Everyone is asking what the Occupy movement stands for. Rarely do our answers reflect the scope of the aspiration that has brought us, and so many like us, into the streets. With the support of growing majorities worldwide, millions are protesting because we feel an urgent need to transform our society from a militaristic, greed-based, corrupt culture to one of cooperation, caring, and prosperity. A society in which government serves its people rather than the plutocracy now controlling it.
One of us (Liz Abzug) created and introduced the term "equalist" a few years ago, believing that it more fully characterizes the next phase of feminism. The General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street recognized the importance of equalizing women's voices early on and developed protocols for the Assembly and working groups to provide equal time for women to act as spokespeople for the movement and to express their views at meetings, even at times when there were more men than women waiting to speak.
As many of the Occupy camps work to organize for both protest and political impact, it is essential that the movement represents all of us -- that women, and people from different classes and backgrounds, feel that their voices are heard.
"Equalism" is asserting the equalist right of any citizen, regardless of economic position, race, gender, orientation, identity, or belief, to participate in -- and be served equally -- by our government. Equalism is the opposite of asserting the right of any individual or group over another.
Equalism is the means by which the optimistic, populist objectives of the Occupy protest, shared by a majority of Americans, can become reality.
In essence equalism means people power -- one person equaling one vote, instead of $3 billion in corporate lobbyist money for TV ads delivering tens of millions of votes. It means the peaceful transfer of power from the corporate and billionaire funders of political campaigns to the voters themselves.
The Second American Revolution that many Americans hope the Occupy movement ushers in is about our citizens reclaiming those "self-evident truths" proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. The Revolution of 1776 launched the then radical notion that each citizen, regardless of birth, class, or income, should have an equal vote to elect a government whose power is derived solely from the "consent of the governed."
A majority of the members of Congress today owe their elections to a far more powerful constituency than individual voters. They are beholden to multinational corporations who typically, through their lobbyists and executives, "donate" millions of dollars for each congressional election to purchase the TV ads now deemed "necessary" to win elections. Once elected, members of Congress spend more than half their time raising money for their re-elections and "working with" the representatives of their campaign donations, instead of their constituents, to write and pass laws.
Equalization is about equalizing the power of any individual voter so that it will be greater than that of a corporation and equal to that of a voter who is a billionaire. To accomplish this, we feel that each citizen needs to "be the change we want to see" by becoming the media. This means replacing TV ads, and political coverage on corporate-controlled media, with our own actions on social networks that provide direct expression of our points of view. In this way, we can offset the marginalization of the American citizen by corporations and billionaires.
Our objective in creating the new post-partisan non-profit BeYourGovernment.org is to provide a free online system for citizens to use their social networks to support candidates (of any or no party) willing to run for office without the corrupting influence of the corporate funders of multimillion dollar TV ad campaigns. A demo of the system, which will officially launch next month on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, can be viewed at www.BeYourGovernment.org. Our beta site showcases our candidates' video debate forum, free political homepages for all citizens, and platform pages for any congressional candidates who pledge to represent people and not corporations.
As we work to equalize the playing field for honest "pro-99%" candidates to run for Congress, we feel that a true re-creation of government must also equalize the number of women and men elected to Congress. Most American women we speak to, all over the country, say they do not want to run for office because of the corrupting process of party politics and elections. But social networks and broadband-delivered web video now offer an alternative to the corrupting multimillion dollar TV ad campaigns. Far more Americans are on Facebook than will vote in the 2012 election. If millions of Occupy-supporting citizens can use their personal networks to share political expression with friends and relatives, then we have a chance to recreate government with a grassroots, bottom-up selection and election process.
We believe that if voters can hear what they offer, then new pro-99% candidates who refuse corporate funding will win primaries and elections, even when competing with more "experienced" professional politicians and incumbents.
A Second American Revolution will result from electing a congressional majority -- half of them women -- without corporate money. Is there any doubt that such a government would better represent the people of this country than the Congress we have now, which has the approval of less than 10% of voters? Imagine a government of representatives who do not receive one dime in donations from Wall Street, Big Pharma, the oil industry, or the military industrial complex. Imagine a Congress where the members are regular working people from all backgrounds and professions and where women constitute half of the House and Senate.
Then look at our reality today. The United States now ranks 70th in the world in terms of the number of women in Congress or Parliament, behind almost every developed democracy on earth. Our country also ranks 24th in Transparency International's ranking of honest governments, and 37th in health care outcomes.
These three facts are not unrelated. They grow from the corruption that class warfare by billionaires has brought to our government. Nor is it unrelated that America's military spending is greater than every other major nation's military budgets combined. And why are we the only modern democracy without a living wage for its workers? The only modern democracy to reduce environmental regulation during this age of climate crisis and environmental destruction? The only one to force millions of citizens into bankruptcy to pay for health care? How is it that we have the highest incarceration rate on earth--alongside the world's largest, most profitable private prison system? And why are we the only modern democracy in which corporations with billions in profits pay no taxes, and billionaires pay lower tax rates than janitors?
All of this is the result of a very effective, congressionally-enabled class warfare campaign that in just 30 years has nearly tripled the percentage of all income that goes to the wealthiest 1%. This represents the greatest redistribution of wealth upwards of any modern democratic nation in history.
What has inspired us most about our conversations with the young activists who are in the front lines of the Occupy movement is their optimism: their unrelenting belief that our society can undergo transformative change and create a caring, cooperative, truly democratic and functioning system. Never before have we heard such optimism expressed by young people, who have broken free of apathy and poured into the streets in numbers unseen since the seventies.
They are occupying, and so are we. We will not stand for business as usual while our lives, our families, our communities, and our planet are systematically looted and denigrated to benefit 1% of the wealthiest Americans.
The Occupy movement, uplifting millions in communities large and small, is acting like the nervous system of our society: screaming out for justice to end the searing pain caused by economic disparity and environmental degradation.
The political establishment, with their armies of riot police and a corporate-controlled media echo chamber, has worked incessantly to marginalize and diminish this movement. They are failing. And they are frightened, because they sense that their ability to control the voters is coming to an end.
We believe that as the Occupy movement becomes an equalization movement, as we use our voices and our social networks to www.OccupyGovernment.org, as we take the "buck out of the ballot," as we become and assist candidates with integrity to take over Congress and create an honest government, as we bring the people to power, our dream will become a reality.
A strong, healthy, and enlightened democracy is within our reach.
Liz Abzug runs a national public affairs management consulting business, and is an Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies and Women and Leadership at Barnard College/Columbia University. She is the founder of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI), an organization that inspires and trains girls and young women to be future leaders. She is also a founding board member of BeYourGovernment.org. As an attorney and activist, she has served at various senior levels in federal, state, and local government.
Jonathan Greenberg, an investigative journalist, author, and new media executive, is a part of Occupy Sebastopol and the Executive Director of the new non-profit BeYourGovernment.org. He was also the founder of three other Internet companies: Gist.com, TV1.com, and Progressive Source Communications. Thirty years ago, he was the lead reporter for the first Forbes 400 listing of the wealthiest Americans.