Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Symposium

It’s Monday morning dear readers and time for the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of online symposia centered on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In ancient Greece, our philosophical ancestors used symposia (drinking parties) as occasions for lively debate, often centered on a single philosophical issue.

Our symposia will be strictly BYOB, and perhaps coffee will work better than alcohol, but each symposium will center on a single question raised by the ongoing protest movement in the United States and abroad. I’ll ask a question, to set the discussion, then we’ll use the comments section for debate. This week’s question:

Q: Can the Occupy Wall Street movement succeed by working to change the system from within or should the overthrow of the existing two-party political system be one of its primary aims?

(If you have a question that would make for an interesting future symposium, email us.)


  1. I believe we have to "overthrow" the existing two party political system. That terminology makes it sound like a hostile revolution, which it should not have to come to.

    Our system right now is not just unjust; providing immunity for the political and wealthy elite while also enforcing harsh laws on the weakest and neediest, creating a sprawling for-profit prison industry and the largest prison population in the world.

    Our system is not just unfair; rewarding wrong doers, like the financial elites that caused the crash with higher bonuses and pay, while hurting those who work hard, with state funds being slashed, teachers/cops/etc. are often being hit the hardest.

    Those alone are enough to make people want to protest, but the reason we cannot look to work within the system any more is because our system is fundamentally dysfunctional. We must change direction on a number of paths (environmental, energy, economy, "war on terror", "war on drugs", etc) if we are to avoid catastrophe.

    As long as a campaign season lasts over a year with increasing amount of funds and ad time to distract us from what is currently going on and force us to choose between the lesser of two evils, we will never see anything change. Changing this may not be all that difficult. It depends if we can unify behind an option and how much of a fight the vested interests will put up to shut us up. It seems fairly obvious though that there is something wrong with then-candidate Obama receiving over 16 million from the “securities and investment” industry, higher than any other candidate, ever, while campaigning on change, transparency and financial responsibility.

    The argument offered back is it is needed. This is the cost to actually be competitive. We are a consumer nation and it takes that much ad time and touring to properly saturate the minds of the voters. Well, this mentality is what must change. The best ads do not make the best product. Consumption is not always a good thing. We need to turn into a more critical and organized nation.

    How to get money out of politics in general is a huge question. First, we should figure out how to get it out of the campaigns and how to reconfigure our election process. That should be the next question. Examples like: are hopeful/helpful.

    I agree with Glenn Greenwald though. If OWS is successfully turned into a get-out-the-vote drive for the Democratic party, then it failed. There are certainly efforts underway to turn it into just that, but there are reasons to believe those efforts will be resisted. Greenwald's article is well worth the read:

  2. From within means: OWS would have representatives; these are elected within the Democratic Party; these represents a strong relative majority within the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party wins an overwhelming majority; and finally the request to break up the 2 party system - in whatever alternate mechanism, there are many examples around the world - goes through and it is implemented. Very unlikely in a system where the existing 2 parties control - through corporate money - all the resources of the country. And too many possibility of losing focus, of deviating from the original goal.

    The other scenario: more people is on the street - possibly because more widespread hardship and inequality; clashes with the police, state militias, federal law enforcement entities happen; police, state militias and federal law enforcement entities lose commitment to the existing system and either side or let go the people in the street; the existing system has to give in to the people requests. Is this more likely than the first scenario? Although I believe it to be very unlikely, I think it has more chances and importantly, it would be less 'contaminated' and ultimately effective.

  3. Patience, persistence and dialog can help in building a consensus toward forming an adaptively responsive system that deals with the human frailties. The idea of "first to the post" has gone by the wayside. It was a band-aid solution at best or a terrible confidence game at the very worst. While a symposium sounds good, I need to remind everyone that alcohol affects people in different ways, one of which is "getting a mean drunk-on" with some people and still others get very quiet. Making the Occupation festive and inviting is a good way to bring many people together, but many more have social anxiety issues with large crowds, so we need to treat the socially anxious equally as participants, since they are also contributing ideas to the new paradigm.

    I agree with resisting efforts to co-opt this emergent effort to express true democracy. We are still in the stages of formation here in the U.S. Maintain the focus on gathering more participants in strength, then clarify the message of public participation.

  4. If the OWS movement is about the power of money in politics, then getting sympathetic people elected is the only way to create change. Pass strict election financing laws - Declare corporations are not people - Restore heavy regulation to the Finance industry.

  5. Q: Can the Occupy Wall Street Movement succeed by working to change the system from within...? It all depends what problem needs to be solved. I think, minimally in the USA, we need a safety net of modest, government-provided benefits that will see people through periods of unemployment. Considering that the Democrats, when they had the majority in both Houses, couldn't even get a public health "option" though committee to the floor, I think solutions from within the current two party system are unlikely.

  6. OWS can succeed by changing the system from within. We can achieve meaningful and lasting change from within; indeed, leaving some institutional structures in place is desirable for both pragmatic reasons from stability and the idea that, in theory, our political system as a whole has the potential to operate quite well.

    The main problem, as I see it, is the entanglement of money with political power. We will not see lasting changes in favor of `the people' until we overhaul the system of campaign finance. I would like to see a system of full public financing of elections, with free and equal national media time for each candidate. Making it impossible for corporations to directly influence political outcomes is highly desirable. Given the right sort of requirements to move candidates to the national stage, we might even see a breakdown of the two-party system.

    However, resource inequality would still undermine social and political equality, even under a system of full public financing of elections. There are a number of political and social spheres where we would have to ensure substantive equality of opportunity. It seems unlikely that we could sufficiently restrict the scope of the market to situate persons in full political and social equality of the sort that our political system presupposes for its legitimacy. Thus, we will probably need to significantly reduce resource inequality by raising the top marginal tax rate.

  7. Has it occurred to anyone that the time has come, at long last, to abolish capitalism once and for all?

  8. Simple: OWS should put up candidates who take a pledge to refuse campaign funds from Wall Street and other big corporations and interest groups, just like the Tea Party successfully put up candidates who took "no new spending" pledges. If the 99% are truly against corruption, the OWS candidates will win elections, and those who take the dirty money won't. We don't need new campaign finance laws - we just need good candidates and informed voters. Once we elect candidates who willing to take money out of politics, then everything will get better naturally.

  9. @DRDR...that's a pipe-dream. As long as corporations are free to spend obscene amounts of money to by their elected candidates a place in office the 1% will continue to have a stranglehold on American democracy. Money buys influence, and the 1% have the majority of the money, therefore they have majority of influence. They also control the media, which means that they control what the voting public sees and hears. This makes it all but impossible to realize an "informed electorate." As long as the status quo is maintained the 1% will face no meaningful challenge to their criminally negligent rule. Candidates pledging to take no corporate would, under the current system, be taking a pledge of silence and utter irrelevance.

  10. The plutocracy will never allow representatives of a movement that advocates for social justice to succeed within the system. The entire system must be overthrown...