It’s Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves and Build

“We have board meetings at Check Into Cash, but I win every vote 1-to-nothing.” – Allan Jones, CEO and Founder of Check Into Cash, Inc.

“These are people not used to getting anything free. These are people not used to getting anything, really.” –Gary Rivlin on how to increase profit from check cashing through giveaways (from the Debt Resistors Operations Manual)

In September, 2011 the world watched a social movement unfold into the parks and public spaces of every state in the union. Occupy Wall Street expressed a national frustration, a collective catharsis of righteous indignation at an economic and political system in stalemate and slow collapse. We had watched grown men – claiming to represent us!  – act with complete impunity to reward banks with unconditional emergency bailouts while simultaneously slashing our school and hospital budgets in the name of austerity and shared sacrifice. Occupy was the country’s natural immune response to the virus of unregulated, out-of-control capitalism and profit-mongering at the expense of the 99%.

Nearly two years later, we find ourselves awash in the same political corruption, perverse incentives and rampant fraud that brought on the first collapse. Will occupying public space alone fix it? We all know that political change is necessary, and will come only from a mass mobilization, but could it be that we also have all the tools to fundamentally change our economic system right now? It’s time to roll up our sleeves and start building that better world we all know is possible.

It only takes a moment’s reflection to realize that true power in the 21st century derives from access to, and control of, wealth and resources. Our republican democracy, so carefully constructed by Madison and others to avert exactly the type of revolutionary uprising that would wrest power from the monied elites, is quite literally Occupy-resistant. (Don’t believe me? Read Federalist Papers #10 and learn about measures to control the “democracy excess” that led to rebellions like Shay’s) We can democratize ownership of resources and access to decision-making in this country, but it won’t be through the legislative process alone. We have to literally build it.

The Occupy Money Cooperative is the seed of that great endeavor. If we cooperatize financial services, the benefits of banking and exchange of goods and services come back to the depositors rather than the bankers. Banks become tools of the banked, rather than the other way around. We can put an end to the gimmicks and free giveaways and loan sharking and usury. When members and staff, rather than shareholders, become the beneficiaries of their own hard work we can finally invest in the things that help our own communities prosper: schools, parks, gardens, hospitals, after-school programs, recreation centers, music, art, you name it. The possibilities are endless, but it starts with acknowledging that we have the power and we can make it happen.

There are some who would argue that this is a pointless or even counter-productive endeavor, and that it will only perpetuate the existing inequities. These naysayers object to every detail of our project, from the use of the VISA network to the very notion of engaging within the existing monetary system. To them I reply quite simply: you can’t build anything without getting your hands dirty. Great trees can grow from tainted soil, but not if you won’t even plant them. If we are to accomplish anything as a movement we will need to mature from a righteous display of anger to a viable and veritable force to reckon with. The 99% deserves better than an endless academic exercise in standing on the sidelines critiquing the system as it collapses. As we saw in Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt, when we roll up our sleeves and dig in to the problems of our world we can produce tremendous results for our communities.