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What Are Your Demands?

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Don't be fooled by the complaints that the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn't got a clear set of demands. Everybody in a position of power knows exactly what the people want. They simply don't want to acknowledge it. Because, one issue at a time, the demands all boil down to one thing: we don't want you running the world any more. You're bad at it. Your motives are evil. The future you imagine is a vision of hell.

If I were in charge, I wouldn't want to acknowledge that, either.

It's an old trick: when an angry mob descends on your castle, ask what its demands are. The commoners will argue and bicker and eventually hand up a watered-down set of conditions for not torching the castle. Those can be negotiated down to a few easily-managed, cosmetic modifications to the status quo. Demands met, mob disperses. Nobody's happy, nothing has really changed.

History is rife with examples of this kind of thing. If your rule is met with popular resistance, insist on perfect clarity from the crowd. Get them arguing. Get them turned upon each other. It reinforces your power: they have to negotiate on your terms. The powerful know full well that a vast, systemic program of injustices cannot be opposed by a few bullet points on a list.

As often as not, the people dispense with the list, and bullet points become the points of bullets. Nobody wants that.

It's no surprise that most of the commercial media are ignoring this extraordinary story. They don't want to cover a massive popular mobilization against the powers-that-be in the United States. After all, the powers-that-be are writing their checks.

It was a different thing entirely to report on the Tea Party movement 24 hours a day. Its goals were in perfect keeping with the corporate powers. The Tea Party was easily manipulated, its agendas easily hijacked, because its members weren't for anything. They were just angry, and they would repeat almost any grievance suggested to them by their handlers, from denouncing environmental regulations and taxes on the super-rich, to insisting unions and school teachers were the source of all our problems. The only thing they were for, it seemed, was more wars.

So the Tea Party's membership got wall-to-wall media coverage for over two years. They were able to shoo candidates into office (which turned out to be a disaster for mainstream Republicans) and dominate every news cycle through the 2010 elections. Why? Because, in their nihilistic fury, these people wanted to accelerate the growth of a money-driven authoritarian state. That worked fine for the money-driven authorities.

Now, there is a powerful, growing movement -- a genuine populist movement not funded by the Koch Brothers or egged on by radio shock-jocks -- that demands the American government get out of bed with corporate money. No more revolving-door lobbyists, paid-off politicians, or highest-bidder politics. Right there you can see why nobody in power wants to address this.

But add to that the desire to address the destructive income gap between richest and poorest, reverse the concentration of wealth, energize the economy from the bottom up, retool our future work to a sustainable model for a rapidly changing global environment, and rebuild our infrastructure -- that we need a universal healthcare system not geared to profits but to wellness, rather than leaving millions of Americans to die for lack of resources -- and I'm willing to bet there is genuine fear in the halls of power.

We're not seeing it, of course. But there must be panic building in Washington, Wall Street, and the many other seats of political and industrial control. And those are just a few examples of the wrongs people want to address. The entire status quo is a disaster. It needs to be reinvented. That is a revolutionary idea.

If you are a reporter at one of the networks or the big news chains, you don't want to talk about this. Much easier to scoff at the dirty hippies -- look at that hair! Look at those tattoos! -- than to admit this is real Americans in their millions, starting to awaken from a long nightmare alongside similar awakenings around the world.

A list of demands is not going to arise from this movement. It's not about bumper sticker slogans and catchy signs. A real people's movement is far more complex and filled with nuance than that. What Occupy Wall Street (and now, beyond) is demanding is nothing less than a return of democracy to this country, and the overthrow of Big Money's stranglehold on our nation's future.

That's not a demand. It's a promise.

UPDATE: a list of issues has been released by the New York City General Assembly, the loose leadership of that protest: note that it is not a list of demands.
http://nycga.cc/2011/09/30/declaration-of-the-occupation-of-new-york-city/