Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interview with an Occupier - Part 1

This weekend international dignitaries are here in Chicago for the NATO Summit.  Most of the local news coverage this week has focused on the protests that will be taking place during the conference.  One of my good friends, micah philbrook*, is one of those protestors.  Micah joined the Occupy movement in its very early days in Chicago and has been active with the movement ever since.  I thought I would get a feel for what Occupy is from someone on the inside and share it with you.  This is a very long interview, so I broke it up into two posts.  Part 2 will be posted later this morning.

These questions were asked and answered back in December just before Occupy Chicago went on hiatus for the winter.  I will follow up with more questions with micah next week after the NATO Summit is over.  After all of this, I’ll give my thoughts on Occupy.

Here’s what micah said:

JF: Why are you part of the Occupy Movement?
micah: I believe this movement represents a global awakening, something never before witnessed on this planet. Millions of people across the earth, standing up against unchecked greed in the form of corporations and governments.

micah doing his thing.
JF: How did you get started with the Occupy Movement?
micah: I was following @youranonnews on twitter and saw tweets from @OccupyWallSt about a week before it started. I began following that movement as it began, on Twitter and through Facebook. Then i noticed @OccupyChicago tweeting about a starting protest. I followed that account to the Facebook page and event, and came down for the first protest outside of the Willis Tower.

JF: Occupy has refused to form limited and specific goals or demands.  What is the reasoning behind this?  How was this decision made?
micah: Occupy Chicago and all the other occupies are autonomous entities with a lose affiliation based on ideals. As such, I can only tell you why I think Occupy Chicago hasn't and perhaps some of the reason can be extrapolated to the entire movement, but i do not portend to speak for Occupy Chicago let alone the entirety of the Occupy movement. 
First off, many object to the term demands and prefer the word grievances. I tend to agree, mostly because if ones grievances aren't met, then one can escalate to demands. And, as i understand it, Occupy Chicago's main goal, or cause, is to end the corporate abuse of the American political system. OC feels that there is too much money in politics.  I completely agree with this. It seems to me the politicians are listening to the people/corporations that pay them, in the form of campaign contributions and lobbyist perks, rather than the American people. Therefore, even though polls consistently show the majority of Americans are in favor of universal health care, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a strong social welfare system, these are continually blocked and undermined by our elected officials. So, i think OC and all the Occupies can easily find other issues and causes and demands/grievances but they all stem from a central point.
Also, I believe OWS did come up with their 12 grievances. At one point OC discussed adopting them, but eventually tabled the debate till OC could debate the idea of grievances or demands at all.  One reason it's been tough in OC to make a cohesive list of goals is due to the wide variety of political and personal ideology present in the group. Many of us are "left of center" but there are enough "center", and even some "right of center" Occupiers, that no easily decided upon list of goals has been reached. It has been far more effective to coalesce behind the central idea of getting the money out of politics, than to create some formal list.

JF: How do you respond to those that say a movement with no specific goals is no movement at all?
micah: I think the specific goal of returning the democratic process to the people and the removing the grip of wealth over the right to vote is a good starting goal.

JF: Despite the resistance to choose any one specific cause, people have cast the Occupy movement as anti-corporation.  Do you see the Movement in that way?
micah: Part of removing the corporations from their place of power in our political structure entails rolling back some of the deregulation that has occurred over the past three decades. Not least of which is the corporate personhood they enjoy. This interpretation of the 14th amendment has been grotesquely enhanced in the last 30 years to a point where the supreme court decided that since corporations are people they can anonymously contribute to political campaigns. In addition, corporate banking institutions are not only allowed to cannibalize each other in ways outlawed after the 1929 depression, but are also rewarded for their malicious use of predatory loans and hidden rate mortgages fueled by an equally government sanctioned speculative market populated with fraudulently created derivatives designed by investment firms on a path of unchecked greed and accumulation.
So yes, I think the Occupy movement is anti-corporation, or at least anti-corporations as they are now. Many in the movement wouldn't say they want all corporations banned or outlawed.

JF: Do you believe that corporations are evil?
micah: No. They are products of a system that celebrates and encourages profit. Humans are smart, given the chance of course we'd come up with super efficient ways of maximizing profits within the system’s limitations, pushing the limits ‘till we are told not to, by law enforcement or the laws of economics. I think some of the results of the corporation are evil; famine, poverty, environmental ruin, war. While these things aren't solely caused by the corporation, in the modern era many times they have been the cause. And while some might say that the corporations isn't the problem, it's the CEO's and other presiding officers, I would argue that the main goal of the corporation is to maximize profits for its shareholders, and accordingly, those that don't constantly make more profit are seen as failures. Consequently, those in charge are constantly pressured to meet that demand, no matter who they are. The corporation's main directive doesn't care who is in the driver's seat as long as profits are growing. 

JF: Do you believe that corporations should cease to exist?
micah: Yes I do, in their current form.

JF: How do you respond to those who criticize Occupy for leveraging corporate created technology (cell phones, Twitter) to aid the movement? 
micah: It's an argument tactic of misdirection, a red herring.  When the slaves revolted, they used the technology that was available. In our country, and many like it, we have a limited amount of true choice in the products available for purchase that are presented to us on a regular basis. Certainly, one can choose to shop wherever they want, but try buying something that didn't get made by a worker that was paid an unfair wage, using a process that doesn't pollute the earth, sold at a price that reflects the true cost of that product’s labor. At the best one can shop at premium stores that promise those qualities and values are their main focus. But those premium values come with a sizable markup. And therefore it's nearly impossible for most Americans to afford that sort of lifestyle, especially American families facing ever hardening times on the job market and spending power of their dollar. So yes, we use cell phones and computers, Twitter and Facebook. We also wear brand name clothes and have cars and video game systems. I heard it answered best before; “Using the master's tools to destroy the master's house."

To be continued.  Check in later this morning for Part 2.

*micah specifically requested that I not capitalize his name.  These are not typos.


  1. This is WAY better than the Bachelorette!

    1. Thanks, man. I'm glad you like it. Part 2 will be up soon.