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Life At Occupy | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "life at occupy"

Christmas Eve in Liberty Plaza


LIBERTY PLAZA, NY – After attending a meeting of the Facilitation working group (Facilitation are those who volunteer to conduct the General Assemblies of Occupy) at 60 Wall St, I had about a half hour to myself, before General Assembly.  Although the free chickpea salad provided by the Occupied Kitchen was tasty, I decided against taking a second serving when others probably needed it more, and headed to a local Indian restaurant for a quick saag daal interlude.  I was shanghaied into taking minutes at WG meeting, so I took the opportunity to recharge my laptop in addition to my blood sugar.

Once the two of us were seated, I headed to Liberty Plaza.  Only a
dozen or so people were milling about, mostly the usual characters,
holding signs, making chatter, playing chess.  I made my way to the
stairs at the eastern edge, and took a seat to take in the scene.
Across from me, in front of one comically oversized chess set, there
was a new, very neatly typeset sign that proclaimed “LIBERTAD / MMXII”
in red lettering on white background.  Immediately after I sat
down, a woman with bright blue hair seated at the barricades began
caroling, replacing words as appropriate — “I’m dreaming of an
Occupied Christmas … They say protesting’s illegal / but we’ve got
Norman Siegel … etc, etc”.  Her voice was incredible, so much so that
random passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wait for her to finish
so that they could applaud.  I would have been satisfied if this were
the only heartwarming surprise of the evening.

As her Occu-carols echoed through the crisp air, the motley crew
continued growing in number.  Mostly, it’s familiar faces; not a lot
of first-timers on Christmas eve.  An older middle eastern man, on the
outside of the barricades, started shouting, with a mildly distressed
tone in his voice: “Stop bombing Afghanistan!  Stop bombing
Afghanistan!”  No one really knows how to address him: he’s clearly a
little bit unhinged, dressed in a grey-blue jacket that’s a bit
visibly dirty, unkempt beard and wild eyes.  He’s probably drunk, but
not angry — at least, not at anyone here.  After a few tense seconds,
one of the regulars notices him, walks up, and slaps his hand and
gives him a hug.  They’re friends from their neighborhood.  I overhear
that his name is Mohammed.  Several more times throughout the evening,
he will occasionally puncture the air with hoarse calls of “Mic check!
Stop bombing Afghanistan!”  Each time, he seems newly inspired that
it will catch on.  But under that fire I hear a tinge of despair.
Later, I learn something more about why.

A brief hot chocolate break and GA begins.  The first proposal is
relatively uncontroversial: funding a Native American event to
commemorate the 121st anniversary of Wounded Knee.  There’s some
vibrant back-and-forth discussion about the relationship between
Occupy and the indigenous rights movement; though there are some
serious concerns about how to remain sensitive while highlighting the
link, everyone agrees we should be supporting them as much as
possible.  There are some procedural hiccups, due to inexperienced
facilitators, and some not insignificant political chatter.  The main
problem expressed is that this proposal is being offered by Direct
Action, not the Native group that has been with us since the very
early days.  Has DA consulted them?  DA sheepishly admits they have
not, due to time constraints.  Some concern is expressed that DA is
stepping up and speaking for others; though, to be fair, the proposers
from DA are native themselves.  The concerned parties shout out for
Joseph, a respected and visible member of the Native group.  Joseph
shuffles up the stairs, makes his way to the proposers, and takes the
human mic.  He waves his hands wide in a show of acceptance, and asks
that we look beyond personal dramas, because “this event … and this
movement are too important.”  Fingers twinkle in vigorous respect.
The proposal passes with some minor amendments.  The venue is just a
couple of blocks from my apartment, so after the proposal passes, I
track down the proposers and offer them my apartment for staging.

The next proposal is highly contentious in form, though not intention.
The proposer, who is a familiar member of many working groups but is
offering this proposal on his own initiative, asks that we “prohibit”
working groups from meeting during the times of General Assemblies and
Spokes Councils.  The intention is to ensure that working group members
attend GAs and SCs, which many do not, leaving us with only 50 or so
attendees to a GA on a given night.  The issue, expressed by many, is
that we cannot violate WG autonomy, and a sort-of conversation
develops, as best it can within the GA process, about what the rights
of WGs are, and what the rights of the GA might be to abridge those
rights.  None of the speakers question whether or not we should be
encouraging people to attend GA, but the procedural constraints
(questions, then concerns, then amendments) steer people away from a
more natural discussion that might encourage finding common ground to
start from.  At this point, some regulars, incensed by what they see
as relatively minor legalistic quibbles to a generally positive
proposal, start breaking process and responding out of turn to
concerns posed, loudly, by essentially restating the intention of the
proposal.  This leads to others, who are strongly committed to
process, shouting at them.  I recognize a familiar pattern of
dissolution among largely agreeing parties, and start to withdraw a
bit.

I notice that Mohammed is sitting on a bench to my left.  He’s talking
to a familiar face, a tall person with a green-tinged mohawk whose
name is Razor, and watching them talk I get a better understanding of
my earlier assessment of his emotional state: First, he’s drinking
from a small plastic bottle of gin; it’s about one-quarter full.
Second, he says, to Razor perhaps but mainly to the space above his
line of sight: “they kill my family.  Thirty-two family I have, now I have
none.  Stop bombing Afghanistan.”  His voice is hoarse beyond tears,
though he does not appear to have been crying recently.  I have a
sense that those tears were all exhausted long ago.  I have no way of
knowing how true his claim is, but, when it is made, everyone around,
even those focused on the meeting, start to turn their heads.  Most
only make it part of the way, as though their attention was cued by
the emotional tone of the words, but once the full sentence reached
their consciousness they realized that looking  at his eyes could not
possibly improve the situation for anyone.  I suppose I didn’t have
quite the same foresight, and for that I am rewarded with an image
that I might never shake.

A man is sitting next to Mohammed.  He has the long, unkempt beard and
collared white shirt, dark vest, and wire-rimmed glasses that I
usually associate with a member of an orthodox religious sect, though
with the extra layers of clothes and hat and scarves I can’t quite put
my finger on whether he is a Russian or Greek Christian, or even
Jewish.  Regardless, what he’s doing is of note: He has his arm around
Mohammed, is speaking in low tones and with a nodding head, and
they’re alternating swigs from the bottle of gin.  At some point, they
both laugh while staring down at the ground.  On its own, this episode
of camaraderie is perhaps not quite worthy of a second glance; scenes
like this are not altogether out of place in New York City in 2011.
But something about the fact that we’re here, on Christmas Eve, on day
99 of Occupied Liberty Plaza, gives it a deeper significance, a sense
of connections being formed at a foundational level, a flavor of
renewed hope.

The proposal is blocked by several who have ethical concerns that it
will infringe on the autonomy of others.  The Process then dictates
that we move to a call for modified consensus (which would require 90%
approval).  The proposal does not meet this criterion.  Consensus is
declared not reached, and the proposer is instantly swarmed by
individuals who want to help him improve the language.  This
conversation will continue.

At this point, a call comes out from the crowd.  “Mic check!  Arts and
Culture would like to request a ten minute break to pass out some
candles!”  A&C had planned a 9pm candlelight vigil.  Consensus is
asked, and quickly achieved without needing to count.  We gather
around.  I look in the bag next to the woman who announced the break,
and find an exquisitely detailed wax candle in the shape of a
fist, with its middle finger raised.  Brilliant.  We’re asked to grab
some candles and stand in a circle around an area that used to be
filled with plants (they survived our Occupation, thanks to the work
of several volunteer gardeners, but they did not survive the police
raid).  At this point, seemingly out of nowhere, my friend Becky
appears, tapping me on the shoulder.  I had earlier emailed some
friends to let them know that I am here, and to tell the story of the
caroler, and of Mohammed, and this apparently inspired Becky to swoop
down from her sickbed to join.  Becky is one of my oldest friends… we
met in college, about ten years ago, and it seems she’s around for
many of the more important moments of my life, whether we intend to
arrive at them together or not.  We both came to Occupy a few months
ago, organically, though neither of us were surprised to find each
other again, here.  I’m grateful that I have her as a witness for what
happens the rest of the night.

The artist — a Mr. Matsumoto, I didn’t catch his first name — stands
up on a bench, and describes the candles to us.  “Mic check!  This is
my christmas present to you guys.  I want you guys to get around and
light this for me.  I nearly lost my middle finger — my real middle
finger — the other day.  I’m a woodworker, and I make my living with
my hands.  While I was injured, I thought about a lot of things.  I
thought about my life without my middle finger” (the crowd laughs) “If
I don’t have my middle finger, it really really sucks” (laughs again)
“It really sucks… because it’s like losing a voice” (cheers) “My
middle finger.  YOUR middle finger.”  Vigorous twinkles… of our middle
fingers.  The candles are lit, and several are raised towards the
Brookfield building.

I’m glad this movement began in New York, not
just because I’m here and so get to experience it, but because it has
acquired a certain New York flavor, in both its work ethic and, in
particular, in a brusque humor that can help to take the edge off of
continual struggle, while still retaining that integral hard-nosed
character: you’ll never mistake our laughter for weakness.  This is
one fine example.  A call goes out in the best Brooklyn accent one can
muster and still hope for the human mic to accurately reflect: “Mic
check!  Fuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuu”

We gathered in a circle, sort of, and some used the human mic to announce
why they are lighting the candles: for the loss of our civil
liberties, for the dogs who died in the raid (this is the first I’ve
heard of that), for the library.  I feel that while this might be
appropriate to the intention, it somehow derails the festive mood that
we’ve built in spite of the cold, and I call out that I am lighting
this candle to celebrate the rebirth of our democracy.  A small,
cheesy break, but I hear relief in the hoots that follow.

Around this time, I catch Stan, from ThinkTank and Outreach, giddily
milling about, saying “We have to march with these! We have to march
with these!” I say to him: “Call it out!  Let’s do it!”  He never
breaks his green as he speeds off again.  Stan’s story is inspiring,
though not entirely unique: He visited from Huntsville, Alabama in
early October.  I met him on his first or second day here, when he was
planning to learn what he could and go back to start Occupy
Huntsville. I saw him again two days later and he said he was thinking
of moving to NYC.  About a week later, he went back to Huntsville.  A
couple of weeks after that, I saw him again in NYC: he had moved.
He’s been living with Occupy ever since: at the park, first, and now
in churches.

The idea seems to spark from several directions at once: “Let’s
march!”  Someone calls: “around the park!”  Stan, still buzzing from
group to group, re-appears: “No!  We’re marching to Wall Street!
We’re going to the stock exchange!”

Now, this might seem the most obvious idea in the world, but it’s
worth taking a moment to appreciate why it is anything but.  Since the
very first day of the Occupation, we have attempted to march on the
NYSE.  This has rarely actually happened, though — in fact, to my
knowledge the only time we got close was during the large march of
November 17th — despite repeated, earnest and often creative
missions.  The police were determined to never let us near the
Exchange.  Back during the Occupation, there were daily marches.  When
they would head towards City Hall, there would be the usual police
guidance and blockades.  But when we headed in the direction of the
Exchange, we would almost always be confronted by a phalanx of riot
police and horses.  Most people never really expected to do it, but
considered it important to continue trying, even if only for symbolic
value.  But right now, on Christmas Eve, there are only about three
patrol officers officers, with three or four more community affairs
officers (and about ten Brookfield private security guards, who I
later learn are being paid triple overtime).  The awareness of
possibility spreads through the crowd.  We can actually do this.

So we do.  After some confused attempts to re-light the candles
against the wind tunnel of Liberty Plaza, someone shouts: “Let’s just
march, and we’ll light the candles… _on Wall Street_”, the extra
emphasis revealing his unbridled joy at the suddenly attainable goal.
We begin to march.  The chant goes out: “All day, all week, Occupy
Wall Street!”  I can’t help but grin, because, yes, for the first time
in a long time, we’re actually doing it.  The man carrying the live
streaming laptop has a debate with himself about whether or not to
join — at the last major march, livestreamers were among the first
arrested, in a pattern that seemed intentional.  He eventually
acquiesces to the will of the crowd, both the one in the park and the
increasing number watching along at home.

As we make our way to the exit, I see a police officer standing
outside of the barricades at the southern gate to the park.  Her arms
are extended, as if to confine us to one half of the sidewalk.  Shawn
from Direct Action is confused by this, laughs, and starts dancing
around her in circles.  She pushes him, hard, and he tumbles several
feet.  “It’s the sidewalk!”, he shouts, nervously laughing.  She
shouts back: “You don’t listen!  You should just listen!”  I’m
laughing, nervously too, because I’ve seen what happens when police
are overwhelmed by numbers.  But I realize what she’s doing: there’s a
propane tank fueling one of the food carts.  I suspect that she
doesn’t want us to step on it or bring candles too close to it.
Perfectly reasonable!  Why didn’t she say so?  I say to her: “It’s the
propane tank!  You could have just told us.”  But she’s not listening
to me.

As we turn down Broadway, the police hurry into formation, marching in
a single-file line in the bus lane to keep us on the sidewalk.  There
are more of them, now, though I’m not quite sure where they came from
so quickly.  Another of our regular ingredients, the drums, pop up,
also out of nowhere.  Who decides to bring drums (and a tambourine?)
to Liberty Plaza on Christmas Eve in thirty degree weather?  Well,
someone named Rooster did, and, flanked by an American flag, he starts
playing a brisk, tight rhythm.

Everyone is excited and cheerful.  This is going so well!  We are
chanting, speeding our way through the old standards: “Banks got
bailed out / We got sold out” then “Hey hey! Ho ho!  Corporate greed
has got to go!”  The middle finger candles are waving.  We turn left
down Wall Street, chanting, spinning, dancing, laughing, some with
their heads turned to the air, perhaps to catch the echoes from above.
The parade buzzes down the northern sidewalk, passing Federal Hall,
site of the first Congress and the first Presidential inauguration.  A
contingent breaks off and runs up the stairs, around Washington’s
statue and between the marble columns, hooting mischievously like
children left in a mall after closing time.  We take the long way
around the barricades that circle the intersection of Wall and the
Exchange, turn right towards the corner, and stop.  The patrol
officers are behind us, paused along Wall Street, in front of Federal
Hall.  There are two community affairs officers ahead, standing side
by side, facing us, backs to the Exchange.  Other than them, there is
no physical reason for us to stop.  But we do.

We’re paused at the corner for a couple of minutes that linger with
careful excitement.  The parade catches up, our only possible excuse
not to move forward.  Some people are shouting ideas, hurling
invective at the Exchange, asking for lighters and matches, but no one
is saying the obvious.  I look at the Exchange building: columns
bathed in red light, American flags fluttering in a slight breeze,
gigantic Christmas Tree with a half-lit menorah at the base.  Someone
says: “We should light these candles, and stand silently in front of
the Exchange.”  No one has moved down the sidewalk, past the officers,
yet.  I turn to the crowd, then back to the officers.  With no purpose
to my step, I start to walk at them, then around them.  I don’t think
to look at their faces, but just keep awareness of their forms in the
corner of my eye.  They don’t move.  The crowd — we are, somehow,
bigger than when we started (perhaps people at 60 Wall St heard what
was happening and left their meetings to join us) — spills down the
sidewalk.  We’re here.  A group of Occupiers, holding lit middle
finger candles, facing the New York Stock Exchange.  The street is
quiet, save for us.  On the 99th day of the 99%, we did it, for the
first time.  We are Occupying Wall Street.

The patrol officers remain where they were.  At the southern end of
the block, a new contingent of mounted officers line up, inside the
barricades.  I suppose, in retrospect, that they had the exits
blocked, but that didn’t seem to be as threatening as it usually
might.  Shouts begin.  “Mic check!  I want to see one broker or banker
go to jail!”  “Mic check!  Whose street?”  “Mic check!  This is our
time.”  “Mic check!  Fuck you Wall Street!”  Someone shouts “Fuck the
police!”, and he is instantly met with a shower of jeers.  There’s
some back and forth about how we should present ourselves, about how
the police are the 99%, about maintaining solidarity despite
differences of opinion.  Someone breaks the tension:  “Mic check!  To
the police, our gift to you!  Massive overtime pay!!”  Cheers.  We’re
standing, now, some of us, on the polygonal metal sculptures that line
the sidewalk.  There are no people between me and the Exchange: just
the cobblestoned street and roughly four layers of police barricades.
Standing on the metal sculpture, I am above them.  I realize it’s just
a short jump into the street, and from there a short walk to the
Exchange.  I realize I’m probably more comfortable staying where I am.

The mounted officers retreat to a position further down, past the
intersection of Exchange Place and Broad Street.  They didn’t seem to
be heading our way.  Someone called out: “Let’s hold a moment of
silence, for the officer who just died.” [I wasn’t aware of it, but I
believe he was referring to Officer Figoski, shot while investigating
a burglary in Queens]  And we did.  I glanced at the officers,
standing at the north edge of the street.  They held their hands in
front of them, crossed at the wrists.  It seemed they heard the
request.  There was some quick back-and-forth, and the crowd settled.
For a minute, the only sound was the subway rumbling, the traffic a few
blocks away, the wind whipping through the flag.  Alone, together, in
the canyon at the heart of the financial district, a group of
Occupiers and officers held their heads and their tongues to
commemorate a sacrifice in service of a better world.

“Thank you,” says the man who requested the moment of silence.  The
facilitators from the GA realize that there’s no going back to the
park, and ask for consensus to reconvene the GA here.  Hundreds of
fingers wave in concordance.  Someone offers to run back to the park
to get anyone who is still there.  We wait, and people soapbox.  One
of the facilitators, Diego, eternally cheerful, shouts: “Remember
this.  Remember this.  Thirty years from now, you will recall this
moment with tears streaming down your face.”  Cheers and shouts…
there’s no crying now.  There’s only laughing.  I mill about, talk it
over with Becky, soak in the awe of the moment.  But we’re unsure if
we want to stay.  The scout returns, says there’s no one left in the
park except those who wanted to be there.  The GA begins again, and
pick up right where we left off.  Business as usual, in a most unusual
setting.  We are having a General Assembly in front of the New York
Stock Exchange.

The next proposal was to support a national march on Washington, on
March 17th, which will be only the six month anniversary of the
Occupation.  The GA is not quite the forum for this sort of amorphous
initiative, but people are appreciative of the idea.  Several points
of information are offered on similar actions that are currently in
the early planning stages; it appears the second half of March is
going to be very, very busy.  The proposal is tabled, the proposer
wades into a crowd of people who want to help combine their ideas.
Becky, under the weather, sees an opportunity to disengage.  I
hesitate, not wanting to let go of this incredible moment, but don’t
quite feel up to the Process at the moment.  Though the mood is
unquestionably buoyant, the uncomfortable tension of dissension in
lieu of discussion still lingers in my mind, and I fear that the
return of all that well-intentioned but discordant fumbling might sour
my memory.  We spent much of the evening arguing over the way to
consensus, drowning in the seemingly interminable bickering that some
fear will destroy this movement from within.  These clashes of process
and principle that join to block our way forward seem to be impassable
mountains, rather than intermittent hurdles, but if this night proves
anything, it’s that once the blocks are removed, once the barricades
are seen past, we all know the destination.  We just need to remind
ourselves that we can get there.

-Aaron Bornstein-

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Song and Slideshow by the Fresh Juice Party


OAKLAND, CA – Here’s a song by Fresh Juice Party called “99” and an accompanying slideshow of our photos from Occupy Oakland and SF. Happy holidays and don’t forget to #SupplyOccupy!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/nhb3p06UHdU

 

-Citizen Casey-

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Occupying Saskatchewan


In regards to police, we had a much different experience than other Occupy cities. There were some online threats of violence against us before the camp started, so on the first night, when there was only a dozen of us, I stayed awake, sitting in the a.t.m. lobby of the bank, coming out whenever someone was walking around. I had some good conversations late that night after the bar closed, explained what we were doing to people who had either not heard of Occupy Regina or who had only heard negative or vague media. This was one of the most important aspects of Occupy for us, the fact that we were able to communicate with the kinds of people who don’t go to protests, who don’t seek this kind of information out. As we grew, the nightwatch became institutionalized. Every night a few of us would stay awake, not just to do security, which was all too necessary because of the area, but because it gave us the opportunity to have discussions about various issues with the many random people going through downtown at every hour of the night. From before the first night, Occupy Regina had a police liaison, the police told us to keep the drugs and the alcohol out of the park and phone them if there was any violence or threats. By the way, Victoria Park, where the Occupy Regina camp was located, is in the middle of downtown, it is the main “drug park” for Regina. But while we were there, the dealing stopped. For the month that we were there, we kept that part of downtown safer than it had been in decades.

To put this in perspective, I am currently, for the record, the director of the Saskatchewan chapter of the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws, and I’ve been the Regina event coordinator for the last 10 years. So for 10 years I’ve been organizing legalization rallies, including mass civil disobedience exercises like the annual 4/20 smokeout, and the vast majority of these actions have been held in Victoria Park. Other Occcupy residents were recreational users, some of them people who usually bought and used in Victoria Park. But we spent 4 whole weeks enforcing the “drug free zone” policy the group had agreed on to establish positive relations with the police when we started. This was surreal for me. We had a friendly, working relationship with the police throughout the existence of the camp, some came through quickly while off duty and out of uniform to donate.

We have a housing crisis in Regina, and there were nights when all the homeless shelters in the city were full. They’d direct the overflow to us, because we had a community tent. It was safer than sleeping in an alley somewhere alone, where many of those people are now that the Occupy Regina camp is gone.

Like many Occupy supporters, I’m kind of anti-capitalist on the whole, I believe we need an entirely new economic system, but we found common ground with the people who ran local businesses and family farmers from the downtown farmers market, and many of the union people who came around because we recognize that the banking system has fundamentally undermined capitalism itself,and we focused on finding and nurturing this common ground as much as possible. We did our dishes at local businesses, we had donated food, clothes, blankets, even tents, propane tanks, and money from people coming through. We had people who would come by to ridicule us based on something they heard in the media and come back the next day with donations because they discovered that they actually agreed with what we were saying.

Some businesses said that we were drawing more business downtown by being there, like a tourist attraction. This was especially true for the special acoustic solo performance by Joe Keithley from DOA, which brought out all kinds of different people. During the week before remembrance day, right wing talk radio kept harping about how we should shut down before Nov. 11 to “show respect for veterans”. Long before, we had agreed to take down political signs and banners and not campaign for that day, but not taking the tents down. The veterans, for the most part, liked us there, we were invited to the Legion hall and the Archbishop of the Quappelle Diocese, who led the remembrance day ceremony, gave us totally positive mention in his sermon, saying we were honoring the sacrifices of World War 2 by using the freedoms they fought for in the way they were intended.

We ultimately didn’t resist shut down. We recognized how uniformly Occupy camps were being shut down at the same time everywhere and realized that the decision was being made somewhere other than Regina, somewhere far away. We recognized that federal funding for projects might have been threatened to get City Hall to evict us even though we had an entirely positive relationship with the public, only 4 complaints and lots of compliments. We also didn’t want to put the police in the position of having to forcefully remove us, because we had a totally positive relationship with them and wanted to keep that for future events.

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Reverend Billy Discovers a New Variation of The People’s Mic


PORTLAND, OR – Last night I was speaking at Occupy Portland, and an inebriated individual was standing next to me suddenly, preaching a duet with me. I had to fight through my defensiveness. Finally I gave him the mic and he commenced a peoples’ history of the song “Amazing Grace” and then began to sing it, but couldn’t remember the words. People from the audience one by one walked up and each sang a phrase until the great song was completed… “was blind but now I see.” And we all whooped – it felt like a poignant variation on the peoples’ microphone.

-Reverend Billy-

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Occupy LA: You Can’t Arrest an Idea


Los Angeles, CA–I arrived to Occupy Los Angeles at 5:20PM on November 28th. By 5:23PM, while taking in the scenery and wondering where to explore first, a guy stumbled over and was the first person to talk to me. “Hey, dude, is that a joint in your mouth? Do you have any pot?” After I informed him that it was a pen and that he shouldn’t smoke – especially in public – he told me to keep my opinions to myself. This, ironically, was funny, as he is part of the 99%; a movement in America that appears to be one of the most iconic forms of public expression and activism in recent years.

I laughed, grabbed my notepad and started to walk around. This man is the poster child for which is often portrayed to the general public by media outlets; a disheveled, inarticulate guy on a quest for drugs and alcohol. This is not the movement and sadly, this aspect of portrayal is what people eat up, which makes it easier for folks to brush these protests aside.

When I arrived, the occupation had been in occurrence for 58 days. Many hours before, at 12:00AM, an eviction order deadline was given by Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa. The reason for said eviction was: “It is time to close the park and repair the grounds so that we can restore public access to the park.” Restore public access? Although I am new to Los Angeles, it didn’t take an expert to understand this was probably the largest and widespread use of the park in the history of the city.

In all honestly, the park did smell like urine, pot, and body order – but any recent college graduate has probably smelled worse at an off campus house party. It does not matter what the park smelled like, or the type of people that were there, because at the root of it, beyond the shenanigans of the “tag-a-longers,” also known as, the people who are occupying for the hell of it, there is a core movement that was started well beyond the recent recession. And many people at Occupy Los Angeles believe so.

“The LAPD hate the mayor; they fucking hate him. Well, most of them,” he said. “They are part of the movement, every last one of them. They are underpaid, overworked, and at 3AM, when there are no camera crews around and it’s just us and them, we talk.” Among the people I spoke with, one of the best-versed, intelligent, and articulate was David Pierce, 33, a Santa Barbara native who was laid off from IMB, known as one of the most influential companies in the world, just six months earlier. He came to Los Angeles to use his college degree, past work experience, and determination in order to find another job. Instead, he found Occupy Los Angeles.

Pierce expanded and said he believes if the LAPD are given the order to make arrests in the future, most will lay down their badge and return home to spend time with their families. He added that, “just because they are not here with us, camped out in front of City Hall, does not mean they don’t agree with us.”

I told David Pierce about my website and the how it is catered to Generation Y. We spoke about how, quite possibly, our generation has the upper hand on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to social movements, activism, and freedom of expression.

“You are all hackers. Well, most of you,” he said. “And not hackers in the general sense. You guys know your way around things. If the cops are flashing lights in your eyes, you’re not only going to find a way to escape it, but to reflect it back onto them. If you can’t get in the front door or the window or even the sewer, you’ll find another way. Your generation, or more so, our generation, has that unique ability that many other generations don’t possess – and it’s going to be an awesome tool for activism and change.”

After our half hour talk, I realized that I probably picked the best person I could have at Occupy Los Angeles. Slightly older than the Generation Y demographic, he is one that is able to look upon are age group with hope and inspiration; David knows, and can see, the awesome tools that we take for granted.

“When it comes down to it,” said David, “they can arrest us tonight and we’ll be back tomorrow. They can arrest us the next day and we’ll be back and so on. I don’t think people realize that.”

As I left, I realized that the first step of any movement is standing your ground, even if you are knocked, dragged or pulled away. And quite honestly, the saying is true: you can arrest a person, but you can’t arrest an idea.

– Jeffrey Hartinger –

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My OWS Story


NEW YORK -Let me start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from this visit to New York. An acquaintance of mine that I had met through the college I currently attend told me she was going to Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to see what was going on with the protesting. She was leaving 8am Friday morning (it was already 11pm Thursday night). Being an amateur photographer and long time insubordinate I was immediately attracted to the idea of getting out of our small college town for our 4 day weekend and soaking in some of NYC’s lively atmosphere. It had seemed as an opportunity to catch some great event photos and a call to arms had found me. I thought about it for roughly 5 short minutes, charged the battery for my Nikon D80, grabbed 2 lenses, packed 4 days worth of clothes and the next day, got my ass to Manhattan. This is what I saw.

The drum circle was audible for at least 10 blocks. There were people playing music everywhere. People were shouting about why they were there. They wanted to be heard.

People of all ages. All races, genders, people of all faiths. Some tired of the same old system we’ve been living with. Some there just for the company of a warm welcoming environment, which for many native New Yorkers is a spectacle in itself.

At first I thought it was just a mob of people babbling on about our economy, the war, justice system, politics, anything they could complain about. Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is. A melting pot of every protest you’ve ever seen or heard about. But that’s just it. This isn’t like the rest. The sheer magnitude and media attention this thing was getting is hard to describe. It’s the people’s megaphone. They, or WE were there to be heard and we weren’t going to leave until something gave. That was it for me. I spent my first night in Zuccotti park. I was in and I wasn’t going anywhere.

Day 2

I was tired and sore. I slept maybe 2 hours on the hard concrete that the city had provided us for our stay. There were no fresh towels here. I spent a few hours getting some free coffee and breakfast  (which was all gourmet and delicious by the way!) and reflecting on the first day. To say the least, I was still unsure of my surroundings. I noticed some sketchy characters lurking in the night. I later found we would all eventually become one of those people. Showerless, exhausted and wearing the same dirty pants for days. Walking down a nearby city block, it was easy to separate the occupiers from the observers. People were tagged with all sorts of clever attire and make shift signs.

My second day there I started to pick up on the whole purpose of the occupation and got to see some  inner workings which showed me how organized everything really is. There was energy everywhere, as always.

People helping.

People dancing, playing music.

Groups coordinating.

People protesting.

Making friends.

Sharing ideas.

 Mic Check!

A lot of parents brought their children. It was really wonderful to see that people trusted the movement. It’s a lot to ask of a parent to bring their child to such a seemingly chaotic environment.That didn’t stop most.

The faces of fallen soldiers were among the living.

As well as those who still speak for us every day. It was inspiring to see the amount of love and support for the cause from even the most unsuspecting celebrities.

I slept well that night in a sleeping bag given to me by the comfort center work group. A vital asset to the occupied community. I’d also like to shout out to the sanitation work group who kept our living space cleanliness to a tolerable level. Without those working groups, there would be no community.

Day 3.

I experienced my first march.

It was loud, courageous, chaotic behavior that left police feeling threatened by unarmed protesters. Why would police be afraid of unarmed civilians? Because there were a freakin’ lot of us and we all wanted a piece of the media. All it took was one stunt to set off a chain reaction of angry protesters willing to go to jail for the cause. These non-violent direct actions are the lock stock and barrel of the movement. It’s an ongoing battle of legalities and loop holes. I attended an entire class describing direct action right in battery park! I learned a whole lot about non-violent demonstrations.

Day 4.

I walked right into the belly of the beast. What had started as a covert surveillance mission to find an appropriate point of entry to the golden streets, had turned into just getting a few good shots of life in a day on wall street. Prestigious golden towers hung way above the heads of those who live without worry. No financial struggles, just the comfort of their fortune. Pigs rolling in mud. It was sickening. I didn’t belong there. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out a way to bring down wall street.

Day 5.

Things were calming down. Less Marching, less protesting, more coordination and more building of the community.Unfortunately, I had to return to my home in upstate New York to attend classes. It wouldn’t make sense to fight against loans I’m not going to make use of ;P

I returned home, eager to get back to the park. I was obligated to go to my classes and to finish what I started. 3 short days later, I went right back to the park.

Day 6.

The energy was still flourishing. Drums drumming, crowds crowding, protesters protesting. I felt back at home.

I  felt stronger, I wanted to do something! I was piss drunk on helping the cause, I started going to meetings, writing down ideas, interviewing people. I didn’t care about the photos anymore. I just wanted in. I helped coordinate a march! (which later turned out to fall through the cracks after discussing the idea with some more experienced protesters.) It taught me something. There was no room for leadership here. All decisions were made based on a general consensus of the community’s population. A true democracy. My work had already been done long before I got there. The start of a new political party owned by the people, not corporate interest.

Zuccotti park was occupied. And no one was leaving until something changed.

My journey ended on day 7. I had been occupying for a week now. I felt a sense of accomplishment, enlightenment, relief, confidence, hope…really just a combination of emotions that equate to a plain good feeling. Most of all I was smelly and tired. I am one of the fortunate souls that has the comfort of a place to call home outside of the park. I felt I had done my due diligence. Something is being done out there, and with occupations spreading, this movement’s goal is starting to seem more and more plausible. I miss my people at Zuccotti park, and I wish you all the best of luck and sincere gratitude. My hopes are to return as soon as I can WITHOUT an expensive camera to worry about losing, so I can focus on occupying wall street!

-Mike Cosentino –

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At Occupy Philadelphia I Have Met:


The old

The new

The well off

The poor

The houseless

The most rational

And the most metally ill

The Ron Paulers

The Marxists

The Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Quakers, Hare Krishnas and the Agnostics

The agressive

and The calm

The complainers

and The co-operaters

The complainers

and The motivators

Subarbanites

and The innermost city residents

The black

and The white

The asian

and The native American

The latino

and the others

The disabled

and The able bodied

Those active in the movement

and Those who have simply come for comfort.

This is why we say we are the 99%

not because we represent the opinions of the 99%

but because we represent every slice and stripe

of the 99%

who are tired

who are angry

who are hopeful

who are hopeless

The poor

The still employed

and The unemployed

the “retched refuse”

of your and our teeming shores.

The 1% has shown by their actions that we are their retched refuse

We deny this ascribation

we are human beings

what you have done to the least of these

you have done to me.

We are one

no man is an island

if I fight for me

I fight for you

if we fight for our survival

we fight for yours.

 

-Matt-

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Resonant Resolve after the “Battle of Brooklyn Bridge”


NEW YORK, NY –  Despite the rain and ever-creeping cold, activists continue to occupy Liberty Plaza; slowly coalescing demands, continuing to debate and love and dance. The sheer energy of this movement is utterly undeniable. Occupations, though mostly small in scale, have sprouted up in multiple cities around the country and more are planned as October rolls into the end of 2011. There is a sense in the square now that this is real. The gravity and electricity of what we’re building here is bouncing off the buildings all around us. We all feel more alive. There are incredible ups and downs. Elation can very suddenly plunge into abject frustration, and then turn sharply upward again.

Case in point: Saturday’s march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was one of the 700 marchers kettled and arrested en-mass by the NYPD on that famed expanse of stone and steel. It began at Liberty Plaza, where thousands gathered to rally in solidarity with the occupation. From there, we marched through the streets of the Financial District and toward City Hall. At the outset the march was united and organized, with none of the weaving through traffic and violent pepper-spray scuffles with police that marked the march of a week earlier. We were determined to get to our destination together this time – just over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge park where another contingent would be waiting for us with food, speakers, and activities. Or at least that was the plan. I was toward the back of marching crowd of some 2,000 people when we arrived at the bridge only a few blocks from Liberty Plaza. The exact details of what happened next are still fuzzy to most. The planned route was for marchers to use the pedestrian walkway to cross the bridge, but at some point a contingent of marchers broke away and took to the roadway, walking past a slew of cars already caught up in the spectacle of the march. Once the initial crowd of protesters marched onto the road, some 500 or more followed, most (including myself) not knowing that they were risking arrest by doing so.

The NYPD claims that they warned the initial group that stormed the road that doing so would mean arrest, but in reality they did little to deter us. In fact, I assumed that they were clearing the pathway for us because there was simply no way 2,000 people were going to use the pedestrian walkway at once. Once on the roadway, we were ecstatic. It was like no other feeling. Here we were, walking with 500 other people over one of the world’s most iconic structures. We chanted “Who’s bridge? Our bridge!” We drummed loudly and waved fists in the air in solidarity with the marchers 20 feet above us on the pedestrian walkway. Then suddenly, before we had even reached the first stone tower, the march came to a screeching halt. Nobody was really sure what was going on. I couldn’t see far enough ahead of me to know that the police had formed a blockade with the same orange nets they used at Union Square the week before. When I looked behind me and saw yet another line of police approaching, I knew that things had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It wasn’t long before they had surrounded us with orange netting and panic overtook the crowd suspended hundreds of feet in the air over the East River on a slab of concrete.

Some 40 feet higher still the marchers who had used the pedestrian walkway luckily had a bird’s eye view of what was going on. Using the people’s microphone, they kept us updated on what was going on. I could feel the intensity of situation but also felt a wave of calm and solidarity. Like some ragged guardian angels, our fellow protesters were keeping on eye on us, telling us what was happening on either side of us, and livestreaming it all to 30,000 people around the world. We anxiously repeated their updates verbatim. “Mic check! It looks like they have surrounded you on both sides and they’re not letting anyone through. The best thing for you to do is to sit down and lock arms!” And so we did.

We spent the next eight hours in anxious limbo. We waited for what seemed like an eternity on the bridge for the police to arrest each and every one of us. They grouped us in fives and cuffed us, then put us on any vehicle they could – I was put with about 30 others on an MTA bus and taken to the 90th Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Once we arrived at the station we sat on the bus and kept waiting, this time for the police to process the inordinate amount of arrestees. As we waited, all manner of conversations erupted on the bus between protesters – gender rights (the police had separated us by gender before arresting us), organic farming, community organizing – the usual fare at an activist gathering. It was something of a party. Even our arresting officers engaged us in conversations, and they seemed genuinely interested in “what we’re all about.” Some were even borderline sympathetic! Others poked fun at our dreadlocks and discussions about GMO foods. “A tomato’s a tomato, don’t matter how it got there.” One officer, who as one protester later jested was “too Italian for his own good,” was especially talkative. He told us he agreed with the Verizon worker’s strike and was disappointed when they returned to work without a deal. I asked if he would arrest the strikers if he was given the orders to do so. He responded with a smirk and said “yeah, it’s my job.”

Inside the station, more waiting. First to be searched, then to be put in a one-person cell with 5 or 6 others. We passed the time singing and starting conversations about our lives outside of the occupation. After a while, an officer came by with cheese sandwiches and water and promised us we’d be out “in one or two hours.” Three and half hours later, close to 3:00am, we were finally released into the cold night air. It was heart-warming to find a group of people from the occupation and the National Lawyer’s Guild waiting for us.

A group of us took the J train back to Liberty Plaza, laughing and recounting the whole way. Six hours earlier, we had no idea the other existed, now we were the best of friends. This is what the NYPD doesn’t understand. The more they arrest us, the more solidarity they create between us. We built a community on that bridge and on that bus and in that cell. All of us went through this experience that was dehumanizing, but also jovial and absurd. All the arrests did was reinforce our resolve, commit us more to the occupation and make us even more connected.

I remember during the intense moments on the bridge when we all knew arrest was imminent someone yelled out and we repeated: “Mic check! It is an honor and a privilege to be arrested with you all today. 50 years from now, when you tell your grandkids about this, you can say that you were a soldier in the Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge!” And there among the tears and the worries and the panic, we found a place to cheer and stand together.

-Danny Valdes-

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