Remarks by the President on a series of uprisings

"Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. (...)The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly..."  Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa | The White House. May 11, 2011. #occupy.


  1. People who want to compare OWS to the Arab Spring are being ridiculous.  We have what they want- a representative democracy.  

    If the wall street protesters in the US hadn’t sat around on their asses in 2010, ceding the race to the teapartiers, a hell of a lot of what they want would still be possible to accomplish legislatively.  Instead, we ended up with a bunch of insane reactionary assholes running congress and blocking even the most modest of reforms and attempting to sabotage all growth and job creation, all in the hopes of defeating Obama next year.

    1. And judging from their actions, who is it the members of this representative government actually represent? It has been so long that we have simply taken it as an axiom that politicians lie, that we must sometimes think about what the implications of that simple fact are for our systems of government in the West. Someone who doesn’t do what they were voted in to do are therefore, whatever nomenclature you might otherwise use, not actually representing the wishes of their constituents. Then, if you insist that they are representing *someone*, the question becomes “whom?”.

      Granted, the situation in 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, 10 Downing Street, and similar addresses may be more complicated than is well known on the street. You can argue that they are still acting as faithful deputies of their constituents even if they must make choices that the public isn’t happy about. But *the onus is on the deputy*. If the people are not convinced that their best interests are being represented, that represents at least a partial failure of the system.

      We are a long way yet from the level of drama of the Arab Spring, but don’t let stale solecisms dating from just after WWII keep you from thinking about the nature of your government.

      1. I’m quite well aware of the nature of my government.  And as I said, a huge amount of what OWS says they want was on it’s way to being dealt with before the teapartiers swept into power.  Now there’s basically no chance of it happening, protests or not.

    2. Inconveniently, “structurally democratic government with a fair number of elected officials” and “representative democracy” have the same org charts; but they are only sometimes operationally identical.

      In the US case, there is a pretty strong argument to be made that the “representative” bit has been slipping pretty sharply, even as adherence to the formal requirements of electoral democracy has been largely maintained, outside some of the more shadowy branches of government.

    3. I think its important to remember that the protests really aren’t about Democrat or Republican or Tea Party or whatever.  The core of the protests is that the will of the people isn’t being represented anymore, that its now just the will of the corporations. You can say the people still vote for their government, but corporations give them their choices and frame the entire election. That’s insane, and hardly the way a representative democracy should be functioning.

      And I’m sure every great movement in history has seemed impossible to achieve in its early days. The civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and the anti-Vietnam war movements probably all seemed pretty bleak at the outset. In my opinion patience is really really important, as is optimism, and of course a shitload of work and energy and persistence.

    4. Yes, we have a representative government: a government that mainly represents corporate interests.

      Both the Arab Spring and OWS aim to change systems where government does not represent the interests of the people. And in both cases government meets peaceful protests with violence.

      That doesn’t seem like a “ridiculous” comparison to me.

      1. And how exactly does OWS aim to change the system?  All the concrete demands I’ve seen have been things that can be accomplished legislatively, or (eventually) through changes to the makeup of the supreme court.  Things that we, unlike the Arabs, can do ourselves within the confines of our existing democratic system.

        There’s a reason Lessig has been gently pointing the protesters towards K Street instead of Wall Street.  

        1. Asking how OWS will change the system is like asking how a campaign ad can pass legislation. A campaign ad can’t vote in congress. But it can get someone elected to congress. And that person can pass legislation. OWS can’t change the system, but it can get people involved in changing the system.

          OWS is, I hope, just a catalyst that will get more people demanding that their “representatives” represent the people rather than special interests, change the law and the constitution if necessary to prevent corporations from controlling the political process, and return us to government of the people and for the people.

          1. As I said before, I’d be a whole lot more likely to believe that might happen if the OWS crowd hadn’t basically sat on their ass two years ago and ceded everything to the teaparty.  

            And even more likely to believe that might happen if there was even the slightest hint of the protesters actually doing something politically.  Instead, we’re getting the exact opposite of political engagement, as witnessed in this thread and ongoing cynical snark emanating from the Boing Boing editors on this subject.

          2. “I’d be a whole lot more likely to believe that might happen if the OWS crowd hadn’t basically sat on their ass two years ago and ceded everything to the teaparty.”

            Sorry, this just does not actually make sense on any level. What is this “everything” that has been ceded to the Tea Party? Why do you believe that people can’t do something now, just because they didn’t do it when you think they ought to have done it? 

            “…if there was even the slightest hint of the protesters actually doing something politically.” 

            Since when is protesting not political? Polls show a majority of the US population supportive of OWS. They’re on the front page of the New York Times. Protests are spreading. More and more people are questioning why we have a political system that works for the benefit of a few but does little or nothing for the many. That *is* politics.

            I do think there has to be a next phase. Protesting isn’t enough in the long term. My own view is that just as the Tea Party took over the Republicans, OWS has to take over the Democratic Party. The Tea Party ran insurgent campaigns against sitting GOP representatives, and got the party running scared and running to the right. I think a new and more radical wing of the Democratic party could be established, pushing the Dems back into the position of representing the people.

            “we’re getting the exact opposite of political engagement, as witnessed in this thread and ongoing cynical snark.”

            There you go again. Since when is “snark” not part of the political process? 

            I kind of admire your faith that we have a political process that isn’t hopelessly corrupt. It’s touching.

        2. If OWS’s demands can be created through the current system then those demands aren’t going to solve any long term problems.

          It’d be like putting a band-aid on a severed limb.

          Liberals think conservatives are to blame, conservatives think liberals are to blame, and the circle goes round and round.  Part of the issue lies in the fact that our representatives are looking out for themselves first, us second, and possibly our country a distant third.  When laws/regulations are made that can effectively remove corporate influence through lobbying, term limits are applied, and representative are found that care about the good of this country not about starting a career on Capitol Hill then maybe any amount of new reform will not devolve back to this point.

          Creating laws to deal with current issues only pushes our current set of issues forward for the next generation to deal with.  The bigger issue in all this is how do you force your representatives to effectively end their careers, drastically reduce their income (not necessarily their paychecks), and focus on their country when they are the 1%?

          1. I’m on that conservative side, but I am not blind to the fact that there are values/points on the conservative side that are not in the benefit of the country.  Just like I’ll say there are valid and good points from the liberal side, and points/values that are not in the benefit of everyone.

            This is simply my opinion, but I see the conservative side trying to fix things by looking at the past (typically with those rose colored glasses on).  While the liberal side looks toward a more progressive future (again while over looking things that can/will cause problems).  Both sides want something better than what it is now, but how it comes about is vastly different. 

            And that is what I see as a larger part of the problem.  There is no long term plan or goals.  It’s about right now, not 10 years from now.  If the President, Congress, and Senate all had to set down and hammer out a “10 year” plan and sign off on it, stick to it, and make it happen everyone would benefit.  Doing things like pushing tax breaks out another 5 years when you aren’t in office anymore helps no one and is simply a political move.

          2. Liberals ARE overlooking something while planning for the future. They’re looking right past all the conservatives… because the conservatives have hostages. 

        3. OWS may need more than a few weeks to pull it all together. I think their contribution is building awareness across the country. IF the ideas OWS seems partial to could be accomplished legislatively, it would require different campaign finance regulations. New regulations would give citizens the chance to renew the promise of representative government. The politicians like their power more than they care about the country. I agree that we are more free than citizens in the Middle East, but freedom is a fragile matter.  OWS represents the countervailing idea that the government is ours, not theirs, as politicians have come to believe and we must resist in every way possible. Building a consensus about the control of our government by a few rich people and their corporate sponsors is a huge goal in itself. Just look at the reaction!

    5. We don’t have a representative democracy because (for instance) none of my supposed representatives represent me or my views, or pay any attention to the frequent emails, phone calls, and letters they’ve received from me and those in my district who agree with me.   We were redistricted (by the Texas lege at the demand of  Tom DeLay and the  Bush Administration) whose intent was to make every district GOP safe.   They made it with us.  The GOP representatives and senators at both state and national levels are immune to us–bought and paid for by far deeper pockets than we possess.   Then there are the lying scum who–in a period when we still had a chance–ran as Democrats but turned Republican as soon as they were elected.

      And of course there’s the control of the media so that the continual lies from Fox and the silences or soft questions from the alphabet networks  leave many people convinced the lies are true.   Convinced that we still have a representative democracy and not a tightly controlled oligarchy. oligarchy that does not intend to allow democracy to have a chance.   The last thing they want is a representative democracy–hence all the new restrictions on voting access, the redistricting, and so on. 

    6. Your faith in Democrats is charming in its innocence. People are out in the street because they know that change no longer comes from the ballot box, and that the business elite has all the rights of citizenship, but none of the responsibilities. Wall St. is the symbolic center of that power and looting. And once again, there is an occupydc as well.

    7. If the wall street protesters in the US hadn’t sat around on their asses in 2010, ceding the race to the teapartiers, a hell of a lot of what they want would still be possible to accomplish legislatively.

      – Democrats have a majority in the Senate – not enough to break a filibuster.
      – There was a Democratic majority in the house – still couldn’t get anything passed without being watered down to meaninglessness.
      – Mister Hopey Change is in the White House.

      Explain to me again how that legislative accomplishment thing works.

    8. So you essentially are blaming the protesters for the election of the Tea Party reps? How’s that work?

  2. “Representative” may have taken a blow–it always will as long as money=free speech–but allowing conservatives to control the government is never going to bring the representative element back. Any legal and ethical means to limit their influence in government must be used or they will destroy whats left of it.

    1. Money=Free Speech only because of the Citizens United decision.  A 5-4 decision made by a conservative majority that exists ONLY because of the election of George Bush.  Something that happened in no small part due to this sort of cynical “both parties are the same, corporations own us” crap.  Crap we heard immediately prior to the 2000 elections from the anti-globalization folks, and now from the OWS people.

      1. Long before the Citizens United ruling, representative democracy has been seriously undermined. It has been compromised ever since millions of dollars were required to get elected. As long as politicians (especially now at the State level) have to raise millions, some are predicting BILLIONS this election cycle, the government is corrupted by the effort required to collect the money and the compromises demanded by those who give their money. Cit.U. further opened the corruption flood gates. Competition for money and the secretive process set up for donors, accelerates the demise of representative government. But it was well on its way before Cit. U!

  3. I have some constructive criticism for liberals, and I’m only saying this because I love you: Don’t put all your eggs in the government basket.

    Nearly every liberal solution I’ve heard repeated depends on a government initiative. But great numbers of Americans are conservative. Possibly the majority. Any plan you have that depends on their cooperation *isn’t going to work.*

    You need to be able to network and get things done outside the framework of electoral politics. Conservatives have fundamentalist churches. Perhaps you could have service organizations like Lions Club. And if you create a large enough set of social institutions that further your goals without legislation, something magic will happen: Liberals will benefit from small government more than conservatives.

    1. Whoa whoa…. are you a conservative talking about doing some “community organizing?”  Har har.

      No, you’re right, social institutions can help foster a climate for political change. But a lot of the problems we saw in 2008 from the financial sector were set into motion by a wave of deregulation in the 80s and 90s. So part of the solution is simply to re-enact some of those regulations, such as the Glass-Steagall act. The solution must be “more government” in some way, because who else can have oversight and apply pressure to massive, powerful corporations? The vote of the consumer isn’t powerful enough, as we have already seen.

      Capital is like water. If allowed, it will all just run into the ocean; it will consolidate. Economic policy is like irrigation; building dams and water-ways via particular methods of regulating wealth and where it can be used, how it can be invested, where the best return will be.

      That’s not communism, it’s economics.

  4. Not a conservative. More like an economically agnostic liberal. I understand what you’re saying about the the tendency of capital to consolidate in the absence of regulation. But in order to have regulation, you have to hand power to a centralized agency that might be in the wrong hands tomorrow, or for that matter, might secretly be in the wrong hands *now.* Worse, anything you accomplish through legislation can at least as easily be reversed.

    If you work by changing culture, your results will be more robust. For instance, I really like the idea of National Bank Transfer Day, where everyone closes out their bank account and moves to a credit union. Total number of local jobs stays the same, money given to influential corporations is reduced, and credit unions offer better terms anyway. No opponent had to be convinced, and no one can reverse the effects.

    I’m not suggesting that anyone stop trying to influence law and government. I’m saying diversify.

  5. I would not personally compare our movements here with that of the Arab Spring because I find it difficult having not been there. I have, however seen people who are and have participated in civil protests in the middle east, comparing theirs to the Occupy movement and while doing so in solidarity. I respect that.

  6. “…you have to hand power to a centralized agency that might be in the wrong hands tomorrow, or for that matter, might secretly be in the wrong hands *now.*”

    This is simply false, provided of course that our political system functions as advertised. The social change that we need is so basic though that it will probably never happen. If we had an educated engaged populace we wouldn’t be where we are today.

    If our citizens had enough breathing room to see how wrong everything is then anyone with the ‘wrong hands’ would be quickly and decisively rid from the system. In order to reach that sort of engagement we must somehow break the stranglehold on finances held by the elite.

    1. I thought the whole point of OWS was that our political system does not function as advertised.

      I think we’re missing some basic research here. Yes, there’s a stranglehold on finances held by the elite, but how is that happening? Would any legislation fix it? I’m sure many people are rich because they have sweetheart deals with corrupt legislators, and that needs to be seen to, but I have a feeling most of the elite have money because we continuously hand it to them. Changing that requires a change in culture, not law. People need to learn to do commerce with peers when possible, and not corporations.

  7. It’s tempting to believe that the Arab Spring was about those benighted brown people wanting to be more like us.      “Oh, look, that funny little man wants democracy!”

    It’s like believing that terrorists hate us because we are so strong and wonderful, and not because we paid for the weapons that were used to kill their parents and children.

    In reality, I think most of the Arabs were/are chanting about how corrupt and evil their rulers were/are, and really don’t hanker for “democracy” as it’s found in the Western world.

    Recent polls and elections seem to show that most of them would like to live in an Islamic Republic ruled on fairly lenient theocratic grounds.   Perhaps they think theocrats are less likely to sell children’s organs to corporations by the pound (I myself disagree on that view).

  8. Sure is funny how most of the folks leaving comments are so quick to lay blame on this side or that side,  yet those same folks are not really offering any suggestions for a solution.

    Blame the other guys, its all their fault!

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