Dear Keith and Rachel,
My name is Jason Feldstein, and I’m an American who wholeheartedly supports Occupy Wall Street. I also happen to be gay and a registered socialist. I joined the socialist party because I was fed up with the two-party system, so I began reading third-party platforms and I agreed most with the socialist one – especially the part about supporting nonviolent revolution from below. Occupy Wall Street is clearly exactly that, and seeing it on television and all over the Internet has really inspired me. But the way most news anchors are dealing with it strikes me as yellow journalism of the very worst kind, and I’m really sick of the lies about “these protesters don’t know what they’re protesting” or “they’re just dirty hippies who are in it for the drugs and sex”.
The truth is this country hasn’t seen protests on this scale since the 1960’s. Occupy Wall Street is in essence the largest sit-in in history, and I think the idea is brilliant. But it seems to me the movement does need more than just a position statement. I was very inspired when I heard you read the position statement, Keith, because it was obvious from the passionate way you read it that you really believe in social justice the way we do. So I hope you will read what I’ve written, because I believe it may be a game-changer for the movement.
I don’t claim to represent the opinions of every single protester at Occupy Wall Street, of course. How could I? I haven’t been there yet , and while I’m planning to visit the weekend of the 22nd, I couldn’t possibly meet and interview every single person who’s there. All I can say is that I’ve done extensive Internet research and found some solutions that seem to work well in other countries for handling many of the same issues we have. I have long admired both of you for your journalistic integrity, so I hope you’re open to spreading these ideas. I’ve done my best to phrase them in ways that both social liberals and fiscal conservatives will be able to appreciate, since personally I am both. But this is really not about me – it’s about the message. I know that both of you, of all people, will understand that.
As citizens of the United States of America with a constitutional right to redress of grievances, we demand redress of the following grievances. We further demand a federal government that respects states’ rights and individual rights, while at the same time helping to empower all of us to help ourselves and each other. We are young and idealistic, so in a very real sense we are your future. Listen to our ideas, and together we can change the world. Until you do listen to us and do our will – which is your job as elected officials – we will never stop, never leave Wall Street, never abandon our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
America asked to know what we want, so here are some of our ideas:
- As taxpayers, we demand that our tax money go toward ending corruption in government. Elections must be publicly funded. All candidates with a certain reasonable number of signatures (perhaps 10,000 or 20,000) should start with the same modest amount of money from the federal, state or city government, depending on what jurisdiction level the position is. Congress must limit campaign contributions to specific candidates to a reasonable dollar amount (perhaps $500 or $1000) for both corporations and private individuals. Candidates should be prohibited from using their own personal wealth for political campaigns, but should be able to donate as much to their campaign as every other American can. This system will likely lead to candidates from 4 or 5 parties in most elections, which in turn will eventually lead to coalition governments… and countries with coalition governments don’t have the corruption problems we do, because each party in the coalition acts as a check against possible extremism by the others. We further call upon the American people to join a third party – any third party whose platform matches your values – because having candidates with as widely varying views as possible can only help to repair what’s wrong with our government and our economy. Contributions to political parties (rather than direct contributions to candidates) should still be allowed, however:
- As voters, we demand that only other voters be allowed to contribute money to support the political party of their choice. Corporations are not actual people, as evidenced by the fact that they do not get to vote in elections, so even if the Supreme Court currently considers campaign contributions to be free speech, the right to free speech applies only to citizens. Corporations do not qualify, as they do not possess citizenship of any country. Allowing them to make campaign contributions allows them to buy votes on whatever legislation they want, no matter how much it hurts the American people. This is unacceptable and must end immediately. Ending campaign contributions and prohibiting candidates from using personal wealth to finance their own campaigns us in the public interest, since it will lead to candidates run based on their moral convictions rather than a desire to buy a Congressional seat or the Presidency. We further demand the return of the presidential debates to the League of Women Voters, who ran them in a fair, balanced, honest and nonpartisan way before the Democrats and Republicans hijacked them and changed the rules to prevent third-party involvement.
- As pacifists who deplore violence against our fellow citizens based on factors they can’t change (such as their skin color, sex, or sexual orientation), we demand anti-hate-speech laws similar to those in Canada, but applying only to public officials. Candidates and elected officials need to understand that broadcasting a message of hatred on national television is the same as shouting “Fire!” in a crowded room; it directly incites violence against innocent people who do not deserve it, and as a result it should be a felony. We additionally demand that Congress reinstitute the fairness doctrine for television news; it’s time for a return to the journalistic integrity that makes freedom of the press so essential to maintaining democracy.
- As free thinkers of the information age, we demand full financial transparency and accountability from our government, as well as meaningful privacy protections and public accountability from government-funded artists and universities.
- The government must be accountable to We The People for how it spends our money, and We The People have every right to check up on it whenever we want to. We should have access to quarterly and yearly financial statements detailing exactly how every penny of our money, itemized within broad categories (education, military, social programs, medical research, etc.). In addition, we demand that Congress legally require all meetings between politicians and lobbyists to take place in dedicated room where they are streamed live on the Internet. If politicians know their constituents are always watching, they are far more likely to behave honestly and with integrity. Full financial accountability means prosecuting every single person responsible for harming not just our economy, but the economy of the entire world; this is our mess to clean up, not the Hague's.
- It should be illegal for any organization to sell our personal information without our explicit consent; all organizations should be "opt-in" rather than "opt-out". Publicly funded art grants should only go to artists who are willing to release their work freely under a Creative Commons license. Publicly funded universities should similarly be required to release all their research and publications under Creative Commons licenses, rather than keeping them proprietary. The free and open sharing of art and science can only improve the quality of arts and sciences education in this country, and it is long past time. More importantly, any university or artist funded with our tax dollars is producing work that belongs to us, thus it should freely be available to every American citizen.
- As humans who of necessity consume food every day of our lives, we demand complete freedom of choice over what goes into our bodies. We want clear, plain labeling of all products containing genetically modified crops, along with large tax incentives for farmers who grow heirloom crops. Products that contain inedible ingredients such as added wood pulp (“cellulose”) must also be labeled as such, for the benefit of those of us who do not wish to consume them.
- As sufferers from a wide variety of diseases both physical and mental, we demand free and safe access to any and all substances that might be helpful for a given disease. Medicinal marijuana helps cancer and HIV patients to cope with the side effects of their other medications, as well as for relief of chronic pain in numerous conditions; LSD relieves cluster headaches and migraines; so can psilocybin, and its benefits for personal development work are well documented in recent psychological studies. These useful substances and numerous others remain illegal despite their potential positive uses - to the benefit of drug companies and the detriment of the American people. We refuse to accept this hypocrisy any longer; substances with documented medical uses do not belong on Schedule I. In addition, none of the above substances has ever been shown to have the ability to kill anyone not already allergic to them, and since they're that safe, the federal government has no constitutional authority or compelling interest to keep them illegal. (Driving under the influence and selling them to anyone under 21 should still be illegal, of course, just like alcohol.) Congress must reclassify all such substances immediately, so that they can be taxed and regulated. In addition to a large new revenue stream for the government, this would free us from having to make back-room deals with shady drug dealers just to obtain medicinal plants that are found in nature, and would prevent deaths from one drug being laced with another. Anyone in prison for selling or possessing drugs with legitimate medical uses should be released immediately on time served. It's time to admit the so-called "War on Drugs" has been a dismal and pathetic failure, and it's long past time for a novel approach that allows responsible adults to determine for themselves what nonlethal intoxicants they prefer.
- As citizens of an increasingly global world, we demand an end to American imperialism. The United States currently spends over a trillion dollars a year on the military, and we have troops in 135 countries. No wonder the rest of the world is terrified of us; we are rapidly turning into the Roman Empire. 9/11 (or some event like it) was thus inevitable, because as we know from American history, if we oppress others they're going to fight back whatever way they can. No wonder our country has no money to spend on education, health care, or infrastructure; we’re too busy buying tanks and missiles instead. Congress must constitutionally limit military spending to no more than 20 percent of the GDP, and President Obama must remove our troops from all non-combat zones immediately.
- As workers who value our jobs and want more people to be able to find one that can actually support them, we demand an end to unfair labor laws. America’s minimum wage must be a living wage high enough for every worker to afford health insurance. Union rights must have their own constitutional amendment, so that greedy politicians can’t use union limitations to score points with their corporate masters. Our founding fathers were generally very wealthy men, but they were of that old breed of wealthy men who believed wealth carries with it the obligation to be gracious. This is why, like Warren Buffett, they spoke out against special treatment for the rich. Every American hates the IRS and agrees that our tax code is unnecessarily complex and has too many loopholes, so Congress should abolish the IRS and adopt a national sales tax system such as the FairTax instead.
- As people terrified of financial ruin should we be caught sick and without insurance, we demand a tax-funded public healthcare plan that covers all Americans, including the homeless and the unemployed. Tax working people a little more so that those who have it worse than we do won’t have to choose between death and a life of endless debt. For-profit health care has become a grotesque perversion of the Hippocratic Oath. Hospitals and insurance companies should only be allowed to retain their nonprofit status if they adjust their fees to a level that only covers their own labor and supply costs for treatment. Australia has free public health care for all, along with higher-quality private health plans for those who wish to pay for them; this is the system we want. Access to good health care is a basic human right, one that millions of Americans currently lack. We can’t legitimately call ourselves “the land of the free” until this changes.
- As people of faith, we demand that right-wing extremists stop using our religions to justify their political beliefs. Judaism, Islam and Christianity in their purest forms teach their followers to pursue peace, feed the hungry, help the poor, and treat every person decently and with respect. Jesus invented “class warfare”; he said that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, and that no one can serve two masters (god and money). In Judaism, the Talmud teaches that the sin of Sodom was that those living there were rich, but they refused to share their riches with those in need - so in a Jewish sense, the Tea Party are literally Sodomites. To any fundamentalist Christian or Orthodox Jew who doesn’t support what’s currently being called “class warfare”, we submit that your beliefs are not authentically Christian or Jewish at all. Read the bible and you’ll see why we say so.
- As avid fans of your music, we call upon artists who support social justice such as Lady Gaga, the Dixie Chicks, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, Yusuf Islam, Ani Difranco, Dar Williams, Chumbawamba, Immortal Technique, Beyonce, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, En Vogue, Aretha Franklin, the Indigo Girls, Eric Clapton, Bette Midler, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Annie Lennox, Joan Baez, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Kula Shaker, Eminem, Enya, U2, The Dandy Warhols, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, System of a Down, Too Much Joy, They Might Be Giants, Janet Jackson, Ferron, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Jian Ghomeshi, and Jedi Mind Tricks to publicly stand with us to support positive sociopolitical change. We mourn the recent passing of such pioneers as Michael Jackson, Mary Travers and George Harrison, who should have lived to see this movement; you were true artists who helped to show society its dark side (as any good artist should). We miss you, but we'll carry on your work for as long as it takes. All of you, living or not, are the ones who inspired us to do what we're doing. We love you. We need you to use your fame to help our message reach the whole world. Please help by coming to perform for us if you can. Please help by releasing your music under Creative Commons licenses, so that money is never a barrier to everyone hearing your message. Please help us by refusing to play anywhere else until our collective voice is heard. We promise to keep paying to come to your concerts, both because we love your music and we support your message. Many if not most of us wouldn't be involved if not for your inspirational music, and we want history to remember you for the courage and generosity it would take to support us as we've supported you. Your example will help other artists and other wealthy people to understand why social justice is so essential for a working democracy. Until you're here, we're forced to assume you stand with the 1%... but we know that isn't true, so please come. The civil rights movement is long over - this is the economic rights movement - but we need you to lend us your voices just as much as our parents did. Record companies have tried to enslave you in the past, just as numerous corporations have tried to enslave us all; please join us in fighting back with the most potent weapon we possess: the truth.
- As supporters of basic human rights for all, we demand a complete overhaul of America’s prison system, educational system and Israel policy:
- Rather than mandatory minimum sentences, we need a system that allows wrongly imprisoned innocent people access to the tools they need to prove their innocence. People on death row must have the same access to such tools – particularly the appeals process – as every other inmate. If that means a few guilty people end up being released along with the innocent, fine; at least it will also mean that no more innocent people are executed in this country. If those guilty people are able to prove unfair treatment in their original trials, they deserve to go free since they never received a fair trial.
- No one should have to go into debt to afford a college education. The national sales tax rate should be high enough for the federal government to pay for citizens to attend any college that accepts them, for undergraduate school only, much the way Australia does. Existing Stafford and other federal loan debt should be forgiven, completely and permanently. An educated working class is the foundation of a working democracy and the best possible check against fascism, and we should be willing to pay any amount of money to ensure that we have one.
- As regards Israel, the Netanyahu administration continues to perpetrate flagrant human rights abuses upon the Palestinian people, despite 70 percent of Jewish Israelis supporting Palestinian statehood according to a recent poll. Working Israelis and Palestinians alike want an end to this conflict, and their government refuses to listen to them, just as ours has not yet listened to us. We demand our government stop coddling Israel’s disingenuous right-wing government and start treating it the way we would treat any other group of rogues or fascists. We are Jews, Muslims, Christians, and members of every other conceivable faith, and we stand united on this issue.