An idea that only a year ago appeared both radical and impractical has become a reality. On Monday, Seattle struck a blow against rising inequality when its City Council unanimously adopted a citywide minimum wage of $15 an hour, the highest in the nation.
This dramatic change in public policy is partly the result of changes brought about by last November’s Seattle municipal elections. But it is also the consequence of years of activism in Seattle and around the country. Now that Seattle has established a new standard, the pace of change is likely to accelerate quickly as activists and politicians elsewhere seek to capture the momentum. Five years from now, Americans may look back at this remarkable victory and wonder what all the fuss was about.
Seattle now joins a growing list of cities—including San Francisco, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Jose,
Two years ago the “Occupy” movement roared into view, summoning the energies and attention of large numbers of people who felt the economic system had got out of whack and were determined to do something about it.
Occupy put the issue of the nation’s savage inequality on the front pages, and focused America’s attention on what that inequality was doing to our democracy. To that extent, it was a stirring success.
But Occupy eschewed political organization, discipline, and strategy. It wanted to remain outside politics, and outside any hierarchical structure that might begin to replicate the hierarchies of American society it was opposing.
So when mayors, other public officials, and university administrators cleared the Occupy encampments by force — encampments that had become the symbol of the movement — nothing seemed to remain behind. Some Occupiers made plans for further actions, but a movement without structure, discipline, and strategy proved incapable of sustaining itself.
In the fall of 2011, millions of Americans were drawn to a movement directly challenging dramatically rising income inequality. The Occupy Movement dominated public discourse and put economic unfairness at the center of policy debates. Yet only two years after Occupy began on Wall Street, efforts to redress still worsening income inequality have stalled. The national grassroots campaign to get House Republicans to enact immigration reform has not been matched by similar efforts to raise the minimum wage or end corporate tax loopholes, with advocacy for such policies no stronger today than before Occupy’s emergence. We even face the prospect of President Obama selecting Lawrence Summers, a longtime backer of the One Percent, as the new head of the Federal Reserve. Are activists preoccupied with other issues, or have people decided that challenging the power of the One Percent is not a winnable political fight?
This past weekend I came across two documentaries about dramatic wealth inequality in the United States: Alex Gibney’s November 2012,
Something is happening among our low-wage workers in America.
Is the ghost of the Occupy movement stirring?
Probably, but maybe more. In just one astonishing week recently, the Seattle Times—a newspaper not known for being pro-labor—featured worker protests either as the lead story or prominently in the paper:
This article originally appeared in The Nation.
In The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement (Spiegel & Grau, 2013), David Graeber’s engaging new book on Occupy Wall Street, the author writes of the dismal culture in Washington during the summer of 2011, a few months before the occupation of Zucotti Park:
Republicans were threatening to cause the US government to default in order to force massive cuts in social services intended to head off a largely imaginary debt crisis…President Obama, in turn, had decided the way to appear reasonable in comparison and thus seem as his advisors liked to put it ‘the only adult in the room’ was not to point out that the entire debate was founded on false economic premises, but to prepare a milder, ‘compromise’ version of the exact same program—as if the best way to expose a lunatic is to pretend that 50 percent of his delusions are actually true….
Was Occupy Wall Street just a dream? The fall of 2011 was one of the most exciting and optimistic times of my life as a progressive. Seeing thousands of young people all over the country flock to their local occupations was truly amazing and historic. I felt that we were in the middle of a cultural awakening and that a huge radical change was just on the brink.
The other weekend I went to New York City to see where it all began up close and in person. I walked to Wall Street to find Zuccotti Park and literally walked right past it. Quite naively I expected a huge space with progressive activists still meeting and planning the revolution, but found no one. In fact, Zuccotti Park is a tiny little plaza where tourists rest after visiting Ground Zero and taking pictures of the Wall Street bull sculpture. On the subway back to my friend’s house,
It seems that many members of the newest generation of fiction writers have difficulty creating political works that are accessible and appeal to a wide audience. Author J.L. Morin, however, has overcome these obstacles with her novel Trading Dreams, a compelling mystery that is also a story of personal discovery – as well as an in-depth analysis of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the factors that have created our economic kerfuffle. As I interviewed this amazing woman, her answers shed even further light on the extensive thought that went into crafting this story.
Frying Pan News: An interesting aspect of this book was the murderer storyline coexists with the plot dealing with the corruption on Wall Street. What caused you to write a story that was both a mystery and a political statement?
J.L. Morin: Growing up in Detroit when it was the murder capital of the U.S.
Who says that Occupy Wall Street – whose national protests so changed the American conversation about economic inequality — was a passing fad? Today, to mark the one-year anniversary of the takeover of Zuccotti Park, where OWS was born, demonstrators gathered in New York’s financial district to sing the movement Happy Birthday – and to get arrested.
Reports the New York Daily News:
“A crowd of about 50 barged into the lobby of the JPMorgan Chase building and demanded to speak to bank officials. About eight of them were arrested.
‘We’re here protesting financial terrorism. The financial mafia,’ said Yates McKee, 32, as he was loaded into the back of a police van.”
And, in the spirit of OWS’s not-for-profit anniversary, author Charles Degelman tells Frying Pan News he is offering Kindle downloads of his 1960s-protest novel, Gages of Eden,
On Tuesday the Occupy L.A. encampment on City Hall’s narrow north lawn along Temple St. entered its fourth day. The camp first arose on the large commons on the hall’s First St. side, but like nearly all things in the city had to give way to the filming of a movie. That film, Gangster Squad, is about racket busters in the Los Angeles of the 1940s and ’50s, an era with almost nothing in common with the present city – except its growing popular dissatisfaction with the direction of the economy.
Some of the hundred or so participants this late, gray afternoon stood on sidewalks with signs (“Restore Glass-Steagall”), while engaging passersby – some from the Conrad Murray trial up the block — or taking the salute of car drivers honking their horns. Others debated among themselves on the lawn, while some kicked back in their small nylon tents.