Protesters at yesterday's A New Way Forward rally in Raleigh (photo by Jerimee Richir; click to enlarge).
After the jump, some thoughts from Zephyr Teachout on what the group wants to do, and where it goes from here: "We want to help translate people's real, and intelligently held, views about the economic crisis into legislation; that's not an easy task, but its clear that in this crisis, the existing channels aren't doing that translation."
How did the organization come into being? How did the idea spread?
Zephyr Teachout: Tiffiniey Cheng and her friend Donny Shaw were watching Bill Moyers, and saw Simon Johnson talking about reorganization; they set up a website with Andrew Packer and Morgan Knudson and sent all their friends a link to it, and started asking for help. I was one of those friends...
But the bigger story is that Tiffiniy represents one of thousands of people who have learned, over the past 8 years, that its possible to do such a thing. Right now, depending on the survey you trust, half or over half of Americans support temporary nationalization of the banks. I'm sure more than that support reorganization, and we believe a similar number support breaking them up, decentralization, and creating new rules that limit their ultimate size. But these policy goals, while congruent with other groups, are not the kind of things existing organizations have been pushing for--hence the need for a new group. [Photo of Zephyr by Jerimee Richir; click to enlarge]
It spread person by person, word of mouth--we got a big boost when my friend Joe Costello involved Bill Greider, who then talked about it on Bill Moyers, which then led to many people finding out about it and looking for it online. In the preliminary reports we've gotten back from today's events, it seems like it HAS moved beyond existing networks--the Gainesville, FL event organizer said the most amazing thing about her rally is that she only knew 3-4 people. We've still got a long way to go but the vein is deep.
Last week the former Chief Economist of the IMF, the man who inspired the site--Simon Johnson--joined.
What are the goals of the group?
ZT: Get Congress or the President to 1) nationalize the banks (temporarily); 2) in doing so, replace the people who are currently in charge; and 3) break them up and resell them back to the private market, but with scale-based antitrust rules in place, so banks can never again get too big to fail.
These sound technical, but they are pretty common sense--people, recognizing the connection between economic power and political power, want to push against the POLITICAL power currently held by leaders in the financial sector, because they believe it is massively distorting our policy responses.
How will the rallies advance these goals?
ZT: Well, there were phone banks to Congress at many rallies--at ours we didn't phone banks, but gave out numbers. So there is direct pressure. Second, they give a chance for people to LEARN--we passed out flyers on nationalization, essays by Johnson, Taleb, Krugman, Wolf--for democracy to work in an economic crisis, people need to feel more comfortable talking about economics. Third, they give a chance, via media, for even more people to join. And finally, its great to come together--at the Raleigh rally, over 2 dozen people volunteered to come to a strategy meeting this Wednesday to talk about what to do next. It's the gateway drug to small-group organizing.
What comes next? How does this fit into the political process?
ZT: The next step is identifying more leaders around the country, and then supporting the existing groups, and figuring out a national strategy. We want to help translate people's real, and intelligently held, views about the economic crisis into legislation; that's not an easy task, but its clear that in this crisis, the existing channels aren't doing that translation.
Economic questions are the most fundamental democratic questions. How do we want to live? What do we value? How much do we value risk over security? How much do we value diversity (economic) and equality? There's a tendency to describe these as technocratic issues but these are the essence of politics, when people come together an say "what should we do?"