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Noam Chomsky Speaks to Occupy: If We Want a Chance at a Decent Future, the Movement Here and Around the World Must Grow

In a speech to Occupy Boston, the linguist and icon hailed the "unprecedented" first weeks of OWS. He cautioned protesters to build and educate first, strike later.

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Now over the following years the concept of person was changed by the courts in two ways. One way was to broaden it to include corporations, legal fictions established by the courts and the state. These “persons” later became the management of corporations; the management of corporations became “persons.” Of course, that’s not what the 14th amendment says. It’s also narrowed to undocumented workers. They had to be excluded from the category of persons. That’s happening right now. So legislation like this goes two ways. They defined persons to include corporate persons, which by now have rights beyond human beings, given by the trade agreements and others. They exclude people who flee from Central America where the US devastated their homelands, flee from Mexico because they can’t compete with the US’s highly subsidized agro-business. When NAFTA was passed in 1994, the Clinton administration understood pretty well that it was going to devastate the Mexican economy, so they started militarizing the border. So we’re seeing the consequences. So these people have to be excluded from the category of persons.

So when you talk about personhood, that’s right, but there’s more than one aspect to it. It ought to be pushed forward and it ought to be understood, but that requires a mass base. It requires that the population understands this and is committed to it. It’s easy to think of a lot of things that should be done, but they all have a prerequisite – namely a mass popular base that’s there that’s committed to implementing them.

Q: What about the ruling class in America? How likely is it that they’ll have an open fascist system here?

A: I think it’s very unlikely frankly. They don’t have the force. About a century ago, in the freest countries in the world, Britain and the United Sates at the time, the dominant classes came to understand that they can’t control the population by force any longer. Too much freedom had been won by struggles like these, and they realized it. It’s discussed in their literature. They recognize that they’re going to have to shift their tactics to control of attitudes and beliefs instead of just the cudgel. It can’t do what it used to do. You have to control attitudes and beliefs. In fact that’s when the public relations industry began. It began in the United States and England. The free countries where you had to control beliefs and attitudes, to induce consumerism, to induce passivity, apathy and distraction. It’s a barrier, but it’s a lot easier to overcome than torture and the Gestapo. I don’t think the circumstances are any longer there to institute anything like what we call fascism.

Q: You mentioned earlier that sit-down protests are just a precursor to a takeover of industry. Would you advocate a general strike as a tactic moving forward? Would you ever if asked allow for your voice to relay the democratically chosen will of our nation?

A: You don’t want leaders; you want to do it yourself. We need representation and you should pick it yourselves. It should be recallable representation.

The question of a general strike is like the others. You can think of it as a possible idea at a time when the population is ready for it. We can’t sit here and declare a general strike, obviously. There has to be approval and a willingness to take the risks on the part of a large mass of the population. That takes organization, education and activism. Education doesn’t just mean telling people what to believe. It means learning yourself. There’s a Karl Marx quote: “The task is not just to understand the world but to change it.” There’s a variant of that which should be kept in mind, “If you want to change the world in a certain direction you better try to understand it first.”

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