The following is the text of a speech I gave to the Teton County Democrats on Mar 20. –Pete
I’d like to start off by saying I’m generally sympathetic to the historical concerns of the Democratic party, and I’d say that a good number of the people I’ve met in the Occupy movement are, as well. I voted for Obama in 2008. Many of us did. And yet we now find ourselves working outside the party, and we believe that on a national level the Democratic party is as much a part of the problem as the Republican party is.
In a nutshell, we no longer believe that we live in a democracy, but, rather, in a plutocracy. Or, perhaps more precisely, a kleptocracy. The political struggle has, throughout human history, been between those with wealth and power and those without. For a number of years, the Republican party represented people with wealth and power, and the Democratic party represented those without.
But this dynamic has now changed. Corporations and the elite now undeniably control the establishment apparatus of both parties, who, on most of the big issues, are now in complete agreement.
The Democrat and Republican leadership alike are united in their will to do whatever wealth and power commands them to do. There is very little daylight between the leadership of the two parties on policies such as cutting social security and medicare, waging perpetual and illegal war, growing the outrageous prison-industrial complex, asserting the power to spy on and even execute American citizens with zero judicial oversight, bailing out big banks at taxpayer expense (while refusing to prosecute even the most blatant financial crimes), slashing regulations that could hold corporations responsible for the destruction of both our economy and our environment, and acting not as representatives of the people of the United States, but as proxies for the corporations and rich elite that now control the political system of this country.
There was a time when policies like these would have been controversial. You could always count on Republicans to do what big business told them to do, but they were at least honest about it. And the Democratic party could be counted on to at rhetorically oppose them. But now that the Democrats are on board, there is very little opposition to any of this. There is no longer a political entity in this country which can be counted on to protect the rights and interests of the 99%, of people like you and me.
And yes, we all are the 99%. I have friends who are relatively well off, who have asked me in private if I think that they are among the elite whose actions we oppose. And of course they are not. It’s important to note that it is not wealth which the Occupy movement opposes, it is using that wealth to seize control of the political system. We don’t oppose or resent success—we believe that the institutions and the society which generations of Americans have sacrificed so much to create and maintain have put all of us just a few feet from the finish line, and while it’s commendable to cross it, we must never forget our own responsibility to the society that has made that success feasible.
I’m a small business owner and veteran. Everyone that I have met in this movement has a job, often two or three. We admire creative, successful people. We don’t want handouts. We want justice. I personally don’t believe that the elite who control our political system are evil—they are just humans who have deluded themselves into believing that they deserve more power than the rest us. In another life, that could easily be me, or any of us, and it would be just as delusional to think otherwise. It is their actions that we should oppose, and yet we look around and see that neither national political party is opposing any of these actions in a meaningful way, or giving a voice to the 99%.
It is within this void that the Occupy movement has grown. I believe that many of you are Democrats because you believe that all Americans should have rights and should have a voice, and that justice is something worth fighting for. The professed ideals of the Democratic party are consistent with this belief, and yet its actions no longer are.
It is critical that this country have at least one functional opposition party. For all practical purposes, there is none today. The elite control the terms of the debate, they control the candidates that you will be allowed to vote for, and they control the very machinery of government, whether it be the presidential administration, the regulatory agencies, Congress, or, now, the Supreme Court. They spend obscene amounts of money on candidates for office, and on lobbyists to buy politicians in what is quite literally legalized bribery.
The elite care nothing about social issues like reproductive rights, gay rights, or religion except as a way to divide those Americans who would otherwise be united against them.
We need a strong Democratic party in this country. We need that party to live up to its ideals. We need it to fight for what it believes, even if that means losing an election, or losing some money. What good will it do to act like a Republican in order to win an election?
The Occupy movement is prepared to work with principled Democrats or, in fact, principled people from any party who share our vision of a more just society and are willing to work for it. We believe that there is much common ground with grass-roots Democrats on issues like war, health care, Wall Street reform, campaign reform, government transparency, education and so on.
We intend to work hard to get the message out, to bring awareness to the public. We expect to be vigorously and, at times, violently opposed by those in power, who will have much to lose when the truth wins out. We accept this as our role. But we can’t do it alone. Not everyone can stage sit-ins and occupy public spaces. But it’s imperative that Americans recognize these problems and work, in their own way, towards solving them. The Democratic party is a natural ally of the Occupy movement in particular, and of the American people in general. We call on Democrats to join us in making this a more just and democratic country. We cannot do it without you.