideology of Guy Debord's 'Society of the Spectacle…' That book was published in the sixties and basically called for this movement."
Marc Lombardo, an audience member who came down for the Teach-In from Occupy Riverside, said he was happy to hear DeGraw deconstruct the mythology of the movement.
"The first any of us who weren't a part of [OWS] heard of it was that people came together on September 17 and it just magically happened that people showed up and they knew exactly what to do," Lombardo, who was using a people's mic to ask attendees to join him in Riverside after the event, said. Eleven occupiers were arrested in Riverside that afternoon for allegedly refusing to move their tents from a public plaza.
"It seemed like they had this model that worked 100 percent and everyone was on board and singing Kumbaya. But it wasn't like that in reality."
No, it wasn't. But following the initial occupation of 14, OWS joined forces with protestors at Bloombergville, where New Yorkers were fighting Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget cuts. Together, these two groups created what came to be known as the New York General Assembly. And by September 17, the first official day of occupation at Wall Street, they had 1,000 people in the park.
"A key element that night was the Global Revolution live stream," he said. "We were live streaming every second of that, and people were going online and seeing it and felt like they were there, and they could see, well, maybe there aren't enough people there to make this happen but there are a lot of people, so let's get down there."
During the Q&A, many audience members pressed DeGraw for a better understanding of the root cause and demands of the movement. He told them that "trillions of dollars of fraudulent activity" had turned the entire derivative market into a "ponzi scheme." He blamed both the Bush and Obama administrations, and made reference to specific individuals currently in power whom he thought ought to be prosecuted. Among those were National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. And, following inspiration from Egypt and Spain, when OWS needed "our own Mubarak," they chose Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.
"U.S. millionaire households currently have 46 trillion dollars of wealth," he said. "The 400 richest Americans are more wealthy than 154 million Americans combined. We're all being robbed."
As for the central demands, DeGraw pointed to breaking up the banks and getting money out of politics, but was proud to say that really, there were no central demands.
"We thought it would be a huge mistake [not to have demands,] but it turned out to be brilliant," he said. "Not having demands gave everyone their own voice. In presenting it as, 'What's your demand?' everyone got their own demands. And with politicians and media and everyone in the group asking what our demands should be, we have an amazing real political discourse happening in this country for the first time in years." Cue roaring applause.
Even within 10 feet it was evident that the demands are vast. DeGraw had to project his economic messages over a group of camouflaged "pioneers of freedom" passing out free hot food and medicinal marijuana to occupiers, chanting Hare Krishna songs and calling for the legalization of cannabis. Later on in the night, that same group stirred a mass chorus of "The Age of Aquarius" from the counter-cultural rock musical "Hair."
When asked if he thought Occupy might eventually yield a candidate for office, he was quick to repeat his mantra of the decentralized and the leaderless.
"I don't see how one person can speak for anarchists, Libertarians, communists, progressives, Ron Paul supporters, Ralph Nader supporters…"
He does, however, believe that individuals may rise up as spokespeople based on popular support, and from there we might see a third party grow. DeGraw does believe that politicians are going to attach themselves to this movement, first at a local level, particularly because of the growing support behind The 99 Percent Declaration.
That declaration reads, "WE, THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in order to form a more perfect Union, by, for and of the PEOPLE, shall elect and convene a NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY beginning on July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia."
Orameh Bagheri, a 38-year-old woman who has been at Occupy L.A. since the beginning of the occupation and initially proposed the Teach-In, is weary of individual representatives.
"If someone were to run on an Occupy platform, I wouldn't vote for them," Bagheri said. "It's such an organic and young movement. We still have so much to work out."
Bagheri was proud to say that she and other members of the actions committee put together the Teach-In in a matter of two and a half weeks, and that every speaker came out on their own without any compensation for travel or appearance.
As for Occupy L.A. taking Wall Street's place as an epicenter for the winter, Bagheri had her reservations. She was relieved to hear, though, that OWS faces many of the same problems (i.e. concerns about safety, how to reach a consensus, and whether it's reasonable to drum 24/7) that they face at Spring Street in L.A. She believes that no single camp can be a model.
"Each camp has its own special flavor, and we can learn something from every camp," she said. "I don't think it's about geography. It's about the movement as a whole."
Either way, the harsh winter is temporary. As for the movement, as one of the cannabis-championing senior citizens bellowed via people's mic, "We've been occupying the world for millions of years. This won't end."
Reach reporter Allegra Tepper here.
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