Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

So on twitter, I recently insinuated that Bloomberg stood to make money off of war because his fortunes are intimately tied to Wall Street, Wall Street makes more money in volatile times, and what makes things more volatile than war?

Having said that (and being very ambivalent about the current state of Israel, especially in regards to its treatment of Palestinians), I want to unpack that insinuation in more than 140 characters while also talking about antisemitism in a more historical (pre-World War II) context.

I'm not sure where to begin, so let's start with Bloomberg.

He makes his money mainly by renting out "Bloomberg terminals"... These are monitors (now flat screen) that run proprietary software. They are expensive, the contracts are legal works of art (if you, as a hedge fund, crash and burn, you still have to pay out your full contract even if you no longer have an office to house your terminal(s) in), and the terminals crunch numbers (in an almost infinite variety of ways) so traders don't have to.

I don't know if the company actually makes money off of Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Business Week, but they gain "mindshare"... Bloomberg considers Reuters and Knight-Ridder its competition, because Bloomberg isn't about selling stocks. It's about renting out the means to make sense of the almost infinite amount of financial data out there.

So, that's why Bloomberg the Man (and Mayor) cares about Wall Street. He wants more and more terminals to be rented by denizens of Wall Street, and more and more eyeballs to turn to Bloomberg when they want raw (or crunched) financial data.

Ok, so, also?  He's Jewish. Just like he's also a guy who was born well off, and made his first million on Wall Street before he was fired (gossip is, because he was a jerk. I couldn't possibly comment as I have never met the man).... He might also collect My Little Ponies, but I don't know. (Isn't that a great image? Savor it, do...)

I have a knee-jerk reaction (as do, I think, most people who I consider "properly brought up") to anything that smacks of antisemitism. So, when I talk about Jews (especially historically) I want to be clear that I'm not a huge student of history, I'm not Jewish, and there's no such thing as one Jewish viewpoint or experience. Not a monolith.

I get nervous when people talk about "rich Jews" "Jewish bankers" "Jewish moneylenders" and any variation on that theme. I want to explore where that (dangerous) stereotype comes from. (Also, this is from an Anglo-centric, Christian-cultural place. I don't know more than this. My limits don't have to be your limits.)

So, here are some places I start when thinking about it:

Going back to ancient history, with the losses of the first and second Temples, Jews (unlike other gods-worshipping folk) were no longer defined by a singular place of worship. Jews made an epic transition from being People of the Temple (a specific and concrete location) to People of the Book (an idea). (A thought-- much like Occupy, as we have moved from physical encampments to trying to create a common identity without a common place to link us. I wonder how well we are succeeding, and where we will end up?)

...Without being tied to a location (and often being refused the right to own land or the means of production in the places they made their homes), Jews had to come up with ways to earn a living that were not tied to a specific place. Trading, selling, and honing skills that could be taken with you in the dead of night should your neighbors stop tolerating your Otherness weren't just stereotypes. They were the smart decision-- and sometimes no choice at all.

In medieval and Enlightenment England, for instance, Jews (and later Quakers) were barred from college or working in government. What does a smart person do if they cannot be a professor or a public servant? They go into business. 

You may have heard the term "usary"... basically, charging interest on a loan, which (early) Christian churches said not to do. A (Christian) king who was interested in going to war might have trouble squeezing his vassals for enough money to fund a thousand knights all at once. (Christian) folks with money might not be interested in giving him a huge loan, with only a vague promise to pay it all back... later. After he's conquered the Holy Lands. ("Just this once, I promise. I can quit Crusading any time...")

Jews who had money (not, let me remind my gentle reader, Jews who did *not* have a lot of money, which there were plenty of. Perhaps even 99%) were not limited by dogmatic prohibitions against charging interest, so they had no religious, social or practical reason *not* to lend a powerful king money to fight his little war far away, as long as he (I'm assuming gender here; I bet there are a few women money lenders out there and I should love to hear about them if you know more about it, but I'm sticking with "he" as generic for the moment) got his (huge) interest jackpot later. (Yea, spoils of war!)

I don't know which came first, the Jewish money lender or the Jewish tax collector. I *think* that the "Jewish tax collector" motif comes more from Eastern Europe, where there were more Jews (than in England) but they were still often a minority-- a useful Other, as far as the ruler was concerned. Very useful, Others, when the populace starts to get restive about the huge amount of taxes you've been levying. Especially with all these wars you've been starting with the neighbor would-be Czar.

Sure, the peasants are ultimately mad at the king for taking their money-- but he's far away. The tax collector is the face of the 1%, the guy who is coming to your door. Much easier to punch *him* in the face-- and safer, too, if you can get away with it. He is the punching bag between the oppressor and the oppressed. Resentment of the (small) amount of power and otherness he represents (has) festered and flared over the years.

How does an unpopular local potentate cajole his peasants into believing he's someone you could drink a shot of Vodka with? Why, persecute a hated minority! Pogroms for everyone! Pass the pitchfork and look the other way...


Antisemitism isn't just a dangerous path to trot down for those who might be labled/accused of being Semitic. It is a time-honored tradition by the 1% to keep the money-makers & takers at a distance... just close enough they can reach into their pockets, just far enough they can toss them at the peasants while they run away in the other direction...

Bloomberg is a human being. He is making decisions based on the best information he has and the resources available to him. I don't know if he thinks much about history, or about people who don't have money.

I'm sure he has padded the war chests of many elected officials, and it's kind of nice that we live in a day and age when he doesn't have to just be a go-between, but can hold political office himself. (Yea.)

I'm nervous that he seems to fit a historical pattern so well. I worry that I might see a pattern where there is none, just because of the Christian culture I grew up in. (Nevermind that I was raised vaguely Hindu. Christian culture, I swam in it.) I worry that others might, too.

So I wanted to share some information about choices, so we can choose to make new ones.

Especially today, in honor of people who have paid the price for other people's bad decisions.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer Disobedience School; Protest Kid Debriefs

Why were you excited to go to the protest today?

The part where I got excited today was when we got the philly cheese steak when we were going civilian.

What does "going civilian" mean?

If we see a cop we go away from the occupation and, like, do stuff that a regular person would be doing.Maybe, getting a hot dog, a souvenier or a toy at McDonalds. Looking at a map, things that protestors don't usually do.

What were we practicing today?

Invisible theater. For instance, you go up to a bank teller, for instance, and you say that you want to take your money out of the bank. And the teller says, "Well, ok, swipe your card into the reader so we can get the process started," but then you're totally ignoring him and cleaning everything up. You're not even listening a bit! You're wiping at things, like with a washcloth. So for that, also, you could go into a bank and not even have a reason to go there at all! You could go in and have a fake argument about whether a falcon or an eagle would win if they were hitting each other. ...I'm ready for the next question.

What did you learn today?

I learned how to "wall". It's kind of like soft blocking. It's different than soft blocking because sometimes you wall so you can get separated into different groups.

What was the most interesting thing we did?

The most interesting thing was doing the bank thing, with the two poles and the line of people walking around them singing chants and things like that. My real favorite chant is "Can't stop the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop," because another group of people always say "Say what?" and I think it is pretty nice because you can take a moment to inhale before you spit any more words out.

Worst moment?

Getting lost when we were trying to find Wells Fargo.

What was the best moment?

The best moment was the pickets. I felt good because I was scouting-- being aware of police officers. It made me feel like one of the top people, because I was looking all over, until we started chanting. Then my thing was holding onto the balloon and chanting, then I wasn't as aware (of police).

What do you think would have made it even better?

Nothing really needed to change. I got bored at the end of the whole thing with all this meeting and I was so anxious to go. I was really tired. The grownups had a good time, I could tell that. I think the grownups will come back. Maybe next Saturday. Next Saturday I want to come back, but not Monday.

If someone wasn't there, what would you want them to know about it?

That it was fun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I interview ProtestKid

Me: Why do you Occupy?

ProtestKid: The reason I occupy is because of not giving enough money to people. Plus, letting the rich steal from the middle class and the lower class and the poor. Why don't they get to steal as well as the rich?

Me: Well stealing isn't good, right?

PK: Really, I wish that we didn't steal. I wish that the rich would not steal. But the rich-- all they want is more money, all they care about is their money. They don't like it when crooks steal their stuff, they should really think about what they're doing before they actually state something. They should actually try to help people.

Me: Do you get interviewed a lot?

PK: I've gotten interviewed more than once.

Me: What was the best question they've asked you?

PK: How long I've been occupying. My first march was the one where the police brought out the kettling nets. I didn't know they were kettling nets, but I guessed that something was not going to be good. Then we just bought a pretzel and we left for the train.

Me: Do you think you get interviewed because you're a kid?

PK: Not exactly that I'm a kid, but that I'm cute. Well, I'm a really good occupier.

Me: What makes you a good occupier?

PK: I try to be as kind as possible.

Me: Have you ever been scared when you were occupying?

PK: I got a little nervous at my first march because of the kettling nets. Also I got a bit spooked by the first march with the riot police. I was a little afraid they would beat me with sticks. If I got attacked by riot police, I'd have the right to defend myself... right?

Me: How is it different being a kid when you protest?

PK: When you're an adult, it's easier for you to get arrested. When you're a kid, you're cute. There's less of a chance that you could get arrested. Why would someone arrest a cute little kid?

Me: Besides the police, what are you paying attention to when you protest?

PK: I'm paying attention to the march. The main thing is the reason I'm out there. It depends on different marches. On the Million Hoodie March, it was about Trayvon Martin. I felt really sad for him; really, his entire family. Even his great great grandparents. If they were alive, they would really not like the news, they would be crying.

The one after the protestors got kicked out (of Liberty)... The one with the chalk thing. The chalkupy. The main reason I was there was I wanted to take the park back for the protestors.

The hearts protest... I didn't think it was very successful, because of the police ripping the hearts off the fence way before Bloomberg could see them. And I am so mad about that. I was in the mood for fighting them. Sneak up, take their stun gun, and throw it in the garbage...If there was a garbage can.

Me: What do you want other kids to know about protesting?

PK: This is not just playtime. I know Parents for Occupy want to make it look like fun, so kids enjoy it. But really, the main reason kids and protestors-- each and every one of them-- is there to protest against greed, about our grievances, and to make this world a better place.

Little Man: When I'm big like ProtestKid, I'm going to go to the protest and protect the protestors.

***and at that point, it seemed like a lovely place to end the interview. Plus ProtestKid really wanted to go back to reading The Titan's Curse and I try not to abuse my Interrupting Mother privileges***

...If anyone else has questions for ProtestKid about occupy, I'd be happy to relay his answers...

Friday, May 11, 2012

a poem

My body is a protest
My words are a song
My wishes are legion
My demands are none

There are more of us
Than there are of me
And maybe together
Each one will be free

Gather the anger
Gather the fear
Gather the laughter
And gather it near

So it can hear the protest
So it can sing the song
So it can feed the legion
So it can be one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Free Book! Again! Because!

Free Book! Because! and now this! just, y'know, take a break and read a free book because I would share my kitten with you but he doesn't travel online as well as books do.

(Edited to add: In case I was too clever, click on "Free Book" to get to the book.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Comment I left at Citizen Radio

(Because hey, why not post it here. Some things happened May Day, but I'm not ready to talk about the Whole Day and y'all deserve that. But in the meantime, here's something to be getting on with...)

(They asked what we thought about permitted vs unpermitted marches)

My first march with Occupy was September 24th. I had no idea what I was getting into. (We're strolling to the bull and shouting a little, right? I know, I'll take my kid so he can see Democracy in Action!)...So suddenly we are in the street--I just thought it was because there was so much construction on the sidewalk there wasn't room for us all-- but young men and women are shouting at us "Stay close! Stick together!" and I'm running as fast as my short little legs can go... and we shouted "Banks got bailed out we got sold out!" at the sky and it was so god damn cathartic oh my god my chest opened up and the city *heard me*.

I've paraded for peace before, but the RNC protest was the last one I went to before Occupy. It was so frustrating. Nothing changed, no one cared. No one heard us. I mean, it was nice to be with others who cared, but it didn't feel like anyone else in America did. I stopped marching and focused on trying to teach my kids how to be good people....Tuesday, with my kid in one hand and a bag of sandwiches and juice boxes in the other (I'm a Mom, first and foremost), I got (a little!) impatient with the new protestors who didn't know that when the folks behind you start joyously shouting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" you're supposed to get off the sidewalk and put your feet on the road. I educated them. That's what Moms do, they model good civic behavior... right?

So, my heart is with unpermitted marches. That's where I am filled with joy and power and learn the limits of myself and those around me.

However, I also know that as a white stay at home Mom I can take way more chances with my body and the street than a whole mess of other people whose hearts might want to open to the sky, too.

Permits are a kind of protection that a lot of us feel like we need, who have been slapped down before. Plus I get less funny looks for bringing my kid to permitted events. :*)

And I loved May Day's permitted march as well-- but I had cops yelling at me to get on the sidewalk then, too, so really it's all risky behavior.

But I continue to think the risk is worth it. Every time I look at my kid, learning that if he starts a chant a dozen tired adults will grin and finish it, I know that he is learning about his own personal power.

I think every eight year old should-- pardon the pun-- be permitted that opportunity.