Don’t Tread on Us: Occupy, Jill Stein, and the Decentralization of Democracy

One of the most respected TV ads of all time begins with men, shaven heads, grey clothing, expressionless, marching in unison into a theatre. Suddenly a woman, in bright colors, runs after them with a sledge hammer. Police chase this woman, visors pulled down over their faces. As the expressionless men sit dumbly and stare at the talking-head of Big Brother blabbering away about the danger of thought and the impossibility of failure, the woman throws the hammer at the screen. It explodes into a flash of light. The voiceover tells us “you will see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” We are left to imagine that these men, enslaved by police and propaganda into forsaking their own human capacity for governance, are freed from the spell of Big Brother. The entire ad takes only 58 seconds and aired only once in January, 1984.

The book 1984 introduced us to doublespeak and to severe punishment for independent thinking. We have a doublespeak democracy “of the people” controlled by the 1%. Our ability as ordinary citizens to participate in the decisions of “our” government are nil. Obama in the past year has threatened any activist, dissenter, or critical journalist with indefinite detention without trial. Obama himself hasbroadened the tools of surveillance on Americans, approving the use of drones in the USA. The Democratic party itself significantly weakened its position on civil liberties in its 2012 platform. A person can be hauled before a Grand Jury for having anarchist literature, and three activists are currently in jail for not identifying their anarchist friends. We have reached a point where we are told we have no choice but to vote for the lesser evil of two talking-heads chosen by the Oligarchy. We do not meaningfully participate in the choice of president when we are cajoled into choosing between one of two corporate candidates. Our need as human beings to participate fully in our own governance is no longer available in the USA.

As human beings, we have a need and a desire to participate in our government. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum designates this capability for governance as part of what we need to be able to exercise to be full human beings: “being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association.”

The public recognition of this need is one of the two great contributions of the Occupy Movement. The other is the emphasis on the every-widening income disparities in the USA that has brought “99%” and “1%” into common parlance. These two contributions are interconnected. Occupy showed us that we need an alternative to a top-down government of, by, and for the 1%. That’s why the 1% couldn’t tolerate the Occupy Movement and suppressed it brutally.

Green Party Candidate Jill Stein embraces the need for people to participate in their own government. This is the second point in her platform, immediately after the need for political reform. She calls it “political participation” and it aims to revive “direct democracy as a response to local needs and issues where all concerned citizens can discuss and decide questions that immediately affect their lives.” It rests on decentralization, so that local citizens and groups can be involved. A couple of highlights:

  • We support citizen involvement at all levels of the decision-making process…
  • We demand re-enforcement of our civil liberties of speech, assembly, association and petition. Citizens may not be denied the right to public, non-violent protest….

Jill Stein sees her campaign as an opportunity to give people “a voice in this election, everyday people, and a choice at the polls that isn’t already bought and paid for by Wall Street. My job is to put real solutions on the table that the American people are clamoring for.”

Jill Stein represents and expresses the demand that we participate fully in the political decisions that affect us. She’s not unlike the woman coming down the aisle with the sledge hammer to break us out of our mesmerization with talking-heads and the false illusion that politics as usual is perfectly alright. It’s not. We the 99% are becoming fully disenfranchised; our children and grandchildren are facing serious economic and ecological threats; the 1% has trod us into the mud. We have a duty to rise up and tell them that “it’s over”: Don’t Tread On Us.