What 21st Century Democracy Looks Like

Those who say they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street protestors want fail to understand the nature of this quintessential 21st century movement.  It is true that they have no policy manifesto.  They have not yet released a list of shared demands, although they are working toward doing so.  But when you listen to the participants tell their stories, when you read their signs and hear their songs, their shared desires for our nation clearly emerge.

Their most fervent demand, not surprisingly, is for honest work that pays a decent, living wage, not only for themselves, but for their 14 million fellow unemployed Americans. But taken together, there is much more.

They seek accountability, including fair rules, oversight, and prosecution where appropriate of the corporations and individuals who wrecked our economy—often through fraud—then continued to pay themselves astronomical bonuses, even as they received an expensive rescue from American taxpayers.They demand a fairer tax structure in which the wealthiest companies, millionaires, and billionaires (the 1%) contribute their fair share to the nation that is giving them so much.

They want a political system in which every American’s voice and vote are equal, and in which large sums of money are not allowed to corrupt the democratic process. They reject the Supreme Court-made fiction that a corporation’s money is the same as a citizen’s voice under our First Amendment, and they want to explore amending the constitution to restore it’s real meaning in this regard.

They want to make college affordable to everyone with the ability and desire to attend, without the crushing burden of student loan debt that cripples graduates’ progress and deters many gifted students from attending at all.

They want recognition that it was lending industry misconduct, lax rules and enforcement, and unprecedented unemployment rates that caused the mortgage meltdown. And they see the basic truth that halting foreclosures, restoring devastated neighborhoods, and reducing mortgage payments to fair, realistic levels is in everyone’s interest—including lenders.

They want a rapid end to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with care and employment for the troops coming home. And they seek to put the goal of deficit reduction in the proper context. Like most Americans, they not only see job creation as more urgent to our national health and prosperity, but they also see putting Americans back to work, combined with fair tax reform and a military wind-down, as the most effective path to growing our economy and closing our deficit.

Clearly not every Occupy Wall Street protester is walking around with this fully-formed list of demands in her or his head.But this is not that kind of movement. Just as the demonstrators famously rely on each other’s voices for amplification, their best ideas and demands are crowd sourced, a rough-and-tumble vetting process that befits a 21st century democracy.

Nor is it surprising that different participants in the movement will differ in their precise policy prescriptions. Members of the 1960s civil rights movement—including Martin Luther King, Jr. and now congressman John Lewis—often bitterly disagreed about what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws should include.

And Dr. King’s subsequent call for an end to the war in Vietnam was not initially shared by all members of that movement.There is an important, vibrant difference, it must be remembered, between a movement and a political action committee.

Occupy Wall Street’s organizers are now engaged in a deliberative, participatory process designed to identify more specific common demands. This is an important step for a movement that is growing in maturity as quickly as it is growing in size and diversity. But as that process moves forward, one need only visit Zuccotti Park and the many other dynamic sites of this movement around the country to understand what this movement wants.

Heeding the Voice of the 99 Percent

When a group of young people camped out in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in mid-September to express their disappointment toward the way corporations have mishandled the economy, it barely made the local newspapers’ front pages. Four weeks later, and with hundreds of thousands of people joining the movement, Occupy Wall Street has captured the attention of national and international media, and it has provided a golden opportunity for lawmakers, intellectuals, unions, and President Obama to channel the participants’ efforts into their agenda.

Inspired by the Arab Spring and the indignados from Madrid, Occupy Wall Street seeks to “restore democracy in America” by using one of the very tenets of our First Amendment: the right to peaceably assemble. NYPD and protesters, however, have clashed a number of times as newscasts and photographs show law enforcement officers making use of batons and pepper spray.

Undeterred, people are joining the protests in droves. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street has spun off other protests across the nation (from Boston to Washington, DC, to Memphis, among others), and it has served as an inspiration to many who also feel worn out by corporate greed and government inefficacy.

Not only do Occupy Wall Street protests take place in public spaces, but also on social media platforms: “We are the 99 Percent” is a Tumblr blog where people post notes and pictures depicting their economic hardship. Likewise, Jennifer Preston from The New York Times’ blog Media Decoder offers a by-the-numbers analysis of social media’s impact on the protests:

The online conversation about Occupy Wall Street grew steadily on social media platforms in recent weeks and increased among users abroad in the last week as the global demonstrations approached. According to Trendrr, a social media analysis company, the number of posts about Occupy Wall Street on Twitter outside the United States grew to more than 25 percent of total posts on Friday, up from 15 percent during the same period the week before.

One may think that equal opportunity for all is a fair claim, but political deadlock continues to push the country to the brink of hopelessness and despair. To make matters worse, the jobs bill proposed by President Obama stalled in Congress after a Republican filibuster, denying the chance for millions of unemployed Americans to regain economic mobility and make ends meet.

As some political experts have pointed out, Occupy Wall Street is not just about corporate malfeasance; it’s also about lack of adequate political representation in Capitol HillNinety-nine percent of the population is raising their voice in order to move our country forward with economic opportunities, education for everybody, and universal health care. Are Congress and the Obama administration listening?

See also:

Debunking the Myth That Same Sex Marriage Lost Anthony Weiner's Seat to a Tea Party Candidate

There is a quiet effort to pin the failings of Democrats to beat a Tea Party candidate in the 2011 special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s House seat in NY District 9 on the passage of the same-sex marriage law in NY State. However though a small number of voters may have voted on this as their prime issue, the history of previous Congressional elections in that district prove that support of LGBT issues including marriage do not jeopardize Democratic candidates.



In 1998, Congressional-member Charles Schumer beat incumbent Senator Al D’Amato and a special election was held to fill Schumer’s seat in the 9th district. As Democrats have held the seat since the 1920’s the Democratic Primary was seen as the de-facto election to fill the seat. The Democratic primary contenders were city council-member Anthony Weiner who previously served as Schumer’s Chief of Staff, former NY Assemblywoman and City Council Member Melinda Katz from the Queens portion of the district (also a strong record on LGBT issues) and Noach Dear, a NY City Council-member from the Brooklyn side a former City Council-member and ultra-Orthodox Jew who has been a very outspoken anti-LGBT bigot.

Our (crafty) Republican Neighbor

Our new neighbor has been fairly nice.  Well, he did borrow a dog, as a cheap security system, when he went on vacation, and left it screaming untended in his empty home for a week.  Plus a few other small things that said "right wing".

But now things are getting out of hand.

It all started when word got out that our Congressman was treating young ladies all over the country to photos of his genitals.  One thing led to another, and suddenly, our district is having a special election tomorrow to vote for an interim Congressman.

OK, so neighbor sticks a sign in his yard for his guy, Turner.  No big deal.  That's his American prerogative.  Mr. Turner, by the way, seems to be gathering steam by scaring the first generation Jews in the area that Welprin (the democrat) is selling out Israel.

Yesterday's flyer from Turner exposed Welprin as being against kicking out the mosque built a few blocks from the WTC.  Perish the thought.

Even though the neighbor is not Jewish, it was no surprise that a big tacky "Turner for Congress" appeared in his yard last week.

Today is the problem.  The one sign wasn't enough.  Our neighbor just stuck ANOTHER huge sign right up against our property.  So it looks like we, too, are retarded lunatics.

I'm heading out to either 1.  put a giant box in our yard that hides his Turner sign; or 2.  put a Welprin sign on said box that will hide his Turner sign.

Then again, I'm toying with the idea of being above all this nonsense, and letting him have his jollies.  Would anybody actually be influenced by 2 yard signs?

Yet again, what if the neighbors actually think WE would vote for a republican.

Oh God, What to do?  Now I'm thinking too much like a . . . a democrat.

OK, even if I don't engage in sign wars, I did propel myself over to the ever panhandling Senator Gillibrand's donation site, and gave what I could.

Put THAT in your craw and smoke it, neighbor.


September 11, 2011

On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the time is right to consider how we have changed as a country and how we remain the same.  It is a widely-accepted truism that we were all changed after the terrorist attacks in Washington, DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, even though some made use of the fear and heated emotions following the attacks to suppress human and civil rights, our bedrock principles endure, and in fact, flourish.

Throughout the history of our country, we have struggled to navigate the tension between security and fairness.  At times, we have experienced shameful failures – the World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans are a notable example.  And yet, our democracy continues, striving to reaffirm our national unity of purpose. This tension is not a simple intellectual exercise – it goes to the heart of what America will be. This dialog and our ability to have it demonstrate how deeply our country values freedom.

In the decade since September 11, 2001, the evolution of our counterterrorism policies has clearly exemplified this struggle.  Some of the measures we’ve taken have put human rights at risk and promoted suspicion of particular communities. The indefinite detentions following the Patriot Act are one example. However, an atmosphere of suspicion toward immigrants and our history of immigration risks a core element of our country and does not make us safer. In fact, the opposite is true.  Experts have noted that the decision to institute military commissions in the wake of the attacks had the potential to place the men and women of our own armed services at greater risk. Moreover, alienating or demonizing some of our communities prevents the flow of information that is vital to effective security, damages our unity, and most importantly, violates our fundamental values.

Our commitment to fundamental freedoms and human rights must trump partisan political divisions as we work together to ensure American security. We must reject ethnic or racial stereotyping, we must protect religious freedom, we must protect civil and human rights, and we must stand together – to prevent losing even more than the lives we lost that day and the human rights we lost in the aftermath.


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