December 31, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Follow Through in Sarasota

I followed the website and facebook pages awaiting a document with the final versions of proposals that reached consensus at the People's Convention of Florida. Local Florida Occupations were to vote on these proposals, and those that reached state-wide consensus would be presented to the Florida Legislature as the People's Plan. Due to meeting weekly, Occupy Sarasota had it's last opportunity to evaluate such a document today. But the document had gone AWOL. For a variety of reasons, no final document was produced. But Occupy Sarasota wanted to show support and solidarity with other local Occupations in Florida.

Since getting money out of politics is a core Occupy Movement concept, and the final consensed versions of these proposals were available, Occupy Sarasota chose to focus on these proposals with the caveat that they are incomplete. Given the severe time restrictions, consensus was easily reached on two proposals. One seeks accountability from our elected representatives. The other seeks fair and open elections free from the influence of money as well as measures to promote voter participation. The specific details may be viewed at the Occupy Sarasota website.

Participants from Florida Occupations will converge on the state capitol in Tallahassee on January 10 to deliver The People’s Plan. Several days leading up to this will be spent preparing the final plan and presentation tactics. Occupy Tallahassee is busy gathering extra tents, sleeping bags, and some meals to accommodate folks who may not be able to provide their own. They are also putting together a schedule of events, including a Radical Tea and Coffee Social, Florida musicians, a cabaret piece from the Mickee Faust Academy for the Really Dramatic Arts, and an Education Day.

December 19, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: All Work and SOME Play

Presenting ...

The Cheerleaders at the People's Convention of Florida
    Performing "Occupation: Jump On It"
    Take-off of "Jump On It" previously recorded by The Shadows, The Sugarhill Gang, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and many others

December 18, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Political Reform Working Group

My plan for Saturday at the People's Convention was to drop in on each working group and videotape each of them in action. With imperfect timing, this proved difficult. I would hit one group mid-stride and not understand the context of a discussion. I would hit another group as they were trying to iron out their process. As a consequence, I settled in with the Electoral Reform section of the Political Reform Working Group. I was impressed with the breadth of knowledge, the level of passion, and the willingness to hammer out proposals in this Working Group. With just hours to come to agreement, the group ironed out many details of many diverse proposals.

I had hoped to capture the depth of discussion of the Electoral Reform group, but instead I captured the breadth of discussion.

Our fabulous minutes taker wrote down the ideas on which we reached consensus as demands. This was because he had to write it down in some way. To be clear, while I was there, there was no decision as whether these were demands, objectives, ideals, or something else entirely. Almost no time was spent discussing whether an item should be an amendment to the state Constitution, a bill, a non-binding resolution, or something else entirely. As you review the following list, consider that such language is inexact. Also keep in mind that these are the results of a Working Group. This set of proposals was not approved by the General Assembly.

  • VOTE: "We demand that all state elected representatives post public appearances prior to the appearance and post private meetings (including those in attendance of the meetings) on their official state website. We demand a repeal of the legislative body’s exemption to the Sunshine law."
  • VOTE: “We demand all votes to be made physically on paper ballots. These paper votes should be available for the public to see. We demand a ban on all privately controlled electronic voting practices as well. Any software used must be open-source.”
  • VOTE: “We demand a Florida state amendment to hold publicly financed election campaigns for Florida state officials”. This is directed at getting money out of politics.
  • VOTE: “We demand a Florida state amendment to institute a state holiday for labor whereby every 2 years THE OFFICIAL state/national Election Day is a holiday.” This is directed at increasing voter turnout.
  • VOTE: “We demand that those who are born in Florida are registered to vote at birth, but eligible to vote at 18”
  • VOTE: “We demand that voter registration can take place on the day of voting, at the actual voting booth. Those who are not registered before arriving at the voting facility should have the ability to register at the actual time of voting.”
  • VOTE: “We support senate bill 552 (the Ethical practices act of 2012)” This is legislation that would prohibit members of the FL legislature and their families from receiving financial gains from those companies that they are regulating.”
  • VOTE: “We demand our state legislature to pass a non-binding resolution to support the over-turning of ‘Citizen’s United vs. FEC’”
  • VOTE: “Require more transparency in lobbying registration and the way they report their contributions” *(wording inexact)

Is it time for a list of demands? Is the Occupy Movement ready for that stage? The folks in the Electoral Reform group were certainly ready to start this process. Consequently, I think now is a great time to start. However, I must also be clear that the priorites of the Movement are likely to keep changing. In fact, due to the huge number of proposals generated by all the working groups on Saturday, each working group was subsequently asked to pull together just ONE proposal for initial presentation to the General Assembly. The final proposals that reached consensus during the General Assembly of the People's Occupation of Florida have yet to be published. Once published, they will go back to the local Occupy General Assemblies to see which proposals receive consensus there.

December 15, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Foreclosure Proposal

The People's Convention of Florida convened December 10, 2011 and on December 11 a foreclosure-related proposal was brought to the General Assembly. The following footage highlights the ensuing discussion about a state-wide moratorium on foreclosures.

The proposal was changed on the fly during the General Assembly. Here is the wording that finally received consensus:

To install a three year moratorium on the unjust practice of foreclosure to eliminate illegal seizure, based on mortgages where the bank cannot produce the original mortgage document. We oppose non-judicial foreclosures of mortgages and any further deregulation of the foreclosure process.
The proposal is currently worded differently in the People's Convention of Florida Proposals Forum, and it is unclear what the final wording will be. Each local Florida Occupy group will now have the opportunity to discuss this proposal, before a final decision is made about bringing it to the Florida Legislature.

Related Info:

  • Unfortunately, the foreclosure crisis is still in full swing. Astra Taylor reports in The Nation that approximately 6 million homes have been seized since 2007, and over the next four years an estimated 8 million more are predicted go into foreclosure.
  • A 2009 Urban Institute report, The Impacts of Foreclosures on Families and Communities, reviewed studies on crime, foreclosure, and policy.
  • Recently, activist groups around the country including the Occupy Movement moved into action on December 6, with the Occupy Our Homes campaign.
  • We, as a nation, have not yet had the debate over the legal and moral requirements assumed by bankers, governments, tenants, homeowners and lenders in a housing market with changing real estate values, or I would provide a link to the summary.

December 12, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Decisionmaking in a Leaderless Movement

The Occupy Movement proclaims itself to be leaderless and to be engaging in direct democracy. What are the implications of such a position? This past weekend, I found out a little more about this at the state-wide Occupy meeting, the People's Convention of Florida. Folks from local Occupy groups around the state converged to develop a list of desired changes to be delivered directly to the State Capitol in Tallahassee on January 10, 2012, the first day of the Florida legislative session,.

Right off the bat, there were differences of opinion concerning process and goals. For example, what would be the goals of Sunday's General Assembly? We spent all day Saturday in small working groups identifying sets of issues that we wished to take to the legislature. Some came up with a list of demands. Others a set of expectations. Were we looking for overarching themes or smaller items that legislators could immediately act upon. On Sunday, before the working groups presented back to the General Assembly, individuals presented their views on the objectives of Sunday's deliberations. At any other convention, this would have been announced ahead of time. But without a leader, the group had to spend time on this. We were treated to articulate and well-conceived insights. Acknowledgement of practical realities mingled with idealism. Thankfully there was a time-keeper or we might never have emerged from this preliminary discussion -

For many of us inculcated in the heirarchical world of our places of employment, customer call centers, school boards, local governments, boards of directors, supermarkets, political parties, and just about any large organization that we interact with on a daily basis, a leaderless movement is unfathomable. When we think of previous non-violent change movements, great leaders come to mind: Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela. But consider the feminist movement of the 1960s. Consciousness raising groups formed the backbone of this movement. Small, independent, groups of women met to share their individual experience as women, and they shaped the newly forming feminist ideologies. In these groups, what had previously been considered personal failings were suddenly exposed as systemic oppression.

In much the same way as 1960s consciousness raising provided an alternate model for analysis, the Occupy Movement is currently providing an alternate model for decision-making. In Washington D.C., politicians have created and are maintaining gridlock. When our politicians are able to get the legislative traffic moving, many times, it moves against the citizenry. Our representatives do not represent we-the-people, rather they represent large corporate interests. In stark contrast, at most Occupy General Assemblies, anybody can bring up a proposal for consideration. And then Occupiers work to achieve consensus. If we start from the belief that everybody has a valuable veiwpoint, and we tweak a proposal so that everybody can support it, then decisions will benefit everybody. Consensus is a valuable method to arrive at solutions that work for the majority, the minority, and the extremes. As such, it models an alternative to the partisan obstinacy in evidence at many levels of government.

Is direct democracy through consensus the solution to our policital impasses? I think not. It is extraordinarily inefficient and time-consuming. It can also be easily sabotaged by a single person. Because, if consensus is the goal, it only takes one person to block that goal. Consequently each Florida Occupy location has adopted its own processes to address these problems. This past weekend, when the various local Occupy groups met in Orlando, they each came with their own set of procedures, slightly different hand signals, and established working relationships. For example, Occupy Gainesville uses pure consensus. Occupy Orlando makes decisions with a minimum of 90% agreement. Occupy Sarasota has yet to clearly define its process. Probably due to the fact that Occupy Orlando hosted the event, everyone eventually agreed to follow their process.

Although the People's Convention used the Occupy Orlando process, Occupy Orlando did not run the show. Moderators, stack-takers, and minutes-takers stepped up from all over the state. And when someone grew weary in their role, they asked for a replacement before stepping down from that role. So rather than calling the Occupy Movement a leaderless movement, I would describe it as a movement that is empowering many new leaders. Everybody's voice is important. Anybody can volunteer to facilitate. Having a single spokesperson or a charismatic leader makes a movement more vulnerable. Opponents can discredit, arrest or kill one person and bring the movement to its knees. But when there are many leaders and everybody speaks for themselves, a certain resiliency is possible.

Resiliency is what I saw this past weekend. I saw a laboratory for participatory democracy. I saw an extremely slow process. I saw leadership training going on in every corner. I saw people with expertise in one area educate those around them, repeatedly. I saw folks with differing concerns and solutions come together and have meaningful discourse. Americans are watching as our nation's infrastructure crumbles, our middle class evaporates, and our safety nets dissolve due to a mindset of competitive partisanship. The Occupy Movement does not suffer from such a mindset and is modeling an alternative.

Curious about what decisions were made at the People's Convention? Stay tuned for future posts.

December 6, 2011

Would Benches in Five Points Park Be Good for Homeless Residents?

In a prior post, I reported that last Spring,

"The City of Sarasota removed the benches from Five Points Park so that homeless people who gathered there would have no place to sit! Evidently, condo owners with views overlooking the park felt their safety and property values were under siege. Never mind that nobody was violating any laws. Never mind that many other city residents enjoyed the benches."
This didn't sit well with Occupy Sarasota. So, several weeks ago, Occupy Sarasota decided by consensus to back a petition to bring back benches to Five Points Park.

One Occupier reached out to Reverend Tom Pfaff, Sarasota Goodwill Chaplain. As a result, Reverend Pfaff and several other homeless advocates came to address the Occupy Sarasota General Assembly last Saturday. Revered Pfaff brought with him Sarasota Police Chief Paul Sutton, who is also on the Board of the Salvation Army, Cathy Hart, who runs the shelter services at the Salvation Army, as well as homeless and previously homeless members of the community. The intense dedication of these advocates shone through, when they spoke.

We were treated to their views as to why it was in everybody's best interest to keep park benches out of the Park. To summarize, when there were park benches in Five Points Park, crime was up and donations to the Salvation Army were down. Nobody provided any statistics to back these assertions up, but they certainly brought many years of experience helping this population. Their thrust was that anyone who was homeless and needed help was best served at Resurrection House, the Salvation Army, and area churches rather than hanging out at benches in Five Points Park. And, if Occupy Sarasota wished to be part of the solution, they should come down to volunteer and/or donate canned food to these organizations. Here are some excerpts from the views presented and the ensuing question and answer session.

Another focus of the speakers was the phenomenal job Sarasota is doing to help homeless members of the community as well as those with substance abuse problems. This runs counter to Sarasota having earned the distinction of "Meanest City in the U.S. For Homeless People" about five years ago. As intractable as the homeless problem seems, there are many successful strategies being employed in Sarasota.

I'm sure there will be further discussion as to how Occupy Sarasota will proceed with the benches issue. The speakers swayed some attendees to the idea of keeping benches out of the Park. Others felt that this is not just a homeless issue; the benches are for everybody's use and removing them goes against the common good. Captain Sutton did clarify one important point. Anyone is free to bring chairs down to Five Points Park for their own use. This would apply to the Occupy Sarasota weekly rally. After the General Assembly, various Occupiers trotted out five chairs for use by the knitting circle.

December 3, 2011

Occupy Sarasota Knitting Circle

Occupiers in outdoor encampments in the colder parts of the U.S. are hunkering down for winter. In support of their sacrifice, Rosemary decided to knit hats for them. Over the last few weeks, Rosemary knitted 10 hats using a pattern she found on the Knitters for Occupy Boston page. Her son has been active with Occupy New Haven and will be delivering those hats to either New Haven Occupiers or homeless folks in need.

Following Occupy Sarasota's General Assembly, several intrepid souls waded into the world of knitting. Three people who had never knitted before each decided to knit a scarf. Picasso's Moon Yarn Shop donated yarn. Leslie brought some knitting needles. And Rosemary provided the instruction.

Everybody plans to do some knitting over the next two weeks and reconvene with their creations.

December 2, 2011

The Federal Reserve: Part 1, Secret Loans

Those who have been yelling "End The Fed" for years would call the Federal Reserve a scam. Several days ago, Bloomberg Markets magazine published data showing that the Federal Reserve provided cover for the dire straits of the nation's largest financial institutions during the 2008 financial crisis. And today's news headlines would lead a casual reader to believe that the Federal Reserve is the Central Bank of the United States. Perhaps it's fair to call it a little of each - scam, cover-up, and Central Bank.

Five days ago, reported that back in 2008/2009, unbeknownst to Congress, the Federal Reserve committed the largest bailout in U.S. history. A bailout to the tune of $7.7 trillion. That dwarfs the Congressionally approved TARP bailout of $700 billion. Not only did they do this in secret, but the Federal Reserve kept this secret as Congress debated banking regulation in 2010. In 2010, there was an unsuccessful effort to curtail the size of banks, to eliminate the downside of having banks that are too big to fail. There was also a successful effort to improve accountability and transparency of the financial industry. Bankers lobbied heavily against these regulations. And they did not inform lawmakers of the $7.7 trillion needed in 2008 to assure that the nation's largest banks did not collapse. Only with documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and after a victory in court, did the Federal Reserve release the details of its secret funding to Bloomberg.

Remarkably, the Bloomberg estimates are lower than those reported back in July. In July of 2010, an amendment to the 2010 Wall Street reform law instucted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Federal Reserve. One year later, Bernie Sanders summarized, "As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world." Whether it's $7.7 trillion or $16 trillion, both are equally distasteful, and for the same reasons.

According to the Bloomberg report, two top borrowers from the Federal Reserve were Citigroup with $99.5 billion by January 2009 and Bank of America borrowing $91.4 billion by February 2009. The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Federal Reserve to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money. The TARP bailout funds were only to be provided to healthy banks. Both Citgroup and Bank of America received $45 billion in TARP loans. Based on their federal loans, both banks made tidy profits. According to the Bloomberg report, Citigroup made $1.8 billion and Bank of America made $1.5 billion.

This is not just a case of a couple of big banks. The list of banks who received Federal Reserve loans is long. The amounts they borrowed are staggering. And it was all done behind the scenes, without the knowledge of Congressional lawmakers. To be clear, almost all the loans were repaid. But this does not compensate for the duplicity of banks who took billions in emergency loans, and at the same time told the world that they were financially healthy. It does not counteract the fact that those banks that were too big to fail back in 2008, and thus had to be bailed out at taxpayer expense, are now bigger than they were. And it does nothing to mitigate the (Bloomberg) estimated $13 billion of income they made by taking advantage of the below-market rates they received on these loans.

Champions of the Federal Reserve would argue they didn't lose any money, so no harm, no foul. But I think most people, economists and non-economists, would agree that we are totally unprepared for another banking crisis. And, this is due in part to the Federal Reserve's secret trillions in loans. Loans that came with no strings attached. Loans that provided a safety net for bankers who took greater and greater risks. If financial institutions believe that the Federal Reserve won't let them go under, they will continue taking oversize risks and paying themselves handsome bonuses to do so. This is what gets the Occupy Movement so riled up. The United States has a financial system where bank executives can take huge risks, adversely impact the economy, rely on Congress and the Federal Reserve for emergency loans, and walk away with billions in compensation. And evidently all of this is perfectly legal.

Unfortunately, the media has yet to really pick up and run with this story. This morning I typed "Federal Reserve" into Google News search and was somewhat startled by the number and order of automatically generated categories:

  • 4,399 articles about the Fed and the Euro
  • 2 articles concerning the Fed and the stimulus
  • 618 articles about the The Fed and the stock market
  • 2 articles about The Fed and the economy in the Southeast
  • 360 articles about the Federal Reserve Beige Book
  • a CNBC transcript
  • 29 articles about the Fed and the deficit
  • GETTING CLOSER ... 313 articles about new scrutiny of the Fed
  • FINALLY ... 10 articles about secret Fed loans
It was hard to find news about the Federal Reserve secret loans, even when I was looking for it. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that regulators will pick up on it. Already, probably due to the diligence of the Bloomberg report, The Hill reports that Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md), who is on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter requesting the Committe look into the Federal Reserve's secret role in the 2008 bailouts. Go get 'em!