My wife and I decided to stop interpreting Occupy St. Pete (Occupy Wall Street) through the media filter and went to an event ourselves today. We expected to find many radicals and socialists, and there were those in plenty. However, we were surprised to find many open minds and good folks wanting to solve a problem many agree exists in this country: Corporate Cronyism. They all seem to agree that an elite group has hijacked the government and society and many agree the Federal Reserve is at the core of the problem. There was also the presence of dangerous radicals infiltrating the peaceful folks and trying to warp them to radical communism. Finally, there was a nice gent dressed in a Devil costume with a sign that said, appropriately, “The Lesser of two Evils is Still Evil”. How true that is and especially applies to socialism. His main thrust was that all private money must be taken out of the campaign finance system and only the government should fund it. I present their interviews here today unedited for length to allow people to judge the movement for themselves.
Let me be clear. I was treated with respect today by these folks. I am pleasantly surprised by this and genuinely liked many of these folks who were simply looking for a solution, or trying to determine if full-throated socialism was the right path. I made it clear that I was a tea party leader and wore my Ron Paul Pin. I carried my sign that said “Socialism and Fascism are Wrong for America” and “Abolish the Federal Reserve”. My wife had hers that said “Stop the Bailouts”. At one point, I was being personally insulted as an “idiot” and a “moron” by a perennial gadfly community (Mark Klutho) who was interrupting the group conversation I was engaged in. I used the “mic check” system to call for “Orange” and the “peacekeepers” came with their orange bandanas and told him that his behavior was unacceptable and would not be tolerated. He began insulting them and ultimately was silenced. The organizers (they don’t like to be called that) then came over to apologize to me for that discomfort and I thanked them for equally applying their local rules and acting like gentlemen. These nice organizers are Aaron Wasserman and Chuck Terzian although a couple other organizers are quick to point out that there are no organizers, this is all natural. More on that later.
The Good: “Capitalism is Freedom”
I found many receptive to Ron Paul’s message of ending the Federal Reserve and bringing troops home, but most of these folks did not like Ron Paul’s ideas on shrinking government. I met a young man born in Cuba who was originally an Obama supporter, and worked for his campaign. He became dismayed by the Obama Campaign and the excessive influence of money and the political industry on the Obama campaign (sounds like a Hollywood movie for George Clooney). He stated he rejected redistribution of wealth and would leave this movement if that is the theme adopted. But he was still not sure about the insurance mandates under Obamacare but seemed open to free market alternatives. We had a good conversation which is here. In it he states “Capitalism is freedom”.
I found another nice man who also agreed on ending the Federal Reserve and admitted he liked what this reporter, a proud tea partier, had to say about it and it was a coming together of left and right. He is right, these two movements do have a common recognition of at least one problem: corporate cronyism. There were many others with open minds too.
The Bad: “Capitalists” are blood sucking parasites.
The worst part of the day was the member of the Uhuru movement who was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Earlier I asked him if he knew how many people Che Guevara had killed and he declined to comment. Later, he made his views pretty clear in a two minute diatribe in front of the entire group were he attacked the “capitalist” and “Wall Street Banker” “parasites” and engaged in rage creation that radicals like this use to get the worst out of people.
The Che supporter used a common technique of tying an issue people agree with to another they may not to get the group literally speaking his language with the “Open Mic”. He stated that wall street bankers and capitalists were “parasites”. Everyone agreed that the bankers were a problem, but not necessarily capitalists. However, now, with the “people’s mic” requiring everyone to repeat every word he said, they have been introduced to speaking the two phrases together. For some who are still forming their political philosophy, Wall Street bankers and Capitalists will mean the same thing (they are not) and will be associated with “parasites”, “blood suckers” and “thieves”. A useful tactic for a man who wears a shirt extolling an avowed communist – assuming he wants to turn everyone to communism.
“Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes
a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an
effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is
what our soldiers must become …”—Che Guevara
My attempt to ” Block” this hate speech was ignored.
Hopefully these good folks will resist the urge to follow a man that wears a shirt honoring a mass murderer. In fact the attendee from Cuba indicated that his uncle was killed by Che Guevara. However, he didn’t see the relevance of the t-shirt indicating it was more about free speech.
The Devil: “You can’t give your own money to a political campaign, but you can give your time” (video above)
A nice conversation with Mr. Tony Rawson revealed that he didn’t think that there should be any private financing of political candidates. The man was dressed as the devil to illustrate his sign that “The Lesser Evil is Still Evil”. While he correctly indicates that there is a great deal of money in politics, and it has a corrupting influence, his solution is one of campaign financing ONLY by government authorities. Voluntary contributions would be made through tax form check off boxes and politicians would split it. It was unclear who would decide which politicians would get the money. It was unclear if the incumbents who were in the system would make rules more difficult to prevent any one running to replace them from getting money. He indicated that he thinks that this system is done in some European countries which are socialist. He then indicates that people wrongly vilify socialism despite some obvious successes. The video presents this man position, but there were at least three other signs there that day calling for an end of private financing of campaigns. He indicated that even if a person wanted to donate $5,000 to a candidate like Ron Paul to spread his message, he would not be allowed to do that. He seems to miss the irony of indicating that telling a person who can’t spend his own money as he sees fit, though a lesser evil, is still evil.
Common among the attendees was a belief in the concept that the problem was not too much government, but not enough government regulation. There were many signs calling for taxation of the rich. One man stated that he didn’t want to abolish the Federal Reserve since that is how we can ensure that government services are providing. That is true.
The Organizers and Consensus Building.
The group ran under the direction of a handful of organizers. Some were obvious, as indicated above, and others were more behind the scenes. However, from time to time they would step up to move things along. There was one lovely Hispanic woman who indicated that she felt socialism was the best way to go and stated that Stalin, Mao and Fidel was not real socialism and was really dictatorship. While the entire group ran by a rather exhausting “consensus building process, she seemed to have a special status that allowed her to break many rules and jump in to get decisions made more quickly and to speak off of the “People’s Mic” whenever she wanted. She seemed to believe that we have socialism in America because we have parks and a police department. She indicated that she felt socialism relies on democracy and she is right. It was not indicated in her speech that we can have such things without socialism. Her video is here.
“Democracy is the road to socialism.”
“Democracy is indispensable to socialism.”
The system of direct democracy was clearly appearing a bit shaky with some merely wanting to chuck the system in favor of allowing the leaders to decide, and others wanting more real time participation than the system is designed to allow. But they remained true to their commitment to get people of diverse backgrounds (they changed this from “like minded people”) to share their ideas. Thus, they even allowed this blogger to have two minutes to advocate for free markets and warn against socialism.
All in all, it was a good day. It was a diplomatic mission from some die hard, liberty loving, free market capitalists to the Occupy St. Pete movement. It was a chance to look for common ground and put real faces with names. It was a time to see if we can change minds and if there are things for us to learn too. Heck, we even influenced their mission statement to reflect that political corruption, not just corporate greed, was what is leading to the bailouts and transfer of wealth from middle class to rich through corporate cronyism. That’s diplomatic progress.