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Concern over the economy has sent protestors to the streets. Demonstrations continue in New York City, on Wall Street, and they'll be spilling out onto San Diego streets later this week. We look at the economic issues behind the protests

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October 4, 2011 1:49 p.m.


Dan Seiver, Finance Professor, San Diego State University

Kali Katt, spokesperson, Occupy San Diego

Related Story: Occupy Wall Street Protests Spread To San Diego


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Tuesday, October 4th. Our top story today on Midday Edition, the occupy wall street demonstrations that have rallied thousands in downtown Manhattan during the last 18 days have already spread to other big cities. And this Friday, occupy San Diego is set to begin. The protests focus on the increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us in this country. The protestors characterize as the 99% versus the 1%. But, critics warn that the occupy protests have to get more goal specific before the message breaks through to mainstream Americans. First off, I'd like to welcome my guest, Kali Katt with occupy San Diego. And Kali, good afternoon. Thanks for coming in.

KATT: Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Well, talk to us a little bit about the issues that you hope to raise beginning Friday in downtown San Diego.

KATT: Well, on Friday, we are hoping to occupy the civic center starting at 4:30. We're going to march from children's park, which is located at First Avenue and east harbor drive over to the civic center. And we are a group of people who are eager to stand in solidarity with the protestors in New York. They're on day 18 over in New York right now. They have been live streaming their protest since day 1, and I think a lot of the people that are in our group right now have been glued to that live stream, watching the New York protestors and wanting to be involved. Yet, maybe not able to get out there because maybe they don't have the resources or the time to head to the east coast. So that's number one. We want to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. And we just want a lot of people to come.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in Wall Street, downtown Manhattan, you have the financial center of the United States. Not so much in San Diego. So are your issues the same as the protestors in occupy Wall Street, and if you could, articulate what some of those issues are.

KATT: I would have to say we are very obviously closely aligned with the protestors in Wall Street. We're even in direct communication with them. A person from our group just got back from being on the ground in New York for the past three or 4 days. And one thing I can say, if you are interested, is that wall street, the protestors on wall street, about four or so days ago, it was on September 30th, and after they had been on the ground for 14 or 15 days already, they finally released the declaration of their occupation. And they're saying things on here such Arizona we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we mustn't lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. And they go into some other stuff and start listing some things that they want to let be known. They say we have peacefully assembled here, this is our right to let these facts be known. They say they have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bail outs from taxpayers from taxpayers with impunity. They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination based on the work place, based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. They have poisoned the food supply through negligence. And the list goes on. And the full list is on the occupy wall But those are just some of the things that as they have been gathering, as they have been gathered together as a group, these are some of the things they're starting to identify as problems

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, a lot of people, I think are frustrated by some of the things that are in that list. A lot of people across the country. But one of the things that I've heard in criticism of the occupy wall street and the other demonstrations is that they're kind of light on goals. Is showing up and marching enough? What do you want to do?

KATT: I think the difference between -- this is the actual occupation part. People have been marching and protesting for a long time. I think -- I know I'm hoping that -- and I think they are in Wall Street too, hoping that through the process of these people coming out and saying we are living in this space now. They're building a community. I don't know if anybody has followed the Wall Street occupation but if you do, I believe it's live revolution, you'll see they've built a community in the space they're living. They have a food committee a medical committee, and all sorts of other committees to keep them safe and organized. And throughout the day, they're breaking out into groups and educating each other and discussing the issues, and trying to come up with solutions. I think they're trying to bring the democratic process maybe back Alive and give people a voice again. I think that's really important. I think a lot of people feel like they don't have anywhere to go to say these things. Are they even being listened to when they go to their City Council meetings? Do they have an opportunity to get the attention of their local representatives? I think people feel like maybe they don't, and this is an opportunity for people to get-together and do that in public together

CAVANAUGH: Let me bring in my second guest. SDSU finance professor Dan Seiver is here. And do protests that Kali is describing, and the one planned here in San Diego, in your opinion do they make a difference?

SEIVER: Well, there are all different kinds of protests. And throughout modern history some of them have been very effective and some have not. And I think it partly depends on focus in particular. And it helps to protest something that is more tangible. Say in the south when you have people insisting on sitting in a lunch counter or sitting in the front of the bus. And I think that grabs the public, and there's something you can actually do. Even lying down in front of a factory gate, say. But when you're trying to protest something that is not as tangible, I believe it is much more difficult. You can't lie down in front of a collateralized mortgage obligation. And the difficulties that wall street certainly is implicated in, in causing the economic weakness that we're still facing in the great recession and so on, well, a lot of those CEOs crashed their companies, helped crash the economy, and walked away with big bonuses and none of them are going to jail. But I don't think these protests will change any of that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you make a good point in the fact that there are a lot of people who have been seeing things happen for two and a half years now. Wall street getting bailed out, people's homes being foreclosed upon, no jobs around for people, and yet, you know, a certain percentage of the American population seems to get richer and richer. And if a protest like this doesn't work, what are people supposed to co?

SEIVER: Well, that's very difficult to say because the democratic process has plenty of its own flaws and it's very slow to move and to get Congress -- you know, can't even agree on a budget, and they won't probably pass what the president has proposed. But for example, inequality has been getting worse in the United States. There's no doubt. So I think as part of a general sacrifice, having higher taxes on very high incomes is not a bad idea. And that makes some sense. And so I would be in favor of that, but I'm not convinced that occupy wall street will help us bring that about

CAVANAUGH: Because the protest is not focused enough

SEIVER: Right. In my opinion.

CAVANAUGH: Kali, let me ask you, San Diego is not really known as a big protest town. Who are you expecting to join the protest in downtown San Diego?

KATT: Well, I just want to say that's exactly -- kind of speaks on what he was just saying. I think that this will do something because it's giving an opportunity for everybody to come down. We're very inclusive group, I think that's one of the main goals here is that we want people to know we're peaceful; we're nonviolent, and inclusive. We've been getting representatives from all different kinds of community groups already, political activist groups that already exist, people representing different laborer unions throughout the county coming already and organizing meetings and telling us they want to be a part of T. Upon I think we're going to have a huge myriad of people from the community represented there. And I think that this is very needed. I think that all these people who -- a lot of people who work on these individual issues are all working on them individually. And the reality is, all these issues are connected. So if we don't ever get-together and start working on these issues together, of course nothing's ever going to be changed or fixed or solved. How will that ever happen? I don't think that we are claiming that we have the solution now. But I think we're just trying to give a forum for people to come and get-together and let's start figuring out what these issues are. Because we are the people of this country. And the country is in our hands.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you Kali -- and

KATT: If we don't choose to take it, then it won't be.

CAVANAUGH: You know, always when you have a mass demonstration like this, there's always the possibility that it has a counter productive kind of outcome. Lots of people point to the demonstrations in 1968 for the reason that Richard Nixon was elected president. When people who aren't familiar with these -- with the protests see them on TV, it can be a frightening thing to see a group of what looks like rag tag people with home-made signs sitting where they're not supposed to be sitting. So my question to you is has anybody addressed that sort of idea in any of the literature or Facebook entries that have been -- that you've been read something

KATT: We've discussed it a little bit. But isn't that a little disheartening that that is when the public sees when they see people standing on the sidewalk with their signs? These are just people that are teachers, mothers, daughters, fathers, grandparents are out there, and they're standing in the public, which is our right to stand in, and they're saying what they believe. They're expressing themselves. And I think that it is kind of sad that people see them on the TV and they think badly of them. I would hope that people would see them on the TV and think, man, I need to go support them

CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call from Jeff calling from La Mesa. Good afternoon, Jeff, welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I just want to make a quick statement that I think part of the reason that this hasn't, you know, quote, resonated or caught on is the fact that then news media is pretty much ignoring this. This protest has been going on for almost a month. 20 days or something like that. And like I was telling your screener, the press book last week is more interested in Christi not running or -- there was all sorts of stories about that. And the press has been almost virtually ignoring this story until just lately. And I think if a lot of people don't know about it, they can't get excited about it. And it's really been sticking in my craw a little bit.

CAVANAUGH: Jeff, are you planning to go to the protest in downtown San Diego?

NEW SPEAKER: If I can get away, yes. I'm self employed and I've got some deadlines, if I can finish them off and get everything done in time, I will be down this.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. Professor Seiver, just today, Ben Bernanke was testifying before lawmakers giving pretty dire warning it is that the U.S. economy was close to faltering. It seems that what has been tried so far, the stimulus packages and so forth, has not worked. He warned against a lot of cuts that, of course, a lot of people in Congress are lobbying for. What in your opinion are the steps that need to be done in it Congress to try to turn this economy around?

SEIVER: Well, there's -- when you have a horrible recession like this one, which is a credit-based collapse, history shows it takes years and years for economies to recover. So that's the first problem that we're up against. Second is monetary policy can be helpful, but the Fed has done most of what I think it can do. And it doesn't have anymore silver bullets. And the only thing that really is left, probably, is for fiscal policy, spending and taxing. And if the economy is really weak, what you need to do is stimulate it some more. And nose who say the stimulus didn't works, well, are it wasn't enough. You could just as easily make the argument that we need to do more. So there are these fiscal hawks in Congress that really want to cut spending and -- well, they don't want to increase taxes. They just want to cut spending. But that will, as I think Bernanke said, will further push the economy toward another recession. We actually need to run bigger budget deficits right now, even though we have to shrink them later in order to try to get the economy moving again. The best thing that would happen for all the people who are protesting is if we had good jobs for them.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, the two of you, in closing, one brief question each, and that is how would these protests appear to you as a success, professor Seiver? [CHECK AUDIO] what would you need to see?

SEIVER: Well, that would be -- that's really tough for me to answer because I don't -- maybe it's a reflection of my age or something else. I don't see what this particular pro-- I'm a child of the '60s so I know all about protests and the Vietnam war and that stuff. And one thing that mattered, I thought in the Vietnam era, is you had hundreds of thousands if not millions of people mobilized, and they had a very specific goal they wanted to get the United States out of Vietnam. And that's not the only reason we got out. But it had some impact. But I'm not sure that I see how these protests could do the same thing. Again, it's partly a question of focus.

CAVANAUGH: And Kali, what would you -- what would be the criteria of success for occupy San Diego? How would you look at this protest and say, you know, we really did something?

KATT: There's a quote from the live stream I heard a lady that they were just interviewing on the live stream in wall street. And she said the people are starting to realize they are all connected so protests can be on many, many issues because it is all the same. And I really like that quote. And I think that it will be successful if we can get all the groups together that want to be a part of this and we are staying on peaceful, and we stay nonviolent, and come up with some solutions that we can present to maybe local governments or maybe even bigger governments out of our own localities all together. And we are all connected like we've never been connected before. The younger generation, and even middle aged and the older generation are on the computers now. Everybody is connected on Facebook and twitter. That's how I am so informed with this. I did not find out about any of this through the mainstream media. Now that the mainstream media is covering it, people are starting to be more interested. They have done a little bit of coverage. I think it would just be successful if people can break out of their current mind set and be open to coming out and into a public area and meeting your fellow citizens.


KATT: Of San Diego in person and talking with them. And if nothing else comes of it, at least people are able to get-together, network with each other and talk about these issues and meet other people who are aware of what's going on. It


KATT: It feels like in the public it's almost taboo to talk about some of these issue

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time. And you just turned things around a little bit. I just want to make sure, you were saying that you need to stay nonviolent and peaceful. I think you got that turn around when you were saying that

KATT: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm tired; we've been running crazy. But I did mean to say we want to stay nonviolent and peaceful. That's really important

CAVANAUGH: Kali cat is with occupy San Diego, and my other guest is SDSU finance professor Dan Seiver, thank you both so much for speaking with us. I appreciate it.

KATT: Thank you

SEIVER: Thank you.