[september17discuss] Five demands from the NYCGA: how to link the struggle for democracy to the struggle for social and economic justice
I apologize for being off-list and off-the-streets for a few days, but I was lucky enough to become a father on September 17!
I personally believe that the obstination of some members of the NYCGA on not having demands has proved disastrous and resulted in a PR debacle. Invariably, almost all mainstream media accounts of the protests note that the demonstrators have confused ideas and are probably motivated by merely ideological motives.
Further, this refusal of having demands has nothing to do with the current movements in the Middle East, Spain and Greece all of which have clear and loud demands. In the case of Arab countries and Middle Eastern autocracies the demand cannot be but one (remove the dictator). In Greece and Spain the situation is more complex but the movements there have been able to develop specific analyses and requests. In particular the Joint Economics Working Group of Syntagma Square and Puerta del Sol have drafted a document (http://bit.ly/npCWkg) that lists a specific set of demands, such as the request of nationalizing the banks, withdrawing the EU/IMF Memorandum imposed on Greece, make the accounting records transparent, and so forth.
As I have previously suggested, the three simple demands that the NYCGA should have raised in the call to Occupy Wall Street should have been:
1) Reintroduction of the Glass-Steagall Act,
a law regulating the bank system that separated investment banks from commercial banks. This law, originally approved in 1933 and signed into law by FDR has been repealed in 1999. As Wikipedia simply states it, "Most economists believe this repeal directly contributed to the severity of the Financial crisis of 2007–2011 by allowing Wall Street investment banking firms to gamble with their depositors' money that was held in commercial banks owned or created by the investment firms." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass–Steagall_Act 2)Immediate introduction of a Tobin Tax or Robin Hood Tax on all financial transactions both at a national and international level. On a national level, it would be sufficient for Congress to pass it. On an international level, the IMF could subordinate loans to countries in debt to the introduction of a Tobin Tax instead of requiring massive privatizations as it ordinarily does through the notorious structural adjustment programs. In Europe, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy have officialized their support to the introduction of such tax in the EU about three weeks ago. Last June over 1,000 economist submitted a letter by 1,000 economists to the G20 last April that explains why the idea of a global Robin Hood Tax has “come of age.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/apr/13/robin-hood-tax-economists-letter) Robinhoodtax.org, a web site run by a British NGO that explains in very simple terms how it works and how much revenue it could generate. The NGO also has a Facebook page.
3) Raise taxes on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains by pairing the long-term capital gains tax rate (which applies to financial assets held for more than a year) to the ordinary income tax rates. At the moment, thanks to the Tax Reconciliation Act signed by Bush into law in 2006 and extended by the Obama administration to 2012 and beyond, capital gains cannot be taxed more than 20% whereas income tax is taxed up to 35%. This means that if your wage falls for example in the $35,000-83,000 bracketyour income tax is 25% whereas if you make 1, 10, or 100 million dollars on the stock market your pay 20% only. Even Warren Buffett says that this system is openly unjust and that the current taxation system is profoundly unbalanced and skewed towards financial profit. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html)
These three proposals are far from revolutionary yet they could begin raising specific questions and help bring a variety of subjects into the conversation. The notion that a movement is defined by its demands is ridiculous. A social movement is much more than a set of demands yet demands help those who are not on your side understand who you are and where you come from.
Two other critical points that should be discussed in the GA are the public funding of political campaigns and the two-party system. A paramount political objective should be to get corporations to stop funding political candidates. You cannot have real democracy with the current system of fundraising. A truly democratic system would give each citizen a tax bonus of the SAME AMOUNT and enable each one of us to decide how to allocate such money. A truly democratic society should also not rely on forms of political representation based on a majoritarian (first-past-the-post) electoral system. If we are the 99% of the country, then we ought to be able to convince the rest of the nation that the 99% counts in fact nothing. And corporate funding and the two-party system should be the two main targets of a campaign for real democracy.
To sum up, the question of the redistribution of wealth and democratic control over the financial system cannot be disconnected from the question of political representation. Organizing a movement that fights "against representative politics" does not mean in my opinion to fight against *any* form of representation, but certainly against the current system of representation. We are over 6 billions on this planet. Thinking that each individual should have the right to decide on every issue in every part of the world at all times may sound fascinating but it is simply unrealistic and unrealizable. Whether we like it or not, we constantly delegate to others the understanding of issues and execution of tasks we simply do not have the time to understand and care about. (The worldwide professionalization of national armies and the advanced specialization of knowledge in scientific and academic research are just two notable cases in point).
Thus the question is not how to abolish authority and representation per se but how to produce forms of representation that are truly representative, renewable and non-ossified. The NYCGA could be such a body, once we live behind the rather childish notion that demands define us and by defining us trap us in some blind alley from which we'll be unable to move forward.