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Suzanne O'Keeffe

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American Autumn in Los Angeles -- OccupyWallSt Joins Main Street

Posted: 10/04/11 05:20 PM ET

This spring, fundamental change came to a region many people considered the most stuck place in the world -- the Middle East. It began with only one or two people. In a matter of weeks and months, entrenched dictators toppled. 

This summer, sizable earthquakes rumbled through parts of this country that never know them. The shakeup put cracks in our symbolic center -- the Washington Monument. The earth itself echoed: anything can shift. 

And this fall? #OccupyWallStreet started in NYC Sept 17 -- the anniversary of the Constitution's signing -- and has taken hold. Sister protests began that day in San Francisco with OccupyFDSF and a few days later in OccupySeattle and OccupyChicago. Since, cities all across the country have Occupy groups setting up.

On October 1, Los Angeles began its occupation in front of City Hall. Participants in the movement say it brings Wall Street to Main Street. Within a week of its start, the OccupyLA Facebook page had over 4,400 likes. What's going on?

The movement is resonating because, as much as we like to argue and wail about politics, the bedrock underpinning our lives is not our government, it's our money system. We structure our lives around money and the laws of credit and debt and banks as if they were laws of physics. We operate as if the structures that exist have always existed and will always exist. 

But our chief financial institutions are corrupt. Investigations point to fraud throughout the system. The mortgage "bubble" was a scheme intended to rake in gigantic profits for the top while leaving a scorched earth of foreclosures, economic collapse, gutted government coffers and financially ruined families. 

According to William K. Black, a former bank regulator who exposed corruption during the S&L crisis in the 80's, every investigation has shown that this type of "control fraud" originates from the top, not from a few "rogue traders." Matt Taibbi's brilliant reporting in Rolling Stone has laid bare a den of epic thieves, comparing Goldman Sachs to "a great vampire squid." Zach Carter and William Alden here at HuffPost have exposed the looting in jaw-dropping forensic detail.

"Make no mistake: fraud is a business model," Janet Tavakoli, president of the Chicago-based consulting firm Tavakoli Structured Finance, told HuffPost recently.

The evidence mounts of wrong doing on a scale that, like the numbers of zeros on the bonus check of a hedge fund manager, cannot be fathomed by mere mortals. Things like Bank of America caught hiding $5.8 billion in bonuses from investors. The banks now push to ram through a "settlement" with the states' attorneys general -- until a few weeks ago, the lone law enforcement entities raising a stink -- before the general populace catches on.  

As a former Senate investigator despairs in one of Taibbi's reports, "Everything's f-ed up, and nobody goes to jail." 

Meanwhile, the influence of these corruptors in our politics and media is whole and primary. Most politicians -- like snowboarders hawking RedBull -- now say and do whatever they must to get "sponsored" by big money. After the Citizens United decision gave corporations the right to spend as lavishly as a Kardashian wedding on political campaigns, even the pretense of campaign finance legitimacy has evaporated. 

Mainstream media, at one with financial / corporate interests, is doing their part. It virtually ignores the stolen trillions and fraud (Dylan Ratigan's lonely cage-rattling aside), and instead is convincing people that the villains are teachers and janitors. This is a trick! It's insidious, slow motion brainwashing.

They are closing room after room until there's only one room left -- then they'll burn the house down

Vast numbers know there's something deeply wrong here. But we hesitate. The greedy will continue squeezing until we squawk, stealing until there's nothing left to steal.

Would we rather sell our children into debt slavery than challenge the overlords? 

What are we afraid of? The fear of institutions has been well programmed: the FBI, the IRS, the banks, the "government." We're afraid of our debt, our boss, losing a crap job, being evicted. We're afraid of agents provocateurs, mobs and power-crazed cops. We're afraid of being deceived (again). We're afraid that we'll never fix the vast problems. We're afraid of the devil we don't know.

We're afraid that if we do stand up for ourselves and they pull the plug and the system collapses, we'll all resort to guns and cannibalism within a week -- 'cause that's what the movies tell us.

We fall into the pit of despair, then stumble over into the next 14 pit-stops of apathy.

But perhaps, we've really been poised at a long moment of deciding what to do -- internally sorting it all out. Maybe we've been taking a breath and choosing. Carefully.

We have seen the example of London -- the riots and destruction. We've seen the example of Egypt. We've seen Libya, Spain, Greece. What is our path? What are we capable of? What do we choose? When you wake a sleeping tiger, it's best to have a plan.

By speaking up, by standing up, we also risk acknowledging our own pain. We risk admitting that we've been kidding ourselves. Egypt is us. No, actually, our income inequality is worse than Egypt's -- far worse. Ours is worse than in Greece, worse than Spain. Income is far more unequal here. Ours is worse than in Azerbaijan, worse than India, worse than Ghana. Many Americans would rather not tear to pieces the picture painted for us of the "land of opportunity."

But we now realize that we'd be fools to count on politicians to bust their deep-pocket benefactors. It is up to us to drive this reform.

We have to start by honoring our experience and what we know: for a land dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, people are deeply unhappy.

The OccupyWallStreet movement has attracted a diverse, articulate and educated group united in their resolve to unsnarl the tentacles of Wall Street's vampire squids from around society's arteries. It has indeed been non-violent, passionately democratic, intent, coherent and connected. We are the 99 percent is the most frequent refrain. Hear from the some of the coordinators and participants below in their own words.

We forget who we are -- our versatility, our flexibility, our passion for innovation, our willingness to help each other out in difficult times. Yes, we were all awed by the sweeping change in Egypt. But we're the ones who invented Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, pizza delivery and the Internet. If change can happen in such a stuck place... here, it should be a comparative walk in the park.

Everyone knows there's something wrong. If you're ready, pack your bags and go. Don't second guess. Send supplies. Spread the word. We are all in this together. One protester in OccupySanFrancisco carried the ultimate sign: "We the People are Too Big to Fail."

Update: See video of the start of #occupylosangeles.

Mario Britto, 37, OccupyLosAngeles, full-time student, 20 year veteran with the labor movement

Why are we doing this? This is a logical reaction to an illogical situation. So much of the wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population, and that 1% doesn't pay the same tax rates because of loopholes and breaks. Corporations are considered people and participate in democracy at the same level as citizens, though they don't have a heart that concerns itself with the conditions of the common man. You see those responsible -- who gambled with people's pension funds, who engineered predatory lending -- they get bailed out, while regular honest people -- people who've been in their homes for 20 years -- are being kicked out.

It's socialized risk and private gain. It's hypercapitalism.

It's like a theocracy or monarchy, only our king is Fox News and our church is Burger King -- they're the ruling parties.

When faced with this you react. The anger is universal for everybody.

Our Intent is to occupy city hall -- we'll be encircling it. In the evening, there's a candlelight vigil, lighting for liberty, justice and truth in the heart of the city. We don't have a Wall Street here -- we're taking it from Wall Street to Main Street. We're all going to unite.

I haven't seen egos -- everyone's willing to step up and get things done. It's a very diverse movement that's looking for ways to work together and not work apart.


Bethania Palma, 34, OccupyLosAngeles



I've got debt up to my ears -- I'm not blaming anyone for that. But I'd been working and working for ten years, and my salary stayed the same. The last two years it was cut. It's a slow, wicked thing. The next thing you know you can't afford food, you can't afford gas -- you think, 'How did that happen?'



In this group, everything is decided collectively via general assembly meetings -- it's a horizontal organization. The general thread, though, is we want to see a change in the way the financial system is structured and the way that people are treated in that financial system. Right now it's macro feudalism, there's so little mobility. On the political influence level, we want to address the campaign finance system -- regular people have no voice compared to big corporations.



Those who go to college end up in a massive amount of debt... and there's not a lot of jobs. How are they going to make that obligation? A lot of people here are facing that now -- they're very educated and they're not messing around. This movement is something to hold on to -- everything else been taken away from them.


Casey Dominguez, in his 20's, OccupySanFrancisco, graphic designer, photographer, musician



The young people -- tens of thousands are working full-time and barely making it. They're so afraid of the financial slavery put on them. It shouldn't have to be that way. The 1% of the country own so much of the wealth. For anyone to grow up uneducated -- there's no viable reason why that should happen.



We need community, sustainability. But corporations, they're not going to be for that because it's not going to help their business. It's not going to sell more burgers.



This is the next natural step in America. Here it's more complicated than Egypt. They had a simple demand -- get out. Our demand is more in the way that money is handled in relation to our government. We are chipping away at that.



There's no way you can change all the problems in this action. We're making people not be afraid.



We do have the power of the people -- we are not controlled by others -- but we haven't exercised it in a long time. I blame debt -- to these large companies.



The spirit of the protest is to be democratic -- it will be very obvious what that demand will be when we come together. What's been separating our country is the money that's controlling it.


Ashley, 22, OccupySanFrancisco


I'm a grad student -- when I got out of college, I couldn't find a job. Right now, you can't get an education unless you have credit and loans. Everyone I know (that has a job) just has part-time retail jobs. That doesn't pay the bills. Trying to keep their credit good in this economy -- it's almost impossible.



It's scary for us. Not everyone has parents they can go and live with after college. No one's really paying attention.



We do care -- for me, for my generation, we're planning our protests in our own way. But we're not yet doing what we're capable of doing as a generation. We need to use our strengths.


Heidi Sulzdorf, 28, OccupyLosAngeles, former Ph.D. candidate, recent transplant to LA.



The diversity of the group is incredible -- language, age, race, different abilities, connection to other communities in LA. I'm struck by how personable and open everyone is. They're down and talking to each other in each group -- Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party, Independents. Institutions are being created as we're needing them. It's happening quickly -- so exponentially fast. There are a million things happening at this very moment.



Today we went into the metro to publicize with fliers and face to face interaction with people. We ask them: has their home been foreclosed on? Plainly economic injustice is a problem in this country. It's been incredible the response. Every single person we talk to asks, 'How can we help? What can we do?'



We're publicizing that we have the power and the people to make a difference.


 

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