Archive | December, 2011

Christmas Eve in Liberty Plaza

LIBERTY PLAZA, NY – After attending a meeting of the Facilitation working group (Facilitation are those who volunteer to conduct the General Assemblies of Occupy) at 60 Wall St, I had about a half hour to myself, before General Assembly.  Although the free chickpea salad provided by the Occupied Kitchen was tasty, I decided against taking a second serving when others probably needed it more, and headed to a local Indian restaurant for a quick saag daal interlude.  I was shanghaied into taking minutes at WG meeting, so I took the opportunity to recharge my laptop in addition to my blood sugar.

Once the two of us were seated, I headed to Liberty Plaza.  Only a
dozen or so people were milling about, mostly the usual characters,
holding signs, making chatter, playing chess.  I made my way to the
stairs at the eastern edge, and took a seat to take in the scene.
Across from me, in front of one comically oversized chess set, there
was a new, very neatly typeset sign that proclaimed “LIBERTAD / MMXII”
in red lettering on white background.  Immediately after I sat
down, a woman with bright blue hair seated at the barricades began
caroling, replacing words as appropriate — “I’m dreaming of an
Occupied Christmas … They say protesting’s illegal / but we’ve got
Norman Siegel … etc, etc”.  Her voice was incredible, so much so that
random passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wait for her to finish
so that they could applaud.  I would have been satisfied if this were
the only heartwarming surprise of the evening.

As her Occu-carols echoed through the crisp air, the motley crew
continued growing in number.  Mostly, it’s familiar faces; not a lot
of first-timers on Christmas eve.  An older middle eastern man, on the
outside of the barricades, started shouting, with a mildly distressed
tone in his voice: “Stop bombing Afghanistan!  Stop bombing
Afghanistan!”  No one really knows how to address him: he’s clearly a
little bit unhinged, dressed in a grey-blue jacket that’s a bit
visibly dirty, unkempt beard and wild eyes.  He’s probably drunk, but
not angry — at least, not at anyone here.  After a few tense seconds,
one of the regulars notices him, walks up, and slaps his hand and
gives him a hug.  They’re friends from their neighborhood.  I overhear
that his name is Mohammed.  Several more times throughout the evening,
he will occasionally puncture the air with hoarse calls of “Mic check!
Stop bombing Afghanistan!”  Each time, he seems newly inspired that
it will catch on.  But under that fire I hear a tinge of despair.
Later, I learn something more about why.

A brief hot chocolate break and GA begins.  The first proposal is
relatively uncontroversial: funding a Native American event to
commemorate the 121st anniversary of Wounded Knee.  There’s some
vibrant back-and-forth discussion about the relationship between
Occupy and the indigenous rights movement; though there are some
serious concerns about how to remain sensitive while highlighting the
link, everyone agrees we should be supporting them as much as
possible.  There are some procedural hiccups, due to inexperienced
facilitators, and some not insignificant political chatter.  The main
problem expressed is that this proposal is being offered by Direct
Action, not the Native group that has been with us since the very
early days.  Has DA consulted them?  DA sheepishly admits they have
not, due to time constraints.  Some concern is expressed that DA is
stepping up and speaking for others; though, to be fair, the proposers
from DA are native themselves.  The concerned parties shout out for
Joseph, a respected and visible member of the Native group.  Joseph
shuffles up the stairs, makes his way to the proposers, and takes the
human mic.  He waves his hands wide in a show of acceptance, and asks
that we look beyond personal dramas, because “this event … and this
movement are too important.”  Fingers twinkle in vigorous respect.
The proposal passes with some minor amendments.  The venue is just a
couple of blocks from my apartment, so after the proposal passes, I
track down the proposers and offer them my apartment for staging.

The next proposal is highly contentious in form, though not intention.
The proposer, who is a familiar member of many working groups but is
offering this proposal on his own initiative, asks that we “prohibit”
working groups from meeting during the times of General Assemblies and
Spokes Councils.  The intention is to ensure that working group members
attend GAs and SCs, which many do not, leaving us with only 50 or so
attendees to a GA on a given night.  The issue, expressed by many, is
that we cannot violate WG autonomy, and a sort-of conversation
develops, as best it can within the GA process, about what the rights
of WGs are, and what the rights of the GA might be to abridge those
rights.  None of the speakers question whether or not we should be
encouraging people to attend GA, but the procedural constraints
(questions, then concerns, then amendments) steer people away from a
more natural discussion that might encourage finding common ground to
start from.  At this point, some regulars, incensed by what they see
as relatively minor legalistic quibbles to a generally positive
proposal, start breaking process and responding out of turn to
concerns posed, loudly, by essentially restating the intention of the
proposal.  This leads to others, who are strongly committed to
process, shouting at them.  I recognize a familiar pattern of
dissolution among largely agreeing parties, and start to withdraw a
bit.

I notice that Mohammed is sitting on a bench to my left.  He’s talking
to a familiar face, a tall person with a green-tinged mohawk whose
name is Razor, and watching them talk I get a better understanding of
my earlier assessment of his emotional state: First, he’s drinking
from a small plastic bottle of gin; it’s about one-quarter full.
Second, he says, to Razor perhaps but mainly to the space above his
line of sight: “they kill my family.  Thirty-two family I have, now I have
none.  Stop bombing Afghanistan.”  His voice is hoarse beyond tears,
though he does not appear to have been crying recently.  I have a
sense that those tears were all exhausted long ago.  I have no way of
knowing how true his claim is, but, when it is made, everyone around,
even those focused on the meeting, start to turn their heads.  Most
only make it part of the way, as though their attention was cued by
the emotional tone of the words, but once the full sentence reached
their consciousness they realized that looking  at his eyes could not
possibly improve the situation for anyone.  I suppose I didn’t have
quite the same foresight, and for that I am rewarded with an image
that I might never shake.

A man is sitting next to Mohammed.  He has the long, unkempt beard and
collared white shirt, dark vest, and wire-rimmed glasses that I
usually associate with a member of an orthodox religious sect, though
with the extra layers of clothes and hat and scarves I can’t quite put
my finger on whether he is a Russian or Greek Christian, or even
Jewish.  Regardless, what he’s doing is of note: He has his arm around
Mohammed, is speaking in low tones and with a nodding head, and
they’re alternating swigs from the bottle of gin.  At some point, they
both laugh while staring down at the ground.  On its own, this episode
of camaraderie is perhaps not quite worthy of a second glance; scenes
like this are not altogether out of place in New York City in 2011.
But something about the fact that we’re here, on Christmas Eve, on day
99 of Occupied Liberty Plaza, gives it a deeper significance, a sense
of connections being formed at a foundational level, a flavor of
renewed hope.

The proposal is blocked by several who have ethical concerns that it
will infringe on the autonomy of others.  The Process then dictates
that we move to a call for modified consensus (which would require 90%
approval).  The proposal does not meet this criterion.  Consensus is
declared not reached, and the proposer is instantly swarmed by
individuals who want to help him improve the language.  This
conversation will continue.

At this point, a call comes out from the crowd.  “Mic check!  Arts and
Culture would like to request a ten minute break to pass out some
candles!”  A&C had planned a 9pm candlelight vigil.  Consensus is
asked, and quickly achieved without needing to count.  We gather
around.  I look in the bag next to the woman who announced the break,
and find an exquisitely detailed wax candle in the shape of a
fist, with its middle finger raised.  Brilliant.  We’re asked to grab
some candles and stand in a circle around an area that used to be
filled with plants (they survived our Occupation, thanks to the work
of several volunteer gardeners, but they did not survive the police
raid).  At this point, seemingly out of nowhere, my friend Becky
appears, tapping me on the shoulder.  I had earlier emailed some
friends to let them know that I am here, and to tell the story of the
caroler, and of Mohammed, and this apparently inspired Becky to swoop
down from her sickbed to join.  Becky is one of my oldest friends… we
met in college, about ten years ago, and it seems she’s around for
many of the more important moments of my life, whether we intend to
arrive at them together or not.  We both came to Occupy a few months
ago, organically, though neither of us were surprised to find each
other again, here.  I’m grateful that I have her as a witness for what
happens the rest of the night.

The artist — a Mr. Matsumoto, I didn’t catch his first name — stands
up on a bench, and describes the candles to us.  “Mic check!  This is
my christmas present to you guys.  I want you guys to get around and
light this for me.  I nearly lost my middle finger — my real middle
finger — the other day.  I’m a woodworker, and I make my living with
my hands.  While I was injured, I thought about a lot of things.  I
thought about my life without my middle finger” (the crowd laughs) “If
I don’t have my middle finger, it really really sucks” (laughs again)
“It really sucks… because it’s like losing a voice” (cheers) “My
middle finger.  YOUR middle finger.”  Vigorous twinkles… of our middle
fingers.  The candles are lit, and several are raised towards the
Brookfield building.

I’m glad this movement began in New York, not
just because I’m here and so get to experience it, but because it has
acquired a certain New York flavor, in both its work ethic and, in
particular, in a brusque humor that can help to take the edge off of
continual struggle, while still retaining that integral hard-nosed
character: you’ll never mistake our laughter for weakness.  This is
one fine example.  A call goes out in the best Brooklyn accent one can
muster and still hope for the human mic to accurately reflect: “Mic
check!  Fuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuu”

We gathered in a circle, sort of, and some used the human mic to announce
why they are lighting the candles: for the loss of our civil
liberties, for the dogs who died in the raid (this is the first I’ve
heard of that), for the library.  I feel that while this might be
appropriate to the intention, it somehow derails the festive mood that
we’ve built in spite of the cold, and I call out that I am lighting
this candle to celebrate the rebirth of our democracy.  A small,
cheesy break, but I hear relief in the hoots that follow.

Around this time, I catch Stan, from ThinkTank and Outreach, giddily
milling about, saying “We have to march with these! We have to march
with these!” I say to him: “Call it out!  Let’s do it!”  He never
breaks his green as he speeds off again.  Stan’s story is inspiring,
though not entirely unique: He visited from Huntsville, Alabama in
early October.  I met him on his first or second day here, when he was
planning to learn what he could and go back to start Occupy
Huntsville. I saw him again two days later and he said he was thinking
of moving to NYC.  About a week later, he went back to Huntsville.  A
couple of weeks after that, I saw him again in NYC: he had moved.
He’s been living with Occupy ever since: at the park, first, and now
in churches.

The idea seems to spark from several directions at once: “Let’s
march!”  Someone calls: “around the park!”  Stan, still buzzing from
group to group, re-appears: “No!  We’re marching to Wall Street!
We’re going to the stock exchange!”

Now, this might seem the most obvious idea in the world, but it’s
worth taking a moment to appreciate why it is anything but.  Since the
very first day of the Occupation, we have attempted to march on the
NYSE.  This has rarely actually happened, though — in fact, to my
knowledge the only time we got close was during the large march of
November 17th — despite repeated, earnest and often creative
missions.  The police were determined to never let us near the
Exchange.  Back during the Occupation, there were daily marches.  When
they would head towards City Hall, there would be the usual police
guidance and blockades.  But when we headed in the direction of the
Exchange, we would almost always be confronted by a phalanx of riot
police and horses.  Most people never really expected to do it, but
considered it important to continue trying, even if only for symbolic
value.  But right now, on Christmas Eve, there are only about three
patrol officers officers, with three or four more community affairs
officers (and about ten Brookfield private security guards, who I
later learn are being paid triple overtime).  The awareness of
possibility spreads through the crowd.  We can actually do this.

So we do.  After some confused attempts to re-light the candles
against the wind tunnel of Liberty Plaza, someone shouts: “Let’s just
march, and we’ll light the candles… _on Wall Street_”, the extra
emphasis revealing his unbridled joy at the suddenly attainable goal.
We begin to march.  The chant goes out: “All day, all week, Occupy
Wall Street!”  I can’t help but grin, because, yes, for the first time
in a long time, we’re actually doing it.  The man carrying the live
streaming laptop has a debate with himself about whether or not to
join — at the last major march, livestreamers were among the first
arrested, in a pattern that seemed intentional.  He eventually
acquiesces to the will of the crowd, both the one in the park and the
increasing number watching along at home.

As we make our way to the exit, I see a police officer standing
outside of the barricades at the southern gate to the park.  Her arms
are extended, as if to confine us to one half of the sidewalk.  Shawn
from Direct Action is confused by this, laughs, and starts dancing
around her in circles.  She pushes him, hard, and he tumbles several
feet.  “It’s the sidewalk!”, he shouts, nervously laughing.  She
shouts back: “You don’t listen!  You should just listen!”  I’m
laughing, nervously too, because I’ve seen what happens when police
are overwhelmed by numbers.  But I realize what she’s doing: there’s a
propane tank fueling one of the food carts.  I suspect that she
doesn’t want us to step on it or bring candles too close to it.
Perfectly reasonable!  Why didn’t she say so?  I say to her: “It’s the
propane tank!  You could have just told us.”  But she’s not listening
to me.

As we turn down Broadway, the police hurry into formation, marching in
a single-file line in the bus lane to keep us on the sidewalk.  There
are more of them, now, though I’m not quite sure where they came from
so quickly.  Another of our regular ingredients, the drums, pop up,
also out of nowhere.  Who decides to bring drums (and a tambourine?)
to Liberty Plaza on Christmas Eve in thirty degree weather?  Well,
someone named Rooster did, and, flanked by an American flag, he starts
playing a brisk, tight rhythm.

Everyone is excited and cheerful.  This is going so well!  We are
chanting, speeding our way through the old standards: “Banks got
bailed out / We got sold out” then “Hey hey! Ho ho!  Corporate greed
has got to go!”  The middle finger candles are waving.  We turn left
down Wall Street, chanting, spinning, dancing, laughing, some with
their heads turned to the air, perhaps to catch the echoes from above.
The parade buzzes down the northern sidewalk, passing Federal Hall,
site of the first Congress and the first Presidential inauguration.  A
contingent breaks off and runs up the stairs, around Washington’s
statue and between the marble columns, hooting mischievously like
children left in a mall after closing time.  We take the long way
around the barricades that circle the intersection of Wall and the
Exchange, turn right towards the corner, and stop.  The patrol
officers are behind us, paused along Wall Street, in front of Federal
Hall.  There are two community affairs officers ahead, standing side
by side, facing us, backs to the Exchange.  Other than them, there is
no physical reason for us to stop.  But we do.

We’re paused at the corner for a couple of minutes that linger with
careful excitement.  The parade catches up, our only possible excuse
not to move forward.  Some people are shouting ideas, hurling
invective at the Exchange, asking for lighters and matches, but no one
is saying the obvious.  I look at the Exchange building: columns
bathed in red light, American flags fluttering in a slight breeze,
gigantic Christmas Tree with a half-lit menorah at the base.  Someone
says: “We should light these candles, and stand silently in front of
the Exchange.”  No one has moved down the sidewalk, past the officers,
yet.  I turn to the crowd, then back to the officers.  With no purpose
to my step, I start to walk at them, then around them.  I don’t think
to look at their faces, but just keep awareness of their forms in the
corner of my eye.  They don’t move.  The crowd — we are, somehow,
bigger than when we started (perhaps people at 60 Wall St heard what
was happening and left their meetings to join us) — spills down the
sidewalk.  We’re here.  A group of Occupiers, holding lit middle
finger candles, facing the New York Stock Exchange.  The street is
quiet, save for us.  On the 99th day of the 99%, we did it, for the
first time.  We are Occupying Wall Street.

The patrol officers remain where they were.  At the southern end of
the block, a new contingent of mounted officers line up, inside the
barricades.  I suppose, in retrospect, that they had the exits
blocked, but that didn’t seem to be as threatening as it usually
might.  Shouts begin.  “Mic check!  I want to see one broker or banker
go to jail!”  “Mic check!  Whose street?”  “Mic check!  This is our
time.”  “Mic check!  Fuck you Wall Street!”  Someone shouts “Fuck the
police!”, and he is instantly met with a shower of jeers.  There’s
some back and forth about how we should present ourselves, about how
the police are the 99%, about maintaining solidarity despite
differences of opinion.  Someone breaks the tension:  “Mic check!  To
the police, our gift to you!  Massive overtime pay!!”  Cheers.  We’re
standing, now, some of us, on the polygonal metal sculptures that line
the sidewalk.  There are no people between me and the Exchange: just
the cobblestoned street and roughly four layers of police barricades.
Standing on the metal sculpture, I am above them.  I realize it’s just
a short jump into the street, and from there a short walk to the
Exchange.  I realize I’m probably more comfortable staying where I am.

The mounted officers retreat to a position further down, past the
intersection of Exchange Place and Broad Street.  They didn’t seem to
be heading our way.  Someone called out: “Let’s hold a moment of
silence, for the officer who just died.” [I wasn't aware of it, but I
believe he was referring to Officer Figoski, shot while investigating
a burglary in Queens]  And we did.  I glanced at the officers,
standing at the north edge of the street.  They held their hands in
front of them, crossed at the wrists.  It seemed they heard the
request.  There was some quick back-and-forth, and the crowd settled.
For a minute, the only sound was the subway rumbling, the traffic a few
blocks away, the wind whipping through the flag.  Alone, together, in
the canyon at the heart of the financial district, a group of
Occupiers and officers held their heads and their tongues to
commemorate a sacrifice in service of a better world.

“Thank you,” says the man who requested the moment of silence.  The
facilitators from the GA realize that there’s no going back to the
park, and ask for consensus to reconvene the GA here.  Hundreds of
fingers wave in concordance.  Someone offers to run back to the park
to get anyone who is still there.  We wait, and people soapbox.  One
of the facilitators, Diego, eternally cheerful, shouts: “Remember
this.  Remember this.  Thirty years from now, you will recall this
moment with tears streaming down your face.”  Cheers and shouts…
there’s no crying now.  There’s only laughing.  I mill about, talk it
over with Becky, soak in the awe of the moment.  But we’re unsure if
we want to stay.  The scout returns, says there’s no one left in the
park except those who wanted to be there.  The GA begins again, and
pick up right where we left off.  Business as usual, in a most unusual
setting.  We are having a General Assembly in front of the New York
Stock Exchange.

The next proposal was to support a national march on Washington, on
March 17th, which will be only the six month anniversary of the
Occupation.  The GA is not quite the forum for this sort of amorphous
initiative, but people are appreciative of the idea.  Several points
of information are offered on similar actions that are currently in
the early planning stages; it appears the second half of March is
going to be very, very busy.  The proposal is tabled, the proposer
wades into a crowd of people who want to help combine their ideas.
Becky, under the weather, sees an opportunity to disengage.  I
hesitate, not wanting to let go of this incredible moment, but don’t
quite feel up to the Process at the moment.  Though the mood is
unquestionably buoyant, the uncomfortable tension of dissension in
lieu of discussion still lingers in my mind, and I fear that the
return of all that well-intentioned but discordant fumbling might sour
my memory.  We spent much of the evening arguing over the way to
consensus, drowning in the seemingly interminable bickering that some
fear will destroy this movement from within.  These clashes of process
and principle that join to block our way forward seem to be impassable
mountains, rather than intermittent hurdles, but if this night proves
anything, it’s that once the blocks are removed, once the barricades
are seen past, we all know the destination.  We just need to remind
ourselves that we can get there.

-Aaron Bornstein-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Wintering Our Discontent

SPINGFIELD, IL – Spring brings forth buds; the rebirth of mother earth lifts our spirits. Summer celebrates the sun, showing off the full flowering of beautiful blossoms. But growth, real natural growth, happens now, under gray skies, bare trees, brown grasses and shriveled shrubbery.

It is happening hidden from view, under the earth. In the Fall, sap retreats from the branches. It heads down deep into the earth to the roots and goes to work growing the tree. Right now, fed by the sap, the roots are pushing outward and downward creating a more firm foundation for the tree. Without this process, the tree would be uprooted in the Spring with top heavy growth.

I have used this metaphor before to describe the ebb and flow that organizations go through and personal growth as one grows older. It is apt in so many instances. Most recently, I have been thinking of the issue of Winter and the Occupy Movement.

The bureaucrats and police may be doing us a favor by breaking up camps, denying permits, and forcing the movement to “Winter” our discontent. We should not squander the opportunity.

At Occupy Springfield, IL.(OSI), we are offering Teach-ins through our so-called “OSI University.” They are not for us alone but are open to the community. So far we have had Teach-ins on Conviction of the Innocent and How the Legal System Perpetuates Inequality. Future Teach-ins include topics that include Revolution and Insurrection, Conflict Resolution, Radical Therapy, Revolt and Occupy, Women and Genders Studies, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Illinois Election Process and Law, and more.

We have moved outside the confines of our small encampment. We discovered “freedom chalk”; an outrageously fun water-soluble sidewalk chalk; and we learned how to make it rather than buy it. It is the medium and public sidewalks our free speech canvas to carry the message of the 99%.

Our movement is connecting with activists and activist organizations. We are home-schooling ourselves about how to get an ID card if you are homeless, and other ways to help the homeless in our community (a topic for another blog, later), researching city ordinances, finding free, accessible, and Occupy-friendly businesses to meet inside. We are “occupying” our City Council meetings and OUR house, the Illinois State Capitol, in incredibly creative ways.

We have even occupied the back of a couple of squad cars, and lived to write about it. The outrage solidified our commitment to one another and to the 99%.

The OSI People’s Library is growing, and people are using it for their personal growth and education. Knowledge is power, and we are becoming very powerful. Our root system is moving the earth under our feet to create a firmer foundation. It is impressive growth for a three month old movement. We are a sapling on steroids, and we encourage all other movements to take up the same line of growth.

And, winter has yet to officially arrive!

-Cilla Sluga-

reposted from Occupy Springfield IL

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Occupying Over Coffee

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

Los Angeles, CA–I recently made a post on Craig’s List calling for an open-ended “Talk to an Occupier” meeting. I wanted to offer a dialogue that was more intimate and accessible than marches of thousands of people or contentious general assemblies. With our peaceful assembly destroyed, we all know we need space to congregate and organize. I had visions of curious bystanders coming out of the woodwork, filling up cafes, bars, and restaurants as they heard eyewitness accounts of one of the most unique movements in human history.

It has yet to reach that fevered pitch, but I have faith that is where it is destined. In what I believe must sweep the world, people are contracting a dose of reality and empowerment. Reality free of the televised sort, filled instead with the stark truths of how we’ve steered the ship aground. Empowerment free of the hollow “you can be anything” mantra, filled instead with the recognition that the power in ‘All Power to the People’ is ours for the taking.

I had a great start with an undergrad colleague I recently met with. We hadn’t seen each other since her graduation in May, and her political science degree was gathering dust. She enjoys her job, but reached out to me simply because she missed talking politics and knew I was involved in the occupation efforts.

And talk politics we did! Whenever I talk about the occupy movement with “outsiders”, I always like to get Socratic and ask them to explain their hot-button issues, finding some way to connect their opinions to the greater theme of oligarchic control and money in politics. Refreshingly, my date was no hesitant bystander walking through Occupy LA on their lunch break. She went out of her way to get to the bottom of occupying, and she peppered me with questions.

She asked about my arrests, admitting it was on her bucket list to get arrested while standing up for justice. I told her of shotguns and tear gas in Oakland. Careful not to romanticize what must have sounded fairly otherworldly, I pulled her into a discussion on the elites’ desires to shut us down, white privilege in jail, class warfare and the prison-industrial complex.

She asked where the movement was going, of the mind that the occupiers had successfully shifted the dialogue and would be tea-partying Congress with real lefties with a progressive agenda in 2012. We ended up talking electoral politics, diversity of tactics, and just how realistic it was to believe that fresh faces in a morally bankrupt system could change anything.

She mainly asked how we would accomplish things, which I thought was significant. Bypassing what was wrong in our society and why it was exploiting the 99%, she was concerned with how we’d fix it. And that’s it. People across the nation and world know who is responsible and why, and they’re fed up. The pressure now lies on those alternative ideologies and perspectives to deliver solutions. By the way, they already have; evidenced in the decisions of Portugal with drugs, Iceland with banks, Sweden with education, Switzerland with health care, and Canada with income equality.

As the afternoon wore on, we talked the physical occupation and peaceful assembly, the effects on the pundit and politician rhetoric, the successes, the reasons behind crackdowns & arrests, and globalized activism. I found myself working through some positions on the fly, but I felt I accomplished what I envisioned occupying coffee would be. I know I made her think deeper about the issues and gave her the space to verbalize what she knew. Which was a lot, as it is with most people on this planet. We all know that our policies and power structures are not really what they should be. We just so often don’t have the time or the appropriate space to find our voices.

Like clockwork, a peaceful assembly between two people in a cafe at Sunset Junction provided that space and time. Rejecting the pressure to politely avoid politics and religion, as we’re so often told to do, proved captivating. She helped an occupier practice defending a radical alternative to the present society. And she helped a house full of penniless activists eat for a few days with her spontaneous $100 gift.

I’d like to think I helped her to dip her toes into activism. It was absolutely amazing that she felt moved to write a check to an unkempt, wretched idealist such as myself. I feel honored that I inspired, but what is needed is today is more than a check. She warmed my heart and her contribution filled stomachs, but we need people continuing to transfer to unions, stop paying student loans, join sit-ins and boycotts, and work to educate their friends and family, too.

It is going to require a Herculean effort to save the world. I had to coax, prod, and painstakingly convince a liberal political science grad that the occupy movement was a legitimate David to the plutocratic Goliath. This is someone who knows the issues, knows the oppressions, and has a grasp on policy-making. I hope I helped her shrug off those chains of apathy, but it gave me some perspective on the scope of outreach necessary in the years to come.

This is going to be an incredibly long fight and we need to build this movement with any and all tools. If we want to be the change as we so often say, then occupying is a 24/7 commitment. I am going to continue the Occupy Coffee series, and encourage you to join in any way you can. Set up an Occupier sign, get together with friends for the express purpose of talking politics, hold documentary screenings of Restrepo, The Union, or Inside Job.Wear “99%” gear and hold eye contact with strangers, make pot-lucks and neighborhood block parties events to talk about local issues instead of who won the game. Go do!

- Ryan Rice -

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Song and Slideshow by the Fresh Juice Party

OAKLAND, CA – Here’s a song by Fresh Juice Party called “99″ and an accompanying slideshow of our photos from Occupy Oakland and SF. Happy holidays and don’t forget to #SupplyOccupy!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/nhb3p06UHdU

 

-Citizen Casey-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Occupying Saskatchewan

In regards to police, we had a much different experience than other Occupy cities. There were some online threats of violence against us before the camp started, so on the first night, when there was only a dozen of us, I stayed awake, sitting in the a.t.m. lobby of the bank, coming out whenever someone was walking around. I had some good conversations late that night after the bar closed, explained what we were doing to people who had either not heard of Occupy Regina or who had only heard negative or vague media. This was one of the most important aspects of Occupy for us, the fact that we were able to communicate with the kinds of people who don’t go to protests, who don’t seek this kind of information out. As we grew, the nightwatch became institutionalized. Every night a few of us would stay awake, not just to do security, which was all too necessary because of the area, but because it gave us the opportunity to have discussions about various issues with the many random people going through downtown at every hour of the night. From before the first night, Occupy Regina had a police liaison, the police told us to keep the drugs and the alcohol out of the park and phone them if there was any violence or threats. By the way, Victoria Park, where the Occupy Regina camp was located, is in the middle of downtown, it is the main “drug park” for Regina. But while we were there, the dealing stopped. For the month that we were there, we kept that part of downtown safer than it had been in decades.

To put this in perspective, I am currently, for the record, the director of the Saskatchewan chapter of the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws, and I’ve been the Regina event coordinator for the last 10 years. So for 10 years I’ve been organizing legalization rallies, including mass civil disobedience exercises like the annual 4/20 smokeout, and the vast majority of these actions have been held in Victoria Park. Other Occcupy residents were recreational users, some of them people who usually bought and used in Victoria Park. But we spent 4 whole weeks enforcing the “drug free zone” policy the group had agreed on to establish positive relations with the police when we started. This was surreal for me. We had a friendly, working relationship with the police throughout the existence of the camp, some came through quickly while off duty and out of uniform to donate.

We have a housing crisis in Regina, and there were nights when all the homeless shelters in the city were full. They’d direct the overflow to us, because we had a community tent. It was safer than sleeping in an alley somewhere alone, where many of those people are now that the Occupy Regina camp is gone.

Like many Occupy supporters, I’m kind of anti-capitalist on the whole, I believe we need an entirely new economic system, but we found common ground with the people who ran local businesses and family farmers from the downtown farmers market, and many of the union people who came around because we recognize that the banking system has fundamentally undermined capitalism itself,and we focused on finding and nurturing this common ground as much as possible. We did our dishes at local businesses, we had donated food, clothes, blankets, even tents, propane tanks, and money from people coming through. We had people who would come by to ridicule us based on something they heard in the media and come back the next day with donations because they discovered that they actually agreed with what we were saying.

Some businesses said that we were drawing more business downtown by being there, like a tourist attraction. This was especially true for the special acoustic solo performance by Joe Keithley from DOA, which brought out all kinds of different people. During the week before remembrance day, right wing talk radio kept harping about how we should shut down before Nov. 11 to “show respect for veterans”. Long before, we had agreed to take down political signs and banners and not campaign for that day, but not taking the tents down. The veterans, for the most part, liked us there, we were invited to the Legion hall and the Archbishop of the Quappelle Diocese, who led the remembrance day ceremony, gave us totally positive mention in his sermon, saying we were honoring the sacrifices of World War 2 by using the freedoms they fought for in the way they were intended.

We ultimately didn’t resist shut down. We recognized how uniformly Occupy camps were being shut down at the same time everywhere and realized that the decision was being made somewhere other than Regina, somewhere far away. We recognized that federal funding for projects might have been threatened to get City Hall to evict us even though we had an entirely positive relationship with the public, only 4 complaints and lots of compliments. We also didn’t want to put the police in the position of having to forcefully remove us, because we had a totally positive relationship with them and wanted to keep that for future events.

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

“Emergency Resolution” Against Occupy Chattanooga

CHATTANOOGA, TN – At the very end of today’s County Commission meeting, County Commissioner Larry Henry, with no public notice, brought forward an “emergency resolution” that empowers him to seek legal actions against Occupy Chattanooga in the supposed interests of “health” and “safety”. No public discussion took place on this matter prior to today and the resolution itself was not included on the publicly available agenda prior to the vote.

A reporter interviewing Occupy Chattanooga members on the lawn of the Courthouse said that the County Commission was planning to waste tax-payer money by pursuing
legal action in Chancery Court. Occupy Chattanooga has been peacefully and very
respectfully (even deferentially) demonstrating since moving to the courthouse in
November.

The County Commission had previously met in secret, violating the Open Meetings Act
or “Sunshine Law”, to discuss taking legal action against Occupy. Since then, County
Commissioners Warren Mackey and Tim Boyd have both publicly stated their opposition
to the current “Sunshine Law” which demands greater government transparency in favor
of a new law which would allow for private, closed-door deliberations.

According to the Hamilton County Commission website, the next planned meeting of the
County Commission is an Agenda Setting Meeting on December 29th and then another
Regular County Commission Meeting is scheduled for January 4th. All meetings are
held at 9:30 AM.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry can be reached at (423) 894-6269 & (423)209-7200

UPDATE:
News Channel 3 Eyewitness News has reported the following about the County
Commission’s actions today: The move was conducted as an “emergency resolution”, which allowed the resolution to be added to the agenda without notice. Chairman Henry tells Eyewitness News commissioners have been crafting the resolution for some time.

This obviously leads me to wonder, when exactly was the County Commission “crafting”
this resolution? They have not discussed the resolution prior to today. Was this
resolution the product of their previous closed-door meeting that violated the
Sunshine Law? It would seem that the County Commission has acted illegally by
deliberating/scheming in private about how to begin the process of evicting Occupy
Chattanooga.

-Chris Brooks-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Reverend Billy Discovers a New Variation of The People’s Mic

PORTLAND, OR – Last night I was speaking at Occupy Portland, and an inebriated individual was standing next to me suddenly, preaching a duet with me. I had to fight through my defensiveness. Finally I gave him the mic and he commenced a peoples’ history of the song “Amazing Grace” and then began to sing it, but couldn’t remember the words. People from the audience one by one walked up and each sang a phrase until the great song was completed… “was blind but now I see.” And we all whooped – it felt like a poignant variation on the peoples’ microphone.

-Reverend Billy-

Posted in StoriesComments (1)

The Birth of Occupy Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, AL – On September 17th, 2011, a large group of about 100 protestors marched from UAB across southside to Five Points and back. They were led by William Anderson, UAB student and organizer, in opposition to Alabama’s anti-immigration bill HB56.  One among them held a sign saying “Occupy Birmingham.”  As they passed through Five Points they noticed a single person standing there holding a sign and wearing a “Guy Fawkes” mask, an image popularized by Alan Moore’s character from the story V for Vendetta, and taken up by the ‘anonymous’ hacker culture.  Later that day more would join this masked mystery-man on this first day of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, a daylight ‘occupation’ that would continue and eventually manifest in the 24/7 encampment at 20th and 5th avenue north in the financial district.

A week after the launching of the OWS, the first scheduled meeting of Occupy Birmingham had attracted over 20 folks, so it was decided by consensus to hold the next general assembly at Brother Bryan park, and there the method of decision-making by general assembly was worked out.  A website, facebook page, and twitter account had been created, and with the use of flyers these communication methods served to grow the movement, which had it’s first large turnout at Railroad Park on October sixth.  The statement from Occupy Wall Street was read to and repeated back by the crowd through the use of the “mic check” popularized by the GA’s of Liberty (Zuccotti) Park in New York City.

On October 15th the largest gathering yet for Occupy Birmingham marched from RR park to Five Points, with an estimated 350 protestors.  Since then, many general assemblies have been held, as well as education sessions designed to explain the movement and relevant issues, including, among other issues, the 2008 economic collapse, the Birmingham sewer debt financial scandal which has led to the county declaring bankruptcy, and the anti-immigrant legislation HB56.  Actions against these problems include National Bank Transfer Day, when billions of dollars were transferred to local credit unions, withdrawn from the big bailed out banks who, with the bought-out political establishment, caused the crash of 2008, but no arrests of these individuals have been made.  Yet.

Since November 7th there has been a full time 24/7 presence in front of Regions bank and Wells Fargo, and the encampment has adapted with the weather, to work within building permits, inventing the ‘nonstructure’, a palette/carboard/tarp sleeping accommodation for those who stand for the most elemental statement, ‘this is our public space.’  Visitors are encouraged to show their support in person, as coming out of doors is the first step to real social change.

-Walter Simon-

Posted in StoriesComments (1)

“It Felt Like a War-Zone:” Police Violence in Oakland

OAKLAND, CA – I think my arm may be broken. It hurts as I type this. I just got home from the Oakland protests tonight, Oct. 25 2011. They started at about 4 p.m. in front of the Oakland Main Library. The rally was a response to the brutal raid early this a.m. at Frank Ogawa Plaza, dubbed “Oscar Grant Plaza” (an innocent young man brutally shot by an OPD officer in the back while he was handcuffed face-down) by Occupy Oakland. Police from agencies all over Alameda Contra-Costa counties, 18 in total, formed an envoy and descended upon the camp with armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, forcibly arresting sleeping protesters, nearly 100 people, and destroying the encampment. I chatted with one camper earlier who was punched in the face by a cop while she tried to pull her friend out of the raid.

The rally gathered about 400 people, departing at about 5 p.m. and wove through downtown Oakland heading for the Alameda County Courthouse to show solidarity with those incarcerated from the raid. Police in riot gear were stationed in front, and about a block away as we approached a group of 10 or so riot police (previously forming a line across the street, but quickly overwhelmed by the mass) tore through the crowd, flailing batons, and tackled two protesters. The crowd surrounded the officers, who had formed a circle around the arrestees, chanting angrily. There was a stalemate that lasted about 15 minutes, while people threw what looked like colorful paint balls at the cops and some beverages in plastic cups, yelling “LET THEM GO! LET THEM GO!” I watched an officer radio for backup, and a few minutes later, more cops descended upon the group and teargas canisters were discharged. The crowd scattered. I started to run, and saw a couple up against a storefront, banging on the doors while a canister belched gas beside them. The owner opened the door and I ran in with them, and he locked it behind us. They were both in shock, and the girl was clearly having a panic attack. I told her to relax, and had her sit down. Our eyes were watering, the guy said his lungs were burning and he couldn’t breathe. I calmly told them they would be fine (though my adrenaline was pumping), the girl asked anxiously for water and I gave them my canteen. I asked what happened, or something to that effect, and the girl said, “They fired the teargas right AT us!!” The owners had brought some more water, and we thanked them profusely for providing a safe haven. We walked back to the windows and looked out, taking video on our phones. “This is a fucking police state,” was all I could mutter. I told them I had to get back out there, the crowd had cleared a bit and I wanted to be with the main group. The couple thanked me and I told them to stay safe.

The riot cops had started to vacate, apparently the group had c ircled the block and was coming back around, heading east towards Broadway. I reconvened with them, and we made our way down Broadway towards 14th and the plaza. The plaza was still cordoned off and a line of riot cops blocked all of 14th and the entrance to the park behind a barricade, as well as all other approaches to the plaza. As the group started to occupy the intersection, protesters removed the metal barricades between the crowd and line as more officers from the AC sheriff’s department jogged up behind them in full riot garb–including plastic shields and gas masks. Sergeant Banks of the OPD was giving warnings over a loudspeaker, declaring the group was an unlawful assembly, in violation of CA penal code 409, and if it did not disperse in 5 minutes that “chemical agents” and “force” would be used and injury would be possible. The crowd shouted back, chanting various memes, one of which stuck with me “WHO ARE YOU PROTECTING?” The marchers decided to head down Broadway, just as some of us began to sit down in the intersection. The group made its way, directed by none other than Boots Riley of The Coup, down to the intersection of 20th and Harrison amidst a cluster of Mega-Banks. We stayed for 10 minutes before heading 2 blocks east to Snow Park, site of the satellite Occupy camp that was also raided earlier today. Upon seeing how dark the park was, people amassed in the adjacent street underneath lamps for an impromptu General Assembly. After some group negotiations and a whole lot of cheering, it was decided to head back towards the plaza to reclaim it for the people.

Police and news helicopters were constantly circling, with spotlights periodically highlighting the crowd. At this point, the march had grown to over 1,000 strong. We took back up 20th to Broadway, where we made a left and headed back towards Grant Plaza. People were joining left and right, and the crowd had swelled considerably from the modest group gathered in front of the Library earlier. Back at the intersection of 14th/Broadway, Sgt. Banks repeated the same warnings from earlier. No time limit was given. At about 7:45 p.m., flash grenades and teargas canisters were launched into the intersection with a thunderous announcement. The group scattered and started running, and I had brief pangs about a stampede but no one seemed to be getting trampled. Explosions were going off all around us, and it felt like a war-zone. I looked back and pushed people ahead of me, spotting a disabled woman in a wheelchair still in front of the barricade and riot line. A man was behind her trying to push the heavy motorized chair away, and I started back to help him. Gas burned my eyes and lungs as explosions continued to go off around me. I felt a sharp pain on my arm and it took me a few seconds to realize I’d been hit by a projectile. The pain was excruciating and my entire right forearm went numb. I spun around and sprinted away as bullets hit me in my backpack and left heel. It all happened so quickly that none of it had yet registered. As I ran down the street cursing, I looked down and realized I was bleeding. There was a large, round welt on my arm and blood was dripping down my hand. I took my hankerchief and wrapped it around, jogging down 14th towards the marchers.

Though I was a couple blocks away now, the teargas effects somehow got worse, my eyes were watering and I couldn’t keep them open. I sat on a curb briefly, shaking from the intense pain and adrenaline, realizing that I needed to locate a medic. At that point I continued down 14th to Alice, where a group had stopped and someone was talking over a loudspeaker. “Has anyone seen a medic?!” I yelled. “Yes! Right here.” The woman beside me happened to be one. That was easy, I thought. She led me over to the sidewalk where two other gas-masked medics, who’d been present the entire march, assisted in cleaning and dressing my wound. I asked one of them if the bullets could break bones, as I was concerned that I’d suffered a fracture. They said yes, but I was able to move my arm and wrist so it probably wasn’t broken. A small group had gathered and 6 or 8 people were taking photos of my wound. I got up and thanked the brave medics, and we continued following the march. It looked as though they were circling and heading back for downtown. I was at the back, and a few people had stopped after seeing a line of cops one block down to the left. It seemed like they were going to box the crowd in and try to break it with force. We tried calling the group back, but it was too late. Some were in communication with others at the front, and our small group doubled back to circle around and meet up with the march again. I started chatting with a young woman that had just gotten there, and as we approached 14th I decided that I’d had enough excitement for one day. Call me a wussy, but I was not about to charge back into the lion’s den at that point. I walked back to the Library where my bike was locked, and slowly rode home like a defeated sportsman.

My arm is still aching, I can’t move it without pain, and a huge bruise had popped up when I checked it at home to take more pictures. Tomorrow I might get an x-ray, if I can afford it. The last one I got was $800. The helicopters seemed to have stopped circling for now, though I still hear one buzzing about. It’s almost 11 o’clock. I guess tomorrow’s another day.

10/26: I went to work for a couple hours, but my limited dexterity made it difficult. I couldn’t grip or use my wrist without a lot of pain. I went home with intentions of going to the hospital. Lacking medical insurance, I really couldn’t afford to pay for a visit (nor did I feel I should be financially responsible). It wasn’t easy to decide, but after removing the bandages and seeing how swollen my arm was (almost doubled), plus the pain when trying to move my arm muscles, I was convinced that it was the best idea. I went to Highland Hospital, an Alameda County-run community hospital. It was about 2 p.m. and the wait wasn’t too long. A doctor saw me, had me grip her hand and do some exercises and told me it didn’t appear to be broken. She sent me in for the x-ray to be sure. Apparently, the projectile had struck a large nerve, literally, that runs from your shoulder all the way to your thumb. This explained the debilitating pain and numbness I experienced . She explained that the swelling was still pressing on the nerve, which is why it was still numb around the wound. I didn’t find out about Scott Olsen until later, which made my meager flesh wound seem insignificant at best. Looking at footage of the scene, I realized that I was about twenty feet from him when he was hit. I’ve had a hard time reconciling my fortunate fate, and felt very lucky to say the least. The x-ray came back with no fracture. The doctor told me to take some ibuprofen, and I was on my way.

I went home for a bit, then headed back to the plaza around 6, unsure of what scenario I would find there. Traffic was normal as I approached on my bike, a good sign. There were scattered folks around the entrance, the ubiquitous news vans, and a chain-link fence around the grass that people were starting to pull down. Everything had been removed, and the plaza had been power-washed. There were no police anywhere, and combined with the quiet platitude of the plaza, it made for an eerie atmosphere. I kept looking nervously down the streets, expecting a line of riot cops to come marching down, but nothing of the sort happened. Still, I kept my bike helmet on and a scarf wrapped around my face. I made my way over to the rotunda, and couldn’t believe what I saw.

The amphitheater was packed with people. There was hardly any room to move. I stood on top of a wall by the ramp, and watched speakers as they recounted the horrors of the previous night, spoke about injustice, and gave riveting speeches to a very receptive crowd. Families were there, all kinds of folks from young to old, incensed by the violence they either experienced or saw video of. Some estimated the crowd to be about 3,000 in total. It was a deeply moving scene. Suddenly, people wanted to be involved. Sad though it was that it took a capitulating event of brutality to motivate this level of support, it was an amazingly heartwarming sight to see. Perhaps what happened was a blessing. A proposal for a General Strike on Nov. 2 was brought forth and announced. We broke into groups of 20 to discuss. It was so crowded, you couldn’t move. Between the shock of being in such a markedly different, emotional situation, and lack of sleep, I couldn’t contribute much to the discussion. But I did listen. There were a lot of new faces and a lot of new ideas, and it was beautiful. The proposal ended up passing with an overwhelming majority, by many people who were there for the first time.

 

http://cdn.abclocal.go.com/static/flash/embeddedPlayer/swf/otvEmLoader.swf?version=&station=kgo&section=&mediaId=8405794&cdnRoot=http://cdn.abclocal.go.com&webRoot=http://abclocal.go.com&configPath=/util/&site=
http://cdn.abclocal.go.com/static/flash/embeddedPlayer/swf/otvEmLoader.swf?version=&station=kgo&section=&mediaId=8405794&cdnRoot=http://cdn.abclocal.go.com&webRoot=http://abclocal.go.com&configPath=/util/&site=

-BayWolf-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

March on the Brooklyn Bridge

NEW YORK – My son and I arrived in lower Manhattan to march over the Brooklyn Bridge.  We jumped into the line and marched slowly in a most peaceful crowd.  This experience was life changing in a number of ways.  In all my years of visiting New York, I have never been with such patient, kind and friendly people.  There was absolutely no pushing or lude behavior of any kind which is wrongly expressed by Fox news.  No one was drunk, unkind or out of control in any way.  As we approached the top of the bridge, we had the good fortune of meeting Chris Hayes from MSNBC.  He was very friendly and polite.  We then met up with the mobile book library and donated several books in spite of the police taking over half of the library’s books while purging Zuchotti Park then not returning them.  We arrived in Brooklyn to a great deal of celebration and just in time for the General Assembly meeting.  Overall, by far the most enjoyable time in New York City in a very long time.  We cannot wait to return!

-Maureen Purdue-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)