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June, 2012 | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Archive | June, 2012

“Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Nights 53 & 60

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Prologue, Night 60

Montreal, QC–I started this blog post about night 53 on night 53; tried to continue it on the afternoon of night 54, and then got thoroughly waylaid by all the marvelous things going on here in Montreal related to maple spring-summer. That meant little writing time, save for short vignettes from nights 54 and 55. Then, bam, reality check: capitalism! I had to turn to my paid freelance work, since I suddenly was precariously and foolishly close to missing a deadline.

I’m fortunate, relatively, within the unfortunate system of capitalism that so unconsensually structures the whole of our lives; I have a “flexible,” “self-employed” way of making “a living” that is by and large “pleasant,” and due to online “communications” technology, I can do “whenever I want to.” All those words ring hollow under capitalism, even if I do generally like my job, given the alternatives. Yet I’ve said this before, and it always bears repeating: even if I like my job, I still hate capitalism. The type of work I do for capitalism — copyediting — always feels qualitatively better when I do it for free as part of self-organized projects. It’s not “work” then, nor it is my “job.” And it’s rarely “my,” since these projects are always collective and collaborative. I don’t yet have a language for it, since we’re not in that world yet, but I know it’s a thoroughly different experience. I already know, though, that it feels like living one’s life, not merely inhabiting a life that’s manufactured for us. Or maybe it’s the different between the aspiration of “everything for everyone” and the reality of “almost nothing for almost anyone.” That sentiment is embodied in what people kept repeating to me during Occupy Philly and other occupy neighborhoods that I visited — “I’ve never felt so alive” — and is now being articulated in this maple spring-summer — “I want this to last.”

All to say, the writing that I want to do here — that I’m so compelled to do, consensually and joyfully, as what I hope is a gift and contribution to this moment — got interrupted by my relatively fortunate, relatively pleasant wage work. Hence my increased desire to want to live in a world where we can be wholly different selves in a wholly different society. Hence the beauty of what’s being enacted, in bits and pieces, in Montreal on a doggedly daily basis — and yesterday, June 22, in Quebec City, where thousands responded to CLASSE’s call to march in solidarity and without permission in the monthly “grand” demonstrations (manifestations) kicked off by the student strike on March 22, and, as dusk fell, many folks then defied the new city rule there against night demos, illegally continuing to reclaim the streets after the 11:00 p.m. curfew.

We are, increasingly, all illegal. We are all increasingly queer, in the sense of not fitting into the heterogeneous (even if sometimes pleasant for some of us) box or cubicle, cage or prison cell, of capitalism. On the crowded, untamable streets of Montreal yesterday for the grand demonstration of some 100,000 or maybe many more people, a friend told me about someone who is facing deportation — not as part of maple spring, but due to the suspicion of suspicion of suspicion of being maybe suspected of something by those who still fight the “war on terror” (oh, if only Kafka were still alive and writing!). It’s one of those stories that, if I could share the details, tear at the heartstrings. Yes, increasingly, in what we can only hope is the last gasps of nation-states that know that can’t contain us, “Western democracies” are turning to criminalizing the entirety of their populations, making everyone illegal in some way or another. But of course, increasingly, nation-states cruelly and evenly target specific people, or the queerest of queer, again speaking broadly: “misfits” within this racist, heteronormative, inhumane, hierarchical (to name a few) system that tries to destroy the whole of our lives.

So maybe it’s appropriate that I’m now “troubling” linearity and leaping backward — ever with the aim of leaping forward — to night 53.

Queering It Up, Night 53

Two mornings ago [night 51], while working in a cafe, a guy sat down next to me to read Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. This simple act not only warmed my heart; it got me thinking. I and at this point hundreds of thousands of others haven’t so much been participating in illegal marches night after long-walk night in Montreal. Instead, we’ve been engaging in illegal and subversive dérives, in which we encounter the city in new and authentic ways — hence the subversive part — letting serendipity self-direct us, rather than the commodified or policed cityscape.

In a few hours, it will be consecutive night 54, with a call this evening for an anticapitalist bloc. Last night, a pink bloc got an early start, leaving at 7:30 p.m. (it later, serendipitously, crisscrossed paths with the 8:30 p.m. crew at about 9:30 p.m.). And the evening before that, night 52, some 300 people showed up early for a $10 red square tattoo just before they took to the streets. As the Facebook page for this collective inking read:

“They would like us to remove (our red squares). That is why we will put them on our chest in permanently. Imagine hundreds of people getting red squares tattooed on the chest at the same time, all in the same evening. A monumental ‘FUCK YOU’ to the authorities who would like to see (the squares) disappear.”

Night 1, so long ago now, began serendipitously too: to contest special law 78 until it was revoked. As a UQAM student explained to me two days ago, someone made a Facebook page at 5 p.m. on the same day that the emergency measure to criminalize dissent was passed, and by 8:30 p.m. that night, thousands and maybe tens of thousands showed up at Émilie Gamelin Park next to the Berri-UQAM Metro stop. Now, it’s common knowledge that every evening’s disobedient meandering begins there. This meeting point is also right next to UQAM [Université du Québec à Montréal], the public French-language university that came out of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, “a time when Quebecers became maîtres, or masters, of their own province, instituting changes that gave Quebec a more left-leaning bent than elsewhere in North America” (http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/05/11/from-quiet-revolution-to-not-so-quiet-riot/), and a hot spot/stronghold for the 2012 student strike. (As an aside, two UQAM students told me the same story separately a couple nights ago: when they first tried to do hard pickets — blockades — to enforce the strike in the early morning chill of winter, they suddenly realized that the above-and-below-ground UQAM sprawl was like “a pasta strainer [in reverse]: students and teachers can pour in from any direction.” That meant extra amounts of mobilizing to make sure they had every entryway covered starting around 5 or 6 a.m.–and could supply coffee to each other, plus rotate between those doorways with sun and those in the icy-winter shade.)

The point is: while these marches are and always must be illegal, because they are intended to defy the law that outlaws such manifestations, they are also turning everyone who joins them into, for all intents and purposes, what I’d lovingly call “criminals against capitalism” on a grand collective dérive. We nightly break with the way that “the spectacle” in the Debordian sense compels to walk through, see, and consume the city, whether as spectators (Debord’s day) or participants (present-day capitalism). Our encounters are always contingent, experimental, and random. We relate to the street as a giant board game of our own making and playing (since, as Debord observed in the 1960s — relatedly, around the same time that UQAM was birthed from radical social struggle — “boredom is counter-revolutionary”). I keep coming back to a friend’s Twitter post of many weeks ago: “the city is ungovernable.” Yes, but its usage also is daily — especially nightly — being redesigned or, in an embryonic sense, governed from below. More than that, we relate to each other and nearly everyone we pass–from concertgoer to cop–in contingent, experimental, and random ways, allowing curious or courageous as well as genuine interactions to unfold, along with new social relations (of cooperation and egalitarianism, say, not competition and exploitation).

Usually, here in Montreal, all I can see is red — recolored from its murderous, totalitarian associations, for me, with the Communist Party, orthodox Marxism, and various Communist states into something antiauthoritarian, or to put a prefigurative spin on it, liberatory. I incessantly stop on the unending walks here to snap photos of red squares, which I’m now archiving and sharing in a growing collection at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/archive, thanks to setup help from my friend Kevin Caplicki. (Several folks have kindly offered to add their own snapshots to this ever-increasing sampler, but besides being an archival account of red squares in Montreal, my “Seeing Red” tumblr is an archival account of my own dérive encounters.)

On night 53, though, all I could see was pink. It wasn’t so much that the maybe 100 or so folks who formed the pink bloc actually wore all that much pink; there was probably just as much red — from ruby lipstick to glittery gowns — and black — from painted-on moustaches to the (stereo)typical anarchist attire — within fabulous grouping. Sure, the main banners were fabulously pink, but there were relatively few of those either. And as we mingled in a corner of Émilie Gamelin Park, preparing to strike out into the streets on our lonesome an hour before the regular nightly demo, this bloc felt almost pitifully bedraggled despite all the flamboyant drag.

But I hadn’t counted on its courage, not to mention its cunning. From the moment it put high heel or heavy boot to the pavement, this pink bloc — which I soon found out was heavily weighted toward anarcho-feminist queers — (gender)fucked up the streets and befuddled the cops in a way that seemed as if it were a 1,000 or 10,000 people. And in its nearly 3 hours of wending its own merry way through the downtown, it seemed one of more footloose and headstrong of these illegal demonstrations that I’ve gone on. There may have been a plan — we were, for instance, supposed to leave at 7 p.m. and, I think, supposed to return to Émilie Gamelin Park in time for the now-regular 8:30 p.m. nightly manifestation, yet for no apparent reason we left late (7:30 p.m.) and for no apparent reason we brushed by the park (around 8:30 p.m.), ignoring the “normal” illegalista crew — but it felt more like whimsy carried us on its wings. That, and a whole lot of sassiness.

Perhaps the power of this small pink bloc was in its figurative meeting point: the intersection of queer-as-fuck and anarchist-as-fuck.

For example, there was nary a cop in sight when we first strode out of the park and into the Village, Montreal’s gayborhood, a closed-off street that’s maybe a mile long filled with open-air bars, clubs, and restaurants, and canopied (this summer) by tens of hundreds of thousands of strings of little pink “pearls” overhead. And gays. Lots and lots of partying gays. Our campy crew stood out, as did our queered anticapitalista chants, as spectacle and perhaps subversion of the spectacle we encountered.

Once we hit the end of this pink-lined playground, though, and turned on to a wide open and trafficked street, motorcycle cops quickly steered our way, lights flashing and sirens wailing. They weren’t even pretending to play officer friendly. As genderqueer folks brazenly just pushed past them, the cops grew increasingly aggressive with their motorcycles, running them into the legs of pink bloc participants, who then started this mix of taunting with bodies and chants — like “Police, you suck, but do you swallow?” — and simply outmaneuvering the police. This entailed turning on to streets with oncoming traffic and walking in between cars, so that the police motorcycles couldn’t fit, which at one point so angered the cops they not only really tried so hard to hit us with their motorcycles but turned on near-deafening sirens. More often, this outmaneuvering involved skirting (often in glittery skirts) around the police, in a move that seemed so obvious, it was a wonder it fooled the cops–a whole bunch of times. A few genderfuck folks in the front of our itty-bitty pink bloc would pretend to comply with the cops when they formed a line in the street in front of us, and would walk over to the sidewalk, step up, kinda smile, and then simply dart around the police line, and jump back in the street with glee, while the rest of us raced around past the confused police to catch up with our comrades (up on sidewalk fast too and then back down the street again). Amid all the mayhem whenever this happened, I heard one pink bloc person yell exuberantly: “Are we anarchists?!” And another one of our bunch replied, “Qui! Pink anarchists!”

One of the remarkable things here in Montreal, in general, in relation to this student strike is that people increasingly don’t seem afraid of the police and don’t comply with their orders. The police, in turn, seem to keep trying every trick and tactic in the book — and then some — and increasingly nothing seems to really work. People only grow bolder and less afraid. So on the one hand, what amounted to a handful of queers showing no fear and outfoxing a nearly equal number of cops shouldn’t be that surprising. But on the other hand, it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to face off with police when there are so few of you, when the ratio is probably 1:1, when there are kids marching with you and a lot of people in inappropriate shoes for running (both true in this bloc), and when homophobia is so obviously apparent on the cop’s faces. So the tenacity of this bloc was extra remarkable, yet not because it stood up to the police like many people are doing, but it did it in a way that time and again worked. We went where we wanted to go.

And now I circle back to the dérive.

Seeing pink this evening helped me also see how being in the streets night after night, always illegally, intentionally so — whether “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” as in this pink bloc, or during the nightly marches in general — has blurred the lines between protestation and reclamation. And maybe that line has been so queered, now after nearly 2 months of contingency, experimentation, and randomness, that we have freed ourselves up to remake the streets on these night strolls in ways we’re hardly aware of and don’t think twice about. Of course we’ll try to outwit the police, sans fear! Of course, they won’t tell us what to do and where to go! Naturally, we’ll zig and zag our way where we please, seeing things anew, falling (or refalling) in love with Montreal, because it’s a different type of Montreal, one that we’re making our way through together.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post or two, but it’s as if the nightly demonstrations are grand civic experiments — in illegality and exercise — but on this queered-up night 53, it seems to me it’s also a grand experiment in dérives. No longer the province of a few artists and intellectuals, or something we do to mimic May ’68, but what dérives really should be: a collective exercise in uncommodifying our world, even if only in temporary ways that begin to show us how we could inhabit our streets, parks, schools, and neighborhoods. Or our festivals. But not just a collective one, and not just a collectively big one either. It’s when it also holds the power in its hands, even if temporarily, putting the powers-that-be on the defensive, where they are having to race around to try to catch up to us, and yet can’t figure out how to do that — like here, in Montreal, this fabulous maple summer, where a few rowdy and well-dressed queers can out-race the police over and over again.

And in this grand, people-powerful dérive that has already outlasted anyone’s wildest fantasies and desires, walking through the streets on these evenings always feels sensuous. One never knows where one will end up or with whom, who one will run into for a good conversation, how many new people you’ll meet or chance encounters, lovely and startling, that you’ll experience, what corners of the city you’ll see for the first time or in a different way, from a different angle — like prancing on the yellow line in the middle of busy street that can’t be busy anymore because it’s ours. On this pink bloc night, there was an extra dreamy quality of serendipity and remaking the city. Maybe it was because, randomly, anarchist friends I hadn’t seen in years suddenly appeared in front of me, for a big hug, and then hours of conversation during which our feet took us places we hadn’t planned to go. Or maybe it was because I’d come downtown thinking I was going to do the pink bloc for an hour, then join the nightly march, but the only time I encountered the nightly march was when it was marching toward our pink bloc as we crisscrossed inside this enormous free French-language music festival, Francofolies, around Place des Arts — surrounded by literally thousands upon thousands of concertgoers cheering us all on, after we’d already “crashed” this music festival, stopping to form a circle for dancing while singing/chanting “Dance, Dance, Dance, the Social Peace Is Over!” while encircled, again, by thousands of supportive concertgoers.

Or maybe it was because of how these nightly dérives are indeed going the distance to reshape social relations.

About a week before this pink bloc evening, our nightly march walked in the direction of the opening night of Montreal’s Francofolies Festival. As we trooped toward one of it’s “free” entrances, a line of police cut us off. Suddenly, from behind the cops, thousands of people raised red flags or pulled out a pot & ladle or simply applauded. The police thought they were separating protesters from nonprotesters; but we encountered “us” on both sides, with the police line suddenly losing all meaning or control. Still, we were barred from entry.

On this pink-bloc night, no one stopped us at the entrance. After dancing, we took our pink-square politics right up to the front of one of the main stages, to then wave anticapitalist and anarchist flags at the heels of one of the bands, as they displayed a red square on the stage above us. One security guard mumbled something about how we were “only girls,” so wouldn’t cause trouble. Then another security guard told one of our posse that the festival organizers had informed the private security and police that all those in favor of the student strike were welcome at the festival, that the festival welcomed and supported the strike. In fact, a bit later on this evening, on the biggest of the main stages, some of the striking-student spokespeople along the School of the Red Mountain artists’ collective were invited up on stage with the Canadian hip-hop group Loco Locass for their last song (“Free Us from the Liberals”) in a grand show of solidarity for this “squarely-in-the-red” movement.

It’s a complicated solidarity, at this festival and elsewhere among the supportive populace of Montreal. It’s partly related to sympathy for the students’ demand of low-cost –and increasingly, maybe even free — education for all those who come after them (contrary to what “popular wisdom” or the mainstream media would have people believe, these student strikers are clear that they won’t be the ones impacted by the tuition hike, which would be phased in after they have graduated, but are demanding that society live up to its promise of this social good). It’s partly related to anti-austerity struggles, here and globally. And it’s partly related to the unique history of Quebec Province, including righting what’s seen as historical wrongs, and related to cultural, language, and sovereignty issues.

But at the end of this long night of walking and dancing at least — night 53, that is — it was definitely solidarity all the way, as in one of our favorite “squarely-in-the-pink” chants:

“Sol-sol-sol, so fucking gay!”

p.s. If you want a good intro to “queer” from an antiauthoritarian perspective — as in something so much more expansive than who you sleep with, because queering that up is often healthy and sex positive too, and so much about how you think about who you are and especially who you could be in so many ways if the socialization and institutions of heteronormativity (so bound up with capitalism and states, but distinct) weren’t constraining us all — then please download, cut, fold, staple, and read the “Gender” pamphlet by Jamie Heckert in our (’cause I’m part of this marvelous collective) Institute for Anarchist Studies new Lexicon series, hosted on the Web site of our good friends at AK Press: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/ak-tactical-media/ias-lexicon-pamphlet-series/.

– Cindy Milstein –

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Arrests & Terror at #626Wilshire

Editor’s note: a version of this story originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

Los Angeles, CA–Los Angeles residents have been laying siege to the Central City Association for nearly a month. The people have been dutifully operating within the law, pitching tents at 9 p.m. and breaking down camp by 6 a.m. right in front of the “1%’s” lobby here in Los Angeles. In the day, we occupy Pershing Square and outreach, rest, and build our community. The people involved have been arrested and harassed, and it is escalating each day we camp at the doorsteps of corporate power.

Who exactly is the CCA? Their clients include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Target, US Bank, Verizon, Chevron, Walmart, and AT&T. They have the ear of the City Council and mayor as they push pro-business, anti-people regulations and laws. They are the shockingly overt bridge between money and politics.

In short, they are the perfect villain – both symbolically and literally. They represent Wall St. and profits over people. They represent how policies driven by corporate cash work to oppress the poor, elderly, and communities of color. They are behind gentrification in downtown LA, evictions, rent hikes, harassment, LAPD thuggery, and government ordinances against the “99%”.

Occupiers, most of whom are themselves houseless, have been peacefully gathering every night to protest the Economic Development Meeting and the downtown 2020 plan to build new high rises, the AEG Stadium and further criminalize dissent and push out the homeless. These are some of the things they are lobbying for:

  • Action: Advocate for lifting the Jones settlement to enable equitable enforcement of laws that keep sidewalks available to all. (More info on Jones settlement)
  • Action: Expand on efforts to end the pathological tolerance of the service-resistant and/or drug-addicted chronically homeless who choose to self-destruct on our public streets.
  • Action: Partner with BIDs, LAPD, and City Attorney to identify problem areas and issues, then implement strategic, consistent law enforcement (e.g., aggressive panhandling, proliferation of shopping carts, intelligence-based graffiti removal).

So we had four arrests last night. Here are some thoughts and testimonies to the terror plot orchestrated by the LAPD around midnight, the night of June 21, 2012.

My first thoughts written last night:  

4 Arrests in Midnight LAPD Raid on CCA Siege – Occupy Los Angeles – three of my best friends and roommates, and an unknown 4th man ARRESTED. Charges unknown. Police orchestrated tactical raid with 25+ cops, pepper spray out and batons swinging. Captain Frank (at a compañera’s trial yesterday) pointed at her and said, “Don’t I know you?” Another police officer told a fifth occupier that “You’re getting arrested tomorrow.”

I couldn’t move, trapped inside a tent and seeing silhouettes of gum-chewing cops, fidgety and in war-mode. LAPD’s true colors emerging.

You want to talk targeted kidnappings and terror? Cops were laughing as they pushed and hit us. Laughing as they sent 3 snatch squads and took my friends in the dead of night.

We’re traumatized and enraged. Three of my roommates were snatched by LAPD last night. Bails are $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000. They’ve been some of the most visible organizers with the siege on the Central City Association (1%’s lobby here in Los Angeles) for nearly a month. They have all been harassed, intimidated, brutalized, and arrested by the LAPD before. They have all been occupying for months and are inspiring in their defiance and rejection of the oppressive status quo.

It began, yet again, with chalk. We’ve had five arrests for chalking at #626Wilshire, despite the 9th circuit court decision of Mackinney vs. Neilson (1995) that states: “No chalk would damage a sidewalk.” This information, along with a cease & desist letter from the National Lawyers’ Guild in Los Angeles, has been sent to the LA Police Department. Clearly they don’t care, as the first arrest of the night was for chalking. An unknown man was quickly arrested as the raid materialized from around both corners.

I was in my tent sleeping and was awoken to screams, shouts, and crying. No sirens, no instructions on a bullhorn – there was a frightening SILENCE of legitimacy as 25+ LAPD officers came out of nowhere and ambushed the peaceful, LAWFUL encampment in front of the CCA. I did not go outside.

I did not go outside because I saw silhouettes of cops with batons surrounding my tent. I did not go outside because I was threatened with arrest and flagged as a “leader” in El Segundo on Tuesday at an anti-drone military-industrial complex action. I did not go outside because the day before (June 20), I was nearly taken into custody for an alleged bench warrant. IN OPEN COURT in which I WAS A WITNESS YET TO TESTIFY. The judge said, “That reeks of witness intimidation” and wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t go outside because I heard some of the strongest comrades I know shouting in fear and uncontrollably crying in confusion and terror. The silence from the LAPD was deafening.

I did not go outside of my hiding place because I am a political dissident the State is targeting.

So I listened.

Here’s a report-back from an OccupyLA participant laying siege to the Central City Association:

Tonight at 626Wilshire the police assaulted the camp because one lone participant was chalking. They surrounded him, wrestling him to the ground, unable to site the code they were enforcing. We reminded them that chalk is not vandalism, that it is not graffiti, it washes off, and at bare minimum it is free political speech.

We stood there, six peaceful protesters, standing our ground observing this injustice- filming the police. Questioning their authority. One pig tells us,“Move to the corner of the sidewalk” and “If you don’t do what I tell you, I will make you”.

We had not moved any closer, we were not any threat to the police officers. We were peaceful protesters. The police called back up. Squad car after squad car pulled up. They took out their batons. They took out their pepper spray. They began screaming in our face. They incited violence and began beating us. They dragged away three of our comrades. They were laughing. We stood our ground. They are the terrorists of the police state. Any fucking pig with a badge, baton and gun is a coward.  LAPD is a fully funded, militarized gang. 

As I write this, I am listening to the streamer broadcasting the current but temporary eviction of Occupy Skid Row. 5 tickets have been issued, some of the VERY SAME cops from last night are taping off the area as dump trucks and bulldozers move in to continue criminalizing the homeless.

Read about the Siege on the Central City Association here. Read about gentrification here. This fight is in the streets and the people have picked the perfect situation to build a hyper-localized community of resistance. To build revolution, as so many say, we must start from the ground up. The houseless, the disaffected, the broke and hungry… they’re in the streets, they’re in jail, and they’re fighting back. Join us.

 – Ryan Rice – 

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A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–The past two days, I finally got my first chance to check out self-governance in Montreal: a neighborhood assembly yesterday, and the CLASSE Congress today. Both in 100% French, and my French is next to nothing. But I can recognize some words, such as “démocratie directe” and “autonomie.” Better yet, I can read the body language of good cheer and respectful interactions, and follow the informal & formal processes–all of which put most of what I participated in and saw within US occupy to shame.

Not that it wasn’t (& still isn’t) profoundly beautiful to see people start to work through direct democracy on a large scale with occupy. What my limited experience with this maple spring version shows, though, is what it looks like when people have been doing it a long while and have honed structure/processes (the students) and/or have a defined geographic area that they care about and spend their daily lives in (the neighborhood). A fair amount of homogeneity in terms of purpose, values, where they are in their life, etc., doesn’t seem to hurt either. More on this topic in the coming weeks, since I ♥ prefigurative politics, and even sooner, more on these two particular examples.

For now, one last remark. It felt moving to recall that at least one general assembly of CLAC (an anarchist organization still around from heyday of anticapitalist movement of late 1990s/early 2000s), using basically the same process, met in the same room as today’s CLASSE Congress, with a new generation of radicals and anarchists. I suspect CLASSE “borrowed” some or all of CLAC’s process, but I need to ask around. Anyone know?

– Cindy Milstein – 

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Occupy Caravan, Days 7 & 8: Occupy New Orleans

Editor’s note: This story is part of an on-going series documenting the Occupy Caravan’s journey from California to Philadelphia. It was originally posted here.

Day 7

9:35am

So, we got a very early start on the road this morning, leaving from Wichita, KS at 8am. Our first part of the trip will be traveling to Okemah, OK, the hometown of Woody Guthrie, where we will be meeting up with the southern caravan.

We picked up two additional people from Wichita, Richard and Ben. Both seem to be very nice people, and seem like they will make a great addition to the group.


3:26pm

So, we made it to Okemah around 12pm, and met up with the southern caravan. We had lunch at this really cute restaurant called Daddios.

Day 11

10:21am

So, we are once again on the road. Sorry I have not been posting for the past couple of days, but between live streaming and participation in direct action in New Orleans yesterday, I have just been so exhausted.

In addition, I have been silent the past couple of days because I needed to think on something. You see, on the 18th, I found an article written by Powerline about the Caravan that not only was extremely right wing, but that the author used quotes from my blog and my photos from my blog without even the courtesy of asking my permission first.

Not only was the article so far in right field, but the author of the article, John Hinderaker, who is a lawyer, came to some of the most absurd conclusions. Not only was the article libelous, but you would think that a lawyer would be more familiar with intellectual property law. However, since he apparently is not, let me say now, all content in this blog, including but not limited to blog text and photos, are the intellectual property of myself, and may not be used or reproduced without my expressed permission.

Anyways, enough about that. Now on to how things went for us in New Orleans. First, allow me to say a special thank you to our hosts, Occupy New Orleans and Occupy The Stage. Not only did they give us an extremely warm welcome, they made sure that we will never forget our time there.

Our experience yesterday began at the Superdome when we went to protest the auctioning off of offshore properties in the Gulf of Mexico that were being bid upon for offshore oil drilling purposes. The auction bid reading was open to the public, so we went inside.

While we were inside, we were approached by security, and told we had to leave. At this point, all we had been doing was standing there and listening. At one point, one of the security people told me I was not allowed to be filming her, yet there were at least 10 video cameras filming the reading, including some from mainstream press. I pointed this out to her, and she apparently did not like it, because the next thing you know, she was calling for backup.

It was at this point that some of the media in the room began to notice what was going on. At one point, a person with mainstream media came over, and asked security why we were being asked to leave. He also pointed out that this was a public meeting, and that we were not creating a disturbance by standing there watching.

After a few more moments, security stepped away from the room, and I decided to go out for a cigarette (yeah, I know…smoking is bad!) I got lost trying to find my way out, and went to the wrong side of the arena, and by the time I found the right exit, I saw the rest of our group outside, and I found out that they had been asked to leave after doing a people’s mic and interrupting the auction (I hate when I miss the fun stuff due to smoking!)


11:57pm

Hey again folks. So, we had a very beautiful action this afternoon. We had a small rally of about 30 people who met up at Washington Square Park, where we got to listen to The Willow Family Band perform, before having a march to City Hall.

We marched through the French Quarter, and from what I could see, we had a number.

– James Jennison –

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Jail Solidarity, Part Two: Until the Prison Walls Are Rubble

Editors note: This was originally posted on Diatribe Media. Read Part One and Part Three.

Chicago, Il – In the depressing afternoon of June 14th, I watched the same tactics from prosecutors regarding freedoms of the remaining NATO5 “terrorists.” After dejectedly exiting 26th and California, my comrades and I drove across Chicago to support another prisoner. In a different courtroom with similar ridiculous charges levied against yet another gentle comrade whose only crime was daring to stand up to the bully state, I watched an Occupier stand in front of a judge. This time, instead of shackles, he entered the room with his right arm heavily bandaged and in a sling, and his body was in disrepair. The bruised, battered and shocked accounts from thathorrible night of his brutal and unnecessarily forceful arrest at the Quebec Solidaritérally and Casserole march showed his arm was fine before incarceration. He’s being charged with a crime against police that he did not commit. The irony is lost not on us, that all those cops’ goals include breaking protester bodies and crippling Occupy Chicago’s spine, while our ambitions instead encompass nonviolently creating new structures to improve this world. Our comrade’s body and spirit have been damaged by the very state we are striving to improve for the people, even those bastard cops.

Even though I gasped in horror and empathic pain, verbally echoing the looks of sadness, pain, rage, and anger emanating from the faces of our friends filling courtroom bench, there was nowhere else I’d rather sit. I had to see, not just for myself, but for the defendant as well. I needed to sit on the front lines of injustice, listen to the lies of state, absorb the fuel to figuratively burn this society down and nonviolently establish more beneficial structures for all people, especially ones like the defendant and the NATO5, whose only crime is raising their voices against a cancerous state. Court and jail support are essential to the health of a movement. They keep the movement focused on past struggles for which our family sacrificed their freedom, and strengthen us to work even more closely, as well as remind us how quickly our own freedom can be taken away by the state. Solidarity is the tenderness between struggles. Jail solidarity means calling our dedicated and beloved lawyers to check on our comrades and setting up visits to see our friends. That solidarity manifests itself when we fellow activists attend court dates and surround the space outside prison cells. It means sitting on those cold benches, radiating love and care. Jail support is what binds us together in- and outside of the cells.

Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago not only do we continue to support our allies’ struggles, as in Quebec, we’re continuing to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources and in reaction to the June 7 brutal and savage police attacks on Chicago’s peaceful protesters, speaking out against police suppression and brutality.

Organizing is doing what is loved and tying that love into doing what’s needed for the greater good. We become better activists, better supporters, and better friends by educating ourselves and others. Before my fellow protesters were caged, I knew nothing about prison support. After diving in to the blazing ocean of others’ pain andtears by reading haunting firsthand accounts of jail life and treading visceral, hot water after internalizing the stories of crushing loneliness and omnipresent fear which manifests itself through incarceration, listening to what can be accomplished, we determined where and how to direct Occupy Chicago’s dedicated energy, bodies and resources. To support our caged comrades, we all keep fighting by keeping their struggle present in the public consciousness through past and upcoming press conferences, noise demonstrationsfundraisingeducation,courtroom solidarityradical direct actions, and political pressure campaigns. We show our comrades we love them by establishing working groups, , letter-writing parties, and visitation day/time announcements. We show them love simply by standing with them and reassuring them that they are not alone.

While I’m not physically caged with my comrades, I feel locked away. My energy, heart, and body are as dedicated to their fight and to their comfort. Precisely as Occupy fights for systemic change by highlighting the interconnectedness of home foreclosure to the education debt crisis and the corporatization of financial structures, forging the correlations of a repressive state climate coupled with brutal police repression and political imprisonment to Occupy Chicago’s overarching society-rebuilding endeavors is an exercise in solidarity.

Experiencing the waves of gratitude once we attained our victory of their freedom is enough to buoy me through the nights when I can’t sleep, thinking of people I used to stand with in the streets, now caged. Seeing, then freeing our comrades only inspires me to keep working, keep struggling, until the prisons come down, the movement for which our comrades have sacrificed their freedom will support them in our collective struggle.

-Natalie Solidarity-

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Jail Solidarity, Part One: Camaraderie in the Streets; Tenderness in Between Struggles

Editors note: This was originally posted on Diatribe Media. Photo by Marcus Demery. Read Part Two and Part Three.

Chicago, IL – Boots on the ground is one aspect of protest, arguably the most fun, most invigorating, and proffers the sentiment that our voices and bodies are transforming the system. With our manic dancing to the song of our unified voices singing, “Ah! Anteee! Anteee-capeeetalista!” in the streets under the ruling class’s nose, how could the public remain unmoved? How can they not join in and support us, even for a moment?

With our energy, spirit, dedication, and words, we are altering reality. We are unstoppable. We are building a better world with every step forward towards the heart of downtown Chicago. When we stand in the streets, screaming for social change, educating and empowering our sisters, brothers and the masses, governing power structures do their best to remove us. Police step in and attempt to silence our voices on behalf of the state by making arrests. When de-arresting fails and our family is ripped from us by the state’s savage hands and those boots on the ground are transformed into prison slippers on a cold cement floor, how does our movement stand? What do we do, as revolutionaries, when our comrades, our family-in-arms, the people with whom we make social change, are locked away from us?

We stand in solidarity, as we do in the streets. We are dedicated to one another, dedicated to social change, and, like the power of our people, that doesn’t stop when our freedom is taken away. Jail solidarity means waiting outside the holding area or prison with hot coffee, cheers, hugs and warm bodies for fellow protesters locked away. Jail support means bandaging our friends who were smashed to the concrete by the state with words and kindness, ministering the sunset-colored bruises, massaging away the aches from unnecessary and excessive uses of force. Jail solidarity means writing letters featuring silly stories and cartoons, sending reading material like science fiction, nonfiction, and art supplies like colored pencils and paper.

Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago, not only do we support our allies’ struggles, we continue to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, and providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources on manufacturing empty terrorist threats.

Currently, the City of Chicago chose to waste taxpayer resources to pay police informants to infiltrate Occupy Chicago. From there, National Lawyers Guild speculates that the informants, named Mo and Gloves orchestrated the scenarios that the group of arrestees known as the NATO5 would eventually be charged with. The Chicago Police, (and most notably not the FBI) were able to arrest our nonviolent comrades because they had entrapped them. Mo and Gloves initiated conversation, planned the actions and procured the items the NATO5 were arrested in connection with. The state has silenced dissent with lies and stolen these boys’ freedom. The loss of freedom for one is a loss for all.

Jail support is hard on the heart. When three of the NATO5, Brent, Jay, and Jacob were lead into court, shackled at their waists, wrists, and ankles, I leapt to my feet, eyes blurred by tears of hot rage. These children, barely old enough attend college, were dressed in mustard yellow jumpsuits with the letters DOC [Department Of Corrections] screaming from their backs. They looked so small. Bulletproof glass separated me from rushing into the court and hugging them. The following day, I watched the final two members of the NATO5, Mark and Sebastian look equally as small and helpless in their jumpsuits, powerless against Cook County Attorney General Anita Alvarez’s kangaroo court. While being lead away to their isolated cells and away from us, they glimpsed us standing and raising our fists to them in solidarity.

In the constant state of police repression we so agitate against, this is the end result: innocence in chains, with damage we can witness and scarring we cannot fathom.

We are activists, actively agitating against the world as it is currently established. Only a part of that conflict takes place in our streets. The majority takes place in our hearts, and our love of and for our fellow humans bolsters us through the cold nights in and outside of jails. It soothes us as we nervously wait to visit our friends who have been taken from us. Just as Occupy Chicago is the glue that binds the systemic struggles together, jail support keeps us strong and dedicated to one another, even through the heartbreak of visiting comrades through walls and television communication units.

-Natalie Solidarity-

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“We Are All Mark Adams!”

New York, NY–Monday afternoon I refreshed my Facebook newsfeed to find some unsettling news: Mark Adams, one of the 8 occupiers on trial for trespassing on December 17 last year, had just been sentenced to 45 days on Rikers Island. Admittedly I hadn’t followed the trial as well as many others, nor do I personally know Mark, but I was familiar enough with the #D17 action and trial that Mark’s sentence, 15 days longer than what the DA had asked for, seemed excessive and that charges hadn’t been dropped by Trinity was ridiculous in the first place.

So I decided to halt things and run to Foley Square that evening to show my support for Mark with other protesters.

I got there early at 7pm, meeting with a small group of comrades sitting by the fountain near the southern part of the park. A live streamer was on hand, giving anyone who was there in support of Mark a chance to tell his audience their thoughts or feelings about the trial As we mulled about, a few made signs, many of which had drawings of thick beards to hold before one’s face, because “We are all Mark Adams.” I looked across Centre Street at the Supreme Court building, whose engraving read that “the true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I didn’t know what to make of those words that evening, except for a feeling that as things continue, more and more can only wake up and see that the state is not working in their interests.

I had come out to support, unsure of what we would be up to tonight. I asked a few people but others were confused as I was. And just where was everyone? I overheard we would be marching and saw on Twitter that the Feminist GA was happening. The plan was to march to Reverend Cooper’s home in the village, where we would hold a vigil. By then, the Feminist GA would be done and would meet us there, after which we would discuss our feelings about Mark and what had happened to him.

We left Foley just around 8pm, chanting “Free Mark Adams and all political prisoners.” If there’s one thing you can count on our community doing, it’s making light of terrible situations, so another popular chant was “We want the sexy bearded man (and so do you!)” It was probably not the best chant for outreach, but it boosted morale in a situation that many were angered and deeply saddened by.  We eventually took the streets, mic-checking outside of opened-window restaurant fronts and tour buses to explain why we were out tonight.

One tour guide called the police, or threatened to, while we blocked her bus from moving, but we didn’t care; we’d established before leaving Foley Square that we would not be arrested, that if we saw the police we would simply rush to the sidewalk and comply with the rules. We didn’t want to be too controversial, because Mark would be upset if our rally to show solidarity with him ended up with more people being arrested. That isn’t to say there was no small drama: one man heckled us out his window, high above, and another threw an egg at us some blocks away. But we kept on.

Aside from passing a cop car that happened to be parked along a sidewalk we marched down, there was no police presence until we made it to Cooper’s home. We congratulated ourselves on marching through the streets with no conflicts with authority, and organized ourselves on the sidewalk, careful to keep it open for pedestrian traffic. Someone had brought small candles, which were passed out and lit.

A couple of police officers crossed the street to ask us what we were doing. There seemed to be nothing very accusatory about it, just asking what a random group of people congregating on a residential street planned to do there. We explained Mark’s story and that we were only here as bodies and to discuss what had happened. The police were cool about it and told us all was well so long as we kept the sidewalk open.

Eventually a white shirt came and interrupted us all to repeat to us that the sidewalk and stoop must be clear. The sidewalk and stoop were already clear, which made the whole thing redundant, and his tone lacked the courtesy that the previous two officers spoke with. He—and a couple new officers—spent the rest of the time occupying the stoop himself.

Someone who had spoken to the officers earlier said that Cooper was in fact home, that he’d called the police because he would not face us. Cooper was being cowardly and bringing in his own personal guards, courtesy of the NYPD. But still we complied with the police—we had no intent on blocking anyone from anything in the first place—and no issues arose. We watched out for each other, policing ourselves in regards to pedestrian traffic. We began our speak-out session, in which peoples words were carried down the line of us over different generations of mic-checks.

Where the march’s atmosphere was somewhere between celebratory and anger, this quiet moment was a mix between sadness and inspiration. Some talked about their hopes that Mark might organize from prison; others expressed that the best way we could support Mark would be through our actions and by looking at his enthusiasm and attitude as example. Someone pointed out that we kept talking about him in past-tense, that he was not dead and we would see him again. This comment got a few chuckles and brought the mood up a little bit.

I wondered what the police officers were thinking or feeling about all of these words. They understand sacrifice and must have understood that this trial was a moment in which we all realized that our sacrifices are in fact very real. But our group tonight was showing no signs of being discouraged, and I think the vigil presented a very human look at us that might sometimes be lost in the heat of an action. It’s consistently difficult to rank beautiful moments in the Occupy Wall Street community, but I think all of us coming together the night of June 18th is among one of the most poignant.

I went home carrying my cardboard Mark Adam beard. I didn’t want to throw it away or abandon it. So I put it on my desk, in the hopes that when I feel lazy or exasperated while working or question whether anything I do is worth it all, I can be reminded of Mark’s example and get shit done with a smile. So I’ll thank him for that when he returns, because he will.

– Joe Sutton –

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Occupant

This article was originally published in Slake No. 4. To read all of the stories from that issue,purchase the issue or subscribe at shop.slake.la. The author also has a book reading next Wednesday at Book Soup in LA.

Los Angles, CA – It’s almost midnight on Tuesday, November 29, 2011, and we’re preparing ourselves for the end of the longest-running Occupy encampment in the United States. We’ve known it’s been coming since Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had initially professed his solidarity with the movement, announced the camp was no longer “sustainable” at a late-afternoon press conference the previous Friday. On Sunday evening, thousands of supporters kept the police from entering the camp. They’re back, and for the second time now I sit with a hundred people circling a tent filled with supplies for the night. We’ve been here for hours, passing water jugs, chanting, singing, feeling our legs go numb, huddling into each other for warmth. We keep our arms linked, stay planted in the middle of the City Hall plaza—Solidarity Park to us—and listen for the news, arriving in breathless reports from fellow occupiers in the street. Helicopters swarm overhead and a cluster of media is allowed in the park behind a line of officers.

Finally, early Wednesday morning hundreds of police in riot gear stream out of City Hall (underground tunnels, it’s true!) and surround us. A voice from a speaker in a white police van declares that we are an unlawful assembly according to Los Angeles municipal code. We declare our right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances under the First Amendment. In a few other American cities, that argument has worked to forestall police evictions.

Now, though, the cops won’t look us in the eye. They descend on my circle.

One officer digs into pressure points on my neck and back. Another officer pulls my left leg out from under me and twists my ankle. The third pulls on my arms, using pressure points to force me to let go. “The last man to touch me like this was a rapist!” I yell. Once they force me out of the circle, I go limp. They toss me onto my stomach, then turn me back over and carry me out to stand in line with others who have been arrested.

“The cameras are off you now,” the officer carrying my upper half says. “Your little statement is over. You can walk now.”

“No thanks,” I say. I never see his face.

Meanwhile, LAPD officers in hazmat suits—an unsubtle message for anyone watching the news—raze thousands of dollars of camping equipment that could have been redistributed to Skid Row. I watch them stomp on our tents, destroy our meeting spaces, break our equipment, and knock over ingenious makeshift furniture built of found objects. The news will not mention our devoted internal sanitation crew or the people who worked day and night to make sure we had Porta Potties. The media seem more interested in the political theater of officers in space suits than in understanding the stunningly beautiful, innovative community of shared resources Occupy L.A. had become.

The camp is gone in a flash and now I am one of the 292 people arrested at the “peaceful eviction” of Occupy Los Angeles. We are put in tight, plastic zip ties and loaded onto a bus at 4 a.m. When the bus starts on its way nearly an hour later, Christmas music blares from the speakers.

An elderly woman cries because her cuffs are too tight. We ask the driver to do something about it. “Maybe she should have left her eighty-year-old ass at home,” he says during a particularly reverent rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” The girls in the back start scream-singing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to drown out “Jingle Bell Rock.”

“This is weird,” I say to my friend Kayla. I hadn’t expected it to be so surreal. Bing Crosby? At this hour? In this situation?

We shift around to accommodate each other’s aching arms and stinging wrists. One woman faints from the pain. Others pee themselves after being denied bathrooms for hours. We watch the sun rise through the bus windows and demand to know where we are—too far away from downtown for any of us to speculate. The driver does not answer. We chant our solidarity with Wall Street, Tahrir Square, protesters in Syria who are all suffering more cruelty than we are. After dawn, we discover we’re at Valley Jail Section in Van Nuys, a detention center nearly thirty miles from the site of our arrest.

Los Angeles may have deployed 1,400 officers to handle the eviction, but the jails processing our arrests seem eerily understaffed. The handful of cops working the early-morning shift are not jailers, but beat cops who have no experience with the paperwork or the protocol. Property is lost. Medicine is denied. The windowless processing room is recognizably government-issue: graying wood file cabinets, metal furniture, scratched plexiglass, and corners caked with years of detritus. The jail cells are painted a soothing green, and the vinyl on the cots sticks to our skin unless we wrap ourselves in our scratchy blankets. The vegetarian option is Cheerios.

On the second day, we are allowed ten minutes outside to shower, six at a time, under two shower heads. Women who had never met are suddenly naked, scrubbing, averting their eyes and attempting to beat the clock. We put our stinking clothes back on. My stepfather is told I’m on a bus on my way to my arraignment, though I’ve been in the same holding cell since I got here. It doesn’t take long to get lost in the machine.

***

Occupy Los Angeles was one of the largest Occupy encampments in the United States. Our General Assemblies were smaller than Occupy Wall Street’s but our tent city was massive and intricate. Our organization around direct actions was and is less focused than Occupy Oakland’s. Our interaction with cops, until the eviction, was bizarrely friendly, a source of much internal conflict.

The reason for this is that for many who gathered here, the financial inequality, illegal foreclosures, corporate personhood, corrupt banking system, and Wall Street crimes are felt most palpably at home, in the form of law enforcement. The occupiers who have spent their lives as targets of police surveillance and violence (especially the communities who are used to organizing internally in East Los Angeles, South-Central, Inglewood, Skid Row, and so on), tended to have little patience for those of us who insisted on being “liaisons” to law enforcement, on working with the city officials who eventually ordered our camp to be destroyed.

The “peaceful eviction” provided a crash course in reality for many occupiers unfamiliar with the physical and psychological reality of the prison-industrial complex and militarized police forces. One of my cellies, a woman in her forties, breaks down in tears on the floor next to our exposed toilets and says, “This is it. I’m never going to be the same after this.” I still see her at marches weeks after our eventual release. She’s not going back to her safe and comfortable former life.

There are many more where she came from. Nearly six weeks after the eviction, twenty occupiers set up a small camp in the backyard of a wrongfully foreclosed home in Van Nuys. The sheriff’s deputies are surprised to find us there and come at us with their guns drawn. They put three of us in cuffs and lock out the pajama-clad homeowner, Bertha Herrera.

Herrera kept perfect records to show that her case was mishandled by the bank, but so far she’s been denied her day in court to fight for the home she’s owned for thirty-one years. I walk door-to-door in the neighborhood with her, telling her story to neighbors, and discover that six homes in a two-block radius are facing similar proceedings. Herrera tells me that without the occupiers there to help her, she would have not had the strength to fight. We are mobilizing to help the other families in her area.

The day after Herrera is kicked out of her home, I go to what would have been my arraignment at the Superior Court. No charges have been filed against me in the November 30 arrest, but the city attorney can hold on to my case for a year and file charges at any time. Many occupiers are in a similar situation. Regardless of whether this is a calculated deterrent or the result of our overwhelming the system, the effect is that we are all on an informal probation.

I’d like to sit in a room with a few of those 400 people who control most of the wealth in this country and say, “Come on, guys. Seriously. You know what you did. Fix it.” Instead, it seems that people are looking to the Occupy movement for the answers. We are less than a year old. We are a diverse and fluid crew of people with all levels of experience, education, and commitment, who are still trying to get to know each other and understand our political differences. We struggle constantly with the problems of building consensus and the joys of group decision making, and we are not moving fast, but we are going far.

-Vanessa Carlisle-

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Photos: Silent March Against Stop & Frisk

New York, NY–On June 17th, an estimated 50,000 people silently marched down 5th Avenue in protest against the city’s Stop & Frisk policy.

The most impressive thing about the day was the silence. It spoke volumes as the marchers walked; you could hear the feet quietly shuffle and the birds chirp in the trees of the adjacent Central Park. The amount of people matching with the complete silence was awe inspiring. They came in seemingly endless lines and kept coming, block after block after block. People from all walks of life. People who are fed up with racial profiling, marching in complete silence… It was an amazing afternoon of peace, reflection and unity. Even the NYPD, whom they were protesting against, had to bow their heads in respect.

More of Tim Schreier’s photos, including photos of this event, may be found here.

– Tim Schrier –

Photographer’s note: These photos are “open source” and “public domain” with the condition that no product or service uses them for commercial purposes.

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D17: Whose Army?

Editors note: We revisit the occupation of Duarte Square on D17 today as activist Mark Adams prepares to serve forty-five days in jail after a judge handed down a guilty verdict this week stemming from his arrest in Duarte Square. We will have more coverage from solidarity actions happening right now later today. This story was originally published on We’ll Die When We’re Dead.

New York, NY – This past Saturday, December 17th, was the three-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Back in September, people began sleeping in a privately-owned public space a few blocks away from Wall Street in protest of the gross economic malfeasance the investors on Wall Street, the higher-ups at big banks, and the United States government has perpetrated against the American people, and people throughout the world. Whether or not you agree with OWS’s tactics and all of its beliefs, you can’t help but read the paper, watch the news, or look at your bank account and realize that, to quote the signage of one protester, “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”

While I’m an adamant supporter of Occupy Wall Street, as anyone who has read this blog will likely know, I’ll admit that I was conflicted about the plans for D17, the anniversary celebration. OWS was going to take over a space that was not public, was fenced off, a space whose owners made it very clear that they did not want to be occupied. The owners of Duarte Square, Trinity Wall Street, have helped out OWS in the past, providing shelter and office space, food and some verbal support. This further complicated things in my mind, OWS was not quite biting the hand that feeds it, but close.

Do churches owe a movement that is committed to social equality anything? Trinity Wall Street is an Episcopal church that also happens to own about a third of the land south of Canal Street in Manhattan. They are equal parts church and corporation, like so many other mega-churches throughout the United States. A Christian church, you would think, would be committed to little more than the words of Christ himself, words like “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” or “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves” or “sell what you possess and give to the poor.” And while Trinity doesn’t owe anybody anything, you’d at least think that following Jesus’s words would be important to them.

OWS weren’t asking for money, or shelter, or anything, really. They wanted to set up tents on a piece of concrete that no one uses and is fenced off from the public. An actual presence is important to the movement, a place to meet and gather and discuss and call home. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that a church, supposedly devoted to spreading God’s message of helping the poor etc., would give up a scrap of land, of which they own billions of dollars worth, to create a home base for a movement they supposedly ideologically agree with. But that was too much to ask.

Not much happened between noon and 3pm on D17. Me and the handful of friends I was with hung out in the cold, talking, milling, and eventually Eric and I were asked to hold a sign on the side of the road, “Tune in to 99.5 FM/Follow the revolution.” 99.5 WBAI worked in conjunction with OWS, broadcasting a series of performers, including Lou Reed, from their studio. Protesters were encouraged to bring radios so that everyone could have a party in the park. This worked and didn’t, but it was done in good spirit.

At about 3pm, we headed to a Starbucks to warm up and use the bathroom. I was wearing an OWS button on my coat that someone had handed to me weeks earlier at another event. The cashier saw it, clapped her hands with glee, smiled, and didn’t charge me for my coffee. We waited nearly an hour in the immense bathroom line and when we made it back to the park, nearly everyone was gone. We thought the police had cleared them out.

From a ways down Varick Street we heard a loud but muffled “WE. ARE. THE 99%!” The protesters had gone a-marchin’. When the march returned, they took the square.

Banners held by protesters concealed two small sets of staircases. The staircases were put up against the fence, and the first to climb them was retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, followed by dozens more. I chose not to occupy the space, I didn’t want to get arrested and knew that those who did go in, would be.

But that didn’t spare me from getting roughed up by the police. As the crowd chanted “BLOOMBERG’S ARMY!” and “FROM NEW YORK TO GREECE, FUCK THE POLICE!” you could see the anger in the police growing. No one wants to feel like they’re anyone’s lackey, and it surely didn’t make them feel good to know that Bloomberg himself claimed the NYPD were his army recently. As police attempted to clear the sidewalk on Grand Street where the stairs were going up, I was pushed multiple times by an officer, a nightstick held by both his hands and pressed across my chest. Behind me was a police van that I was repeatedly pushed into. “There’s a fucking van behind me! Where am I supposed to go?” was what I had to yell, over and over, before he let me go. And minutes later, on the park side of Duarte Square, I came across a man being hassled by riot-geared cops who wouldn’t let him near the fence to the Square. “What law am I breaking?” he kept asking them. He showed identification and was an assistant to the NYC Attorney General. A whiteshirt refused to give the man a straight answer and turned his back. The man tapped the whiteshirt on the shoulder and a swarm of riot-geared foot soldiers grabbed the man and threw him, multiple times, into me. I was pushed in the process, too. A stream of obscenities flew from my mouth and a friend held me back, thank God. Not that I’d ever touch a cop, because they are untouchable as this whole scene proved, but if a cop decided that I was out of line, all of my rights would’ve dissolved with the crack of a baton.

I didn’t shoot this video of George Packard being taken to jail, because I wasn’t arrested that day, but he points out that Trinity doesn’t want to help OWS because the people who can afford to lease land that Trinity owns won’t do business with Trinity if they help OWS. It’s disgusting to know that a church even worries about doing business with anyone. I’m no Christian, so what churches do in general I find odd and strange, but in my mind, the last thing a church should ever worry about is pissing off its business partners, or even having business partners in the first place. A church shouldn’t have business partners. A church should be there to a) worship their god and b) serve the community. Why else are they given tax-exempt status, if not for being a charitable organization?

It’s really too bad that Bloomberg’s Army has also become Trinity’s army, as well as the army of all those who oppose the common man and the struggle for financial and social equality. Though I’m not a Christian, I’m reminded of the Centurions in the Bible. While the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of the time, the ones who believed in strictly following Rabbinical law but also loved making a buck, called for the execution of Jesus, it was the Centurions, Rome’s army, who carried out the orders, who dragged Jesus through the streets, who tortured him, who hung him on a cross to die and then gambled for his clothes. But it was also a Centurion, Cornelius, who was the first Gentile to convert to Christianity. I wonder who the first convert from the NYPD will be? Because they’re with OWS, they’re part of the 99%, whether they like it or not. It’s only a matter of time.

Duarte Square wasn’t taken that day, and OWS still does not have a physical base that’s open and transparent and welcoming. But that’s ok, for now. The few thousand who showed up on Saturday despite the cold have shown that the movement is still alive, even though corporations, church corporations, and their minions have tried to crush it.

-Matthew Stewart-

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