During a Saturday afternoon discussion with my mother and sister we ran the stack, using the Occupy Wall Street technique for managing the order of speakers. We each agreed tacitly to the process as reflected by the civil tone and lower than usual quantity of interruptions among family members. Now that we know about the technique, the novelty may have worn off, but in that moment, it worked.
We did not use the other hand signs, and my sister, who works at a branch of Wells Fargo in a financially stressed neighborhood, said her company was feeling no pain from the bank withdrawals. Part of her job is opening and closing accounts. When I told her of my plan to pay off our Wells Fargo mortgage after the first of the year, she indicated my action wouldn’t be a blip on their radar screen either. I understood the veracity of what she said.
During a soap box session at Occupy Iowa City, one speaker addressed us as to how he valued the service Wells Fargo provided by being a nationwide bank where he could have his payments direct deposited and then draw on them wherever he was in the country. In the end, people who don’t have much money can find value with the services of large banking institutions, and the Occupy Wall Street movement has failed to gain enough anti-bank support to have the Wall Street gang concerned about the drain of deposits. A telling story from my sister was that her first client to close an account to move money to a credit union, after Occupy Quad Cities began, ended with the question, “If I close my account, can I come back in two weeks?” People in the 99 percent need to keep their options open.
Friday night, I attended a meeting with Occupy Cedar Rapids that included a potluck dinner, a general assembly and a teach-in. I was there to listen and learn about Occupy Cedar Rapids, and to conduct a session on nuclear non-proliferation and how the current discussion about rebuilding our electricity generation and distribution system is an opportunity for a wealth transfer to the one percent. By this I mean that should Berkshire Hathaway choose to invest in a nuclear reactor in Iowa, because it is a regulated utility, return on investment would be set by the Iowa Utilities Board. There is a bill in the Iowa legislature today that would remove legal impediments to collecting a “full rate of return” for investors like Berkshire Hathaway. The deal could be worth billions in interest payments from people who use electricity and Warren Buffet, a member of the one percent, heads up Berkshire Hathaway. Hence, it would be a transfer of wealth from the 99 percent to the one percent through our utility bills.
What I observed during the general assembly was a long discussion about obtaining a “special event” permit for the occupation on a residential lot owned by the City of Cedar Rapids. An official from the city presented a letter to the general assembly that requested an application for the permit by the following Tuesday. Some members of the general assembly felt any decision on a permit application needed to be more inclusive than the members present Friday night, so the idea was “tabled.” The general assembly members apparently didn’t understand what tabling something means. Since people wanted to talk about it, and in a leaderless movement, there is no real authority to stop the discussion, it continued, and from my perspective, it was all good even if no action came from it.
Here is my point. The Occupy Wall Street movement seems more occupied with process than with substance in its early days. There have been demonstrations with substance, like shutting down the Port of Oakland, but not enough of them. It remains an open question whether Occupy Wall Street will create social change, or do much beyond becoming a fungible idea for media fodder and the derision of people Iowa City resident Paul Street recently called “vicious white upper middle-class Republico-fascists.” While many of us have hope for this movement, we are watching with interest to see if it survives the sub-zero temperatures of winter, and whether it can broaden support among a 99 percent who are more engaged in the struggle of living their lives.
~ Paul Deaton is a native Iowan who lives in rural Iowa.