Human Rights, the Occupy Movement, and Lessons from the Ella Baker Model of Organizing

by the US Human Rights Network

The financial and economic collapse that began in 2007-2008 became the essential catalyst, domestically and internationally, for the rebellion against neoliberalism that we are witnessing today. Neoliberalism, in its very essence is a violation of human rights. According to Elizabeth Martinez of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR), the components of neoliberalism include: the rule of the market; cutting public expenditures for social services; deregulation; privatization; and eliminating the concept of the public good and replacing it with individual responsibility.” To implement these repressive policies governments around the world have invested in the construction of massive repressive agencies and criminalized and/or otherwise alienated millions in order to protect the interests of the ruling elites.

The current, national Occupy Wall Street movement received its inspiration from the wave of rebellions that swept North Africa beginning in December 2010 and spread from there to the Middle East and Europe. Here in the U.S., we have been inspired by the actions of tens of thousands of Wisconsin workers and youth who descended on the grounds of the state Capitol in February of this year to oppose a budget proposal that would strip government unions of most bargaining rights. Deeper still, these actions are part and parcel of an escalating wave of resistance to neoliberalism that commenced with the onset of the global financial and economic crisis. This resistance has included acts of civil disobedience to escalating food prices in numerous countries throughout the world, worker occupations of factories in Europe and Asia, housing occupations in the US and Europe, massive student strikes in Latin America (including Puerto Rico) and Europe, and massive demonstrations against the corporate takeover of the world’s water, oil, and other natural resources. Without question, the inequities of the global capitalist system and the harsh excesses of its accompanying neoliberal ideology have become the target of the anger of the vast majority of the peoples’ of the world.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) first took shape in New York City in September and the Occupy Movement has since spread to 70 major cities and 600 communities. Using the slogan “We are the 99%!,” the corruption, speculation, and exploitation of the corporations and banks and their domination of the political system has been the central theme. There have been numerous demonstrations, actions, and arrests which have occurred across the country. On November 2, for example, the Port of Oakland was shut down by demonstrators that included support from Oakland’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, along with the Oakland Education Association (OEA), International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Many organizations in the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) believe this is an excellent opportunity to introduce the human rights framework into the discussion about the long-term vision of this movement and where it should be headed next. A sampling of some of the engagement of Network members clearly illustrates this point. Continue reading