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My Year with Occupy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE, ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE!

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

– Teresa Veramendi –

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A Chronicle of #S17 (A GREAT, but LONG Day)


New York, NY – I set my alarm to go off at 5:00 so that I’d be able to leave by 5:30 to get to 55 Water (The Vietnam Veteran’s memorial) at 6:30. The alarm went off and I got up, but I figured “I showered last night I don’t have much to do before I leave, I can lay down for a second again and then head out.” I wake up again at 6:30…

I throw clothes on, pack up my battery pack, and book it. I get to Wall Street at 7:15. OccupyTime is a wonderful thing as they are still organizing.

A group of about 300 people leaves from 55 Water at around 7:30 and we march with intent to form The People’s Wall in front of the NYSE. This action’s intent would be to block anyone from entering the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It is no surprise this action really just ended up with us marching in circles around the financial district. The area was heavily fortified and there was no way the police were going to let us anywhere near the NYSE. This was not terribly surprising but it was certainly discouraging to me. No matter, back to 55 Water St to regroup.

Now for the action entitled “99 Revolutions.” This is when the fun began. We left the Veteran Memorial in smaller Affinity Groups. The idea for 99 Revolutions was to disperse in small groups and block traffic at intersections in a very decentralized manner. The theory: the police know how to deal with a centralized group. The police will not be as able to stop a great many different groups, in various locations, around the financial district. Some groups would get stopped yes, but many would likely be able to cause traffic jams. This plan worked brilliantly.

I happened by about several different intersections where traffic was being slowed down considerably due to the protester and police presence. I saw several arrests as well. Here are some videos:

Congestion at William and Pine (video length approx 4 mins):
http://ustre.am/_1IVoF:1ehs

Arrests resulting from the congestion at William and Pine (video length approx 5 mins):
At the 3:00 mark of this video you can hear the crowd chanting “We! Pay Your Salary!”
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25483598

Marching in circles, blocking traffic, at Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 1:45)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25484311
More at the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 1:45)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25484367
More at the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 2:00) (dancing in street begins at 1:27)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25484399
Chanting “A-Anti-Anticapitalista” in the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx :18)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25484443

It is very much worth noting the success of this tactic of intersection blockades can be seen through the action at this intersection lasted about 5 and a half minutes. During that time. Not one police officer came to stop us. I heard somewhere the officers were busy on dealing with our successful congestion of Broadway.

The intersection blockades lasted until 10, at which point we all met up at Bowling Green (the location of the Wall Street Bronze Bull Statue) for an environmental action. As usual the police had the bull completely surrounded and guarded from the threat of protesters who, at most, would have had difficult time putting a dent in the statue because it is made of bronze.

To gather everyone together, all 3 to 400 of us we had Reverend Billy Talen doing his thing with the Stop Shopping Choir
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25484918

Next there was a theatrical performance about the environment. To help the show the Rude Mechanical Orchestra rocked some background music:
http://ustre.am/_1IVPM:1eiq

Jill Stein spoke next
http://ustre.am/_1IVPM:1eir

My feeling about Jill Stein is as follows. I like what she says. However, there’s no chance she’ll ever win election. Until there is serious electoral reform (at least) the only candidates who will ever have a chance to win are those from the corporate whore parties (Democrats/Republicans). So though Jill Stein seems cool to me, I can’t get overly excited about her. At most I hope she inspires others.

After this we took a short break and had an Action Spokes council in Battery Park to discuss what actions would take place for the rest of the day. I didn’t attend this because my phone was not charging well off my battery which meant I needed a new cable. I headed to J&R. This unfortunately did not pan out well since J&R is owned by Jewish people and S17 was the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. So I looked around, saw a Sprint store, assumed a cell phone store would have a cable to charge a cell phone, and went there to buy it. Success!

This is also when I realized I had an opportunity to get lunch so I hit up a halal cart and went to eat in Liberty Square. I met with friends, chatted, and nourished myself on Chicken and Rice. I was also informed of a march that would be taking place by VOCAL NY I believe after the rally that was about to take place.

I want to say right off the bat, I respect and appreciate every organization that came to the rally and said their piece. The more community groups we have the better. The more organized we are the better. The more we work to fix our own problems instead of relying on a leader the better. However, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really hate rallies. I find them incredibly boring and scripted. I can appreciate an organized march with a scripted demonstration within it. However, I get bored out my mind standing in one place for an hour listening to community organizations plug themselves. Some people like rallies because of the structuring, programming, and the way that they can learn about organizations. For learning about organizations, yes, rallies are cool. However, most of the time the speakers at rallies just say relatively generic stuff which appeals to audiences interested in the same causes they are.

Anyway, after the rally I got wind of another action to happen at the World Financial Center. I raced over.

As soon as I got there I noticed there was private event going on (it seemed to be a car show). I hit up the celly loop to get the word out. The new plan was apparently to meet up by the marina. Yup, there was a crowd there of probably 3 to 400. We had a short discussion over the fact that there were people in Liberty Square who wanted to join us. This however would have taken too long. The group ended up splitting at this point. One group went to Goldman Sachs to do a civil disobedience where I believe 5 people were arrested. Another group went to the FDR drive to block traffic for about a minute. I went with the group to Goldman Sachs. Unfortunately my camera angles weren’t very good here so there’s not much to post.

Next we went back to Liberty Square. By this point the atmosphere was vibrant in the park. Full of celebration, discussion, nostalgia, singing, dancing, drumming. It was just like the days of the Occupation when the movement had finally gotten mainstream attention to draw in the crowds, and we hadn’t put up tents yet. It was perfect and words can’t describe it, just watch…
(approx video length 30:00)
http://ustre.am/_1IWNz:1eix

The next march we did was at about 3:30 and we wanted Wall Street. The restrictions on the area had dropped a bit from the morning’s attempts and we got so far as a block from the New York Stock Exchange. Upon reaching Nassau Street and Pine Street I had already made my way to the front of the march and I got a surprise. THE PEOPLE’S GONG! It was unfortunately cut short as the police realized what we were doing and viewed it as something which could be a potential “win” if we were allowed to recite the whole thing; so they pushed the entire crowd back. It was awesome though.

At this point I took down my feed and needed lunch. My lunch had left me relatively unfulfilled, I was dehydrated, and dealing with the shock of being EXTREMELY close to police brutality on the last march (I saw an officer ram an Occupier’s head into the scaffolding on Cortlandt St. I’d post this footage, but even though my phone never showed any kind of signal problem, the footage is no longer in my archive and I never deleted it).

The GA happened at 8 in Liberty Square and I just wanted to relax for a bit and talk to friends, and gather myself. I took my feed down for maybe an hour.

At around 10 was when we got the first sign of the police saying “okay kiddies, time to end the celebration.” The lights over the park turned off, and the police presence had grown to some degree around the park. This caused some concern amongst those present in the park which a few people (GA provocateurs from back when) took full advantage of and almost manipulated us into a march. A march would have led to a beat down as it was after hours, and past sundown, in New York. We were saved though. Occu-cake was served.
(video length approx 3:30)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25495512

The rest of the night consisted of the police intimidation tactics and not much else. They shined 6 floodlights into the park. Yes, 6 floodlights, because 7 would have been too many… They came in and escalated the environment for no reason and then left. We reacted with some cop hate getting spewed on one side of the park while people danced for Anarchy on the other side. Some of us dealt with the the police escalation with a massive Occupy Ohm Circle. It was a wonderful, trademark way to end the 1 year anniversary.

I remember, when the park was raided back on November 15 and the newspapers were saying “Occupy faces an uncertain future,” my response was “the raid saved the movement because it forced us to band together and stand our ground.” The raid also gained us a lot of support from the general public as, on raid night, the Occupy Wall Street trend eclipsed ALL other trends on twitter. Everyone who was involved in the movement just laughed at the media’s death sentencing of us. We got together and we organized, we did road trips, we made friends, we started building alliances with community organizations. We started Interoccupy. We resurfaced on May Day and inspired tons of other groups to join the May Day march (who’d never wanted to associate with it before). We went to the NATO summit in Chicago in spite of the fact that everyone was terrified of what might happen to us, and we ended up becoming very acquainted with Michigan Avenue. We held the National Gathering. We did a 99 mile march. We went to the RNC and the DNC.

Now however I do need to ask whether or not we face an uncertain future. Occupy succeeded in changing the conversation of the nation, which is no easy task. There has also been a lot of inspired activism from Con Ed workers, the Chicago Teacher’s strike, and smaller more under-unionized groups like Car Wash Workers. It’s wonderful how we’re starting to see a growth in activism in the country. I do need to ask, though. What does Occupy do now? We spent a year complaining, and there was a LOT to complain about. However, amidst the complaining, we’re going to have to start offering solutions. Maybe not concrete solutions, but we need to start offering ideas and having discussions. You can’t only talk about the negatives without exploring ways to fix them. This does not necessarily mean reforms. It just means we have to start giving people reasons why they should still believe in us.

The anniversary proved that Occupy never died (even though the Mainstream Media has said the 1500 protesters in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square only numbered “a few hundred” protesters on S17). What do we have to show for it though? Great, we never left, what did we learn in over the past year about ourselves and about organization? Where did we mess up? Where did we succeed? Where did we wander with a lack of understanding what we were doing? How do we do outreach? How do we communicate better with one another? What does it mean to Occupy?

No matter what the answer is we can’t be stuck on particulars. In-fighting wont solve anything, and we’ve seen too much of that already. We have to work towards the world that we want, but we CANNOT be certain of what that world will be. The main reason for this is, we’re not prophets, and we if we try to be extremely rigid in our visions of the future, we’ll fail at accomplishing any vision for the future besides a dispersed, and divided one. One of the values of true Anarchy, as I understand it, is learning to respect one another and accept our differences, coexisting but making sure we hold each other accountable. Can we do this? We wont reach solve everything in a year from now, and we wont do it in two years either. However, what can we accomplish in a year? What would be significant, yet practical?

I’m in this for the long haul, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

-StopMotionSolo-

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Weaving Through Wall Street


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Joe Sutton –

 

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This is What Solidarity Looks Like!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what solidarity looks like!

– Lucky Tran –

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This is What Reality Looks Like!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Thiago TRocha –

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