PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And it’s in Washington that the first occupation was planned, Occupy Washington, DC, which was planned before Occupy Wall Street began, with a little bit more focus on American militarism, ending the wars. And now joining us is one of the organizers of that occupation, David Swanson, who’s also the author of the book When the World Outlawed War. Thanks for joining us again.
DAVID SWANSON, ACTIVIST AND AUTHOR: Good to be here.
JAY: So talk a bit about Occupy Washington, what its objectives are.
SWANSON: Well, we started off with a clear set of demands, including tax the rich, end the wars, move the spending from the military to where we need it. These are not separate issues when a majority of the discretionary spending is going into war preparation. Clean up the elections, get the money out of there, and so forth. It’s been a little bit frustrating (to say the least) in recent weeks to have this incessant demand for demands when we had the set of demands at the top of the website October 2011.org for months before we even put up the first tent.
JAY: Well, you did, I mean, you and your colleagues who organized the DC occupation. But the New York one’s been deliberately more vague.
SWANSON: True, but not quite as vague as they make out. I mean, I have seen interviews with posters and T-shirts making clear what the demands are, and they insist they can’t tell what the demands are. I’ve been introduced as an organizer and activist in an anti-corporate power, anti-war occupation, and then they proceed to ask me: what in the world are your demands? We can’t understand. And I’ve explained it in the introduction. So there’s a crazy mindset that is really insisting that we don’t have demands, I think, because they don’t want to hear them.
JAY: Now, but the Occupy Washington had a more direct focus. And it’s interesting it’s in Washington and not on Wall Street, ’cause while you include, of course, finance and Wall Street, you’re pointing to the political leadership of the country, which includes Democrats and Republicans, and you’re pointing the finger both about the financial crisis and about the wars. And Wall Street’s kind of talking about Wall Street, not so much about the Democratic Party or government.
SWANSON: Well, it’s a tag team operation, right? Those are the people funding our so-called representatives. And down here are the people taking the money and doing the bidding of those on Wall Street, which is–you know, they’re not helpless victims. That’s an act that they choose to take. And so we need both. And here in Washington we’ve been going after and protesting and disrupting the daily business of the politicians, but also the lobbyists, the handlers and funders, the US Chamber of Commerce, the weapons makers.
JAY: What sort of–what are examples of actions where you’re talking about disrupting the functioning?
SWANSON: Well, going into lobbies and offices and making too much noise and sitting in and preventing work from happening for periods of time. Many of us, including myself, have charges pending in courts for interrupting public–as they call them–public hearings on Capitol Hill, where if you are a member of the public and open your mouth, you’re immediately arrested. So on the ninth in Freedom Plaza we’re holding our own super-committee hearing, where we will talk about the debt and the deficit without carefully avoiding the forbidden topics of taxing the rich and the corporations and ending the wars, which gets you arrested up on Capitol Hill.
JAY: Now, what’s happening in terms of growth? I mean, your strategy, I assume, would be we’re going to come, we’re going to Occupy, we’re going to stay there indefinitely, I think, was the idea, and slowly it would grow. Is it growing?
SWANSON: It’s not growing rapidly, not the way that’s needed. And it’s not shrinking, either. And people are coming and going. There are many people who’ve been there from day one who have no intention of ever leaving, but there are others who have come and gone, and I myself have come and gone and spent time away and at other occupations. And I think it’s going to be there for a long time. There are people looking into finding a building. There are people looking into possible bus tours. There are big plans in the works for the spring for bigger actions. It’s a movement that’s going to take a number of forms. But one of them is going to continue to be these permanent encampments.
JAY: And what’s preventing or what are the obstacles to this becoming bigger? Meaning, if you look at public opinion polls, you would find generally on these issues the majority of public opinion, which means millions of people, more or less agree with the objectives of both of these, all of these occupations. But we’re not seeing these kinds of numbers of people in the streets.
SWANSON: Well, a lot of people can’t do it without losing their jobs. Most of this country is very, very far from Washington, DC, so they have to do it locally, and in many cases people are. But the weather is an obstacle. The fear of the police, the fear of doing something that’s not quite respectable yet–even though you cheer for it, you wouldn’t do it. But these are things that are being worked on. These occupations are doing outreach to friends and community members, and building circles and meetings and a structure of civic life that can do things outside of just the permanent occupations. I’m hopeful that they will continue to grow, especially in the spring. But the movement can grow outside of the streets as well.
JAY: Now, President Obama’s announced US troops are getting out of Iraq, some kind of [incompr.] getting out of Afghanistan by 2014, sort of. So are you satisfied with what President Obama’s doing in terms of ending the wars?
SWANSON: Well, of course I’m not satisfied, but I think we have to recognize these steps as good news. And the announcement on Afghanistan, whether it amounts to anything at all or not, is in response to this pressure that we’ve been talking about. There’s no other explanation. They could have realized last month, last year, five years ago that what they were doing was counterproductive, that they weren’t accomplishing anything, that we were funding both sides, that we were supporting the Taliban. They realized it now, in this moment, and the only different factor I can see is this pressure in the streets and the increasing unpopularity of these wars and of dumping all of the money into these wars.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, the finances of it must have a lot to do with it. They’re so desperate, they talk so much about paying down the debt, they’re going to have to do at least something about it on the war side.
SWANSON: Sadly, yes, and dangerously, yes, because if they cut back these huge manned occupations and they move into unmanned robotic warfare with drones, without direct risk to, quote-unquote, human life, meaning US lives, and with reduced financial cost, and that becomes acceptable to Americans, you know, that’s not going to prevent the slaughter of a great many of that 95 percent of humanity that’s not American. It’s not going to prevent encouragement of the blowback and the weapons proliferation and the stripping away of our civil liberties. And much of the money is going to continue to be funneled into a military machine that’s now justified by a different type of warfare. And so we have to get beyond just the arguments about the financial cost and the US casualties.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
SWANSON: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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