Who Is To Blame? Can We Make A List?
November 17, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me be a smarter protester within the Occupy movement. Who REALLY is to blame? Can you help me make a list?

I'm hoping you can help me compile a list of specific businesses and individuals in PORTLAND OR who are at least partly responsible for the economic mess and the widening gap between the wealthiest 1% and the remaining 99%. I want to start suggesting these as places to protest instead of occupying parks and blocking traffic.

I don't want this to be chatfilter question. I realize a lot of people think any protest that makes noise is good, and I'm not interested in debating that here. I'm trying to keep this question specific in hopes of creating legal, non-violent protests that are specific. And I'd love your help :)
posted by Mr Ected to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is a very difficult ask. You could blame almost anyone and have a reasonable justification for it. Until you get out of the blame game and into identifying what the exact problem is (that you care about), and then suggesting solutions, you can't really get anything done.

If you could articulate solutions to problems, and identify who is most responsible for being able to implement that solution, and protest *that*, then you could actually get something done.

If the Tea Party did anything right, it's that in the midst of villifying groups or types of people (versus individuals for the most part, aside from Obama), they did offer "solutions" (no matter how crack-pot they actually may have been), which gave them a point to jump from and say "We need to do X because it will make chocolate chip muffins grow from your trees."

Who to blame is going to differ on your take on how the crisis came about, what you actually think the 'crisis' is, and how far down the rabbit hole you're going to go. there's been threads on this before.. there is plenty of blame to go around. But not sure what protesting is going to do without having a solution in hand.
posted by rich at 1:27 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Which companies nearby is the SEC giving a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket?
posted by -harlequin- at 1:32 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is for the first sentence of your question, about being a "smarter protester."

I think protests should progress from saying "X is bad" to "We want Y," where Y is a feasible goal. What do you actually want to accomplish? What response(s) could make things better?

If, some years later, you looked back at this and were proud of yourself and you could say that you helped make Z happen, what is Z? What needs to be done to get to Z?
posted by maurreen at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Any retailer that busts unions. Target and Walmart spring to mind. An ever-increasing part of the working class has been moved into precarious retail jobs as manufacturing has disappeared in this country.

Read about financialization. Any institution that was part of the TARP bailout would make for a good target.
posted by phrontist at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you could articulate solutions to problems, and identify who is most responsible for being able to implement that solution, and protest *that*, then you could actually get something done.
posted by rich at 7:27 AM on November 18

Agreed. To that end, I offer what I think is the best explanation as to what OWS is about, from a comment at the Onion AV Club site by someone calling themself Cookie Monster (playing the character of Cookie Monster).
"Yes, there always going to be rich and poor. But we used to live in country where rich owned factory and make 30 times what factory worker make. Now we live in country where rich make money by lying about value of derivative bonds and make 3000 times what factory worker would make if factories hadn't all moved to China.

Capitalism great system. We won Cold War because people behind Iron Curtain look over wall, and see how much more plentiful and delicious cookies are in West, and how we have choice of different bakeries, not just state-owned one. It great system. It got us out of Depression, won WWII, built middle class, built country's infrastructure from highways to Hoover Dam to Oreo factory to electrifying rural South. It system that reward hard work and fair play, and everyone do fair share and everyone benefit. Rich get richer, poor get richer, everyone happy. It great system.

Then after Reagan, Republicans decide to make number one priority destroying that system. Now we have system where richest Americans ones who find ways to game system -- your friends on Wall Street -- and poorest Americans ones who thought working hard would get them American dream, when in fact it get them pink slip when job outsourced to 10-year-old in Mumbai slum. And corporations have more influence over government than people (or monsters).

It not about rich people having more money. It about how they got money. It about how they take opportunity away from rest of us, for sake of having more money. It how they willing to take risks that destroy economy -- knowing full well that what could and would happen -- putting millions out of work, while creating nothing of value, and all the while crowing that they John Galt, creating wealth for everyone.

That what the soul-searching about. When Liberals run country for 30 years following New Deal, American economy double in size, and wages double along with it. That fair. When Conservatives run country for 30 years following Reagan, American economy double again, and wages stay flat. What happen to our share of money? All of it go to richest 1%. That not "there always going to be rich people". That unfair system. That why we upset. That what Occupy Sesame Street about."
As Cookie Monster said, "It not about rich people having more money. It about how they got money." And in large part the Republicans are to blame for creating the system where corporate America could do what they have now done. To that end, perhaps protest outside some Republican senator or congresspersons office?
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2011 [34 favorites]

Do you want to go yell at Bank of America? That's been done. How about the Clackamas County office of the Republican Party? The next executive committee meeting is Monday, Nov. 11.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:44 PM on November 17, 2011

How about a company building a factory in Portland that was accused in a lawsuit by its founder of “breaches of fiduciary duties, abuse of control, gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment.” The company is called SoloPower and they borrowed $197 million from the Department of Energy to make green technology things. Extra bonus, one of the financial backers "has donated about $90,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2008. "
posted by otto42 at 1:47 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

[Folks, the OP (and us) don't want to make this into a chatfilter question. Please respond with specifics and not generalized or stereotyped grar. question is not anon, other stuff can go to MeMail. thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:57 PM on November 17, 2011

CPB, I would bet that Occupy isn't going to truck all the way out to Clackatraz just to piss off a handful of Republicans... and I'd doubt that Occupy wants to get involved in Democrat/Republican spats, anyway.

Fred Meyer HQ on Powell would actually be pretty good symbolically, since they are now Kroger-owned and have been liquidating the employees and weakening the union at their local headquarters for years now (sending a few people to Tennessee, laying off the rest, bringing in scabs for the lower level admin services that used to be unionized, doing their damndest to get their store employees out of SEIU) - but nobody making those decisions is actually local, so you'd mostly just annoy the people you want to advocate for.

Unfortunately, they closed the downtown BofA that did literally nothing but issue exploitative ARM/balloon mortgages, because that would have been totally perfect. The Portland Development Commission (PDC) might make some sense - they're right on the max line in Old Town, and they had a big hand in the proliferation of luxury housing in the Pearl/waterfront at the expense of affordable housing and local development, and there have been many allegations of corruption and kickbacks in those condo deals (I can't speak to the accuracy of those allegations, and my understanding is that it's somewhat better since they passed a city bill about it a couple years back after the housing boom ended and the horse was out of the barn already).

Otherwise, the many banks along Pioneer Square come to mind but will probably be pretty heavily patrolled (the big shiny Chase Bank they put in the old WaMu spot across from the Max line there would be an especially nice target, but I'm sure you've thought of that). If you know anyone who works for Senvoy, they might have some good ideas - they do urgent document delivery for all of these financial/real estate companies and they would probably know a lot of the major financial companies downtown.
posted by dialetheia at 2:17 PM on November 17, 2011

Get in touch with local union organizers. They are likely to have a pretty good list of companies that have been union friendly or unfriendly which isn't an altogether bad place to start. Beyond that, look for local public figures who are already supporting the protests or appear to be open to the idea and approach them to find out how you can advance their political aspirations. Make sure they'll remember who helped them get to the next level.
posted by meinvt at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you first have to figure out what exactly you are protesting.

If you are concerned about the wealth disparity between business owners and employers, then I think the bogeyman you are after is globalization, and business access to lower cost labor. There are no businesses responsible for it, other then maybe the enablers such as logistics companies like UPS, or maybe shippers, technology companies that make it easy to communicate with far-away people like I don't know, all the internet providers and innovators.

If you are concerned specifically about money in politics, then I guess you could opensecrets.org your local businesses and see who they gave money too (ignoring those businesses who gave money to politicians ideologically aligned with you).

If its one of the other issues, who knows.
posted by H. Roark at 3:04 PM on November 17, 2011

The repeal of the Glass Steagall act made this all possible. So the government. Clinton signed that repeal didn't he?
posted by Max Power at 3:06 PM on November 17, 2011

Who REALLY is to blame?

We are. The most important tactic used by any oligarchy is divide-and-conquer. We the 99% are currently divided over country music and drum circles. True, we're up against a propaganda machine, but the main cause of our weakness at the moment is that we need to come together and get organized. We need to be a we if we're going to win -- we're nothing without solidarity.

If you want to be a smarter protester, expand the circle. Look for nontraditional allies. Very nontraditional allies.

Visit your grandma's nursing home once a week and see if you'd be allowed to run an open forum. Don't tell them what's wrong with America -- listen to what they have to say about injustice in their lives. Old people tend to be poorer and more vulnerable than most. Pass what they tell you to the Portland GA. What could 20 angry, nonviolent young folks do to creatively resist the forces that oppress them? What could 20 angry, letter-writing grannies do to help you? (hint: city hall has a mailbox and they have spare time)

Fun fact: check the webpages of each church in downtown Portland and I think you'll find that every one of them has a "Social Justice Group" or something similar. That includes the Evangelicals. Yes, the Evangelicals, even the hard right Evangelicals. Find a friend of a friend, build bridges. Challenge them: if they say Occupy is the wrong way to fight for social justice in Portland, then let them show us the Christian way to get it done. Mention the word Jubilee.

Right now Occupy is vulnerable because its base of support is still way too small. I'm not saying that old folks and evangelicals are going to start camping out at the Vancouver Art Gallery any time soon, but if they start functioning as fellow travelers then we've won.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

As I understand it, OP's question asks for help identifying specific actors in Portland, OR that contributed to the economic troubles of the last 3-4 years and/or widening income inequality. I would argue that's hard to do without a decent understanding of the specific events that led to the current economic downturn.

One of the best resources I've come across for understanding the financial crisis is here. (Note that I do not agree with everything on that site, but they do have a lot of information.) I particularly recommend the This American Life episodes that are included on that list (#355, 365, and 375).

So that said, back to Portland. I don't know enough about the city to directly answer your question, but I can suggest some avenues for investigation:

Portland has a chamber of commerce that professes to believe "livability for Portland-region residents starts first with a sound economy that supports both private business growth and important public services." Do some research- how well do they live up to this goal? How can you push them to do better?

StanCorp Financial is the biggest employer in Portland's downtown core (according to this Oregonian piece) Do some research- how good a corporate citizen is the company?

Finally, don't underestimate those 20 letter-writing grannies justsomebody mentions above. Also, Rules for Radicals should be required reading for everyone in Occupy. I'm not saying I agree with everything it says, but the concepts it covers are important!
posted by Wretch729 at 4:24 PM on November 17, 2011

I think that maurreen above is definitely pointing you in the right direction. The main thing that is helpful in the context of the Occupy movement is to define certain goals and changes that will improve the US finance system for the benefit of the 99%. Once you have identified those goals to your satisfaction, do whatever you can to make them happen: write letters to your elected officials, lend your voice and your body to protests, spread the word on the web, create literature that explains these goals to other people and help others get informed.

This site, Demands of the Occupation is a good place to start your research on actionable goals.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 8:41 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maureen is absolutely right. I'm frustrated by protesters doing stupid things. Blocking bridges downtown? Portland's Steel Bridge is in no way responsible for the financial meltdown nor is it responsible for the widening gap between the wealthiest 1% and the remaining 99%. And the people stuck in traffic? They're the 99% too.

I want the protests to have a real focus:
"We're protesting at [specific place] because [specific reason] and we want [specific change]."

What I'm seeing now is:
"We're mad at everything, so we're going to block traffic."

I want to be a positive voice within the Occupy Portland movement to help form strategies that make sense. And I want the 99% to be able to see our protests on the news and say "Hey, that makes sense!" Blocking a bridge to protest... wait... what were they protesting exactly? It made no sense.

That's why I need your help.
The movement is so vague.
It needs specifics, even if those specifics are just starting points.
posted by Mr Ected at 10:33 PM on November 17, 2011

Sigh. I really tried to frame my question in a way that would lead to specifics.
posted by Mr Ected at 10:43 PM on November 17, 2011

Possible demands, or food for thought for making better ones:
* Better Alternative Minimum Tax or other tax reform
* Break up monopolies, companies with too much power, etc.
* Lower college tuition
* New New Deal
* Public elections financing
* Restore Glass-Steagall Act
* Stronger unions (whatever that might mean)
* Tariffs
* Tax on speculation
* Tighter antitrust rules

Are there any types of jobs in the area that are in high demand, even in the current economy? Maybe something could be set up to train people for those jobs.

Can you find out which local businesses or individuals have:
* done the most offshoring?
* given bonuses or raises to executives while laying people off or while the company's revenue or profits have gone downhill?
* have the largest multiples between executive pay and median worker pay, or somesuch?
* paid disproportionately low taxes?
* paid the most to support legislation you disagree with?
* taken public money but not supported the public (in various ways)?

If so, then maybe you protest those businesses, ask people to boycott them, and figure out something feasible that you ask the businesses to do now to improve the situation.

You might also try another tack. Research whether there are any opportunities for cooperation with sympathetic officials, academics, socially responsible businesses, etc. For instance, maybe Portland has a Ben & Jerry's type business that you could hold up as an example for other businesses to emulate. Or maybe there is a more-or-less progressive group working with(in) the system. Maybe even make friends with the Tea Partiers. Many of them are also part of the 99 percent. You might have similar end goals and can find a little overlap on approaches.

Maybe you could work somehow to support small businesses. I've read that they generate the most jobs. And they are likely to have less pay disparity.

I like that you're asking the questions.
posted by maurreen at 11:58 PM on November 17, 2011

It has to start with campaign finance reform and limiting the amount of money that flows to our elected officials from the private sector.

Too much of our government is owned by private corporations and super wealthy individuals that do not have the best interests of the citizenry in mind.

So if you want to protest locally, maybe you should protest whoever has bought the most government access.
posted by nnk at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2011

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