Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Canadian Adbusters Magazine Sparks Occupy Wall Street

NY 'Occupy' Protests Evolved From Canadian Magazine Appeal

by DAVID B. CARUSO Associated Press
NEW YORK October 13, 2011 (AP)

Early this year, the editors of a Canadian anti-establishment magazine watched Egyptians demanding democracy in Cairo, and young Spaniards camping out in city centers to protest high unemployment, and wondered, "Why isn't this happening in America?"

So in an Internet posting in mid-July, Adbusters suggested a time — Sept. 17 — and a place — Wall Street — for people to make a stand. The editors didn't organize any activists, or even visit New York, but thousands of people took their idea and made it real.

"All of us had this feeling that there was this powerful wave of rage rising up in America that hadn't found its expression yet," said magazine co-founder Kalle Lasn, who came up with the idea for the demonstration with Adbusters editor Micah White.

The Vancouver-based magazine audaciously called for 20,000 "redeemers, rebels and radicals" to flood lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street for a few months. The crowds have been substantially smaller than that, and another key part of the original Adbusters call — that the protesters come up with "one simple demand" — has yet to materialize.

But the demonstration has created a political buzz and inspired dozens more encampments across the U.S

On Wednesday, police arrested four people outside JP Morgan Chase offices where Wall Street protesters called in vain for a meeting with Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon. Protesters accused the police of rough handling. An Associated Press photographer witnessed police officers heading into the crowd of demonstrators to make the arrests.

Meanwhile, about 700 members of the Service Employees International Union marched through the Financial District; the union, which represents 23,000 office cleaners, is gearing up for contract negotiations with the Realty Advisory Board.

More protests are planned in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend, and European activists also are organizing.

"It has launched a national conversation. What's wrong with a movement like that?" Lasn said.

The magazine that sparked that conversation is not exactly a household name for many Americans. Adbusters, which features provocative essays and spoof advertisements challenging people to reject consumer culture, has about 20,000 subscribers and sells about 80,000 copies at newsstands and independent bookstores, mostly in the U.S. It sells no advertising, and funds itself entirely through sales and donations.

The Canadian roots of the U.S. protest could rankle some, though Adbusters' focus on New York is driven less by American politics than it is by Wall Street's status as a center of global corporate power.

The magazine launched its campaign simply. It created a website and designed a poster, featuring a dancer standing atop Wall Street's famed charging bull statue while a riot rages in the background. It made some suggestions about what the protest's one demand would be, but said the matter was best left to the people, to be decided by consensus at meetings leading up to the demonstration.

The West Coast magazine was in no position to do any actual organizing.
"We didn't have a huge IT department. We didn't have people on the ground in New York City," explained White, who lives in Berkeley, Calif.

The people who turned Adbusters' idea into a real protest were a combination of veterans of New York City's activist scene and newcomers who saw the magazine's call circulating on Twitter and other social media. They didn't share any particular political goal, but held a unifying belief that the country's economic and political systems are rigged to benefit big corporations and the very rich.

Many doubted that Adbusters' call would be enough to create anything.
"A lot of us were skeptical of it, because it just sort of fell from the sky. Like, uprisings don't happen just because you put them in the magazine," Brooklyn activist Yotam Marom said. "It's kind of a presumptuous thing to do."

But the concept of a demonstration modeled loosely after the youth encampments in Spain resonated with a number of people who had been staging smaller protests in New York City for several months.

At first, Marom said, the idea of a massive, long-lasting occupation of Wall Street seemed out of reach. But the idea of grabbing space and refusing to let it go inspired him, as did the group's unorthodox planning structure.

Rather than appoint leaders, or make decisions with straight up-or-down votes, the 50 to 200 activists attending those early organizing sessions, called general assemblies, were committed to making decisions by consensus only. If there wasn't widespread agreement, there would be no decision, just hours and hours of discussion.

The limitations became apparent immediately.

"There was not a lot of consensus on anything. There wasn't agreement on message. There was consensus to hold a public assembly on Wall Street," said Alexa O'Brien, an activist with the group U.S. Day of Rage who attended the organizational meetings, most of which were held in New York's Tompkins Square Park.

But there were benefits, too, she and other organizers said. The adherence to consensus building meant that fewer people felt excluded. People with very different goals were able to get things done.

Organizers scouted out public spaces where they might legally be allowed to assemble overnight, and not be subject to city park curfews. They settled on Zuccotti Park in part because it's privately owned and required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

"Quite a few of us were skeptical that we would be able to occupy anything," said Marina Sitrian, a post-doctoral fellow at the City University of New York who began attending the planning sessions in August. "But people were arriving with sleeping bags. And some people had coolers. And some people were wearing backpacks. And I was thinking, 'Oh, everybody else thinks we are going to stay. OK.'"

When Sept. 17 finally arrived, turnout was moderate for a city where 10,000 people can march through a neighborhood without raising an eyebrow.

Only a few hundred people stayed the night, but Sitrian said that even then, "it started to feel different" from other demonstrations she had attended. Soon there were not only committed activists in the crowd, but also "a lot of really regular working people, and people who had been laid off and didn't know what to do," she said.

The event began to get national attention, and bigger crowds, when protesters posted video of a police commander shooting pepper spray at a group of female marchers who had been standing peacefully on the sidewalk. It grew again after nearly 700 people were arrested while trying to march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Few of the protesters see the lack of specific demands as a failure, saying it's too early for a consensus to emerge. Several activists at the core of the movement say their immediate goal is creating a new type of democratic decision-making that can be replicated at "Occupy" movements around the world.

APLasn, meanwhile, said he's confident that "crystal clear demands" will emerge soon. He said he personally favors a call for a global 1 percent tax on all financial transactions as a way of funding social programs, redistributing wealth and discouraging wealthy corporations from treating the global economy like "a global casino."

But he's not in Zuccotti Park, and neither is White. Neither has actually seen the movement they inspired in person.

"We launched an idea and it captured people's imaginations," White said, "and they made it their own."

Posted at 05:41 PM ET, 10/12/2011

Occupy Wall Street: An interview with Kalle Lasn, the man behind it all
By Elizabeth Flock

Back in July, an idea by Kalle Lasn and his colleagues at Adbusters, a nonprofit magazine run by social activists, had started to come together.

For months, Lasn had noticed among his 120,000 readers an unresolved anger that wasn’t finding expression. He observed that young people were starting to say they worried about having a “black hole future” ahead of them, and it suddenly felt, he said, “like a Tahrir moment in America was eminently possible.”

So the Adbusters team tried something out. They put out feelers for a small protest on Wall Street on Sept. 17. They started a hashtag to go with it, the catchy-sounding #OccupyWallStreet. They ran a poster in the magazine to advertise it (see above).

And before they knew it, the protests had taken on a life of their own:

Adbusters’ idea of protesting corporate greed and what they saw as the United States’ corrupt political system struck such a chord that the demonstrations have now spread to dozens of cities and towns across the country. Unions, students, rights groups and others have joined in. The national media cover the protests daily.

But as winter sets in, Occupy Wall Street is at a pivotal moment — will the protests grow larger and bring about real change, or will they fade with the fall?

We spoke to Kalle Lasn, editor and founder of Adbusters, by phone Wednesday to get some perspective from the man who started it all.

Below, our interview:

Q. The protesters on Wall Street have expressed a lot of different demands. What do you think is really at the heart of this movement? Why now?

A. I think what fueled this in part is this sense of fairness Americans have always believed in. There is something about the financial speculators on Wall Street that brought us this mess, that not a single one has said, ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve done,’ and that they all got away with it while we the people are suffering. This sense of suffering, I think, is what generated the rage.

But the larger perspective is this sense of despondency that young people around the world and in America have.

They look at the future and see just one big black hole. They look at a world with climate change that will be much hotter when they get older, at a political crisis and corruption in Washington, at the American democracy not working any more at a time when America is in decline, and at a financial crisis in which the Dow Jones could plummet tomorrow. If we don’t stand up and fight for a different kind of future, they realize, we won’t get one.

Q. Do you see the protests in a way as similar to the movement of the 1960s?

A. Absolutely. I lived through the 1960s, and I was part of that movement which erupted in hundreds of campuses around the world. These protests are very analogous. There’s suddenly a strange, magical occupation in Zuccotti Park, and it inspires occupations around the world, and it’s inspired by people who look into the future and think it doesn’t compute.

But the difference is in the 1960s it was people bored to tears with their parents running the world in a boring, banal way. They wanted to live their live their life to the hilt. They wanted to live without “dead time.” This time it’s much more serious, the consequences are much heavier, and the stakes higher.

Q. Do you see Occupy Wall Street having the same kind of social impact as the 1960s counterrevolution did?

A. In 1968, it was almost a global revolution, but then it fizzled out. I’m hoping that young people, armed with the Internet and its tools, and without the manifesto-driven needs of the 60s, have a real, magical possibility of a global mindshift, a global revolution.

Q. How do you think such a global revol
ution would play out?

A. The initial phase of the revolution, what we are seeing right now, is leaderless, and the protesters are not hopping into bed with any party, even the Democratic party. Everyone is trying to second-guess what they’re after. But nonetheless, they’ve launched a national conversation. As the winter approaches, I think there will be different phases and ideas, possibly fragmentation into different agendas. I think crystal-clear demands will emanate.

Q. What kind of demands?

A. I think people want a Robin Hood tax on all trades, they want to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, to ban high-frequency flash trading, implement banking reform, clean up corruption in Washington, and down the road, a third party may spring up.

Q. Why do you think a third party is possible at this moment in history?

A. We [the left] haven’t really had our act together. The tea party has had all the fun. This is about the political left having some fun. The political left wants a fundamental change in our political system and economy, in the way we drink and eat and buy things and get around. This movement can bear a lot of fruits, and I think a third party is one of them.

Q. What do you make of the clashes between protesters and police?

A. I think it’s just a distraction.Police brutality actually helps the movement. One of the greatest moments was when 700 people were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge. They had a great time. That was the moment when suddenly the mainstream media couldn’t ignore us anymore.

Q. The movement has been criticized for being leaderless and for having no focus. How do you respond to that?

A. A lot of that criticism is sour grapes, or put out by people that don’t understand. The messy, leaderless, demandless movement has launched a national conversation of the likes that we haven’t had in 20 years. That’s as good as it gets! Not every one needs to have a leader with clear demands. That’s the old way of launching revolutions. This revolution is run by the Internet generation, with egalitarian ways of looking at things, and an inclusive process of getting everyone involved. That’s the magic of it.

Q. But still, the timing — why do you think these protests happened now, as opposed to a year ago, or a year from now?

A. Every movement has a certain amount of luck going for it. It was that sort of deep-down feeling of a black-hole future building up, it was a certain number of months after Egypt and Tunisia, and it was fueled by the fact that people are losing their homes and jobs and some 30 percent of young people can’t find a job even if they have a PhD.

It dawned on young people that President Obama won’t be able to fix this problem. While young people can’t articulate what they want, I think what they want is a soft regime change — to depose the corporate-driven state and, ultimately, to reinvigorate American democracy from the ground up.

By Elizabeth Flock 10/12/2011

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