I’ve been part of building coalitions and campaigns around various social justice and environmental issues for almost 30 years. But this is the first time I’ve seen the synergy between various factions and issues and the organic way that a new movement is rising up with spontaneous energy at the grassroots level.
The Occupy movement has broken through the American consciousness around vast inequality thanks to the new lens of the 99%. It’s important that the professional left, like PLAN and national organizations, don’t attempt to co-opt or take this movement over. But it’s also crucial that we work out strategic collaborations to help keep the movement dynamic and to prevent wasteful reinvention of the wheel.
What is cool about the occupation sites and the interaction with non-occupiers is the politicization that is happening in public spaces through personal interactions. This is much like the hobo movement in the early part of the 20th century, when the desires and ideas of the unemployed were cross-pollinated with those of workers in the cities. During the depression, the unemployed would gather in churches, abandoned houses and other public spaces. Their discussions helped build a working class consciousness and identity. People were exposed to new political ideas bubbling up from the bottom. I’ve seen this happening at Zucotti Park, in Kalamazoo (where I started writing this) and yesterday at the Virginia Street Bridge in Reno. People are listening to things to which they would not necessarily be exposed.
In spite of this, I'm not inclined to fetishise the Occupy encampment as a strategy. It is a tactic. Our success depends on what emerges next--organically from the grassroots up, but a strategy-- for harnessing and focusing the power that's been built toward achieving real structural, fundamental change in corporate dominance of our political system.
OWS is not about huge mass mobilizations. The night before and the morning of the threatened raid by New York City Police on October 4, fewer than 1,500 people held down Zucotti Park. I was there and confirmed this with many compatriots. As occupations around the country are proving, the movement is about smaller, decentralized hard-hitting actions that, like mistletoe killing an oak, will bring down corporate dominance.
It’s heartening to see Occupiers and supporters engaged in actions to funnel the movement’s energy into campaigns that are happening right now, many of which have been in the works for a long time. There’s a wealth of examples of successful collaborations for us in Nevada to follow:
Occupy DC has worked with labor on the Verizon campaign. In the heartland, Occupy Fargo (North Dakota) worked with local conservation groups to fight the proposed Keystone Pipeline, which Occupy DC has also skillfully organizedaround. These actions lead to a significant victory, which might end up killing it outright. In New York, Occupy Wall Street is working with Occupy Harlem to stop police violence. Occupy groups in other areas are forging alliances with existing food justice groups, targeting agri-business, chemical, and seed companies.
Occupy Las Vegas has worked hard totarget NV Energy and took it to the streets in a big way last week. Occupy Reno, owing to spirited leadership, has attracted wide media coverage and last weekmarched in solidarity at the AFL-CIO’s rally for jobs. From this point, it seems we could sustain different kinds of creative actions and mix it up to build the movement.
PLAN has a depth of experience organizing around racial, economic and environmental justice in Nevada. We are deeply interested in exploring strategic collaborations with OWS forces here to disrupt and end the rapaciously greedy corporate influence over the affairs of our state. For too long, they have assumed it’s their birthright to exploit Nevada’s land, water and human resources-and both parties must kowtow to them for campaign contributions.
We can try to rally people for marches and park clean-ups every week, but those lose impact and make us look weak. Perhaps we could do flash mobs at banks (December 6 is National Bank Action Day), occupy foreclosed houses or other more focused-- if less frequent—actions. These actions could have clear results such as forcing banks to consider principal reduction to allow people to remain in their homes.
PLAN lobbyist Jan Gilbert has been working on justice issues in Nevada for more than 30 years. She and allies have been working tirelessly to build a plan for taxing the most profitable mega-corporations in Nevada in order to lift our state’s worst-in-the-nation rankings on a variety of indicators, from education to health care to hunger. We can help her, PLAN and other allies build a movement to demand investment in our state’s public infrastructure. We can also help bolster the work of Occupy folks to build solidarity with low income and communities of color.
• Nevada is 49th on the Tax Foundation's 2009 rankings of state and local tax burdens. There is no corporate income tax and no personal income tax (banned by the state constitution). There is also a constitutional limitation on mining industry taxes, which allows the industry to pay less than 1% of its gross in mining taxes to the state general fund.
• The lowest gambling taxes anywhere in the world are in Nevada.
• Nevada ranks 51st in per capita public employees and 50th in per capita public expenditures.
• Nevada’s state budget has been cut four times since 2007. The Governor recommended the largest education cuts in Nevada history, including a 29% cut to higher education. The state ranks 50th in high school graduation and 51st in readiness for children entering the education system, with no funding for preschool or all-day kindergarten.
• Nevada’s safety net has gaping holes, ranking 51st in Medicaid expenditures, and 53rd in both reduced/free school lunch and breakfast programs.
We can provide materials and resources to help build a collaborative space and joint campaigns. We can help conduct teach-ins on issues we work on, including state budget/tax fairness, health care, food stamps, education and racial equity.
Finally, there is no better example in Nevada of the 1% wreaking havoc on the 99% than Canadian-based Barrick Gold. It is the largest gold mining corporation in the world, owning about 140 million ounces of proven and probable gold reserves and producing 7.8 million ounces of gold in 2010 from 26 mines across five continents. It has pursued its shameful legacy with little public notice of widespread human rights abuses throughout the globe. And nowhere in the world is gold mining more important to Barrick than Nevada. According to researcher and blogger Hugh Jackson, Barrick's reserves in Nevada are “greater than the company's reserves in any other country on the planet.”
They have hired an army of lobbyists to ensure regulations are minimal and profits are as tax-free as possible. In fact, Barrick paid zero mining taxes on nearly $1 billion in gold mined at its Goldstrike operation, historically its largest in Nevada.
Nevada’s tax system makes multinational mining corporations like Barrick very rich, but it leaves our kids in overcrowded schools. The wealth from our mines is instead being used to build schools and pay teachers in Canada.
A collaborative campaign on tax justice, one that holds the mining industry accountable to citizens of our great State, along the lines that Occupy DC is now moving, could have significant impact here.