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Interview: ‘The rich and powerful don’t get hurt’ – Noam Chomsky on Occupy

American writer, philosopher and academic Noam Chomsky speaks about the remarkable successes of the Occupy movement.

Noam Chomsky

In an Interview with InterOccupy.org, a group that provides channels of communications between the groups across the Occupy movement, Noam Chomsky discusses the impact of the Occupy movement, why it is beneficial to society and where to next. Here is what Noam Chomsky had to say on:

On starting a discussion

One of the remarkable successes of the Occupy movement is that it changed the entire framework of the discussion on many issues. There were things that were known, but they were in the margins. Now they are right up front like the imagery of the 99 per cent and 1 per cent and the dramatic facts of the rise in inequality over the last 30 years, with the wealth being concentrated in the small fraction of 1 per cent of the population.

Wealth in the majority of incomes has stagnated, benefits have declined, and work hours have gone up and so on. It is not third world misery but it is not what it ought to be in a rich society – in the richest country in the world in fact – with plenty of wealth around. This has now been brought to the fore – it is almost a standard framework of discussion – that is a big shift.

On transcending the movement from the tents

There is sympathy for the goals and aims of the Occupy Movement. It has to further engage people and be something that people feel they can actually do something about. It’s about getting out into communities and not just with a message but to try and spread and deepen their main achievement – creating communities – real functioning communities, communities with support, with democratic interchange, people that care for one another. That is highly significant, especially in a society like ours, a society in which people tend to be very isolated, where neighbourhoods have broken down and structures have broken down.

For 15o years there has been a massive effort to impose the ‘new spirit of the age’ on people - which is to just take care of yourself and don’t bother with anyone else – but it is so inhuman. There is a lot of resistance to it and it continues. One of the real successes of the Occupy movement has been the real rejection of this in a very striking way – the people involved are not in it for themselves, they are in it for one another and for broader society and future generations.

On how Occupy should engage all of society

People have problems and concerns, if they can be helped to feel that these problems are part of a broader movement and there are people that support them, then it can take off. While in a suburb of Brazil – a poor district of the city –  a small group of media professionals from the town came out regularly and set up a truck in the square at 9 o’clock at night. They had a screen above it and they presented skits, plays, and things written and acted by people in the community.

Some were just for fun but some were serious about debt and AIDS. As people gathered in the square, some walked around with mics for comments.  Comments were shown on the screen. People were engaged and talking about quite serious topics that are part of their lives.  If it can be done in a poor area in a Brazilian slum you can certainly do it in other ways, in other places. These are the kind of things that can be done to engage broader sections, which can give them a reason to feel that they can be part of this too.

The media coverage of the Occupy Movement

It’s been mixed. At first dismissive, making fun of people – that it was about playing games and silly kids – but it changed. The coverage of the Occupy movement has been varied. In the business press there has been fairly sympathetic coverage but the general picture is – why don’t they go home and just let us get on with our work. Where is their political program? How do they fit into mainstream structure of how things are meant to change and then came the inevitable repression.  It was clearly coordinated around the country, some of it was pretty brutal, others less so. There has been a bit of a stand-off, some occupations have been removed, some have filtered back in some other form.

Money, politics and power

Getting money out of politics is a very crucial matter; it has been for a long time and it is now even more extreme now. It is now at the point where elections are just public relations extravaganzas, where people were just mobilised every four years to get excited – there is a lot of ways of overcoming that.

If someone wants a degree of decision or authority they literally have to buy it. It used to be that the chair of committee was granted on seniority and service, now you literally have to pay the party to be a candidate of a chair. This is not 100 per cent but these are pretty widespread tendencies that are shedding the very fibre of democracy. You can see it in the campaigns which are farcical.

Concentrated wealth will use its wealth and power to take over political systems as much as possible. The public has to find ways to struggle against that and it can be done.

David Hume speaking on the foundations of government said – power is in the hands of the governed. And that is true.

The only way the rulers can overcome is through the control of opinion and attitudes of the population. There are massive efforts out there trying to control it, less by force today, but by other means like propaganda, consumerism, stirring up ethnic hatreds, all kinds of ways, that is always going to be going on – we just have to resist it.

Lack of regulation in the financial markets

In the 1970s, there was a substantial shift – there was shift towards increasing the role of finance in society. Financial systems are wiping out functioning markets like larvae eats away at its host. During the big growth periods in the 1950s banks were regulated, there were no crises. In the 80′s we started getting crises and bubbles – there were number in the Reagan and Clinton administration. Sub prime mortgages, derivatives, they all took off and created a huge bubble, which was obviously going to burst. It was barely noticed by the economics profession including the Federal Reserve.

It’s a financial casino instead of productive economy. The people that get hurt are not the rich and powerful, it’s the 99 per cent.

(Interview courtesy of InterOccupy.org)

For more interviews and other materials visit InterOccupy>

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