Reflections on my 11/5 visit to Occupy LA

Published online 6 November 2011.

11:15am I arrived at Occupy LA, and hurriedly bicycled to the protest at California Plaza, where a small number of protesters (maybe a few hundred) were leading an anti-bank protest.  Many of the protesters were members of labor organizations.  The whole thing was well-orchestrated by a police presence, shutting down the streets where the marchers were marching.  They stopped at Broadway and 1st so the protesters could yell “Shame!  Shame!  Shame!” at a closed B of A branch.  This was, to be sure, a low-risk event for a pleasant Saturday morning.  I took pictures nonetheless.

2:25pm Spring Street had been closed off that Saturday so that a list of speakers could enlighten the assembled small crowd for Bank Transfer Day.  An introductory speaker introduce Margaret Prescod, who discusses the KPFK fund drive and introduces “Kiki” from Occupy London, 250 tents in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, Guy Fawkes Day there was a speaker from LA in Occupy London the church allowed the protest to stay, and the dean who said the protesters had to go had to resign.

Kiki argued that the campers at Occupy London maintained professional relations with the police — that they cautioned other campers not to chitchat with the police because “they’re gathering information.”

Then Mike Garcia of SEIU talked for awhile.  He thanked all of us, and delivered a message of “us versus the banks.”

Finally it was Robert Reich’s turn to talk.

(Reich, center)

Reich, as well as the panelists which followed, delivered a fundamentally liberal message, contrasting the “good capitalism” of the rest of the system as against the “bad capitalism” of the banks who he claims committed massive fraud.  Reich suggested that “We need to save capitalism from itself,” and that we should campaign to “resurrect Glass-Steagall.”  Reich thought we should halve the military budget, enact single payer health care, and (somehow) get money out of politics.  He argued that there should be “no NAFTA unless there are strong labor and environmental provisions” — the idea that we might not get those if the point of NAFTA is to strengthen corporate power by increasing corporate penetration of national economies didn’t take.

Robert Scheer came after Robert Reich (and after a botched attempt at getting Michael Hudson via electronic hookup from Berlin), and talked of triangulation and of the history of Clinton and Obama sellouts at length, in great populist tones, and to the pleasure of the assembled crowd.

William Black was next — Black wanted to emphasize that there was plenty of prosecution of corporate malfeasance in the “S&L scandal” of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but that the department responsible for prosecution was eliminated, so that by the time of the current crisis there was no prosecution of bank fraud at all.  Black had an elaborate presentation of how the fraud took place, not all of which I followed.  Black, though, suggested that “this is not the normal operation of the capitalist system,” which I felt was an “observation” generally uninformed by works such as Matthew Josephson’s The Robber Barons, in which the general criminality of the whole system (as it behaved in the last quarter of the 19th century) was exposed.

Lastly we were treated to Joel Rogers, who talked of the history of the last thirty years, and of the Powell Memorandum, which detailed a blueprint for the corporate takeover of democracy.  Rogers suggested that there two types of capitalism: the “low road,” in which you treat the public like dirt and take advantage of them accordingly, and the “high road,” where you sell products at premium prices and pay your workers good wages.

Thereafter there was a lengthy question-and-answer session.  None of the questioners was able to poke a serious hole in the pro-capitalist facade of the panelists.  The next speaker after them was going to be George Lakoff, on teleconference from Berkeley.  I left, because I did not want to see the organizers (who were probably the Media Team of Occupy LA) botch the electronic hookup.

So this was Meet The Liberals Day.  I enjoyed it; I was rather impressed with their depictions of the enormity of the banking scam, and their populist vigor.  However, I rather doubted that any of these liberals would succeed in their plans.  When you try to separate the “bad capitalism” from the “good capitalism,” the “bad capitalism” piggybacks onto the “good capitalism” and you’re back where you started.

What made the Keynesian compromise, the welfare state and the minimum wage, low unemployment and high growth, possible was that the consumer society was in desperate need of expansion and the capitalist system was relatively young.  There were plenty of resources and the system was robust.  Today the system is not robust, the consumer society is mature, and resources are getting more expensive.  The liberals are charming in their depiction of the problem but not prescient in terms of what is coming down the pipeline; they think the movement is going to take a long time to bear any fruit and they do not seem to fully factor in the catastrophic nature of the present situation.  The liberals’ hopes and dreams were going nowhere when Occupy bailed them out.

There was also the question of who had sponsored Meet The Liberals Day.  I was told that it was the Media Team that had arranged the whole show, and that the Media Team was secretive and hierarchical.  Is this true?  I would like to see a Meet The Radicals Day at Occupy LA.  Is anyone here with me?

At least they’ve painted a mural on the box surrounding the fountain now.

6:30pm The Resources Committee meeting on Saturday, across the street from Occupy LA on a cold, moonlit night, was about two things: 1) the security provisions for the safe deposit box (which eight people are going to be granted rights to access the box), and 2) what sort of arrangement will replace the safe deposit box when it comes time to submit that arrangement to the general assembly.  In Saturday’s meeting it was suggested that we become an “unincorporated association,” and so we discussed this option for some time.

Once again I left before the general assembly.  I have offered a ride to two friends.  I am being told that Occupy LA is poor at consensus process and that the general assemblies tend to waste enormous quantities of their participants’ time.  Is this true?


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