Why We Must Occupy Democracy

assault and pepper sprayThe First Amendment Upside Down: Why We Must Occupy Democracy

You’ve been seeing this across the country … Americans assaulted, clubbed, dragged, pepper-sprayed … Why? For exercising their right to free speech and assembly — protesting the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

And what’s Washington’s response? Nothing. In fact, Congress’s so-called “supercommittee” just disbanded because Republicans refuse to raise a penny of taxes on the rich.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court says money is speech and corporations are people. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year ended all limits on political spending. Millions of dollars are being funneled to politicians without a trace.

And a revolving door has developed between official Washington and Wall Street – with bank executives becoming public officials who make rules that benefit the banks before heading back to the Street to make money off the rules they created.

Other top officials, including an increasing proportion of former members of congress, are cashing in by joining lobbying power houses and pressuring their former colleagues to do whatever their clients want.

Millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street and in executive suites aren’t contributing all this money out of sheer love of country. Their political spending is analogous to their other investments. Mostly they want low tax rates and friendly regulations.

Why else do you suppose tax rates on the super rich are now lower than they’ve been in three decades, and why – even though the long-term budget deficit is horrendous – those rates aren’t rising? Why else do the 400 richest Americans (whose wealth is larger than the combined wealth of the bottom 150 million Americans) now pay an average tax rate of only 17 percent?

Why do you think Wall Street got bailed without a single string attached – not even being required to help homeowners to whom they sold mortgages, who are now so far under water they’re drowning? And why does the financial reform legislation have loopholes big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through?

And why else are oil companies, big agribusinesses, military contractors, and the pharmaceutical industry reaping billions of dollars of government subsidies and special tax breaks?

Experts say the 2012 presidential race is likely to be the priciest ever, costing an estimated $6 billion. “It is far worse than it has ever been,” says Republican Senator John McCain.

robert reichIf there’s a single core message to the Occupier movement it’s that the increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top endangers our democracy. With money comes political power.

Yet when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with all this, they’re told the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Instead, they’re treated as public nuisances – clubbed, pepper-sprayed, thrown out of public parks and evicted from public spaces.

Across America, public officials are saying Occupiers have to go. Even in universities – where free speech is supposed to be sacrosanct – peaceful assembly is being met with clubs and pepper spray.

The First Amendment is being stood on its head. Money speaks, and an unlimited amount of it can now be spent bribing and cajoling politicians. Yet peaceful assembly is viewed as a public nuisance and removed by force.

robert reichThis is especially worrisome now that so many Americans are in economic trouble. The jobs recession grinds on, seemingly without end. Homes are being foreclosed upon. Qualified students cannot afford college. Or they’re forced to take on huge debt loads they can’t repay in a jobless economy. Schools are firing teachers. Vital social services are being axed.

How are Americans to be heard about what should be done about any of this if they are not allowed to mobilize and organize? When the freedom of speech goes to the highest bidder, moneyed interests have a disproportionate say.

Now more than ever, the First Amendment needs to be put right side up. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.

Robert Reich
Robert Reich’s Blog 


  1. Jack says

    We need to take back out government. In this day and age, there’s really no way to overthrow a government as powerful as ours. Yet it is still possible to reclaim it. To do so, we’ll need 50-100 million people who are in reasonable agreement on a path forward.

    The problem we face is that many of us don’t agree on some basic principals. For instance, we are a rich nation with lots of resources, and most of us don’t want to see other citizens freezing or going hungry. But does that mean our government should tax the middle class to pay for food and housing for others? Is it right to force people who work for a living to pay for others who don’t work? What if many of those recipients of this public welfare could take responsibility for themselves, but deliberately choose not to because it’s easier to live on the public dole? Is it right to take from some families to support other families who refuse to stop having babies, or who spend their own money on drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and nice clothes and cars? In their attempts to be generous, liberals have created non-sustainable intergenerational welfare systems that encourage everything from teen pregnancy to refusal of parents to get married and take responsibility for their children. The left is naïve about the abuse of welfare, while the right overreacts in disgust and votes for dishonest Republicans. Of course, the Repubs are as bad as our Democrats when it comes to dismantling the middle class. Until liberals realize our social programs create massive incentive to NOT work, we won’t create truly sustainable social programs. This is not to say that people don’t need our help, but one reason why Republicans are still a powerful political force is because Democrats have been unwilling to take a hard look at our social service giveaways.

    So what can be done? I propose we create middle ground public policy that is compassionate about those less fortunate, without allowing others to take advantage of our generosity. Instead of paying people’s Section 8 rent and utility payments (HEAP) for 20-30 years, why don’t we build small, functional dormitories with the requirement that recipients stay clean and sober and share responsibility for cleaning and maintenance? Instead of food stamps, participants can grow their own healthy food in a communal garden, similar to the kibbutz model in Israel. Those who refuse to do their share of work, or who choose to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco will be booted out. Most liberals would reject that suggestion out of hand, believing we shouldn’t or can’t put restrictions on someone’s “freedom” to spend their own money on things that make them happy. But it’s not society’s role to provide for the basics so that welfare recipients can spend their own money on drugs. In fact, that dynamic is what drives independents to vote for non-progressive candidates. By creating systems that provide for the common welfare, without encouraging massive abuse, we can encourage people to take responsibility and make their lives better, not just suck off the public teat. Instead of subsidizing laziness and abuse, it would be better to give free education from toddler age through college, but with the requirement that those recipients of free college pay back society by participating in these communal programs. Believe it or not, independents would support programs like these, and society as a whole would benefit.

    Liberals also consistently support illegal aliens at the expense of American citizens. Unfortunately, illegal immigration and amnesty programs undermine the working class. Worse, it gives a group of illegal aliens better lives at the expense of the rest of us, while, once again, making the rich richer. Every year, we’re letting millions more people come here from other countries, both legal and illegal immigrants. All babies born to illegal aliens are automatically citizens, entitled to all social services including free insurance, Section 8 housing, welfare, ADC, HEAP utilities payments, free school, free college, even Social Security Disability, even if their parents have never paid a dime into the system. Why is it that liberals are spending so much time and energy helping criminals take our resources? Why does the left care more for the people who break into our country and violate our laws, yet completely ignore the plight of those who need our help but who do NOT force themselves on us? Why are starving kids in Mexico, Latin America and elsewhere a LOWER priority than illegal aliens? Not that I blame people for breaking into the country, but we should immediately eliminate the two major draws by changing the Fourteenth Amendment disallowing birthright citizenship for children of foreigners, and fining and/or putting employers in jail if they hire illegal aliens. Then reward those who follow the immigration rules with more streamlined citizenship process. The fact is, we’ll get nowhere as long as our demands are more taxes on the workers to pay for more freebie social programs for the poor (and the deliberately impoverished). We simply can’t continue creating and funding intergenerational welfare. It’s not sustainable, and massive abuse, from parents not taking financial responsibility for their offspring to use of social service programs by illegal aliens will continue to drive working Americans into the hands of the Republicans.

    Many hard working Americans vote Republican when they look around at their neighbors and see they’re paying the rent for someone who has plenty of money for partying. This is just one example, but there are plenty of others. Social security is a great program; it creates economic stability for our aging population. But giving SSI to “instant citizen” babies of illegal aliens? Not such a great idea. The parents don’t have to pay a dime into social security, yet their babies can receive lifetime payouts! That’s just not good public policy, and the left wing refuses to acknowledge we’re being taken advantage of. In fact, most of these left wing additions to our otherwise useful and functional social service programs just drive moderates to vote for right wing Republicans. I’m not talking about people who truly need our help. I’m referring to the millions of welfare recipients who are perfectly capable of working for a living but who prefer living off the public.

    Two other major issues we need to resolve immediately are gay rights and the right to an abortion. LGTBQ citizens should be given full equality immediately. They are taxpayers and parents, and we’re letting the right wing garner votes and donations over this issue. Demand equality immediately, let’s put this conflict to rest. Repeal DOMA, pass the Respect for Marriage Act, and pull the rug out from under the GOP’s GOTV efforts. It’s the same thing with abortions and a woman’s right to choose. How much longer are we going to argue about this? Democrats need to establish once and for all that no one can force another person to bear a child against their will. Women are not farm animals. On the other hand, we could do a lot more to prevent pregnancies. Would it be so bad to pay drug addicts to give up their gonads, especially those who’ve created multiple crack babies while we stand by afraid to demand they stop dumping more problems on society? Again, the refusal to address this problem is a huge failure on the part of progressives who don’t want to appear to be telling others we’re tired of paying for their mistakes.

    Before we can reclaim our government, and occupy democracy, we need to come to some reasonable agreement on the above issues. Is the left willing to rethink our welfare state and start making modifications that would require more personal responsibility from social service program recipients? If not, don’t count on the Occupy movement to go anywhere at all. Because we can’t take on the super rich who own and manipulate our government unless we find ways to incorporate the millions of moderates who vote right wing whenever the left creates massively abused social programs that encourage intergenerational poverty. Both sides are going to have to give in and recognize their failures before we can move forward in unison to take back our government from the Masters of the Universe who are dismantling this country’s greatest asset: Our powerful middle class.

  2. -Nate says

    Thank you for speaking out Robert ;

    I grew up in the 1960’s , it looks like we’ll have to do it all again before America wakes the heck up and gets back on track . -Nate

  3. pigdog67 says

    I wanted to demonstrate against the high cost of healthcare by picketing the Mayo Clinic which is involved in driving up the cost of healthcare every year. However I did not as I was afraid I would be arrested by local police. What to do against injustice? What I do now is try to personally boycott institutions that one believes are cheating… For example I do not drink pop. Why? Because Coca Cola pays its executive a huge salary. Similarly I will not by an US auto company car. Or buy Nikes. Since we are a consumer society this is about all one can do legally. Perhaps Obama will eventually legally force people to buy Coca Cola because it is good for all consumers of pop as it will lower the price of pop for everyone. Who knows. Its the least I can do right now I boycott health insurance right now while it is still legal. Because health insurance companies are corrupt and pay their CEOs 80 million per year in total salary/benefit packages.
    Its the least I can do. If more people did it there would be real change. Why don’t our capitalist companies boycott health insurance companies that are so wasteful and useless? That is an interesting question.

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