A version of this article originally appeared on TruthOut.org.
Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has become a national laboratory for government reforms. But the process through which those experiments have been carried out rarely has been transparent or democratic. The results have been divisive, pitting new residents against those who grew up here, rich against poor, and white against Black.
Education, housing, criminal justice, health care, urban planning, even our media; systemic changes have touched every aspect life in New Orleans, often creating a template used in other cities. A few examples:
When I first read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine a few years ago, I had no idea how prescient the book was. It was a polemic about "disaster capitalism", arguing that sudden crises are intentionally manipulated to push through extreme free market policies that were otherwise not politically possible. But early 2008 was a completely different era: although Northern Rock had just suffered the first bank run for 150 years, it seemed like a bizarre blip. The US sub-prime crisis was rumbling away, but it was like sheet lightning from a distant storm. "The deficit" was not an everyday term of political debate. It was not at all clear that the world was about to be utterly transformed.
The following conversation between Naomi and Yotam Marom was recently recorded in New York City. Yotam is a political organizer, educator, and writer based in New York. He has been active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.
Naomi Klein: One of the things that’s most mysterious about this moment is “Why now?” People have been fighting austerity measures and calling out abuses by the banks for a couple of years, with basically the same analysis: “We won’t pay for your crisis.” But it just didn’t seem to take off, at least in the US. There were marches and there were political projects and there were protests like Bloombergville, but they were largely ignored. There really was not anything on a mass scale, nothing that really struck a nerve. And now suddenly, this group of people in a park set off something extraordinary. So how do you account for that, having been involved in Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, but also in earlier anti-austerity actions?
Naomi Klein, the author of a string of provocative and popular books including “The Shock Doctrine,” recently took on global warming policy and campaigns in “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” a much-discussed cover story for The Nation that has been mentioned by readers here more than once in the last few weeks.
The piece begins with Klein’s conclusion, reached after she spent time at a conclave on climate sponsored by the libertarian Heartland Institute, that passionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism.
There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.
He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland’s Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that policies to combat global warming were actually “an attack on middle-class American capitalism.” His question for the panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in late June, is this: “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”
Here at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still, the panelists aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to tell the questioner just how right he is.
Naomi Klein, the Canadian journalist famous for her anti-corporatist books No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, spoke to the protesters at Occupy Wall Street yesterday evening, telling them their movement can follow through on the promises of the global trade protests she participated in a decade ago.
Speaking through cycles of call-and-response because the protesters have been denied a sound permit, Klein urged the protesters not to lapse into structureless disorganization.
"Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful," she told them. "But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen."
The complete text of Klein's speech can be found here.
I was honored to be invited to speak at Occupy Wall Street on Thursday night. Since amplification is (disgracefully) banned, and everything I said had to be repeated by hundreds of people so others could hear (a.k.a. “the human microphone”), what I actually said at Liberty Plaza had to be very short. With that in mind, here is the longer, uncut version of the speech.
I love you.
And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.
Naomi was asked by the New York Times to contribute to an edition of "Room for Debate" about Occupy Wall Street: "The protesters are getting more attention and expanding outside New York. What are they doing right, and what are they missing?" Here is her response.
I can’t help but compare the Occupy Wall Street protests to the movements that sprang up against corporate globalization at the end of 1990s, most visibly at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. Like today’s protests, those demonstrations were also marked by innovative coalitions among students, trade unions and environmentalists.
An introduction from Naomi: "Please take a look at this thoughtful essay by my friend Arun Gupta, editor of The Indypendent. If I were in New York (I'm based in British Columbia, Canada at the moment), I would certainly be spending time at the Wall Street occupation, and I urge those of you who do live in the area to go in person to Liberty Park and check it out. Keep in mind that any attempt to create a genuinely open space to share political ideas is necessarily going to be chaotic and at times embarrassing. But Gupta's point is a crucial one. This is not the time to be looking for ways to dismiss a nascent movement against the power of capital, but to do the opposite: to find ways to embrace it, support it and help it grow into its enormous potential. With so much at stake, cynicism is a luxury we simply cannot afford." --Naomi
The Revolution Begins at Home
An Open Letter to Join the Wall Street Occupation
By Arun Gupta
I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.
But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.
Although he passed away in 2006, states are now grappling with many of the toxic notions left behind by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
In her groundbreaking book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein coined the term "disaster capitalism" for the rapid-fire corporate re-engineering of societies still reeling from shock. The master of disaster? Privatization and free market guru Milton Friedman. Friedman advised governments in economic crisis to follow strict austerity measures, combining radical cuts in social services with the full-scale privatization of their more lucrative assets. Many countries in Latin America auctioned off everything standing -- from energy and water utilities to Social Security -- to for profit multinational firms, crushing unions and other dissenters along the way.