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September, 2012 | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Archive | September, 2012

David and Goliath

My story has many subtitles: “State seizes 100% of liquid assets over a paperwork snafoo,” “Ex-husband’s debt causes state to seize $25,000 from mother of disabled son.” “Medical bills from child’s fall at school ruin single mother’s credit.”

Another subtitle: “Student falls from climbing wall at school during gym class, school refuses to pay for surgeries.”

That’s pretty much the gist of my situation. I was trying to move to a new location from Minneapolis, MN area to northern Wisconsin. The county I was moving to had told me that I could build on some property I was buying. Then once I bought it and started clearing land, told me that “no, it’s wetlands” – with no water on it and wouldn’t let me build.

This started my own personal Katrina. I had to move 5 times in 1 1/2 years – much of the time spent living in a camper.

I found a rental house to live in, which we lost to higher-paying renters. At this point, I still had my credit cards.

My daughter was in Superior Middle School, Superior, WI for her 7th grade year. The following spring she was put on the climbing wall in gym class with no safety gear. No parental permission was obtained for her to be on this climbing wall. She fell, breaking a bone in her leg and requiring two surgeries. The school and the insurance company fought responsibility for these costs for three years. During that period of time, my credit took a nose dive as the hospitals and the doctors reported the unpaid bills to the credit agencies. I was not of a mind to pay them, because I could see that if I did, I wouldn’t ever win a case against them.

In the fall of 2005, I handled what I thought was the last of the parental fee payments that I owed the state of Minnesota for my having dared give birth to a son with disabilities.

This was a fee that was increased exponentially by Jesse Ventura when he was pretending to govern the state of Minnesota. Life with him as governor increased costs to the general public in hundreds of ways. It became impossible for a family like mine to afford myriad excursions such as state parks, etc., because he eliminated huge chunks of state funding and greatly increased the entrance and parking fees. Something that cost $2 per person increased to $8.

Since Ventura’s regime had increased my parental fee from $150 to $1,050 per year,I had been behind on my payment and paperwork. In the fall of 2005, I had some extra money and paid up. I talked to someone on the phone who said since my son was turning 18 the following February, I wouldn’t owe much more, so she gave me an estimate of what that would be ~ $400. I paid everything.

A year and a half later, I got a bill for $179,000 from that same state department. This happened right about the time my father died. Needless to say, I was so flabbergasted by the bill that I just set it aside. I needed to deal with the loss of my father.

Before I left to go cross-county to my father’s funeral, I paid down both of my credit cards so that I would have plenty of room to use them on the trip to Tennessee. On that trip, I was trying to pay a bill over the phone,  I discovered that my credit available on both those cards had been reduced to 0, leaving the balance owed right up to the max. This was as a result of the unpaid medical bills having been reported to credit agencies.

The state kept sending me those bills. I sent letters to them recounting the story of how I had paid the bills. In January of 2010, the state of Minnesota seized 100% of the available cash I had in two separate bank accounts. One of those accounts was an account I had set up for my disabled son’s trust fund so that I could keep those funds separate from my own cash and not co-mingle funds. I had put $25,000 of his money in there to pay for work on my property as I was planning on building a guest cottage at my house for him to come visit. I have had no bank account since then, as I am too afraid of having my money seized by the state of Minnesota.

It is probable that the seizure of this money was due to the fact that my ex-husband refused to pay his parental fee for our son’s care in the state of Minnesota.

I tried finding a lawyer that would help me get this issue settled, and not one of the numerous attorneys I called would touch it.

I’d like to have these issues settled, but can’t find an attorney to help. When I was accused by the county where my son lived of mismanagement of David’s funds because the state had seized them, I couldn’t find an attorney who would represent me. I was forced to drive four hours and stay in a motel so I could appear in court without an attorney present. They kept saying “This is not a criminal matter,” but everyone knows that only the attorneys that work in a particular county really know how things go, and how to handle the judges and their prejudices. I was treated like a criminal. I’m afraid that this will be used against me in the future.

I feel that since I live in a different state, I really need an attorney in Minnesota to help me get all these loose ends tied up. I’ve been unemployed for 2 yeas, a teacher replaced by a computer and substitute teacher. I really don’t know which issue to handle first. I have a potential door opening for me in that my husband just passed away and I have found an attorney that seems like she will be open to helping with other issues besides his estate.

I’d like to be able to have a bank account without the fear that the state of Minnesota will seize my last cent and leave me unable to pay any bills, eat, clothe and house myself.

I know that other levies – for unpaid taxes, for example – can only take up to 25%, but this seizure was 100%. They’ve seized about $25,000, and I don’t agree thtt I owe ANYthing. What I have actually agreed to pay (since I took the settlement money from the insurance company) is not much. Maybe $1000, although I’ll never agree that it should not be the school’s responsibility for that debt.

-Anonymous-

This is my story. My son, David, deserves his money back.

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Student Loan, Ballooning Debt

My original loan balance for my Bachelors of Science program in Computer Information Systems was approximately $42,000.00.

As a result of outsourcing I was laid off as a Software Development Project Manager making a six-figure income.  I spent the next three years or so seeking employment in the field I passionately pursued to no avail.  Ironically the CEO of the corporation I worked for received a nice 7 digit bonus while Americans were displaced from the work force.

As I fell further and further behind in repayment of the student loans to Sallie Mae, Sallie Mae called incessantly in the morning, afternoon, and evening and then proceeded to call my references to further embarrass me.  They then offered forbearance after forbearance after forbearance.  Never explaining that interest would continue to accrue on the account.

For some reason I am not eligible to take advantage of current extremely low Federal interest rates of approximately 4.0% but I am forced to adhere to 8.0% rate.

As I stated earlier, the original loan in it’s entirety was approximately $42,000.00.  The capitalized interest amount is approximately $78,000.00 for a totally repayment of approximately $120,000.00.  By the time the loan is totally paid off I will have paid in excess of $250,000.00 to borrow $42,000.00.

I would also like to address the fact that while Sallie Mae Corporation continues to pillage the American people with their deceptive practices, each and every time I call Customer Service for the organization I am forced to deal with a representative from the “Asian Pacific” who will never clearly identify where they are in the world nor can they be understood.  Seems like and interesting formula to me.  Fix  the interest rate of the Student Loans to a hard 8% and outsource the Customer Service department to a place in the world that is not identified, therefore taking jobs away from Americans and increasing the bottom line for CEO’s to enjoy seven digit income and bonus packages.

I am fearful that this debt will go into default.

-Robert-

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Weaving Through Wall Street

New York, NY–I awoke early and left my apartment at 6:15 to allow myself some time to get lost on my way to the Education Bloc assembly point. The air was frigid, and I shivered on my walk to the subway. Because I was temporarily without cell phone service, and therefore had no access to any text loops nor communication with anyone else, I hoped very much that “Plan B”—in which we assemble someplace else—would not be declared. But getting off the Fulton stop in lower Manhattan, I strolled to the South Street Seaport and found familiar faces. I greeted some friends and then made quick run across the street to grab something to eat and some orange juice; I hadn’t brought anything with me but my small notepad thinking that today it might be best to travel as light as possible.

My primary contacts here—those I knew best—were my friends Nicole and Harrison, though at the night before I met a group of out-of-towners from a few different cities that had organized itself into an affinity group. I chatted a little with them, amazed that friendships had been cemented with people met only 12 hours before. But such is typical within Occupy.

Just after 7:30, we departed for our roving marches, splitting up early on but then reconvening. We did the usual chants: “When education’s under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” We soon began taking intersections, first with simply a circular picket that occupied each crosswalk simultaneously. Some civilians stopped to watch us, and we moved away to continue the marches without any conflict. Our group split and it seemed agreed that we would go civilian to the People’s Wall, yet we remained a loud, chanting march. The march that I was in jumped into the center of an intersection to dance and sing “A-anti-anticapitalista!” Not quite ready to dance so early in the morning, I joined in the chant and ran circles around the inside of the intersection with others, clapping my hands. We put on quite a show for civilians and once again had no conflict with police.

Upon reaching the area around Wall Street—here is where locations become truly blurry for my memory—we found a swelling mass of other protesters crammed onto the sidewalks, some straying into the streets, and a glut of police officers standing.in the middle of the intersection, along curbs—everywhere. I think I missed most of the People’s Wall drama but it was tough to be sure: a great mix of joyful chanting and militant yelling all filled the intersection. Every so often you would head chants of “March! March! March!” but everyone remained where they stood. I wandered around the intersection to see what was happening at different angles. After standing into the street, police ordered all of us to get onto the sidewalk.

The sidewalk closest to me happened to be the corner where police were checking work IDs to enter the sectioned-off street. Of course, police then said that the side half of us were standing on was reserved only for those in line to have IDs checked. I, and others, then, had to move—but the corner was so crowded, with the street off-limits, that one had no space to move. So I stood on the curb. The police tired of us standing there, and suddenly I felt hands on my shoulders and an officer trying to raise me; he then pushed me forward into the man ahead of me, who fell forward into the people in front of him, causing many of us to push against scaffolding. Feeling a great deal of adrenaline and anger, I walked away from the situation to the outskirts of the group, where I found Harrison again. Luckily this situation was my only one in which I was at all handled by the police and I (and as far as I know, others in that situation) were not injured.

Meeting again with Harrison, we wandered a bit and expressed to each other some disappointment at how so many were caught in a standoff that seemed to be past its opportunity.  There was no civil disobedience, really, in crowding the sidewalk where no one except protesters and police stood. Marching seemed to be the best strategy at the stalemate that had occurred but relatively few took the call.

But I was still in awe at everything I was watching. Even after my six months with Occupy Wall Street, it’s difficult to watch so many people get arrested for exercising rights that are to be guaranteed for them, or for “breaking” laws in ways the laws were not intended to be enforced—or to be arrested violently and aggressively. I watched a man red-faced and with tears in his eyes yelling to us as he was being taken away that he could not feel his hands. This is my city, this is my country, and this is what we do here.

Harrison split and now here I was wandering the financial district alone. I felt now less an activist than a sort of observer. I didn’t know where any of my friends were, although I would very much support the statement that we all in Occupy are friends already, a kind of weird, huge family. But what was great about September 17th is that we were all here together, and despite not having working service on my cellphone I happened to run into a group of friends—and we, then, happened to run into another friend in a march—without at all trying.

John, one of the people I ran into, was stringing yarn across streets and intersections to delay activity there. I stood by to scout for police as he strung the yarn on a side street (a large van quickly plowed through it.) The two of us and other friends of ours went in and out of marches and—if memory serves correctly—ended up near Trinity, where we wanted to cross the street. Today walk signals did not matter, as police officers themselves were controlling traffic—by only allowing cars to move from either direction, and never pedestrians. We stood on the street-side of the curb to wait to cross, other protesters crammed behind the scaffolding, and John began the chant: “Whose streets?” to which I and others answered “Our streets!” This went on for a couple minutes without police allowing us to cross. A white shirt pointed a few people out from the crowd, and suddenly officers were running towards us. We scurried, and one officer grabbed John’s arm. John broke free, ducked behind the scaffolding, but was caught and arrested; for a moment I wondered if, by being near John and joining in the chant, if I could have been another that the white shirt pointed to—officers were now chasing and arresting others who had been standing there—so I and my friends Shay and Thiago quickly left the situation, jogging down the block.

After the intense and stressful morning, we came across a parade of fun led by the Reverend Billy Choir of Stop Shopping, which was much needed to calm the nerves from all that we had seen and run from. After my dismay at police activity, I was once again inspired by the voices and singing of my Occupy family, the perfect antidote to the police state that attempts to wear us down—a great first half to a happy birthday.

– Joe Sutton –

 

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How Dare You Protest?!

I was crossing Nassau Street within a mass of approximately 500 people during the first minutes of a peacefully festive early morning demonstration. I heard the words “get him” yelled from somewhere among the crowd. A group of 6 to 8 NYPD officers were standing quietly near the crosswalk as the crowd flowed around them. My hand was raised in the air at this moment with a camera phone as I was about to take a photograph of the Federal Hall National Memorial building.

I first realized that the “get him” was directed at me when one of the officers reached up and grabbed my right hand, which was holding the camera. The other officers moved to restrain me from behind, not allowing me to remove the camera wrist strap before applying plastic cuffs. I did not resist or complain to the officers, as it was obvious that they already understood the improper nature of this no-warning arrest. The telephoto camera lens was still engaged behind my back as one of the officers squeezed it shut with great force. I could feel the gears grinding as the end of the phone was still in my hand. The officer continued grinding his thumb into the phone screen as the others patiently waited for the glass to break.

That didn’t work so they turned their attention to ripping the phone from the tough vinyl fabric strap that was still stuck under the plastic handcuffs. The one officer alone could not break the strap so two officers pulled together. The strap was so strong that they had to leverage their weight against my body to break it. The cameras metal and plastic casing broke before the vinyl strap.

Several television news crews had surrounded us by this point, at which time I began yelling to the cameras that the officers were taking my phone and trying to break it. One of the cops then deliberately held up the phone for the cameras to see and placed it into my backpack. The camera phone still appears to function so I will not be requesting reimbursement.

My other complaint concerns an Officer Akopov(shield #19909). He was working at approximately 9AM in the first room that new arrestees enter during the booking process. Akopov searched me in one of two small cubicles located within this same room. He immediately exhibited mild physical aggression, grasping and pushing with more force than necessary.

I remained casually polite in tone and demeanor, following Akopov’s instructions to first remove a shirt and belt. The pants did not fit without a belt so I was going to ask for a rubber band to hold them up. “This is going to be a problem………..”, I said, not having time to get the words out before Akopov said, “It’s not a problem for me. Buy clothes that fit.”

He next asked for the elastic band around my ponytail. The band came off entangled with a few pieces of my long brown hair. “You’re disgusting”, said Akopov. My pants had fallen down to my ankles because he would not let me hold them up. The front of the cubicle was open and female arrestees were in the room. Akopov asked me to take my socks off then immediately added “get a move on” although I remained moving at a quick pace. I do admit loosing verbal patience with Akopov at this point, when I asked, “Are you a smart guy? A tough guy?”. He responded. “I’m not a tough guy…….but I’m a smart guy.”

Akopov’s behavior presents the potential to develop towards violence if he is assigned to work with other officers who also exhibit aggressive personality traits. Akopov and the NYPD officers who ordered over a hundred no-warning arrests on September 17th remain proud as they pollute the liberty of this great city.

……………………

And let me add, there was a group of people from Occupy and the National Lawyers Guild waiting on an adjacent street near the police station after the NYPD took nine hours of my life. They clapped and cheered as each person was released. The cops were not yet done making up laws for the day. A group of officers appeared saying that we could not stand on this 50-foot-wide segment of sidewalk. They herded us like cattle for one block, threatening arrest the whole time. Everyone complied, knowing after today that NYPD culture has gone completely rouge from the US constitution.

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My #S17

We were at the Red Cube by 7:15am, joining hundreds of other Occupiers and supporters for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Liberty Square itself was barricaded, a dozen or so people inside – I assumed Occupiers, since what neighborhood resident would be trying to enjoy their park this early on a Monday with so many barricades and police about?

The brutalization of random protesters was rampant throughout the day, apparently as another tactic by the NYPD to punish political dissent, and intimidate those not brutalized into leaving – and to intimidate those who were not there in the first place from ever coming to a subsequent protest or event.

The day began for my group (me, my girlfriend, and friend, who all trekked in from Brooklyn) similar to last year’s #N17 action. We left in a column from the Red Cube and marched down Broadway to Pine & Nassau. Some Occupiers sang parody lyrics to the tune of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” including lines like, “Hurry hurry hurry / Get me out of jail / I am an occupier / I can’t afford the bail / Oh no no no no / Ba ba ba / I was incarcerated.”

Police lined the streets facing protesters, who mostly stayed on the sidewalks. A saxophone-playing Occupier played The Star Spangled Banner. Protesters massed on all four corners of the intersection. As the song reached “the land of the free” climax, a glitter bomb was popped over Nassau Street. An arrest most of us couldn’t see occurred in the intersection. Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Then the saxophone played and we sang, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” Someone berated the police about how Bloomberg would be stealing their pensions and laying them off soon enough, and then they’d be on our side.

An occupier Mic Check’d saying, “If they block the streets here then go around!” But those of us who were attending and not wanting to be arrested didn’t know where to go around to – we were trying to be witness to those participating in the traffic-stopping sit-downs, as planned and announced on the S17 website.

From @occupiedstories on Twitter

The Amalgamated Bank (a Union-owned bank; and the bank I switched to from Chase last autumn) on Broadway greeted the day’s protesters with a large poster in their window: “Amalgamated Bank supports the UFT and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

By 8:15am, we decided to go find the Labor protest contingent, slated to begin at 8:30, and started heading back up Broadway. But this proved difficult with police lining the sidewalk (on the street). Particularly so because the police themselves relentlessly insisted that we “Keep moving. If you don’t keep moving you will be arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic” even as they themselves impeded more pedestrian (and vehicular) traffic than anyone else. (Many Occupiers were sure to let the police know about this with chants of “You are blocking pedestrian traffic! You are impeding pedestrian traffic!”)  One female protester called out, “The NYPD shuts the city down for us. Great job, boys!” I was reminded of May Day 2012, when police were so concerned that protesters would shut down the Williamsburg Bridge that the police themselves shut down the Williamsburg Bridge. Obviously who shuts it down is more important than that it is shut down at all.

As we marched north on Broadway on the sidewalk, spirits were high. A band of horns and percussion had everyone clapping and feeling good; spoons were used on scaffolding to accompany the band. And right on time the police entered the sidewalk, waded into the crowd to randomly grab a protester, slam them to the ground, and arrest them. This split the march into two as people recoiled from the brutality. Several white-shirt police with macabre faces lunged at us, grabbing a protester next to me by his backpack and slamming him to the ground, and then a blue shirt cop jumped on him, then cuffed him. I had no doubt that he was grabbed instead of me because he was black, young and male – and I was let alone because I was a white male.

It was at this moment that I felt a peculiar failure as a protester: I didn’t grab my fellow protester from the police and try to pull him back to me. In the split second between being grabbed and being thrown to the ground, he looked at me and said “Help me out!” and I didn’t do a thing. Should I have grabbed him back and probably been arrested myself? I don’t know. I know I should have gotten his name and followed up with jail support, but in the chaos I lost him and did not. The money I was able to contribute later was a minor penance for this failure, which I partially blame the police for creating (he had done nothing to warrant the arrest, after all) but mostly just myself, for not knowing enough going into the action and not being confident enough to know what I should and would be willing to do at any given moment. I hated the police for having created this situation, but that is a futile waste of time and energy.

Wall Street itself was barricaded at Broadway, with police behind the barricades, in front of the barricades, and on the street. Protesters were attempting to move their way north, but the police suddenly cut the march in two, separating me and my friend from my girlfriend. Several people were brutally arrested. The police pushed us north onto the sidewalk, and then stopped. Then they came at us again and pushed us further and further north, until we were practically to Pine Street.

I began calling my girlfriend over and over waiting for her answer, fearing she’d been brutally arrested. Finally she answered the phone and we re-convened. She told me that the police had been pushing her from behind to move south, and she’d told them she wasn’t going to push the people in front of her just because she was being pushed by the police. She told them she wasn’t going to hurt someone else just because the police were pushing her. Then a protester near her was thrown to the ground and arrested. The police continued to push her, and she asked them if her moving south was more important than the brutal arrest going on right in front of them. The police told her, Yes, it is more important. She told them they had fucked up priorities. They told her to move.

Eventually we found our way to Bowling Green, where hundreds of protesters were gathering. An enormous Debt Bubble was pushed from hand-to-hand over the top of the crowd. We set out to peacefully march around the bull, which was at least triple barricaded by this time, as well as lined with police on foot and on scooter. We were pushed back almost immediately, and ended back where we started. The immense resources going to protect this bull are always astounding. Protecting the bull from what? An occupier straddling it? Graffiti? What other harm could befall it? It is as though the city fears that Occupiers “taking the bull” would mean the downfall of the whole establishment. Is there a secret self-destruct button on there?

From @occupiedstories on Twitter

Back at Bowling Green near the Museum of the American Indian, some musicians playing guitar sang songs I didn’t know and some I did – including a rousing cover of Sublime’s “What I Got,” which rang true and pure over the OWS crowd: “Loving / Is what I got.” Signs in the crowd hailing the Love Generation, or Time For Love, were, like the Troggs song says, all around.

I felt transported in time, as though it were 1968 and 2012 at once. It was like I’d imagined the 60s generation, and I was no longer wishing it was the 60s – I was ecstatic to be alive today, to be alive to witness and participate in OWS.

At Bowling Green several people spoke using the People’s Mic, including Rev Billy, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who said that the world was “on a breaking point. It’s time to change the breaking point to a tipping point” for the movement. Helicopters overhead lowered as though to drown us out with their noise, and then elevated again.

Taking a break for a seat, some coffee and a salad in a nearby lunch counter, we overheard some exhausted-looking protesters needing ibuprofen. We provided some from our pockets, glad to be helping.

In the afternoon protesters swarmed into Liberty Park. I was surprised the police had allowed anyone in at all. And of course the population was diverse: young and old, whites and blacks and Latina/o and etc., LGBTQ, the disabled. I spotted again the French fellow who’d kept shouting over police brutality all day, “This is a peaceful protest, thank you!” I spotted at least three city council-members. And perhaps best of all, plenty of people who supported OWS even though they had serious problems with it. It is a place of solidarity, but also a place of disagreement and debate.

For about an hour, I stood in the midst of the drum circle (complimented with sax and trumpet; drummers banging on drums, staircase-handles, the ground, etc.) and joined Occupiers in the jubilee of celebration. As someone announced after calming the drummers into quiet, “The greatest thing we have done is meet each other.” The number of actions, groups, events and change that come from us having met each other can probably never be quantified – which means Wall St will never understand or respect it. But it is an amazing achievement.

I and a few other ebullient, celebratory souls led the chants over and over, familiar ones like, “Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!” and “An / Anti / Anti-capitaliste!” But mostly the one refrain: “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!” The refrain, repeated so many times, took on new and different meanings. For one, the initial meaning: Occupiers occupying Wall Street non-stop demanding change. But further, it also meant: We support the movement that is Occupy Wall Street, and we support it all day and all week. Or: There is a movement called Occupy Wall Street, and it exists all day and all week; it exists in me right now as I stand here in the midst of my fellow Occupiers; and it exists in me as I move through the world making decisions and taking actions; it exists in me as I try to learn about the world and better the world; it exists in me and changes me, and I change it. And in Liberty Square it exists within me and all around me, palpably.

A drummer, taking a momentary break, reminded the crowd via the People’s Mic: “All you need to solve all these problems is to love each other.  And that’s the truth.”

-Joel Chaffee –

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This is What Solidarity Looks Like!

New York, NY–When we entered One Police Plaza yesterday, we were greeted with a most uplifting scene of a crowded but jovial cell, full of singing, dancing, and warmth. I received huge hugs from the inspiring Bishop George Packard and Professor Steve Burghardt, who were arrested for civil disobedience in the morning. Steve had these wonderful words to share about solidarity and reclaiming our commons:

“Yesterday showed us how high the mountain is that we have to climb—and that it’s worth it. The harshness of police response, as I have written elsewhere, is inevitable due to the underlying threat that OWS continues to be. That threat is not that we will actually close the stock exchange, any more than that Rosa Parks’ refusal to move back on the bus was simply about seating arrangement on public transportation. State violence escalates when a movement threatens the authority of political and economic elites…not just about who owns stock and where people sit, but about everything: elections and levels of profit, who should pay for our debt and who deserves to be in jail. As long as OWS threatens to create this new discourse, we will continue to be met with violence and repression. We’re just going to have t get used to it as we grow.

“But yesterday down in that holding cell, I saw again why OWS is worth it. Early on I got to have a long talk with Dien, a resident at Montefiore with an 11-day old daughter, who sat down near me because he sees what our health care system is doing to poor people. He plans to be practicing social medicine some day, a program build on the liberational work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Friere—the same work that I use in my community organizing classes. About five hours into a long day, Luis, the young Latino arrested by the Wall Street bull, energized us all with two powerful OWS raps filled with rage about the present and hope for a better future. 15 guys, ranging in age from 21 to 71, sat and talked for an hour about strategies for our future—we listened and learned form each other, a rainbow of possibility sitting in a small, cramped circle.

“Sure, there were a few guys in there whose style drove me nuts, some crusties I’m convinced use their constant rage for personal, not political reasons. But you know what? About four hours in, we were all kinda’ down: we’d eaten those god-awful pb & j or American cheese sandwiches (now, thanks to Bloomberg, with tasteless wheat rather than white bread), it was clear we were not leaving for a while, and everyone was bored. One of those crusties had a better idea. He walked over to the empty water cooler jug and began to drum. Another guy joined in on the stand, getting into a nice, solid rhythm that carried throughout the cell. We began to pick it up, tapping on our benches in response. Soon the beat was everywhere, loud and strong, and fast.

“Two cops entered, pissed off, and took the water jug out. The drummer smiled, and walked over to the garbage can. Carefully removing the liner filled with leftovers (including empty 1%–1 per cent!—milk cartons) and began to drum again. The sound filled the room, even louder this time. 120 pairs of hands joined in, a little singing and whooping thrown in across the space.

“That drum soon left the room, too. Then Luis gave us his first OWS rap song. We all were talking again. The strategy group formed. Two high school kids from Pennsylvania were let in the room, a little scared. A cheer went and embraced them in welcome. They smiled, happy, aware that they were safe, too. For a few hours on September 17, 2012, One Police Plaza’s holding cell was transformed. It was OWS’s Holding Commons, where unity was possible and hope lived, too.”

– Steve B
(Professor of community organizing at Hunter College)

This is what solidarity looks like!

– Lucky Tran –

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This is What Reality Looks Like!

New York, NY–It’s true that I have always kind of regretted the fact of getting to OWS a bit “late,” after the eviction, but at the same time I never doubted Occupy was much more than the encampment. Yes, it is much more, and it will be more and more yet. So, sticking to the idea that it’s never too late to do something, to be part of something you believe in, as long as you really believe in it, when the opportunity came I didn’t even need to think twice before being sure that I had to come after what I believed. Occupy believes in itself – and that’s why it’s still strongly alive (as we could clearly spot and experience yesterday!), even though they (you know who) are constantly trying to “kill” us, and, by not being successful, at least make the (fake) picture of us dead. I believe in Occupy – and that’s why I’m here. And I believe in my belief – especially now, that I somehow saw it come true with Occupy.

The last 5 months have been unspeakably intense to me – an intensity carefully detailed in more than 600 pages of a very “emotionally rational” journal –, and that’s why my apparent “regret” mentioned above soon turned into a huge pride, a pride of being part of this thing that nobody knows what it is, although those who are part of it can feel it very clearly. I got here for May Day with a lot of expectations – some met, some frustrated, some overcome with surprise – and was automatically led to confusion. Now, I’m leaving right after another big event, the anniversary, still confused, but with a lot more of expectations. Different confusions, different expectations, but still both: the expected confusion of confused expectations. And, yes, I’m leaving. Not that I want to. Not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I’m leaving, at the same time that I’m not, because even though I’m leaving, I’m leaving and taking a lot with me. I am because I really am, and I am not because I am really not, and that’s it. Yeah, as obvious as apparently confusing: just like the message OWS has been trying to spread out and others insist on pretending they don’t understand – or maybe they truely don’t, out of fear and/or lack of imagination.

The least I can say about my experience here is that Occupy really changed me in a very powerful way, as some occupiers had already warned me since the very beginning. Not that I’m someone who’s not very acquainted with the possibility of constant variations of any kind – quite the opposite: I’m usually not just seeking to (deliberately) change in a lot of ways, but I’m also open to (unpredictably) be changed to the same extent almost on a daily basis. But in this case, it’s just that I’m talking about a different kind of change, a change that changes you precisely because it doesn’t necessarily have to “change” whatever is already inside yourself much more than just making it possible that you truly believe in your own beliefs by putting yourself face to face with who you are, who you appear to be, who you (might) want to be and all the others being with you. And, no, we’re not going to change the world by arrogantly trying to change the others, willing to make them look like ourselves or what we think we are, but especially by changing ourselves – in relation to the others, to the world and to our own selves again – and, thus, maybe inspiring – never shaping – other others, whoever they may be.

In the end, what this ultimately means is that it’s not because we believe so much in our beliefs that we have to believe that we know all the answers, that we carry the ‘truth’ and as a consequence won’t “give it up,” just like a stuborn child; actually, (I believe) it’s the opposite: the real believer is the one who’s able to “doubt” his/her own convictions to the same extent that he/she is capable of standing for these same beliefs and to its principles as strongly as he/she can. In the long run, what was Occupy Wall Street if not that unspeakable phenomenon that brought up together a lot of “believers” that were pretty much scattered all around and somehow isolated with their own beliefs, maybe believing less than what they actually could because they felt they were pretty much alone? And what was the natural consequence of this unpredictable coming together if not give a far greater impulse to those beliefs already inside each one by mixing them with other similar beliefs (and their holders) and finally making them come true? After all, as Raul Seixas – a Brazilian composer who has served as an inspiration to me since my early adolescence – says: “a dream that is dreamt alone is just a dream, but a dream that’s dreamt together is reality.” Yeah, by dreaming together and believing that this dream is much more than just a dream, we are rebuilding reality.

But what does this mean exactly, to be a “believer?” The thing is we are all believers, no matter we consider ourselves – or the others – a “realistic” or an “idealistic” person. Actually, being a realist or an idealist means pretty much the same thing, although in opposite ways. How? Because “reality” necessarily depends on the way we see it, ultimately, on the ideas – beliefs – we have about it. And the result is that the only difference between these two prototypes lies specifically on the emphasis that each one puts on the negative and the positive aspects of what they can see in/as “reality”; that is, of the “reality” they can see. The claimed to be realist, therefore, is the one who idealizes his/her reality according to the impossibilities it (supposedly) encloses, whereas the claimed to be “idealist” realizes (and tries to achieve) his/her ideality according to the possibilities he/she can conceive. That’s why people who don’t believe in a better world (the pessimistic ones), for instance, like to call themselves “realist”; and that’s why when these same people want to disqualify any optimist point made by anybody else, they don’t hesitate to call this person an “idealist.”

What these people fail to understand, though, is that we are all both idealist and realist, no matter what, because these spectra are completely tied together, what leads us to conclude that the whole issue is not a matter of form (realism or idealism), it’s all about content (pessimism or optimism): after all, our conception of reality – and, thus, what we believe is or could be “real” – totally depends on our will and capacity of imagination. So, yes, instead of sticking to the impossibility of the possible (what the claimed to be “realist” do), we, occupiers, stick to the possibilities of the impossible, just like the Cuban composer Silvio Rodríguez suggests: “I’ve preferred to talk about the impossible things, because what is possible we already know a lot about”.

Well, at this point I realize I’m kinda getting carried away with my thoughts, given the big excitement it always brings me to talk about my encounter with so many other believers, but I really don’t want to make a long statement out of this happy anniversary/farewell message. I just want to say happy birthday to OWS (virtually now, after doing it in flesh during the weekend) and to thank you all for everything you have, directly or indirectly, done: to the world and to me – in this case, especially by making it possible for me to believe even more in what I already believed. Of course, some of you just know me as far as you can recognize my face or remember my name, given our very superficial contact (in terms of direct interaction); but you may be sure that in the broad sense it was not superficial at all: we’re all on the same boat, fighting for the same cause and relating to each other in ways that we can’t even think of, let alone measure or explain.

So, yes, I’m leaving; but, again, I’m not; and I’m taking a lot with me, what I hope to be able to bring back, somewhow, in paper and (English) ink, and give to you as a feedback – after all, what I’m writing is ‘mine’ just to a very limited extent: it is much more of a big collective project resulted from a completely rizomatic and dialogical process. As most of you know, Occupy is the “object” of my Master thesis, but it’s pretty obvious (at least for the ones who have met me) that my connection to the movement goes far beyond that, since our relation has never been distant, “imparcial,” as they say it’s supposed to be; quite the contrary: it’s been a very affectuate relationship, one of subjects, what doesn’t have to mean at all a loss of critical thought or anything alike, as the same “they” believe and try to make us believe as well. Yes, there is a lot of affection between us – what is not just beautiful, but “productive” as well (to use a word the ones who like to measure everything love); and, yes, I created very strong political and personal roots here – what makes feel like coming back soon.

So, I might be back; but before that I also would really like to see you guys in Brazil too – as much as I want to see more and more what you’ve been doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that whenever and wherever this (re)encounter takes place, we are going to be still stronger than we are now – the same way we already are in comparison to last year, even to yesterday – and our beliefs are going to be even more “real” than what they are at this point – the same way the impossibilities are starting to become more and more possible. Well, at least that’s what I believe, that’s what you guys made me believe even more in the last months. Why? Because when I got here and asked you “show me what your dreams look like” – still not sure if they were the same as mine –, you went way beyond that by simply answering me, not just with ideas, but mostly with action: “this is what reality could look like!”. Yes, it could; and it will: because it already is becoming this, little by little.

– Thiago TRocha –

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?: The Story of My Arrest by the NYPD

New York, NY–There’s rarely a dull moment when they go marching in the land of Occupy, and the weekend of the 1-year anniversary ramped up to revive a lot of the energy seen swirling around Zuccotti Park last fall.

After a year of shaping their vision, forming their message, and battling with the police, the movement had a broad range of actions planned for Monday, September 17th, the day of the anniversary of the first tent pitched in Liberty Square. The overall plan showed that the past twelve months have forced Occupiers to evolve. No longer would the activity be focused on one massive march, but rather dispersed and mobile, adapting to responses by the police, but with the same goal they had from the beginning: To protest the machinery of Wall Street finance by shutting it down.

As I arrived near Zuccotti Park around 6 am, NYPD forces where already out and ready, Wall Street barricaded from all sides, as was Zuccotti Park, the bull statue and parts of Broadway. The news media was out in force, with TV trucks clogging both sides of Broadway. Little brings out the news crews in New York City like the possibilities of a potential blood bath … Both the police and mass media seemed ready for that. But the occupiers had other ideas.

By 7:30 am, about 500 protesters had assembled in this one of four assembly points, and led by Episcopalian bishop George Packard and other clerics, started marching down Broadway towards the intersection with Wall Street. The original plan was to block the intersection by sitting down in the street. However, barricades set up by NYPD forced protesters to stay on the sidewalk, and, rather than – as in the past – trying to battle their way through the barricades, the protesters decided to make their point by sitting down on the sidewalk instead. Still, the arrests quickly began, as now they were obstructing pedestrian traffic. Though the possibility that maybe the barricades and lines of cops the NYPD had set up might do a better job of blocking passage than anyone sitting on a pavement ever could, probably didn’t occur to the police commander in charge of the scene….

I had found myself stuck in the press pen that was handily provided on one corner of the intersection of Wall St and Broadway, so I couldn’t see the actual arrests, but several arrestees were quickly led away.

Looking for more freedom of movement and better angles for observation and photography, I decided to change venue and moved down Pine Street towards Nassau Avenue. As I reached the intersection of Nassau and Pine, the back side of Federal Hall, another popular flashpoint between OWS and NYPD, I encountered mayhem. Police had started to arrest protesters in this location and cops were grabbing at anything and anyone that couldn’t run fast enough, including a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild, even though he was clearly marked by wearing a bright green hat marked “NLG Legal Observer”. I took some photos of arrests, but soon decided to move on further down towards Wall Street as I heard there were some activities going on there.

As I walked down Wall Street, protesters were marching on the sidewalk across the street from me, chanting and gearing up to block the intersection of Wall St and Pearl St. A massive contingent of police scooters along with cops in riot gear were standing at the ready for the encounter. A police officer started to read out a dispersal order to the protesters assembled at the street corner, and anticipating a new sit-in and some arrest shots, I crossed the street to photograph the officer with his megaphone, as well as any upcoming interactions. As I arrived on the sidewalk I started photographing the scene: The cop with his megaphone, other officers standing around that looking at the protesters, and I was just about to turn around and photograph the protesters, as I hear the voice over the megaphone saying “if you don’t move, you will be arrested.” I took one more shot of the cops standing at the corner, when the white shirt officer in charge of the scene pointed at me and said: “That’s it. She’s done. Take her,” and he promptly grabbed my hand. I shouted out that I’m an independent photographer, and showed him my credentials from the National Press Photographers’ Association. The officer looked at my badge and said “they’re not ours, so I’m not interested.” (an independent account and a great photo can be found here)

I was spun around and felt the zip ties tighten around my hands. This being my first arrest ever, I was surprised that I felt relatively calm and just let them do their thing, but I did notice that the cuffs were beginning to cut off the circulation in my hands. The white shirt officer handed me off to one of the cops standing next to him in riot helmets, and designated him to be the arresting officer, which meant he was now in charge of bringing me to the station for processing and staying with me until I was either released on a Desk Appearance Ticket or sent to court for arraignment. A couple of legal observers took my name, and information, and several other observers asked for it, too while I was being led away. At least I felt people would know where to look for me.

As I was being led to a van, my arresting officer was told that he couldn’t put me there, as only males were in there. So, the officer turned around and called over the radio “I have a body. I need a car.” — Well, while I was out of commission for the moment as a photographer, I still felt very much alive, and found that description of me rather disconcerting. Yet, the numbness in my hands continued to increase, so I decided that, rather than getting into argument with him over terminology, I’d plea my case for getting the cuffs loosened enough for the blood to be able to flow to my hands. The officer explained to me that the zip cuffs they were using could not be loosened without cutting them, and he couldn’t do that unless I was in a van. We walked back and forth searching for a van for me to be put into for another 10-15 minutes, until I was finally placed in front of a door, photographed with a Polaroid camera, and placed into the bus – joining four others already in there – with my backpack still on, and my camera and press pass hanging down in front. When I asked again to get my cuffs loosened, the officer said he didn’t have a knife, so that would have to be done at the station.

Other arrested protesters joined us in the bus and a dialogue started soon amongst everyone: About the day’s protests, occupy’s philosophy and other topics. One of the protesters started making his case for occupy to two of the arresting officers sitting with us in the van, who seemed nice enough to engage in the conversation. Whether any hearts or minds were changed remains to be seen, but it seemed clear that once the confrontation of the actual protest was out the way and a civilized conversation was possible to be had – and the boss wasn’t listening – some rank and file officers were not all that unsympathetic.

Before the cops were ordered out of the van again to accommodate more arrestees, one of them finally cut my cuffs, my hands now a darker shade of blue, and deep imprints from the edges of the cuffs visible on both my wrists. I was allowed to take off the backpack, put the camera into my bag, stretch out my fingers for a second, before I had to be re-cuffed, thankfully looser this time.

Overall the atmosphere in the van was quite festive. The other arrestees seemed to be at peace with their situation and were looking to make the most of it.  One of the late arrivals managed to access his cell phone and started livestreaming from our van. Another one, sitting next to him started reciting some rap poems he had written about Occupy, manifesting some accute wordsmanship and creativity, while another protester accompanied him with a drum beat by banging against the backwall of the van.

About 90 minutes after my arrest, we were finally delivered to Central Booking at 1 Police Plaza for further processing. There I noticed that we were referenced to as “perps”, short for “perpetrator”. While this term may seem a tad less dehumanizing than “body”, it still felt hardly appropriate for a group of people arrested for such “crimes” as sitting down in an intersection, or photographing on the sidewalk.

As we were herded across the outer courtyard of Central Booking, had our names and addresses taken, any cary-ons removed etc, the treatment I received seemed reasonably courteous. I had requested that the Swiss consulate be notified of my arrest, which seemed to make an impression. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting the need of diplomatic interference, I felt it important to ensure access to it, should the need arise. Given how little decision room I was given with every step being pre-ordained (“two steps over here, back against the wall, one step over there) it also felt good to mark at least a little corner of my territory.

I was pulled aside with another arrestee still wearing his press credentials around his neck. He was a livestreamer and reporter for a website based in Portland, Oregon. We were asked as to where our work could be seen and what we were doing exactly, then that officer went away. I’m not sure whether he was a regular plain-clothed officer, from the press office or the legal team, but he was dressed in civilian clothing. Finally, my press pass still hanging around my neck, I was led into the back door of central booking, where my identity was verified, I had to pose for another photo – this time with the arresting officer – and was placed into a holding cell for further processing. My arresting officer seemed pleased with the photo of the two of us and showed it to me. When I jokingly asked him whether we should put that on facebook he laughed but said no, that he didn’t want to be tagged.

In the holding cell I found Nicole, one of my colleagues from the Occupied Stories website, who is also trained as a legal observer. She was arrested for hoola-hooping while directing pedestrian traffic in an intersection, leading her arresting officer to complain “Lady, we don’t have charges for that.” But, on orders of his white shirt officer, he arrested her anyway.

After a while I was taken out of the holding cell and led past the holding den containing many of the male protesters that had been arrested that morning, by that time around 70 of them. They were having a party in there, cheering on every protester who was led by their den, chanting, drumming and even dancing. One officer passing by along with me shook his head and exclaimed “what a zoo!” Others seemed less amused, but unsure what to do about it, so for the time being they let the protesters be. The holding room had glass windows, not merely bars, so the noise level wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been, but they were clearly heard all the way down to the holding pen I was about to be placed into.

I was led to another intake officer who collected all the possessions from my pockets, my press pass, and also my shoe-laces. I was allowed to make my phone call but only to a number within New York City. Other arrestees behind me where not so lucky. Several of the out-of-town protesters who had come to New York for the OWS anniversary didn’t have a local number to call. So, they were sent off to their cells without being able to notify someone outside what had happened.

I was led into a block of 9 cells, each designed for one occupant but allowed to hold up to four, furnished with a wooden blank with some mats on top, a sink at the wall and a toilet besides that which didn’t provide any privacy what so ever. The front wall of the cells were metal bars, so everyone walking by could see right in. Nicole and I were placed into the same cell, along with a sleeping medic and two out of town girls. We could also hear and communicate with the occupants from the other cells, which by that point held around 30 other protesters (we maxed out at 37 in our block). The two female intake officers were in a very foul mood, so any chanting or singing between the cells was met with verbal abuse and threats of delaying our release. We knew they didn’t have the authority to make such decisions, but it clearly put a damper on the festive mood in our corner of the building. Still, we quickly built solidarity around the privacy issue of the toilets that were provided. Every time one of us had to use the bathroom, the others lined up in a wall around her, facing towards the hallway, to shield her from view, all the while singing “Solidari-pee Forever”. We called it our Pee-ples Wall.

As the day dragged on conversations swerved from philosophy to politics. Also, Nicole gave advice to us less familiar with legal proceedings surrounding arrests, as to what to expect in terms of release, possible punishment for different charges etc. While at that time I was not given access to a lawyer (I had asked my godmother to contact a good lawyer we both know on my behalf), it did feel good to have somebody knowledgeable on the subject in the room. Still, time is passing slowly in a prison cell even with the best of conversations, and gradually we all started to chomp at our bits to be released, feeling we were missing things still going on out there.

Some entertainment was provided by our guards trying to assemble a proper count of all female inmates in our block. First the one officer passed by, counting each head, expecting four arrestees to each cell, as they passed by our cell their count got out of synch with their expectations, since we had five people in ours. However, that would take a moment to sink in, so they passed us by, kept counting, and about 2 cells later started to realize that something was amiss. So, they’d come back and do it again, then send a second counter to do the math, and finally a third, and we still had five ladies in our cell. “But it’s not supposed to be that way”, one of them exclaimed, pointing at one of us. “You were supposed to be in number seven”. After a while of headscratching they gave up and left things as they were. Clearly, these ladies are not loaded down with student debt …

Around 1pm, we were served “lunch” which consisted of two sorry excuses for peanut butter-jelly or cheese sandwiches, and a small carton of milk. I didn’t mind the PBJ in principle, but these two comprised basically two pieces of cardboard that had been dragged past a jar of peanut butter and a gotten drop of sugary something plopped on top. I was grateful for some food, and I do understand the impact of budget cuts, but this was ridiculous.

As the afternoon dragged on, one of the out-of-town girls got increasingly agitated, as she became worried about what would happen to her and her friend. As she got more and more upset and started screaming at the cops about not getting her phone call, her friend tried to calm her down, but to little avail. Irrespective of the tone in which she asked to make the call, it was indeed disturbing that she was denied what is ultimately one of her fundamental rights.

Around 5 pm I was finally released with what is called a Desk Appearance Ticket and a charge of “Disorderly Conduct”, which photography in public apparently now qualifies as in the City of New York. Before I was let out, we had to retake those two Polaroid photos I had posed for during my arrest. Apparently, they had gotten lost in the shuffle, but I couldn’t help but notice that this time my press credentials were not hanging around my neck … The entire upper body is visible in these photos, so any press pass hanging around my neck would have been clearly visible.

While I found the experience of this arrest very insightful into a part of America I have never personally encountered before, it also angered me that I lost an entire day’s worth of photographic work over a bullshit arrest. I don’t blame the poor beat cop who got stuck with posing as my arresting officer. This issue begins with his superior who decided to arrest me for whatever reasons he had or was given. I can understand how the prison system can break people, given just how little humanity is allowed to those it oversees and is supposed to reform and prepare for re-admission into the general public. Obviously, with the view from my holding cell I’ve only scratched the surface of what prison life in America can be like, but the stories I’ve heard are beginning to make a whole lot more sense. My spirit is fine but my wrists still hurt, and parts of my hands still have no feeling, which sucks when you’re trying to hold a camera.

Also, if intimidation was the goal of me being snatched off the street, the plan has backfired. I have no intention to interfere with events as they unfold, but I believe that the emergence of a movement like Occupy is one of the largest news stories of our time, and as such it needs to be properly documented. That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I will keep taking my pictures, like it or not. But obviously, I need to take better care of staying one step ahead of the body snatchers …

Far from reformed, once out of jail I went straight back to Zuccotti Park to reconnect with the day’s events and people I had spent the better part of last year with and grabbing dinner at an Irish pub with some of the photographers I had met on marches and in the park. The park had much of the energy back that swept through it last fall. While the park was surrounded by a sea of cops, inside occupiers had a great time reconnecting, and sharing their experiences. It was fun to hear stories about everything that happened, and annoyed me once more that I couldn’t be there to see it myself. Still, I also realized that I was lucky, in that my arrest was not a violent one, as I heard some of the horror stories of what the others saw and experienced. Around midnight I finally went home, completely exhausted, but also well aware that this thing is far from over.

– Julia Reinhart –

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Could be Worse!

New York, NY – The title of my story comes from a popular children’s series, which chronicled the fabulous tales that a grandpa recounted to his grandkids at bedtime. Though terrible things would befall him, he’d wryly state, “Could have been worse!”

I was one of the lucky ones whose parents footed most of my undergrad bill. But, between the remainder and what I took out for my (first) master’s program, I accumulated about $55,000 in debt. Federal debt, so hey, not so bad, right? It could be worse.

Both my undergrad and master’s degrees were in an “impractical” subject.  However, I was not impractical in my assumptions; I never expected to be heavily remunerated for my work. I  figured I could get by well enough and eventually secure a middle-class position (and a master’s degree is a de facto requirement in my field for that sort of position).

Even if I failed to find suitable, stable work in my field, I could always get a job and be comfortable. Afterall, I had done so during my three-year higher-education hiatus. I always had something to fall back on. Not so bad, not at all.

I completed my master’s nearly two years ago. It was not the time to be looking for jobs in my field (hell, when will it be?) Besides, I had an OK job, making just enough, with full benefits, including health insurance paid for by my employer – was I going to get that at some entry-level position? Health insurance is crucial for me now, as I am on several medications and one costs over $200 per month without coverage.

Boo hoo, right? It could be worse. I have a job, insurance, and make enough to qualify me as lower-middle class, at least in New York. I may have taken on too much debt ($30K would have been more reasonable), but I only took out “responsible” federal loans. I have an Income-Based Repayment Plan. I can afford my bills. I have a great credit score.

Here’s where it goes south: I pay nearly $300 a month in loans, and that doesn’t even cover interest, which continues to accrue. I also had periods of forbearance when I was unemployed (helloooo, 2008!) With IBR, my debt is discharged after 25 years of payment, but I will be in my 50s by then. Even assuming I make more eventually (that’s where the second master’s program comes in – and I’m paying out of pocket), I’ll just barely be able to make a little headway on the principal. So yeah, a lifetime of debt for me. Can’t discharge it! I could run up $20K in credit card debt and declare  bankruptcy, but it wouldn’t do a damned thing for my student loans.

Every month I think about where that money could be going. Savings. A vacation. Even simple things like some new clothes, healthier groceries, books, charity. But still, not so bad.

I have other debt, too – about $1700 on one credit card, mostly accumulated during my many months of unemployment. At its peak it was close to $3K.

But it’s my fault, right? That’s our society for you. Protestant, guilt-mongering, individualistic. The ones reaping the profits have no culpability, didn’t you know? Those are our “job-creators” (aka a new spin on an old classic, the rentier).

But what’s the heart of all of this, of my discontent? Not my depleted earnings. No, not really, though that money would be nice. Afterall, we’re implements of capitalism and we are in fact capital itself, in the form of living labor – all our earnings are depleted! It’s not bankruptcy law, either, though that’s beyond fucked up (feel free to edit profanity – I don’t care, I just write how I would speak).

It’s the fear. The fear that global capital – which by definition has seeped into every corner of the world and is devouring itself as it can no longer move outwardly – is killing our will to fight, and to understand it.

Many people feel powerless, and they don’t know why. I do, but feel powerless to reach them. It’s very hard; people are used to the world-view that has been imposed on them. Unless they see things like student debt, credit card debt, unemployment and poverty not as failed policy decisions needing reform but rather as heads of the same hydra that creates war, racism, environmental devastation, and wreaks havoc on bodies, minds, and our very human essence, then we are lost. We face the potential rise of fascism, of environmental apocalypse, of never-ending war and neo-serfdom. All due to our misunderstanding, our misplacement, our despair and inaction.

Though I feel the fear, I do not feel despair. It isn’t too late. It just isn’t. Look at the world for what it is and the truths will be apparent.

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Bankruptcy–out of spite, more than anything

Virginia Beach, VA – My story starts in 1987 when I won a car.  I was 19 years old.  I was a restaurant worker and community college student at the time.  Not much in the way of income; I was paying for school as I went along.  My car was declared as income on my taxes, so I was suddenly in a higher tax bracket and credit card companies were knocking each other over trying to give me cards.  I got two:  one with a $3500 limit, and one with a $5,000 limit.  I was rich!  I was 19, had a brand new car, and loads of credit.   I carried those balances well into my 30’s.  Along the way, I applied to a “real” college and financial aid, and along came more credit cards and balance transfers and personal loans. I blame no one; I should have educated myself on money management, but I just didn’t care when I was in my twenties.

I got a “real” job and was making good money.  I started paying down my debt.  I went to a consumer credit company to help me.  (I had a Sears card; they were the only ones who would not work with the consumer credit company and kept the   percentage rate at 21%.   Eventually, I had everything paid off and I was only paying my student loan.   I have a federal loan, and I don’t mind paying it off.  I don’t need it to be waived. I knew when I applied that I would pay for my education.  I’m sorry others find themselves so stuck with their student loans, but I want to pay my student loan debt.

Anyway, after I was “debt free”, the offers for new credit came pouring in.  I decided to get a couple new cards “just in case.”  And a personal loan.  Then 9/11 happened.  I worked in an advertising industry.  Times were strained just before 9/11; the economy was starting to show some wear (yep, George W was just in office…thanks for that $300 dollar check, Mr. President!)  Then actors went on strike and the advertising industry got hit pretty good.  Then 9/11 happened and it really shook the country as a whole.  The economy really suffered.  Advertising came almost to a halt.  It was a domino effect:  I saw small businesses close their doors because bigger business had to cut costs.  Local restaurants that relied on lavish business lunches folded because no one was ordering.  I heard horror stories about people showing up to work and finding the door locked and closed for business.

My health suffered.  Luckily I had health insurance at the time.  I had to have emergency surgery.  For me it was the last, life-changing straw.  I planned for a few months, but I quit my job and moved back home with my parents–from California to Virginia.  I carried debt with me.  I planned to go back to school and become a teacher.  That was 10 years ago.  I started out waiting tables.  Then my mom had a stroke.  I stayed home longer than I meant too.  I worked various odd jobs.  I finally found one that was decent pay and I loved it.  But the business was owned by a married couple who had started it on a whim and didn’t know how to keep it going.  I got laid off.

That was in 2007.   I was in debt, had paid some things off, taken out a new personal loan to help pay off other things.  I was playing the credit game.  Then I was unemployed and the credit game wasn’t so funny anymore.

I tried to reason with the credit card companies.  Bank of America and Citibank were the major ones.  I had Capital One, too.  I found a very low-paying job, but it had health insurance, so I took it.  But I could not meet my monthly credit card bills.  I went back to Consumer Credit Counseling.  I started getting things under control.  But things were horribly out of control and it was Citibank that was at the center of it.

Consumer Credit Counseling consolidates your debt.  They work with the credit card companies to lower interest rates and they make the monthly payments.  I would pay Consumer Credit on let’s say the 5th of each month.  They would pay the credit card companies on let’s say the 10th of each month.

Well, Citibank decided that they needed the first payment to be made between the 15th and 31st of each month, or the contract with Consumer Credit would not be valid.  I got a letter from Citibank after the first payment was made on the 10th, and they said they needed a payment made on the 15th.  I alerted Consumer Credit.  They resubmitted.  But apparently somewhere along the way no one noticed the fine print that the payment HAD TO BE MADE ON THE 15TH. Not the 10th…oh no, that was five days to early.  Or maybe that was 25 days too late.  Either way, it wasn’t on the 15th.  So, Citibank started charging late fees, they raised the percentage rate to over 30% and I forget what the other stupid fee was, but this went on for almost a year before I realized it.  I was getting collection calls, but was ignoring them because I thought I was making regular payments and didn’t care.  Well I was making regular payments, but they were below Citibank’s minimum payment.  Thanksgiving D
ay I got an over-nighted letter from them saying I was being taken to court if I didn’t bring my account current.

I opened my old bills, saw that, yes, they were taking the monthly payment from Consumer Credit, but it didn’t count for anything.  The monthly fees they were charging were more than my payments.

I was devastated.  I didn’t feel like I could win.  I was angry and depressed.  I was in a huge hole.  President Obama was newly elected.  AND THE BANKS WERE ASKING FOR BAILOUTS!

Tha was the last straw for me.  The banks needed to be bailed out, but they sure weren’t bailing anyone else out.  They didn’t even try to help me.  Citibank wouldn’t reduce the percentage rate, remove all the late fees…  All because THEY DID NOT GET A PAYMENT ON THE EXACT DATE THEY WANTED IT.  Paying a few days early counted for nothing!  It’s a farce.   No one believed me until I showed them the bills and letters with the dates circled.

I decided my only way out was to declare bankruptcy.  I did it more out of spite than anything.  I did it to bail myself out because no one would help me.  I wrote a letter to President Obama when the bail outs were a big subject.  I wrote to the Governor of Virginia.  I eventually got a letter from his office saying he didn’t deal with that; I need to contact some federal agency.  By then the wheels were in motion.

I completed my bankruptcy almost two years ago.  And immediately I got my final letter saying my bankruptcy was done, I got credit card offers from those same banks.

That is why I hate the banks and I am for Occupy Wallstreet.  That is my personal story.  They are crooks and should be held accountable.  And to offer someone who just declared bankruptcy new credit cards is one of the lowest things they can do.  It just proves that they want to keep the country in debt.  My blood is boiling all over again.  Thanks for the forum to share.  By the way, I am NOT ashamed.  I did my best to pay things back.  Like I said, I am in bankruptcy out of spite more than anything.  And how freeing it is!!!!   I hope others find relief.

Amanda-

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