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Stories | Occupied Stories - Part 11

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Rio+20 (what does #S17 means to you?)

(OccupiedStories) — so what does #S17 means to you?
(Atchu) — great question, my friend! damn, thank you for asking that.
(OS) — you’re welcome! why you say so?
(atchu) — it was almost like you felt what i wanted to share, this amazing story that pretty much explains what #occupy & #S17 means to me.
(OS) — let’s hear it!
(atchu) —  ok. share this at the website.  \\ all i can tell you is that it was the beginning of my life turning into literature. maybe more, it was the discovery of a whole autobiographical book of change whose pages were waiting for my (trembling) handwriting to fill. a discovery that made me live incredible experiences. my life, i found it. for the first time, i felt truly free.

(atchu continues) – fuck, let’s go. the only difference is that it was my life, really. i never thought that doing direct action & good ol’ anarchy could be so fun: infiltrating a high security complex in a metropolis, acquiring permissions, the thrill of getting in, dancing around security personnel until the target was hit: Empire always has security cracks, ready to be explored by the playful revolutionaire.

you could see ’em everywhere. big guns and big radios, choppers in the sky and clean uniforms. Rio de Janeiro during Rio +20  (the United Nations megaconference on Sustainable Development) was looking like a military zone. there were over 190 chiefs of state representing, ambassadors, students, campesinos, some 5,000 indigenous people, press… — damn!, the city was a melting-pot! the extra amount of visitors counted 40,000 people and overloaded the transportation network to the point the city declared official “holiday” among public servants so people would stay in their homes. the city was not able to breathe.

in this mess, one could notice three main axes of discourse — one official, destined to the “leaders” of the planet (ugh), a second parallel event called People’s Summit, which was an unofficial but sanctioned platform for “dissent”, and lastly a rogue encampment that was criminalized. guess which one was #occupy’s? right on.

the official conferences were conveniently located on the outskirts of the city, protected by lines and lines of heavy infantry. the People’s Summit located opposite ways at the downtown parkish-freeways called Aterro do Flamengo. there one could see miles and miles of beautiful tents with biodiesel generators lighting the sponsors of the event; the spectacle of “Green Capitalism” screaming loud: big oil companies, banks, music stages, food courts and cash machines alongside portapotties, everything recyclable, smiling models with the official message “The Future We Want”, whoa. is there anybody listening? who was “We” after all?

#occupy’s base attracted trouble for not asking “permission” from the state to settle a camp at Aterro do Flamengo. but you know what? oops. we don’t need permissions from a power that we don’t recognize as legitimate; a power that repeatedly disregards the Social Contract. the police was called in, and right on the first day we had mounted cavalry paying respects to occupiers. we all thought that we were getting evicted right there, but after they left for the night, all the anxiety of the day left  a occupier was hit by a car in an accident and a lot of attention for some reason; it was enigmatic and rustic. there dozens of occupiers announced the “Rio+99 OccuSummit”, happening in parallel and in dialogue with the other two events. occupiers came from many different regions in Brazil and some even from abroad. mostly young people, but the presence of other age groups could be noticed. middle class people mixed with poor, people sharing space in solidarity.  one occupier started #OccupyFavela in the favela he lived, was greeted by the drug lords of the ´´morro“ with an assault rifle, and after explaining that it was a peaceful protest against the oppressive police state and the ongoing war on the poor in Brazil, he was granted to stay and occupy. Pretty AMAZING feat, not brought to your attention by mainstream media.

the negotiations were completely stalled with the voices of dissent not able to make themselves heard, either because of the security apparatus or the bureaucratic way of the UN to construct “democracy”.  frustrated that the final document was not taking into account these voices, and alarmed by the looming environmental collapse — our #occupy camp decided to act.

so on the last day of the conference, two occupiers decided to infiltrate the Rio+20 official complex: me, atchu — a 29 year old male occupier from #OWS and Maroca — and a woman on her early twenties from #OccupySaoPaulo. \\ with the normality of a thief, we asked with a big smile to the information-booth girl “where is the room of the final press brief conference, please?” {smile lingers} and she replied with a disciplined smile, in a certain cadence of conduct “it’ s right there sir, way down to your right room P3-7”. YES. the infobooth-girl had just given us the map to wonderland.

it was 12:17pm already and the doors would close at 2:00pm; we hasted down the narrow plastic corridors until the entrance to room P3-7 appeared. the security guard was checking people one by one if they had press passes, and of course we didn’t have ’em (duh). we had to improvise  —  i was already wearing an infallible anticorporate disguise, a fine suit, which always helps to camouflage behind enemy lines; waging a class war against Corporatocracy has its secrets.  Maroca put her big camera on front of her body and accelerating our pace, we rushed to the entrance tagging a small entourage of reporters. {guard} “ok, you ok”, “let me see, thank you”, “thank you”, and it was almost our turn; the guard distracted himself for a second on the last group and we quickly showed him our no-good passes  — a green N instead of a yellow P (for press)  — and the dude LET US IN! infiltration can still get you somewhere.

inside the final press conference room there were easily over 300 seats with reporters from all over the world; the panelist table was beautifully decorated on the front with a row of orchids; the speakers had their names on the table with big respectable titles: UN Secretary General for Rio+20, UNDP Hellen Clark, ex-chiefs of state, etc etc etc… big fish. dozens of logos, “the future we want” rhetoric, translation booths on the far East corner, and at least two sets of network TV cameras arranged on the back and on the far West side of the room. the Spectacle was set — and we were not turning back.

despite being nervous as fuck, we kept on the mission: to expose corporate takeover of the UN process and unmask representative democracy and its affair with the 1%. no one else would do it if not us ::”Intergenerational Responsibility”:: and as soon as the panelists arrived, Maroca and i started to draw the position of UN security “cops”, their distance to us and to the panelist table, the best angle to approach, what to do, what to say, how much time would it take, 30s? 15s, 10s?, we only had one shot!

when the second panelist started saying that the 2008 crisis wasn’t caused by banks but by “inability of governments to take action”, we looked at each other and knew it was the right time to strike. we positioned ourselves in the center corridor, Maroca took out her camera to fake out some photos, looked and said “it’s NOW or NEVER, are we going?” no,  “wait!” — hands trembling, the cops are still looking, damn! and right there, we both realized that there was only one thing we could do: make out. so that’s what we’ve done: we started making out in the middle of the press conference room, nice wet good luck kiss, ’cause we are about to pull a Bonnie and Clyde mothafucka’! —

kiss done, looking dead straight into the target, countdown “1,2,3……… NOW!” and we bolted towards the center of the room, positioning our bodies right in front of the panelists, and after taking two orchids from the front, we turned to all those 300+ reporters from all over the world and shouted:


and BAM! done —  a hit with the max poetic payload:: flipping power against itself::  fireflies setting wildfires! all those people just staring at the scene, their BS unmasked, priceless. we were shoved out of the room by UN security staff and had to run through the mazes of the Media wing of the complex to lose the federal police behind us, called to arrest us; we quickly turned a few corners and went civilian until we arrived at the main pavilion from where a bunch of electric carts transported people around the complex. we looked at each other, hopped into one and had our glorious escapade riding a fast and furious vehicle:: A GOLF CART.

we managed to leave the RioCentro complex, and had our entire journey colored with kisses, laughs and a feeling of invincibility:: “YES, we DID IT! can’t believe! OMG that!” it was too much for us to take in. amazing. we had to share it with the group, as soon as we returned to the #occupy camp and announced the action using the people’s mic  — to everyone delight!, — the occupiers laughed, cheered and chanted,


in an orgy of sounds and political lust! a drum circle immediately formed, the celebration running wild — and we had work to do! we rushed to Lapa, the bohemian neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, determined to do “outreach” for the action, and found a shitty internet cafe where cats ruled and the keyboards were pink. We started collaborating smoothly with a solid press release, uploaded photos and provocative tweets.

by night, our action had reached the 4 corners of the world, including Radio France and the national brazilian news network; the buzz we were hearing was exactly what we wanted:: attached to Rio+20 balance sheet was the final message from #occupy:: “They Don’t Represent Us — We Want a Real Democracy”.

our message.

things would never be the same again.


(atchu) — so, yeah. that’s what #S17 means to me. {smiles}
(OS) — whoa… that was fun!
(atchu) — haha, yeah, i think that story sums well all that #S17 means to me: to #occupy is to live life in literature.

– Atchu –

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My Occupy Birthday

New York, NY–As we approach the one year anniversary of the birth of Occupy Wall Street (which inspired my recent personal transformation) followed by my own birthday just a few days later, I am seeking your support. There are many ways to help the movement at large or assist me specifically in facilitating the projects I am about to mention. Moral support and encouragement from family, friends and sympathizers is always welcome of course, but additional needs include: web designers, cooks, legal advisers, transportation assistance, food and beverage donations, housing options for visiting Occupiers, teachers, farmers, concerned parents (and for me, quite possibly a therapist), and the list doesn’t end there. The part I hate the most, though, and what makes me the most uncomfortable, is asking for financial donations. In order to truly build the world in which we want we want to live, we have to erect bridges over the obstacles of money and business as usual. Until then, here in the western  world, we must wade through the river of capitalist crap.

This is the story of my journey, and an introduction to some things I’m doing that I feel are important. Links to donation pages are listed at the end. I hope you enjoy.

Over the past few years the need to reform our way of life has increasingly become apparent to a growing number of people worldwide. For me, events such as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, rampant wildfires throughout the US, and fracking that causes earthquakes and flammable water, just to name a few, have generated feelings of fear, despair, rage, sorrow, misery and hopelessness. Not to mention a government that completely shields the wrongdoers from any repercussions and wages wars without our consent in order to protect the interests of a destructive system.  It’s been clear to me from a very early age that our dependence on non-renewable energy would have to change one day, and I have passively “supported” reform, basically just giving lip-service to a progressive idea of change and the liberal agenda for decades. Obviously, that attitude does not actually serve a greater good.

This realization resulted in a drastic personal evolution of my world-view and compelled me to act on these concerns in ways I’ve never previously had the desire to do. I know that there have been others screaming about our self-destruction for longer than I’ve even been alive, but I’m a slow learner and I’ve allowed myself to be sedated by the industrial “info-tainment” complex. That is no excuse for my lack of action, but I am trying to find ways to help now. I’ve had my share of personal successes and failures in life, leading a more or less comfortable existence, and therefore have remained complacent (and complicit?). Last year, though, when I witnessed innocent young people, right here in New York City, brutalized and arrested just for publicly stating that they believed our world was in peril and that they wanted there to be a better tomorrow, it triggered in me an uncontrollable desire to help. This is something I hadn’t ever encountered before and I didn’t know how to start, so I went to investigate what these kids were doing in Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park), and found at least a sliver of hope in the bravery of these young’uns.

I also found out it wasn’t just kids. The people I met in OWS included all ages, all races, all religions (and, like me, non-religious types), every kind of political philosophy, every gender identity you could imagine, the homeless and hungry, union workers and veterans, a retired police captain, middle class and poor, even some sympathetic 1%ers (though many in the movement were not ready to accept the inclusion of the bourgeois).  Each of these people independently came to realize that, as the slogan goes, “Shit’s fucked up, AND bullshit!” Thousands upon thousands of people kept showing up. Occupy spread nationally and globally and a network has since formed that isn’t going anywhere. Queue another chant: “ONE- we are the people! TWO- we are united! THREE- this Occupation is not leaving!”

I was fortunate enough at the time to have a schedule that allowed me three days a week to join the protests. And I did that for a while, but it wasn’t enough to just stand in public space for me, so I kept trying to find a way to utilize my (very narrow) skill set to actually benefit this growing movement. I learned some of the techniques of Outreach and Facilitation that the activists preached so much about, but I wasn’t well suited to these tasks. It was an education, for sure, but I wasn’t very confident in my abilities, so I continued to seek ways to plug in that I felt would be a substantive contribution.

This is when I began to volunteer for the Kitchen Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. My professional experience, after all, has always been in the food and beverage industry. For six months I helped organize volunteers in a donated professional kitchen Monday through Wednesday, then I worked my “real” job tending bar Thursday through Sunday. Over time my “real” job became secondary and I found myself yearning to be back in the kitchen cooking for OWS all the time because that’s where I felt the most useful. I was recently asked why I don’t cook professionally here in New York, to which I replied without even thinking “Cooks don’t get paid enough in this town.” After a pause I added defiantly, “And since they can’t pay me enough to cook professionally I’ll just give my skills away for free!” It was a joke, but it resonated with me because I increasingly found that my happiest place was cooking for scores of strangers who were each in turn trying to build a brighter future.

Recruiting volunteers was difficult at first, but little by little we built a team of regulars and continued to get more and more efficient over time. We prepared food for hundreds of activists and protesters in the park every day, and then, after the eviction, wherever the Occupation ended up each day. We even fed over two thousand people on Thanksgiving Day, two days after being violently forced from our peaceful encampment, and it was so moving! Over the winter we moved our operation indoors, serving our buffet on Wall Street proper. It felt like we were giving “the man” the stiff middle finger every time we delivered our donated bounty to the atrium at 60 Wall, or on the steps of the Federal building. This was real to me; every day tangible results, and I worked myself to exhaustion before I discovered this was not sustainable for me nor for the movement.

It was only 8 miles from the kitchen in East New York, Brooklyn to the park in the Financial District of Manhattan, but driving in this town is ridiculous and the roads are not designed for the volume of traffic that regularly traverses the region, so 8 miles often took an hour to navigate, especially at 5 in the afternoon. It was during these trips we discussed and planned much of what I am working on now.

I took a break after May Day (an enormous action feeding thousands over the course of the day all over Manhattan), as did many of the volunteers responsible for the daily feedings. Since then I have been working on ways to sustainably support not just the movement, but the world. What follows are the projects I am working on both for OWS specifically and for a broader more long term solutions-based model. There are many challenges I face in pursuit of these projects while simultaneously maintaining full time employment, so I am going to do something I’m not very good at. I am going to ask for your help.

The first, and most immediate project, is the planning for the one year anniversary of the occupation of Liberty Plaza. This is a series of actions and protests leading up to a re-convergence on Wall Street on Monday the 17th of September. I am assisting in the coordination of feeding thousands of visitors from  around the country (and perhaps the world) who will be joining us for the weekend leading up to our birthday march on Wall St. This is going to require an enormous volunteer labor force, and a great deal of production time between now and then. Our goal is to feed about 1500 people twice a day for three days.

Secondly, I have also been working on Occupalooza/Occupicnic (a big free concert and information expo for the 99%) with one of our primary kitchen delivery drivers and  a few others for months now (the idea gaining form in those long drives to Zuccotti). We, admittedly, were wide eyed when we began the planning of the event, and expected much more support from our fellow Occupants, but since then we have learned a great deal and will continue pursuing this event by building up to it with a series of small fundraisers and festivals. Below is an overview form our website, www.occupalooza/

The purpose of Occupalooza/Occupicnic is to demystify the OWS movement, to broaden our outreach and to demonstrate the importance of standing together in unity.  We aim to create better opportunities for people who have suffered the injustices of greed and poverty.

We will represent the Vision and Goals and the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City under the Occupy umbrella with the following themes: Occupy Peace, Food, Health, Knowledge, Environment, Ethics, and Liberty.

The final project I want to mention, the one most most directly related to my kitchen work with Occupy as well as my professional life experience (also the one closest to my heart), is a non-profit community center/restaurant/event space. This idea represents exactly what I want to see in our society, and will quite possibly be occupying my time for years to come. It is an idea that will be of lasting benefit to all people, not just activist and organizers, but whole communities. We call it Public Domain:

Our mission is to nourish body and mind by establishing a venue, open to all, where people can safely and comfortably gather, dine and work together, while sharing knowledge and incubating community based projects.

We serve this mission by pursuing the following goals:

(a) To establish member owned and operated multi-use facilities focused on community building, conversation and education,  where delicious and healthful food is served on a donation basis. The food we serve emphasizes organic, locally grown, unprocessed ingredients supporting local farmers and promoting a healthy well informed population.

(b) To nurture a more equitable society by establishing a solidarity economy based on principles of mutual aid, sustainability and environmental justice. All decisions will be made in accordance with a non-hierarchical cooperative model outlined in the bylaws of the organization.

(c) To reform patterns of food production, distribution and consumption in New York City and beyond. We will feed people in need, reduces waste in the food industry, create volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as provide a venue for skill-sharing workshops and education about food and food industry related issues.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your support means a great deal to me.



With love and respect, your friend,
-Ethan Murphy-

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Occupy: 12 Events That Defined Year One

As we approach the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupied Stories takes a look back at the events and actions that defined the first year of the movement. In the run-up to #S17 we will be posting stories from our archives for every month of the past year of occupy, starting with stories on the first days at Liberty Square and the spouting of other encampments nationwide. Be sure to check back often!

Featured Month:

August 2012: A Focus on Debt


New York, NY–Debt to Burn#StrikeDebt puts on a debt burn as the first step toward a debt refusal movement.





Oakland, CA–The Cost of Helping Others: Despite 6-figure debt, a massage therapist sees worth and value in following his dream: “Why would anyone shy away from this depth of love, at any price?”





Turners Falls, MA–InDEBTed to Education: A former student is pessimistic about a debt-ridden future granted to her by a school with an allegedly corrupt administration.





Stories from other months:

July 2012: Chalkwalk Uprising >>

June 2012: In Solidarity With Quebec >>

May 2012: NATO & the Occupation of the Art Institute >>

April 2012: Occupying New Places >>

March 2012: Six Months Later >>

February 2012: Taking Stock >>

January 2012: Conflicts and Confusion >>

December 2011: Occupy the Holidays >>

November 2011: Eviction & Aftermath >>

October 2011: The Brooklyn Bridge Is Occupied >>

September 2011: Occupy Ignites >>

Check back on Sunday for stories from August.

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Anaheim Solidarity Recap & March Against Police Terror

Denver, CO–On Sunday July 29, Occupy Denver marched to support the citizens of Anaheim, CA in their ongoing resistance against their city’s violent and racist police force.  This action brought attention to recent police atrocities in Anaheim, and served as a reminder that Denver’s own police department is essentially a taxpayer-funded street gang with a detailed history of murders, racist beatings, and political repression.  (See the links at the bottom for documented cases of Denver Police atrocities.)

Here is my personal account of my participation in the march and my false arrest by DPD:

I arrived at the march as it staged outside the skate park.  I had my bicycle with me, and rode my bicycle throughout the march, mostly because biking requires less energy than walking.  The march took the streets and went under the underpass by the Rockies stadium as we made our way downtown.  We unfurled our banner reading “Stop Police Oppression– Solidarity with Anaheim” and chanted phrases such as “Justice for Anaheim”,  “We want equality, stop police brutality” and “How do you spell injustice? DPD!”.  At least four DPD vehicles began following us at this point, and they blared their sirens in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the game day crowd from hearing our message.  The leading DPD vehicle was an SUV driven by one William J Andrejasich Jr, a Sergeant in DPD’s Special Events division.

We made our way to the downtown area of Denver, and Sergeant Andrejasich and his colleagues repeatedly attempted to use their voices and vehicles to discourage the march from keeping its message in the street.  DPD prefers to see political expression confined to the narrow sidewalk where it cannot affect business as usual.  This march had other ideas.  I myself chose to remain on my bicycle in the street, as riding my bicycle on the sidewalk would be a violation of traffic laws and DPD will use any excuse to harass and arrest known Occupy activists.

The march continued down the 16th street mall as we continued to agitate and inform the public about the police murders and subsequent attacks on residents in Anaheim.  Our police escort continued to ride very close to us until we arrived at Civic Center Park.  After the police caravan departed, we decided to resume marching.  We made our way through Lincoln Park and began marching past the Capitol on Colfax Ave.

As the march approached the intersection of Colfax and Pennsylvania, several DPD vehicles pulled into the middle of the street and officers stepped out of the vehicles.  Sensing that DPD was looking for a fight, the march diverted onto the sidewalk.  At this point, three officers charged our “Stop Police Oppression” banner, one of them striking it so as to break the wooden support pole holding it together.  After breaking the banner (which appeared to be the primary target), the officers proceeded to grab and arrest the protester who had been using the megaphone to decry police violence throughout the march.  They led him away into a car, and Sergeant Andrejasich barked at us that “if you go in the street again, we will arrest you.”  This threat seemed absurd given that whenever we march, DPD’s vehicles that follow us essentially shut down traffic anyway.   Sergeant Andrejasich was clearly hoping that by threatening arrest and possible violence, he could frighten our solidarity march into giving up and going home.   He should know by now that Occupy Denver doesn’t play like that.  Having seen DPD use violence or the threat of violence countless times to attempt to silence dissent, I figured someone should resolve Sergeant Andrejasich’s confusion about the relationship between his department and our subversive assembly.  Using the megaphone dropped during the recent arrest, I told him that “Occupy Denver does not negotiate with terrorists, and the Denver Police Department is a terrorist organization.”   Upon hearing this, Sergeant Andrejasich instantly went red in the face and grabbed my wrist, at which point he and another officer pulled me into the street, and while holding my wrists attempted to twist my arms into a painful position (I have a sprained wrist and was wearing a splint).  I was handcuffed, and when I asked Sergeant Andrejasich why I was being arrested, he replied “for obstructing the street.”  I told him that I was legally on my bicycle for the entire march route and he said nothing in reply to this.  He then handed me off to two other officers who placed me in a car and took me to DPD’s offices in the Downtown Denver Detention Center.  Interestingly,  Sergeant Andrejasich is not listed as my arresting officer, and none of my arrest paperwork contains any of his information.  We only know it was him due to his past interactions with our group.  Before I was processed into the jail, I sat in a DPD District 6 cell while I listened to three officers outside the cell flip through the book deciding what to charge me with, highlighting the fact that this was a false, politically-motivated arrest.  Upon being booked into the jail, I was informed that the megaphone I used had been confiscated by the police, presumably as “evidence” of my obstructing the street.

Two more arbitrary arrests of protesters were made after my own; during one of these arrests a ten-year-old child was forcefully knocked to the ground by one of the arresting officers.  The march continued well after my arrest, culminating in a heated standoff between the remaining protesters and a heavily armed line of officers outside DPD’s District 6 headquarters as the march chanted “free our friends” and continued to hurl passionate criticism at Denver’s corrupt, racist, and violent police force.

After the march subsided, a group of occupiers gathered outside the jail awaiting the release of myself and my arrested comrades.   Sergeant Andrejasich again approached this group, and told them that they were creating a disturbance (even though they were being quiet) and that as a warning had already been issued to the group, he could arrest any of them at any time with no further warning.   Sergeant Andrejasich seems to believe that he can operate with impunity, arresting activists simply because they irritate him or offend his political views even when no laws are broken.

Sergeant Andrejasich’s comic arrogance represents DPD’s belief that they have the sole power to decide who is breaking the law and have the right to choose when to selectively enforce these laws.  Everybody knows that jaywalking is common practice in Denver; one can jaywalk in front of a police officer without any fear of reprisal.   However, when one is walking in the street as part of a radical political march, DPD suddenly decides these laws are worth enforcing with great zeal and armed force.  Occupy Denver rejects the Denver Police Department’s twisted, politically selective interpretation of municipal codes, and we reject their claim that they protect and serve the citizens of this city.  Their long record of murders, racist beatings, and politically-motivated violence makes their moral depravity obvious to anyone who is paying attention.  We call on the City of Denver to condemn this corrupt and criminal police department, and to take their destinies and the safety of their communities into their own hands.

Our Anaheim Solidarity march was just one small part of the struggle against police oppression in Denver.  There is a long history of resistance against police oppression in Denver, and this resistance is ongoing.  We encourage everybody to attend the upcoming March Against Police Terror, which meets on August 21st at 6 PM in La Alma Park (13th & Mariposa).  More information on this important community event can be found here: 

Here is a short list of news stories related to Denver Police atrocities outside of their attacks on Occupy

Recent murder by DPD 

DPD murdered an innocent man last summer, the murdering officers faced no consequences 

In 2009, DPD officers beat a man within an inch of his life while yelling racial slurs at him

DPD recently reinstated, with back pay, two officers involved in the infamous Denver Diner beating

In 2011, the City of Denver had to pay $1.34 million to resolve police brutality lawsuits

In 2010, Denver Sheriffs tased a man to death in the Denver jail simply because he would not take off
his shoes. All officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing.

In 2006, a 24-year-old woman in the Denver jail bled to death as officers ignored her pleas for medical

Solidarity with Anaheim!
Down with killer cops everywhere!

– @DrBenway2323

Photo courtesy of Thomas Melchor

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Class WARhol

This story was first published at Occupy The Social.

It was surreal standing in the middle of art walk with two friends knowing that Occupy LA were essentially banned from Spring Street due to a police riot that broke out a month before.  On July 12, 2011, the LAPD shot rubber bullets into a crowd of art walk attendees mixed with members of Occupy LA, myself included, because some were writing with chalk on the sidewalks. In an effort to avoid any more injuries from police violence, the Occupy LA General Assembly accepted a proposal effectively relegating all activities related to “chalking” to Pershing Square for the August 9th art walk. Occupy LA also called for solidarity “chalking” actions across the World on the same day.

In the week leading up to art walk, the LAPD arrested members of Occupy LA for chalking and other public misdemeanors, while the media published various articles debating the LAPD’s use of a vandalism law to arrest people writing with chalk.  Early in the morning of August 9th, the cops detained members of Fresh Juice Party shortly after they finished an enormous chalk mural in Pershing Square.  Later that day, the LA Times reported that a fist fight broke out between someone from Occupy LA and a visitor from Occupy Oakland over chalking skills.  This only compounded the tensions that were amplified in the media over the LAPD “bracing” for Occupy LA’s return to art walk.

“No stopping! No talking! Just buying! Everything’s fine!” I shouted as people passed on the crowded sidewalks of 5th and Spring.  My two friends and I posted up near a KCAL reporter on the corner and unfurled our “Class WARhol” banner, while another held a sign that read “Legalize Art.”

Within a few minutes we were asked to move by the LAPD.  We crossed the street and stopped again. This time we positioned ourselves behind a parked police car and a fire hydrant, so as not to disrupt the flow of pedestrians.  LAPD Sergeant Bogart approached us on his bicycle and said “I’m going to need to ask you to move.”

My friend replied, “Where to? Three feet this way? Three feet that way?  We were just told to move from the other corner.”

“I can’t tell you that.  You just have to move” repeated the Sergeant.

I was looking down at my feet, a bit nervous to be around so many police, when I saw spit land next to my right foot. I looked up and asked the Sergeant, “Did you just spit at me?”

He smirked and said, “Does that make you feel intimidated?”

Choking on my words, I quietly said, “Why? Should I be?”

The Sergeant spit to my left side and smiled, “Did it look just like that?”

My friend then asked the Sergeant if it was department policy to allow officers to chew tobacco while on duty, to which the Sergeant replied, “I see we are going to have a problem here.” The Sergeant then got off his bike and spit again.  This time it landed a little further from me, but still within a few inches.

My recent research into police tactics during protests made it easier to detect what the Sergeant was doing.  He wanted either me or my friends to overreact to his taunts, so that we could be arrested and the LAPD could declare a moral victory over Occupy LA in the morning’s press. I stepped back and stated loudly “I am backing up! No need to spit at me!”  By this time, there were at least five cameras on us, yet no one intervened.   Because the cameras were not there when the altercation began, there is no ‘proof’ of his assault, but because the cameras were present during the aftermath, they may have protected me from further insult. Ironically, I had two cameras on me, but did not want to be shot for “reaching into a pocket” like so many others.  Due to the Sergeant’s smugness, I have no doubt that this man has used a similar tactic to force compliance on other occasions. All that remains is my word and those of the witnesses against the Sergeant. I imagine the frustration I experienced is quite common in communities that are forced to interact with the police “for their own safety.”

The situation gives me pause to reflect again on police provocation, testimonies, and cameras.  If anyone surrounding me did intervene, the consequences for all could have been tragic.  There were no less than 30 police officers in that intersection, some on horses, others on bikes, and many on foot. The build-up by the local media to Occupy LA’s attendance at art walk, like Tyson Vs. Holyfield, put everyone on edge.  No one wanted to back down. By spitting at me, Sergeant Bogart could have triggered a much larger reaction that would have provided the rationale for deploying hundreds of extra police to stamp out the vestiges of political speech in Downtown LA.

I remained collected enough to walk away with my body intact, but my dignity obliterated.   The next day, The LAist wrote that Occupy LA claimed that the LAPD stood down (which they did because there were no arrests in a chalk covered Pershing Square), while the LAPD claimed that Occupy LA backed off (which they did because they did not go to art walk en mass).  Importantly, this battle of Los Angeles has nothing to do with the medium of chalk as reported in the media. For the LAPD, it is really about vilifying those already marginalized and legitimating the increased policing of downtown, but for Occupy LA it is about slowing the gentrification of downtown in defense of the very poor.

The abundance of police during art walk- and in downtown more generally- has been questioned many times before Occupy LA even existed.  In fact, the majority of Occupy LA unknowingly stepped into the debate after the raid on November 30, 2011. For years, the LAPD and The Central City Association’s private security have patrolled art walk to stave off the wayward homeless from neighboring skid row, so that the very poor, with their cries of hunger and untreated open wounds, do not disrupt the roving middle class crowd.  Moreover, the art walk crowd is taught to fear skid row as lines of cops audibly warn middle class attendees not to travel far from Main Street.

My “Class WARhol” banner was designed to engage intelligent art walk attendees in conversation about the on-going class war in LA’s historic downtown core.  I spoke with some art walk patrons who thought the banner was clever, but did not know much the treatment of the very poor in downtown LA.  Others knew about the dangers of life on skid row (including rampant police harassment), but did not know that the police typically searched and arrested homeless people from skid row in preparation for art walk.  While the galleries are busy washing their walls white to prepare for new art, the LAPD and CCA security are conducting their own kind of whitewash just outside.

CCA Prepares to “Clean Up” Skid Row

Clean streets” in downtown LA does not simply mean removing trash and washing human waste into the gutters, it really implies ridding the streets of poor people and what little they own.  Recently, it has come to include removing all memory traces of political speech by erasing the most ephemeral form of expression: sidewalk chalk.   In the case of Occupy LA, they are getting lambasted by the police for calling attention to the problems of the very poor. Even more disheartening though, the shifting demographics of Occupy LA over the last 3 months are used to justify the actions of the LAPD – the poor, gay, black, and brown are now at the forefront of the Occupy movement and consequently, they bear the brunt of the attacks from the police.  These populations are the favored marks of an institution that derives its own authority by depriving the people of their own power.

Lastly, I am beginning to better understand the imperative of ‘camera power’ to new social movements. Footage of cops enforcing their requests does in a flash what it might take years of filing official complaints to accomplish, the images reveal the non-institutionalized means by which compliance is actually accomplished: spitting, hair pulling, arm twisting, finger bending, and so on…  all the things that children usually resort to in order to get their way.  Resembling Tyson, when faced with an opponent that won’t yield, cops must also resort to cheating.  Sadly though, like DNA evidence, future reliance on technology is at a cost to human witnessing itself as people’s testimonies become a comparably less authoritative account of an event.  Like I said before, ‘give me the YouTube link, or it didn’t happen!’

– Joan Donovan –

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Second Night at British Consolate #AssangeNYC #SleepfulProtest

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared at

New York, NY–I am currently writing this blog piece, inside England. Well not literally, but legally speaking. I am currently under the roof of the British Consulate, seeking (non political) refuge from the rainstorm here in New York City on 3rd avenue and 51st street. For Julian Assange, the thin line that divides him between the Ecuadorian embassy and Britain Proper literally is a matter of life and death. British Police have been ordered to arrest Assange the moment he steps off Ecuadorian territory. If he is arrested and sent to Sweden (with the advice of Karl Rove) he’ll likely be extradited to the US, where our government may indict him on conspiracy/espionage charges, which could result in execution by the state.

I am currently completing my second night here at my promptu call-out indefinite Occupation of British Consulate in NYC, in solidarity with Julian Assange. Within minutes of tweeting it out on @OccupyWallStNYC, Russia_Today mentioned it, and it started getting many “guests”. Later, Michael Moore and the Guardian mentioned it as well.

The Tweet heard around the World

It was really exciting seeing how one tweet, later turned into multiple other occupations, from Los Angeles, South California to Sydney and Ecuador. I inspired some, and many inspired me to make that tweet and promptu occupation  in the first place.

Our single demand for this occupation is “We will not leave, until Assange can leave.” It is not the only demand I have, but the consequences of that one demand would restructure society in a domino effect.

I acknowledge there is nothing immediately practical about a 24/7 occupation. There are logistical and legal constraints, as well as limited Internet and electricity. Yet, there is something highly symbolic, and sentimental, about refusing to leave the “sight” of the oppressors, until they change. To quote Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand”

I also see it as an opportunity to continue the dialogue globally, pertaining not just Assange, but also Bradley Manning, war profiteering criminals, repression of the state etc.

I envision different organizations and communities volunteering everyday to give teach ins, skill-shares about activism, political mobilization, harnessing powers of social media and more. It can be funky too, using film projectors to broadcast on the walls of the consulate, films such as Wiki Rebels or Assange: Sex, Lies and Sweden or even Collateral Murder. Let us celebrate Ecuador’s brave motion to continue to house and protect Assange. Nothing like declaring America’s independence from England (for a second time).

Contrary to previous experiences with organizing political protests, the police here do not see this as a threat to their or the Mayor’s legitimacy, and thus have largely left us alone. That may change when they see we are not leaving for good, until our demand is met, but we shall see. The fight here is not directed at the Police state, but make no mistake, the Police state are a firm branch in the tree of the very fascism we fight. Our occupation is participatory, and if you or your organization are in line with our demand, then this occupation is yours. Join us. Change us. Expect us.

We are in front of British Consulate, 845 3rd Avenue New York, NY 10022.

Live Updates from our Occupiers:!/search/realtime/%23assangenyc


-Yoni Miller-

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Fragility & Heartbreak, Montreal, Night 115

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

Montreal, QC–On August 10, I posted a photo on my Facebook page of a delicate red square with the caption “[the] fragility & sweetness of social struggle.” Little could I have guessed, however, just how fragile the Quebec student strike movement would prove to be only three days later. On August 13, in hugely attended general assemblies, students at three cégeps (pre-university/vocational schools, part of the legacy of free and accessible education won in the 1960s’ Quiet Revolution) voted away their own collective social power and political bargaining chip: the strike. Within hours, the students went from having the offensive and creating a crisis for the government to letting the government’s scare tactics of provincial elections/repressive law work their magic and gain the upper hand again. It’s been the same story every day this week.

Two courageous cégep general assemblies, against all the odds and intensity, held firm to the strike. After that vote, a small group of “anti-strike” students who lost used a procedural mechanism versus the good faith within the assembly structure to petition for re-votes at both those cégeps tomorrow morning: Vieux-Montreal and Saint-Laurent. The school administrations then heaped on additional pressure to not only support the re-vote but overturn the strike (word is that the admin at Vieux-Montreal has even threatened students with failing them completely if the strike goes forward).

There are moments, I’m discovering more than ever, of profound crossroads in social movements, when momentum swings in one direction or the other, and moreover, when it’s important for people to stand up in solidarity with those who feel scared or pressured to back down. How people view what’s happening at such a critical juncture matters in terms of sustaining a social movement . There are still tens of thousands — upward of a hundred thousand or more even — students still under strike votes at various schools, including the colleges and universities that start later this month and into September. There is still a huge social movement, and still many students who support the strike but voted, often out of fear, to end or supposedly delay it for a bit (by and large, the state’s psychological warfare worked). Many people (including many students) are now calling the cégeps’ votes to end the strike “a truce,” hoping that students will pick up the strike again after this short “extra” semester — added because of the strike and lost class time. But a truce implies two camps both equally making ceasefire concessions; in this case, the provincial government has bludgeoned the student strike to near death. And it’s not so easy to simply restart a widespread strike, much less a social movement.

All to say, what happens now matters a great deal in terms of this strike and social movement, not only here, but also as inspiration and hard-learned lessons for other struggles globally. It matters a great deal what those many tens and hundreds of thousands who are part of this social movement do at this point — students, teachers, staff, neighbors, workers, and so many others — after six long months of resisting in all sorts of imaginative, strong, and bold ways.

Those many students still holding collectively to the strike tactic — not just for themselves but also for notions like free education for everyone and forms of self-organization, and so intimately tied into a larger austerity struggle — need our solidarity, strength, and love right now. In particular, Vieux-Montreal students favoring the strike are asking for a large show of folks and support outside their school tomorrow morning, Friday, August 17, at 8:00 a.m. (Ontario and Sanguinet in Montreal), standing with them in whatever way they ask of us. Here’s the Facebook page for the assembly itself: It’s unclear whether Saint-Laurent wants supporters there or not — out of a concern that nonstudents there might be seen as meddling in a difficult moment for the Saint-Laurent students — but there is one Facebook event asking for a demonstration at 9:00 a.m. (

I’ve been in numerous conversations this week about what the votes this week mean, what happened, and what next, among so many other discussions, speculations, and critiques, but also what solidarity looks like right now. At the same time, I and thousands of others have also been experiencing tumultuous waves of emotions, ranging from denial to anger to depression — all summed up, for me, as “heartbreak.” I’ve tried writing something about all of the above and more this week, ever since Monday, but every time I start, I end up staring at my computer screen, immobilized by a heavy sorrow that won’t let words flow easily. That’s a strange feeling for me. Usually words are what help me process difficult times and hard emotions. I’m not alone; nearly ever time I run into someone engaged in this student and social movement, there’s this bleak look in their eyes. It’s been a long, long, long and hard week here in Montreal.

Yet again I’m back to what feels like “lost in translation” even trying to explain it. The power — the social power — of this movement was the greatest I and many of my friends and acquaintances here have ever experienced. You come so damned close to what might just start tipping the scales toward a better world, closer than you ever dreamed possible, and in a matter of a few hours on a Monday earlier this week, it suddenly seems as if it all vanished into thin air. So many of us walked together on that illegal night demo on Monday evening, processing ad nauseam, until I think we all managed to convince ourselves again of spit and fire and hope. That we shouldn’t give up so easily. That now, more than ever, the social side of this movement had to step up, both in terms of what it is doing organizationally and to make its solidarity clear, so those still-striking students would know they have allies. Because if they vote to remain on strike, the state and police will certainly exert renewed and likely harsher force.

Which brings me around to tomorrow morning, soon. I don’t know if this is the right decision or not. I don’t quite know the right answer about what solidarity should look like in relation to the students — who started their own movement, and in turn birthed a substantive and far-reaching social movement that is now both dependent on the students and larger then them. Those in the social movement who aren’t students are definitely feeling the weight of that position this week. Many argue that we should thank the students for all they’ve done, understand their tricky situation, and not “take sides” tomorrow when we stand outside those one or two general assemblies, and perhaps that is the right view. After all, the autonomy and self-governance of each school (and often departments within each school) has been a touchstone principle and key to the organizational strength/growth of the strike as well as movement.

Still, I keep coming back to decisive moments, those quick and fragile instances when all is won or lost. Not crisis; rather, crossroads. And I keep asking myself, “Where do I stand?” Two days ago, a friend in Europe asked me to write 120 words about why I’m an anarchist for a German newspaper that’s doing a feature on anarchism and wants several of these anarcho-blurbs as sidebars. I joked that rather than sending him what amounted to a tweet or fortune-cookie insert, maybe I should just contribute one word: “freedom.” This evening, after the first-ever stressful autonomous popular assembly meeting in my summertime neighborhood (due, in large part, to the collective stress and heartache everyone is feeling), I think that I have my own answer to where I stand — always, always, on the side of freedom, even if that isn’t exactly solidarity or the popular thing to do come 8:00 a.m.

I’ll be at Vieux-Montreal tomorrow morning, not to disrupt the general assembly or scream at students I don’t agree with, but also not to neutrally be there merely to offer a general thanks. I’ll stand by the side of those students who want to continue to stand for the strike and all it’s come to symbolize, against all the psychological and physical warfare that’s been thrown at them to get them to back down.

And when my heart is feeling a tiny bit better, soon, likely after seeing these brave students tomorrow try to do what’s right, I’ll be ready to share a lot more about this bittersweet week.

* * *

Dedicated, in solidarity and with admiration, to those students at cégeps Vieux-Montreal and Saint-Laurent who vote to hold firm to their strike during the re-vote at their general assemblies tomorrow morning.

Photos by Cindy Milstein, from the walls of Montreal, summer 2012.

-Cindy Milstein-

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Armed with Only a Box of Chalk

Chicago, IL – Sunday, August 12, President Obama stopped by Chicago to celebrate his birthday like most of us do: see some people, run around to a bunch of different places, pick up some money. He arranged for five fundraisers that day, totaling $4 million. For his third event, he came to Bridgeport Art Center on 35th and Racine to celebrate his 51st birthday with a few hundred of his supporters.

And me and my daughter and my comrades and our chalk.

Our action was simple: utilize our first amendment rights to colorfully educate Obama’s supporters on the public sidewalk. Secret Service and Chicago Police couldn’t stop us.
We grabbed our boxes of chalk and started writing messages on the sidewalks as people trickled in by twos and threes.

*#unHappy51 to Obama: A list of reasons to stand against Obama
*Obama criminalizes free speech and antiwar activists! Free the NATO5
*Welcome to Chalkupy Obama2012
*corporations are not people
*wish an #unHappy51 to Obama
*#occupyObama 9/3 to 9/6 Obama HQ
*Obama criminalizes free speech Free the NATO5
*Immigration rights now!
*Obama – Married to Corporations
*Obama, we won’t be fooled again!
*Repeal NDAA
*Obama admin deports millions – 400,000 per year!
*We are the 99%
*Obama stop killing brown people with your drones
*We need peace now
*Obama will not prosecute Goldman Sachs for their role in financial collapse
*Obama supports:
-death by drones
-Goldman Sachs
-silencing dissenters-
–Jeremy Hammond
–Pacific Northwest Activists
–Occupy movement
–Environmental destruction with coal pollution
*Obama stop FBI & Grand Jury Repression of Pacific Northwest Activists
*Free Jeremy Hammond
*Obama is the drone president
*Hope for who?
*Obama kills ‘enemy combatants’ with drones
(enemy combatants = male, brown, Pakistani)

As supporters walked over our silent messages, they stopped along the sidewalk. Some read them aloud, taking pictures that would be tweeted out, looking at one another or the blonde, chalk-smeared little girl beaming at them. “Obama…kills brown people? With drones? What?” one was overheard saying. With a few bits of multicolored chalk, we managed to alter the discourse of the fundraiser. People inside were talking about our messages, Secret Service came over to read them, supporters snapped photos of them. Our anti-Obama messaging and education was effective with its engaging bit of expression because people chose to be seduced by the bright colors and coopted logo. They started to read and internalize the facts and possibly be sobered to realize there was no Hope and Change for them if they continue supporting someone who doesn’t support them.

Our lawyer remarked that our chalkupied messages were like the turd in the punchbowl. By shining light on dark facts of Obama as typical, 1%-serving politician, we reminded them to remember reality, not rhetoric. As a member of Occupy Chicago, I was not attending intending on a physical, imposing disruption. Our goal is empowerment through education. That day, it was my intention to spark people to examine their choices for a leader. It was my goal to start a dialogue where Obama supporters listen to why Occupy cannot be fooled by his words. We don’t support Obama’s broken society of drone strikes, immigrant deportation, silencing dissenters like the NATO5, Pacific Northwest Activists, Jeremy Hammond and opposing First Amendment rights, valuing corporations like Goldman Sachs over people, among many other charges. Only by standing together, all of the 99%, against oppression, false consciousness and illusions of choice can we begin to make substantive, systemic changes to create a better world.

Starting with a box of chalk.

For #occupyObama actions on 9/3 to 9/6 in Chicago, see

-Natalie Solidarity-

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“In the Street for Social Strike,” Montreal, Night 110

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

Montral, QC–Despite a weather forecast calling for rain all day, the drops held off until just as the last section of the Mile-End neighborhood’s Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike was being cleaned up and taken away. The folding tables from a nearby collective house/space were being wheeled away on a handcart along with the Outremont Popular Autonomous Assembly’s banner, which our next-door neighborhood friends had accidentally left behind. The disassembled pieces from the outdoor station for silk screening (sérigraphies) were on their way home too, and someone had probably already recycled the sign for it, as part of meticulously collecting any garbage in the trash bags we’d brought along. It was about 4:00 p.m.

At 9:30 a.m. earlier on this same Friday, August 10, a bunch of us from the Assemblée populaire autonome de Quartier (APAQ) met at “our” pocket park (private property, as a sign on the building next to it notes) at the intersection of Waverly and the main Mile-End commercial drag, St-Viateur. It’s where our orchestrole convenes every Wednesday — every Wednesday as of five weeks ago, that is — and where the casserole met before that earlier in the summer. The people living in the apartments above this “park” are clearly sympathetic to the Quebec student strike, since there are large red squares and anti-law-78 banners hanging from several balconies plus some cookware, in homage to the casseroles, dangling from a string. The French-language bookstore on the ground level, inside the building on the other side of a powerful political mural that abuts the park outside, is sympathetic too; someone mentioned that this small business is struggling to survive, as Mile-End gentrifies and moves increasingly toward English-language speakers.

When we decided about three weeks ago to do this street takeover, inspired by a “call” from the St-Henri APAQ for all APAQs to do some sort of festive and unpermitted “day of action” in their own neighborhoods on August 10 in solidarity with the student strike as it nears the crucial August 13 onward “forced reentry” couple of weeks, numerous good ideas and much enthusiasm filled our weekly three-hour mobilization working group meetings and additional three hours of weekly assembly, not to mention discussions on the street corner after the weekly orchestrole and the daily barrage of emails. We had a growing list of things we wanted to offer for free (teach-ins, music, food, hands-on art, performance, literature, and more), things we thought were crucial as infrastructure (bilingual posters, flyers, and other promotion and thus translation work, press release and getting CUTV to livestream, safety logistics and supplies, water, electricity, tables, chairs, and a laundry list of other materials), and things we had to discuss as dilemmas (whether and when to inform the businesses on the street, say, and what to do when the city bus wanted to come through our “social strike” area). We figured all the other APAQs would follow suit, and that we had plenty of time and people for all the details. But only two other neighborhoods signed on, both doing something later in the day. And thus we also agreed at the last minute to coordinate and host an all-APAQ press conference in addition to our block appropriation — during it — so that the assemblies could all voice their support for the student strikers even if they weren’t doing anything on August 10.

As of about a week ago, many of our ideas still seemed just that: concepts, filling up an ever-expanding bilingual Google Doc and filling out a bilingual Facebook events announcement, of what we aspired to do, publicly and illegally:

“On August 10th, the Mile End Popular Assembly (APAQ Mile End) is blocking a street in order to raise awareness about the strike, the effects of neoliberalism in Quebec, and the importance of collective action. A block party with food, music, art, workshops/teach-ins, performances, screen printing, and lots and lots of talking — all in the form of a mobilization around a social strike — disrupting society’s business as usual by taking over the street for an afternoon to start the mobilization toward real autonomous change! Come fill the street with us, and add your voice and your body to the movement!”

Yet when push came to shove, it all congealed, thanks to a remarkable — as in noteworthy but also extraordinary — feature of the Mile-End APAQ. All of its regulars in this approximately two-month-old directly democratic body and even many of the occasional participants are go-getters, full of energy and imagination and follow-through. Folks are self-motivated, and possess great ingenuity in making something from nothing. Everyone pitched in wholeheartedly, concentrating on what they were particularly passionate about doing, but also willingly pitching in when others needed assistance. It became a nonstop whirlwind of activity, but something that clearly all of us were loving. At somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. on the early, early morning of August 10, for instance, several of us were busily “liking” each other’s Facebook posts promoting our Dans la rue pour la grève sociale, and just as glad to see each other in person a few hours later.

The one thing we didn’t plan for, because none of us wanted to admit it was possible, was rain. At 7:00 a.m. when I heard a torrential downpour outside my window, I pulled the covers over my head to dampen the noise and tried to sleep.

Back to 9:30 a.m. at our park. I and other Mile-End APAQs trotted a line of orange chairs over from one of our assembly folk’s nearby homes; others had brought the chairs two blocks from the collective house/space the day before, to store in her backyard, taking care not to crush her plants. The plastic seats were wet from the rain earlier, and someone joked when we had them all stacked up in our pocket park that it looked like we were going to put on a Québec solidaire (QS) event, since orange is the color of this social democratic and sovereigntist political party, an underdog in the current provincial elections.

We scurried to grab additional red, the color of the Quebec student strike, as a counterbalance, such as balloons and fabric, even though many folks in the APAQ favor QS in the elections over Jean Charest’s neoliberal Parti libéral du Québec and the xenophobic sovereigntists of Parti Québécois. And even though a good chunk of the APAQers are Left-leaning or anarchist, it seems most are planning to vote, especially given the weight of this election in relation to the student strike. If nothing else, there’s the strong feeling that Charest has to go, symbolically, after all the outrage directed toward him by the movement (“fuck Charest” is always popular as chant and graffiti). Already there’s speculation about what will happen if he does get reelected on September 4 — riots that night? — or doesn’t — huge street parties? This isn’t just among my friends or people I know. Everyone seems to be talking politics since the elections were announced. At a farmers’ market today, for example, I was buying tomatoes, and the guy working the stand said something about my carre rouge (“red square”). I thought he was comparing the red of felt safety pinned to my shirt to the red of the tomatoes, but when I explained that I didn’t understand French well, he said in English this time, “I was thanking you for wearing the red square and supporting the strike. Me,” he continued, “I’m too scared to be around police so I stay in the background.” He looked to be traditional college age, but told me that he wasn’t in school, so anyway, it wasn’t really his issue, and besides, he really wanted Charest’s party to win again and was going to celebrate in the streets when that happened.

Our preparations for the street takeover continued. A couch appeared, with pillows labeled appropriately for our event, and tubs of vegan wraps and cake, along with red cardboard to mark our teach-in classroom space on the city street and a whiteboard to list the course schedule on, a bunch of red-felt squares and literature to give away, the folding tables, and so much more. Suddenly a couple dozen of us were scrambling to get everything set up in the park and on the sidewalk, hovering in wait for when we were going to pull it all into the street and grab one block of roadway between Waverly and St-Urbain, another corner often used as public space since the private church there has big steps to loiter on. We hung banners from various APAQs off the front of the church, as backdrop for the press conference, and set up a portable sound system there too.

Because of the looming gray clouds, it was clear that a tarp needed to be hung over what was going to be the on-site silk-screening station, so one APAQ person raced up into the apartment building next to our park, knocked on the door of the second-floor apartment, and told the person who answered that she needed to cut through to their balcony. Whether because they were still just waking up or too surprised to object, this stranger instantly let her walk through their home, and she and several other folks rigged up a tarp with ropes off the balcony. Electricity was run from the bookstore, even though apparently our new second-floor apartment comrades offered up their electricity too. Water was brought in as well; clotheslines for drying prints were hung; and sérigraphy screens and materials, such as ink and big sheets of paper and cardboard to print on, were all put into place.

Our plan to take and hold the street was this first step of meeting at 9:30 a.m. to pile a good percentage of our materials for that day in this private-property park, right on the edge of the city street. We also wanted to take over parking spot after parking spot as cars left when their meters ran out, before our 12:00 noon start, so that we would really have the whole of street. Someone at an earlier assembly had also said that if worse came to worse, and the cops kicked us off the street proper, we legally could occupy the parking spots — that is, if we fed the meters. That was Plan B. Plan A was the whole street. So each time we saw a car pull away, we ran over with orange chairs, threaded string between them, and taped a hand-written sign reading “occupé” on the string. We managed to clear most of the spots, as someone else went to each business to inform them that we’d be using the street for three hours (the plan we settled on after much discussion about when or whether to tell businesses). Most were fine with it, or already knew, since we’d heavily wheatpasted/taped up posters around the neighborhood earlier in the week; one grumbled, “Do I have a choice?” Unfortunately, that grumbler was from one of the cornerstone businesses of Mile-End, Café Olimpico, right across from our staging area, and a favorite for Italian coffee and schmoozing outside on a patio. I noticed that a big SUV had pushed aside some of our chairs, and it turned out to be related to this cafe. Someone managed to talk them into moving, but as noon neared, the cafe owner-grouch brazenly pulled another SUV (this time a BMW) into the spot right next to our park, removing our orange chairs again, with a flourish of attitude. I’m not sure how someone else got him to move his SUV, but he did it slowly, and was yelling about hitting us with his car (and, I seem to recall, how crazy we were) as he careened away. He was yelling a lot, and for a while. Fortunately, he was our one problem of the day. And so our orange chairs ultimately managed to save all the parking spots for us, so we could then move them once we’d secured the whole area — or rather, let them be what they were: chairs for sitting on in our reclaimed street.

Other neighbors, passersby, and delivery people were chill during the lead up to our social strike. Most were just curious, asking what was happening, and many said they were excited to return later, which many did. One woman came up to me with a pot and spoon in her hand at about 11:30 a.m. “When it is going to start? I’m so glad to see you people back. Everything quieted down so much, but we can’t let the students down,” she remarked, even though she then had to wait a half hour or so to join the orchestrole/casserole that kicked off our street takeover. We obligingly moved several orange chairs at one point to make way for a big truck to do deliveries, and delayed our bloc(k) party by five minutes, so they could finish their drop-off. Meanwhile, the lead person on our safety team unveiled reflective yellow suspenders for volunteers to wear as they took turns, later, staffing the two ends of the street, both to welcome folks and ensure we kept the block to ourselves. Originally, we’d planned on running red rope fully across both ends of the street to block it off, and then hang big red squares, literature, and posters from it as further barricade and educational component, but some APAQers had concerns about the ability to quickly get an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance in, so we settled on utilizing bright-orange chairs and bright-yellow caution tape, but leaving gaps to walk through, since the chairs could easily be pushed aside. Our safety crew also put up signs on the surrounding streets, redirecting traffic — signs made on the backsides of Charest’s political posters, which somehow had been torn down by someone and somehow had then found their way into the garbage, and so could be repurposed as traffic signs.

At noon, everything stood ready — ready to be dashed into the street once we’d made it ours. But there clearly weren’t enough people. A few of us tried to rally everyone to one spot, so we’d at least have a solid crew, and some coordination. We realized, suddenly, that we didn’t have a plan for this moment. We decided, quickly, to wait for the delivery truck to leave and also wait a few minutes until we had more of a critical mass (which did indeed happen, filled in by folks who’d come to teach the workshops, sing songs, do performance-art dance, set up a knitting and see-through “make-your-own” red square art area, play their instruments or bang their cookware, be part of press conference and lend solidarity from other APAQs, hand out literature, and offer up food, and just a whole lot of neighbors of all types). Those of us getting it going thought that the orchestrole was going to start playing on the St-Viateur and Waverly side, but saw they’d begun at the other end for some reason, and that the orange chairs and caution tape popped out to block the street there. So several of us ran to the other end, and more orange chairs popped out, followed by a table covered in red cloth, then other tables, and then the classroom signs taped on the ground. Viola! In the street for social strike!

A few police cars had appeared at noon sharp, but had stayed in the background. They then parked on either end of the street — but only after we’d already closed it off completely. A cop asked one of our APAQ crew, “What is this?” And when he told her that it was “a social strike,” she asked, “What’s a social strike?” He explained, and she responded with something like “oh, that sounds cool,” and mentioned that the police had asked the twice-hourly bus to reroute from the street until we were ready for it to resume again, and then the police left us alone. Our plan for the bus was to escort it down our street, opening and closing our orange-chair barricade, but we originally thought it only came once an hour, and were worried when we discovered that morning that it came through twice an hour. One APAQ person later said that they were glad the police took care of the one thing that would have made a mess of our day: get the buses to steer clear of us. Whether related or not, one of the first chalkings on our street was this (almost-done) piece:

Then, with a whole block of city street as ours, we turned the pavement into a temporary social strike for three hours. Or rather, I should say not “we” but all those who meandered into this autonomous zone of redesigned civic space. I’ve just spent a lot of time — well, my words, and your time — portraying how we grabbed this space. I often think we forget to document our own histories of how we remake the world, even in little ways, or maybe especially in all these micro-experimental ways (a picket line at one school; professors coming to stand by their striking stands at another; parents forming a baby bloc at a demo; and on and on for these many months until there’s a full-fledged social movement). But I also lingered on the preparation because it illustrates that fine, magical line between what seems a given — that parking spots are for cars — and what is possible — that an official-looking orange chair can reclaim space for something far more enlivening.

It’s not always possible, of course. It helped that we only had one irate business owner bothering us, although his threats of hitting us with his car were somewhat triggering, since a bunch of us had been next to or directly part of the hit-and-run during a casserole a couple weeks ago (for my report of it, see, along with several likely bored and near-invisible cops. It also helped that it was taking place in Mile-End, an increasingly upscaling space that’s also been home for a while to artists and musicians, radicals and progressives, queers, intellectuals, bohemians, and other hip and increasingly hipster types, many of whom have flexible and/or comfortable livelihoods, such as freelancers or professors. Then too, it helped even more that this whole thing was taking place in the context of a long-lasting and relatively popular social movement, at a time when everyone knows that this movement is heading into the August drama of provincial elections and multiple striking schools being forced to decide whether to keep striking or not. Indeed, day by day of late, there’s a mind-boggling calculus of student assemblies deciding to stay on strike, to stop striking, to remain on strike if twenty thousand other students stay on strike, and so on, with Monday, August 13 looming as the onset of blockade battle zones. People are thus aware of the “why” for our street event, often are in support of the student strike, and frequently want to show solidarity in various ways, and I think, right now, are in extra need of sociality, community, and enjoyment before the intensity of next week. And alongside this context, which is key to making other things possible, it helped that our APAQ has been determined to do tangible things for the striking students as well as the neighborhood in particular and society in general, even when we disagree with each other (we don’t use consensus, nor really ever vote, but rely on dialogue, the autonomy of working groups, and trust, built largely because APAQers really take the time to listen to and understand each other, truly taking concerns in account).

Possibility, however, is always there in different ways; it’s more a matter of recognizing those “it helps” parts that are specific to different experiential undertakings of resistance and reconstruction. Because as I highlighted in my previous blog piece, “Social Goodness & Austerity,” the Quebec student strike has cleverly blended the “against” and “for” into nearly every moment, breaking down an easy binary. So part of the reason I wanted to lay out some of the preparation time of our day was to show how we were trying to deal with bringing something festive to life that was, at once, illegal and potentially confrontational, even as it probably reveals the almost-mundane quality of just bringing people, ideas, and stuff into a space and doing something different, something that’s not the usual — for (a) change.

My second reason for focusing on the time before our social strike was to somewhat demystify the idea of a social strike, which is at once so powerful as a concept unto itself, so ubiquitous here in Montreal as a notion of the “what’s next?” and so simple in terms of what it might be — sort of. I’ve sat through many a consulta, assembly, or informal discussion about what the hell a social strike is, or engaged in conversations about it on the streets while in all the many types of illegal demos, and there’s both an incredible lack of agreement or clarity on its definition, on the one hand, and an incredible abundance of agreement that it should happen. In my Mile-End APAQ, for example, it’s been tossed around from the beginning with little contestation or even much dialogue about it, and when the notion of our “In the street for social strike” came up, everyone almost instantly thought it was a good idea.

When I say that a social strike is simple, I mean that it gets at the simple but hard fact of the contemporary social reality that capitalism shapes everyone’s lives, not just the worker’s life, or even the person or people who sans wages help to reproduce the worker. And conversely, the “simple” way to strike is by collectively not doing what you’re supposed to — business as usual — but throwing a wrench into the everyday of all of what we do, work, school, leisure, street life, urban space, and anything and everything else. Even if definitions disagree here in Montreal, people seem to concur that it isn’t just about disruption, though that’s essential, but what you do during that time of disruption to create something different. I haven’t heard it expressed this way, but it could be said that the idea is for people to “strike” in various ways, and while striking, give new meaning to “social” through the doing of it in new ways.

Remaking society for three hours is obviously a far cry from a long-running social strike that would, in turn, transform society such that we never have to go back to a hierarchical business as usual, but can continually play with better versions of communities from below. Still, there’s a way in which the concept of “social strike” opens up possibility, in the same way that a “general strike” has kind of a grinding-to-a-halt industrial feel about it, making it seem far less possible or, in my view, even desirable comparatively. The few times I’ve heard talk of a general strike here, it’s been to hold up the social strike as better and also more doable. That is, the general strike would involve trade unions, and by and large, those aren’t the most bold, daring, and dynamic sectors; most haven’t even been all that forthcoming in terms of solidarity with the student strike, unlike the newborn APAQs, say. There’s also a mafia here — a real, working one. The beauty of the social strike is that it can really happen anywhere — anywhere that there’s a collectivity of people who want to stop the routine and jump-start some potential.

Again, I don’t want to minimize the difficulty, typically, of shutting down a street even for three hours to do what you want in it with a bunch of other people, or way beyond that, moving toward what people call here, often, the “infinite” or “unlimited” social strike, with the added play on the French word for strike (grève) as holding within it also the word dream (rêve). That in itself captures the distinct beauty of a social strike over a general one: that there’s a dream inside the making and doing of it.

So what did we make and do for our three limited yet infinite hours of dreaming together in the newly liberated space of our one block? We socialized it. Communized it. Made it anarchistic. All in the lowercase senses. That is, between the cheerful orange chairs and happy red balloons could be found an egalitarian and generous spirit, valuing everyone for what they brought into it, from each according to their abilities and passions, to each according needs and desires, all self-organized and self-managed with intention and spontaneity, without compulsion, for a delight that can only be found when we manifest it ourselves, even if it took a lot of work (and even if, as one of my co-organizing APAQ folks mentioned today when I ran into her, she went to bed at 9:00 p.m. last night after it and woke up at 2:00 p.m. today, still exhausted — and still pleased, and also wearing the T-shirt that she’d gotten silk screened during our time in the streets).

Tangibly, what we did was nothing particularly special or even unique, and involved many of the activities that are merely the stuff of regular life: eating, talking, creating art, listening to music, educating and learning, relaxing, reading, making friends, setting up and cleaning up. Even the way that we did it was nothing special or unique in the countercultural circles I’m used to: everything followed a do-it-ourselves sensibility, as it does in collective projects on the antiauthoritarian Left. So I kept wandering up and down the street, focusing on keeping the twelve teach-ins on track and taking photos, among other organizational odds and ends, and thinking, “It’s going well, but so what?”

Then one of my friends who I’d asked to do a teach-in came up to me, after his workshop had ended. He’s an anarchist too, and I figured from the look on his face that he also thought it was a sweet day, but nothing special; we’re used to participatory endeavors and unpermitted undertakings. Then he launched into an enthusiastic depiction of his teach-in, underscoring how distinctly different it felt to be engaged in free and popular education, literally in the streets, centered on issues directly related to this social movement, and offering a vision of what education might be like if the social movement has some success. A few minutes later, someone else found me to offer thanks for my friend’s teach-in, since they knew I’d asked him to do it, saying how smart he was, how he could and should be a teacher, how much they learned, and how different — in a good way — it felt to be sharing in learning with others. “We need to bring him back again,” they exclaimed, “for a lot longer conversation, for us and others.”

I refocused my own lens on how I was seeing these few hours, and started really looking at what was going on. Groups of people sat circled close together on the grungy concrete, conversely intently and eagerly on topics like “Understanding and Fighting Austerity and Crisis in Montreal,” “Solidarity across Borders,” “Why the Student Strike Matters: Tuition, Debt, and Neoliberalism,” “Bodies/Protest/Public Space,” and “Four Points about Neoliberalism and Its Impact on the Common Good.” Many of the “teachers” had moved their “classrooms” to more personally agreeable spots on the streets by simply picking up their red-square sign and taping it down elsewhere, and took initiate to gather a group of “students.” A lawyer who’s also part of our APAQ was going to do a teach-in on special law 78, but only a few people came to sit by her red-square classroom sign. One of them was a military person who had served a tour of duty, and on their return home, had received a couple citations under law 78, so her teach-in ended up doing a close reading of this real-live case; the military person had never heard of the law nor knew much about the student strike before. The person leading the “Making Our Movement Green and Red” teach-in had brought his own butcher-block paper, markers, and an easel, but ended up using the giant chalk we’d contributed for the day to create a participatory mapping of his topic on the street itself.

The Alternative University Project and CUTV (live broadcasters for the Quebec Spring) were on hand to lead teach-ins, but seemed to end up more informally sharing ideas or, perhaps better yet, showing by doing. CUTV, for instance, taped the press conference, where various folks from different APAQs met each other for the first time, and chatted about future ways to collaborate and lend solidarity to each other, even as they explained the genesis of the APAQs, how they were demonstrating wider social support for this movement, and why they would stand behind the striking students. Displaying solidarity too, Anarchopanda had kindly agreed to show up for the first fifteen minutes or so to draw crowds and ward off police, and thus help us hold down the street, but the person inside the animal suit must have been enjoying himself. He joined in the teach-ins, socialized, and stayed for nearly the whole time — fulfilling his light-hearted comment to me on Facebook (when I asked him to offer a philosophy course, his specialty) that he was coming to learn from others.

An area filled with red yarn, red fabric, red-berry muffins, and red translucent “paper” — courtesy of Le Milieu, which concentrates on dialogue, popular learning, and empowerment while supporting creative processes — became a hands-on learning lab as people shared knitting skills, a center of solidarity as people jotted down their thoughts for the students and movement on the see-through red squares, and a subversion of our decision not to put rope across the street for safety reasons — proving that the best-laid DIY plans will thankfully be rethought by others who have a better idea. That’s how red squares filled with words came to dance merrily on the breeze above people’s heads, as nearby participants munched gladly on the the vegan wraps and vegan cake that the Midnight Kitchen –a volunteer collective striving to provide working alternative to current market-based systems of food collection and distribution — had made in quantity the day before along with folks from our assembly and others as part of a big cooking day for us but also a bunch of other educational events and actions over the weekend.

I noticed as well that that saucepan overflowing with red-felt squares was nearly empty now, and watched as parents pinned the symbol of solidarity and struggle on to their kids’ colorful clothing, and saw other folks reading the CLASSE manifesto and other political material that had been on our literature table, and then discussing it. I watched a group of five women dressed in red weave in and out of crowds in an at times humorous, at times serious, at times enigmatic performance-dance — only the second time they’d tried it, they told me; it was an experiment in creativity and solidarity, and captivating for anyone they dance-performed near. I listened to the people’s chorus sing, after they’d handed out lyrics so others could join in. And I got just as caught up in the silk-screening station as everyone and anyone else who happened by it. Like many others, I couldn’t resist zipping home to grab a T-shirt to bring back for on-site transformation. Artists Clément de Gaulejac and Mathieu Jacques brought their screens, talents, and politics to the streets, and told me that they’d done this before as part of the movement, not merely printing for others, but trying to create interactive spaces of learning, while designing work that spoke to the politics of this moment. The clotheslines around their print station started filling up with air-drying prints and T-shirts on clothespins, and then some of the trees were encircled with prints on cardboard to dry, and when those were filled, people gladly held wet prints until they were dry.
Mostly, beyond the DIY activities that we’d envisioned, and that others than re-DIY’d to their own satisfaction, what I witnessed, and what person after person kept underscoring as distinct, was the open and accessible space to converse, to talk, to meet, to socialize, and often with people who hadn’t known each other before. One of my friend said that they noticed that in particular: mingling among strangers, who then weren’t strange anymore. There are other festivals on this street in the summer; Montreal is a city of festivals at this time of year. But they all mostly involve things being sold or things been hawked at you, even if they are good projects trying to do outreach, or performances you merely watch. These other festivals are events that you visit as a spectator. They don’t make you feel like randomly walking up to people to chat. I thought back on when we’d first settled on our “In the street for social strike” as an APAQ and particularly a mobilization working group, before we even had a name for it, and how much this short organizing time together had worked its social glue on us too. One APAQ person remarked to me at the end of our social strike, as we were cleaning up, that it was good our neighborhood in particular had done this day of action, per the St-Henri call, because our APAQ is made up of people of all ages, few of whom are actually students, so it really does illustrate that society at large is in solidarity with the strike, but also wants something profoundly different for the city and its communities. More than that, though, I mused, it highlights what it is about a social strike that makes it potentially more potent than students engaging in a student strike, workers joining in a general strike, or even what’s been called a caring strike, in which those who supply affective labor withdraw it from commodification.
What we did in Mile-End was miniscule, and merely playacting at what might be a substantive social strike someday, a long and eventually infinite one. But even in this tiny window of three hours, and through all the planning and set up beforehand, and now in the closer connections that have come out on the other side, especially needed for what may be a difficult couple weeks ahead — not knowing whether the strike will hold or not, whether the law and riot cops will gain the upper hand, whether politics as usual and Charest will take charge again and this Quebec uprising will be quieted — it hints at what’s essential for a new society: new social relations. Yes, there is a lovely dream bundled tightly within the social strike, however brief and fragile.
-Cindy Milstein-

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Occupy as an Invitation

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Shareable.

New York, NY–I went to Zuccoti Park on Saturday, October 22, 2011 to participate in Occupy Wall Street with the little time that I had as someone with a family, a mortgage, and who is also managing a startup nonprofit. I was in New York for a short stay to attend Contactcon and help promote Shareable’s upcoming event ShareNY.

I went down the park with my friend Lazlo from Budapest who was intensely interested in Occupy as a meme. We had intended to do a little research to explore Occupy as what he called a “memetic creature”. Roughly what that meant to him was to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the central themes of Occupy. That proved impractical with the time we had, but the idea stuck in my head that I’d come home with an impression to share about Occupy.

As we headed to the park on the subway, Lazlo commented on Occupy stories from a fresh copy of the New York Times. There was a story that quoted a Tea Party activists and Senate candidate saying that Occupy protesters were “unemployed, uneducated and uninformed.” It seems everyone had an opinion, and I wanted to see for myself.

When we arrived on Wall Street, I was startled at what the police had done to control the environment. The sidestreets next to the park where barricaded. The flow of pedestrians was heavily controlled the way they are at airport security checkpoints. This had the strange effect of quieting pedestrians. It was like walking in a church, all quiet in obedience to a higher authority. There were mounted police, which seemed absolutely silly to have there unless you wanted to intimidate people.

We actually got lost for about 20 minutes looking for the park. We felt a little silly for getting lost on the way to the revolution. Lazlo suggested we ask a cop for directions. We laughed. He opted to ask the clerk at a newstand instead. That helped, but thinking back I don’t think it was an accident we had trouble getting there. The barricades restricted our ability to move freely and explore.

When we finally got to the park, it was even more controlled. The whole park was surrounded by barricades. It felt as if the police where tyring to choke the movement. In fact, I felt choked. When we actually got in the park, I felt better but it was very crowded. Thankfully, everybody I encountered was friendly. I felt welcomed. We roamed around the park to take it in. It was a lively scene. I saw teach-ins happening, educational material being passed out, a table for free cigarettes, many who were going about their daily routine as campers, a donation table (I gave $20), and a drum circle when we arrived at the far end of the park.

There we met up with some friends who had also attended Contactcon. We chatted, trying to make sense of it all, but then reverted to talk about what was happening in each of our lives. After the chat exhausted itself, Lazlo and I headed back with our friends to the other side of the park where the General Assembly was just getting started. We participated for about an hour, and then left to find a meal together.

It was anti-climatic to say the least. I left not knowing what to think about Occupy. Not to mention that I felt like a total tourist. And I had nothing to say that hadn’t already been said before. This went on a couple weeks. I just sat on the experience, a sidelined melancholy suburban revolutionary.

That changed yesterday. I started to feel that the nothingness was the message. That the openness, the undefined and emergent nature, the lack of or multitude of demands, and that my own unmade mind about it was an invitation to participate, to help shape the movement and to make a contribution in my own way. No one has a monopoly on its meaning. No one is telling me what I should do. There is no button on a web page that says, “Take Action!” The movement, like the blank field of a search engine, is asking me what I want to learn and what I want to do. It trusts that I know.

-Neal Gorenflo-

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