The Universal Boycott.
Recent opinion polls have shown that while 48% of Americans support #OWS goals (for reference sake, 35% oppose us), only 29% support our tactics. This should come as no surprise; perhaps as few as 10% of any population possess a risk-taking mentality, and #OWS tactics are fairly high risk. Most Americans, certainly, wish only for their world to be secure, predictable, and reasonably prosperous, so that they can pay their mortgages, eat good food, take nice vacations, and send their kids to good schools. In such a context, #OWS is appealing because it challenges the status quo in a time when few people do not face diminishing prospects in the present and future, but it is for most a worrisome business they would not wish to participate in themselves, because of the risks involved of arrest, injury, and the inclusion of their names photographs and fingerprints in FBI files and corporate blacklists, whether real or imagined.
Many people have, over the past century, attempted to organizer general strikes in America. In spite of the success of such strikes in Europe over the past century, they invariably failed in America. While Americans innate risk-averseness is one factor in these consistent failures, the different nature of the American labor movement is more the issue. Unions in America are far more fragmented and politically disenfranchised than in Europe. Beginning back int he days of Samuel Gompers, The larger and more successful American unions divorced themselves from socialist movements and sought accommodations with management and mainstream liberalism, particularly the Democratic party establishment. European labors success has been the result of a highly-evolved political machine in the form of labor parties and socialist parties which have for most of the past 75 years held either distinct majorities or large minorities in almost every European country. No such apparatus exists anywhere in America today, and given our rigged political system, creating one has proven a Sisyphean task, which, #OWS notwithstanding, is unlikely to bear fruit anytime soon.
Further, large corporations and government employers have both, over the last 30 years, seen strikes as an opportunity to actually reduce labor benefits, salaries, and job security. In most strikes in recent years, labor has consistently lost, rather than gained, ground. While the goals of a general strike are desirable, the odds of achieving those goals through labor action are increasingly slim to none.
I suggest as an alternative that we pursue a more couch-potato friendly strategy, one in which Americans can engage in Occupation tactics without having to put down the remote. I propose a general consumer strike, as it leverages both #OWS’s existing strengths, the strengths of unions, and the natural inclinations of the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Before I go further in outlining this strategy, I’d like first to underline several elements underlying it:
A large part of #OWS initial appeal to the many was that it was fun. You could drop by Liberty Square on your lunch break, chat with the occupiers, become more educated about the details of our politics, and have some pizza. For students and other young people in particular, #OWS was a social opportunity that many had hungered for all their lives; suddenly here was something to do that had meaning, and where you might meet that special someone and fall in love in the midst of a romantic adventure! Just like in the movies!#OWS brought people from around the world together in bustling, emotionally charged, energetic community, and beyond the piddling couple of hundred who actually lived int he park, thousands of all ages came through in the course of our 2 months long Occupation. One professional colleague of mine in his mid-50’s commented while visiting Liberty Square, that he thought we were becoming THE hot lunch spot. Meanwhile, our endless supply of pizza saved a local mom and pop pizza joint from bankruptcy. A win-win situation across the board. More of the young occupiers than I can count have expressed to me over the months since the eviction that the fun has gone out of #OWS, and what is needed more than anything is a way to bring that back. It’s important to keep in mind that while the more experienced organizers currently working with Occupy may have thought of the Liberty Square Occupation as a protest, the overwhelming majority of participants experienced it as more of a party or a festival, a festival of protest.
While we hear often in the popular media about the incredible profit margins of Wall Street, as well as tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and others, the reality is that the majority of American corporations, including most of the Fortune 500 companies, make their money on volume, not margin. Apple may enjoy a 75% profit margin, but Tyson Foods would be lucky to see 10% per unit. Visa, Mastercard, and the ATM network make their money on lots and lots of relatively small transaction fees, or interest on carried debt. This makes them extremely vulnerable, vis-a-vis the all-important quarterly bottom line, even to modest disruptions in consumer spending. Entities like Paypal are even more vulnerable to larege-scale consumer boycotts.
There are three major consumer cycles each year in the United States; The Christmas season, which begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Years, the Summer season, which begins with Memorial day and ends with Fourth of July weekend, and the Back-To-School season, which begins with Labor Day weekend, and ends with the end of September.
There are five major metropolitan areas in the United States which between them account for the overwhelming majority of American’s disposable income. The greater New York metropolitan area alone accounts for nearly a third of the US GDP. Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area collectively account for almost half. Between them we have nearly 70% of the US GDP in five metropolitan areas with very large well established Occupy communities, and in which Occupy enjoys majority support from the inhabitants.
There are approximately 1300 Occupy communities world wide at the this point. This is a genuinely VAST network of mostly young people, with pervasive local contacts, established food and drink provisioning networks, and growing connections to local mom and pop business, farms, and other suppliers of the daily essentials.
With the these fundamentals in mind, I will now outline my proposal:
Occupy Phase Two should consist of a series of regularly scheduled consumer boycotts of everything. The boycotts should be scheduled for the period beginning Memorial Day Weekend and ending July Fourth Weekend, the period beginning Labor Day Weekend and ending September 31, and the period beginning Thanksgiving Day Weekend and ending on January First (Hangover Day Weekend). During the General Boycott Months, supporters will be encouraged to avoid the use of ATM’s, Credit or Debit Cards, PayPal, the App Store, the iTunes store, and all forms of electronic transactioning, and to do business only with cash. When withdrawing cash from a bank, they would insist that the teller actually count out their money instead of withdrawing it from the ATM (legally, banks are obliged to do so on request), they would avoid buying groceries from big supermarkets and would be encouraged to make an extra effort to do business with local mom and pops, farmers markets, etc.. to buy as far down the ladder as possible. Walking, riding your bike, or car-pooling would also be encouraged.
in order to make it easier to participate, “Big Weekends” would be held at the beginning, middle, and end of each cycle, and supporters would be told that if they couldn’t do the whole month, just do the weekends, but one way or another, they’d have a way to “Join the Revolt Without Dropping the Remote.”
The existing network of Occupy communities would be leveraged to organize parties and get togethers during the boycott month where people could come for potlucks, dance parties, movie nights, not only in public places or venues, but also at each others houses. Efforts would be made to convert online communities into physical communities. A google map could be used to help people locate a party in their neighborhood, and neighbors who might all be Occupy supporters who otherwise never met would become friends and aquaintances, and the network of party-givers would grow, and a process of de-isolation would begin.
Different parties would be oriented to different people. Some could be family-friendly with stuff for kids to do and volunteers to keep the kids entertained so the parents could hang out and chat and have night off while still being with their families. Others would be oriented towards younger people, with dance bands and nightclub like environments. Still other events could be pop-up occupations, art openings, spoken word events, etc… These parties and events would also provide opportunites for collecting small donations from lots of people in cash, which would not flow-through the visa/mastercard system. Establishing such a fund raising mechanism is vital, considering what happened to Wikileaks. Many VERY popular musicians have expressed support for Occupy, and have even dropped in at Liberty Square for impromptu concerts. They could be encouraged to do shows during the Boycott Months. These would also be fundraising events.
The overall purpose of all of these events would be to give people something to do every night of the week that either required no use of money at all, or of small amounts of cash. All supplies would be purchased with cash only, and as low down the economic ladder as possible, effectively starving the financial trades of their transaction fees. Since people attending the larger events would be encouraged to car-pool there and back, permanent relationships for car-pooling would be one side-effect of the Boycotts. As the movement grows, and more events are held, direct trading relationships can become established, such as those with farmers, performers, local websites, etc… These networks could then be leveraged for various other projects.
Part of the appeal of a general consumer strike is the effect on big businesses, which use the holiday weekends to forcast consumer spending and plan inventory. Their ability to forecast would utterly scrambled if even as few as 5% of the people in the major metro areas listed above were to participate on a large scale. MY estimate is that if we were to leverage our entire focus on this project, that number could rise as high as 10%, which is larger than many big retailers profit margins. It’s worth noting that a decline in consumer spending of even 2% in a quarter is considered a recession. We would be serving notice on the establishment that we can put the economy into a tail-spin any time we like. THAT is real power.
While I am an enthusiastic Occupier who has been with #OWS since the beginning, it’s important to realize that all the protest in the world doesn’t actually do anything but shift public opinion. Protest is only effective if the ruling class cares what the masses want. Ours doesn’t. While Occupy has had a profound impact on public debate, to achieve real power capable of transforming our civilization, it must displace the existing structure with one of it’s own. The Boycott months lay the foundation for doing this on a large scale.Occupy is a verb. When we create a large-scale alternative to consumer spending, we occupy the space currently occupied by the corporate state. Since no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, what we Occupy, they must vacate.
The consumer stike is open-ended. While it occurs on a regularly scheduled basis, it allows people to schedule parts of their lives and budgets around it. Occupy becomes a principal supplier of entertainment, connectivity, food, and community, as well as education and communication. This is REAL Direct Action: Action that directly furthers our goals, cultivates our new society, and invites the world in to join us and have real good time! Liberty Square writ huge. It remains only for us to see beyond the narrow defginition of political action bequeathed from the 19th century and move forward into a 21st century paradigm for organizing and outreach, as well as direct fund raising and consiousness raising.