David Swanson: Occupation of Freedom Plaza in DC modeled after Tahrir Square and Mass European Protests


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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Unemployment is high and is getting higher. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya continue. And people have been asking, where is the American Tahrir Square? We saw hints of it in Wisconsin, but there’s yet to be something at the national level that challenges current public policy. Now, there are many attempts in the works, but one of them is planning an event–or more than event, they’re planning to occupy a square called Freedom Square in Washington, DC, in October. And now joining us to discuss this is one of the organizers, David Swanson. David is with–I guess you’re–today you’re October 11 dot org, but you’re also with–tell us your other various websites.

DAVID SWANSON, COFOUNDER, WAR IS A CRIME: Yeah, october2011.org, and I work for rootsaction.org, and I blog at warisacrime.org and many others.

JAY: So, David, tell us what’s planned for October.

SWANSON: Well, we’re planning to model our behavior on the actions that happened earlier this year in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, in Tunisia, and the actions you see in Spain and Greece and countries around the world when governments get even a fraction as bad as ours has gotten. And so we’re going to go to Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC–whose name is quite similar to Tahrir Square, translated–and we’re going to occupy it, beginning October 6. And we’re going to remain and we’re going to nonviolently interfere and shut down the offices of our government until we begin to get some movement. You know, the actions in Egypt are very much an ongoing struggle, and they’re very much trying to get back that momentum they had in Tahrir Square. But they have some momentum, and that came from that activity. So we’re going to be there until we begin to take back control of our government.

JAY: What are some of the specific demands?

SWANSON: Well, if you go to october2011.org, you’ll see a list of demands at the top, at least of general themes. And there will be more specific demands made, including getting out of Afghanistan. We’re, of course, timing this for the end of the first decade of the war in Afghanistan, as well as for the beginning of next year’s austerity budgets coming out of Washington. But the general themes are the same that everybody comes up with, that the majority opinion in this country is demanding, and that our government won’t answer to, the same demands that other more partisan and less principled movements are making, and that is to tax the rich, to end the wars and cut the military, to protect Social Security and give us Medicare for all, to protect workers rights to organize and to strike and to strike in solidarity, to protect our environment, to build our environment, to create infrastructure and green energy. It’s the same agenda that everybody has. What’s different is the tactics we mean to employ.

JAY: So what exactly do you mean by stop the business of government?

SWANSON: Well, I mean shutting down buildings and offices and hallways and streets nonviolently–strictly nonviolently. We will have–we have a nonviolence pledge. People are going to October 2011 and pledging to be there and to be nonviolent. We have training sessions. But we intend not just to rally or speechify or protest or engage in theatrical operations or to misdirect all of the anger and the frustration at one political party or the other, but to actually take the demands of the people as a whole to the government as a whole and stop business as usual.

JAY: So you’re talking about what? Sit-ins in offices, obstructing traffic on streets, things like this?

SWANSON: All of the above, yes, absolutely. Obviously, we’re not going to go into details here, publicly, beforehand. But beginning October 6 and continuing until we’re satisfied that things are moving in the right direction, there will be operations being shut down by the imposition of people’s bodies in Washington, DC.

JAY: Now, are you going to have kind of a permanent base there? You’re setting up tents. If people want to come find you, where are you going to be?

SWANSON: Yes, Freedom Plaza. It’s right along Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s conveniently between the Congress and the White House. You can go to october2011.org. You’ll find a link to a map. If you don’t know where it is, you sign up and get information on rides and how to get there and who can help you and where you can stay and so forth. But we will be, above all, maintaining a large occupation in that plaza night and day.

JAY: Now, you previously–I assume you still are–were involved with Progressive Democrats of America. And you–this–which is about trying to change the policy of the Democratic Party. The policies that you’re going in October to try to change are policies of a government that’s controlled by the Democratic Party. So how does this campaign relate to–what’s the relationship to the Democratic Party?

SWANSON: Well, my loyalty–I can’t speak for everyone else, but my loyalty is to the set of demands that we went through–taxing the rich, ending the wars, cutting the military, protecting our social safety net, creating prosperity in this country. And my loyalty is not to a political party. And that ought to be the case for everyone across the political spectrum. Sadly, it’s not. And so you have people like Al Gore and Keith Olbermann demanding a Tahrir Square but not building the one that’s actually being planned. You have organizations demanding that there be protests, that there be resistance, and putting forth agendas that are almost identical to October 2011, and yet directing all of their protest energy exclusively at Republicans. You have progressive groups now thrilled to be talking about Republican presidential candidates rather than about what our government now is doing. And so there’s not any conflict for those of us who want to impose the will of the public and this progressive agenda on our government. We’re the people. They’re the government. I don’t care what party they’re from. You saw this disastrous budget deal they put through, and now President Obama’s talking about more cuts beyond that to make it even worse. This is not something that we should be standing for for a minute, regardless of party.

JAY: Well, it seems like the election campaign’s already begun if you look at the last week of media coverage. What stance will you take towards the election campaign? I mean, there will be at some–you know, as this gets a little closer to the actual action and you guys in theory are still going to be camping out over those months, what will be your attitude towards Obama and the election?

SWANSON: He’s the president. We are the sovereigns of this nation. We are the people in whose name the constitution is drafted. And he is not representing us in the least, not on any of these points, and neither is the Congress. It may be representing him, but it’s not representing us. And so if he wants to get reelected, he is going to have to change. And this is not going to become a PR stunt as part of an election campaign, as far too many protests and marches and rallies are. This is actually going to be an occupation to resist the ongoing behavior of our government, regardless of the fact that, yes, in another year and a half there will be another election. We can’t shut down business as–we can’t shut down governance in between elections because, lo and behold, there’s another election coming in a year and a half. You know, this is one of the defects in our political system. We’re going to say, wait a minute, there is a lot of damage going to be done in the next year and a half if we do not resist it.

JAY: And what’s your attitude for some kind of alliance? And is there discussions that have ever gone on or are going on with Ron Paul type of libertarians? And it’s an interesting thing that on foreign policy, military issues, I would guess many of the people involved in this campaign probably agree with much of what Ron Paul says. When it comes to domestic issues and austerity questions, you probably don’t agree on anything. But is there anything developing in that way?

SWANSON: It’s–you know, it’s a tough call. If Ron Paul were president, we would have to fight tooth and nail for the social good, but we wouldn’t have to resist the Empire. Now we have to do both, right? So arguably it’s worse. And so I love to work with libertarians around issues where we agree, which is principally wars and the military and the Empire. I just was on antiwar.com radio, which is a wonderful place. And yet on most of the agenda that this occupation is putting forward we disagree. And so it comes down to individual choice. If you believe it’s more important to join with this mass movement opposing these wars, opposing this empire, even if you disagree with us on lots of other points, then please, by all means, be there. But this is not an agenda that’s been designed to build those bridges. This is an agenda pulling from vast majority opinion in this country, which is, of course, not libertarian; it’s just diverted into partisanship so that it’s demobilized. This is a majority–.

JAY: Why do you think that vast majority opinion doesn’t reflect itself in who gets elected? I mean, we know about the role of money and advertising. But is there still not still a weakness in terms of how people that agree with you communicate with the mass population? Because on a lot of these issues, people, majority opinion, it’s not so clear when they come to vote.

SWANSON: Well, the biggest weakness, I’ve said many times, is our communication system. And I’ll say it again: support therealnews.com

JAY: Hey, I’m happy to get it, but I wasn’t fishing here.

SWANSON: I know you’re not asking me to say this, but I’m saying it. This is the weakest link is the lack of a decent communication system and of outlets like this one. Beyond that, there are–you know, the money is a huge factor, the lack of ballot access, the gerrymandering, the unverifiable voting machines. I mean, we need an endless list of reforms that I’ve written about in my book, Daybreak. We need all of those reforms if elections are going to reflect public opinion. But public opinion nonetheless is free to represent itself between elections, and it’s people’s loyalty being given to political parties that waters that down more than anything else, I think more than the influence of the corporate media.

JAY: When I look at the list of demands for the October event, there doesn’t seem to be a real highlight about gathering and dealing with the unemployed. It’s kind of–like, I’m looking here. It’s kind of mentioned with workers rights, create jobs. But, you know, speaking to and trying to rally people who are out of jobs–and, you know, we saw, you know, these pictures of people lining up for free dental work ’cause they’ve lost their medical plans. And why not more of a focus on that?

SWANSON: Well, everyone always wants more of a focus on something. And, you know, people who run websites understand this, that they end up bolding and highlighting one thing and then asked to do it the same for everything else. So we tried to lay out the basic, general agenda of broad points there at the top of the website. We’re in favor of full employment. At Roots Action, we’re pushing John Conyers’ bill for full employment, which is actually the law, that Congress and the president are required to create jobs, and are not doing it, and nobody’s talking about it. You know, we are supporting workers’ rights and the right to organize. And so, you know, this is the agenda is let’s end the wars where all the money is going and let’s put the money into useful things that create jobs. And this is the thrust of it.

JAY: Thanks very much or joining us, David.

SWANSON: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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