An Archipelago of Isolation Chambers
However "Swiftian" our mood, signage, and costumes, however much we retain the vital capacity to laugh at our own predicament and make fun of our tormentors, what I'm proposing is, in the end, serious business. A massive "Collateralize Us" day is doable—and through its wit could embolden us and shame those in charge of the care and feeding of the 1 percent. More important, it could put in the most graphic terms, where everyone could see it, a core indictment of a system in ruins and perhaps even hint at what might replace it.
Why pick a single day and a single place to symbolically immolate our own children (and their children to come)? Why not continue to occupy as many places as we can on all days? We should!
However, the simple epiphany that OWS allowed millions to experience was its blunt discovery that Wall Street, the world of financial mis-engineers and predatory speculators, was the taproot of our multiple dilemmas. For people around the globe, that street remains, at least symbolically, the site where our misbegotten Age of Austerity was born. So it makes continuing sense to persevere in pressing that singular insight, in pursuing a determination to confront a dysfunctional system where it originates.
So, too, local governments around the country have consistently used their police forces to cage, disperse, or otherwise fragment local occupations and may even have coordinated their police "occupations" with one another. "Our streets" are ever less "ours" in any meaningful sense. The geography of democracy is being transformed into an archipelago of isolation chambers.
But that won't be the case if untold numbers assemble in New York on the 16th. If every movement and organization that has had anything to do with OWS over these last months were to collaborate in mobilizing, even on the bitterest of January days, the streets will again be "ours."
Martin Luther King and Jubilee Day
Then, of course, there is the resonant significance of the day itself. Martin Luther King was a lawbreaker for justice. So, too, were all those who defied "legitimate authority" alongside him. I'm not suggesting we break the law. I do suggest we exercise rights that are growing weak, and will grow weaker, if allowed to atrophy further. And I do suggest as well that we, like King, become the midwives of new law.
If credit-default swaps and structured investment vehicles are legal, as they are, and if marching in the streets is becoming ever less so, as it is, then on January 16th we should begin to turn that kind of preposterous world upside down. What was lawful shall become criminal and what was denied to the people shall be taken by them and made good law.
When we gather on the 16th of January at the corner of Broad and Wall streets—don't worry, you'll find it!—in an act of unprecedented symbolic self-sacrifice, we might also make one modest request. With Martin Luther King in mind, let us propose that January 16th also become Jubilee Day.
Such days were a more or less regular part of the calendar in biblical times and long after. It was the moment when common people were relieved of their crushing debts and the world was allowed to start over again. Our own version of such a "day of forgiveness" would focus on all the debts with which the 1 percent have burdened so many working people.
On that day, we might resume a conversation about how to start the world anew. It would undoubtedly be a conversation about all the vital resources that everyone depends on to enjoy life, be healthy, and have a future worthy of bequeathing to our children. It would certainly be about how these must never again be allowed to congeal in the hands of an infinitesimal elite organized in a tiny number of private institutions indifferent to the commonweal and immune from censure.
See you on the 16th. Bring your children.
Steve Fraser is Editor-at-Large of New Labor Forum, a TomDispatch regular, and co-founder of the American Empire Project (Metropolitan Books). He is a labor and economic historian whose most recent book is Wall Street: America's Dream Palace. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.