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Occupy Redwood City Asks Mayor to Go Easy on Usher

The Occupiers respond to Mayor Jeff Ira's comments about the Occupy Redwood City movement.

Last week, about a month and half since , several local elected officials weighed in on our local movement. While good points were made, we wanted to focus on some of the inaccurate and misguided , Jeff Ira, to the Redwood City Patch.

While he praised Occupy Redwood City for being peaceful and not being a burden on city services, Mayor Ira called our movement "well-intentioned but misdirected," alleged that we did not know what we wanted, and spoke rather defeatedly about income inequality, opining that it has "always been that way, and it will always be that way." He said that we Occupiers have made unnecessary targets of CEOs and that if we're mad at people like CEOs who "work 24/7" we should be mad at athletes and celebrities too: “Why is no one bothered that [R&B artist] Usher is making all this money?”

As much as we disagree with the Mayor's opinions, we realize that his opinions are shared by many and so we are not aiming to target him for his views. We want to speak to the wider community of the Peninsula who share his views and explain where we're coming from:

The refrain of "they need to figure out what they want" has been a common one among critics of Occupy Wall Street, and it is one the mainstream media has picked up on and disseminated widely.

But one must ask, has Mayor Ira taken the time to read any of the or the chants broadcast by media during the countless Occupy protests, at rallies and encampments? The goals, the demands, the things we want, the things that people claim we don't know? They are all laid out there for anyone who can read. How do people read signs like "Tax the Rich" and "Make Banks Pay" or "Bring Troops Home" and "Stop the Cuts" and seriously believe that this movement does not know what it wants?

This movement knows exactly what it wants, and anyone who does read the signs or listens to the Occupiers will immediately understand that our movement is not about specific goals so much as it is a wholesale rejection of the entire system that has created this global mess the ninety-nine percent are suffering under.

Perhaps the reason why many think the movement "doesn't know what it wants" is because there is such a huge number of things we want. As Cornel West said in the early days of the movement, when a system is so fundamentally broken and corrupt as our economic and political systems are, the solutions cannot be articulated through a single Goal or Demand, or even a single Set of Demands. "When the one percent ask, "Whaddaya want?" we say: "Whaddaya got?" Why publish a "One Demand" when no catchphrase can end inequality for all?

Every community has their own set of demands to end the unique forms of oppression they face. And most importantly, the trust of the American public has been so thoroughly betrayed by politicians that we can no longer wait for another broken promise. Rather than making demands of the one percent, we call upon the ninety-nine percent to fight back and start building a better world today.

Also, while Occupy Redwood City does appreciate Mayor Ira's statement of gratitude for our peaceful assemblies, we feel it important to point out that this statement included an unnecessary criticism of other local Occupy movements for burdening city resources. Specifically, he mentioned Oakland and Los Angeles, where just recently three hundred Occupy LA protesters were rounded up and arrested.

There are three big problems with this statement, with the first being the inaccurate implication that Occupiers aren’t also part of the taxpaying ninety-nine percent who fund those city resources.

The second is the fact that our government regularly wastes money at the local, state, and national levels on misguided actions--whether it be killing civilians abroad, or paying top-level staff exorbitant salaries that do not match the value of the work they do--in numbers that far outstrip any spent policing these Occupy movements. And the final problem is placing blame for lost resources on those exercising their 1st Amendment rights instead of placing that blame where it belongs: on the local government officials who have chosen to crack down on those exercising those rights.

Ed Lee didn't have to send police in riot gear to Occupy San Francisco on the pretense that the encampment was getting dirty and attracting a dangerous crowd; he could have spent those precious resources cleaning up the Tenderloin if he was that concerned about his city's hygiene and public safety. Likewise, there are plenty of real health and public safety problems in Oakland that Jean Quan could have spent the city's resources on, and instead she chose to use those resources to go after peaceful demonstrators. We still have real problems happening in our communities that need police attention, which is precisely why it makes no sense that many people, including Mayor Ira, let those in power off the hook for making the choice to direct city resources away from these real problems and instead place blame on the victims of those in power, merely for exercising their rights peaceably.

By all accounts, the protests at Occupy LA were peaceful and remained so throughout the night of the mass arrest. What has been coming out now, however, is the story of how much effort and resources Mayor Villaraigosa spent in order to crack down on people peacefully exercising their rights. The Washington Post reports that detectives were sent in to infiltrate Occupy LA well in advance of the night raid, an exercise that is not only a chilling reminder of how our government views peaceful forms of dissent, but also a glaring example of a clear waste of city money in that all Occupy meetings tend to be public and easily tracked, making undercover work basically pointless.

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters were forced to sit in cages on prison buses for seven hours without food or water or access to a toilet, leading to many men and women urinating in their seats. Protesters with clearly visible injuries were denied medical attention for hours. Most of those arrested were had their bail set between $5,000 to $20,000, extreme amounts for the nature of the arrests. This is how tax dollars and city resources have been spent cracking down on Occupy movements across the nation: on pointless endeavors and on harsh, long detentions and other purely punitive measures meant to silence peaceful dissent.

Yet Mayor Ira would have you believe that it's the protesters' fault that these choices were made by the people in power who actually make the decisions on how to spend city resources. While Occupy Redwood City appreciates the Mayor's acknowledgment of our peaceful approach, we stand in solidarity with other local Occupy groups and against his misguided comments on how those groups deserve blame for wasting public resources.

Perhaps most strangely, Mayor Ira said he still doesn't agree with our dissatisfaction over income inequality. "I just don't think this is a well thought out argument," he says. "It's always been that way, and it will always be that way." The Mayor thinks that we are unnecessarily going after CEOs who "work 24/7" while saying nothing about rich celebrities like Usher.

But Mayor, has it really "always been that way"? The Institute for Policy Studies' analysis shows that the gap between CEO and average U.S. worker pay has jumped from 263-to-1 in 2009 to 325-to-1 last year. But this is just in the space of one year. The same study showed that corporate income tax went from being over 33% of federal revenue in the 1940s to being just under 10% this year.

Another study by the IPS showed that the number of households with incomes exceeding $1 million has grown from 15,753 in 1961 to 361,000 today, adjusted for inflation. This is a 968.4 percent increase, while the U.S. population only grew 69.3 percent over this same 50-year period. Households with incomes over $1 million in 1961 paid an average 43.1 percent of their incomes in federal income taxes compared to 23.1 percent today.

We would this year raise an additional $231 billion if we returned to the 1961 rate; and if corporations paid at the same effective tax rate that they paid in 1961, the additional tax revenue would total $485 billion. Occupiers are mad at CEOs with good reason, and Mayor Ira is either misunderstanding the motivations behind Occupy Wall Street or is unable to make the connection between the actions of the one percent and how they have affected people like us, like you, and like him.

When it comes to well thought out arguments, Mayor Ira is right about one thing: if Usher pressures Congress for billions in bailout money, if Usher profits off of bad loans he makes to hard-working people, if Usher pays K Street lobbyists enough money that he can commit all the bank fraud he wants, or if Usher contributes so much money to Congressional campaigns that he is able to get his CDs classified as a vegetable and included in school lunches across the nation, the Occupy Wall Street movement should absolutely take to the streets and protest him loudly.

(Occupy Redwood City at 5 PM at Courthouse Square. Find us at www.OccupyRedwoodCity.Org and OccupyRedwoodCity.Tumblr.Com.)

mark fassett December 05, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Lou, one solution is to remove the role of wall street and large corporate money on the political process so it's actually PEOPLE who politicians engage with and not big corporate donors. Right now politicians must engage with them in order to raise the huge amounts of money needed to get elected. We need real campaign finance reform... public financing of elections. BTW, corporations also need to have a voice, CEOs and other corporate voices are people too, but they just have too much power in the current system.
Lou Covey December 05, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Mark, I'm totally with you on this. The thing that got me interested in Occupy was this very issue and I was assured by many supporters that this was the very core of the movement. But in the past two months, that core seems to have rotted away as too many other, peripheral issues have sapped it strength. Fixing our political system is foundational to dealing with every other issue. Tuition costs, health care, military spending, budgets, etc. are all symptomatic of a deeper disease. You don't cure cancer by taking aspirin, you do it by cutting out the tumor. A few weeks ago while watching news coverage of the Irish presidential elections I had a tremendous yearning to move the the Emerald Isle: seven candidates, four of which had no party affiliation, and a 6-week campaign. What would happen if we could just bypass the party system and elect candidates based on their own platforms? What would happen if we did not allow candidates to formally announce their candidacy until 3 months before the election?
mark fassett December 06, 2011 at 04:13 PM
When you have a leaderless movement messaging is always going to be a challenge. The basic point that they were protesting remains, and I fully support that message. The fact that the political fringes have joined in doesn't dilute that message for me. It's not unlike any other political organization or religious group, the odds that you will agree with everything and everyone in that group is pretty slim. I have found much to not like in the movement (violence, far left fringe groups, etc) but the basic message still stands strong.
Thomas Atwood December 07, 2011 at 05:37 AM
I think that this article is a brilliant response to a cynical and defeatist stream of thought in our national conversation. Things are not "as they always have been," but in flux. The United States economy of 1956, 1986, and 2006 was a completely different landscape. Where we once built a world-class public education system, transportation infrastructure, Medicare, and other social safety nets that protected people in hard times--all wealth-building investments--we are now on a fast track to becoming a third world nation. We can find the solutions by reversing the “free-market,” anti-regulatory, “trickle down” ideologies that created the problems. The answers are in clean elections; local and regional economies that don’t depend on cheap oil; tax, food, energy, and health care policy; and ending the stranglehold of shifted costs and corporate subsidies legislated by the wealthy to fuel their addiction to speculation. For the one percent, the issue is not survival. Far more likely, it’s the thrill of the chase. Let’s not lament too loudly if we have to put the financial industry into rehab. It’s more humane than the prison cells and slave labor the one percent has in mind for addicts in lower socioeconomic classes.
Thomas Atwood December 07, 2011 at 05:39 AM
Critical thinking involves a lot more than coming up with the longest list of criticisms. It also requires perspective. The Occupy movement has articulated a clear and specific agenda for political and social transformation, and it's a cheap shot to accuse it of having no solutions. It’s the same when Occupiers articulate a high-level vision and get dismissed as having no plans. People who can shoot down bullet points one at a time are a dime a dozen; people willing to show up and advocate for a more just, humane, and healthy society more rare. It leads me to wonder whether the one percent and their crippling gambling addiction will destroy the human family, or we progressives will simply outsmart ourselves in the pursuit of "critical thinking." Let’s get behind this movement by prioritizing smart coalition building over ego. As my therapist used to say, “Would you rather be right or be happy?” Whoever wrote this article deserves a lot of credit for research, good community values, and fact-based arguments. Perhaps more important, the article steadfastly refuses to demonize opponents--a rare quality these days. Well done!

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