Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/content/31/8254531/html/occupywallstreetstories/wp-content/plugins/pages-posts/functions.php on line 151

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/content/31/8254531/html/occupywallstreetstories/wp-content/plugins/pages-posts/functions.php on line 172

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/content/31/8254531/html/occupywallstreetstories/wp-content/plugins/pages-posts/functions.php on line 195

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/content/31/8254531/html/occupywallstreetstories/wp-content/plugins/pages-posts/functions.php on line 216
October, 2012 | Occupied Stories

Archive | October, 2012

Grand Jury Resistors In Jail For Contempt Of Court

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared at the Portland Occupier.

“To live outside the law you must be honest.”  –Bob Dylan

I am not sure why I am thinking of these words right now. I am trying to come up with some coherent thoughts, some wisdom about Leah-Lynn Plante, the courageous young woman cited for contempt of court on October 10, after her third refusal to testify before a grand jury, as well as Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine Olejnik who remain imprisoned for contempt of the same grand jury. Before her release on October 17th, Plante spent a week in a Washington state federal prison, largely in solitary confinement, where she could have remained for the next 18 months.

I am thinking about what I have lived through the past 18 months. I saw some of my closest friends marry and others have a beautiful daughter. I more or less finished grieving the loss of my mom. I lost a friend. I’ve loved and felt love. I’ve traveled far, and also extensively around my own neighborhood. I saw Occupy Wall Street bloom from the table of a diner in upstate New Jersey and witnessed Occupy Portland in all its wonders. I’ve seen numerous friends and acquaintances do amazing work. I traded some songs with great musicians and played others for loved ones. Despite being a mediocre painter, I’ve painted. I sent people drawings from Italy — childish compositions that would probably offend the core DNA of anyone who has ever dropped a jam jar on the floor.

With people I hold close I made great zucchini relish and even better tomato sauce; brewed beer both superlative and crappy. I baked about 40 loaves of bread for one of the aforementioned weddings, at which I teared up as someone played Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live’s to Fly.” I cried as I held my wife’s hand and listened to Ray Davies sing “Waterloo Sunset,” and I was in paradise. I saw Roy Haynes — fucking Roy Haynes who has played with some of our greatest artists — drum like he was 27 instead of going on 87. I made many people laugh and too many cry.

I thankfully haven’t seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.

I made new friends who enrich my life and experienced great generosity at their hands and the hands of strangers. I had a pleasant Christmas with my dad. Together we walked a few miles along the mid-Jersey coastline with my brother John. I woke most mornings with my wife at my side. Sometimes at night I put my ear on her chest and listened to her heart beat (listen, listen, listen), heard it pick up pace, and then found my head embraced in her arms. Too many times to count — each one always precious — she has given me the smile that invites me into a rare place where I feel secure, safe and sound.

I have had all these experiences over the past year and a half because of freedom. The Tea Party folks love to talk about their love of freedom. They and their ilk suck on flags and the Constitution, yet spit contemptuously upon their meaning. Liberals talk for the nth time about how this is the most important election in my lifetime — that a dark curtain will descend if Romney wins. Maybe so, but we are far too many years into the criminal and murderous madness of Afghanistan and Iraq — wars supported by Conservatives and Liberals alike. I am told, this latest time by Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in a recent debate, echoing every politician of my lifetime, that it is the soldiers who are defending our freedom abroad. These soldiers being thrown, blackmailed, forced, volunteered, or otherwise crucified on a cross of oil, are surely defending something. But it is not freedom.

As far as I can see, it is people like Plante, Duran, and Olejnik who truly defend freedom by giving up their own. The grand jury once had a reasonable and noble purpose:  it prevented the king from shunting people into perpetual darkness simply because he opposed their actions. What was once a check upon the abuse of power has now become a tool of power, used to break butterflies upon wheels. The grand jury exists to coerce people into snitching on family, friends, co-workers, and co-activists in order to destroy movements that seek justice in an unjust world.

I briefly met Plante a few weeks ago by chance. She is slight of build, in direct physical contrast to how our popular culture typically depicts those of courage and fortitude. Though my capacity to function in social gatherings is, shall we say, less than optimal, I hope I managed to convey my admiration to this young person.

She smiled. I will never forget that. Through all the duress, she smiled. I hope she can continue smiling in a world that has already done its best to make sure she never does so again. I as well hope that when Duran and Olejnik are released, they too can smile, sooner than later.

For the next 18 months they may be giving up their personal freedom because the powers that be have forced their hands. Duran and Olejnik are choosing prison — and Plante made that same choice — because the government of the United States — much of the representative portion of which will be elected in a few weeks — has offered them a devil’s choice: tell us what we want to know or go to jail. In steadfastly refusing to bow to the grand jury, they have chosen principle.

It is because of people like Plante, Duran, and Olejnik, who understand that one of the most important aspects of freedom is standing up to those who oppose it, that I — and hopefully all of you reading this — will be free to spend the next 18 months in the sunlight and darkness of our own choosing.

Plante reportedly received over 200 pieces of mail in four days, something that may have contributed to her release on October 17th. Please take some of your time to write Duran and Olejnik and let them know you appreciate their sacrifice. Send them your admiration. Send them your love. Two hundred times over.

They have earned it.

You can mail Matthew and Katherine at:

Matthew Kyle Duran
FDC SeaTac
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA  98198

Katherine Olejnik
FDC SeaTac
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA  98198

You can find information about Matthew and Katherine, and advice about composing letters to resisters at:

-Pete Shaw-

Photo by Pete Shaw.

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

#globalNOISE Chicago

The day started with a cold rain, that eventually tapered off some in the afternoon, before coming back with a vengeful storm in the evening. The brief respite from the precipitation was mostly well timed for our loud and joyful casserole march through the streets of downtown Chicago.

Our march, targeting the devastating problems caused by economic inequality in our communities, was set to kick off at 3:30 pm from the Thompson Center in the loop. Activists started arriving as early as 2:30 and by march time we had close to 50 brothers and sisters ready to make some noise for justice. we started by heading east to reach the main shopping areas of our fair city. On the march, we stayed on the sidewalks, banging on our pots and pans, shouting and chanting, accompanied by drums and various noise makers. and of course, police were present. We had an escort of 3-5 bike cops, 4-6 walking officers, and at least 2 squad cars. Our casserole march had no real destination, other than the shopping district, so we meandered through streets of downtown Chicago, our destination chosen as much at random as it was to make the officers get some exercise. After marching north on State Street for a while, we headed over further east on Wacker Drive to visit the Hyatt Hotel to deliver a message. We attempted to enter the hotel, but security and police prevented us from accessing the lobby. So we delivered a mic check right in front of their doors, highlighting the myriad of labor battles and terrible worker conditions Hyatt engages in, especially calling attention to the political connections of the wealthy Hyatt Heiress Penny Pritzker and Chicago’s 1% mayor Rahm Emmanuel. After that brief stop, we headed north on Michigan, headed for the “magnificent mile”, Chicago’s premier high end shopping district. Once we crossed the Chicago river, our police escort mysteriously disappeared, so naturally we took the streets. On this particularly busy Saturday afternoon in downtown Chicago, our 50 person #globalNOISE casserole march took over Michigan Avenue for almost a full mile! Traffic slowed as we banged our pots and pans and drums, chanting and inviting others to join. Several people walking by cheered us, and some even joined the fun! the march snaked north on Michigan ave, switching between north and south bound lanes for fun and excitement. At one point a police cruiser did show up, but with a very weak attempt to restore “order”, we ignored them and stayed in the street.

Photo by Jenna Pope (

After reaching Water Tower Place, the consumerist palace capping the north end of Chicago’s magnificent mile, we decided to enter the building to bring our message to the shoppers. immediately upon entering, banging and clanging our metal pots and pans, the mall security set upon us, telling us we had to leave. We of course ignored them and kept moving up the stairs onto the main floor. We made a few circles around the elevators, chanting “while you’re shopping, bombs are dropping!”, and then exited through a Macy’s. Once outside, we began circling in the intersection, waiting for all our comrades. Then we took a quick consensus and decided to head west for a few blocks and then disband the march, regrouping later to discuss and critique the days actions.

Personally, I felt the overall march was a great success. we didn’t know how many participants to expect, or have any real expectations for the route of the march. In the end, a good amount turned out and the fact we were able to take Michigan Ave for so long unhindered by the police was quite exciting. The final action of entering Water Tower Place was more than i expected, and i hope provided a much needed element of reality to those blindly consuming goods in those halls of capitalism.


in solidarity,

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

I Take Your Stuff…

On the weekend of the Occupy Wall Street anniversary I attended a meeting of the Strike Debt assembly in New York. The meeting was a book release for The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, but also a working meeting to get input from all that attended. At the onset of the meeting a couple of people shared their personal stories of debt with the group. This sharing of stories was intended to address the shame, frustration and fear that many feel in connection with their debt. I could understand the logic here, but I found myself having a very strong reaction to the idea of shame being a common reference point for our discussion of debt. I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t think it fit within this construct. I’m in debt, but it is not shame that I feel, it is outrage. I don’t buy into the common American debt narrative: you are in debt because you bought something you couldn’t afford, because you were living beyond your means, because you are lacking in personal responsibility, because you are lazy, etc. The underlying idea here is that debt is a product of choice. But debt is about much more than choice, it is a deliberate and coercive means of control.

After several people involved with Strike Debt had spoken about different aspects of the project, a facilitator asked us come up with a question concerning debt to be posed to the group. I wasn’t really sure how to frame my question, but I was eager to offer my input and get some feedback. So when the mic came around to me I asked, “How does debt relate to theft of resources by 1% corporations?” When corporations go into countries and steal resources to sell them on the global market, often back to those they originally stole them from, how does this relate to debt? The facilitators wrote down the questions people had posed, inviting us to break out into smaller groups and choose one of the questions to discuss. The group I was part of was interested in discussing several of the questions, one participant even adding a question of her own to the list. A few people in the group were particularly interested in the question I had posed and asked me to elaborate on it. I appreciated their interest and enthusiasm, but at the time I felt reluctant to do so. I was much more interested in engaging in dialogue and listening, than in elaborating on my question. Deference to leadership is common within our culture, a show of respect for those who appear knowledgeable and capable (or, in seeming contradiction to the origin of this nation, are divinely appointed). When this is coupled with individual ownership of ideas, another root tenet of our culture, it can be difficult to contribute to a conversation without appearing attached to the ideas one contributes. But if we are truly looking to evolve “our” ideas, and not simply own the soap box, perhaps we should be seeking to free them from ownership, to let them exist independent of individual ego and belief, to invite and encourage modification of the ideas through alternative perspectives.

When it comes to movement building I have always been a big proponent of broadening our focus to include allies internationally, to more objectively understand and address the obstacles we face, as well as to learn and share successful strategies for moving forward. While focusing on a single issue may seem like good strategy for mobilizing a specific group of people affected by and passionate about that particular issue, it can also create a kind of tunnel-vision, blinding us to the broader interconnectedness of multiple issues affecting our larger community. Similarly, we can become trapped inside our own cultural identities, unable to recognize that many of the obstacles we face are a function of these identities. Inclusion of alternative perspectives, free of this cultural bias, can often allow us to see past these obstacles.

International debt relief has been a focus of the global justice movement for many years, but that concept of debt appears quite different from the American (USA) model. It occurs to me that the major difference here is this American illusion of “choice.” When a Bolivian farmer is made to choose between paying for water or feeding his family – is this really a “choice”? When our seniors are made to choose between heating their homes or medicine to keep them alive – is this really a “choice”? When our youth are made to choose between getting an education or supporting their families – is this really a “choice”? All of these “choices” have something in common: resources that have been privatized and then sold off to make a profit. The corporations and financial entities (and governments that empower them) that have privatized (stolen) these resources have no intrinsic right to them and may have even received public subsidies to extract and/or refine them. We  are so indoctrinated into a system of individual ownership in the US, the very concept of “property” enshrined in our Constitution, that we can scarcely conceive of the commons belonging to us. When we provide our labor, why do we not conceive of it as a resource? When we speak of success, why is it not as a function of the combined labor (physical and intellectual) of those who have come before us? When the air, water and land we need to live is jeopardized by corporate abuse, why do we not simply take it away from them? Even our genetic information, the very mystery of life itself, is but another resource to privatize and commodify. Key here is that, once the resources have been extracted, the people will require assistance to make up for the loss to their economies, their livelihoods, their ability to provide for their people’s basic needs. And, as if on cue, in swoops the benevolent benefactor (you know – the same one that stole all your stuff moments ago) to generously provide that needed assistance – at a price…

So how can we recast this American debt narrative of “choice” to be more in line with the one that is known throughout the world? One person in our break out group suggested that we might come up with a sort of overarching metaphor, something to cut through all the complicated financial bs that insulates debt from critique. I mentioned something about native cultures’ conception of land as communal, a gift from the creator, rather than as some thing to be owned. It got me thinking that a deeper look at the concept of ownership itself might be helpful when examining debt. As the break out groups were called on to report back to the larger meeting, I quickly jotted this down in my notebook:

I take your stuff, then I make you pay for it. I take the lion’s share then I make you fight for the crumbs. Then I offer you a “loan” to make up for your loss. Then I sell your debt/use it to make even more money.

I’m not an expert in finance or debt. I have a BFA, not an MBA. But swimming in this financial cesspool of intentional obfuscation, perhaps more expert testimony is not what we need. Perhaps a bit of intuitive common sense instead. When the banking/brokerage kings of finance are allowed to sell 30-40 times more debt (most of it in bundled home mortgages) than they can back up with actual cash money (liquid assets), turning profit on every sale along the way, knowing full well that our taxes will bail their asses out when the junk debt they’re selling goes belly up; maybe we need to be looking beyond the paltry sums that we “owe” them – to the massive amounts of profit they make dealing “our” debt. Whatever we decide to focus on, we should keep in mind: it is only through our common consent to their hoarding of our resources, that we remain indebted to them.


Posted in Debt StoriesComments (1)

Occupy Anniversary Jail Support

New York–I was in NYC from September 14-18 to support the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. I met so many great people, learned so much and even marched into the Financial District to protest the horrible income inequality in our country. But this story is about what took place after the action. This story is about my participation in Jail Support. Occupy Wall Street took amazing care of all the people involved in the three-day gathering, but if by chance you were arrested while serving your country with OWS, you were provided with loving, focused attention. They call their working group Mutant Legal and they take their work very seriously.

As soon as you were arrested lawyers from the Lawyers Guild of New York got your name and immediately provided legal service. I can’t say enough about The Lawyers Guild. They were present everywhere during the three days of gatherings, with their bright green hats, and they provided legal counsel for each person who was arrested.

My job with Occupy was to make sure that people coming out of jail were well taken care of. This involved making sure that they had a good snack or meal if they needed it. Or even a cigarette if they needed one. It involved staying close by for a hug or a suggestion about what to do next. Here is my jail support story.

During one of the Jail Support trainings the day before the actions in the Financial District one of the trainers mentioned that the police often take away a person’s shoelaces and then don’t return them. On Monday afternoon I went down to the courthouse, where some of the people that were arrested on Monday morning were being let out of jail. I sat down on the sidewalk in front of a man and woman who had just been released. They seemed rather shaken and talked about their experience getting arrested. Mostly they were happy to be out of jail and they were happy to have cigarettes and food.

As we talked, I looked down and noticed that they didn’t have any shoe laces so I asked, “Would like me to go and get you some shoe laces?”

“Yes!” was their amazed and appreciative response.

So I walked up to a store on Broadway and found them some shoelaces. After we laced them up together they got up and danced joyously in front of the court house.

Later in the afternoon I moved to another location, One Police Plaza, where people were getting out of jail. A group of Occupy Wall Street Jail Support people had set up shop in a small park close to this spot. I walked there with a small brass band who were also on the way. It seems that one of their friends had been arrested. They welcomed their friend with a rousing brass number.

The mood became more serious and intense when a priest and a nun who had just gotten out of jail appeared among us. I was concerned about the sister because she was shaking all over. She said that she had not been able to eat any of the jail food and she was starving. Fortunately, with a little food and some hugs her shaking stopped and she felt much better. The priest was extremely concerned because he had left his drivers’ license in jail. Later, a police officer came out and returned the drivers’ license. I even heard a report from a friend who said that when the sister was talking to the whole group in jail he saw tears in the eyes of a female police officer.

On Tuesday morning I was back in front of the courthouse. It was a rainy, windy day and one of the Jail Support people had asked me to bring some ponchos. This time I went right into the courthouse with one of the Lawyers Guild lawyers. As people came out of the courtroom I took some basic information from them. These folks were just getting out and they were kind of disoriented. I really wanted them to get outside and get some fresh air, and some food and human contact.

After lunch I went back outside the courthouse. Lots of folks who had gotten out of jail plus other Occupy people were there. Suddenly a woman came up to a young guy who was standing beside me. She was sobbing and saying something like, “They have destroyed my son’s life, they have destroyed my family’s life.” A young man, who was also doing Jail Support, whom I will call Billy hugged her and consoled her. She told us that her son, a 27- year- old Algerian, had been entrapped by the NYPD. He had emotional problems and they used this to their advantage to get him into trouble. She gave us some leaflets with information on how to help her son and left.

Billy started handing out the leaflets to people passing by. A man and woman walked by him and the woman snarled at Billy,“Get a job!” Billy got upset and started talking to the man and woman, explaining that he had tried to enrol in college but he couldn’t afford the tuition. Suddenly the man opened up his coat revealing an NYPD badge. At that point I walked toward the woman and said, “I am a retired school teacher. I have taught for over twenty-five years!” When she saw me walking toward her she shouted at me, “Move back!” It frightened me, and I moved quickly away from her. Billy kept on talking to them.

In the middle of all this I recalled the Jail Support training we had received earlier. One thing the trainers stressed, “It is a really bad thing if jail support people get arrested. Do everything you can to avoid arrest when you are doing jail support!”

So I said to Billy, “Remember, we don’t want to get arrested. Why don’t you move away?” My advice was not well taken. Billy said to me, “I have a right to talk to them!” At that point I just sat down on the steps and hoped for the best. Before too long the police walked away and a bad situation was averted.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to assist, even in a small way, those people who were arrested near Wall Street on September 17. Many of the people arrested chose to participate in non-violent civil disobedience. I remember the saying from the civil rights movement, “Keep your eyes on the prize!” I think that the people with the courage to accept arrest placed their entire beings in danger for all of us. They knew why they had taken the trip to the financial district. A remarkable cross-section of people came to New York on this first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. I think that what the people had in common was their powerful level of commitment and their deep understanding of the injustices in our country.

They took the risk of being arrested, and in spite of the extreme difficulties they faced all around them, they experienced so much love and support from their Occupy friends. I can’t help feeling that for those who were arrested their work will continue with an even greater sense of urgency and commitment.

-David Smith-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)


From this angle all I can see are his boots, more particularly the black military boot, buckled in silver that is blocking my ability to finish my chalk drawing. It is three in the morning and I am about to be arrested. I am using chalk to draw out the blueprints of where the tents had been prior to the dismantling of the Occupy Wall Street encampment by the NYPD in Zuccotti Park. The park sits on a north to south slope just two blocks south of Wall Street and just above the site of Ground Zero. Surrounded by a modern black framed building to the east and a marble brick building remnant of opulent French architecture to the west, in the waking hours these buildings cast an almost permanent shadow over the park, chilling its cement degrees colder than the surrounding areas.

I am kneeling on the cement in what had been the Meditation Circle during the encampment. I can hear the echoes of chants and vaguely see the circle of brightly dressed meditators in my memory. Time has left a shadow imprinted upon me, a memory of the altar built of candles varying from glass cased Virgin Mary candles to hundreds of tea lights. I can recall the heavy smell of sage and frankincense. I can see the yoga mats laid out neatly across the cement. Now the red and deep grey cement forms a circle around a small yearling elm tree, which in turn is surrounded by cold steel blue benches. A lonely businessman sits with his briefcase open on his lap, his eyes blank for he is merely a statue. Directly across the street is a towering, two floor Burger King. Its familiar lighted logo helps cast light onto my drawings.

I had already drawn the blueprints of most of the park under the watchful and suspicious eyes of a crowd of twenty NYPD officers and their white shirted captain. What had been the drummer’s arena was to the east of the meditation circle. Before the eviction, bright clothed drummers had hammered in unison for hours upon hours during the day and into the night, while crowds of tourists swayed unconsciously to the ever present beat. In this mostly dark moment, however, it was an empty set of four stairs overlooking the street and the Burger King and pizza joint on the other side. From the former drummer’s circle you could look straight up and to the right and be humbled by the frame of the 9/11 memorial building. Heavy steel frames, mostly deep red were piled, it felt, as high as the eye could stand to look without looking directly into the sun. What seemed like hundreds and hundreds of feet up the memorial frame someone had spray painted Local 616 in fluorescent orange.

The center of the park had served as our makeshift kitchen, which served 10,000 free meals every day. It had been a bustling center of operations, but now it was quiet. Two cement chess tables complete with benches sat beneath where an eight by ten tent had covered them. Two ten foot wide circles stretched out around another pair of saplings, these with white glittering Christmas lights. In fact, the entire cement ground of the park had been laid with intermittent lights. Every ten feet or so what should have been just another floor brick was a thick glass cover to a floor lamp. It had the effect of making the park appear to be a chess board in the evening.

On the side facing Wall Street was the 15 meter tall sculpture of bright orange. I had never taken the time to look into its origins but had heard the rumors it was called “Liberty.” There was in fact a certain spot where one could stand where the humbling orange sculpture seemed to appear as a massive dollar sign towering over the business people who rushed to and from their workplaces every day. As I drew, I heard the sound of the falafel trucks closing down for the evening. In the days of the encampment there would be almost ten of them circling the park, each truck highlighted by massive photographs of meal options. In this moment, in the tense darkness, there were only a few left. One or two I could see out of the corner of my eyes, packing up their tools for the few hours before dawn.

Now, as I stared at the boot of the police officer, who informed me if I got any chalk on him I was going to be sorry, I tried to recreate the beautiful altar in the meditation circle. I drew dripping candles with flames, flowers and sets of beads. I knew my arrest was imminent and put my heart into the last few flower petals. I wasn’t facing the park, but from my kneeling position I could imagine the empty chessboard behind me. I vaguely hear the park official tell me stop, and the sound of police officers echoing his commands, but I wasn’t finished. As the police officers circled around me and the captain made his order, I held on to my chalk as tightly as I could.

-Jo Robin-

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Same Old Story

After graduating High school, I was young and brash, and definitely not interested in further schooling.  I was also an excellent musician and knew with absolute certainty that I would eventually make my living as a musician and performer.

At the age of 23, after a series of dream and soul-crushing factory temp jobs, I decided to attend college for music education.

I still have the unshakeable belief that I will be a musician, but decided that it would be good to have a backup career in a field that I love.

I attended university for three years, and was rejected from the school of music there three times (the reason I was given for one rejection was that my hair was too long, but that is an entirely different story).  I auditioned and applied at two further schools and was outright rejected from both.

Frustrated, I withdrew from college, finally beginning to realize just how hopeless my situation was becoming.  My original $10k in student loan debt has skyrocketed.  The only jobs available to someone in my situation around here are through temp agencies, who 1) run credit checks for their “better” jobs, and 2) hold you to impossibly strict attendance and performance regulations (O once worked 14 hour days for 8 days straight; I was fired on the ninth day for being 15 minutes late to work in 16 inches of snow).

Now, I receive monthly notices and multiple-times-daily, seven-day-a-week phone calls from no fewer than five collection agencies (two of which claim to be authorized to collect the same debt).

I refuse to answer the phone, I throw away the notices unopened.  They can sue me if they like, I have nothing left to give.

I’m 30 years old, single, and live with my mother.  I have no life and no future, and it’s all because I was too stupid to realize just what I was getting myself into.  All I can do now is try to help expose our current education-financial system for what it is: a predatory method of enslavement that replaces shackles and chains with dollar signs.


Posted in Debt StoriesComments (2)

Senior Citizens are Bound to College Loan Debt unto Death They Do Part

I took out a student loan of $4,000, for my son when he was still in college–he’s now forty-three years old, so you do the arithmetic.

The principal is now well over $10,000. I now draw social security and am required by law to send a percentage of my (meager) monthly social security check to Sallie Mae towards the interest on that student loan for the remainder of my days on planet earth–unless and until the president of the U.S. grants me a discharge of obligation.

Student loans cannot be discharged under bankruptcy. One can be old, broken and homeless and still be required to repay their student loan.

We need to start a movement to have the president discharge college loan debts (parent or student) of any senior citizen whose sole source of income is social security.

I’d volunteer for that!

Posted in Debt StoriesComments (2)

My Year with Occupy

I remember July of 2011, complaining loudly to friends and family, “Isn’t it obvious to everyone now that we are getting screwed by the government and the banks? It’s all over the papers. What’s it take for people to stand up?” Little did I know that hundreds of thousands felt the same way, and that I would stand with them as the following year took me down the path of revolution.

When I first read about the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street, I remember my heart leaping into my throat. Could this be? I watched carefully, read the articles, and started following them on Twitter. Many say that Twitter has been an unwitting aid to revolutions around the world. It’s funny how the easiest, fastest, free service of global idea circulation can help organize the people, isn’t it? Sparks became flames quickly — if the Middle East could rebel against heinous dictators, could we not stand in our streets, in the belly of our free-market, free-doom dragon and demand justice?

Living in Chicago, I could not visit Liberty Park, or as one percenters call it, “Zuccotti Park”. I watched videos and looked at photos online, knowing I would be there if I hadn’t left Brooklyn two years before. So when seven hundred protesters were led by police across the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st, I watched the video the next day of their entrapment and arrests as though it were my body on the line. As though on cue, an old friend from high school texted me about going to Occupy Chicago that day. I went down to the intersection of Jackson and LaSalle and was greeted by a warm, electric drum circle that would rise, burst, and hum down the block. All around me, people of various classes and races were entrenched in deep political conversations in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. There was a table with a paper sign that read “tech”, another table with food and coffee, and a buzz of excitement vibrating the air and making me smile. Back at this time, there w
ere a few cops present and they liked the occupiers, or so we thought. They brought us coffee in the morning!

Over the following month, I led chants at various marches and General Assemblies and learned how the most disparate group of people could operate via channels of democracy, expression, and 90% consensus for every decision. That consensus was so important, and yet of course made for long meetings at the Horse downtown, the cold concrete steps wearing down everyone’s strength. I closed my bank account with Chase, and made a sign out of my debit card pieces. Occupiers taught me the interconnections of our corrupted systems — the greed bearing down on every industry, squeezing labor in an endless pursuit of profits at all costs, at very human costs. I recognized the flood of money corrupting the powerful, drugging them to endlessly legislate the expansion of their own powers and fortunes. I peered deep into the cracks of our society: the empty houses and the homeless not allowed to sleep or exist, the prisons of profit, full of black men, the war against black people, the suppre
ssion of a race, enforced by our police, whom I stopped regarding as protectors.

One General Assembly towards the end of November, a man stood up and said he had written a play for artists within occupy to perform. I knew this was my skill set, and I felt immediately I would be a hypocrite not to approach the playwright. I had been looking for a way to give more to the movement, and found it by working alongside William C. Turck to flesh out the script, find a director and cast, perform the lead and co-direct the production. “Occupy My Heart”, a modern day Christmas Carol set against the backdrop of the occupy movement, was one of the purest labors of love I have ever been involved in. Every time we met, the cast had deep conversations about the role of art, how we could reach a wider audience than a protest, and the story of resistance we had to tell.

In the middle of the rehearsal process I had planned a weekend trip to New York. I was there just in time to witness the December 12th Winter Garden arrests, where a man holding a laptop livestreaming the event (that is, dancing and singing in a public atrium) was slammed violently to the ground at my feet: the first arrest that broke the crest of celebration, and dragged our spirits into the deep murky waters of the NYPD. I remember screaming desperately, “Why?!” My white privileged eyes had never seen a police officer grapple so violently with a clearly innocent man, and the realization of their intentional silencing of the press, as they targeted every person with a camera, and others shouting that they were journalists, crushed me. An officer took me by the arm, pulling me to the door with a tight grip. I asked over and over, “Why can’t I be here? This is a public space! What law am I breaking? Why can’t I be inside?” To which the officer mostly ignored me, then responded gruffly, “you know why,” and threw me out the door. When we crowded around the windows, the police put a line of men between the glass and us. Then they put a metal barrier up in front of them, and I saw the fear of the powerful written all over the police’s tactics, but only bland resentment on their faces. I told them that we were fighting for their pensions, for their children’s right to a good education, for their parents’ health care, and one officer turned quietly to me and said “Thank you.” I asked them to raise their hand if they thought this was a good use of their time, when probably someone was getting murdered in New York City right at that moment. None felt strongly enough about what they were doing to move. I noticed what looked like a graying business man in a suit behind the police line, keeping an eye on everything that was happening. I was followed after that event to a deli, where I waved at a man whom I guess, from his brazen stare and terrible overcoat, was an FBI agent. I went back to Chicago rattled, angry, and even more determined.

Occupy My Heart opened on December 23rd: we braved one incredible performance outside in Grant Park for Occupy Chicago, thirty of whom endured the cold to march to the site and watch us perform the hell out of our play. We made the Chicago Tribune, and followed up with four more free performances indoors. The response was incredible, our talk backs afterwards were unexpectedly inspirational and motivating for me. We were helping people understand that the world could be different, and that everyone could do something about that. More than once, the audience asked us, what will the Occupy Players do next? The group of artists glanced with blushes at one another — we didn’t know. At the fourth performance so many came that we had to turn people away, and the last performance was an absolute fire hazard, but no one cared. When another audience member asked that same question, I answered that I was going to start writing a play. Indeed, it had been in my head for years already –
– a factual re-enactment of the financial crisis, but now I knew it would be a street performance, and end with a people’s uprising which would further fuel the actual uprising happening in the streets at any protest.

From then on, I was hooked. The audience was hungry, and I knew what to feed them. The Occupy Chicago Rebel Arts Collective formed, I worked on my play, Machine Breaks Down, People Rise Up, and I began to lead Theatre of the Oppressed workshops at Occupy Chicago. Activism is already tangled up in that Brazilian theatre practice; it was created to revolutionize communities and I continue to love working with it and occupy. I met more occupiers from all over the country this way, threw multi-media art events and fundraisers for various causes within and without the movement, wrote performance poetry for occupy, and generally did my best to spread the message of occupiers to the public. In the meantime, a network of political artists of all forms blossomed in Chicago. I organized and created (with a lot of help), the interactive twelve-foot sculpture called the Wishing Tree, a symbol for Occupy Chicago’s April 7 Spring kick-off, to help display our thoughtful and peaceful intent
ions before the inevitable clash at the NATO summit. We performed our financial allegory (Machine Breaks Down) at three different events before NATO, including the People’s Summit, and it was performed in early September 2012 at the Occupy the Space theatre festival in Manhattan. These networks keep laying down more roots, growing higher and out, and my heart keeps expanding to include more causes as the movement opens my eyes to all kinds of oppression, injustice and inequity in this world.

I now recognize our occupation, our movement to occupy every form of oppression everywhere, to be the only possible tide to rise against the financial-governmental machine of privatization, profitization, racialization and devastation of our homes, lives, bodies and thoughts. The one percent demands that we believe in their systems and institutions even as they crack and fall all around them, but the time has come for human beings to evolve. I will continue to use my skills as a writer, performer, and organizer to fuel the worldwide revolution for a sustainable culture until I wake up every last sleepy consumer. I occupy my art and other’s minds as best I can — I see no other way to be!

I suspect the years ahead hold many ups and downs for our goals, but as I watch laborers of all kinds strike all over the world, and people rise up against their governments from Egypt to Spain to Lybia to Greece to Chile to Canada to China to Manhattan… I see the tide is rising, in more ways than one. With the arctic melting fast, we only have a few years to end our self-destruction. The time to stand up is now! On the anniversary of my first year with occupy, I ask you to occupy your life — in every and any way. Revolutionize your every day; radicalize your thinking. As I often chant with my brothers and sisters, while dancing uncontainably in the streets:


Another world is coming — and all of us are making it.

– Teresa Veramendi –

Posted in StoriesComments (0)

Debt for an M.S.

I’m 62 and borrowed $12,700 at age 40 to go to a state school and get a B.S. I worked while in school, got job at UMass after graduation, started paying off loans. While working got an M.S. and took in school deferments, got a better job at UMass, made payments, figured I paid between $5-7K on the loan when job funding began to tank. Sporadic work since then; no work or low pay since. Got financial hardship forbearance from Sallie Mae and all the while interest was being capitalized even though I blacked out that part of forbearance form. So now I owe about $28,000–from interest on top of 9% interest on top of interest ad infinitum; maybe $7,000 goes to $28,000 which I will never be able to pay back. Sallie Mae will not send a breakdown of my account or deviate from scripted demand for payment. For 2 years I’ve earned $8 per hour, 20 hours a week, now up to $9.50 an hour. It is pointless to even make small payments because I’ll still be in default and I can’t afford it anyway. NO way out. Boy, do I regret going back to school. I just started collecting Social Security–will Sallie Mae go after that or try to garnish my $237.50 a week pay?

I believe lenders love it when people begin to fall behind or can’t pay because they can just continue to pile on interest knowing the borrower can’t pay it, and they will basically have the borrower in debt for years and years. What a system! No, it’s not financial aid; it’s a dangerous loan/gamble that can be very very costly and destructive.

Posted in Debt StoriesComments (0)


On Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary, over 180 people were arrested–including journalists doing their jobs. Below are first-person accounts from journalists arrested at various actions throughout the day.



My State-Sponsored Assault, Courtesy of the NYPD: Journalist John Knefel recounts his violent arrest by the NYPD during #S17 and his subsequent experience in custody.





A Journalist’s Arrest at #S17“I’ve learned how to get my story without getting bagged. Or so I thought.”








What’s Wrong With This Picture?: The Story of My Arrest by the NYPD: During the Occupy anniversary protests, a photographer is arrested for taking photos on a sidewalk outside the press pen.





Posted in StoriesComments (0)