On May Day I wanted to participate in Occupy Denver’s first General Strike, which began at noon and continued until the sleep-in on the 16th Street Mall later that night. I missed all of the march through downtown Denver except the tail end, when they returned to Civic Center Park, but I stayed for a couple of hours after that. From across Broadway, I judged the marchers to number several hundred at least.
I had been sitting in the park fronting the state Capitol building, on the low wall along Broadway. There were at least 50 people and their sleeping gear strung along Broadway and around the corner up 14th. Across 14th Street stands the new Ralph Carr Justice Center, proclaiming “Liberty and Justice for All.” State troopers patrolled, since this side is state property; Civic Center Park is city property. I chatted for a while with a friendly young man who said he spent a lot of time there. I didn’t know if he was an Occupier or not.
When I saw the march return, I crossed Broadway and made my way to the auditorium. A small group stood behind the mic where the emcee introduced the first speaker. I sat and listened for a while, but I was more interested in the signs. I’m always a sucker for spectacle.
Eventually, the emcee brought up the teach-ins, the reason I was there in the first place. I was hoping to attend one in each of the two sessions. I headed toward the pink flag, passing the free food stand (where I got an orange) and getting a flyer from the Foreclosure Resistance Coalition.
University of Colorado philosophy professor Chad Kautzer spoke on the topic “Neoliberalism and Labor: The Struggle Today.” He contrasted neoliberalism, a politico-economic system in which the state supports but does not regulate capitalism, with the system in place after World War II, which he called “embedded capitalism.” Neoliberalism is a much less regulated form of capitalism, and since the 1970s, has become the dominant form of capitalism in the world, bringing us outsourcing and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States, a weakened labor movement, and the financial crisis we experienced since 2008.
My favorite point? His assertion that debt is a tool used by the neoliberal state to keep citizens in line. People who have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt are reluctant to fight too hard for their rights. If they lose their jobs, who will pay the bills? Kautzer’s suggestion: eliminate your debt. Then you have more freedom of political movement.
After the first teach-in, I returned to the auditorium, where I listened to Live Animal play folk songs for a small crowd. I was feeling tired and hot. Only two hours, and I was fading. As I left, I heard the speaker saying:
Occupy movements may be small outside New York and Oakland, but they are tough and persistent. In addition to the people who sleep on the sidewalks and in the parks, they have committees organizing events and educators teaching people. They are engaging with politicians. They are learning and growing. Occupy Denver is here to stay.