An interview with Jesse LaGreca, first of a series with people who have joined the Occupations
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in New York City. We’re at Occupy Wall Street in New York. Behind me is one of the many protests that are going by the square. We’re down here to talk to people about why they’re here, what their hopes and expectations are, where they think this movement is leading. So join us as we go into Liberty Square. So here with Jesse LaGreca. He’s been down there since day three. He’s a New Yorker. So, Jesse, tell us a little bit about the evolution of the occupation.
JESSE LAGRECA, ACTIVIST: You know, when I first came down here it was about the third day in. We were just starting to get a little media teasing from Fox News and those sorts of organizations. And I didn’t know what to perceive yet. When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, it was supposed to be launched on a Saturday, and I said to myself, there’s no one here on the weekend; I don’t understand what they’re trying to achieve. And then when I realized that they were planning on staying, you know, the lightbulb went off, like, oh, they’re going to be here to kind of throw off the working people when they’re going to work. You know, we have, and so many people who walk by, and they’re encouraged by what he we’re doing. It–very rarely in my month here have I seen people come by and they show that they are frustrated or upset with us. And I think it really shows the cohesiveness of the movement right now, that people are very aware of how bad things are, about how their future’s being stolen away from them, that the wealthiest 1 percent are doing better than ever while everybody else is being asked to sacrifice for a disaster they didn’t create. So this has really gone from a small gathering of people huddling under umbrellas in the rain to something that’s really inspiring people worldwide. And I am just thrilled and honored to be a part of it.
JAY: So talk about where you think it goes next. And I guess there’s a kind of a push-pull here. The fact that it’s so broad and not so defined in its demands is a strength, because it makes it so easy for people to join. But then there’s a danger at some point it gets diffused because there’s nothing coming out of it. Where do you think it goes?
LAGRECA: You know what? It’s really up to the general assemblies to decide, which is our own little circle of direct democracy in a sea of oligarchy. We are engaging in a just new direct democracy process without a filibuster, without corporate financing. And it’s messy. It doesn’t happen very quickly. I mean, our general assemblies might last from anywhere from 2 to 5 hours per night, and we have two a day. So we have a lot of different voices. We’re trying to include as many voices as possible. But I liken this to a visit to the doctor. You know, when you go to the doctor, it’s not like, hey, my–I was told to ask my doctor about Cialis. It’s more like you show up and the guy diagnoses you, he tells you what’s wrong, and then he prescribes a cure. So right now we’re in the intervention stage. We are in the intervention stage, where the wealthiest 1 percent, a few of these guys, the wealthiest 1 percent, have just gotten drunk on power, have just gotten drunk on greed and self importance. And this is our national intervention to kind of talk them down from this abusive behavior that they’re inflicting on all their other family and friends. And once we are able to voice our grievances and be able to take that cacophony of grievances and just simmer it down to some basic [incompr.] then we can really start talking about prescribing a cure. I mean, I tend to be on one side of the political spectrum. I don’t look like everybody’s here. So I’m not the best representative of just everybody at once.
JAY: Well, just speak for yourself.
LAGRECA: For myself, I think that we need to move away from these free-market policies that have shipped our jobs overseas, allowed polluters to pollute at random will. I think we should return to Glass-Steagall. I think we should have a very strong look at infusing democracy and oversight into the Federal Reserve. I think we should restructure the way that bankers and CEOs are compensated and paid. I think that there is no one policy cure for everything that’s wrong with our society right now or with the global economy at large. And I think what’s required is an overarching movement that gets people involved on a basic level, I mean, literally occupy the media, occupy the voting booth. I’m never going to tell anybody how to vote, but I strongly encourage everybody to be a voter. I think that in the end economics and politics is a full contact sport, and it’s not like you don’t play the first, you know, 13 minutes and you speed it up in the last 2 minutes of the half. You’ve got to be involved the whole way along. So, to me, if the one thing we do accomplish is to have a new tradition of public discourse in public places about politics and policies, that would be a huge step towards creating a informed citizenry that’s capable of critical thinking.
JAY: Like, create the space for the debate.
LAGRECA: Yeah. I mean, it’s almost like–it’s almost like eminent domain in reverse: we’re taking the privately transferred locations and giving them back to the public little by little.
JAY: Now, you’re right next-door to New York Fed. So if you want to make some demands about transparency and things, you’re well positioned for it.
LAGRECA: You know what? And it’s a good thing. The Fed is such a confusing creature for many people to deal with that they don’t quite understand. You know, the people who would say end the Fed, my question is: what do we replace it with? Are we going to give that power back to Congress? I don’t trust Congress to make those decisions anymore. But when I say injecting democracy, injecting oversight, I mean simply that. Maybe that’s a better process to give over to voters. Maybe that’s a better process to have open to the public so that we can see where these decisions are being made. I mean, the Federal Reserve is something that’s very contentious in American politics, but it’s also massively powerful. So to me, I think two are kind of joined to the hip. If we’re going to discuss how the too-big-to-fail banks have just risked everything and rewarded the rest of the 99 percent of society with next to nothing, then we should also look at the private-public held merger of the Federal Reserve and say, you know, if we’re going to fix one, we can’t ignore the other. Let’s talk about what the best solution is for everybody.
JAY: One of the proposals that have been made on The Real News Network and other places is this idea of banking in the public interest, banking as a public utility. Is that getting talked about amongst people here?
LAGRECA: Absolutely. I mean, the conversations, the terminology and framing may be a little bit different, but I think we’re all aware that they’re not fulfilling their service to society any longer. They’re fulfilling a service to themselves. You know, there’s a reason that they’ve blocked off the bull down on Wall Street, because they’re trying to protect the golden calf. And it’s kind of funny to put it in those terms, but it really is what is, that they are no longer serving the needs of the public. They’re not lending to the people who might be creating small-business jobs. They’re hoarding the wealth. I mean, if they want to call it class war, right now I call it siege war: they’re starving out working-class people, hoping that we’ll accept lower standard of living, lower wages, less retirement, less benefits. On a larger conversation, yes, that’s something that’s on the tip of people’s tongues. And maybe you did a good job just now of kind of elocuting it in a way that people can kind of receive better. But it’s on the media to help inform people as to the grievances in society, to which I actually applaud The Real News. I’ve watched these guys for two years now.
JAY: And we didn’t set that up.
LAGRECA: That’s just me speaking from the heart. That’s where I come from. On the other side, once we’ve created that consciousness, then we can start talking about solid solutions. So I think the two kind of work in a pattern. We need to talk about what the problems are. Once we’ve diagnosed what the problems are, then we can start talking about the solutions. But I think that discussing the role that banks have in society, instead of being a finance-service-based economy top-down, we need to start talking about a rise-up economic system, instead of this trickle-down nonsense that we can all prove with facts doesn’t work.