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The Occupy Wall Street movement turns two months old today, and protesters plan a “day of action” to mark the anniversary. D.C. occupiers plan a march on Key Bridge to coincide with rush hour. But as the cold winter months approach and governments across the country continue to crackdown on camps, do you think the movement will grow or lose momentum? Share your thoughts.
- Michael Kazin Professor, History Department, Georgetown University
- James Ploeser Participant, Occupy DC Action Working Group
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday marks the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the fledgling movement that started in Manhattan's financial district and has spread to more than 100 cities worldwide. To mark the occasion, protesters are also planning a so-called day of action around the country, and they are delivering on their promise. We are already hearing reports of clashes near Zuccotti Park in New York. In our area, marchers plan to take over the Key Bridge during the evening commute.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo where does this movement stand at this point? And how do we assess its power and potential amidst crackdowns and growing impatience by the public? What do you think? Give us a call and let us know. It's Your Turn. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or our website, kojoshow.org, is where you can join the conversation.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us by telephone is James Ploeser. He is part of the Occupy D.C. action working group. He's been a part of the protest since its fourth day. James Ploeser, thank you for joining us.
MR. JAMES PLOESERHi. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're hearing reports about clashes and marches all over the country in what's being called a day of action. What are the movement's plans for our area today?
PLOESERWell, today, we're really impressed by what we're seeing out in New York. They're very resilient after having been evicted from Liberty Square, Zuccotti Park the other day. And they successfully were able to delay the opening bell on Wall Street. And they're really showing a lot of fortitude in the face of increased police crackdown. And they're showing that this movement, its time has come. Their slogan for the day is that you can't evict an idea whose time has come. And, certainly, after two months of the occupation, it's clear that we're growing. We're building support.
PLOESERAnd we are -- and we're not going to stop. Here in D.C., there's a series of actions going on, the labor community and occupier day of solidarity and day of action. Members of the Communications Workers of America Union started marching in Silver Spring. They marched, actually, starting yesterday morning, and they're coming to join us any minute now here at McPherson Square, down at Occupy Cape Street.
PLOESERAnd, currently, right behind me, the Washington Teachers' Union and the American Federation of Teachers are holding a rally and teaching about the failed education reform and how that affects jobs and our public infrastructure here in Washington D.C. And so what we're planning is a march to the Key Bridge during rush-hour traffic this evening along with our D.C. -- the communications workers, teachers' unions and many other organizations to highlight the fact that our infrastructure is crumbling and it's a place where we could create jobs.
NNAMDIJames, it seems to me that when these -- when this movement first started, unions, at first, were not welcome. What changed that?
PLOESERI think that one of the things that was really a way to -- that the Wall Street movement was jumpstarted was the communications workers, pilots' unions going down there and joining the Wall Street protesters on an early day of their protest, and then the transportation workers, subway employees and the bus drivers in New York also standing in solidarity, saying that they would refuse to haul off protesters in their buses, things like that. There's been solidarity from the beginning.
PLOESERAnd I think that what has been a very appropriate wariness that Occupy K Street, Occupy Wall Street would be turned into a simply pro-Democrat electoral movement, much of the Tea Party was co-opted, I think that there has been a real show of solidarity between unions and occupiers that we're seeing a lot of evidence of today as we look around the country.
PLOESERSo I think what changed is just enough time to build the trust and understand that the occupy movement is a clear rejection of the two parties that have failed us in a political system that's too corrupt to allow the change that the 99 percent needs.
NNAMDIYou bring up a side issue that I cannot resist, so allow me to bring in Michael Kazin, professor in the department of history at Georgetown University and also the author of "American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation." I am intrigued, Michael Kazin, by James' assertion that the Tea Party movement was co-opted. There are those who would argue that, in relation to the Tea party and the Republican Party, it was the other way around. What say you?
PROF. MICHAEL KAZINI think that's right, Kojo. I think that Tea Party movement is made up of people who really, for the most part, were all Republicans, conservative Republicans who wanted to make the Republican Party more conservative. And, in many ways, they've succeeded in that.
NNAMDIWell, I don't want to continue going down that road, so, James Ploeser, back to you. Police seem to be cracking down hard on protesters near Wall Street today. Are you watching what's happening there? Do you expect a similar reaction from police in this area?
PLOESERWe've had an interesting relationship with the police so far. It has not been as contentious as those on Wall Street. Last I saw on Wall Street, from what I've been watching, it has been -- there have been a lot of arrests. There've been a lot of people willing to risk arrest and doing straight-up civil disobedience expecting to be arrested because they believe in their cause so much.
PLOESERThey're also arresting -- they been doing dragnets, sweeping up innocent bystanders and folks who just were trying to figure out how to get to where they're going and are hoping to observe and have their voices heard on Wall Street. And that's really deplorable. They -- I heard that, actually, a retired police captain from Philadelphia was arrested today. He's standing in solidarity with the 99 percent folks on Wall Street.
PLOESERHere in D.C., especially in the fallout from the IMF and World Bank protests over the last -- about 10 years ago and following lawsuits of wrongful arrests, et cetera, the police have been much more kind with us. They've been -- not cracked down quite the way that we've seen in other places. But they have increasingly become a little bit more agitated in deploying forces and not have police against us, pushing us around a little bit in recent weeks.
PLOESERBut, for the most part, we've been able to communicate with open lines with the police, tell them, you know, what our general plan is, assure them that we mean no harm, remind them on a daily basis that we are a non-violent movement committed to social change and to building a non-violent movement. And they have been, more or less, cooperative with our aims.
NNAMDISo much for the police. What do you say to commuters? Some of them are complaining that the plan to march on the Key Bridge today will just complicate their afternoon commute, that they are part of the 99 percent. They're not part of the 1 percent that you're targeting, so why Key Bridge?
PLOESERWell, the Key Bridge, you know, again, it's been chosen because it's structurally deficient, and it is a bridge that needs to be called out as a place where we could -- where the 1 percent have failed to do their part to maintain our public infrastructure, and also right in the heart of Georgetown where there's a lot of some of the affluent folks in the city. Whereas you go to the other end of the town, we'll be seeing folks who are very much struggling. So I empathize with folks who are part of the 99 percent workers trying to get home, et cetera.
PLOESERAnd we have these discussions on an almost daily basis down here, about whether or not our objective is worth the inconvenience that we're causing to some of our fellow workers, fellow 99 percenters. And today, the point is to meet -- to -- we're going to be occupying the pedestrian spaces on the Key Bridge, not necessarily the traffic lanes itself. So it might slow things down, but it does not seem -- folks shouldn't be too worried that they're going to have -- be turned away when they're trying to get across the river into Virginia or vice versa.
NNAMDIIt's Your Turn. You can call us with your view of the Occupy movement as it marks its two-month anniversary. It's Your Turn, 800-433-8850. Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Kazin, what is your assessment of the impact of the Occupy movement so far?
KAZINWell, I think it certainly had a tremendous impact on the public debate, I think, about economic inequality and income inequality. It's given unions a shot in the arm, I think, that they really needed the Ohio repeal vote that, nine days ago on Election Day, was certainly, I think, partly galvanized by, inspired by the Occupy movement, though most of the people who were active in that repeal campaign were not from that movement per se. So I think it's really changed the political weather, if you will, in many ways, in the country.
KAZINI do think that there's a danger that more and more Americans will start to identify the movement with battles with police. And that's not a good thing because you want to really keep the issues, the demands, the vision of the movement forefront and not these tactical squabbles that can go on whenever anyone tries to stay in a place where the authorities don't want them to stay.
NNAMDIHere's Nancy in Silver Spring, Md. Nancy, you're on the air. It's your turn.
NANCYYeah. I believe in all the aims that have just been stated concerning the Occupy movement. And I think they should be stressed rather than extraneous things or of confrontations and that sort of thing because I think most of us do, out here -- do agree with this movement and are glad that someone -- people have come around to demonstrate against the fraudulent behavior of the financial institutions that have brought on this economic recession in putting fraudulent mortgages and putting them in with regular stock...
NANCY...options and also destroying the faith of people in the investment process. And then they have not been punished, and I think that is one of the main things that this movement is stressing. And I think that's very important and that -- their income has gone up, up, up, whereas the unemployment and the other income (unintelligible) down, down, down.
NNAMDIBut you do mention that -- in your view, Nancy, you do mention that that is one of the things they should be focusing on. Let me go on -- and thank you for your call -- to Nathan in Annandale, Va. before I go back to our guests. Nathan, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATHANOh, thank you. Yeah, I would just like to ask if -- you know, should the movement have more direction? Should the movement gain a leader? Or should it stay more leaderless and protest-like?
NNAMDII'll put that first to you, Michael Kazin. The occupiers seem to have a pretty broad ideology and have been criticized lately for -- by some -- for losing their focus. But you say there's definitely an ideological preference arising among them. What is it?
KAZINOh, I mean, I think the -- I did write a column about the anarchistic, you know, influences, though I think that's probably a minority of people are attracted to nonviolent anarchism. I think the key thing is that, in some ways -- what has made this movement so inclusive is that they haven't made three demands or four demands. They haven't said strategy is ABC, and that's really allowed it to grow. But, you know, every movement has a life course, if you will.
KAZINAnd at a certain point, probably pretty soon, I think, the particular stage that the movement has been at to the last couple of months will have to move to a different stage. And that will require some sense of alliances with unions, with perhaps the more liberal people, Democratic Party. You know, the only way you really get change in a democratic nation like this, in the end, is to have an alliance between a social movement like this one and at least some people who have some clout, who have some institutional power.
KAZINAnd I think as we go into an election year, that will begin to happen. But it's certainly been more successful than I and most people thought it was going to be by remaining a little loosey-goosey.
NNAMDIJames Ploeser, I'd like to hear your comment on the same thing. And, plus, at two months old, is it accurate to call this a movement yet, or is it still a campaign?
PLOESERWell, I think it's definitely a movement. Certainly a campaign would have probably had those very finite demands, and it would have had a specific target, a beginning and an end. And what we've seen is a moment that is growing into a movement very quickly. I mean, I believe that our strength has actually lied in not articulating a concrete list of demands. It's a sort of -- I mean, essentially, if we look over the last four years since the -- you know, we started to see financial crisis finally coming, when we finally started to admit to ourselves we have this.
PLOESERWe've had specific campaigns directed at Wall Street and specific campaigns directed at Congress, saying, pass this bill or, you know, rein in these banks in this particular way. And that's failed utterly to capture not only the public imagination, but to have any actual good, as the first caller pointed out. You know, CEO and other compensation is rising really dramatically. The banks and financial industry are doing just fine, while, you know, the 99 percent and your working folks around the country are hurting.
PLOESERUnemployment is sky-high. And those old ways that we've been using for the last, you know, several years and decades, even, have failed to produce any change.
PLOESERNow, we are yet to see what exact change we're going to be creating here, but I think what we've done is we've shifted the conversation such that institutional actors, as the professor mentioned, are having to respond. And we will see those with institutional power and political power aligning with this 99 percent movement, and we will see electoral, you know, shift in the landscape because of our actions.
NNAMDIHow about the notion advanced by Michael Kazin that, to some extent, what we are seeing are nonviolent anarchists? And by that, I would take that to mean people who are merely opposed to all forms of authority.
PLOESERI think that one of the wonderful things that I'm seeing here, that I love across all the Occupy movements, is the growing emphasis on consensus, inclusive decision-making and people taking care of one another. And now -- I mean, we have massive assemblies proving that direct democracy actually can work to articulate and plan a movement, plan activities and plan a new sort of community that's growing up around each of these encampments. Now, those ideas are not…
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt, James, because we're running out of time, and I would like to get Donald in Northern Virginia in on the conversation. Donald, you're on the air. Please make your question or comment brief.
DONALDYes, sir. I applaud the action of the march. I fully agree with what they're saying. But I would also like to say we need to do something about our judicial system. If the laws don't change -- I work for United Airlines. And when we went into bankruptcy, the employees all took substantial pay cuts, and our management team didn't have to give up anything. When United came out of bankruptcy, I'm still working under pay cut. My management team, our CEO, CFO, all took bonuses when we came out of bankruptcy. The judicial system allowed this to happen. The employees make...
NNAMDIAllow me to have James Ploeser address whether or not conversations have been taking place in the Occupy movement about the need to change the laws and how does he envision that happening. James Ploeser?
PLOESERI think the caller is totally right. I think that's the injustice of what happened. And, I mean, the place that I hear that's talking about laws shifting is specifically -- we won't say it comes up a lot -- is the Citizens United case that allows -- which is the judicial Supreme Court decision which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy elections, to invest in campaign financing, campaign ads, et cetera, without -- hardly any disclosure requirements whatsoever. That injustice has been one that gets breached quite often and is something that either law or...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time really quickly. Michael Kazin, with that kind of conversation taking place within the Occupy movement, do you think you see it moving possibly in the direction of more specificity?
KAZINI think some people will, yeah. I mean, one of the things which marks a mass movement, as James points out, is that you have a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas on how to push the basic critique forward and make some changes. And that's certainly one of the ways. I mean, we -- our judicial system is democratic by design. The Founding Fathers wanted it that way.
NNAMDIMichael Kazin is a professor in the Department of History at Georgetown University and author of the book "American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation." James Ploeser is part of the Occupy D.C. Action Working Group. He has been part of the protest since its fourth day. James Ploeser, thank you for joining us.
PLOESERThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIMichael Kazin, thank you for joining us.
KAZINThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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