The last 5 months have been unspeakably intense to me – an intensity carefully detailed in more than 600 pages of a very “emotionally rational” journal –, and that’s why my apparent “regret” mentioned above soon turned into a huge pride, a pride of being part of this thing that nobody knows what it is, although those who are part of it can feel it very clearly. I got here for May Day with a lot of expectations – some met, some frustrated, some overcome with surprise – and was automatically led to confusion. Now, I’m leaving right after another big event, the anniversary, still confused, but with a lot more of expectations. Different confusions, different expectations, but still both: the expected confusion of confused expectations. And, yes, I’m leaving. Not that I want to. Not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I’m leaving, at the same time that I’m not, because even though I’m leaving, I’m leaving and taking a lot with me. I am because I really am, and I am not because I am really not, and that’s it. Yeah, as obvious as apparently confusing: just like the message OWS has been trying to spread out and others insist on pretending they don’t understand – or maybe they truely don’t, out of fear and/or lack of imagination.
The least I can say about my experience here is that Occupy really changed me in a very powerful way, as some occupiers had already warned me since the very beginning. Not that I’m someone who’s not very acquainted with the possibility of constant variations of any kind – quite the opposite: I’m usually not just seeking to (deliberately) change in a lot of ways, but I’m also open to (unpredictably) be changed to the same extent almost on a daily basis. But in this case, it’s just that I’m talking about a different kind of change, a change that changes you precisely because it doesn’t necessarily have to “change” whatever is already inside yourself much more than just making it possible that you truly believe in your own beliefs by putting yourself face to face with who you are, who you appear to be, who you (might) want to be and all the others being with you. And, no, we’re not going to change the world by arrogantly trying to change the others, willing to make them look like ourselves or what we think we are, but especially by changing ourselves – in relation to the others, to the world and to our own selves again – and, thus, maybe inspiring – never shaping – other others, whoever they may be.
In the end, what this ultimately means is that it’s not because we believe so much in our beliefs that we have to believe that we know all the answers, that we carry the ‘truth’ and as a consequence won’t “give it up,” just like a stuborn child; actually, (I believe) it’s the opposite: the real believer is the one who’s able to “doubt” his/her own convictions to the same extent that he/she is capable of standing for these same beliefs and to its principles as strongly as he/she can. In the long run, what was Occupy Wall Street if not that unspeakable phenomenon that brought up together a lot of “believers” that were pretty much scattered all around and somehow isolated with their own beliefs, maybe believing less than what they actually could because they felt they were pretty much alone? And what was the natural consequence of this unpredictable coming together if not give a far greater impulse to those beliefs already inside each one by mixing them with other similar beliefs (and their holders) and finally making them come true? After all, as Raul Seixas – a Brazilian composer who has served as an inspiration to me since my early adolescence – says: “a dream that is dreamt alone is just a dream, but a dream that’s dreamt together is reality.” Yeah, by dreaming together and believing that this dream is much more than just a dream, we are rebuilding reality.
But what does this mean exactly, to be a “believer?” The thing is we are all believers, no matter we consider ourselves – or the others – a “realistic” or an “idealistic” person. Actually, being a realist or an idealist means pretty much the same thing, although in opposite ways. How? Because “reality” necessarily depends on the way we see it, ultimately, on the ideas – beliefs – we have about it. And the result is that the only difference between these two prototypes lies specifically on the emphasis that each one puts on the negative and the positive aspects of what they can see in/as “reality”; that is, of the “reality” they can see. The claimed to be realist, therefore, is the one who idealizes his/her reality according to the impossibilities it (supposedly) encloses, whereas the claimed to be “idealist” realizes (and tries to achieve) his/her ideality according to the possibilities he/she can conceive. That’s why people who don’t believe in a better world (the pessimistic ones), for instance, like to call themselves “realist”; and that’s why when these same people want to disqualify any optimist point made by anybody else, they don’t hesitate to call this person an “idealist.”
What these people fail to understand, though, is that we are all both idealist and realist, no matter what, because these spectra are completely tied together, what leads us to conclude that the whole issue is not a matter of form (realism or idealism), it’s all about content (pessimism or optimism): after all, our conception of reality – and, thus, what we believe is or could be “real” – totally depends on our will and capacity of imagination. So, yes, instead of sticking to the impossibility of the possible (what the claimed to be “realist” do), we, occupiers, stick to the possibilities of the impossible, just like the Cuban composer Silvio Rodríguez suggests: “I’ve preferred to talk about the impossible things, because what is possible we already know a lot about”.
Well, at this point I realize I’m kinda getting carried away with my thoughts, given the big excitement it always brings me to talk about my encounter with so many other believers, but I really don’t want to make a long statement out of this happy anniversary/farewell message. I just want to say happy birthday to OWS (virtually now, after doing it in flesh during the weekend) and to thank you all for everything you have, directly or indirectly, done: to the world and to me – in this case, especially by making it possible for me to believe even more in what I already believed. Of course, some of you just know me as far as you can recognize my face or remember my name, given our very superficial contact (in terms of direct interaction); but you may be sure that in the broad sense it was not superficial at all: we’re all on the same boat, fighting for the same cause and relating to each other in ways that we can’t even think of, let alone measure or explain.
So, yes, I’m leaving; but, again, I’m not; and I’m taking a lot with me, what I hope to be able to bring back, somewhow, in paper and (English) ink, and give to you as a feedback – after all, what I’m writing is ‘mine’ just to a very limited extent: it is much more of a big collective project resulted from a completely rizomatic and dialogical process. As most of you know, Occupy is the “object” of my Master thesis, but it’s pretty obvious (at least for the ones who have met me) that my connection to the movement goes far beyond that, since our relation has never been distant, “imparcial,” as they say it’s supposed to be; quite the contrary: it’s been a very affectuate relationship, one of subjects, what doesn’t have to mean at all a loss of critical thought or anything alike, as the same “they” believe and try to make us believe as well. Yes, there is a lot of affection between us – what is not just beautiful, but “productive” as well (to use a word the ones who like to measure everything love); and, yes, I created very strong political and personal roots here – what makes feel like coming back soon.
So, I might be back; but before that I also would really like to see you guys in Brazil too – as much as I want to see more and more what you’ve been doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that whenever and wherever this (re)encounter takes place, we are going to be still stronger than we are now – the same way we already are in comparison to last year, even to yesterday – and our beliefs are going to be even more “real” than what they are at this point – the same way the impossibilities are starting to become more and more possible. Well, at least that’s what I believe, that’s what you guys made me believe even more in the last months. Why? Because when I got here and asked you “show me what your dreams look like” – still not sure if they were the same as mine –, you went way beyond that by simply answering me, not just with ideas, but mostly with action: “this is what reality could look like!”. Yes, it could; and it will: because it already is becoming this, little by little.
– Thiago TRocha –]]>
I awake at 7:45 to Simone saying, “Knock, knock. Who’s there? It’s daddy!” and flinging the pillow off of my face.
The day feels rushed from the start. Simone has a birthday party to go to, Beth wants to work out and clean the house, Pearl won’t nap and everything feels condensed, agitated, exacerbated. Before I know it, the clock reads 11 and I soon need to leave.
“I don’t want our kids to say fifteen years from now, ‘Mom, you missed out on history to clean the kitchen?’” Beth says.
I call Jonathan, see if he wants to meet. He can’t; he’s doing the school thing. We chat for a minute about books and the ennui and he says he feels the same perennial self-dislike I wrote about two weeks ago. I say I feel frustration with the human race. “Our brains are ninety percent chimp,” he says.
I want to take Simone but I’d literally have to turn around and come right back. I vacillate. I waffle. Maybe I should skip. Spend some time with my family. What difference does one person make?
“You should go,” Beth says. “Just go. Go. Go.”
Simone has no pants on. I leave her behind. She cries as I shut the door.
On the platform, the day is warm. I’m taking notes. I can’t think of how to spell “exacerbate.” I entertain the notion I’ve had a mini-stroke.
People discuss college football. I want to yell, “Don’t you know what’s going on? Don’t you know what’s at stake?”
Black shirts and baseball caps. Baby strollers—anger isn’t our main obstacle; apathy is.
Sports television bubble gum Coors Light and holding hands in a grassy park and brunch and lunch and dinner and the bright glowing wondrous banal spectrum of living without the burden of other people’s problems.
The train arrives. I get on. The trip is uneventful. I can’t read or write on the train else I get a headache so I let my thoughts drift. I’m antsy. Visions of a riot, police in riot gear sobbing while dousing protestors with tear gas. I save two dozen small children, meet the president, become a folk hero. Someone like Josh Ritter writes a song. Where do my thoughts come from?
I exit at Washington/Wells, cross under the tracks. Five years in Chicago and I’ve never been on the pink line. I sit on a metal bench. Someone has written in black letters on the seat: “Are there any pimps left?”
Other teachers, other red shirts. A ten-year-old wears a blue shirt that reads only, “Love.”
I wish Simone were here with me. I’m glad she’s not. I wait glum and unshaven. At least it isn’t hot. I’m not hungry but I want to eat. I don’t smoke but I crave a cigarette. I’m struggling with the sublimation process. How to let go of all this frustration in the air? How do I find the courage not to hate?
Union Park is huge. I enter through the wrought-iron gates. Fifty aqua-blue portolets line the edges of the park. Two dozen people stand in line to buy hot dogs. An enormous crimson crescent of people encircle a stage. I make my way over. It’s hard to gauge how many people are here. Thousands, yes, but maybe not tens of thousands. It’s a Saturday. The contract negotiation appears to be over. The sense of historical importance has faded just a touch.
A church spire slices through the trees. I see two helicopters and a plane. One of the Occupy Rogers Park people says hi. She invites me to the next occupy meeting.
I get a text from Bill. He isn’t coming. He has his wife and their upcoming child to attend to. He’s sent an impassioned little text to all his teacher friends.
I find a patch in the middle that isn’t crowded. I listen to a female speaker with a gut-wrenching voice. She gets right to the heart of it. “It’s time for the working people of Chicago to take back the city that works. . . . We got to stand up to the tactics that are destroying our city. We got to hold every damn body accountable, the teachers, the parents, the mayor, the alderman, every damn body.”
I cheer. I clap. The mood of the gathering is less festive. More resolute. There’s already a touch of grim resolve in the air, not one full week in.
Another speaker. A union organizer and teacher for charter schools. He explains that charter school teachers aren’t the enemy, just the mindset that would allow teachers to work for so little pay. I clap. He explains how hard the charter schools fight any talk of unions at all. I cheer.
More speakers appear but I’m losing interest. I agree with what they are saying, I have my family at home, I’d prefer to march and chat and sing.
I feel a hand on my ass. It’s Jonathan. We catch up. He’s at Hawthorne now. He’s writing an entire curriculum for the upper grades, connecting all the subjects. He’s nuts. Every night, after the marching and chanting and yelling, he goes home to work on a new unit. He has a tambourine and he hits it with what looks like a tiny maraca. He was a union organizer years and years ago. He’s in a rock band. He rules.
Another speaker mentions a teacher strike in Baltimore back in the day. She ends with this: “I used to tell people, if you see me wrestling with a bear, help the bear.” The crowd roars. “We’re fighting the bear, but we don’t need any help.”
Jonathan asks if I want to get a beer, but I can’t. I want to make it home to help with Simone and the birthday party. We hug, I leave out. The rally is subdued but well attended. A coalescing of union people, antiwar people, hippies, and teachers. Teachers haven’t been part of the counter culture for a long time. It feels right.
I climb back up the stairs and wait for the train. The anxiety and sleeplessness and uncertainty of things has left me with weary legs. Two police officers lean on the banister overlooking Union Park. A sea of red. I think of red blood cells. One of the cops has a cigar. They seem amused. We can’t quite make out what the speaker is saying from here.
Two teachers emerge from the train. “Is it over?” they ask.
I feel sheepish. “Oh, no, no, I have two little children at home, else I would . . .”
Everything’s a rush. The American condition. Hurry up and wait. The daily dilemma. One reason I’ve never ridden the pink line is it only seems to run every six hours. I wait. I look at the clock on my cell. An ivy-covered chimney juts out into my view. The train arrives. I board, noticing how clean and new the train feels. I transfer back to the brown line and head north.
An old-timer with his name tattooed on his forearm speaks to me about the strike. He has big teeth and an odd way of speaking. “Is it almost over?” he asks. His name is Don.
“I think so. I hope so,” I say.
“There’s no money.”
“There’s money,” I say, and the whole train is listening, “it’s just a question of priorities. Money for schools or no-interest loans to property developers?”
“People in the suburbs like me are being double-taxed for Chicago public schools.”
I wince inside. “You’re being double taxed?”
He nods. “Cook County.”
“I don’t know about that, but I do know that Chicago has for decades underfunded public education. Some students don’t even have textbooks.”
He’s mad at first, but I just talk with him and soon he isn’t mad at all. He moves over to my side of the train.
He tells me his story. He’s a product of Chicago public schools. He has severe dyslexia, so severe he still can’t read. “But I own my own business, I’m doing just fine.” He has a little window washing company that cleans the windows of every Dunkin Donuts downtown. “The teachers then knew I wouldn’t pass any tests, so instead they taught me how to cook, how to use my memory, how to fix things.”
I explain that people like him—smart people with learning disabilities—are precisely the ones who are most harmed by the always-be-testing mindset.
He goes on. “Every Friday, back when I was in school, two teachers and they would rotate, two teachers would donate their time to run a dance. They would pat each person down, make sure there were no weapons or anything, and then we would have a dance. It was great. The kids, we all knew that the teachers cared about us. School was more than just a place you had to go.”
I said we do the same thing now—just not the patting and the weekly dance.
Don loves to talk. And he loves to reminisce. He keeps saying the expression, “back when I was in school.”
Turns out the lady sitting next to me is his wife. She’s quiet, also a product of Chicago public schools, and soon all three of us are having a nice time as the El stops pass. Don then tells me how he ran a building for a while. “A guy says to me, I like you, I can’t get my tenants to pay the rent, why don’t you work for me for a while? So I get into the super business on a building on Sheridan, in Uptown. When tenants didn’t pay their rent, I would take their doors off the hinges. I would shut down the elevator. I would turn off the washer and dryer. People came up with the money real fast with no door on their apartment. You see, back then, the door was considered part of the building, not the apartment. And it cost you $942 to take someone to eviction court. Better to take the door off the hinges, let them walk five blocks for laundry. Man, they paid.” He and his wife laugh, they aren’t bad people but I’m uncomfortable with this new story. I give a cursory laugh anyway.
We shake hands. I thank them for their company.
At home I find Beth in the kitchen and Simone running around the house naked. No nap. The party starts in 20 minutes. Beth hasn’t been able to clean. Simone fights me about what she wants to wear. She’s tired but excited about the party and it is a bad combination. We leave early, meet a neighborhood friend on the way.
The block party is just starting and children are making their way to the three-year-old’s birthday bash. A little table with glue and stickers and party hats, a bowl full of bagged dried apples and cheese goldfish, juice boxes swimming in a tub of ice and a keg of Half-Acre beer. I’m angry at the dissonance of the world, I can’t help it, I’m too tired for any kind of decent small talk, I sit alone and brood.
I sip a beer feeling morose. The alcohol does its dark magic. The party has two ponies, one white the other black, for the kids to ride. Simone is fascinated by them but passes on getting in the saddle. “That’s too scary for me,” she tells Beth.
I lean back.
There’s a danger in writing about something as you are going through it. You begin to narrate your own life. I look up at the sun-touched branches, the green tips of the thousand leaves turned gold, and I think, “I look up at the sun-touched branches, the green tips of the thousand leaved turned gold.”
Day six has ended. The strike has not. I fall asleep quickly, but Simone awakens me at 2 to tuck her into bed. After that, I’m up. I sit down and begin writing, hoping to capture as much as I can before the memories slip away.
– Ben Beard –]]>
I am awake at 6:30 and feel refreshed. I eat a big bowl of oatmeal and almonds and dried cherries with Simone. I kiss my family goodbye. I pedal under subtle sunlight. I arrive at 8:05. The bulk of the staff is already present.
We remain a raggedy group. The big story is how many of our staff were in the media the night before. Kris was interviewed by ABC about tif funds. Dina was interviewed on another news channel. Robin was interviewed on ABC, too.
And I was interviewed in the Chicago Tribune. (You can read my comment here.)
People recount yesterday’s march. Some Chicagoans are angry. On Wacker, yesterday, someone said to Kris, “Get back to work, you dirty piece of shit.”
“What’d you say?” I ask.
“Nothing. I just got away from him and then cried.”
Some teachers write hopeful messages to our students in wet chalk on the sidewalk. Our principal appears, says hello to everyone. One of the many children present hands him a fair contract sign. He drops it like it’s kryptonite, makes a joke about no one catching him with a camera.
The plan is to canvas the neighborhood, speak with people, hand out flyers. We get ourselves together. People munch on bagels and donuts, slurp down coffee and eat a chocolaty confection that makes me sleepy just looking at it. Four of our students walk by.
“I saw you on TV last night!” Brian says.
“Me?” I ask. “You saw me?”
“Yeah, you were marching, dancing.”
I feel a shiver of embarrassment. “Was I interviewed?”
“Nope. Just singing and stuff.”
We head out in small groups. I walk with Daryl, Hannah, Abbey, Larry, Doctor O. We walk past Dominick’s, through the EL station. Larry tells me some crazy lady upbraided him yesterday morning. “She came over and yelled, ‘We don’t do this kind of shit in China! Go back to work!’”
“China?” I ask.
“What kind of nonsense is she talking?” Doctor O. asks.
The media tide is turning. After being called lazy and greedy and selfish and horrible and callous—multiple pundits warned of danger to the students if we did have a strike—things are turning our way. The issues we care about—neighborhood schools, equal funding, smaller class sizes, money for arts and music education, and so on—are percolating through the various news filters. Some of the pernicious lies remain. If I hear one more report of how charter schools out-perform public schools, they absolutely do not, I’ll scream.
Paying (often) less qualified teachers less money somehow equals a better education for students. It’s madness.
A big thing is the shoes. I have one pair of newish shoes that kill my ankles, and an ancient pair of good shoes that destroy my feet. I go with the feet destroyers. The feet can handle a beating better than my ankles. I try wearing flip flops but it feels strangely inappropriate. For all my banter, striking is serious business.
We stand in front of the west-facing tunnel. It is a beautiful day. The sun is above but there’s a chilly breeze. We speak with a few people. Almost everyone is friendly. We mill about, try to look busy. The enervation shows. We’re easily distractable. My voice echoes through the tunnel. I pretend to be God.
Hannah and Abbey and the others speak with two teenagers sitting on a metal bench. Doctor O. and Larry talk about cutting off aid to Egypt. I feel a bouncy nervousness in the balls of my sore feet.
I walk to the corner, turn right. I see two red shirts in front of the station and I amble over to say hello.
Howard past Clark is a touch dodgy. There’s gangs and dealers and unemployed dudes and the place is turning itself around, but I wouldn’t wander around here after 10. There’s tension and toughness in the ether. It really isn’t the nicest of places.
I say hello to the other two teachers. Thirty seconds of small talk and I’m wondering why I came over. We have little in common. My mind wanders to The Odyssey of all things. The conversation ends. I want to extricate myself but am not sure how. I put my hands in my pockets.
An overgrown man-child dressed all in black rides his bike within one inch of my foot. It’s a provocative move, but I don’t take the bait. He smokes a thin cigar.
A group of dudes mill about in front of a liquor store. “I’m going to knock you the fuck out!” one of them yells. I don’t turn to see if he’s speaking to me. That’s rule number one, of course. Don’t make eye contact with anything you don’t want to tangle with. I move along.
An aged dude in a flowing green button down and expensive black slacks stands by the entrance, says hello. I say hello back and he beckons me over. He has a bandage on the back of his head, he’s slurring his words. He has a hospital discharge bracelet on his wrist. “My name is Willie,” he says. “I got robbed. They clubbed me in the head. I just got out of the hospital but my brother ain’t here. Can you give me two twenty five for the El?”
I sense I’m being hustled but it’s a good con. I dig into my bag. I have the exact amount. I hand it over. He thanks me, goes into the station. I don’t have the patience to wait for him to come out.
I return to the group. “There are some street toughs over there,” I say. No one laughs at my old fashioned word.
We all walk over to Howard. Daryl looks for the guy on the bike. He isn’t around. “There’s a Jamaican bakery that way,” he says. He grew up around here. We walk, speak with a few people, smile and wave. He buys Ginger beer and beef pockets and soon we are heading back to Clark. Daryl shares the beef pockets with the others, the ginger drink with me. It’s great, but bothers my throat so I only sip a little.
The hustler with the bandage on his head stands outside the station.
“Shit,” I say. “I don’t want him to be uncomfortable. Let’s just cross the street.”
Daryl shakes his head. “He won’t be embarrassed. Come on.”
“Last time this sort of thing happened, the guy turned it into a joke. I can’t bear a second sob story.”
We walk past him and his features have hardened. He no longer looks like a victim, but more like a hawk. He’s standing by some of the street toughs. They all seem to know each other.
Two of them argue over who is more of the neighborhood. “Fuck you man, I graduated from Field,” all in black man child says. “I’m all Rogers Park.”
We head back to school. The day remains a stunner.
“I always give money,” Daryl says. “Always. I figure if someone has to get into the street to beg, then I can spare a little to help.”
This leads into a discussion on welfare and I start to get loud. I’ve become a terrible conversationalist. I’m combustible. I’m tendentious. I’m cantankerous. I raise my voice in restaurants. I bang my hand on tables. I’m some Don Rickles parody. “What’s so good about this morning?” I’ve turned into some foaming junkyard dog. I’m having trouble controlling my temper over small things.
I’ve said it before. There’s something in this process that propels you.
We’re not alone. Lake Forest teachers are now on strike. Highland Park is one week away. Other areas of Illinois are in the contract process. We hear rumors of other school systems, other public sector employees, getting behind us from all around the country.
Most everyone was friendly with me today. Others weren’t so lucky. Some were yelled at. Sheila was accosted by an old man. She tells me the story. “He yells, ‘I’m a taxpayer, go back to work!’ I said, ‘Do you want to talk to me about it?’ and then he gets on the bus,” she says. She pauses. “The next person who’s rude to me, I’m punching him in the face!”
Dina recounts how two people muttered rude things to her as they passed by. The Walgreens parking lot seems a hotbed of animus towards the teachers.
“If the strike goes on,” Stu says, “another week? I think there’s going to be a lot more anger towards us.”
“But if it lasts a month, I think we’ll have more support than we do now,” I say. “There’s peaks and valleys.”
Liz rallies us all in front of the school. She reads us the Boston Teachers Union letter. We clap and cheer.
Hal is on the roof. He takes photos of all of us and a few of me.
My self-concept is not in synch with reality. I think of myself as dignified. An ambassador type. In the photos I seem insubstantial, wispy. A pale-skinned scarecrow with wood splinter limbs and a haunted hawkish face. Something out of a horror movie. Ah, vanity, it never fully leaves you.
We plan to attend the Saturday rally tomorrow. Most everyone leaves.
I lose ten precious minutes to a conversation about the inequalities in the school system. I feign outrage but I’ve tired with the constant moral indignation.
Soon, I am biking home. My mind stays blank for most of it. It’s all physical sensations. The sound of crunching rocks, the working thigh muscles, the sun above in its blazing indifference.
There’s been some misconceptions. We aren’t paid during the strike. We aren’t striking for money. We aren’t greedy vicious hateful racist pigs. We aren’t purveyors of avarice. We are not haters of children.
The strike has three major components: working conditions, public education, and the union’s right to protect its members.
The working conditions piece speaks to the nuts and bolts of our profession. This is the salary increases (we can’t negotiate our salaries ever, so some type of incremental increase is essential); the proposed new evaluation system (we already have an evaluation system in place. We refuse to be graded on the student test scores, for a variety of good if not easily explicable reasons); class sizes, and so on (which we, alone in the state of Illinois, are not allowed to strike over).
The public education piece has to do with social justice and equal access to a good education. The city has consistently underfunded public education in a variety of ways. The worst schools are in the poorest neighborhoods, almost uniformly, and these schools also have a dearth of resources. For instance, I interviewed at a job in a very destitute area and the students, at the end of the year, didn’t have enough textbooks. Their playground was a parking lot. They played football on concrete. They had a handful of working computers in the entire school. Contrast this with my first job, which had a computer lab on every floor, and a separate computer lab for every six classrooms. I bet anyone could guess which school has better test scores.
The mayor and his ilk see the problem as abstracted—just numbers on a spreadsheet—with a practical solution. Shut down failing schools, fire all the failing teachers, and let charter schools take over. This releases the mayor from accountability, and it’s cheaper, in a way. But the idea that teachers making less money, with less credentials, will provide struggling students with a better education makes no kind of sense. Yet, that is what the mayor wants to do.
And he wants to replicate this in over one hundred neighborhoods. That’s union jobs eliminated—one lady on the news called it downsizing—and that’s less money going into neighborhoods that really need more. A teacher working in Englewood should make $150,000 a year. Then the best teachers in the world would try to get that job. (And yet, Englewood schools would still have low test scores.)
Finally, the union piece. There’s been a national movement to eliminate or dis-empower public sector unions. Wisconsin and New Jersey both in the past few years saw a significant decrease in the teachers’ union’s ability to collectively bargain. Charter schools are part of the problem. They are fiercely anti-union. (One charter school fought the unionizing process for two years.)
We are fighting in part for our right to exist.
I’ve been through a tornado, a house fire, the death of a dog, and three minutes of CPR for my oldest daughter. But this strike—the facets to it, the swirl of vitriol and misinformation, the heft of it, its dimensions and nooks and crannies—it’s in some sense more terrifying than the other travails. A cloud of uncertainty. If we lose, if all of this were for nothing, I don’t know. The job would feel tarnished. I would feel betrayed by my profession.
I recall some of the things I’ve said and heard the last few days.
Such as, “The U.S. has had a containment policy since Johnson. We do good work in a bad system.”
And, “We’re operating under an industrial model. Our educational system in the whole country is hopelessly outdated.”
And, “You got your handout, too. You were born white in the U.S., there’s your handout.”
And, “They demonize Karen Lewis because she’s a strong, black woman with a shrill voice who’s overweight. If she looked like Paul Ryan, the criticism would be different.”
And, “We should declare victory, and take the board’s latest proposal.” (This last one is from me, not my most courageous hour.)
Hannah calls mid-afternoon. Turns out the word choad has two meanings. She actually looked it up. “And, as a teacher, I thought I would be remiss if I didn’t share them both with you. And, oh, the strike isn’t yet over. They say there’s a framework, but not an agreement.”
I hang up. I tell Beth. I go over the mistakes I’ve made due to the psychic dissonance in the atmosphere. I feel that queasy dread in my insides. The idea of this going for four or five more days fills me with profound weariness.
Simone naps. Beth goes to work out. I play with Pearl. She crawls for the first time. Only five months old. She’s some kind of advanced superhuman.
“Maybe she’ll be an Olympian when she grows up,” Beth says.
I spend too much time looking for the video of me Brian mentioned. Ah, vanity, there you are again. I never find the video. It’s just as well.
Night and I’m making dinner. Beth has our daughters at the park. The apartment is quiet. I realize I haven’t listened to a single piece of music all week. And there’s that about this process, too—it squeezes out the simple pleasures, the small joys.
Day five is over. I stumble through Jack’s nightly walk. It’s only 11 and I can’t keep my eyes open. Sleep comes quickly. I don’t remember my dreams.
– Ben Beard –
 Not his real name, of course.
I noticed people running around near the main stream media–live streamers. I started asking questions: who are you? Why are you filming? Where does your work go? Lorenzo Serna explained that he was streaming. This grabbed my attention. Then, Bill Boggs at the press tent handling PR was loaded with intensity. Then Hero Vincent was doing some kind if Skype chat. I started asking all of them questions. This led to meeting Justin Wedes and Priscilla Grim and Flux and Haywood Carey–and Tim Poole. Of course, Jesse Lagreca made a splash with the Fox News people. I knew this was the angle for my film: the media people. They had a job to do. Help drive a story. Whether it was filming, editing, getting out a press release or a newspaper, this was new, exciting, living media happening from Zuccotti in the rain, snow. Anybody getting out a story to the world with this feverish energy was exciting, and to me, the first time in a long while in New York City that media wasn’t old, stale and redundant!
I made a 40 minute film that was almost live. I made some good friends and they shared with me some great video that I couldn’t film alone. I needed a team of 5 camera people 24/7 .
I made a film that mirrored the days and nights of Zuccotti. Raw, fast and real, I wanted the sound rough. The shaky camera from when I was shoved. Zuccotti was not a glossed-over filtered fantasy. I am a hard New Yorker, and this energy was real. The OWS media team is brilliant. From the Direct Action to the graphic artists to Sophia writing the Spanish paper, I tell the story of many people. Personal, yet showing their commitment to OWS media, I filmed it.
This is new journalism. They don’t need press passes and insignias to get out a story. This is greatness in action. I’m happy they trusted me to tell the story. And, regardless of criticism, they know how to create a story, and they work hard.
It was a once in a lifetime event in New York. Finally people said “Enough with the bullshit. We are citizen journalists. This is what we do. We will tell our own story.”
I used my energy to capture it.
Editor’s Note: You may view #WhileWeWatch in its entirety here at SnagFilms.]]>
Seeking love and affection any way I could, I found myself pregnant at 15. Knowing I did not have the parenting skills necessary to raise a child, I gave her up for adoption. Then I went on a drive to prove to the world that I was a good human being. With no help from my family, I got myself through college, and, eventually, with the help of my husband, graduated with an MBA. My goal: to be vice president of a Fortune 500 company. Why? This was the ultimate measure of success for a woman in this country. I worked hard, stuffed my feelings far down into my soul, and started climbing the corporate ladder.
As I climbed, I noticed that the difference in pay between myself and the people reporting to me got bigger and bigger. This made no sense to me. These people were working just as hard as me, and had specialized skills I didn’t have. I couldn’t even DO some of their jobs! At one point I asked the human resources people if I could give some of my pay to my team. That suggestion was met with disbelief, and the response was that the HR department was working to increase the disparity, in order to provide people a greater incentive for for working their way up. I kept silent.
Eventually I reached the point where the VPs started inviting me to their homes on the weekends. I knew what that meant. They were seeing if I would fit into the tight social circle which exists at that level. I talked antiques and gardening with the wives, and golfing and global economics with their corporate husbands. I listened to them discuss their homes in Florida, their fishing and golfing trips, their travels to Europe and the Caribbean.
It became clear to me that they only socialized with others at their level within the corporation – tightly held in their carefully constructed bubble of safety and ignorance. I realized that if I actually reached my long-held and hard-fought goal, these people would be “my friends”, my social circle. It sickened me. I realized that if I actually reached my goal, I would be desperately unhappy, and would have to muzzle my voice and my life 24/7. I saw that the huge salaries were part of an ego game, to which everything was sacrificed. Nothing else mattered. I toyed with the idea of going along with the game, and changing the corporation from within. But I would have been alone in my efforts, and it would have been overwhelming.
So I quit. I quit the company, and ended up quitting my 20-year marriage and my country, and I moved to New Zealand to start a new life. I became an independent business consultant and focused on helping New Zealand entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed. Then 5 years ago, I moved into the gift economy – giving my time and skills to individuals and small nonprofits around the world who were dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. I had no home, no car, and no worries. A year spent volunteering for people with disabilities in Kashmir, the most militarized place on earth, was the beginning of my activism.
Then, while volunteering for the Catholic Worker movement here in the US, Occupy was born. Now here was a cause that could handle everything I had to offer, and more. I had a plane ticket to take me back to Geneva in March 2012. I cancelled it. There is nowhere else on earth I can do the most good to help the world than right here in the U.S., in the heart of the beast. But this time I am not alone. I am surrounded with like-hearted people. Together, we will create the world we dream of. A world of acceptance, shared values, integrity, transparency, meaning, affection, love, and community. Everything I sought after since childhood is wrapped up in this package called Occupy.
HALFWAY, OR–We slowed down a bit in winter to retrench and discuss what we really felt was important to this community. We live in a mostly conservative ranching town. We wanted to find issues and a focus which would likely bring the people in town together. After a great deal of thoughtful conversation and research we have decided to focus our efforts on http://www.movetoamend.org and resolutionsweek.org. Both are addressing the SCOTUS decision that allowed corporations to flood our political system with un-transparent, unlimited money.
We’ve created a flier covering Citizen’s United, SuperPACs and the problem with corporate personhood. We plan on tabling and running discussions during the spring in hopes of creating common ground and building trust across the red/blue chasm. When we talk to people it’s not hard to find agreement about corporatism and crony capitalism. This is very important to us as we are a community that relies on each other. These bonds are important to us. How we get along is more important to many than politics. So we’ll be tabling and talking and hoping to translate occupy to folks here.
There are occupy groups popping up throughout Eastern Oregon. Many are discussing whether or not to call themselves occupy at all, as the imagery that most people see out here is very unflattering. It’s rather hard to compete with what people are exposed to—which is obviously a very distorted picture coming from the mainstream media. Hopefully, we can help show the diversity of the movement. It is important that people understand how wide and deep it is. I hope that people in occupy keep talking across those lines that divide with respect at the center of all we do.
We also have a community member who has arrived fresh from the fight in Wisconsin—so he is very fired up!
Most people in the group are over 50—so we are not going to be camping out. Old bones don’t like that. But we will be doing what we can!
No journalists, no television, no microphones—only their voices and faces.
These portraits bear witness to the beginning of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. They regard dreamers who believe in an idea.
No one could have imagined that in the space of a few weeks, those involved in Occupy Wall Street would have entered people’s homes all over the world through newspapers and television.
—Daniele Corsini, photographer
We were inspired to do the action because of a youtube video we saw of activists in New York doing something similar. We sat down in our new living room and talked with the folks there before we got bounced from the place. I even left a rug in there and had to run back to get it and one of the bank workers picked up a pair of white framed sunglasses and asked “Are these yours?” They did belong to one of the protesters. These workers are part of the 99%, too bad they work for Bank of America. Emboldened with our first success we moved on to the Wells Fargo down the street. After bantering with us for a few moments over whether Wells Fargo was involved in private prisons through their investment in the GEO Group he said “I’ll give you five minutes.” We were in no mood to see what happened after those five minutes and we scattered back to the park. Two pretty successful actions and now we are ready for more.
“I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I’d do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.” —Fidel Castro
Los Angeles, CA–Occupy Los Angeles began with 50 people in Pershing Square. There are now nearly 50,000 “likes” on the Facebook page, yet it was Castro’s scenario that occupied Bertha Herrera’s backyard in Van Nuys in early January. Fifteen people with absolute faith that knew a part of changing the world was to be found in a two-bedroom house in the valley.
Bertha had been a resident of this cozy slice of home for over thirty-one years. She was blindsided by trouble when she was denied her workers’ compensation and found herself with no alternative except a second mortgage. The cold and indifferent bank floored Bertha with an illegal notice to evict after mishandling her payments.
There will be ten million more cases like Bertha’s this year. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos make up the majority of loans delinquent or in foreclosure in California. When examining completed foreclosures, African-American and Latino rates in Los Angeles County are double those of whites. The report, titled Lost Ground 2011, states, “Minority borrowers were disproportionately targeted for mortgage products that were inherently more difficult to sustain, which has resulted in higher foreclosure and serious delinquency rates in communities of color.”
It is clear that Bertha’s situation is far from unique. City, state, and federal government programs have failed to offer real relief, characteristically choosing giveaways to banks and empty rhetoric. The L.A. City Council extended protections for renters but ignored homeowners. Bertha paid an advocate $1,500 but was left unrepresented in court and handed a default judgment. The state legislature failed to pass SB 1137, which would have prevented this robbery. Had those in Sacramento truly cared about struggling Americans, they certainly would have passed this bill to require servicers to make contact with borrowers before initiating foreclosure action.
This brings us to D.C. and the shortcomings of federal foreclosure protections. A total of $29.9 billion has been set aside from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to go towards the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Of the 1.2 million California homes foreclosed upon in the last three years, only ten percent have seen that funding and help. What is abundantly obvious is that our elected officials care more about the banks’ bottom lines than homes for their “constituents”. It was with this realization that Bertha Herrera reached out to Occupy Los Angeles for help.
This writing was partially complete when the sheriffs cut the dead bolt and cleared Bertha’s house room by room. I was feeling a child-like euphoria over occupying a foreclosed home. The movement was transitioning from the symbolic to the real. We all agreed that housing was a human right as we sat cross-legged in our respective tents at Occupy LA, funky protest music thumping from the South Steps. Now we were doing something about it beyond raising awareness on the issue and “changing the national dialogue”. If occupying City Hall had been boot camp, this was our first mission.
The Joy was written before the police came with their guns, before the realtor measured for remodeling, and before the carpenters scurried in the darkness to board up the home.
It was Day 97 of Occupy Los Angeles and Day 111 for Occupy Wall Street. For Bertha in Van Nuys, this was day one of her occupation. Her nephew watched us make signs, erect tents, and talk into the night as her patio became a microcosm of Solidarity Park. We were experts at occupying by now. Tents materialized out of thin air and were arranged in a community-oriented circle. A smoking zone was designated for a far corner of the yard as cell phones and cameras occupied the charging station. We were livestreaming the action, tweeting for pizza, and grinning.
Sitting on her back porch as crickets chirped, I noticed a marked absence of noise at this special occupation. In the silence, I was struck by the differences and similarities between occupying public space as a statement versus a foreclosed ninety-niner’s home as a measurable act. I knew I was part of a revolution when I was at Solidarity Park. The drums, the mic-checks, the sirens, and the honking horns told me so. But this quiet suburb, in all its normalcy, was also now a focal point to this movement.
The goals of a public occupation are attacked as oftentimes oblique. This critique has incessantly confused me. I simply want all the things dismantled. I want health care for all, an end to war, fair and just fiscal policy, free education, immigrant rights, and an end to foreclosures. By the way, I also want to abolish capitalism and radically redefine how we live and what our values are. How does one pragmatically go about this? The raw truth is that I want to take down every facet of the oppressive power structures… and that’s daunting. How does one raze the structures of subjugation?
As it turns out, we start at Bertha’s two bedroom house in Van Nuys. Among the multitude of issues, the foreclosure scam has risen to the top as a primary weapon of the one percent. Our marches and rallies are uplifting and empowering, but what do they do, really? If we’re lucky, a frightened security guard locks the doors as we wail and scream;
Bank of America!
Bad for America!
I sometimes question just what a march accomplishes, other than hindering business for a few dozen annoyed ninety-niners. It doesn’t stop the robo-signing on the twentieth floor, the derivative deals on the ninth floor, the slashing of thirty thousand jobs on the forty-second floor, or the decadent million-dollar bonuses in the board rooms.
Foreclosures, however, can deliver guerrilla victories and win the ‘hearts and minds’ of America. This fight offers that same inspiring message of defiance and People Power. It gives the same opportunity for pitching tents, communal living, and battle with the Vampire Squid. What foreclosures do so uniquely is cause real economic harm to the banks that manipulate capitalism to seize and control. They have spun a wonderfully clever web of public losses and private gains that is now, finally, being exposed.
Occupying a home in danger of foreclosure has a palpable goal, a digestible morsel of triumph. The protest encampment was filled with dreamers, drunkards, and die-hard policy wonks. So it is with Bertha’s home. But now there is a resolute tightening of the jaw on all these activists. Now we’re seeing a grandmother’s home in danger of being stolen from her and sold to the highest bidder. And we’re seeing this elusive idea of resistance spread to a woman who has instructed her two adorable dogs to treat these unwashed and penniless occupiers as family. We’re witnessing someone stand up and say, “NO!” I feel honored to shrug off my pack and call this house my home, too.
“Wow. What the fuck happened today?” I asked to no one in particular as I finished a cigarette on the decrepit back stairwell of the “Occupartment”. It was midnight, and I was at a loss for words. Our collective has a painfully clear view of the skyscrapers and banks that make up the Los Angeles skyline. As I exhaled the smoke, I wondered just how much resistance it was going to take to have those behemoths rendered obsolete and seized by the people.
The day began with a conspicuous locksmith’s truck across the street. Bertha had just made me a cup of coffee and we were tip-toeing around the house as occupiers lay sprawled on the floor, the couch, and the yard in the back. I had just finished talking with public radio about foreclosures, general strikes, and the future of the occupy movement. Bertha and I were both nervous that the police would show up. This action had been hastily thrown together and we had not had a chance to discuss the diversity of tactics open to us.
Did she want us to chain ourselves to the fridge?! Blockade the doors?
Or did she want us to pack up and exit, providing court support and raising neighborhood awareness instead?
Before we could form any kind of plan, sheriffs began banging on the door, threatening arrests to anyone inside. Having no instructions from the distraught homeowner, I decided to just sit and put the onus to act on the police officers. They cracked the door and came in with guns drawn. We met them with defiance and our cameras. Once they saw the tents and the camera-phones, they holstered their weapons with an awkward acknowledgment that made clear they knew about the occupy movement. The sheriffs still cuffed all three of the men in the house, prodding and pushing the women out the door as well as they struggled to regain their alpha status in the home.
I was cuffed and as the deputy walked me into the driveway, I could feel his whole body shaking with adrenaline. We were all oddly calm though, resolved to spend more time in jail for… whatever they felt like smearing us with. As only a protester can, I was absentmindedly comparing the weight and feel of these metal cuffs to the cutting plastic zip-ties I’d previously been detained in. This occupation was over before it really began, and I was talking with another cuffed comrade about the lost opportunity.
I had plans to turn the palm tree in front into a totem pole devoted to social justice!
I couldn’t wait to meet the neighbors and hold block party teach-ins as we radicalized the street!
I was ready to set up Occupy Lemonade Stands and neighborhood day care and, and, and…!
But then I saw Bertha. She was being forcibly removed from her home. A bank with zero claim to the house was ordering the police to evict this grandmother of five. They gamed the system to seize yet another property. Disgustingly, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent was on hand to take measurements for remodeling. This was really happening. Our bold new front in the Class War was being squashed. Bertha was now without a home.
The sheriffs eventually calmed themselves down and released us, allowing us to get our occupy gear as we gathered, groggy and tense on the front lawn. We comforted Bertha and held an impromptu assembly to decide what to do. The nearest Coldwell Banker branch was just a short ride away, so it was settled that picketing the real estate company’s role in selling stolen homes would be a solid action in response to the eviction.
The action was a success, with a police presence symbolically guarding the bank, drivers honking and waving, and occupiers marching with a tent and signage. We got some of our spirit back, shouting chants at the employees and the police. It was a kind of therapy for the failure at Bertha’s, a medicine to restore our indignation. The valley hadn’t seen much occupy action so far, and it was a welcome boost to see the bank manager flustered and worried by our presence.
We reconvened at Bertha’s home, where occupiers had helped her draft a letter that they were now distributing throughout the neighborhood. The letter was a cry for help that acknowledged the occupy movement had answered her plea. Behind each door was a friendly face, supportive of Bertha and of the foreclosure work occupiers were doing. It turned out I would not have to wait long to find other foreclosed homes to occupy. Six – SIX – in the neighborhood were facing foreclosure in the near future.
As the sun set, we vowed that the day was not yet over. A political debate was going on, so about half of us went to fill out comment cards to demand what each candidate was going to do about the foreclosure crisis. I stayed behind and witnessed one of the saddest moments to date of this movement. Under the cover of darkness, eight LAPD officers showed up to “keep the peace” as a construction crew came in to board up the house. Bertha’s nephew pleaded in Spanish to the workers, asking them in their native tongue if they had a grandmother, if they had a heart. We stared in disbelief as the front door’s Christmas wreath and “Jesus Loves You” sign were covered by plywood.
Thankfully, Bertha had not stayed around to witness the travesty. But as I stood there, I was granted a healthy dose of perspective. Here I was, traumatized and enraged that we had been evicted from Solidarity Park after a mere sixty days. The Fascist Fence continues to separate me from the public space I used to live in and love. It makes me cringe in anger that the thugs dared to lock up our home. I tear up every so often when I look beyond the fence at that hollow expanse.
This movement is so much bigger than a park. We must desperately defend Bertha and the millions of families that see that same thing happen to their homes! We all knew Occupy LA was a fleeting and temporary beauty, sure to be shut down by the elites and the pigs they order around. However, this is a home of thirty-one years. It isn’t a provocative display of the First Amendment, its a place to be warm, to hang pictures on the fridge, and place inspirational quotes by the coat rack.
To see the home boarded up meant the property values of every house on the street instantly fell by the thousands. To see those plywood sheets nailed across her windows was proof that the corporations and the puppets they control do not give a shit about us. Another American was joining the ranks of the wretched refuse and capitalism marched on. I was miserable. We were all miserable over the blatant pillaging the morally bankrupt oligarchy is doing to the 99%.
Everything For Everyone, And Nothing For Ourselves
The spirited occupiers in Solidarity Park roundly rejected a facade of city support in late 2011. In a series of closed-door ‘negotiations’, City Hall and the Mayor awkwardly offered a small building space, too few beds for the houseless, and an undetermined corner of farming land somewhere (eventually). Instead, we audaciously crafted a response that we felt best supported the ninety-niners in Los Angeles. We didn’t need to be placated with 100 beds when Angelenos need 18,000. It is in this vein that the occupy movement will take the power from the oligarchs.
The above Zapatista slogan, “Para todos todo, para nosotros nada,” has been emblazoned across each of our hearts. However, there is a fascinating muddling between us and the “everyone” we’re helping. In the radio interview that morning, I was questioned about the existence and role of the homeless within Occupy Los Angeles. I answered simply, “You’re talking to a homeless person.”
This is the dichotomy inherent to the movement. I am fighting for a person who was denied health care coverage, drained of her life savings, and kicked out of her home. The fact is, I have no health insurance, am penniless, and houseless. Under most assumptions, a Latina grandmother living in the suburbs would have nothing in common with a young white man floating around the urban sprawl of downtown Los Angeles. This is what class war is, though. The erosion of the middle class and the oppression we’re all facing is blurring the line between occupiers as activists and victims.
So is the Occupy Movement the megaphone or are we the ones needing amplification? Under the umbrella of Money in Politics, we are oftentimes both. An individual’s struggle may be over foreclosures, but it could just as easily be over skyrocketing tuition, a relative lost to the Drug War, a friend killed in wars for profit, or a vaporized retirement plan. Omar Barghouti, a human and Palestinian rights advocate, said connecting the issues “is not a nicety, it is a necessity”. The absurdity of profits over people as standard operating procedure is deplorable. If we are going to stop any one injustice, we must come together to stop them all.
I’m reminded of a few quotes from the inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said:
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
And, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The point is that we the ninety-niners are facing an existential threat and if we hope to not just survive but thrive, it means occupying every home, boycotting every exploitative corporation, and re-learning to lean on our communities. Like occupiers across the globe, we must take charge of our lives and be incessantly indignant at the oppressions we each face.
Despite being unable to prevent the erection of some fences and boards, the fight is just beginning. One day soon these foreclosures are going to stop and we’ll finally acknowledge housing as a human right. This is because there is no stopping Bertha, my fellow occupiers, or this global movement. We’ve taken the Wall Street bull by the horns and there’s no going back. If anyone falters in their resolve for breaking these heinous chains, they can just look to someone like Bertha Herrera. She thanked us, saying, “I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without you (all). I know I’m not alone in the fight, and that gives me the strength to fight for others who are going through the same troubles.” Let’s give her what she and the rest of the ninety-niners deserve. Each day will continue to be filled with both joy and misery. Yet each day is worth it as we continue to see victories where before there were none.
– Ryan Rice –]]>