Monday, January 16, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: Pro & Cons For The Libertarian Activist

Libertarian Party activists seem to be divided as to whether Occupy Wall Street demonstrations present an opportunity to spread and market the libertarian message or in no way reflect libertarian ideals. This deep division was in evidence at the Libertarian Party of Queens County's Annual Convention held at Bohemian Hall in Astoria, New York on Saturday, January 14, 2012.

Rocco Fama, a former member of the Libertarian Party of Queens County, who now lives in Staten Island, was the Guest Speaker. He spoke on the topic of "Mass Movements As Market Opportunities (for the Libertarian Party): Occupy Wall Street & Beyond". In attendance at the meeting was Ed Konecnik, a current member of the Libertarian Party of Queens County, who held a different opinion about Occupy Wall Street. A summary of Rocco Fama's presentation and an Open Letter written by Ed Konecnik appear below.

Rocco Fama - "Mass Movements As Market Opportunities: Occupy Wall Street & Beyond"

The main political theme unifying most OWS demonstrators is Socio-Economic & Political Inequality. The basic belief that the more money you have, the more you can influence government and the more regulations will favor them at the expense of consumers and laborers. There would, therefore, be less inequality by just opening up the free market. Many demonstrators would argue they are not against capitalism but only against crony capitalism.

Many Occupy Wall Street demonstrators voted for Obama and are now quite disillusioned. These individuals are ripe for recruitment into the Libertarian Party. Dallwyn Merck, LPQC Secretary, has been in Zuccotti Park since the beginning spreading libertarian principles. He is well-spoken and with time on his hands. More libertarian activists need to be there.

Occupy Wall Street is a community with a great deal of organization and there are rules all demonstrators must follow. The "Good Neighbor Policy", arrived at after negotiations with the Local Community Board, includes rules against drinking, doing drugs or drumming (before 11:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.).

There is the General Assembly, a decision making body open to anyone. They make decisions on a consensus basis. As a voter, you can step back and abstain or you can vote "no" and decide to end your association with Occupy Wall Street. In some cases, majority decisions are allowed. The General Assembly votes on the allocation of funds. While they once had up to a million dollars in their account, they now have $200,000.00. As examples, money is given out for Metro Cards, $10,000.00 a week for food, and to pay churches for letting demonstrators sleep there overnight.

The second body is called the Spokescouncil, which includes representatives from all the Working Groups. Some of the Working Groups deal with Sanitation, Anti-War, Kitchen, Comfort, Lending Library, Medics Professionals, other Policy & Philosophy Groups and a Demands Working Group that has not yet made any demands since demands open the door to negotiations and they don't feel the government would be a reliable partner in said negotiations. Spokespeople do not generally have the authority to make a decision on behalf of their group. If  they do agree to an action, they must go back to their group to get the action ratified. Working groups are required to rotate representation.

Many meetings of the General Assembly, the Spokescouncil and the Working Groups meet at 60 Wall Street (a public atrium) in Manhattan. All decisions only affect New York Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Movements in other cities are independent.

While it is true that some Occupy Wall Street demonstrators seek greater government regulation and more government benefits, many want to End The Fed, bring an end to Foreign Military Entanglements and other issues with which libertarians would agree. Demonstrators include Progressives, Socialists, Libertarians and Communists. The communists there believe in a classless, stateless society where everyone pitches in and helps and where all decisions are made communally. Marxism is dying in radical politics. Marxists active in OWS are considered either very stupid or very old.

About a quarter of OWS demonstrators would identify as some type of anarchist and OWS is organized along anarchist principles. While it may seem a contradiction that anarchy is order, it really is people coming together to form groups they wish to join without the interference of government.

Zuccotti Park is privately owned public space. In a 1968 agreement with U.S. Steel, the government allowed them to build 9 extra floors on its building in return for their donating to the city a park that was supposed to remain accessible to the public 24 hours a day. However you feel about the government coercion that led to that agreement, a contract was signed and the demonstrators have a constitutional right to express themselves. Recently, the barricades have been removed and the demonstrators have returned to Zuccotti Park but park regulations against sleeping bags and requirements to keep circulating paths open are being enforced.

In the future, some have argued the physical occupation is coming to an end because it is exhausting OWS resources and that in the future, OWS actions will be more targeted such as actions to squat at foreclosed homes or at the headquarters of particular corporate entities. Blockades so the military industrial complex cannot get their goods out of the factory are also being considered. When and if donations dry up, some are considering getting land, growing food and squatting. Other ideas include using their money to make micro-loans to demonstrators to go out and start their own businesses.

The goal of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators is to bring attention to a lot of issues. Many have no interest in lobbying. Others, himself included, have argued in favor of revolution, forming the community they would like to see in the country. What they have done is set up a prototype for a "Temporary Autonomous Zone". You can then take that model and apply it in other contexts.

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are energetic, engaged people the Libertarian Party should market to.

Ed Konecnik wrote the following Open Letter to the LPQC in response to Rocco Fama's presentation:

I’m not sure why anyone would nurture the delusions of an OWS protester who thinks people who defecate on cars, urinate in the streets, inconvenience businesses causing some to close, express disdain for wealth and the wealthy, foment class warfare have something in common with libertarians and Libertarianism. His equivocation on a number of issues, subtle disregard of the Constitution, predilection for anarchy and revolution, and a gross misunderstanding of economics neither added anything nor enlightened those present. He claims he is an anarchist yet considers himself a leader; hypocrisy of the highest order.

He confirms the OWS occupiers have no main grievance or “central message” except inequality. Protesting “inequality” is akin to protesting weather. Inequality is a part of life, of nature, our existence. It is clear that the occupier’s lexicon defines “greed” as those with a lot of money must have stolen it, “social justice” requires the wealthy share since they have more than they need, “fairness” means redistribution to each according to his needs.

This confused young man may have been educated beyond his ability to learn and in no way reflects the libertarian ideals I hold dear, in spite of his declarations. He is under the illusion that by occupying Zuccotti Park, he is enabling “hope and change” and publicizing his misguided conception of libertarianism. His occupation of Zuccotti Park does not make him a libertarian any more than my standing in a garage makes me a car.

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