We are in the midst of what might be the transformative change we seek, but how do we get there?
This week for the fourth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street activists gathered in Zuccotti Park to discuss economic injustice and government corruption. Occupy was an important phase in the social movement for economic, racial and environmental justice. It was a tactic that was right for the moment showing widespread anger at Wall Street, the unfair economy and the tremendous wealth divide and that people were willing to revolt.
Some recognize that Occupy succeeded in radically changing the debate on the economy and the impact of Wall Street on the economy and government. If not for Occupy would Bernie Sanders be getting the reaction he has gotten? Would Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership of Labor in the UK?
The social movements changed the political culture and opened up space for new views. Occupy revolted against the Wall Street bailout, blocked home foreclosures and highlighted a corrupt government that protected bankers and not the 99%. Occupy highlighted the massive college debt that anchors many youth to an impossible economic future. And, it displayed anger at the poverty wages of US workers. Police violence was put under the spotlight as police misused their power and undermined Freedom of Speech and Assembly.
Occupiers joined in protests against police violence in communities of color and helped expose that issue. Occupy did its job of raising the flag of resistance, letting people see they were not alone and putting new issues on the national agenda. The encampment phase did its job, serving as a take-off for a new social movement. After getting through the landing, when people thought nothing had been accomplished, now we can see how the social movement has evolved into a host of fronts of struggle and is now doing the job of building national consensus.
After 9/11, the United States put a major focus on the Middle East with the illegal and massive war and occupation of Iraq. This occurred at the same time that Latin American countries were breaking from US dominance and creating alternatives to big finance capitalism. Many of these countries are now at the forefront of working toward transformational change and we can learn from them about the challenges of such change.
Venezuela has been in the midst of a radical transformation. Social movements were building before Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999 and after the attempted coup in 2002 the social movement restored Chavez to the presidency and pushed him to be more radical. For years the country was a classic oligarchic-run nation where wealth was controlled by a small number of people and there were high levels of poverty, illiteracy and social problems resulting from an unfair economy.
Chavez brought in the ideas of the Bolivarian Revolution and 21st Century Socialism. This included a new constitution that changed the power structure and resulted in dramatic decreases in poverty and illiteracy, the creation of worker-owned cooperatives, community councils that allowed direct democracy, community-based media and so much more. But, the oligarchs continue to fight back, to return to the old ways.
Telesur is beginning a series that will look in-depth at the transition ongoing in Venezuela. They will not be based on the propaganda we hear in the United States from the media, politicians and sold out groups like Human Rights Watch. The series will look at the positive changes in Venezuela but also the challenges the country faces.
In the first article written by the Tatuy Television Collective they point out “the Bolivarian process has not been able to overcome capitalist and rentier logic based on a single-product economy, dependent entirely on the price of oil, with limited industrial development, which worsens with the ongoing global crisis.”
Another challenge that they have not overcome is the continuous attack from the United States and the oligarchs in Venezuela who want to regain control. The Collective writes the reaction of these forces has been swift because: “…the Bolivarian revolution has acted as a brake on their economic, financial, and political interests, becoming an alternative to the prevailing neoliberal model. Violent barricades with painful results, economic sabotage, a boycott of the national oil company and even a coup d’etat, have been some of the reactions of the historically dominant class. Now they have sharpened and are using different political strategies, such as the hoarding of basic goods, hyper inflation, the devaluation of the national currency, the export of contraband goods in the border regions, currency flight, social decomposition, among other problems that have, without a doubt, affected the daily life of the Venezuelan people.”
Another country charting a new course and challenging oligarchy and US domination is Ecuador. Ecuador has also been a target of the United States which has used the soft power of regime change agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This week Ecuador closed a media outlet funded by USAID and NED because of its inaccurate biased reporting and its meddling in politics. Interestingly, journalists in the country sided with the government because they saw the same problems.
Ecuador also faces protests by oligarchs who used to run the country. At the same time they are facing protests by people’s movements who want the government to be more radical. Hopefully, the people’s movements will have no alliance with the right wing protests and help to push the country to more radical stances against Ecuador’s traditional oligarchic capitalism. The article on Venezuela also urges the government to be more radical in pushing out oligarch control over the media and business interests.
In Bolivia, Evo Morales has thrown USAID and the DEA out of the country. USAID was thrown out because they supported removing Morales from power through protest movements. The DEA was thrown out because of abusive drug enforcement. This week secret indictments by the DEA against top officials of the Morales government were exposed. The US is about to decertify Bolivia because of its supposed lack of drug enforcement even though Morales has significantly reduced cultivation of coca leaves. Foreign interference by the United States and the desire of oligarchs to take back government are the consistent problems these governments face.
Honduras suffered a successful coup in 2009, supported by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State and President Obama. The right-wing coup set back the cause of democracy and enabled corrupt and drug-tainted forces to tighten their grip on the poverty-stricken country. The vast corruption of the coup government has sparked nationwide protests. A report indicates the IMF requirements for austerity will lead to greater damage to the people of Honduras.
The IMF is another tool of control by western empire to force countries into debt and demand they restructure their economy to satisfy bankers. The common thread is the US’ attempts over the long term to protect oligarchs and dominate the economy and government of countries that are seeking popular transformation.
This week Uruguay made the very smart decision to withdraw from negotiations on the massive Trade In Services Agreement. And because of the systemic activities of US agencies like USAID and NED, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2013 that “about 50 countries have adopted laws to limit foreign funding of civic groups or more strictly control their activities. About 30 other countries are considering restrictions.”
Recent European Experience
The Indignado Movement took to the streets of Spain in April 2011 occupying public space. In the UK there were Occupy protests focused on austerity as there were in Greece. These movements have also changed the political consciousness. They are ahead of the US movement in terms of elections. The US is the most solid-two party electoral system in the world which makes change through elections difficult. In Europe multi-party and parliamentary systems allow greater flexibility.
The most recent experience in Europe was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labor Party. George Monbiot writes that his election empowered the movement: “[Labor’s] electoral hopes now grow from the grassroots movements that raised him to his improbable position. It is not up to “them” any more. Now it’s up to us.” He describes how this has also become a reality in Scotland and how “volatile, uncontainable mass movements” are in a position to impact the agenda.
With the next election in Britain not scheduled until 2020, the social movement needs to figure out how to grow and deepen the national consensus so that Corbyn can win. Monbiot looks to churches as one model of how movements can organize: regular meetings, a core set of principles that are non-negotiable and unite, setting an agenda so the movement pushes toward objectives, welcome the unconverted and educate them, self-fund, develop mutual aid to help those in need, create media channels, publishing houses and record labels, support charismatic leaders who answer to the movement and hold public events that attract people.
Another country trying to go through transformational change is Greece. Syriza rose to power adopting the social movement’s opposition to austerity and banksterism. It confronted the financiers of the EU and after a multi-month struggle, that included a referendum urging an end to austerity, Alexis Tsipras,the leader of Syriza gave in to the bankers. Tsipras resigned, Syriza split with a new Left Platform creating a new party.
Greece goes to the polls as we write this newsletter. The prospects are Tsipras will win but that Left Platform will build. This election will not be the final word as Tsipras will be putting in place severe austerity at the demand of EU financiers which will build the social movement and very likely build support for the Left Platform. Greece is a case of a social movement party running up against powerful banking forces and rather than standing against them, as some in Syriza demanded, giving in to the bankers. How this story unfolds will provide more lessons for those seeking transformational change.
The Challenge of Transformation Through Elections in the United States
The United States has unusual challenges for movements working in the electoral system. The two party system is deeply embedded in law and political consciousness so it is very hard for a party challenging Wall Street to be successful. Wall Street and big business are the dominant funders of both parties, the corporate media echoes their message and debates managed by the two parties through a phony “debate commission” keep out alternative views. People challenging that system have little opportunity to get their message out and be viable in the rigged US democracy.
Black Lives Matter announced they will not endorse any candidate in the 2016 elections at the Congressional Black Caucus meetings, where elected Democrats, the type Black Agenda Report calls ‘misleaders’, were gathering. Occupy fought off efforts by Democratic Party operatives to push it into the Democratic Party. Talking heads in the corporate media criticized the movement for not being like the Tea Party, not recognizing the difference between Occupy and the Tea Party was the Tea Party was allied with business interests while Occupy was not. Neither major political party represented the views of Occupy.
The Bernie Sanders campaign has confused some in the occupy movement because he is using the rhetoric and issues of Occupy. The problem is, he is running inside the Democratic Party. The “revolution against the billionaires” cannot occur inside the Wall Street-dominated Democratic Party which has set up an anti-democratic nominating system that he cannot overcome. When he loses the primary, the media will blame it on his agenda which is actually popular rather than the reality of the rigged system he faces.
The history of transformation in the United States demonstrates that the requirements are (1) a mass movement that challenges the power structure on specific injustices; and (2) an independent political party that gets enough support to impact the outcome of elections (not necessarily win). This combination brought us women’s rights, civil rights, union rights and the New Deal.
The relationship between movements and elections is complicated to navigate but to succeed we will need both an electoral and non-electoral movement that are independent of the corporate duopoly.