A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
Occupy Wall Street activists vow protests will persist. Yesterday New York City police in riot gear evicted hundreds and razed the city of tents where some in the group had been living for close to two months. The Occupy Wall Street movement seeks to highlight income inequality and has inspired hundreds of similar protests around the country and the world. Most have been small and some have been marred by violence, but participants claim, despite evictions in New York and elsewhere, it’s an idea that will continue to gather momentum: Join us for a conversation on what the Occupy movement has accomplished and its future.
- Lawrence Lessig professor of law at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University author of “Republic,Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It”
- Legba Carrefour participant, Occupy DC
- Tyler Cowen general director, Mercatus Center professor of economics, George Mason University.
- Michael Premo participant, Occupy Wall Street
- Jim Tankersley reporter, National Journal
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have returned to New York Zuccotti Park. Yesterday, on orders of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hundreds were evicted, and a tent encampment was demolished. Joining me in the studio to talk about the Occupy movement and its future, Jim Tankersley. He's a reporter for the National Journal. And joining us by phone from Cambridge, Lawrence Lessig. He's professor of law at the Harvard University School of Law.
MS. DIANE REHMWe are expecting two members of the Occupy movement -- one in New York, one here in Washington, D.C. -- to join us a little later in the program. You can join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Prof. Lessig. Good to have you with us again.
PROF. LAWRENCE LESSIGGreat to be back.
REHMAnd, Jim Tankersley, thanks for being here.
MR. JIM TANKERSLEYThanks for having me.
REHMJim, reporters were kept away from the eviction scene in New York. Tell us about that.
TANKERSLEYYeah, the reports from Zuccotti Park during the raid are troubling for -- from free speech perspective because what it sounds -- because there was almost an attempted blackout of media coverage. Reporters were blocked from getting into the park if they weren't there already. Some reporters who were in the park report police trying to push them away or shut them down from broadcasting or from sending out information on what was happening. I mean, the entire thing was conducted under a cloak of secrecy, and it worked.
TANKERSLEYIt was a surprise to the occupiers, but it also raises some questions about the role of a free press in a public space. This is a private-public park, but it's not like they were camped out inside a government building.
REHMAnd then, Larry, later in the day, a New York judge upheld the city's crackdown, but now people are moving back in without their tents. How legal is that going to be?
LESSIGWell, I think, actually, the moving back without the tent is legal, but I do agree that the more fundamental question is, why is that the only thing that's legal? You know, we moved in the area of First Amendment law to -- from a time when basically public places were places people could congregate to protest. And even quasi-public places, private places that basically play the role as public places, were places we can protest.
LESSIGTo a world where, increasingly, those freedoms have been restricted and narrowed and regulated to the extent that protest is just the kind of show on the side that doesn't have any of the real effect that it was originally intended or meant to have, I don't think our framers -- people who organized the conventions that produced our government -- would even recognize the extent of legal regulation on the freedom of people to protest today.
REHMHow do you see, Larry, what these protest movements around the country have been trying to accomplish and their relation to the Constitution?
LESSIGWell, I don't think we actually have a good sense of what they actually were trying to accomplish. Instead, all of us look at these protest movements and talk about what we hope they would be trying to accomplish.
LESSIGSo I've done my own hoping in a number of pieces I wrote on Huffington Post that tried to say that there was an opportunity for these movements to express a frustration that could really unite 99 percent of Americans if they targeted their anger and their protest against a system of corruption that has basically produced a large bit of the wealth that we see them protesting on Wall Street, not because wealth is produced by corruption in general, but because the way in which Wall Street achieved.
LESSIGA large amount of its wealth came from its ability to buy regulation that allowed them to gamble with our economy and get the upside themselves. And when they hit a downside, we, the public, had to pay for it. That was an extremely stupid way to run a financial system that they engineered through their extraordinary influence over...
REHMOh, dear. I'm afraid we lost Larry Lessig. We'll get him right back. Jim Tankersley, I read recently there have been 1,600 Occupy gatherings here and around the world. Give us a sense of the scope.
TANKERSLEYIt's a large scope, and it's spreading. And the founders of the movement, probably, this is exactly what they had intended. And I think Larry is voicing a very common frustration that I hear from all across the spectrum, where we have hopes for what we'd like them to become, but we don't know exactly what they are yet. And I think that we're at -- some people call it a pivotal moment, but I think it's just more of a transitional moment for the movement.
TANKERSLEYAnd what's going on right now is they started with the problem of, we want to be heard. We don't feel like we're being heard. And now, they've been heard. They're being heard. So, now, what are they going to say? And that's the big question facing them is, okay, you've gotten our attention. Is it enough just to have gotten our attention? Or do you need to start articulating more cogently what it is that you would like done about it?
REHMLarry, if you were drafting their statement, what would you say?
LESSIGSo I think they should focus on the corruption of a political system that means the 99 percent don't have the voice that 99 percent should have in this political system. And I think if they focus on that corruption, they could actually unite people on the left and right who look at the way in which our government has been taken over by interest, like the interest on Wall Street, and believe that that takeover is a corruption, is stopping our democracy from having the kind of confidence or faith that most democracies need to survive.
REHMAnd joining us now here in the studio is Legba Carrefour, and he is a participant in Occupy D.C. Glad you're here.
MR. LEGBA CARREFOURThank you very much, Diane.
REHMTell me about your own feelings as to what you feel you've accomplished thus far.
CARREFOURI think the main thing we've accomplished in extremely short period of time, we've legitimized, and very widespread, the notion of consensus decision making and direct democracy and participatory forms of protests. We've very much so already broken the mold of traditional American political discourse.
REHMHow do you feel you've done that?
CARREFOURI mean, the simple fact that we're engaging an occupation. I don't think anything like this on this scale has been seen in the United States in, I mean, a very long, long time. I don't even put years on it. And, you know, this is something, you know, typically, we're told we're apathetic, that we're so -- how politically inactive. You know, we tend to see our ability to engage in politics limited to pulling a lever every couple of years.
CARREFOURAnd I think this is the first time that a lot of general, normal Americans have really embraced the idea of both direct action and engaging in, like, weird, new forms of democracy. I see people on the street now in D.C. using the weird hand signals that we do.
REHMGive me an idea of those weird hand signals.
CARREFOURI think the thing that I see most commonly into our social situations is the twinkle finger thing we do. It's -- it looks like backward jazz hands.
CARREFOURIt means we think somebody is cool, and I find myself doing it at parties now.
REHMAnd do you feel that that signals to others that you're part of that Occupy D.C.?
CARREFOURWell, no, no. I think it's -- 'cause it's a tradition that actually extends back far longer than just this. It's something -- it's -- a lot of the ways that which we make decisions, like through general assemblies or spokescouncils have a really long history dating back even before, let's say, like the WTO protest movement of the early 2000s. And it's -- honestly, a lot of these are traditions generated by anarchists in the U.S.
REHMOkay. And joining us now is Michael Premo. He's a participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Good morning to you. Good to have you with us.
MR. MICHAEL PREMOGood morning and thank you for having me.
REHMTell me about your reaction to the mayor's shutdown of Occupy Wall Street and what your next steps are.
PREMOWell, thank you for having me on.
PREMOThe mayor's actions were expected, although we didn't necessarily expect him to come at that moment. But the truth is you cannot evict a idea whose time has come. And we -- Liberty Square was never the end destination. Liberty Square was just the beginning of unleashing this sort of radical, creative imagination that we've seen spread around the country about how we find alternatives to how we address these stubborn problems.
REHMNow, what about the fact that Mayor Bloomberg has said you've got to come up with some ideas now?
PREMOI mean, I think Bloomberg's comments are largely naive of the sheer number of ideas that we have that don't fit into sort of his narrow paradigm of what is possible in our communities, in our neighborhoods and for the ways that we can continue to create new ways for interaction and create a level of accountability both within government and the economic system that holds true to all people, not just this sort of narrow margin of the so-called 1 percent. I think in a lot of ways, too...
REHMWhen you think about moving back into Zuccotti Park, what do you feel you can accomplish without totally occupying the park overnight in tents?
PREMOYeah, I think, for a long time, the movement, like, since, probably, Sept. 20, the movement has been a lot bigger than Liberty Square. And already, you know, since -- for the last three-and-a-half weeks, a lot of our organizing, a lot of our imagination has been dreamed up outside of the park. Although the park -- and being able to occupy public space and return it to public use for the public good of people who choose to engage peaceably thereof in is critical to the movement, but it's not essential.
REHMAll right. Michael Premo, he is a participant in Occupy Wall Street. When we come back, we'll take your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the Occupy movements -- certainly one in New York called Occupy Wall Street that set in motion a chain of Occupy movements around the country. Here in the studio, Jim Tankersley. He's a reporter for the National Journal who's been following the Occupy movement around the country. Also, Legba Carrefour, he's a participant in the Occupy D.C. movement.
REHMOn the line with us from New York is Michael Premo, participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Harvard University Law School, director of the Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Larry Lessig, back to you, early on, but before Michael Premo and Legba Larrefour (sic) got on the phone, you talked about what you would say as an organizing principle to these individuals. Let me ask you to repeat that and then get their reactions.
LESSIGYeah, I think the real challenge to this movement is it's trying to do two things at once. One thing it's trying to do is to excite, as we've described, really creative, innovative solutions to common problems that we all have addressed. And those solutions that -- you know, I've been at four of these movements and talking to people. Those solutions feel to most people to be solutions on the left. And as from somebody from the left, I'm excited to see that energy and innovation and excitement around these solutions.
LESSIGBut the second thing the movement is trying to do is it's trying speak for the 99 percent. And the 99 percent is not the left. The 99 percent is a lot of people that people on the left disagree with. And so the question is, is there something the movement can say that actually can be something that 99 percent stand up and agree with? Whether you're a supporter of the Tea Party or you're a supporter of the conservative Republican Party or you're an independent or you're a liberal, is there something that unites people?
LESSIGAnd my view is there is something here that you can both say, look, I'm a liberal, and I believe in redistributing tax -- income through taxation. And I believe in great public schools, and I believe in unions. But in addition to those other beliefs, I also think we shouldn't have a government, a democracy corrupted by money in the political system that is so distorted that even people on right agree with us that the system has become corrupted.
LESSIGSo I think it's a real challenge to figure out how you build a movement that does these two things at once rather than what most movements have tried to do, which is just to say, hey, we're 30 percent of this country, and we demand to be heard because of what we believe in.
REHMMichael Premo, I'd be interested in your response.
PREMOYeah, I mean, in -- you know, in a lot of ways, Lawrence is dead-on. The movement is both -- is trying to do both those things. I think, in respect to speaking to the 99 percent -- and part of what I see as the brilliance of not stipulating select list of demands speaks to the desire to be able to create a movement that is open to a variety of people who identify with the core values that this movement is trying to speak to.
PREMOAnd I think we're at this phase where we're only two months in. And our -- the initial target was being able to zone in and hone in on Wall Street and the banks. And I think as we move to the winter, you'll see the analysis becoming more nuanced to be able to include the government corruption and the government politicians who are enabled and beholden to Wall Street interests.
PREMOI think there has been a lot of debate amongst, at least here in New York, about how to sort of elevate that sophisticated politick and not allow it to be a partisan conversation so that we don't just look at the Democrats and say, hey, look, you're not beholden to the people, you're beholden to Wall Street, in a way that doesn't allow -- that allow -- that doesn't allow just the Republicans to be like, oh, look, it's just the Democrats they're attacking. But, you know, it's a complicated balancing act, really.
REHMLegba, how would you respond?
CARREFOURYeah, I think people get a little caught up with this 99 percent thing. It's a slogan, not a literal number. So I'm not as concerned with an actual literal turnout of 99 percent of Americans or convincing of 99 percent of Americans. I think a lot of what we're going to do is not -- we don't necessarily mean to sit around and articulate a specific set of messages or principle that attracts this, you know, mythical population.
CARREFOURBecause the forum of what we want follows the actions we're taking, you know. The values that Michael sort of talked about that we're articulating really followed onto the occupation themselves. So, really, by doing what we're doing, it actually is building this movement increasingly.
REHMBuilding the movement toward what, Legba?
CARREFOURI mean, I think it's going to be a complete transformation of life is what we're really going for. I mean, if you've been down to the squares that are occupied, you see people relating to each other in a really different way, talking to each other in different ways where, you know, we're addressing all sorts of really weird hard nuanced issues around race, class and gender that most people have never had to deal with. And that in and of itself, to me, is what is the transformative moment that moves into an actual movement, not articulating a political campaign.
REHMAnd, Jim Tankersley, is this similar to what you've heard from others in Occupy movements?
TANKERSLEYYeah. I think, absolutely, every time that I really drill down to what the movements are about across the country when I talk to folks, it comes back to this idea that, look, the system we have now isn't hearing us. We have concerns. We have inequality. We're being drowned out by -- whether it's corporate money or, you know, Wall Street in general or just, in general, the form of democracy right now.
TANKERSLEYAnd so they've created their own forum, and that's -- I think the -- what Legba is saying really rings true with what I've been hearing from other folks, which is, look, the forum is as important as the message. We're trying -- they were -- they're trying to set up a forum in which their voices matter, and that's the start. And until they feel like they can do that for themselves, how do you then project that onto the country?
REHMAnd we're joined now by Tyler Cowen. He is professor of economics at George Mason University. Good morning to you, sir.
PROF. TYLER COWENGood morning.
REHMTyler, you say the Occupy Wall Street movement has raised some important questions. What do think they are?
COWENWell, the main question is inequality. But I think there are two fundamental contradictions in the Occupy Wall Street as a movement. The first is it points out correctly, politics is corrupt. But it then ought to conclude the solution is to limit the size of government. In fact, most of them want to increase the size of government, and that's a contradiction. It's not going to work. The second point is this distinction between 1 percent and the 99 percent.
COWENWithin the top 1 percent, there are people who are in wealth by producing it, like Steve Jobs, and then people who take it by predation or fraud. And that's the important distinction. It's about values. It's about how you got your wealth and not how much you have.
REHMBut you really say there's been so much talk about riches. You're talking about values. Do you think that that ends up being a divisive message?
COWENI think it is. It gets people suspicious of wealth. I think that most wealth is earned. Most rich people are great. They are our benefactors of humanity and America. And the idea that you lump together with some number of financiers who have done bad things and call them the top 1 percent and pit them against everyone else, I think that's exactly the wrong the message. The real message should be a lot of people get their wealth through politics. We should limit this. The way to do this is to limit the overall influence of politics over the American economy.
REHMLarry Lessig, how do you respond?
LESSIGWell, I agree that we should focus on the way in which wealth has been produced through corruption. And I think we need a political system where libertarian ideas have a fair fight with less, you know, with more egalitarian ideas. We don't have that system right now. You know, libertarians who argue for smaller government or simpler taxes are fighting against not just those who want bigger government and more complex taxes, but also against people inside the system who benefit from bigger government and complex taxes because it makes it easier to raise money to get back to Congress.
LESSIGSo I would be happy to say let's create a system where there's no bias in favor of big governments or complex or big taxes. Let's have that system where those ideas fight equally with ideas on the other side. But we don't -- we're nowhere close to that right now because the system is so deeply corrupted by the way campaigns get funded.
LESSIGAnd so, again, when you talk about what the message of Occupy Wall Street could be focused on, you know, I think it would have been absurd to imagine an Occupy Silicon Valley movement, right, because I don't think, actually, what people are upset about is wealth created in what we think of as the good old-fashioned way, people coming up with great ideas that are extremely successful in a fair and free market.
LESSIGWhat they're upset about, or should be upset about, is wealth that comes through the special protection of government corruption, which is what Wall Street is such a perfect symbol for. You know, this kind of dumbest -- it's the dumbest form of socialism ever invented by man, where we socialize the risk and privatize the benefit. They get all the upside, and we the people, the public, pays the downside.
LESSIGThat is the corruption that I think, you know, I think my friend from George Mason would agree is a silly system produced through mis-regulation that, in part, was driven by a political system that is so sensitive to money from the richest class.
REHMOkay. But before I hear from Tyler, I'd like to hear from Michael. What do you think Tyler Cohen -- Cowen, sorry -- gets right about the Occupy movement? Where would you disagree?
PREMOWell, I mean, I agree with the ideas of this corrupt system, but I disagree that having a bigger government necessarily means that it wouldn't be corrupt. And I don't think that's really the point of what we're out here to talk about. I think that, inherently, we live in a system that privileges profit over people. And I would love to find out about a single corporation or high-wealth individual who hasn't benefited and gotten to where they've gotten through somehow -- some type of infringement on some fundamental human rights of any individual globally.
PREMOAnd any corporation within the supply chain, inherently, is using resources from some part of the world -- either natural resources or human resources -- that is exploitative. And it's -- I would love to find one company that is a Fortune 500 company who doesn't do that.
PREMOAnd I think -- mm hmm.
REHMTyler Cowen, do you want to comment?
COWENWell, American companies have raised wages around the world, not lower them. But I would make a more basic point. The fundamental rule of current American politics is old people get their way. And that's a lot of the future problem. I'd like to see more of a focus on that, on how old people are taking money from young people through especially Medicare. And rather than Occupy Wall Street, I'd say start with occupy the voting booth and idealistic young people. As long as they're simply unwilling to ever vote for the other party, they don't have any say. Old people get their way.
COWENThat's the core problem. I don't see it being addressed. Ask the Occupy Wall Street people. How many of you would consider voting for a Republican? I think you'll get a very weak or even hostile response.
REHMYou might want to respond, Legba.
CARREFOURMaybe a better question to be asked is how many bother to vote anymore because we did that, you know, a couple of years ago, and it -- I don't know. Maybe someone else noticed this, but did it work out that well for you? It didn't work out for me very well at all. I mean, I still live in -- you know, I have a graduate degree, and I still live near poverty. And I'm on food stamps, and I got evicted from my apartment recently.
CARREFOURI don't really understand how voting would be the answer to this. I'm actually also really concerned about the way the discourse has been going in the sense of -- so, again, with the 1 percent thing being a slogan, I'm not concerned with morality play of the values of the wealthy. You know, even if the 1 percent were, like, really nice and totally backing us and supporting us, that wouldn't change the fact that this is a question of system.
CARREFOURWhile the 1 percent have privileges that the rest of us don't, they themselves can't simply change things by the goodwill of their heart. This is something that is going to take a total transformation of society away from a bankrupt system.
REHMLegba Carrefour. He's a participant in the Occupy D.C. movement. And we're going to open the phones now. We'll take a call first from Leipzig, Germany. Good morning, Howard. You're on the air.
HOWARDOh, thank you. Thank you. Hey, I would call attention to the fact that the Tea Party movement is based on the resistance of the colonists to the taxes on tea, but it was part of a larger movement, which I compare to the Occupy Wall Street, of interfering with commerce because the whole basis of the revolution was resistance to import duty on all the goods imported from England to America.
REHMTyler Cowen, do you see a relationship between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement?
COWENWell, I think they're both groups of people who are quite upset, rightly, about what's going on, but they don't have really clear recipe for how to fix it. So they're discontent, but neither movement is sufficiently intellectual or focused on actual policy proposals that are going to work.
REHMLarry Lessig, do you agree?
LESSIGYou know, I think that there's a much stronger connection. You know, first, I would disagree with Tyler about people on Occupy Wall Street not necessarily voting for a Republican. You know, I think that Buddy Roemer, a Republican, has focused on the corruption of the system and been down on the Occupy movements and getting a lot of people who recognize that if we could address the corruption, we would actually be in a position to have a fair fight on these other more fundamental issues.
LESSIGThe link between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement -- I gave a teaching at the Occupy K Street site. And I said, you know, you guys may or may not believe in capitalism. I believe in capitalism, but you may or may not believe in capitalism. But nobody believes in crony capitalism. And if you invited members of the Tea Party down here and started talking about the problems of this corrupt crony capitalism, you'd have an extraordinary unification of forces.
LESSIGAnd this could have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter. At that moment, a guy raised his hand and he said, look, I was the founder of the Tea Party, and I run a site called againstcronycapitalism.com. And I agree. If you were to talk about crony capitalism down here, we'd have an extraordinary number of Tea Party people down here supporting a movement to fight what is this core corruption.
LESSIGSo I do think that there's a link here, and I think the link does get to the question of this fundamental system. I understand the skepticism about going out and voting. I mean, I thought a lot of people felt like Obama was -- the victory of Obama was going to be a victory to bring about a lot of this change. And when we didn't see it, a lot of people say that's a reason not to believe in the voting system. But I think it's this corruption that's showing why the voting system fails.
REHMAnd for you, Jim Tankersley, following this movement, is corruption at the heart of it?
TANKERSLEYI mean, I -- yeah, absolutely. I think corruption is a big part of what they're talking about. But I also think, you know, listening to our participants here -- and, again, from the interviews that I've done on site -- it really strikes me how much it's the wrong question to ask would you vote for a Republican, would you vote for a Democrat, when you don't feel like there are choices reflected in this political system right now that reflect the way you want the world to look.
TANKERSLEYI mean, it's -- if nothing else, it's a very idealistic movement. And that's where -- I mean, I think Tyler has a great point about a generational gap here. This is a movement fueled by a lot of younger people who still believe they can change the world to look fundamentally different and fundamentally better. And they are being told from all sorts of folks, whether it's Mike Bloomberg or commentators, that, hey, you need to play within the rules of the current system.
REHMJim Tankersley, he's a reporter for National Journal. We'll take a short break. More of your calls when we come back.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERGNo right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out, but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or, otherwise, take it over to the exclusion of others, nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here. The First Amendment protects speech. It does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERGProtestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now, they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.
REHMAnd that, of course, was Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking at a press conference on Nov. 15 after a judge in the New York State Supreme Court ruled that protesters at Zuccotti Park would not be allowed to camp in the park anymore. Michael, I want to ask you about your thoughts. We've talked briefly about where the movement goes from here, but what one thing will you focus on to engage the general public in your arguments?
PREMOOne direction that the movement is taking is the continued liberation of public space for public good. Bloomberg asserts that this -- that public parks can't be sort of monopolized like this. But, you know, I'd like to remind folks that this is a private-public park that is quasi-public to begin with. And the next direction of that moment -- of the movement is continuing to focus on these public spaces that have been removed from public access.
REHMOK. But help me to understand how occupying the public park, perhaps annoying the neighbors, perhaps getting in the way of traffic, is going to bring people to your side. Wouldn't it be more helpful, for example, if you were to try to help people stop foreclosures?
PREMOMm hmm. Yeah. That's exactly the direction of the movement. The Occupy movement, both nationally and in New York City, is organizing for a national day of action, which will happen in early December around housing and foreclosures, where we will begin to organize coordinated eviction defenses as well as liberating foreclosed homes that have been taken through predatory and illegitimate lending practices.
REHMExcuse me. How will you liberate those foreclosed homes?
PREMOBy putting families back in these homes. There are hundreds of thousands of homes throughout the country. There are, in fact, more homes than there are homeless people. And we will be putting families who have been evicted as well as people who are in need of homes back into these homes from which families have been evicted from and defending those -- and defending the right of those people to have a home.
REHMAnd what happens when the police come to evict illegal residents of those homes?
PREMOWe are developing legal arguments that will support people in courts. I'm not a legal expert, so I can't speak to what those arguments will be. But we are -- we will also defend those properties through the will of the community to stand and take arrest if it means keeping a family in a home.
REHMAll right. Legba, are you part of that as well?
CARREFOURWe haven't really just done anything on -- excuse me -- on that necessarily. But, I mean, there's been sort of eviction defenses that's been going on since this movement started. I mean, this has been -- I mean, there's been a lot of other actions than just hanging out in the park. I don't want anyone to have that opinion. And I think it's -- you know, that feeds to the idea this isn't simply a matter of raising awareness and winning people to our side.
CARREFOURYou asked why we block traffic. We block traffic for the same reason that we stop evictions because we're trying to gum up the system and stop the normal functioning of things that are making our lives miserable.
REHMOkay. Larry Lessig, how do you feel about what you've just heard from Michael?
LESSIGWell, again, I think it brings out the kind of dual nature of this movement. I think there's a lot of work to do to defend poor people in the context of the evictions that have happened because of this loan and mortgage crisis. And, you know, there's been clinics here at Harvard. There's a fantastic clinic that helps people defend themselves and their rights. But I think that the movement gets understood to be just about that sort of stuff.
LESSIGIt'll excite, you know, the 30 percent of us on the left, but it will alienate the 70 percent of the rest of America. So the question is whether we can do two things at once. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can, at the one hand, you know, push ideas and causes that are very important to people on the left, but also talk in a way that gets people to recognize that this is not just about causes that happen to be exciting to the left. This is also something more fundamental that even people like Tyler should be able to agree with.
TANKERSLEYI think this brings us to a really interesting crossroads for the movement in terms of what do you do with the police. If you are going to continue to force confrontations in which arrests will be made, you risk more scenes like we've seen from Oakland, which clearly have taken a negative toll on the movement public relations-wise but have also drawn a lot of attention to it. So it's a delicate balance that it's going to be up to the folks in the movement to decide how to weigh.
TANKERSLEYBut the question is, do you get arrested for the sake of being arrested and for drawing attention to your movement? Or do you try to avoid confrontations with the police because you would prefer to try to get your message out in different ways?
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Beau.
BEAUGood morning. I just had a question for the Occupy Wall Street -- I'm sorry, the Harvard law professor. I'm hoping you've been following the case where the judge said it was okay for the city to prevent people from camping on at the park. And I just wanted you to help me understand the legal justification for that because it seems to clearly violate the freedom of assembly, so if you could, please, help me understand the argument.
LESSIGYeah. I mean, the answer is, unfortunately, for protest movements, the law has developed to have a doctrine of what's called time, place and manner restrictions on free speech. So the basic point is free speech is a fundamental right, but it can be restricted by the sort of limitations that are regulative in a way that Bloomberg is talking about them. So I don't doubt that actually Bloomberg is going to have lots of effect -- lots of success inside the court.
LESSIGBut I think that what we need to recognize is what the courts say is the first step in understanding what free speech in America should be about. So I don't think this is a struggle that is going to go away any time soon. But it is the case that the courts have upheld the power of cities and governments to regulate even free speech activities to confine them and make sure that they don't impose burdens that are disruptive to the rest of city life.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Charlie, who's listening on WUOM in Kalamazoo. He says, "I consider myself very liberal. What I want is a fair tax system, health care for all, regulations that protect the 99 percent. Some of these other stuff with hand signal and alternative realities is losing me. I'd love to be able to occupy Wall Street, but I need to go to work every day. How do these people afford to live in a park for two months?" Legba.
CARREFOURThe first way is by being unemployed. That tends to (unintelligible). The second thing is, honestly, the majority of the people in the park, at least in D.C., do have some kind of day jobs. A lot of people sleep in the park and then leave during the day. And also, you know, I'm sure this is true for every other occupation, you know, most people who are participating in things aren't actually sleeping in the park 24/7.
CARREFOURThey may sleep there a couple of days a week. They may take turns in shifts. I have not slept there literally every single night. I would lose my mind if I'd do that in a public park. I like showers, and I think most people agree with me. I think there's a lot of opportunity also in terms of the actions we do for people to participate in this because, again, it's more than just sleeping in a park.
REHMAll right. To Denver, Colo. Good morning, Jim. Jim, are you there?
JIMYes, I am.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
JIMYeah. I'm an attorney here. We've been a little bit involved in some of these -- both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street stuff. And I just like to hear your impressions about the way this Tea Party and this Occupy movement has been treated so differently. I mean, the Tea Party, basically, had to dance on eggshells in order not to be labeled extremist and racist and every other -ist there is.
JIMWhereas I haven't heard one comment from anybody on the panel yet about the real extremism on the Occupy movement. You know, we had Michael Moore come in here in Denver to (unintelligible) he's worth $50 million, and then he just abused these people. The Tea Party proved that you could effect change through the system. They were very lawyerly. They got their permits.
JIMThey paid for cleanups around the country. They were not totally responsible, but largely responsible for one of the biggest changes in Congress ever and almost won the Senate.
REHMAll right. Jim Tankersley.
TANKERSLEYI think this is where the comparisons between the movements break down, frankly. The Tea Party, yes, came in with a very distinct message and a very distinct goal, which happened to line up with the goal of a lot of very well-funded groups. And what started as a grassroots movement could not have changed Congress in the way that it had without huge financial backing from some conservative causes.
TANKERSLEYAnd, again, that wasn't the goal necessarily of the folks who started the Tea Party. And, in fact, they're disappointed in many ways with the results of the folks that they've elected. But that lined up, in a way, that Occupy Wall Street doesn't really line up with the major funding source within the system right now. I mean, I think, to Jim's point, sure, we haven't talked about the Michael Moores of this movement.
TANKERSLEYWe have talked about the violence in Oakland. But, you know, with the Tea Party, they had a very cogent idea that, look, we -- if we dismantle government, that's the solution, or if we dramatically scale it back. And that's power and something that resonates beyond just their movement.
REHMAll right. To Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Good morning, Mohammad. (sp?) You're on the air.
MOHAMMADHi. I'm calling from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I'm an ex-investment banker. I walked in different cities around the world. And I have degrees in (unintelligible) and finance and entrepreneurship. I see it differently. I see there's a huge problem, and this is the problem with capitalism, where time, value of money is a problem that abuses the underprivileged and the new startups towards the more connected, where nepotism and favoritism plays a lot of role in awarding the most powerful and influential.
MOHAMMADGreed plays a huge part of it. And I think that until there are more regulations in the bank system, this trickle-down economics would continue to cause problems and -- around the world. We've seen it in the Arab world. And I'm afraid that other parts of the world is suffering because this fundamental trickle-down economics, which the banks can abuse the system to their advantages and to their -- to others, might cause problems. I don't know. What does your panel think about that?
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Larry Lessig, is capitalism at the root of the problem?
LESSIGI don't think so. I think what's at the root of the problem is what people call crony capitalism. You know, some of the strongest capitalist -- there's a great economist from Chicago, Luigi Zingales, who wrote a great book, "Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists," which is all about how whenever a generation of capitalist is successful, they use their power to protect themselves from the next generation of capitalist.
LESSIGAnd what we got to do is to make sure that that kind of power can't be used in the system and allow, instead, the system to produce wealth where it can produce wealth, subject to the right kind of limitations from government. You know, I'm not somebody who believes that capitalism doesn't -- can survive effectively without proper regulation.
LESSIGBut I do think both capitalist and those who are questioning -- skeptical of capitalist should be able to agree that when capitalist can use their power through government to protect themselves from competition or from carrying their own weight by, you know, getting exemptions from environmental regulations, there's something wrong with that system. And that, I think, is at the core of the problem with the system we got right now.
REHMAll right. To South Bend, Ind. Good morning, Greg.
GREGOh, hi. What I find interesting about this whole thing -- Tea Party -- saying there are 53 percent that work, whatever. And I'm at work now but the ups and (unintelligible)...
REHMI'm sorry, Greg. Your phone is kicking out. It's not working. Perhaps you can call us another time. And finally to Ithaca, N.Y. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning. Thank you. I've been chomping at the bits of (unintelligible) here. Lots of points I'd like to respond to, but I know I don't have much time. But just to respond to the last point from Mr. Lessig, you know, I think the point is it is the crony capitalism, and that's why Occupy Wall Street is not looking to create a party. They're trying to wake up America. And what they have very well to see to do is get the media. We're all talking about this now.
DAVIDThat's what they're doing. If they go to occupy houses for people, they're going to get people's attention in that, because our media, the way it is -- and I've heard Mr. Lessig quite a few times on media matters -- and the way the media is today, we're so distracted, and it's so easy. And who owns the media, Murdoch? You know, few other people, the 1 percent. Bloomberg, ironic, he's the one saying, you know, this thing. He's 1 percent. I think the point -- the fact of the matter is the 1 percent has solidified, like Mr. Lessig said, and that's what needs to change. And that's not something for the 99 percent...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Last question for you, Jim Tankersley, how significantly do you think this movement is likely to affect politics and the elections of 2012?
TANKERSLEYWell, it's already dramatically changed the conversation. Just think back a few months ago, at the end of July, the start of August, all we were talking about was the federal budget deficit, right? We spent the last two months talking about income inequality. That's a pretty major shift. And so I think that's the greatest success so far of the movement in terms of its goals. And now, the question will be, how does that translate into the campaign?
TANKERSLEYHow does that translate into our politics? Do people actually vote on issues of inequality? Or do they vote on issues of the scale of government or taxes or whatnot in 2012?
REHMAnd judging from the people with whom you've spoken, do you think they'll be able to carry on with the movement no matter what the police or governors or mayors say?
TANKERSLEYI would be really surprised if six months from now we weren't still talking about these issues because of these movements.
REHMJim Tankersley, Michael Premo, Legba Carrefour, Lawrence Lessig, earlier, Tyler Cowen, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
Several cities, including Boston and Chicago, have vowed not to participate in deportation policies championed by President-elect Trump. And lawmakers in California are moving to limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Diane and a panel of guests discuss so-called sanctuary cities under a Trump presidency.
Donald Trump will take office with a Republican-controlled Congress and abortion opponents in his cabinet. This is likely to reopen emotional debates over abortion rights and women’s health.
Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis is known for his tough stance on Iran and ISIS. But because he's recently been active duty, President-elect Trump’s choice for defense secretary needs a special congressional waiver to take the post. A look at Trump’s Cabinet pick and what it would mean for U.S. military strategy.