In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
With protesters camped out in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza in Washington — and in other cities across the country — we explore the message and the method behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. Who are the protesters, what do they want, and how does their “occupation” compare with other protests in the history of the city and the nation?
- Lacey MacAuley Participant, Occupy DC; Former participant, Occupy Wall Street
- Michael Kazin Professor, History Department, Georgetown University
- Kevin Zeese Green Party / Libertarian Party / Populist Party Candidate for U.S. Senate
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It started with Wall Street. But, a month later, protesters are now officially occupying territory in dozens of cities around the world, including in McPherson Square right here in Washington.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhile it's clear these demonstrations have sprung from public anger at corporate America and the financial institutions that many blame for the 2008 economic collapse, it's less clear what the protesters want to see done about it. One Wall Street Occupier channeled Frederick Douglass in today's New York Times, saying that power concedes nothing without a demand. Today, we'll learn what some of these demands are from people involved with the Occupy movement.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd we'll explore what lessons they may want to draw from history as they try to translate the energy mounting in their demonstrations to political power. Joining us in studio is Kevin Zeese. He is an organizer for october2011.org, a co-director of itsoureconomy.us and the co-chair of comehomeamerica.us. Kevin Zeese, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KEVIN ZEESEThanks for having me on.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Lacey MacAuley, a participant in the Occupy D.C. protest in Washington. She's also a former participant in Occupy Wall Street. Lacey MacAuley, thank you very much for joining us.
MS. LACEY MACAULEYIt is a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Michael Kazin. He is a history professor at Georgetown University. Michael, good to see you again.
PROF. MICHAEL KAZINGood to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Where do you suspect the energy that's fueling the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy D.C. movements is coming from? And, more importantly, where do you see it going? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDILacey, you feel strongly enough about this movement that you've now occupied both Wall Street and Washington, D.C. Why did you make the trip to New York a month ago? What was this about to you?
MACAULEYWell, you know, I guess, it was basically a couple of weeks before Occupy Wall Street began that I heard that people were planning on going to Wall Street and occupying. I didn't know anything more than that, but I just knew that I had to be there.
MACAULEYThe main reason that I actually felt compelled to grab my sleeping bag, pack up my backpack and head on the bus up to New York was that I just basically am -- I think that it is not necessarily the demands, you know, whatever policies or platforms or whatever that is coming out of this that is so compelling. At the start, it is the tactic. There is -- there are so many things that people are there for. There are so many reasons.
MACAULEYWe have -- you know, of course, on McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., we have veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. We have moms who actually just can't find work and can't live on their assistance. We have college students who actually just don't know what their future is going to look like, who are there for a whole host of reasons.
MACAULEYAnd, you know, even without these, you know -- even without some sort of, like, language formulated in some sort of declaration or statement, the actual tactic speaks to people. It's -- I'm sitting here. I'm in my public square. I'm in my park. I'm not going anywhere until something changes.
NNAMDIThere's a lot of debate as to who exactly the Occupiers are. People sympathetic to the movement may see them as honest people who are simply fed up with the system. People who are not sympathetic may see them otherwise. How would you describe the people that you have been participating with in these protests?
MACAULEYWell, again, I mean, it's -- the beautiful thing is it -- about it is that we are so many voices and so many different, you know, levels of having -- you know, having done this kind of thing before. There are so many new people who have never considered themselves a "activist." You know, there are so many people who this is the first time they've actually said, you know what, I'm kind of -- I am fed up, and I'm not -- you know, I'm not going to just continue to stay silent.
MACAULEYAnd so I think that, you know, again, there are so many different, you know, ways in which people see things need to change. But I think that, you know something that is a constant theme, that you'll hear again and again on these squares and in these occupied spaces in Wall Street, in the very beginning and, you know, all the way through to McPherson Square to Freedom Plaza to all of the occupied spaces -- you know, one of the things you'll hear is I know something has to change.
NNAMDIWell, we actually had somebody go down to McPherson Square over the weekend. The people inside the Occupy Wall Street movement like to think of themselves as a movement without a spokesperson, a movement made up of individuals with their own stories to tell. This weekend, our show's intern Paulo Esperon (sp?) spoke with some of the protesters in McPherson Square. Here's what a few of them had to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONEI'm a lawyer. I'm here because corporations are legally bound to maximize profit for their shareholders, but they're also dictating public policy and public policy to benefit corporate shareholders. It's not usually good public policy for the general population and for the planet. I really hope that we can raise awareness, and I think it's going to take a long time. I think we'll be here for at least a few years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE TWOInvest in your own community. Join a community bank. Bank locally, not globally.
MR. JAMES ALBERT DEVOEMy name is James Albert DeVoe, D-E-capital V-O-E. I'm 51 from Indianapolis, Indiana, and I'm down here to protest the wars going on, corporate greed and for people being homeless.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANMy last job was a hospice nurse. I take care of dying people. And I'm really sick of the health care system. I'm sick of the unchecked corporate greed. You know, people are dying because they're too poor for treatment, and that's a, you know -- and meanwhile, you know, we're killing people with bombs that cost a million dollars a drop, and we can't take care of the people here when they're sick. And that's just really wrong.
NNAMDIJust a few of the people participating in the demonstration in McPherson Square. In case you're just joining us, we're talking about interpreting the protests that are currently taking place and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Kevin Zeese is an organizer of october2011.org. Kevin, there's been a lot of activity downtown lately. We've been getting a lot of emails from people who want to make it clear that the protests taking place on Freedom Plaza are actually something separate from Occupy D.C.
NNAMDIWho are the participants in the demonstrations at Freedom Plaza? Are you a collection of individuals, representatives of different groups around the city?
ZEESEIt's very much the same what's going on at McPherson. We see ourselves as part of the Occupy movement. There's occupytogether.org and links all the movement -- all the occupations together. People (unintelligible) the national scene. We started organizing the Freedom Plaza occupation about six months ago, and we went public in June. In July, Ad Busters announced Occupy Wall Street.
ZEESEWe immediately endorsed that. I went up to some of the assemblies as many of our act organizers to participate in organizing Wall Street. We went up also during the Wall Street occupation. I went up the first day. Other people spent every day there. So we see it very much linked to the Occupy movement. The kind of people we have on the plaza are -- range from teens to people in their 70s.
ZEESEIt's a broad range. We have people who are novice activists, who've never done this before. We have people who are former activists, who had kind of dropped out and felt pretty hopeless. We have people who are recent activists. The reason I got involved was because I felt like all of the normal political systems -- elections, lobbying, media -- had been corporatized and closed down.
ZEESEWe have essentially a fraud of elections. We only get to choose from two corporate candidates who get corporate money, get on corporate TV, and anyone who tries to do anything to challenge that gets kept off the ballot or kept out of the debates and kept off TV. And so people get to choose between two corporate-approved candidates. That's not really a choice. Lobbying is dominated by big, financial interests, who, you know, give money to the chairmen and key members of committees.
ZEESEI remember, we were involved in a health care debate. Two-thirds of the people want single-payer health care, you know, expanded and improved Medicare for all. That was not even included in the discussion. We went up to listen to the health care debate before Sen. Baucus and the Finance Committee. You see the chamber of commerce, you see business round table, all the pharmaceuticals, all the insurance companies, but no one representing what the people wanted.
NNAMDISo, obviously, you'd like an end to all of this. Are you asking for any specific changes however?
ZEESEYes. The specific change is end corporate rule and shift power to the people. Now, that sounds -- the problem with that is that over the last four or five decades, corporations have really integrated themselves into everything: health care, big finance, energy. Corporations are dominating, and the two political parties are dominated by the corporations. And so we -- when you talk about ending corporate rule, that becomes a (word?).
ZEESEAnd in health care, get the insurance essentially out from between the doctor and the patient, so...
NNAMDIAnd, clearly, that's what you have in common with the Occupy Wall Street.
ZEESEIt's all the same.
NNAMDII'd like to bring Michael Kazin in because, Michael, you've said that while leftists in U.S. history have rarely mounted a serious challenge to those in power, they have influenced public opinion about what's wrong and what's right. Can the same be true of this Occupy D.C., Occupy Wall Street movement?
KAZINI think so. Yeah, I think so, Kojo. I think that one of the exciting things about what's going on now is that there's a attempt, really, to put together, assemble a lot of the kind of the discontents that people have, I think, on the broad left of American politics about, as Kevin said, the last 30, 40 years of what's been happening in America and really around the world for that matter, too, what people in Europe call neoliberalism.
KAZINHere, we talk about economic conservatism or conservatism, generally. And, you know, I think that, clearly, these folks are, in some ways, trying to figure out what structure, if any structure, they're going to have that will come next after this. But they've certainly already influenced the public debate.
KAZINThey've already gotten people like you and people elsewhere in the media, here and all over the world, to talk about the overweening power of big corporations, instead of -- as the Tea Party wanted people to talk about and got them to talk about for a while -- the tremendous power supposedly of big government. And so, in this sense, I think people are...
NNAMDIIn a way, is this -- does this mean that they're changing the national conversation...
NNAMDI...from a conversation that, for a while, was dominated by talk about big government to a conversation that is now dominated by talk of the wealth gap and corporate power?
KAZINI hope so. I hope so. I mean, I think that, in many ways, we're going to have a debate, I think, about who the concentration of power is, who is the most deleterious to the public interest, and it's an important debate to have. And, in many ways, this goes back to discussions that Americans have been having for the last hundred years, really.
NNAMDIHere is Rachel in Silver Spring, Md. Could you, please, don your headphones, Michael? You're on the air, Rachel. Go ahead, please.
RACHELThank you very much for taking my call. I want to thank all the protestors because I'm one of the 99. I'm a former middle class person. I would say former because, even though I am professional with a master's degree, I haven't been able to get a job. I'm living in subsidized housing, and I can't afford to get a Metro card to go downtown and join the protest. And to those columnists and news media who are saying, it's just a bunch of old hippies and a bunch of upper middle-class kids...
NNAMDIWell, let me quote Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, "Starbucks-sipping, iPhone-toting, blue jean-wearing English majors carrying student loans because they didn't bother getting the skills to find work on their own in this economy." Have you attempted to find work on your own in this economy?
RACHELOh, boy, have I attempted to find work? I'm over -- I'm 51, which means that there are jobs that I -- you know, I can't get a job in retail because I can't lift what I could when I was right out of college. And there was no Starbucks then, so I was drinking other coffee. But, yes, I -- and the thing is, it doesn't matter who the people down there are.
RACHELIf they are trying to change things, you know, people lasted -- had lasted every protest movement and found ways to denigrate them. And, you know, it's the people who have something to say that have something to say, if (unintelligible) better way. Thank you.
NNAMDIRachel, thank you very much. Here's Kevin Zeese.
ZEESEI think what you're hearing from Rachel is what you're hearing all the time. What's driving this movement is economic insecurity at the same time we see that 400 Americans have the wealth of $154 million. That economic insecurity affects -- truly affects the 99 percent. There's only 1 percent that's economically secure. And what this movement is doing is not just occupying public space and putting up our messages that way. But what we're doing is occupying the political dialogue.
ZEESEWe're giving voice to people who didn't have a voice in the past, people like Rachel who would not have been heard if it had not been for our movement. And people in the media, who have only been talking about, you know, the Tea Party and the corporate agenda of the two political parties, now, they have to talk about us. And we're putting out the views of things that are not for -- like, for example, you never hear discussion of empire. We're discussing empire.
ZEESEWe're the biggest empire in U.S. history -- in world history, and it's a secret to the American people. Eleven hundred military bases around the world -- it affects our economy dramatically, affects our national security, affects the world dramatically, and it's never discussed here. We don't even hear about the empire. The British had 37 -- and the Romans had 37 military bases at their peak. We're at 1,100. Let's discuss whether empire is good or bad for this country.
NNAMDIHere's Michael Kazin.
KAZINOne of the things which Krauthammer and other people who are criticizing the movement are trying to do is to pull us back to '60s, pull us back to a time when, at least in mythology, it was privileged college kids who were demonstrating and working people opposed them and bashed them over the heads. And that's not what's going on now.
KAZINAs Kevin was saying, what's going on now is a movement that began with the younger people -- as all movements always do -- but it has grown in New York City. Every major union has supported Occupy Wall Street. The AFL-CIO generally, nationally, has supported the aims of Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations.
KAZINAnd so, you know, it's hard a lot of times for people who have been writing about these issues for a long time to grapple with when they see something really new, really fresh, which is not completely new. Nothing is. But at the same time, you know, it's a movement which, here and around the world, is, you know, groping after a better way to understand the world, a better way to change the world. And people like Krauthammer should be quiet for a while and watch.
MACAULEYJust to -- I just wanted to say, Rachel, if you are having trouble, you know, paying for a Metro card to get down to McPherson Square Occupy D.C., just get on a bus with your backpack and your tent, whatever you'd like, and tell the bus driver, I'm sorry, I don't have any fare, but could I just get down to Occupy D.C.? And I bet you they would let you on because we have actually seen, you know, support from public transit workers who are letting people ride for free.
MACAULEYWe've seen support from restaurant workers in the restaurants surrounding Occupy D.C., and also surrounding Wall Street. Part of the big reason is that -- that Wall Street has been able to continue -- well, was able to kind of make it in the very beginning, actually, is because they got help from the McDonald's employees who were actually letting them use the bathroom, going in and out as much as people needed, the Burger King employees as well right off the Liberty Square there in New York.
MACAULEYAnd I wanted to say that, you know, for all the questions in -- among the intelligentsia who are looking at, you know, the movements on squares and so forth all over the country, it is a movement for the 99 percent. And I think that people are responding to that.
NNAMDIHere is Mike in Greenbelt, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEYeah, I just have a question here -- read on the news that the Nazi Party and the Communist Party have formally endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just curious what your thoughts are on that.
NNAMDII am not aware of that. I don't know if anyone else at the table is.
KAZINWe haven't seen that on Freedom Plaza.
MACAULEYI have not seen it either.
KAZINAnd, also, there's...
NNAMDII suspect it would be historic.
KAZINThere's barely a Communist Party still in existence in this country, and I didn't even know there was a Nazi Party still existing. So...
NNAMDIAnd the notion that they might agree on anything is, well, spurious to say the least.
KAZINYou know, and one of the things -- which does happen -- is lots of people who are standing around, all of the sudden, when something is growing, they want to be a part of it.
KAZINAnd that's, you know...
ZEESEIn fact, that's our biggest problem and our biggest strength. I mean, one of my big fears right now is co-option by those in power. You know, unions have a two-edged sword. They're very (unintelligible) the Democratic Party. And we want to be independent of the two parties. We love the union members that come down and participate, but we don't want to be tied to the Democratic Party, and same with, you know, Move On and Rebuild the Dream and Campaign for America's Future.
ZEESEGreat to have them along, but we are independent of the two parties. The two parties are corporate dominated, and we don't want to be pulled into the either one of them.
MACAULEYYou know, I...
NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. You were saying, Lacey?
MACAULEYI just wanted to say, I know in McPherson Square we've been having, you know, a lot of conversations on how to relate to, you know, the institutional left.
ZEESEYeah, so are we.
MACAULEYI mean, it does seem, you know, that to me that there have been, you know, a lot of candles that have been kept burning. There's a lot of good research out there. There's a lot of good data that's done by, you know -- that's been done by organizations on the institutional left. But now, I think that we're all in a learning curve here because this movement has opened up to those who are brand new. So this is a conversation that's been going on on occupied spaces, like McPherson Square, Freedom Plaza, all over the country.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break because, as you know, this is our fall membership campaign. We'll be getting back to our conversation, but we're going to take a little time to ask you to become members of WAMU 88.5 before we return to the conversation of interpreting the Occupy Wall Street and other protests. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on interpreting the Occupy Wall Street and other protests now taking place in this city and around the country. We're talking with Kevin Zeese. He's an organizer of october2011.org, a co-director of itsoureconomy.us and the co-chair of comehomeamerica.us. He joins us in studio along with Lacy MacAuley, a participant in the Occupy D.C. protest in Washington. She's also a former participant in Occupy Wall Street. Michael Kazin is a history professor at Georgetown University.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Michael Kazin, could you put this protest in some historical context for us? Some people are comparing it to the Resurrection City in 1968, even as far back as the Bonus Army in 1932.
KAZINWell, the thing about history, of course, it doesn't repeat itself. It is new. But I think one of the things which is new about it is that the whole idea of 99 percent that -- you know, the left in the last 30, 40 years has been really fragmented between people who focus on gay marriage, on abortion rights, on anti-war, anti-imperialism, various things. So this is, in many ways, a focus on -- I think the economic crisis, it wouldn't have happened without the economic crisis around the world.
KAZINSo if you're looking for a parallel, in some ways, you have to go back to the late 19th century when what used to be called the anti-monopoly movement really arose and included populists, the original populists, labor unionists, small farmers, middle-class reformers, like Jane Addams, people from all races, actually. W.B. DuBois was part of that anti-monopoly movement as well. In many ways, it was not seen by people as being ideologically connected to one particular group or another.
KAZINIt was a wide-scale protest against economic inequality. And I think that is what unites everybody here as well. I noticed in the Zuccotti Square over the weekend, where I was, there was a man about my age, you know, gray hair and gray beard who held up a sign saying, this occupation is for you.
KAZINAnd I think that's a more inclusive sense that there's a large majority of Americans being hurt by this economic crisis, something we really haven't seen since early years of the Great Depression and, really, in some ways, going back over a century.
NNAMDIKevin, the protesters have daily assemblies where you discuss events and strategies and try to reach consensus. Why did you choose that method of decision making? Before you respond to that question, I think, Beck in Washington, D.C., has a question or comment along the same line, right, Beck? Go ahead, please.
BECKYes. Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I wanted to mention that, apart from the issue of demands, one thing that makes this movement really powerful is actually being involved in consensus organizing and consensus decision making. Regular folks who -- like one of the people on your show already mentioned -- have no activism experience whatsoever or learning how to be involved in horizontal decision-making processes that are based on cooperation instead of domination. And that's a life-changing experience.
ZEESEIt's actually -- is an interesting experience and people should come down. We have two assemblies a day at eight o'clock in the morning to plan our day, and then we have one at 6:00 in the evening to talk about what's needed on the plaza and plan our next day. And what we -- the consensus thing is very much along the lines of what I said earlier, about giving people who didn't have a voice a voice. We really want to encourage those to give us their ideas.
ZEESEWe recognize that there's no one person, no leadership group that has the intelligence of the whole. And so listening to each other and learning from each other is really powerful. We had some great experiences when our -- we had initially had a permit to set up our infrastructure and our permit ran out. And there was a decision on whether we should stay or not. We had a public discussion on that. The media was there to see it. They got to see us go through this process of a solidarity decision to stay and risk arrest.
ZEESEAnd then when the Park Service came back and offered us, without us asking, a four-month extension on the permit of the Freedom Plaza, which is at 13th in Pennsylvania, we had a big discussion on whether to accept that or not. And so the media, again, got to see it. And it was a, I think -- a really -- both were good sessions. They got to understand. In addition to the assemblies, we also have, each night at 7:30, a discussion of issues. A lot of them are economic issues. Like you were saying, that's what's driving this.
ZEESEAnd, you know, we had -- we have discussions on health care. We have discussions of big finance, how to deal with it. We come through with the problems in each area. Then we come through with the solutions. And you can see the -- on our website, october2011.org, a list of the various things that we're discussing. And Tuesday night is a special night. We're having a special Iran night. We're going to have -- some local Iranian's going to make meal for hundreds. People are welcome to come and join that.
ZEESEThere'll be movies. There'll be discussion. There'll be -- and it's so important right now with all that's going on with the escalation of rhetoric between Iran and the United States and other countries. So join us for that.
MACAULEYI wanted to say that there are general assemblies happening in, you know, squares just like the one that Kevin mentioned in Freedom Plaza. We at McPherson Square also have our evening general assembly at 6 p.m. every evening, and people who basically want to participate are welcome to come on by. One of the things, as your -- I think as your caller mentioned -- Beck -- corporations don't ask for consent. Our government does a lot of things without asking for our consent, without our actual agreement.
MACAULEYAnd, actually, this is -- one of the most beautiful things is that this is a place where people can actually understand that nothing is going to happen without their consent. Basically, it's a group of people who talk things out, and it's not voting. It's not just, you know, you raise your hand yes or no, and the people who, you know, vote no kind of get shafted. You know, basically, we all take -- basically ride off of the thoughts and the ideas and the creativity of everyone and become the...
NNAMDIWell, you are a veteran of these types of protests. You were in Toronto last year at the G-20 summit protest. What would you say makes this demonstration different than, say, the World Bank or IMF protests in Washington that have been an annual thing here in Washington?
MACAULEYWell, yeah, it's -- basically, it's true that, you know, there are large summits where leaders of, you know, in the IMF and the World Bank get to meet together and kind of strategize on the rules and the guidelines that we are all, the 99 percent, the rest of us, are expected to follow. The G-20 does the same thing. They meet behind close doors.
MACAULEYThey meet without our consent, and they make decisions that impact all of us in a very dramatic, and often really unfortunate, way. And, you know, this is -- basically, we are now creating the world that we want to see because we are taking...
NNAMDISo you're seeing these protests as in that tradition of the protest of the G-20 and the IMF...
MACAULEYI think that one of the beautiful things about it is that, you know, there are things that people are saying no to, and there are people -- things that people are saying yes to. And, you know, our general assemblies, which really are the heart of all of these occupations, where we come together and we come to agreements together, all of us with equal voices, these are what we say yes to. These are the things that bind us.
NNAMDIMichael Kazin, the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle back in 1999 seem to have become a landmark moment in the modern-protest era, the battle at Seattle. What do you think is the significance of what happened in Seattle more than a decade ago? And what has happened since?
KAZINWell, there's a couple of things to say there. First of all, clearly, this was the first movement which -- in the late '90s, which focused on international economic institutions, which focused on new liberalism, global capitalism, call it what you will, looked at this as a multinational problem. I think, however, I think -- well, I have to disagree with Lacey.
KAZINI think that one of the things which makes these demonstrations, that are happening right now, actually more important, I think, and more influential and likely to have more staying power is very few people, I think, out there in the world understood what the World Bank actually did or the IMF actually did. Whereas now, you know, everybody knows in this recession that, you know, big banks got bailed out. They're still making lots of money. I saw, today, Citibank made a huge profit in the last quarter.
KAZINAnd the gap, the wage gap that we've been talking about, the fact that the world economy has been brought low by a pretty small number of people gambling with mortgages and all kind of ways, whereas, I think, you know, in other words, the World Bank-IMF protests were important, but they were rather specialized, I think, and didn't have much staying power. Whereas this, I think, will have more staying power because it talks to people in many different places. All have been hurt by the same crisis.
NNAMDIHere is Barbara in Washington. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Barbara. Are you there?
BARBARAThank you. Yes. I am taking off the speakerphone. Thank you very much. I have a question. And I was at Occupy D.C. yesterday, so I fully support the occupations across the nation or across the planet. How can we galvanize this into a non-partisan or third party movement?
ZEESEThat's being talked about.
MACAULEYWell, one of the things that I think is, you know, really -- also makes this really special is that it -- it's -- you know, I believe the occupations are happening outside of our current systems of power. And so, for me, you know, I feel like the reason that I, you know, started out, you know, protesting on Wall Street -- the reason that I then came to McPherson Square Occupy D.C. is because, you know, basically, this is -- it's a situation where we're not necessarily just asking Wall Street for solutions to our problems.
MACAULEYWe're not asking them to change some gear that's in this machinery, that's in the machine that they have. We're not actually, you know, asking for government and Congress to take care of our problems. We are basically taking the power back for ourselves, and we are actually acting in a space where we make our own decisions outside of these current institutions of power.
NNAMDIBoth Michael Kazin and Kevin Zeese have something to say about this. First you, Michael.
KAZINWell, I think, at some point, the institutions that do exist -- Congress, the president, courts -- in various ways, will respond to this movement if it continues to grow. And I would hope they would co-opt it, but co-opt it in the sense of agreeing with some of the demands and changing things because, in the end, unless you overthrow the system entirely, which I don't think is on the agenda in this country, you know, people in power, you want to change their -- who they are.
KAZINAnd so I think -- I guess I'm, you know, perhaps as a historian, a little -- you know, I don't -- I believe social movements succeed when they grow large and put pressure on politicians. As Douglass said, power yields nothing without a demand. But we forget that Frederick Douglass was also a very loyal member of the Republican Party of his day because the Republican Party had helped to abolish slavery and was, to a limited degree...
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this question for you, Kevin Zeese, and that is, what models are you using for the movement you're trying to build now?
ZEESEWell, we look at a lot -- a whole range of movements to decide. What we're really looking at, more than anything else, is materials from the Einstein Institute, which talks about how nonviolent movements can end political regimes. And they mainly focus on dictatorships, but they also apply to us. And one of the things that the Einstein Institute books talk about are weakening the pillars of power that hold up governments in place, and that's military, police, civil servants, business, youth, media, et cetera.
ZEESEAnd I think we're seeing that happen. So I -- what we see as needed is three I's, first, independent political movement -- much like what John is talking about -- that will pressure both political parties, existing institutions to try to do the right thing, second, independent media, meaning something that we get our own message out so we can be confident that people -- democratize the media, and, third, if necessary, independent electoral politics.
ZEESERight now, we think it's way too soon to get involved in the existing structures. They're so corrupt. The depth of the corruption is so deep, and the elections are so manipulated that we just don't see the...
NNAMDIWhat are the challenges of keeping the movement going without being -- well, allow me to put the question in the mouth of Tom in Silver Spring, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMHi, Kojo. First-time caller, longtime listener.
TOMI just wanted to ask your guests how union endorsement affects the credibility of the movement because, as is my understanding, unions are a fairly large business interest, and I just wanted to get your guests' view on that.
ZEESEThat's a tough one.
TOMI'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you for your call, Tom.
ZEESEUnions are a mixed bag. I mean, we ally very closely with workers, and we see how workers are mistreated and how collective bargaining is being undermined. But at the same time, we see unions as at the top, you know, being somewhat corrupted by the political process themselves. And I was at a democracy conference in Madison, Wis. this summer with a whole session on economic democracy.
ZEESEBut what people were saying in the union was we need to have a democracy conference on how to democratize unions because they don't feel like they're -- a lot of the people on the -- workers with unions don't feel represented by the unions. And so it's a -- unions are a mixed bag. We don't want to be allied with either political party, so we're not taking money from unions. We welcome union members to come down, participate, but we don't want to be led by the union leadership.
KAZINImportant to say, I think, though, in this country, the last 30, 40 years, one of the reasons why wages have been stagnant or going down is because unions have been weaker.
KAZINAnd when unions were stronger in this country -- 1940s, '50s and '60s -- is when most Americans were able to get up to the middle class. And so, you know, I think -- of course, you don't want corruption. You never want corruption. But at the same time, institutions, in order to express people's demands and to put some power behind them, is important. And unions still have 50 million people...
NNAMDIGot time for one more caller, Abigail on 17th Street. Lacey, you can respond, but, Abigail, you go first.
ABIGAILHi. My name is Abigail, and I'm a participant in Occupy D.C. And I just wanted to call in response to one of your guests, who said that they hope that our movement is co-opted by the Democratic Party. And, you know, we've actually had...
KAZINI didn't say that.
ABIGAIL...meetings with members of the Progressive Caucus, and we've all stood up and said no. It's really crucial for us that our movement remain independent...
ABIGAIL...and that we remain in control of it because, when institutions become parts of movements, they often co-opt movements and change the direction of movements. And...
NNAMDITo keep it brief, I think the point Michael Kazin was making is that he hopes that the Democratic Party adopt some of the positions of the spokespersons for the movement. But we're almost out of time, so Lacey MacAuley gets the last word.
MACAULEYYou know, I just wanted to say, again, this is -- it's a learning process for us all. Union members are welcome to comment, participate in general assemblies in occupied and liberated squares, parks and plazas all over the country. Members of the -- of any political party are welcome to come. And I would encourage people to come and visit us at one of the occupations. We have food. We have sleeping arrangements. We have free sweaters and jackets. We have everything that you need. And...
ZEESEYou don't have showers. I need a shower.
MACAULEYWell, we're looking at getting some donated showers.
NNAMDIThere is water.
KAZINWe're trying to get showers, too.
MACAULEYBut one of the things is just be prepared for something entirely new, and be prepared to learn something.
NNAMDILacey MacAuley is a participant in the Occupy D.C. protest in Washington, D.C. She's also a former participant in Occupy Wall Street. Kevin Zeese is an organizer of october2011.org, a co-director of itsoureconomy.us and the co-chair of comehomeamerica.us. Michael Kazin is a history professor at Georgetown University. Thank you all for joining us.
KAZINThank you, Kojo.
MACAULEYThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.
Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.