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Helena, Occupied

Volume 1, Issue 1 December 2011

The Democratic Promise of Occupy Wall Street


By William Greider
Originally published on Monday, November 28, 2011 by The Nation

Why I Occupy
The individual voices of Occupy Helena
Emily Waugh
Soon to be Stay at Home Mother, Member of Occupy Helena

Regular politics in Washington now resembles an ecological dead zone where truth perishes in a polluted environment. Democrats and Republicans shadowbox over their concocted fiscal crisis, neither willing to tell voters the truth, both eager to avoid blame for the damage they are doing to the country. Out in the streets, meanwhile, the contrast with brain-dead politics is exhilarating. In Occupy Wall Street, we are witnessing a rare eventthe birth of a social movement. Ordinary people are engaging in sustained grassroots protest against the political order and against citizens exclusion from the decisionmaking that governs their lives. They seek to rearrange the distribution of power, and they are doing so by injecting a creative, often playful vitality that has been missing in our decayed democracy. The protesters have slipped around the soul-deadening, high-gloss marketing of mass-communication culture. Instead, they insist that politics starts with citizens talking to one another and listeningagreeing and disagreeing with mutual respect. The open-door, nonhierarchical membership commits people to engage in what historian Lawrence Goodwyn calls democratic conversation. The Occupy protesters are acting like citizens, believing they have the power to change things. Their ambition reflects a core mystery of American democracythe fact that humble people can acquire power when they convince themselves they can. Warmhearted and broad-minded, these citizens audaciously claim to speak for the 99 percentand despite initial ridicule and dismissal of them by much of the press, polls show they have strong public support. The Occupiers have even managed to make uptight reporters write about corporate greed. Authentic new social movements do not appear very often, and most of them fail. Throughout the nations history, rebellions have typically been derailed by their own mistakes and divisions or snuffed out by entrenched power. Even when they endure, it can take years, sometimes generations, to overcome the resistance of the status quo. Think of the abolitionists and the civil rights movement, womens
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Ive been frustrated with the way our government operates since I was old enough to understand. I still remember the rude awakening I received in my AP Government class my senior year of High School. I learned for the first time about the many ways that our democracy is clouded. The idea that our government was no longer a true, direct democracy that the needs and wants of the majority of the people of this country were not necessarily reflected in Washingtons decisions left me feeling really hopeless. I spent the next few years fired up and information hungry reading everything I could get my hands on searching for an answer, or, at least, some hope. Unfortunately, more knowledge didnt comfort me. I learned more and more about the entanglement of political candidates with large corporate donors and the exceptional reach and influence of special interest lobbyists. I watched candidates promise one thing, then fall into the same old pattern as everyone before them once they reached office. But the most infuriating part was that no one else seemed to notice. Thats what drew me to Occupy Wall Street. Suddenly there was this huge crowd of people protesting the same dysfunctions of our government I had been frustrated by for years. The Recession that began in 2008, and the governments response to it, was a glaring example of the injustices that have been in practice for a long time. As we watched our tax dollars bail out the banks and, before our eyes, turn into bonuses for millionaire and billionaire CEOs, it was no longer possible to ignore the egregious practices. Ive never been a very confrontational person. I have strongly held beliefs, but very rarely am willing to risk a fight in order to express them. So for the first few days I watched the movement in silent awe. But then it hit me now is the time to do something. To finally
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Helena, Occupied 1 Printed with volunteer labor

Our new campaign to encourage support of local businesses over big box stores and megabanks will include handing this image to employees and tellers of our local businesses at checkout to let them know we stand with them. Cut out this image to join in or download the image from
occupyhelena.wordpre ss.com to make sure

you always have plenty on hand. Lets overwhelm our small business owners with support!

#OCCUPYXMAS

The following is the body of an email that has been circulating recently. The original source is unknown, but the message is a widely shared one. It represents a real and tangible way that we can make a difference in our own community while sending a message to Wall Street that we will no longer sit idly by.

Christmas 2011 -- Birth of a New Tradition


As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods --merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor. This year will be different. This year Americans will give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands. Yes there is! It's time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper? Everyone -- yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificate from your local American hair salon or barber? Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement. Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates. Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down the Benjamins on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course. There are plenty owner-run restaurants -- all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint? Remember, folks this isn't about big National chains -- this is about supporting your home town Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open. How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy? Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day. My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running. OK, you were looking for something more personal. Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves. They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes. Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre? Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands. Honestly, people, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a five dollar string of light, about fifty cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip. You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city. Christmas is now about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine. THIS is the new American Christmas tradition.
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Enough is Enough
By Wendy Fox
Massage Therapist, Member of Occupy Helena

Last Sunday at noon I walked to Hill Park to attend one of the three weekly protests of Occupy Helena, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. I carried my homemade sign, which read, Occupy America/ The Peaceful Resistance to Corporate Greed. No one else had arrived yet, so I asked myself if I was willing to stand alone on the corner of Park Ave. and Neill Ave. with my sign until they did. I was. Heres why. I stood with my sign because I dont think it is conscionable that 1% of our population controls 42% of the wealth, that income inequality is now higher in the U.S. than in any other country, that many have lost their savings, that the financial sector paid 3000 lobbyists (5 for each member of Congress) 5 billion dollars between 1998 and 2008, that investment bankers whose irresponsible behavior led to the financial crisis in 2008 later got jobs in government. And thats just the beginning. There have been massive private gains at public loss. The level of injustice has become unacceptable to people in Helena, in New York City, and around the world. If you want to understand something about what got us into this mess, one really good resource is the film Inside Job written and directed by the Academy Award nominated Charles Ferguson. I saw it at the Myrna Loy when it came out and then recently rented it, to remind myself. Here is one example from the film to give you some idea of the treachery. The investment bank Goldman Sacks issued 3.1 billion dollars of toxic subprime collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) in 2006. [A lender sells a loan to an investment bank, which repackages it with other loans (now a CDO) and then sells it to investors.] Then, investment banks actually paid rating agencies (yes, you can pay off rating agencies) to give these dangerous, subprime loans AAA ratings. (with a rating like this, your pension fund might have even invested in them!) Investment banks borrowed heavily (leveraged) to create more CDOs, sometimes up to 33 to 1 (meaning they borrowed 33 x the assets they actually had.) To top it off, Goldman Sachs actually started betting against these same CDOs, while telling customers they were high quality, and getting paid by AIG (the worlds largest insurance company) when they failed. Hank Paulsen, the CEO of GS, made 31 million dollars in 2005. In 2007, home foreclosures skyrocketed, and the market for CDOs collapsed, leaving CDOs investment banks couldnt sell. Bush nominated Hank Paulsen for Secretary of the Treasury (how convenient!). In September of 2007, Paulsen asked for 700 billion dollars to bailout the banks. He got it,

and presto! we were well on our way to doubling the US debt, a global recession, 30 million lost jobs, at a cost of 10s of trillions of dollars to the world. Fair? Of course not. Is this kind of behavior continuing? Yes. Lobbyists and investment bankers have fought fiercely against financial regulation, and virtually no one has been prosecuted for the crimes which caused the crisis. These are some of the reasons people are standing on street corners or camping in parks in the cold. We are the 99%. The Occupy movement, whether its in NYC or Helena, Montana, is a way to say, Enough is enough. If we dont stand up, who will? One sign I saw from Zuccotti Park in New York harkened back to Winnie the Pooh; it read, Stop Saying Oh bother, and take back the honey. Indeed.
Why I Occupy, continued from page 1

stand up and try to do something about the things that had frustrated me for so long. Im pregnant with my first child, and I want something different for him. I want him to believe that his voice matters that his vote counts. So, as long as these two issues remain central parts of the discussions of Occupy Helena: 1) the buying and controlling of political candidates through campaign donations and 2) the legal bribery of our representatives by lobbyists Ill be a part of the Occupy movement. I want political campaigns to be determined by the value and merit of a candidates ideas, not the pocketbooks of his anonymous corporate donors. I want my representatives in Washington to represent ME, not the interests of the lobbyists and their organizations. To me, it all boils down to the issue of money in politics. Fix that stop equating money with speech (a policy that allows some people to have more speech than others) and our government would begin to function in an entirely different way: a way that reflect the needs and wants of the great majority of this country; a way that could make my sons voice just as important as the voices of the rich. Occupy Helena presents

The Corporation
A free film screening When: Sunday December 11 at 1:00 p.m. Where: Lewis & Clark Library, Large Meeting Room What: Based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan
th

Caf Mam Coffee & desserts at Intermission - discussion to follow.

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Democratic Promise, continued from page 1

demand for the vote and equal rights, working people collectively asserting their power in unions. As with earlier movements, governing elites have grasped the radical nature of this noisy intrusion into their privileged domain, and they have attempted to crush OWS with a series of melodramatic police raids from New York to California. But repression has failed to intimidate the rebellious citizens. Indeed, each attack only seems to strengthen the movement. But will it last? Skeptics are entitled to their doubts, but for important reasons I am confident this movement will endure. First, because it is very unlikely the establishment will respond substantively to OWSs grievancesand that will only make the protesters more determined. OWS has brilliantly focused its many complaints on the very sectorthe megabankers and financierson whom the politicians are dependent. In different ways, Republicans and Democrats are aligned with the greedheads and are thus unwilling to punish their crimes or cut them down to size. This new movement is probably more threatening to President Obama, because many of the young people and minorities who campaigned and voted for him in 2008 might drift away to Occupys direct action. If Obama refuses to get tougher on reining in Wall Street, these former supporters may just skip voting in 2012. Yet this new force can ultimately help Obama if he responds to its message. Led by the young, the movement is aligning with the reviving militancy of labor and other progressive constituencies. The spirit is open-armed and patriotic, not negative and divisive. Obama should dare to lead it rather than dodge or oppose it. The Republicans are hopeless, of course, utterly in thrall to banking industry demands. In any case, this movement is not about electoral politicsnot yet, anyway. It is about saving the country, an objective bigger than politics and politicians. Its vision is nothing less than halting the degradation and fostering the rebirth of the nations original democratic promise. It is the nature of authentic movements to seek large and majestic goals that seem impossible to pedestrian politiciansand, at first, to most citizens. Standing up requires both uncommon courage and severe provocation. Another reason Im optimistic about the Occupy movement is its distinctiveness from other movements. Its horizontal, leaderless quality confuses outsiders but ensures its autonomy as a free-standing force not beholden to political parties or financial patrons that might restrict its behavior. OWSs creativity depends on its independence. And finally, I am optimistic about Occupy because I see similarities with earlier movements that led to significant reforms. Odd as it may seem, Occupys situation resembles in some ways the agrarian revolt of the late nineteenth century. I say odd because the Populists were poverty-plagued farmers; but like todays protesters, they were getting crushed by the banking system and monopoly capitalism. For an inspiring portrait of what ordinary Americans can accomplish in adversity, read Lawrence Goodwyns epic history The Populist Moment. The Populists well understood that nobody was on their side, neither the government nor the bankers. As industrial capitalism advanced, the brutal credit system was converting yeoman farmers of the South and Midwest into landless peasants (a bit like the foreclosure crisis impoverishing homeowners in our time). In deep crisis, the Populists had to save themselves. They launched agricultural cooperatives and developed farsighted reform proposals, many of which were ultimately embraced by the New Deal. The Populists lost in their own time, but they planted seeds for the future and changed the nation in the long run. Like the Populists, the Occupiers are acting in the American spirit of self-reliance, doing whatever they can to counter a destructive system and force change upon it. In the absence of serious financial reform from Congress, for example, the move your money campaign uses direct action to take money and power away from the megabanks. But Occupy is also demanding a new kind of government, one not captured by corporate power and rigged against ordinary people. Occupy DC, for example, has proposed a humane plan for deficit reduction. Others urge a constitutional amendment that would disarm the money powers capture of democracy. OWS can bring about a change in laws, but first it must cleanse our degraded political culture. This is a staggering challenge, of course, but radical reform will originate only from ordinary citizensnot policy experts and their Wall Street supporters, who led the nation into ruin. The movement can inspire the people to become creative citizens again. Are we up to it? Let us find out. Let the democratic conversations begin.

How to Get Involved


Join us for a General Assembly: Saturdays from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Location changes, but will always be posted on our website. Check out the website! Lots of links to information and updates: http://occupyhelena.wordpress.com Check out the Facebook page Occupy Helena supporting occupy wall st: a Free Speech Zone where anyone can contribute news and views. Email us at occupyhelena@gmail.com to be added to our email list get immediate updates and join in conversations and debates.
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