Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “99%”

Occupy Movement Endorsed by Washington – Roger Ingalls

After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, I couldn’t stop smiling. Similarly, I grinned during the last few months of the presidential election. The Occupy Movement is routinely portrayed by mainstream media and conservatives as a failure; however, reviewing the political chatter during the recent elections and the President’s speech on Tuesday, the Occupy influence is front and center.

Prior to the Occupy Movement, there was no media or political focus on the destruction of the middleclass, tax breaks for the wealthy, tax loopholes for corporations or the disparity between the 1%ers and 99%ers. The movement brought attention to all these topics and they were the main sound bites throughout the entire election season. Fast forward to Tuesday and a significant portion of the President’s time was dedicated to Occupy topics: 1) rebuilding the middleclass, 2) increasing wages for many Americans, 3) returning a fair tax burden to the wealthy and big business, 4) closing tax loopholes for corporations and 5) stopping corporate off-shore cash hoarding.


When comparing the Tea Party and Occupy Movements, the latter has been much more beneficial to Middle America. The Tea Party has done nothing but create gridlock in Washington, slowing economic recovery. They’ve also placed political handcuffs on Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He’s ineffective because the fanatical right is holding the larger conservative party hostage. Even though the Occupy Movement hasn’t received due credit, its original talking points are on the tongues of politicians today. In addition, a fairer tax burden was realized in January when taxes were increased on the wealthy; an original Occupy demand.

The media is no longer discussing the Occupy Movement but Washington’s politicians are endorsing it through action and sound bites.

Four More Years…Together

I realize this should be an emotional post but the truth is I’m exhausted: not burnt out, but simply running on empty. Given the prices of gas, that might not be a bad thing.

President Obama won. The Democratic agenda won.

But the reality is that we carried it with a little more than half the vote. 

America is slowly digging itself out of a deep hole. It is a hole that has taken its toll on 99% of us, many of whom did not vote for the President. The reality is that we must continue to dig ourselves out as one nation. There is not much of a margin of error, and we need to do it together. 

Many of the more extreme candidates lost and I believe this is important. We need a government that will work with the President and not against him. To do this, we need the support of those rational and patriotic Republicans, who did not vote for Barack Obama.

As such, it is not the time to be too self-congratulatory. It is not right to run the victory lap when there is still high unemployment, soldiers abroad, veterans suffering, rising homelessness, and an over-burdened education system.

It is time to reach out to our neighbors and harness the energy and commitment by activists of both sides, so that we can move this country forward together. Four more years yes…but together.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Spirited Discussion: Occupy May 2012 – Roger Ingalls

Spring is in the air and so is the Occupy Movement. I had a great online discussion today with a couple of people and even with the realization that we had differing opinions, it was a comforting experience. It confirmed that people from all walks of life are still engaged, angry and it gave me confidence that the movement is still relevant.

 Here’s is the conversation.

Karen: “Watching the news and can’t believe the occupiers are throwing things at people and breaking things, I can’t believe how many police are out to try and contain them… Maybe if they were given the bill to pay for the extra police instead of my tax dollars having to pay for it they would think twice about it? Come on people, lets move on and quit bothering all the people who are trying to make a living!!”

Debbie: “I agree. No meaningful message gets out with violence and destruction.”

Roger: “Hmmm….should I comment? As initially reported, no violence until police arrived.”

Karen: “Roger, are you saying the police provoked these people into being violent or that they had no intention of vandalizing or being violent until the police showed up? The thing that gets me is that these people will go and smash in windows and “protest”, and wear masks so nobody knows who they are – if you are not planning on vandalizing or being an idiot you shouldn’t have to hide behind a mask. Maybe it’s just me…if you want to take over a building, do it the right way, not by throwing pipes and whatever else off the roof in a random manner not caring who or where it lands on. This whole thing has turned into mass chaos and destruction. Why was it necessary to mash in windows to small businesses two nights ago? What was the occupying and then the shop owner has to pay to replace their windows and cleanup – it’s bullshit?”

Karen: “Not all of that was directed at you, Roger, I was just asking you the question and then started ranting cause I find it so frustrating. I saw on the news this morning that some people who worked in downtown Oakland had a hard time getting home yesterday and I just don’t get it.”

Roger: “I think 90% of the Occupy folks are true protesters and then there are the other 10% that just use the movement as an excuse to be violent and break crap. Many of the bad 10% wait ’til the police show up so they can challenge them.”

Roger: “But…it is also Constitutionally illegal for the police to break up a non-violent protest on government or “commons” property. So many police forces yesterday were in violation of Federal Law. incidentally, many Bostonians in 1773 didn’t “get it” when the Sons of Liberty tossed the tea into the harbor but they are considered heroes today!

Roger: “I’m not offended, Karen, It’s good to vent!”

Debbie: “I am frustrated as a 99er because the message we are trying to get out is so important, the system is broken and no one in power will deal with it because corruption and greed are so wide-spread. But that small portion of protesters who start trouble by destroying things are destroying the damn message. Ergg!!”

Roger: “Hang in there Debbie, you can’t hold back the will of the people forever. Unfortunately, violence is part of the process and it will get worse before true change occurs. I hope I’m wrong but history proves that changes in the power structure don’t happen until those in power feel the wrath of the people. Again, I hope I’m wrong!”

Roger: “Karen, Debbie, great subject and discussion!”

Hope Seedling, picture from robcubbon.com

After a winter of hibernation, the seeds of discontent and change are coming back to life.

Business Dust Bowl – Norman Weekes

“On a scale from one to ten, how’s business been in the last year?” I asked.  I was a membership representative door to business door in San Mateo County for a small business lobby group. As part of the sales pitch I’d ask business owners about their business performance.

Based on the appearance of the business, the lack of employee’s or the silence in the business (no productivity) I would amend the question. “How’s business?” Awful, horrible, never seen anything like this in (pick one) 20, 30, 40 years of business was the frequent answer. More than I care to remember a business owner would tell me they were closing the doors, “retiring” or hoping to go back to work for “the man.”

Small business owners are the forgotten victims of the great recession. It’s easy to forget them. How many of us can relate to the backbone of our economy? How many of us have started or closed a business? How many of us have the inherent qualities (balls) to start a serious business? What’s a serious business? A business where the collateral backing the business is your house, property, cash, personal credit or other assets you’ve accumulated through honest hard work: a business where you haven’t taken a paycheck to keep the doors open. A business where you’ve laid off employees whose families attended the Christmas party months before. That’s serious business.

Two restaurants where I live in Castro Valley recently closed. One closure in particular caught many locals by surprise. JD’s was known for the best breakfast in town and has been family-owned since the seventies. “For lease” and “Available” signs dot the business landscape like tombstones marking the precise location of a deceased dream.  On a positive note people have come together to use social media to organize cash mobs but it will take more than feel good to stop this carnage.

Small business owners are the last heroes standing of capitalism. They take more risks, hire more people and contribute more to communities than big business ever will or care to. They are not people as defined by the Supreme Court, but people like you and me.

So the next time rich politicians debate or talk about the economy listen for what they’re doing for the people in the 99% who happen to own a business. Listen hard for the sound of silence.


Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist. 

Creating Coalitions Pt. 2

Following on from Monday’s post, I have been summarizing Mark Bittman’s excellent article in the NYT. Mr. Bittman stresses the realization of “an oligarchy in this country, one that uses financial strength to gain political power, one that fights and bullies for its “right” to make money regardless of the consequences to the earth or anything on it.

Exxon will do all it can to prevent meaningful climate change legislation; Cargill and Pepsi will fight any improvement in agriculture or diet that threatens their profits; Bank of America would rather see homeowners go under than discuss changes in financial structures. And so on.”

Mass movements have begun to emerge as one method to break this ring of influence and the Occupy Bank Transfer Day is an outstanding example. To organize at both the personal and local level can have a resounding effect. 

The second focuses on voting. Very few Presidents, our present one might be an exception, initiate change. Again, Mr. Bittman: “Does anyone believe that Lyndon Johnson wanted to combat racism, or that Richard Nixon cared about American troops or Vietnamese citizens? No: they were forced, respectively, to support civil rights legislation and to begin ending the Vietnam War. Forced by masses of Americans marching, yelling, demonstrating, sitting in and more — Americans driven by their conscience, not by profits.”

This makes the organization and coordination of huge numbers of citizens absolutely critical. We need to identify politicians who are willing to shun corporate money and pressure in favor of reflecting the needs of their constituents. This is so much more difficult than taking several million dollars to support your campaign.

We can sit around and complain of the blatant undemocratic process of corporate sponsorship of politicians or we can focus on establishing a list of candidates that are true to their principles and will rely on mass support from the street. The alternative is to create our own big interest PACs, and this has its own scary elements to it.

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the idea of ‘playing their game,’ but now I am not so sure that we can create a sustainable framework whereby politicians are elected and held accountable by their voters.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Creating Coalitions Pt. 1

An excellent article by Mark Bittman recently caught my attention.  While the Presidential elections and the circus that precedes it, captivates the media and offers us a measure of entertainment, the danger is that it is becoming more of a distraction.

 2011 was a pivotal year, whichever side of the fence you dwell. The Arab Spring, Tea Party and Occupy movements sent a clear message that the people have had enough and want change. Moreover, there is a wide understanding that coordinated, mass movements can effect change.

What is imperative now is to band together and organize so that the President and Congress take our claims seriously. The Republicans are tied up with their desperate attempts to find a candidate who is…well remotely Presidential.

The left, whether it be the green movement, the occupy movement, or the mainstay democratic party and trade union activists need to coordinate a clear rallying cry around those issues most critical tothe 99 percentand be ready in Mr. Bittman’s words “to garner enough political will and power to pressure the president and Congress to move resolutely on the issues that matter.”

This coalition will certainly include the environmental movement, the Occupy movement, the foreclosed homeowners movement, the indebted students movement, the food and health movement, or the unemployment movement, and I am sure there are others that I have missed.

Somehow, the plethora of movements worries me. Once you get individual leaders and proud movements there is inevitable competition for the microphone and the ear of the media. There needs to be a clear channel recognized by the President and government as a respected pulse of the people.

As Mr. Bittman says: “It doesn’t matter what you call the movements, or the people behind them. What matters is forcing the government to act in the interests of the sometimes-silent majority rather than its corporate paymasters.”

He also points to a recent Pew poll that found just about half of all young people now have a more positive view of “socialism” (whatever that is) than “capitalism” (we know what that is), as do nearly a third of all Americans.

How do we take this momentum and turn it into clear, measurable changes in policy? Mark Bittman lays out a course that I will present on Wednesday.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Tip of the Hat to some 1%-ers

Two weeks ago, Warren Buffett who has gone on record as saying that he feels the top 1% are not being taxed enough, issued a challenge in a Time Magazine interview. Buffett pledged to match any voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress, aimed at reducing the deficit. He even offered to go three for one with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Warren Buffett - a man of principle.

Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican representing Virginia, wrote a letter to Buffett, letting him know that he makes it a regular practice to donate 15% of his Congressional salary “to pay down the debt.” That amounted to $23,103.33 in 2011 and about $26,100 in 2012.

Mr. Buffett is keeping good to his word and will write a check to the US Treasury for just over $49,000 to match Scott Rigell’s voluntary contributions for both years.

In a letter to Rep. Rigell released by Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett writes he’s “particularly impressed that you took this action before my challenge.”

Rigell reciprocated in the lovefest by saying: “Though we differ on tax policy, as fellow Americans and businessmen I know that we share this common bond: a deep concern over the state and trajectory of our country’s finances.”

A Worthy Adversary

Mr. Buffett then went on to challenge Republicans and Democrats to spark an intramural war of contributions. Whilst I won’t hold my breath on this, I do want to honor both Mr. Buffett and Rep. Rigell, who have set an example to the rest of the 1%. Gentlemen, as a member of the 99%, I appreciate it.

If there isn’t enough good vibes going around with this story, Rep. Rigell in his letter to Mr. Buffett, offered to provide paperwork showing his contribution. Mr. Buffett responded: “Your word is good with me.”

Gosh, stories like this are so depressing. They fill you with hope until you open the newspaper in the morning. Such a long way to fall.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Ways to Save Tax Dollars – Tom Rossi

When President Obama took office in January of 2009, some people all of a sudden got very concerned with government spending – which they had ignored during the Bush administration. Republicans and InsaniTea party members want social services cut to the bone. But it seems that whatever cuts are proposed by Democrats, they are not nearly enough – just scratches in the surface of the money that needs to be saved.

So, here are my cut proposals to make life less painful to those always suffering Republicans. Call these: the ideas I would have if I suddenly lost my mind. Or call them, the endpoint of “austerity.” 

Eliminate the police. Those who are worthy of protection can afford to hire their own, private security anyway.

Privatize fire protection. If I want to protect my house from fire, I’ll pay for it. If your house burns down, why should I care?

Eliminate most of the military. We really only need a few drones and a few nuclear missiles. Those should keep our enemies in check. The rest is a waste.

Eliminate public education (this one’s already on the chopping block in R version of dungeons and dragons). Are you kidding me? I’ll send my kids to private school and yours can train on the job to tend my landscaping.

Privatize everything to do with water. Sell all water rights to the highest bidder and let that corporation sell water to those who wish to buy it.

Eliminate sewer services. People who want to make sewage go away and/or be treated can pay for it. The rest can live in their own filth.

Stop building and maintaining dams. We can get plenty of electricity from good, old-fashioned coal. We have lots of it. And as for flood prevention and that sort of thing… move to higher ground if you’re worried.

Stop constructing and maintaining highways and roads. If you really need to get somewhere, buy an off-road vehicle to get over the deteriorating pavement or take a helicopter or something. Otherwise, stay home and watch Jerry Springer on TV.

Eliminate the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Let air safety be subject to the free market. If you want to pay for safety, you will be able to. If you prioritize cheap air travel, you will be able to choose a riskier but cheaper airline.

Eliminate the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This one’s a slam dunk. If you see people dying from an over-the-counter or prescription drug, don’t buy it. That’s how the free market works – people making choices. 

Eliminate traffic lights. Well, don’t spend money to take them down, just don’t use electricity to run them. Just let people work intersections out for themselves (in their off-road vehicles).

Eliminate or “streamline” (I almost choke writing that word – even as a joke) ALL regulation in the U.S. If you want safety, pay for it. If you want to be sure that when you buy a gallon of gasoline, you’re really getting a whole gallon, then measure it yourself. If you want a corporation to stop polluting the river in your town, pay them to stop or stop buying their products. If you want to breath without sucking carcinogens into your lungs, wear a gas mask. 

In short, what I suggest to make Republicans happy is a complete return to cave-man times, but with some technology whiz-bangs and doodads that will allow us to pretend that life is still tolerable. And wouldn’t this be a great country to live in? Stark, spartan, desolate – except for the lucky few. Ahhhh, heaven.

The United States is currently 40th worst, out of the 140 countries measured by the GINI coefficient. GINI measures income inequality (the least income inequality is in, of course, Sweden). But the Republicans are not satisfied with only 40th worst. They want the United States to be number one!

This would mean more for the top 1% and less for the 99%. That’s the direction we’re heading, and the some of the changes I’ve listed are actually on the Republican agenda. Of course, these do NOT include eliminating the police or the military as these are Republicans’ favorite things – several steps above chocolate ice cream. A few of these I mean to be humorous (in a dark way), but if we want to live in a country with no taxes, we will have to live without government services. I’d rather pay a few bucks in taxes and live in a country that provides a decent living environment for it’s people. 

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


Bank Transfer Day

A friend of mine was frustrated with the General Strike on Wednesday in Oakland and with the Occupy Wall Street in general. While a member of the 99% and sympathetic to the cause, she had just heard from a worker at the Port of Oakland, who is paid hourly and worried that he lost a day’s income that he needs to feed his family.

From Star Wars to General Strike.  – Thank you to Oakland Mofo for the beautiful photo. 

We are hurting the very people we are supposed to be fighting for, she said (these are my words). Do you really think we hurt the 1% at the ports? She went on to complain that it is frustrating that there is no clear agenda and no clear tactics that will hurt those we are challenging to change their selfish and greedy practices.

She is right. I think I argued with her and probably lost because I knew she is right (Don’t tell her I wrote this!). I reminded her about the post that my colleague Tom Rossi wrote with a clear list of demands, but I had to concede about tactics.

But today, we can do something…and I mean today. As part of the Occupy Wall Street campaign there is a call for people to move their money from for-profit financial institutions to credit unions. So far, almost 80,000 people have made the commitment on Facebook to “send a clear message that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”

Patelco – my credit union


More than $4.5 billion have been moved into new savings accounts in credit unions according to CUNA. 80% of credit unions  are recording significant member growth since the campaign began at the end of September, which was a reaction to the debit card fees that have since been dropped. 

Skeptics say that even if the entire 80,000 were to move their money, this would represent less than 1% of just Bank of America’s customers. There is an estimated $7.5 trillion in banks, including loans and savings. B of A has 57 million customers.

However, there is potential here to make Wall Street listen, even if not to bring it to its knees. The rescinding of the debit card charges is a good lesson. Even when chasing the most profit, a company, even one the size of B of A has to listen to its clients.

And what if every one of those 80,000 who signed up persuaded 5 of their friends. 400,000 people could transfer $30 million. November 5th was the date set for protestors to complete their transfers because the organizers wanted to create a measurable impact. I regret not writing on this earlier. But even if you cannot get out today and transfer your money, or want to research deeper, the banks will take notice if more people continue to protest by moving money into the people-friendly (and people-owned) credit unions. 

Thought the organizers of Bank Transfer Day want to distance themselves from Occupy Wall Street, history (and even in a year’s time) just might record Bank Transfer Day as the most effective measure to come out of this time period. It might also be a turning point in the utilization of the Internet to make strategic strikes and to conduct dissent away from demonstrations, something which is often regarded by people as intimidating.

And perhaps in a year, my friend and I might look back on this period of time together as one of change and one of pride.




Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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