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Thursday, September 22, 2016

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership becomes law corporate power trumps the Constitution and democracy

People and the Planet Before Profits


If the Trans-Pacific Partnership becomes law corporate power trumps the Constitution and democracy 

By Cliff DuRand
“In a global economy in which multinational corporations are no longer bound to any single country, they have gained a new kind of power over national governments that, by their nature, are confined by borders. Companies have created a new kind of marketplace in which governments compete with one another for investment, essentially undercutting in a fundamental way some of the familiar, potent, and until recently enduring foundations of sovereignty.” 
–David Rothkopf, former partner of Henry Kissinger and a Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration. Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), p. 117. Cited by Jeff Faux in The Servant Economy, p. 82.
For the last couple decades US foreign policy has become increasingly about trade policy. The US has become the world advocate of “free trade,” promoting it through trade agreements like NAFTA and other bi-lateral agreements as well as through global governance institutions it has sponsored such as IMF, World Bank and WTO. The US has promoted free trade for much the same reason Great Britain promoted it in the 19th century, viz. the economically strongest country in the world benefits from free trade. It is the weaker countries that seek tariff protection for their infant industries, protection from competition with cheaper and higher quality imports. That protection is what enabled the US to industrialize in the last half of the 19th century. But then when the US became economically strong enough to compete regionally and eventually globally, it became an advocate of free trade and demanded that others abandon protectionism.
The justification for free trade rests on the theory of comparative advantage. This is the view that if countries trade free of government impediments, the market will tend to direct each to export that which they can produce most efficiently and import what can be produced more efficiently and thus more cheaply elsewhere. The invisible hand of the market will guide each to specialize in producing what they have a comparative advantage in. Thus a rational production and trading system will emerge that maximizes efficiency.
Free trade agreements like NAFTA were sold to the US public by appealing to consumer’s interest in having access to cheaper goods imported from Mexico. What was deliberately soft pedaled was their interest as workers in having jobs. Organized labor opposed NAFTA, fearing it would pit US workers in competition with low wage Mexican workers. Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot warned of “a giant sucking sound” as jobs would be off-shored to Mexico. But the Clinton administration said US exports to Mexico would create new jobs. And so, ignoring opposition from its traditional base in the unions, new Democrat Clinton pushed ratification of NAFTA through the Senate as his first priority. Perot proved to be correct as US companies shifted production to low wage Mexico – until even lower wage Chinese workers were brought into play when China joined WTO. But Clinton was also right as cheaper consumer goods from abroad filled the shelves of Wal-Mart with bargains welcomed by US workers who found their wages reduced. Free trade proved to be a mixed blessing.
But there is one important point about free trade that is often overlooked. We are not talking just about the free, frictionless movement of goods and services across borders, unrestricted by tariffs, quotas and regulations. We are also talking about the free movement of capital as corporations are freed to invest abroad. In fact, it is that mobility of investment capital that is of utmost importance, with profound economic consequences as well as consequences for democracy. It is the latter that I want to focus on today.
Unable to find sufficiently profitable venues for investment in the overdeveloped US economy, large corporations have increasingly moved abroad. They sought not just new outlets to sell their commodities, but low wage workforces that would decrease their production costs and thus boost their profits. Frequently that would involve locating different stages of the productive process in different countries so as to take optimal advantage of local conditions. The assembly lines of US industry were disaggregated and disbursed across the globe.
What emerged were global assembly lines. Such global production chains have become a signature feature of contemporary capitalism. Components may be manufactured in Singapore, transported to China for subassembly and then shipped to Mexico for final assembly before sale in the United States. What we have here is a global assembly line presided over by transnational corporations. Although such assembly lines are geographically dispersed, they overcome the limitations of the fixed assembly lines of the Fordist era in that they no longer have to rely on a fixed labor force that can organize itself to effectively claim a share of the surplus they create. Instead, the global assembly line gives capital the flexibility to seek out the lowest wage workforce and friendliest business environment available anywhere in the world. This has been made possible by the development of a global computerized network of instant communications via satellite. That and the computerization of banking have made money transfers and the movement of capital both easy and instantaneous. The communications network also allows the decentralization of technological development and design. Technicians can work at points distant from the processes of production to which they address themselves. And the entire process can be coordinated by management located anywhere on the globe. The limitations of space and time have been overcome by digital communications and cheap energy for transporting goods to their ultimate consumers.
For such globalized production to be possible, capital must be mobile, flowing freely across national borders. And at the same time products have to be able to move with minimum friction across those borders, unhampered by tariffs or quotas or nonuniform standards. In other words, there must be free trade in order for transnational capital to optimize accumulation. [the previous two paragraphs are quoted from Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State, p. 14]
But transnational corporations need more than just unfettered access to low wage, compliant workforces. They also need legal protection of their investments. They need protection from expropriation of their assets, laws and governments that can ensure their property is secure. And so a vital part of free trade agreements is protection of what are called investor rights. But this involves more than just protection from out and out expropriation, as often happens with revolutions. It also involves protection from governmental actions that might reduce the value of their property or potential profits by environmental and health regulations, labor laws or other such measures even though they might be for the public good. What in US law is called “regulatory takings” are seen as tantamount to expropriation.
When such governmental actions do occur, free trade treaties give the foreign corporation the recourse to sue. But that suit is not adjudicated in a national court, but by a transnational body of experts operating in secret. States are expected to enforce its decisions on their own nation’s taxpayers and consumers. This is a privileging of investor rights (i.e. the interests of transnational corporations) over the democratic rights of a nation. Let me give you some concrete examples.
The first arose under Chapter 11 of NAFTA. Several years ago oil companies started adding the chemical MTBE to gasoline to make it burn cleaner so as to cut down on air pollution. But it turned out that MTBE began to show up in ground water and it was discovered that it causes cancer. Now the water supply of many California cities is contaminated, as is also Lake Tahoe, once one of the purest bodies of water in the world. So the State of California decided to ban MTBE. But as it happened, this chemical is manufactured by a Canadian company called Methanex. Methanex proceeded to sue California for $970 million for the loss of anticipated profits. Under the free trade rules of NAFTA, Methanex claimed the state had interfered in its market and thus it was entitled to be compensated for its loss. Here we see government being discouraged from protecting the public health and well being unless it is willing to pay a private corporation for not harming it. Such an outcome would likely have enraged public opinion in the US So after much delay, the NAFTA court ruled that since the Canadian company made only a component in MTBE, it thus did not have a substantial enough interest for its claim. The court took the politically safer route by dodging the substantive issue.
Here’s another example. In 1996 the State of Massachusetts passed a law preventing state agencies from buying goods or services from companies that do business with Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma. This was because of the repressive military junta that rules that country after annulling the election of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi as president. However, this selective purchasing law was challenged as in violation of WTO rules that require governments to not intervene into economic markets. As a spokesman for the EU said, “we don’t believe this kind of action is fair to the trade and investment community.”37 Under the banner of “free trade” the citizens of Massachusetts are forbidden from making democratic decisions about how to spend their collective money. Morality is required to leave the market alone. Under this principle, the sanctions against apartheid South Africa would have been forbidden and Nelson Mandela might still be in prison today. [the previous two paragraphs are quoted from Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State, p. 87]
There are many other examples. In 2011 the Canadian province of Quebec placed a moratorium on the controversial practice of fracking in order to study the environmental risks involved. A corporation chartered in Delaware had mining permits in the Saint Lawrence valley that were suspended. Although the company, Lone Pine Resources, Inc., was headquartered in Calgary, it was a foreign corporation. Thus under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, it is suing the Canadian government $250 million for lost profits. Such “investor-to-state” cases are litigated in special arbitration bodies of the World Bank and the United Nations, which are closed to public participation, observation and input. They have the power to award unlimited amounts of taxpayer dollars to corporations whose rights to make a profit they judge have been violated. By latest count, some 450 investor-to-state cases have been filed against 89 governments by transnational corporations who have been awarded $700 million to date.
And that is just the beginning. Now there is a new free trade agreement being secretly negotiated called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP. It has been described as NAFTA on steroids by those who have seen some of its leaked provisions. Negotiations began under the Bush administration and the Obama administration is continuing them in hopes to complete the agreement this year. The discussions include trade representatives of U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Countries like Japan and China may join later. But the public, Members of Congress, journalists, and civil society are excluded. Not even Congressional committees have been able to see the draft text, but 600 corporate advisors have!
Some sections have been leaked. And what they reveal is “an agreement that actually formalizes the priority of corporate power over government,” according to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch http://www.citizen.org/trade . Only 5 of the 29 chapters have to do with trade. Wallach says the rest of the draft “include[s] new rights for the big pharmaceutical companies to expand, to raise medical prices, expand monopoly patents, limits on Internet freedom, penalties for inadvertent noncommercial copying, sending something to a friend. There are the same rules that promote off-shoring of jobs that were in NAFTA that are more robust that literally give privileges and protections if you leave. There is a ban on “buy American” and “buy local” or “green” or sweat-free procurement. There are limits on domestic financial stability regulations. There are limits on imported food safety standards and product standards. There are limits on how we can regulate energy towards a more green future – all of these things are what they call “Behind the Borders” agenda. And the operating clause of TPP is: “Each country shall ensure the conformity of its domestic laws, regulations and administrative procedures with these agreements.” That’s to say, that we’re told to conform all of our domestics laws – including all the important public interest laws fought so hard by people around the country – for these corporate dictates and it’s strongly enforceable. If we do not conform our laws, another country can challenge us and impose trade sanctions until we do, but this one is even privately enforceable by the corporations themselves.” [http://www.btlonline.org/2013/seg/130111af-btl-wallach.html ]
So you can see, free trade is about more than trade. It is about privileging corporations over the democratic rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations. As the former Director-General of the WTO, Renato Ruggiero, said in 1995, “We are no longer writing the rules of interaction among separate national economies. We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.” [quoted by Jeff Faux, The Global Class War (John Wiley, 2006), p. 155.] What is being created is a global governance order in which corporation are the citizens, not flesh and blood humans like you and me. With free trade, corporations are making an end run around democracy.
For nearly 40 years now, since the mid 1970s, we have experienced a growing offensive by the corporations to roll back the popular gains of the New Deal era and the 1960s. Democracy has been the target of a class war to restore the class power of capital. And there has been weak resistance, at best, by the popular classes. But the stakes have become increasingly clear to more and more. Indeed, on the issue of free trade, there is now a broad public sentiment against this aspect of the corporate offensive. A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007. [reported by Andrew Gavin Marshall ]
When TPP comes before the Senate for ratification sometime this year, we will have a major opportunity to rally this broad sentiment against free trade and strike a blow for democracy. Remember, if we fail, as a treaty the TPP will become the highest law of the land and the corporatocracy will have trumped the US Constitution once again.
Cliff DuRand is a Research Associate at the Center for Global Justice. He is co-author and co-editor of Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State (Clarity Press, 2012).  global.justice.cliff@gmail.com

Why Today’s Neoliberal Global Order Is Incompatible With Democracy

In These Times

With Liberty and Justice for all

The transnational capitalist class thesis has been caricaturized by some critics as suggesting that contradictions between nation-states have disappeared into a global class-against-class scenario. Harris takes on this idea directly and with a level of detail that, on those grounds alone, makes his work a must-read book. (Darren Johnson/ Flickr)

Why Today’s Neoliberal Global Order Is Incompatible With Democracy

A new book by Jerry Harris explores the transformation of global capitalism and its implications.

In the years since the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, the U.S. Left has sensed that something was morphing within global capitalism. This “something” was described more by its symptoms than by its essence, e.g., deindustrialization. In much of the rest of the world there was a growing awareness, however, that a particular form of capitalism was becoming dominant on a world scale, a form that came to be known as neoliberal capitalism or neoliberal globalization.
Jerry Harris offers his book, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy, as an instrument to better understand this transformation of global capitalism and its implications. Most of the book is devoted to helping the reader better grasp what Harris argues is the historical transition—underway—from capitalism centered around the nation-state to global capitalism. This work is successful, enlightening and engrossing. In the final two chapters, however, Harris shifts gears, laying the basis for a problem that I’ll discuss below.
The thrust of Harris’s argument is that since World War II, but especially since the late 1960s/1970s, capitalism, which as a system is always in need of expansion, has been evolving in such a manner that it transcends national borders. Contrary to theorists, such as the late Ellen Meiksins Wood, this is not a return to the era of high-level trade that marked the pre-1914 capitalist world (what some theorists have described as an earlier globalization). Rather, it is the emergence of an unprecedented interpenetration of capital on a global stage.
And with this interpenetration we start to see, over the last several decades, the rise of what has come to be termed as a “transnational capitalist class.” This class, as the name implies, is not rooted in one country but has assumed an identity that goes beyond specific nation-states. As Harris make clear, this does not mean that the nation-state no longer holds any importance—which is the thrust of the argument offered by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their famous work, Empire—but that the role has shifted significantly, to a great extent servicing and serving the needs of the transnational capitalist class.
This analysis clashes with more traditional arguments on the Left but it speaks to matters that the traditional analyses have been unable to explain fully. A case in point was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. At the time of the 2003 invasion, much of the Left and the progressive anti-war movement argued that this was an effort, in effect, to recolonize Iraq under U.S. domination and seize its oil. In the aftermath of the invasion, however, something odd happened. Occupation forces opened Iraq up for business to global capitalism rather than reserve it for the United States alone.
The transnational capitalist class thesis has been caricaturized by some critics as suggesting that contradictions between nation-states have disappeared into a global class-against-class scenario. Harris takes on this idea directly and with a level of detail that, on those grounds alone, makes his work a must-read book.
Harris lays out his case in describing the development of global capitalism and the transnational capitalist class in the first three chapters. In chapters 4 and 5, he offers a marvelous examination of two concrete situations: Ukraine and China. With regard to Ukraine, Harris digs behind the headlines and looks at the class forces on both sides, the relationship that they have with capitalist class forces in other parts of the world, historic nation-state tensions and the wild card of right-wing populism and neo-fascism that is infecting both Russia and Ukraine. He examines the interrelationship of these forces in a situation—and world—that is undergoing a transition. And therein lies the key to understanding the transnational capitalist class thesis: It speaks to a phenomenon that is emerging and transitioning, rather than a phenomenon that is fully and totally developed.
Harris’ examination of contemporary China is just as illuminating and satisfying. Again, he examines the connections that the Chinese capitalists have developed with others in the transnational capitalist class, including the role of the Chinese State—ironically led by a party that calls itself “Communist”—in the integration of the Chinese economy into the larger global capitalist economy. Harris, along with other theoreticians of this school, argues that many—though not all—of the contradictions we are witnessing between China and the United States are a reflection of the efforts by Chinese capitalists, and their allies, to alter the terms under which global capitalism operates. In other words, the conflict is not a competition between traditional empires but, analogically, disputes within a gang.
Harris offers his book as both an analysis of the growth of neoliberal globalization and a cautionary note on the dangerous road that it has placed before humanity. Perhaps it is for that reason that his final two chapters examine alternatives to neoliberal globalization, including both failed alternatives as well as sources of hope. The problem is that this comes across as two different books. While it was clear that Harris was trying to get the readers to consider how to struggle against global capitalism and its tendency towards authoritarianism and barbarism, there was a missing transition.
Harris might also have been more successful had he integrated into his discussion a deeper analysis of the rise of right-wing populism (including but not limited to neo-fascism) in the context of neoliberal globalization. After all, right-wing populism posits itself as THE alternative strategy of neoliberal globalization. While Harris acknowledges right-wing populism at various points in the book, he tends to merge it a bit too quickly with other segments of the Right, including into what the theoretician Nicos Poulantzas referenced as “authoritarian statism” and what I have described as “neoliberal authoritarianism.” Drawing from Poulantzas, I would distinguish the movement towards authoritarianism by the so-called democratic capitalist state as not identical with the rise of right-wing populism, though the two tendencies can and do overlap.
Despite the abrupt transition, Harris’s discussion of alternatives is useful, though a bit of a distraction. In fact, I would argue that he should further develop his thinking on alternatives in a separate volume. And I would further argue that a deeper examination of right-wing populism in the context of neoliberal globalization deserves to be addressed by adherents to the so-called global capitalism school in order to flesh out their analysis.
Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy is an exceptionally thorough and thought-provoking work. Very rarely, these days, do I use a highlighter when reading a book in order to remind myself of facts, points of interest or points of difference. In this case, the highlighter was with me till the end, with my knowing that I will return to this book as a resource for better understanding, as well as explaining, the development of global capitalism and its implications for the billions of people on this planet ravaged by it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the author of "They're Bankrupting Us!": And 20 Other Myths about Unions and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice. He is a talk show host, writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Five years later, it’s worth looking more closely at what Occupy built.

FIVE YEARS AGO, on the morning of September 17th, 2011, the only continuous inhabitant of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was a bronze statue of a businessman, seated permanently on a bench on the park’s west side.
That, of course, was before hundreds of demonstrators descended and built an encampment to protest the power of the 1%. By September 24th, when video of a New York City police officer pepper-spraying members of Occupy Wall Street garnered national attention, the newly rechristened Liberty Plaza Park had become home to a welcome booth, a kitchen, a childcare zone, an arts and culture area, medical and legal teams, a media-production center and a library.
These all emerged through improvisation, the active ingredient in Occupy. From its founders’ initial act to the proliferation of encampments nationwide, the movement unfolded mainly by way of intuition, experimentation, accident, luck and emergency.
That emergency intensified as police soon cracked down on the nascent movement, evicting encampment after encampment. In the blink of an eye, the state tore down most of Occupy’s visible achievements, leaving the public with the impression that it had failed to build anything lasting or useful.
And yet, five years later, Occupy is widely credited with making inequality a political priority—which, in turn, made possible the landmark presidential run of a 74-year-old socialist—as well as touching off a new era of raucous protest and civil disobedience.
If this seems like a big footprint for a failed movement, it’s worth looking more closely at what Occupiers built—and continue to build—that lived outside the parks. Occupy did indeed “change the conversation,” popularizing the “99%” formulation that reintroduced class into the political narrative. But just as significantly, it resulted in the construction of lasting movement infrastructure—communications networks, physical spaces available to organizers and models for training and analysis. While this kind of infrastructure is often overlooked or undervalued, it’s critical to a movement’s growth and lasting impact. Arriving on the scene at a low point of the American Left, Occupy scrambled to cobble together the structures that might have sustained it—but one of its most important legacies was that it gave subsequent movements something to build and improve upon.
When Occupy kicked off in 2011, it had little to draw from in terms of institutions, political parties, publications, communications networks or gathering spaces. The counter-globalization struggle of a dozen years prior, as well as the anti-war effort from the mid-2000s, had left behind bits and pieces of tools and support systems for social movements. Labor groups including the Communications Workers of America, the United Steelworkers and National Nurses United endorsed the movement, and a number of union locals and individual members stepped in to provide material support. But by and large, OWS lacked any of the infrastructure of a significant political Left to support it.
Without tools and spaces crucial for facilitating strategic movement building, Occupy never stood much of a chance of coalescing into a powerful political formation.
Still, the new movement was a welcome change from the anemic shows of protest and dissent many organizers had grown accustomed to in preceding years. Yotam Marom recalls that while he was involved in socialist organizing prior to Occupy, public demonstrations and activism had “always felt small, always felt scrawny, always felt like a sideshow. I would invite my friends to these actions and secretly hope they wouldn’t come, because it was a little embarrassing.”
Then, one day in Zuccotti Park, “the conditions were right, the right people were there at the right time, there was a little bit of magic dust and the shit just popped,” he says.
New people were arriving every hour. Often, they had never led anything; some had never done any activism. A well-functioning operation, says Marom, would have identified the natural leaders among them and ushered them through a process of leadership development. But no such process existed.
“We pretended we were a leaderless movement,” Marom laments. As a consequence, not only were new leaders developed by the sink-or-swim method, “the leaders who did emerge were not held accountable. It made us less collective and democratic, not more.”
The question of leadership continued to dog Occupy. But after the parks were emptied, this realization led Marom and a handful of other likeminded comrades to found the Wildfire Project, which has facilitated strategic planning, political education and leadership development with the leaders of a number of movements that emerged in Occupy’s wake.
Since the project launched in early 2013, Wildfire has worked with the Florida-based, youth-led black freedom organization the Dream Defenders, the Fossil Fuel Student Divestment Network, anti-foreclosure organizers Occupy Our Homes, and several others, aiming to equip activists responding to a crisis with “the tools and skills to do that work in their day-to-day.”
Wildfire covers basic skills including public speaking and how to have one-on-one organizing conversations. But the group’s process also draws on many of the lessons learned by Occupiers—for example, not to suppress conflict. “In other strategic planning processes, the idea is to table the emotional/political/interpersonal stuff and to get to the ‘work,’” explains Marom. With Wildfire, on the other hand, “we actually dive head-first into conflict. We’re trying, as much as possible, to teach people to be in conflict in a generative way, as a way to get to being able to fight over strategy.”
At the same time, Wildfire works to challenge the antipathy towards leadership that pervaded Occupy. “A lot of it has to do with fear of the enemy, with the resignation that we’re never going to win anyway,” says Marom. As a culture within the broader Left, he believes it’s “a barrier to building a powerful and strategic movement.”
While Occupy’s decentralized model presented barriers, it also provided a powerful draw for those fed up with politics as usual.
In the run-up to Occupy, for example, Tammy Shapiro had been considering quitting organizing. Non-profits that operated according to a tailored political script, tightly controlling every aspect of a campaign’s messaging and development, seemed to be the only game in town.
“I was really repelled by the way funding and money controlled both Washington politics and the work of nonprofits,” recalls the former organizer for J Street U, a Jewish-American youth group that organizes against Israel’s Occupation. “I noticed that no matter what, wealthy donors had more of a voice than the grassroots.”
The initial success of Occupy Wall Street allowed Shapiro “to see the power of this different way of organizing,” she says. The occupation’s decentralized style, which left plenty of room for grassroots experimentation, provided a paradigm that made sense to her, and brought her back to the profession she’d been trying to leave.
She got involved in InterOccupy, a collective that facilitated communications between Occupy groups around the country. That consisted of various tools: websites, social media and online conference call technology that allowed Occupiers in different cities to simulate physical meeting space—dividing callers into discrete breakout groups, establishing a speakers queue and managing elections in which participants can dial to vote.
With this communication network in place, it was possible for InterOccupy to compile regular newsletters alerting recipients to challenges occupations were encountering, solutions they were devising, actions they were planning and so forth—all without assigning a hierarchy. It suggested to Shapiro “the potential of what decentralization could do.”
A year later, she saw an opportunity to put this model into action in a new way, even when many of her compatriots were pronouncing Occupy Wall Street dead. “There’s this latent network,” she remembers insisting at an October 2012 retreat in upstate New York where Occupiers discussed the state of the movement. “I don’t believe it’s dead.” That intuition was put to the test immediately: “We came back from Blue Mountain and the hurricane hit the next day.”
Occupy Sandy was the movement’s redemptive second act. Not only did it revive the networks that had formed a year earlier, its relative efficacy put to shame the haphazard efforts mounted by FEMA, the Red Cross and various other more traditional, hierarchical agencies that bungled the complicated relief effort. “Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There,” read a November 2012 New York Times headline.
“Occupy Sandy confirmed to me and a lot of other people in New York that we were doing things in a way that worked,” Shapiro says. “The way that we were organizing had a lot of potential to get real results.”
Still, trying to convey the potential of decentralization to people who had not been involved in Occupy Wall Street or Sandy proved difficult. “We had a basic intuitive understanding, but we didn’t have language, we didn’t have models,” notes Shapiro. “We didn’t have the Rules for Radicals for the networked social movement age.”
Without being able to clearly articulate Occupy’s organizing model, it would be hard to identify its weaknesses and improve them. Shapiro and some like-minded organizers formed the “think-make-and-do-tank” Movement Netlab (MNL) to change that.
Through one project, it has tried to detail the various roles participants take on in a mass, decentralized movement. For instances, a movement requires coaches, culture-makers, introducers and so on. Through another, it has charted the life cycle of a movement. MNL hypothesizes that movements are made up of distinct “moments:” First public anger grows over an ongoing crisis. Then, a trigger event incites a spontaneous mass response, which begins a “heroic” expansion phase and honeymoon period, when anything seems possible. When this ends, the movement goes through a painful contraction, and lastly through a period of reflection and evolution. Then the cycle begins again—with the difference that the movement, hopefully, has won some concrete gains and is even better prepared to take advantage of the next peak.
Shapiro and MNL’s work with the climate justice movement put into practice some of their hypotheses about how mass, decentralized movements can organize effectively for a common purpose. During the preparation for the 2014 People’s Climate March, for example, Shapiro built out a communications system that riffed off of InterOccupy’s structure, providing each of over 100 hubs (Labor for Climate, Arts for Climate, Yoga Teachers…) with a website, Facebook and Google group—“connected but separate online front doors.”
This allowed people to enter from a community that they felt deeply a part of, so they could bring their particular identities into the larger movement, rather than leaving them at the door. Moreover, it enabled groups who may sometimes be at odds—say, labor unions and anti-fracking groups—to organize autonomously for the march with messaging specific to their constituencies.
Winnie Wong, who had also been involved in Occupy Sandy, had another idea of how to put decentralized networks to work. She had seen how adept they had proven at providing relief to hurricane victims, and found herself wondering how they might fare at waging explicit politics.
“I wanted to do something much more strategic and tactical around Occupying the whole of the Democratic Party, which I believe to be complicit in all of these really harmful policies.”
That led to People for Bernie, which memorably coined the catchphrase “Feel the Bern.” “We organize like a working group,” says Wong of the 8 to 10 core members. “We give each other permission to act autonomously on behalf of the collective.” When disagreements arise (“They very rarely do,” she maintains) about whether something is appropriate to post, they are resolved with deliberate haste in a group Facebook chat. “I credit Occupy with teaching me de-escalation.”
The group actually launched in 2014 as “Ready for Warren.” Its mission involved “building electoral power for people who identify with the core issues and the core messaging that came out of Occupy Wall Street,” says Wong. “We made Elizabeth Warren the figurehead of the 99%.” It wasn’t long before prominent liberal organizations signed onto the call (ultimately unheeded) for Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary.
In April 2015, Wong says, “We were the first to pivot to Bernie Sanders, long before the other groups endorsed him.” People for Bernie originated with an open letter bearing the names of a number of organizers from Zuccotti Park and other Occupations, who signed on in support of Sanders, as individual occupiers. (Disclosure: the author is a signatory.)
Simultaneously, the group launched a website and, approximating the structure favored by Tammy Shapiro and InterOccupy, more than fifty “...For Bernie” Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, “which basically became the formation of a large, decentralized tent for people across the country to get under.”
“We gave away all the passwords to so many constituencies,” Wong says. “We knew that we couldn’t be the people responsible for creating the messaging, we needed the people to create the messaging. We needed people to talk about their issues.”
While there are no plans to change the floating signifier from “Bernie” to something else just yet, there is some room for that to happen. “It was never about electing Bernie Sanders,” says Wong. “It was about creating a movement.”
Most importantly, the network People for Bernie has assembled remains ready for re-activation when the right moment hits.
This summer, a new wave of encampments swept the nation. From Decolonize LA to Chicago’s Freedom Square to New York’s Abolition Square, activists once again built ongoing protest sites, this time to call to for an end to racist policing and mass incarceration.
These protests emerged directly out of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in some cases cited the encampments set up during 2014 protests in Ferguson as immediate inspiration. But infrastructure built in the wake of Occupy also provided important support.
The planning meetings for Abolition Square, located just blocks from Zuccotti Park, took place at the May Day Space, housed in an Episcopal church in northern Bushwick, Brooklyn. The collective directing the project is largely made up of Occupiers who remember all too well how the movement flagged when it lacked a permanent home. Previously, it inhabited a much larger space, elsewhere in Bushwick, which hosted grassroots activist and movement group meetings, forums, parties and more.
“Our mission is to facilitate space for social justice organizing groups,” says Sandra Nurse, an Occupy veteran and member of the May Day collective. “It’s specifically built for groups to feel welcome at any time of the day, as needed.” With May Day, groups doing vital organizing don’t have to resort to meeting rooms at the odd hours of their convenience, or public spaces where police can surveil and harass members.
Five years ago, Occupy Chicago suffered keenly from a lack of space—mass arrests prevented a permanent encampment from ever being established. Chicago’s Freedom Square thus managed to do what Occupy Chicago did not: occupy. Organizers with the #LetUsBreathe collective transformed what was once an unkempt vacant lot on the city’s west side for 41 days, setting up tents across from an alleged police black site at Homan Square. In addition to calling for the site to be shut down, #LetUsBreathe envisioned Freedom Square as a space that “imagines a world without police” and as a “community block party.” Organizers have since ended their occupation and turned the space over to the surrounding community.
One of the key organizational differences between Occupy and Black Lives Matter, believes Shapiro, is that the latter has been intentionally inclusive of pillar organizations with formal leadership structures. In doing so BLM has largely avoided the fetishization of leaderless-ness that had so frustrated Yotam Marom in Zuccotti Park—a fetish that only developed, says Shapiro, “because we didn’t have the kind of framework that we’ve been working out at MNL.”
“You need a lot of distributed leadership in a decentralized network, but there’s still leadership,” she says.
This and other lessons have brought the Left to a very different place than it was in five years ago. “The biggest gain from [Occupy] was the sense of possibility that people took from that moment. We had never had any expectation that we would be big or powerful, and that has catastrophic consequences,” says Yotam Marom. Now, organizers “actually believe that a movement is possible, and it changes everything about the way they work.” 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do We Really Need a Third Party?

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Do We Really Need a Third Party?

The frustration that prompted the “Bernie or Bust” movement is not just about economic stagnation. Rather, it is more basic, more institutional-centered, than that. From the viewpoint of progressives, there is in addition a frustration with the once liberal, now neoliberal political philosophy and its supporters, many of whom hold political office. This includes the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. For many voters from the left, liberals have become institutional custodians: they are, to use a Marxist term, “bourgeois liberals,” or, as Chomsky refers to them, the “liberal intelligentsia,” whose primary task is to protect institutional processes, structures, and interests, over all other norms and goals. Those who have taken it as their task to tend to institutional mandates and goals seek to marginalize and minimize all ideas coming from outside the institution by delegitimizing them in comparison with the goals and procedures of institutional structures, and using those structures to slow them down and/or send them to institutional black holes. These institutional guardians learn to minimize or lose the ideals they begin with, by submitting them to institutional processes whereby their moral values are streamlined, trimmed, and changed in their function, form, and normative ends. In this essay, “institution” means “government,” but it could apply to any institution, such as academia, the media, Democratic Party, or business.
Such bourgeois liberals are opposed by the visionaries, who frequently today self-reference as “progressives. They are the challengers to institutional prerogatives and functions, who are aware that institutional curators do not understand the language of morality, but rather comprehend pragmatism over values, the protection of the institutions of which they are a part, and even self-interest within the confines of the institution.
An excellent example of this dialectic can be seen in the heated debate that occurred between former Congressman Barney Frank and Cornel West, on the July 26 edition of the show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” While West argued that the issues that confront us, such as climate change and deep inequality, require revolutionary and immediate change, Frank argued that such a vision not only did not cohere with an institutional arrangement (i.e. American government) that prefers “slow as you go” and “institutional change only” [my summary phrases, not quotations from Frank], but that institutional procedures regarding specific issues were the only way to make changes in people’s lives. Mr. Frank even devalued Jill Stein’s candidacy for President on the basis of her lack of making institutionally-approved changes in her political career! Even more, Frank’s listing of Democratic—and specifically Bill Clinton—programs that were successful for citizens ignored that they were moderate gains at best, and clearly offset by Democrat—and Clinton—programs that were at odds with equality and improvement for all. For just one example, the Clinton demolition of the welfare system kept their institutional (corporate) masters happy and kept Bill in office, while completely betraying the interests of a large segment of the populace. Other examples abound.
A bit to the political right of these “institutional liberals” are institutional conservatives such as the Karl Rove type. The difference between Karl Rove’s conservativism and a liberal, with regard to institution-caretaking and power distribution, is that Rove seeks to determine and present people “their” vision for their activism (through propaganda), thus “allowing” the political leaders to “follow” by “capitulating to the will of the people” and thus manipulating the system through its current configurations and structures in order to obtain the ends of power sought by the propagandists to begin with. Liberals within the system advocate for and seek to “allow the system to work,” while simultaneously eschewing the vision of the activists pushing for deep systemic changes, and also to a degree using propaganda to slow the people’s push for change so that it doesn’t leave the control of the institutional wardens—i.e. liberal defenders of institutional processes and prerogatives see to it that the people don’t “get out of the control” of the system’s defenders. This was clearly seen in the tensions between the Sanders and Clinton supporters during the Democratic Convention.
Contrary to the Party liberals who currently control the DNC, progressives seek to consolidate the vision of the people outside of the system (i.e. the “grassroots”) into an overall mandate for systemic change itself, the vision of which cannot be comprehended and bound by systemic and institutional concerns. This is where the value and role of a third party comes into play: to unify progressive voices into a whole both by analysis of institutional problems and by designing and promoting activist programs intended to change institutional abuses and lethargy regarding moral values, especially values of human dignity and equality.
One appropriate method of such institutional analysis is to point out those (factual) institutional structures which lead to or entail contradictions in practice or in the stated ends of the institution. This is the empirical, and specifically the Marxist or socialist model of analysis.
The other method is normative: to point out that the intrinsic or adopted structural procedures are at cross-purposes with the principle of the primacy of human good or dignity by engaging in immoral ends and/or means. I maintain that the more comprehensive analysis is the normative approach, since we are, from rudimentary perceptual cognition to abstract thinking, normative beings, and because no analysis is complete, even in empirical method, without presupposing certain norms to be legitimate and assumed for analysis purposes (e.g. “equality” in socialism; “contradiction” in Marxist analysis, etc.). Hence, institutional structures and practices which violate essentially normative conditions, concomitantly violate our humanity to the degree that they ignore or eschew distinctly normative concerns. In essence, Sanders’ resonance with voters struck this normative chord with issues such as “equality,” “breaking up the big banks,” and “breaking down the power of Wall Street.”
Therefore, realpolitik is the model of action inside the institution itself as well as between institutions, but it is outside of it that the main source of moral limitations to institutions originates, in the women and men who have not compromised nor surrendered their voice of conscience to the sources and means of institutional power by “following institutional processes and procedures,” thus maintaining the status quo, while only tinkering around the edges of the institution from within and in crafting appearances of movement forward, all the while maintaining the same processes and values called forth by the institutional dictates that necessitated the moral push from the outside to begin with.
If the people “outside” fail to set moral limits and pressure institutional members with those limits, the institution will deepen its corruption and its power over its people, by succumbing to whatever forces exist that can and will fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of the moral limits from outside (usually power and wealth).
Those within the institution who do have any conscience, limit and nuance its voice when they become players in and thus components of institutional structures, processes, and mandates. Hence, the ongoing need for a unified external moral voice, not yet another (“third”) party seeking to get into an institutional system that will ultimately either force the party and its members into significant moral compromise or destroy the morality of the party that propelled them into the institution to begin with. The trail of justice is littered with the corpses of those who, with full moral conscience, entered into the institution to attempt to change it.
Thus, while in this election cycle a third party choice would seem to be an obvious need, it should seek to represent not a genuine alternative for taking the reins of institutional power, but rather should serve as a statement of a unified moral vote against the status quo; a message to those within the institutional halls that they are not safe in their comfortable roles as institutional tenders and servicers if they do not heed the distinctly moral voice of the outsiders, the citizens.
If the institution continues to fail to listen to the clear moral voice of the people outside it, then the casus belli for revolt against it has already been clearly and directly given to the people. But as argued here, the revolt will not succeed by sticking a third party into a corrupt institution, but by using the third party to push those in the institution to listen to the voice of institutional change, or be removed. It threatens the neoliberals with political extinction in the face of the threat of human extinction from climate change, and from the immoral policies of neoliberal and Republican economic and social elitism. It tells the world that the people are prepared to “go it alone” and to take on the institution more directly if need be in the process, in order to preserve and protect humanity and to bring about a more equitable society in the face of the extreme imbalances we see today, both in the world and in the halls of institutional power. This is the duty of the citizens of any republic, and third parties can help citizens perform those duties by uniting their voices.
So, yes, we need a third party, but not to play the role that people frequently think. Rather, the role of a third party will be to alter the breadth, role, function, and process of the institution itself, to force those who service the institution to serve instead, or primarily, the people they pretend to serve, but to whom they perform that service minimally or not at all. Such change never comes from those within the institution itself. So, most importantly, the surest way to end a third party revolution is to put the party into an institution whose power is already absolute and whose corruption is complete. A third party’s function is rather to lead the way to an overturning and revamping of power structures that is far overdue. This is not something a simple movement within an institutional party could or would accomplish. Revolutions are not done from within a system, and are not done in one election season, nor under the leadership of those whose primary allegiance is to their institutional position and party. Such leaders surrender to the institution quickly, as we have seen with both Obama and Sanders. Change can only come through a people unified in their vision, yet with the knowledge that they are not only outsiders to the system, but also know that the degree to which institutional parties and corruption are entrenched in the system imply proportionally the amount of time it will take to batter down the institutional walls in order to open its doors to the people. Third parties lead the way in this by helping everyone to get their hands on the battering ram of the moral vision of human dignity and equality that will bring fear to the entrenched parties and their corrupt bosses, as their secured institutional walls and doors begin to quake from the force of the people.
If change is what people want, third parties are the only way to get it, and the winning attitude is not to expect to put third party people in office. When people like Barney Frank and others, especially Democrats, say of Jill Stein “but she can’t win,” they are expressing the fact that they have already capitulated to the institutional system as it is. The right attitude is that “win or not, we’re demanding change, and we’re not leaving until we get it.” That is the attitude of those who participate in third parties. That is the attitude that over time cannot lose.
Dr. Robert Abele (www.spotlightonfreedom.com) holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Marquette University and M.A. degrees in Theology and Divinity. He is a professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, in California in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the author of four books, including A User's Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act, and The Anatomy of a Deception: A Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq, along with numerous articles. His new book, Reason and Justice, is forthcoming (2018). Read other articles by Robert P..

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Revolution of Consciousness

The Huffington Post


 07/10/2014 01:05 pm ET | Updated Sep 09, 2014

Marianne Williamson

There is a revolution occurring in the world today, but it is not fought with armies and it does not aim to kill. It is a revolution of consciousness.

This revolution is to the 21st century what the Scientific Revolution was to the 20th. The Scientific Revolution revealed objective, discernable laws of external phenomena and applied those laws to the material world. The Consciousness Revolution reveals objective, discernable laws of internal phenomena and applies them to the world as well. 

The Scientific Revolution improved the state of humanity in many ways, but it also fostered a worldview neither ultimately helpful nor deeply humane. That worldview is mechanistic and rationalistic, without the slightest bow to the primacy of consciousness. Yet consciousness supplies moral vision and ethical purpose, without which all the science in the world won’t keep us from destroying ourselves or the planet on which we live.

Gone with irony and deep sigh any lingering hope that science will cure all the ills of the world. Certainly science has improved and continues to improve the world in significant, even stunning ways. But despite all its amazing gifts, science cannot give us what we most need now. It cannot save us from ourselves. Science can lead to the cure of a physical ailment, but it is not just a physical ailment that needs healing. Humanity’s core problem is not material but spiritual. It is our insanity — our inhumanity toward each other — from which we need to be delivered, in order to save us from the self-destruction on which we seem so bent. 

Science itself is placed at the behest of human purposes. It can be used for good and it can be used for evil. Of itself, it is neutral and thus amoral. It should not therefore be our god. It’s time to end our strict obeisance to its dictates that the laws of the material world are fixed and unalterable, unchanged by the powers of consciousness. The old Newtonian model of world as machine has in fact given way to the realization that the universe is not a big machine, so much as it is, in the words of British physicist James Jeans, “a big thought.” Science itself has begun to recognize the power of the mind, but not so a lot of the world it has mesmerized over the last hundred years.

We need to heal our thinking, in order to heal our world.

The Law of Cause and Effect holds true on every level of reality. Thought is the level of Cause and material manifestation is the level of Effect. Change only on the level of effect is not fundamental change it at all, yet change on the level of cause changes everything. That is why a revolution in consciousness is our greatest hope for the future of the world. 

What is the Revolution of Consciousness, in a nutshell? Like all great movements in human history, it is based on a single insight: in this case, that we are not separate from one another. We are not material beings limited to the physical body, but beings of consciousness limited by nothing. Like waves in the ocean or sunbeams to the sun, there is actually nowhere where one of us stops and another one starts. On the level of bodies, we’re all separate of course. But on the level of consciousness, we are one.

What that means, of course, is that what I do to you, I do to myself. That makes the Golden Rule very, very good advice. Do unto others what you would have others do unto you — because they will, or someone else will.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one, affects all indirectly.” That understanding is not metaphor or symbol; it’s a description of an ultimate Reality shoved from our awareness by an obsolete scientific worldview. To reclaim that understanding is not blind but visionary. King was not just a movement leader but also a spiritual one, proclaiming that the human condition would not fundamentally change until our hearts were changed. Until that change occurs within us, every time we cut off the head of a monster three more will take its place.

Anything we do to anyone else will ultimately come back at us, whether as individuals or as nations. Once we know that, we cannot un-know it. It changes everything, including our hearts. How can we not change how we see each other, once we realize that we are each other? 

In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The revolution of consciousness paves the way for the peaceful evolution of the human race. The alternative to that evolution is catastrophic and impenetrable darkness. 

Any species, if its behavior becomes maladaptive for its own survival, either mutates or goes extinct. What arrogance it would be to believe that that applies to every species but our own. In fact, humanity’s behavior is in fact maladaptive for our own survival: we fight too much with too many weapons of mass destruction existing on the planet, and are actively destroying our own habitat. Our choice is clear: we will either mutate or we will die.

The mind does not want to hear this, but the heart rejoices in it. The dictates of science aren’t so sure about it, but the dictates of consciousness are clear. Humanity doesn’t need to make another machine; it needs to make another choice. We need to consider the possibility of another way, another option, another path for the human race to follow...one in which we do not bow before the laws of science, but rather bow before the laws of love. The mind will no longer be our master, but our servant. Science will no longer be a false god, but a truer help. And humanity will evolve, peace at last will come to earth, and war will be no more.
Marianne Williamson is a best-selling author and lecturer www.marianne.com

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Anonymous – Ideas Are Social Evolution

Anonymous Official Website - Anonymous News, Videos, Operations, and more | AnonOfficial.com

Anonymous – Ideas Are Social Evolution

There’s an entire universe of people out there, countless others spreading ideas of a positive future.
You might call them dreamers, or crazy. You might say that what they are doing is never gonna work, and that we are doomed to fall back to our primal instincts. Ladies and Gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, I am here to tell you differently.
I know, we live in an age with daunting problems. We need the best ideas possible, we need them now, we need them to spread fast. The common good is a meme that was overwhelmed by the seductive mirage of blind profit and intellectual property. But it needs to spread again. If the meme prospers, our laws, our norms, our society, they all transform.
This is social evolution! And it’s not up to governments, it’s not up to corporations, it’s not up to lawyers… it’s up to us!
We are the children of a thousand generations of this human race. We have come this far not to be subjected to imperialism, conflicts, and deprivation. We are meant for something great. I am here to tell you that with the right mind and motivation, we can achieve anything. We have the technology to feed everyone on earth. We can escape the prison of working for survival. And we can find a balance with nature. We can do all this and much, but only if we want to.
And now, go do something amazing.
Anonymous – Ideas Are Social Evolution