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November, 2012 | Occupied Stories

Archive | November, 2012

Always Low Wages

Black Friday is always day of resistance for me, at least it has been in recent years. Last year I remember Occupy said it was “Buy Nothing Day” and I didn’t really do much, other than sitting around my house. This time I didn’t want to sit around. I heard about the Wal-Mart Strikers and so my whole family got in the car and drove the nearest plaza with a Wal-Mart. Happy with glee, I found there were protesters.

My family and I climbed the hill, where at the top there were 20 protesters with signs in solidarity with the workers. My mom left after asking a few people and determining that there were no workers there. Instead, my dad and I stayed up there, and looking around one could see people of all colors and creeds. I took a sign they had and stood there on the corner as I held the flimsy sign blowing in the wind. I felt such solidarity standing there with others, on that corner. People were sitting up on a white-painted wall, as others stood by the curb side, while cars honked in support of workers. Then, after about an hour, I and my dad left, saying we’d return.

After a series of delays and such, we came back about two hours later. But the other protesters were gone. We engaged in what one would call vigilante activism. We protested on the corner, as I sat up on the wall with a sign that said “HONK IN SUPPORT OF WAL-MART WORKERS” while my dad had a sign that said “WAL-MART=ALWAYS LOW WAGES,” a sign I had made earlier but used again. I ended up taking the major role, sitting on the wall as people honked for workers (probably about 100 honks), and my dad yelled out at cars. It was exhilarating no doubt, sitting on that white-painted wall, thanking people for honking in support of workers. It was a two-man show, but that was okay because we were standing for the workers. This action seemed to follow these thoughts in my head, of Charlie Chaplin leading a march in Modern Times, and when I walked around before with a sign against Israel’s war of aggression in Gaza. Then it all ended. My mom came in a car, calling from the parking lot below. Then she came to the hill where we were, my dad and I taped up a sign that said to honk for Wal-Mart workers, and it was over. But I knew this time wouldn’t be the last time I would stand for justice in the world.

-Burkley Hermann-

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Videos: Walmart Workers Strike on Black Friday

A compilation of videos from actions around the country supporting striking Walmart workers on Black Friday (AKA Buy Nothing Day) 2012. Check back often for more videos!

from @occupiedstories on twitter

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Earth Evictions, Disaster Relief, and a Whole New World

When I first heard that earth eviction was the theme for the November 17th day of action, I was excited and a little saddened. I was excited because the day continues a push back against Wall Street we saw escalated by Occupy. “Wall Street is Drowning Us” would be our main theme. “Climate crisis = economic crisis.” Saddened because we have been pushed out so many times, sometimes by developers or the city, or today by planet itself.

Last year on N17, we planned a direct action on Wall Street. I was part of the shrub block.

We were part of the Liberty park which we had been kicked out of, finding our way into the streets throughout the city. “Kick us out the parks, we’ll take the streets,” we chanted throughout the rally. “Hey Bloomberg, Beware! Now Liberty Park is everywhere.”

Times Up! held a planning for this year’s N17 action at ABC No Rio. If earth eviction was the theme Times Up! would highlight a few of the other evictions which happen every day, especially in New York. Life here involves a constant process of navigating between spaces where we organize and build community, and the ongoing displacements, when we are forced to flee from spaces where we have slept and connected, which are just part of life in this neoliberal city. So, Times Up! organized an earth evictions ride in which we would revisit a few of these sites on the way to the N17 action beginning at the New York public library.

Riding over the action I stumbled upon police parked in bike lanes, as they texted and chatted. That these spaces represent opportunities for safety for riders seems to mean very little to them. The police are more than comfortable occupying community spaces, rendering them functionality useless. It is a phenomena taking place all over Brooklyn and New York.

 Bikes parked on Hoyt and Stanton Streets, photos by B. Shepard

The earth eviction ride met at ABC No Rio, a squatted arts building on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan which has eluded eviction, though its been under constant threat. Riding up Avenue B, we passed East 7th St site of Esperanza Community Garden, a place where people shared space, a coffee, warm moments by a bon-fire during its eviction defense and subsequent bulldozing by the city in 2000.

Trees outside the Lower East Side Ecology Center were still suffering after branches has been ripped from them during the storm. Up Avenue B, we rode past Kate’s joint, a veggie dive which provided food for the encampment at Esperanza back in the day, before it finally shut its doors, a victim of high rights and changing times. Further up B we rode past Charas, a community center, and Chico Mendez, a garden. Both were spaces where Lower East Siders converged, battered about ideas, and exchanged resources before their subsequent evictions by the Giuliani administration. Spaces where we meet for cross class contact are always a threat to the powers that be. Over and over again, the neo-cons of the world dismantle “the institutions that promote communication between classes, and disguising [their] fears of cross-class contact as “family values.” Unless we overcome our fears and claim our “community of contact,” it is a picture that will be replayed in cities across America.” Spaces where we connect are always facing evictions. These evictions take multiple forms.

Today, it seems like the earth is evicting us. At least this is how it feels riding past the dislocated neighborhoods, ravaged by Sandy. Our ride continued past the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Spaces, whose basement was flooded by the storm. The museum’s opening was supposed to take place last weekend, but it is being pushed up to December 8th.

And of course, a year ago this week, we were evicted from Zuccotti Park, by the NYPD.

All these evictions zoomed through my head riding up to the NY Public Library for the N17 Earth Eviction Defense. Arriving at the NY Public Library, a mob of college students and members of Occupy the Pipeline were there to connect the dots between environmental struggles. Moving down the now sanitized 42nd street we staged a street theater performance outside of the JP Morgan Chase “to prevent the 1% from foreclosing on the planet,” noted the Tar Sands Blockade. “The Earth Eviction Defense is occurring ahead of UN climate talks in Doha this November. As the Kyoto Protocol expires this year, what happens at this gathering will have a long lasting impact on the future of the earth.”

Scenes from N17. Photos by Stacy Lanyon

Photo by Stacy Lanyon

A central piece of this activism has recently involved the mutual aid networks expanding from those evicted from Zuccotti Park to the relief stations organized via Occupy Sandy in Staten Island and the Rockaways. My group, Times Up! has been organizing Fossil Fuel Disaster Relief Bike Rides to carry food and supplies from 520 Clinton Avenue to the Rockaways. In the days after the storm, cycling increased citywide, as cycling came to be seen as a solution to a myriad of problems. As the group’s press release explains:

Time’s Up Delivers Foods, Blankets, Bike-Powered Charging Stations, and Mobile Bike Repair to Neighborhood Devastated by Sandy.

The weekends of Nov 10th & Nov 18th Times Up! organized Fossil Fuel Disaster Relief bike rides to deliver food, blankets and other much-needed supplies, over 10 bike-powered charging stations, and mobile bike repair units to neighborhoods in the Rockaways devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Using human power & their fleet of bike-trailers, cargo-bikes & baskets they picked up heavy loads of supplies from Occupy Sandy’s main distribution center at 520 Clinton Street in Brooklyn and cycled them over to the Drop-off center in the Rockaways run by Rockaway Taco & Veggie Island at 183 96th Street.

From there the volunteers distributed individual packages to home-ridden families in hard to reach areas, helped with clean-up, demolition and construction, and provided free bike repair and bicycle-generated power – sustainable solutions to the devastation caused by climate changed from the burning of fossil fuels.

The Time’s Up! energy bikes, used to generate bike power for OWS last year, will stay in the Rockaways to be used by the community as an alternative to the gas generators currently being used to charge devices operating only at 1% capacity and pollute the air we breath.

These rides highlight the need for relief not only from the immediate disaster, but also the root-cause of this disaster and others – the burning of fossil fuels.

Throughout the week, Keegan (a fellow Times Up! member) and I had talked about the similarities between Shakespeare’s Tempest and the efforts of Occupy Sandy. New York really was hit by a tempest. Yet, in response, we have started creating a new world based on care, mutual aid, and innovation. At Judson on Sunday, Michael Ellick suggested that such a world requires a framework for radical forgiveness of not only debts but of sins and personal flaws. It imagines creating a new form of ethics, something new of our social relations. It also requires care.

Arriving at the Times Up! space Peter Shapiro and Keegan greeted me. I said hello, introducing myself to a few of the other riders. One man worrying about his knees before the ride, when Peter chimed in that he needed not worry about he knees or feel like he needs to rush. Afterall, “even a crotchety guy” like him “could find this ride to be transformative” after he took part the previous week. The Rockaways are full of lovely oxygen, great air we can all enjoy. Air that will revitalize us, he explained. Throughout the trip from 99 S. to 520 Clinton Ave, we all talked, enjoyed the air, and the convivial social relations.

When we got there, we all enjoyed the mutual aid signs seem all over the church. Mutual aid is a different set expectations; it asks us all to share, to be fully human. It helps highlight who we are and can be. And most of all it is direct action.

Signs and literature on mutual aid at 520 Clinton Ave.

Gandhi implored his followers to spin their own fabric in defiance of British colonial rule. In doing so, he suggested they could create their own power. Energy emanated from spinning their own clothes. “The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses,” stated Gandhi. The same thing happens people powered energy, Times Up cycling events and energy bikes, recharging people’s phones, while sharing our lives with others. Through these rides, we divest ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels, while sharing what we have with others. The joyous rides, in which we pull trailers of supplies from 520 Clinton to Veggie Island, are our form of mutual aid.

“I just really enjoy it,” explained one of the riders. “You can’t say I am not getting something out of this.”

With these expanding mutual aid networks in mind, Alexandre Carvalho , of the Occupy Revolutionary Games Working Group, sent a post on “The #MutualAid network and the aftermath of #OccupySandy” to the September 17th list serve on November 19th.

I really see the advent of #OccupySandy as the beautiful religare to Occupy’s spirit of Zuccotti Park. a relational atmosphere that was missing from the scene in a while and is the cornerstone of what we do – a deep respect and solidarity with human beings in suffering, first and foremost. Meaningful movements have Lost Paradises, certain lost times, which serve as ethical compass for political dispositions. the park is our Paradise Lost. that eerie smooth human atmosphere that is at the core of what makes us human. The parks and streets and communities of the world are our roving Paradises – this time, Paradises that can be found and built together.

Aristotle once wrote that #poiesis is to “learn by making”. the new #Mutual Aid network of OWS should stay even after the destruction of the hurricane is over and done: there will always be natural disasters, and human-caused disasters to struggle side-by-side against, such as poverty, oppression, violence, environmental degradation, labor exploitation, injustice.

These silent daily disasters also need a hurricane of mutual aid. a grassroots #MutualAid arm, delivering direct [mutual aid] action from the people, by the people, to the people. seems to be the rebirth of OWS, from a political and ethical standpoint: always inviting and invited, respectful of differences, listening first and talking last, non-controlling or mass maneuvering, and above all making love the highest play.

if we are to have dogmas – and maybe we all need to believe in something… maybe the only one really worthwhile all along was love.”
Making his argument, Alexandre looked to the absurdist spirit of the Dada movement to suggest:
“MADA this,
MADA that
NADA this
DADA that!

Mutual Aid as Direct Action is a meme that wants to fly.”

Much of this spirit powered our ride down Bergen across Brooklyn on Flatbush to the Rockaways. “It was a wonderful ride,” noted my friend JC as we crossed the bridge to Jacob Riis, where piles of rubbage fill what was once a putt putt golf course. “That’s so telling of our culture,” mused JC. A peddi cab driver, he had taken part in our puppy pedal parade earlier in the spring. The rambunctious ride was enjoyed by kids, animal lovers and cyclists. “Love seemed to emanate from that ride,” he mused.

With piles of wreckage to the right and water to the left, we rode along the waterline down to Veggie Island at 96th Street. “The sea looks like it wants to run over the wall and up the street,” Keegan noted looking at the water lunging up to the sea wall. Rising sea levels are transforming the way we understand cities. And none of this phenomena is new. Cities such as Venice, Italy have been coping with rising sea levels for years now. New York’s waterfront has always been permeable. Battery Part was once a landfill from the World Trade Center. One day, the wreckage may be covered by sea once again.

“The earth does not have opinions. It just does what it does,” noted Peter, overlooking the piles or rubble.

“It looks like a third world country,” noted my friend Stephen, who lead the ride, as we arrived in Veggie Island. Piles of trash lined the streets, houses condemned, couches in the middle of the streets – scenes of Sandy along the waterfront. It was all so reminiscent of Katrina.

I dropped material off, turned around and rode back up Flatbush home, past Brooklyn’s neighborhoods, along the Botanical Garden, where yellow leaves line the sidewalk, once mighty trees coping without broken-off branches, open skies where there were once trees. Down Union Street my ride took me through Park Slope, across the Gowanus Canal, home and back to school to teach. It’s a good tired finishing a ride like this, a good tired of nearly forty miles connecting my life with larger movements of people, hopes, aspirations, tragedies, pleasures and anguish of a world far bigger than myself.

Photo by Juan Carlos Rodriguez

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Video: Hey Walmart! Respect the Workers!

Hey Walmart! Respect the Workers! from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

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Election Day, 2012

New York, NY–Recently someone asked me if it was true that most people that joined Occupy did so for “selfish” reasons, meaning their lost home, lack of steady employment or underutilized college degree. I told her I thought for some it might have started that way, but Occupy was a place where those people had encountered others like them, where they had built a community, and where they had come to understand that their personal grievances were tied to a larger structural failure.

These words now echo in my mind as I sit in the freezing darkness of the Rockaways, after less than a week of relief work with the communities here that were devastated by superstorm Sandy.

I’m sitting in the dark under the light of a tiny flashlight writing from the second floor of my beloved friend Heather’s house. I hear the buzzing of an infinite line of ambulances brought from all over the country by FEMA as they burn precious gas outside waiting in line to evacuate seniors from a nursing home in preparation for a new storm coming our way tomorrow.

I still remember all the work we put into fixing up this house when my friend decided to move out here last summer. I took the long train ride out here a couple of times to help her rip off carpeting, tweeze out staples from the floor, stop by the beach for a quick swim and then back to painting walls and building a library. So much work went into making this house a home.

Today I walked in surrounded by total darkness, to find myself in an emptied out living room. Around the corner, a hub of kindness and solidarity has been built in the last few days as Occupy Sandy Relief set up shop in order to put words into action and show what mutual aid really looks like.

It almost sounds unnecessary to recount the myriad encounters of the last few days, and the stories that accompany the flood of strangers that have become brothers and sisters in this enormous effort. I don’t want to fetishize their need or glorify our instinctive desire to lend a hand.

I just came out here to help my friend clean her house after the strong winds and high waters battered it, my friends from Occupy just happened to be around the corner.

Perhaps it’s just that the personal is political. Always. Blah, blah, blah.

I could hardly care less who my overlords are by tomorrow.

All I know is, there’s a storm coming tomorrow, and I need to make sure everyone is safe and warm.

-Sofia Gallisa Muriente-

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Crushed by Debt

Born into a middle class family who owned a mom & pop grocery store operating on a cash basis, you may not realize it but you’re taught that cash is king. Qualifications for loans or credit cards were never discussed. The real world is quite different on your own, parents deceased, store gone, just a working stiff trying to live the American dream. Land contract you thought bought your house is defaulted on by mortgagee and about to be foreclosed. IRS wants payment plan? Under water is not a reasonable term, more like frozen in ice. Credit report agencies won’t budge, a three way triplecross. What are my chances?

-Jon Tucci-


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From mutual aid to mutual inspiration

I was a bit freaked out about this storm on the night before it hit, which increased as the hours passed and I followed my bud @occuweather’s tweets regarding the storm. Having come through the storm with minimal roof damage and a leak, I started checking in with family and friends to ensure they were fine.

I got a call mid-morning on Tuesday from two awesome friends and fellow occupiers, Laura and Diego, who needed help locating shelters and hubs in Red Hook and Rockaways since those areas were horribly hit by the storm. I had power and was ready to do what I could. I had no clue how I would find places, so I started with Red Cross Locations as locations. I had a dry erase board that I planted on the ground and started listing shelters by borough and plugging in these places with cross-streets on a document. I got FEMA number and info for Spanish-speaking people as well. Keeping in contact with both Laura and Diego, I sent this information to them. They printed and canvassed areas to provide information door to door to anyone who needed it.

This sent me on a whirlwind of an adrenaline-fueled anxiety rush that intensified as I kept seeking information. I decided I had to use what I could to get the information out to anyone I was connected to about shelters and FEMA and any details that would be helpful. It dawned on me that I needed to send out information to people regarding New Jersey. I tried to get verification from friends and family of what conditions were like where they lived or had family, and many couldn’t respond, which I confirmed later was due to loss of power. I still kept posting on Twitter and Facebook, the information I could and thought would be of use.

More and more Occupiers began plugging into the group of people trying to mobilize efforts to reach out to all the communities that were in desperate need of water, food, and basic supplies. Reports kept coming in about Barrier areas in New Jersey and then NYC and the other boroughs. I was so overwhelmed and felt hopeless that all I could do was gather info and post, update and tweet out. All forms of transportation were shut down and I was home with my son, hoping to shield him from the hurricane porn and my own panic over the destruction this storm had caused.

In what seemed to be less than 24hours Occupy Wall Street morphed into @OccupySandy and I was tuned into the hyper speed network from an angle I had never experienced. Once the group found the ability to tackle efforts for NJ, I began gathering more info to assist with this aspect, which is now called @OccupySandyNJ. It was a bit easier to gather data since I have family and friends in different areas of NJ, and I used them as sources of information. I was connecting w lots of people through Facebook that were and still are working toward a common goal of making sure the communities that could be reached had or could attain what they lost in the storm. I got super addicted and was sleeping 3hours a night for the first five days after the storm. Being part of how this came to be this wonderful efficient expanded system of #mutualaid still amazes me and baffles me because it was so rapid.

At the first opportunity to get out on the ground and canvass areas that were possibly hardest hit I headed south on a train and met other occupiers who were ready to push this through for NJ with me.
Fast forward to today. We have multiple hubs in NYC and the boroughs and NJ has Hubs and great connections in at least 7 communities with countless drop off zones all over the state. I am currently the connection for the central hub in Newark NJ, which runs 24/7, feeding large groups and accepting donations from everywhere, which the entire community in Newark comes to in order to begin the process of putting their lives together.

The stories of empowerment that we hear on our nightly conference calls, through twitter and on Facebook keep fuelling me to push through. I have never been so proud and equally amazed at the occupy community that I belong to. I am extremely humbled by the people within the communities I grew up in because of how we have banded together to defeat the threat and devastation this storm posed on our lives. It has manifested into #mutualinspiration. It has been a gift to be so involved in this effort because knowing how this all came to fruition and that the beauty of humanity is continually winning in the face of devastation, gives me hope that my son will inherit a community full of humanitarian support, interdependence, and above all LOVE!

-Katherine Ramos-

Read more #OccupySandy Stories >>

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Digging in at Jacobi, Digging out Far Rockaway

In my time with the occupy movement, I’ve been a part of hundreds of conversations about the ‘future’ of the movement and tiring debates about what direction to go next. These conversations and debates have often been fraught with disagreement and hot tempers, and most of the time end in frustration or too many proposals tabled for discussion. Its funny how sometimes the things you don’t and can’t plan for are the things that force you to pivot and change direction.

As “Superstorm” Sandy came ashore, I really did not expect it to do as much damage as it did. I’m from Miami – I’ve been through countless hurricanes (and even Irene in New York) and had chocked up the hype around this storm to the usual fear-mongering of the media machine. I experienced the storm seated at my computer, intermittently checking social media websites to see what was going on. When I started seeing photos of a flooded lower Manhattan, videos of power stations exploding and cranes precariously dangling from skyscrapers, I began to understand that the repercussions of this storm were going to be on a grand scale. I was proven correct the next day as more pictures of the devastation in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island and other affected areas starting cropping up online. Personally, I never lost power and my neighborhood of Jackson Heights was left relatively unscathed by the storm. But I knew that in other parts of the city, people had lost everything. And I wanted to help.

I was elated as murmurings began in my many occupy email lists of a occupy-led relief effort, but when I went down to one of the main distribution hubs in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for the first time I was truly blown away. I spent the day today sorting donations, answering questions, directing traffic and generally running around like crazy. The stream of donations was constant; even as we were leaving, two U-Hauls were pulling up full of more stuff. Occupiers (READ: not FEMA or the Red Cross) were coordinating the distribution of these goods to the worst affected areas in NYC AND sending hundreds of volunteers to these sites to provide relief. While one group is helping a family gut their flooded basement in Far Rockaway, another is going door to door on Coney Island checking if folks are ok and delivering supplies. The sheer human effort at work here is breathtaking, reminiscent of the ‘good ol’ days’ (a little over a year ago) at Liberty Square. This is a people-powered recovery. We’re going where the institutions are not – hell they are giving us supplies to distribute!

A week after volunteering at Jacobi, I had the opportunity to go down and help first-hand in Far Rockaway. This time I was also blown away, not as much by organizational work going on, but by seeing this shattered community come together to recover. After checking in at YANA (which stands for You Are Never Alone, a community center acting as Occupy’s hub in the Rockaways), I went down to Beach 60th Street, right where water meets land. Here the boardwalk had been ripped apart and lay strewn on the beach and on the street. Directly across from it, houses were practically buried in 4 to 6 feet of sand that had washed up during the storm. In fact, most of these streets were absolutely inundated with tons and tons of sand. It wasn’t exactly what I thought I was going to see upon going out there. I was ready for mangled houses and moldy basements, but seeing the piles and piles of sand everywhere – and the hundred or so people with shovels and wheel barrows engaging in the Sisyphean feat of digging it out – really took me back. I thought about the people here and what it must be like to have every single possession washed away, but I also thought a lot about the utter power of nature. How quickly it had reclaimed this tiny barrier island and essentially shut it down.

After a few hours of working with both volunteers from outside and community members, the sun began to set and we were advised to leave before ‘the darkness.’ As I got back into the bus that brought me out there and prepared to leave, I looked back at all the people who lived here that didn’t have that option. They would face another long, cold night at the edge of New York City and of the media’s consciousness. I was exhausted after a laborious day moving sand around, but I had a heated, lighted home to return to. These people had no where to go but back to their cold, damp, dark houses. After over 2 weeks, they’re still living in these conditions – powerless, both in the electrical and political sense of the word. There are many beautiful moments of solidarity and kinship happening every minute here, but there is also a lot of work yet to be done.

-Danny Valdes-

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VIDEOS: Two Updates from the Rockaways

These videos, by Kisha Bari, were featured at How Sandy Hit Rockaway.In each, a resident describes the difficulties they and their community has faced at receiving aid from governmental organizations after Hurricane Sandy struck.

More than one week has passed, and still this woman has not heard from any kind of agency or aid organisation on how to find help in Far Rockaway.

Mr Turner describes how difficult it is for him to get aid in Rockaway.

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Rockaway is a war-zone

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the devastation of the Rockaways from resident Josmar Trujillo who writes “Walking around the Rockaways today was a weird contrast seeing the ugliness of the disaster and the overwhelming rebuilding left to do; and the beauty of seeing people from Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and even Connecticut providing hot meals for my community. Met a 9/11 first responder who walks around with an oxygen tank to breathe who had organized a caravan of 30+ cars full of neighbors and friends who brought hot food and coffee for Rockaway. Never in my life have a felt such a mix of extreme emotions… that and the war-zone sight of it all is so fuckin’ surreal.”

I totally agree, and for someone that was out of town, and missed the worst of the devastation caused by Sandy, its hard to believe people when they say “things are a lot better now” and “you should have seen it right after the storm”. And by the way, we witnessed hundreds of people STILL relying on hot meals and food and clothing donations provided by the dozens of volunteers that came from all across the NY state area

-Jaisal Noor-

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