On November 2, 2011, I joined a group of semi-like minded individuals under the inexact label “Occupy Philadelphia” in a day of action in response to and in solidarity with a call made by “Occupy Oakland” (later to be referred to as the “Oakland Commune”) for a “99 Minute General Strike” (in reference to the “99%” motif). The call was made because an Iraq veteran, Scott Olsen, was deliberately shot in the head by a police projectile during “Occupy” demonstrations in Oakland (the deliberation may not have been to strike him in the dome, but it was certainly aimed at him and the group he was with) and lists of other “Occupy” encampments answered the call to speak out in solidarity with Oakland against police brutality, qualified immunity, and abuse of police power. And not just against the “Occupy” movement, but against dissent in general, as well as the overarching normality of the quasi-military occupation police and legislation force on communities of color on a regular basis. Essentially, as I attributed to most things “Occupy”, we were standing up against and bringing awareness to man made perpetual motion machines of oppression of which we are all simultaneously victims as well as participants. I understand when people don’t “get” “Occupy”.
Other than marching, something that honestly has little effect more than preaching to the choir you’re already singing with (save a few who can actually comprehend the web of associations common to the lunatics screaming at them from the streets and themselves), we wanted to do something that would command the attention of the “public”, and possibly, albeit improbably, set off some indeterminate chain of events that could somehow lead to some sort of accountability from the plutocratic nobility seated comfortably atop their thrones. Talks of possible ideas began the night before and when Comcast was suggested, I lacked the appropriate information (other then that Comcast is a very powerful corporation and thus, most like has some (golden) skeletons in their closet) to agree or disagree, so I consented to the action. We agreed to do something useful with our first amendment rights and call Comcast out on their crimes against the city from the their own beastly belly.
As it turns out, I was right in my assumption. While Comcast does practice monetary philanthropy to the sum of some millions every year, I view that as the humanitarian equivalent to eating cake and ice cream all day, but justifying your gluttony because you also take vitamin supplements. From the court solidarity event page:
We the people find Comcast guilty of the following crimes:
1. Monopolizing Media – Comcast is the largest cable provider in the country, the largest internet service provider, and the third largest telephone service provider. There is currently a class action lawsuit moving to trial in Philadelphia brought forward by consumers. The lawsuit claims Comcast robbed Philadelphians of almost a billion dollars by violating anti-trust laws to prevent competition.
In 2011 Comcast bought NBCUniversal in a highly controversial deal that turned the company into a 30 billion dollar behemoth that controls not only media distribution, but also media production. Through this process Comcast also bought an FCC commissioner, Meredith Atwell Baker, who sped up the merger process and then resigned early from her post as government regulator to take a job lobbying for Comcast, in an egregious example of the revolving door between corporations and the government agencies tasked with regulating them.
2. Not Paying Taxes – Comcast avoids paying millions in property taxes in Philadelphia as a result of a 10 year tax abatement, even though they earn billions in profits from having their headquarters here. Meanwhile, 67 public schools are proposed to be closed in the city over the next five years because “there’s not enough money” for education.
3. Attacking Net Neutrality – Net Neutrality is the principle that allows information to flow freely over the internet, preventing corporate and government censorship. Comcast’s attacks on net neutrality seriously threaten the internet as an open and free flowing source of information and space for democratic engagement. Comcast is currently involved in a fight against Netflix, as they seek to monopolize production and distribution of media.
4. Attacking Public Access TV – Comcast is forced to fund public access television, but have been undermining the service. On the TV Guide channel, public access shows are only listed as Public Access Television, instead of actually naming what shows are playing, like most other channels. This decreases viewership and builds Comcasts crooked case that no one watches public access TV.
5. Corporate Greed – Comcast’s CEO, Brian L. Roberts, earned more than $18 million in 2012, earning him a spot as one of the most highly paid CEO’s in the country. On the day of this demonstration Comcast posted 3rd quarter profits of over $900 million, up 5% from the previous year. Monopolizing media markets, ripping off consumers, and undermining the democratic potential of communications is a lucrative business.
Recent news: 50 protestors disrupt Comcast’s shareholder’s meeting http://articles.philly.com/2012-06-02/business/31960337_1_comcast-executive-vice-president-meredith-attwell-baker-tax-loopholes
Each one these points can be expanded upon ad infinitum (including the amount of local, state, and federal lobbying and political campaign fund raising Comcast utilizes to buy city citizen’s home team advantage – rendering them voiceless, unless, of course, they can somehow rake in millions of personal profit each year), but if I’m to stay true to my reasons for participating in the demonstration, I have to say, although Comcast should be held accountable for these crimes and conflicts of interest, I viewed them as par for the course we, as a people, as a species, are on.
When I entered the headquarters of the global conglomerate Comcast, I did so with two intentions: one was to illuminate the crimes committed by Comcast; crimes I view as incentivized behavior in this society. My second intention was more broad. It was to draw more attention to the “Occupy” movement, something I understood as an allegorical concept loosely represented through the enforcement of accountability by conscious individuals to the most powerful corporate leaders and heads of state (a distinction I’m not sure was ever factual). Given that the Comcast Center lobby is marketed to Philadelphians as public space during hours of operation, I was absent of any notion that I would have been “trespassing”… my intention was never to engage in what could later be considered a “criminal” action. In fact, I had every intention of expressing my first amendment rights to highlight what I believe to be a defense against the corporate and government colonization of freedom in this country: the “Occupy” movement.
Comcast is not atypical in a society that blatantly prioritizes the pursuit of profit over the lives of people, and exerts it’s influence to keep them on top. I know a lot of genuinely good people who are employed by Comcast, or any number of centralized corporate or government jobs, and my qualms are not with them. What are people to do in this economy? The same way Comcast has monopolized the media sector so that it’s profits rise even as it’s customer service falls, it’s employees are forced to fit a mold dictated by Comcast in order to survive. This is the basic “work to survive; survive to work” mentality of our current cultural purview, perpetuated and force fed back into society not only by the richest and most powerful people, but the “cogs” in those people’s “machine” as well. We must participate in order for them to maintain control over us, but they (not just Comcast) rather efficiently exploit people’s basic survival instincts, in collusion with the rest of the corporate state, to maintain an economic dictatorship over the citizens of a supposedly free nation.
Comcast is not alone, but the potential I saw in the meaning I chose to apply to the “Occupy” movement gave me hope. Perhaps it’s naive, but I went in thinking the more people who realized the consequences of maintaining a society this way; the more people who started asking questions and demanding answers from those who are responsible, the closer we could get to evolving what could one day be considered our ancient civilization. This hope remains close to my heart regardless of the state of “Occupy” or the consistency of my existential angst. Is it really all that far-fetched to believe that, as a creativity based, problem solving species, we can do better?
Why does Comcast, being the most influential communications and broadcasting nonpareil, not feel morally responsible to make sure that their customers (and those over whom their influence reigns) are not only happy in ways that are not profitable to Comcast, but are also provided with the most up to date, unbiased information? An informed public would be detrimental to corporations like Comcast and the state, so it doesn’t surprise me that Comcast executives, as well as the politicians and lobbyists they’ve bought, are more interested in personal gain, lobbying, and bipartisan campaign fund raising than they are with the physical and psychological health of the public. They are simply playing a rigged game; a zero-sum game of musical chairs in that some must always lose in order for others to win.
I believe “Occupy” represents an inevitable consequence of oppression: resistance. And more than just resistance, potential: the potential to stop competing and start cooperating; the potential for the human species to learn from our past mistakes; the potential to create a world based on the free flow of the most up to date information, critical thinking, and self awareness; a world based on fact as opposed to the highest paying opinion. We simply cannot continue ignoring the truth and, to this end, I believe Comcast has exposed itself as a bad citizen of our shared world.
So Comcast has a choice to make… but it will most likely continue ignoring it’s influence and thus it’s responsibility to the human race. But we CAN do better. The choice is, in fact, ours. Without us, Comcast is nothing. What would happen if the bottom of the pyramid decided, upon it’s own informed volition, to stop upholding the top?
What will you choose to do knowing what you know now? Regardless of how you feel about “Occupy”, corporations, nor the state, can dictate who you are. We are at a point when we must stand up against the cultural status quo or perish. The only way forward is together.