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Occupy | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "occupy"

Clean Up from Cuba Avenue


New York, NY–My friend and I desperately wanted to get out and help in the Rockaways or Staten Island, but no one we knew had a car with gas. We decided to rent a car in Manhattan, drive to the Occupy Sandy hub and pick up more volunteers, and continue on to help. We picked up 3 extra volunteers and headed to what we thought was the Rockaways. A bad input on GPS sent us over the Verrazzano, so we quickly searched for opportunities on Staten Island. An occupy posting led us to a distribution center, who gave us a new address on Cuba Avenue. Here, several savvy 20-somethings were working like crazy in someone’s front yard to organize dozens of volunteers that were arriving, looking to help. I don’t know how they organized, or where the volunteers were coming from. But they were working frantically to help the community and keep everyone busy: sign in, get gloves, have a muffin, get your address, and get to work. And we were briefed in true Staten Island fashion: “Some people may say no at first. But they need your fucking help. They’ve got to clean up their shit, and you’re here to help them. So don’t fucking take no for an answer. (pause) But say it nicely.”

From there, our team helped a few families clean out their basements–families that days later were still clearly in shock with what had happened. They took our help immediately and gratefully. People were heartbroken but strong.

At the end of the tasks, they realized how much work got done with 10 pairs of hands instead of their own, and they couldn’t believe it. “How do you all know each other?” “We don’t.” I think that was one of the most surprising things to those we helped–that 10 strangers with a common goal of just helping people could work seamlessly to get a job done.

By the early afternoon, there were so many people in Staten Island that there wasn’t much to be done. The team on Cuba Avenue had organized the cleaning of over 50 homes in their neighborhood that morning. It wasn’t a lot, but collectively, hundreds of people helped a neighborhood clean up. Kudos to the team on Cuba Avenue who brought everyone together to make it happen.

-Anonymous-

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Today, Far Rockaway


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared here.

The second problem is the government’s inability to protect human interests. While armies and reserves are trained, resourced and mobilized to destroy, it seems like an overreach to ask for those same people to put down their weapons and pick up a shovel and some gloves. After not being able to point me in the direction of donation drop-offs or shelters when I first went out to Far Rockaway two days ago, an officer recommended I call 311 for information. Call. From an area where phones are mostly down, to a number clogged with phone calls asking for help. Not that I’ve ever been a big believer in the powers of government, but can’t they even organize volunteers better and drive them down in public buses to the areas where they’re needed?

I don’t even know how to begin processing the experiences I had today.

I woke up early to ride out to Far Rockaway with a friend of a friend who was one of the precious few with a car that had gas in its tank. My plan was to get to my friend Heather’s house, which I already knew had been severely damaged by the storm, taking three feet of water in the first floor because of its closeness to the beach. I brought along random things that I thought could be helpful – trash bags, heavy duty gloves, cleaning supplies, shovels, some extra apples.

We drove through mild traffic in the Brooklyn that didn’t have it so rough, the Brooklyn that still has power, working stoplights, open shops, and lots of people on the street trying to get back to their normal lives. As we neared the Rockaways there were subtle signs that things had been much more difficult out there: fallen trees, boats that got carried out onto the grass, debris everywhere and a puddle here and there.

As soon as we crossed the bridge onto the Rockaways, the day turned into a marathon of oh-my-gods and holy-shits that seem to be the only empty phrases one can call on when you’re driven speechless by what surrounds you. What happened here? How is this not in the news? Where is the government? What can I do? Where do we even start? The enormity of the desperation and destruction is such, that you just feel like it’s out of your hands, above your pay grade, beyond your biggest efforts.

There’s sand and rubble everywhere, like the beach stretched out for blocks into the streets and once the tide retreated all that was left was the bottom of the ocean. Cars are strewn about, some upside down, others on top of lamp posts, and some seem normal, until you get close and you realize they’re not parked on top of that sidewalk or across those two parking spots, that’s just where the waters left them. Everyone’s been taking out everything they lost and placing it on their sidewalk, so a drive around town is a tour through people’s discarded belongings, sitting like abandoned memories waiting for a garbage truck that no one knows if or when it will come.

Here and there sit houses and small businesses burnt to the ground, an image of desolation unlike any I’ve ever seen; and I’ve seen hurricanes, I’m from the Caribbean. Granted, in Puerto Rico I would see the devastation on TV, maybe drive out donations to a shelter. Now it seems like a premonition that the first thing the burnt block on 114th reminded me of was footage of the Detroit riots of decades past. Three days later, smoke was still coming out of the rubble, and one could see the occasional flame. Here a staircase that leads into nothing. There is a door that doesn’t open into anything at all anymore. Neighbors crowded around still staring in shock and taking cell phone pictures. Some held tissues to their face so as not to inhale the smoke or smell the burning. A mother told her child in rain boots not to step on the puddle, because there’s gasoline in the water running down the street.

We got to the house early and Heather wasn’t there yet to instruct us on how to help her out and clean the house. We knew a block away some friends had set up some sort of temporary donation drop off and relief center, so we walked over to lend a hand. First we met Wayne, a neighbor who seemed to have the situation under control. Next we met Sal, the owner of what a week ago was a brand new community center and is now this refuge. Less than five minutes passed before a church van pulled up with 25 boxes of pizza, and we started handing it out. The sidewalk flooded immediately and we ran out in a matter of minutes. The need became immediately apparent, and we started giving out everything we could that was in our hands. As time went by, more volunteers showed up, with more food, more clothes, a big Greenpeace truck with a solar power generator, lots of people anxious to make themselves useful, and fortunately for all, name-tags.

Outside on the sidewalk, the parade of pleas and horrific stories seemed infinite. A spanish-speaking family whose house was burnt down on the block told me of swimming out of their house and treading water while the flames took over it. Swimming over the train tracks behind the house, they had no idea what lied underneath or where this was going to take them. Half of the family walked away in the middle of the retelling, seemingly tired of hearing it again and again.

As the hours went by, we started learning peoples’ names and organizing things in shelves, by sizes, through committees and other intuitive classifications. Friends kept showing up with new energies and a clear sense of purpose. People asked who we were, where we came from, who they should thank. People asked “what’s happening everywhere else?” “When do you open tomorrow?” –and up close in a whisper- “Do you have sanitary napkins?”. I didn’t even have time to take my camera out of the trunk of the car.

Some came to get a plate of hot food and stayed to help out, charging phones or sorting out donations. A woman showed up and asked if anyone recognized her dads’ name, because he used to live in the street in front and she hadn’t spoken to him in years and wanted to know he was all right. I was serving dishes of food as fast as I could and had to stop and hold back the tears. I was holding back tears all day, it seemed. At the time, I was just glad the Wall Street Journal photographer had left and wasn’t around to capture that.

A woman who had been helping together with her family since early in the morning confessed to us that she had lost everything. She was happy to stay busy, give back to others and not think about it much. Still, every now and again, some relative would grab a nice comforter or a bag of breadsticks and sneak it out for her.

I don’t even know how many hours went by, I never made it to Heather’s house for anything else but to deliver hot soup and chit-chat. The sun went down and all of a sudden everything was dark. The first ominous sign of what was ahead was the military truck that lit our path as we tried to guess our way down the block back to the car.

We gave a ride to a neighbor and fellow volunteer that had walked 40 blocks to be with us. Suddenly, we found ourselves behind a Homeland Security armored vehicle parked on the middle of the street. Men in military uniforms and bulletproof vests climbed out holding long rifles and surrounded a group of three young black males. The guys put down the cans they were holding, put up their hands and smirked. The four women in our car looked on horrified, and I pulled out my cell phone camera as fast as I could, only to be confronted by one of the men in uniform. “There’s been looting”, he said, and I realized he was the first government official of any kind I’d seen outside of a vehicle today. Everyone else had been guarding a gas station or a cell-phone recharging generator. We were shaking with anger, and were instructed to move on.

After dropping our friend off, we started driving back home with a tank low on fuel and an extra empty seat. The streets were dark and there were no working stoplights. In the middle of the highway behind Jacob Riis Park, where the beach seems to have flooded over the entire parking lot, across the highway and met the water on the other side, we saw a silhouette on the side of the road walking. I jumped out of the car into the cold, cold night and offered a ride; we got thanks and blessings to last us a lifetime of mischievous deeds.

After dropping him off two hours early of his estimated time of arrival, we drove around frantically trying to fill up the tank with gas before getting stranded in unknown territory. Station after station was taped or boarded up, with sloppily written signs on the pumps announcing they were out of gas. The only station that was open we found after driving past over a hundred vehicles that were parked in line waiting to fill up. A hundred more people stood in line filling up little red tanks.

On the final walk home, as I neared ‘normality’, I walked past a woman talking on her phone. “Maybe this was a blessing in disguise” is all I could make out and all I needed to hear. I tightened my grip on the shovel still dirty with sand that I was carrying, wanting to hit her on the head with it. I kept walking, down the street full of leaves, past the car crushed by a tree (now partially removed and chopped up) and into my apartment. The first thought as I walked through the door was “why didn’t I donate that blanket?” “I don’t really even use those shoes” “what else can I give?” Nothing feels like enough.

At least, I can say, I went out there today, and will again tomorrow. At least, I can say, I kept busy and felt useful. It’s a magical feeling, at times. Other times, it’s not nearly enough. What breaks my heart is having lived through that for just a day and not knowing what to do with myself. What hurts is recognizing now more than ever how easily we detach from the reality around us. What pisses me off is how it’s up to ragtag teams of individuals to make things happen, in a rich city where until a week ago everything seemed surmountable.

There’s a problem with our attitude of measuring the damage of the storm by just looking at ourselves, our apartments, our blocks and maybe our neighborhoods after a leisurely morning-after stroll. There is no our. The thinking is, now I’ll go back to normal. I’ll take the unexpected vacation. I’ll finally finish that book, that TV series, that thesis. We reach out on facebook and holler out “I got power back! If you need anything just come on by!” and we feel good about ourselves.

The second problem is the government’s inability to protect human interests. While armies and reserves are trained, resourced and mobilized to destroy, it seems like an overreach to ask for those same people to put down their weapons and pick up a shovel and some gloves. After not being able to point me in the direction of donation drop-offs or shelters when I first went out to Far Rockaway two days ago, an officer recommended I call 311 for information. Call. From an area where phones are mostly down, to a number clogged with phone calls asking for help. Not that I’ve ever been a big believer in the powers of government, but can’t they even organize volunteers better and drive them down in public buses to the areas where they’re needed?

But maybe none of this is true and I’m just spitting out something that was brewing in my belly when I got home after a heavy day. The underlying problem is that after getting frustrated by the mild opportunities the bike-able city gave me to volunteer, I decided to go out to Far Rockaway to help my friend Heather out, because cleaning her flooded house sounded like a good, decent, concrete thing I could do to lend a hand after the storm. It wasn’t until I drove down Rockaway Boulevard looking at burnt down buildings and piles of damp furniture on the sidewalks. It wasn’t until I asked someone what they needed specifically that I could get them from our stash of donations and he looked at me half-proud, half-embarrassed and said “Everything. We have nothing.” That’s when my brain exploded.

PS: I’m not writing any of this to make anyone feel better or worse about how they’re dealing with the storm. I’m writing it because I needed to get out something in my gut and put it into words, share it with friends and leave some proof of this feeling. I don’t even know some of these friends that I talked about, I just shook hands with some of them today or tried to remember the name scribbled out on red tape on their chest. They are my friends, still. I hugged them and they looked me in the eye. They are people I want to call my friends, known or unknown.

—-

If you want to join storm relief efforts in Far Rockaway, our yet-to-be-named donation drop-off and relief center is located on Beach 113th street and Rockaway Boulevard, a block or two away from the 116th street subway station, which of course is out of service.

If you want to help the people of Far Rockaway, here are some ideas:

If you have a car with gas, there’s no excuse. Drive it out to where people need help, bring people and things with you. Lend it out to someone who’s willing and able, if you can’t. Worst case scenario, donate your gas, let’s suck it out with a tube. It’s simple.

If you have access to any of these or to money and stores where to buy them, here are some of the most popular requests of the day:

-Blankets
-Sweaters
-Batteries
-Candles
-Diapers
-Socks, gloves, scarves

If you have time on your hands, cook a big hot meal. We have ways of getting it there. Hopefully you do too and there’s one less thing to worry about.

-Sofía Gallisá Muriente

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Photos: Devastation in Staten Island


Editor’s note: More photos are available at the author’s blog.

New York, NY–Today I went to Staten Island to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation was completely unimaginable, yet the folks who were stepping up to help out were completely inspiring. Seeing these people suffer makes my heart hurt in ways I never thought possible. I wish there was a way I could help every single one of them, but I know that is not possible. Instead, I will share some of the photos I captured in order to get their story out there, and to help others at least begin to understand what they’re dealing with. Hopefully those of you who have the ability to help, will do so – whether that means putting on your boots and gloves and grabbing a shovel to help them clean up, or donating money for supplies. If you wish to help these folks in Staten Island, check out StatenIsland.recovers.org.

-Jenna Pope-

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Bagging the Tea Party


New York, NY–So literally last night an email was passed around in one of the affinity groups I’m in, citing an article about an Anti-Occupy Wall Street/Anti-Obama rally to take place in New York. The rally was part of the “Obama’s Failing Agenda Tour.” It was paid for by Americans For Prosperity (AFP), the SuperPAC funded by the Billionaire industrialist Koch Brothers, who co-opted the original Tea Party movement to get the current Republican congress (Headed by John Boehner) elected. There was a buzz in the listserv about attending the demonstration and making an ass of them. I was really looking forward to getting some sleep, but as soon as I saw that, I was down for streaming. Even if no one went to it I would have gone and been the most sarcastic person on the planet. As it turned out we had about 6 people go there to fool around.

I get to Times Square at around 9:30 and see no one from the affinity group. So I headed to 6th and 50th because, whether I was alone or not, I was gonna have fun at that demonstration. I ended up finding the group and we headed to the rally with signs reading “I dream of a white president…Just like they used to be,” “Every Man For Himself – Jesus,” “Get the government out of my social security,” “Let them eat cake,” and others. With friends I could livestream, I was just gonna watch the magic unfold…

We get there at the end of a speech, from a paid representative for AFP doing the normal, tax-the-rich-less BS. We quietly join the crowd and hold up our signs. Once they realized what we were doing, the Tea Partiers began efforts to block our signs. Standing in front of us, or holding their signs in front of ours–what ever they could do to shield us and our infiltration from the cameras. Didn’t work. By the way I saw two Tea Partiers holding signs that reading “Thank you Koch Brothers” and “99% Shut Up.”

Once the speaker finished we started getting more attention. Our intention was just to engage them in discussion, and we did just that. An Occupier using the pseudonym Warren Bancroft, representing his Facebook group Americans For Inequality, took the Tea Partiers to school.

Warren Bancroft talks about how the banks didn’t get a bailout (0:17)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25555451

A woman gets baffled when Warren Bancroft talks about his group Americans For Inequality (0:39)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25555466

Warren Bancroft talks about the need to reverse the Narrative (0:30)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25555529

Warren Bancroft talks about how to deal with inequality (0:54)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25555494

It was a great action and we ended up in tons of different news outlets.

The Guardian even came out with an article called “Occupy Wall Street activists commandeer anti-Occupy Wall Street rally.” Read it here.

This was such a success, and we completely stuck it to the Koch Brothers. It is very likely the Koch Brothers planned this rally to counteract the success (maybe) of the Occupy Wall Street 1-year anniversary. Well, I’d say Occupy took the reigns and built on the momentum of the September 17th day of action.

Happy Birthday Occupy!

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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What’s Wrong With This Picture?: The Story of My Arrest by the NYPD


New York, NY–There’s rarely a dull moment when they go marching in the land of Occupy, and the weekend of the 1-year anniversary ramped up to revive a lot of the energy seen swirling around Zuccotti Park last fall.

After a year of shaping their vision, forming their message, and battling with the police, the movement had a broad range of actions planned for Monday, September 17th, the day of the anniversary of the first tent pitched in Liberty Square. The overall plan showed that the past twelve months have forced Occupiers to evolve. No longer would the activity be focused on one massive march, but rather dispersed and mobile, adapting to responses by the police, but with the same goal they had from the beginning: To protest the machinery of Wall Street finance by shutting it down.

As I arrived near Zuccotti Park around 6 am, NYPD forces where already out and ready, Wall Street barricaded from all sides, as was Zuccotti Park, the bull statue and parts of Broadway. The news media was out in force, with TV trucks clogging both sides of Broadway. Little brings out the news crews in New York City like the possibilities of a potential blood bath … Both the police and mass media seemed ready for that. But the occupiers had other ideas.

By 7:30 am, about 500 protesters had assembled in this one of four assembly points, and led by Episcopalian bishop George Packard and other clerics, started marching down Broadway towards the intersection with Wall Street. The original plan was to block the intersection by sitting down in the street. However, barricades set up by NYPD forced protesters to stay on the sidewalk, and, rather than – as in the past – trying to battle their way through the barricades, the protesters decided to make their point by sitting down on the sidewalk instead. Still, the arrests quickly began, as now they were obstructing pedestrian traffic. Though the possibility that maybe the barricades and lines of cops the NYPD had set up might do a better job of blocking passage than anyone sitting on a pavement ever could, probably didn’t occur to the police commander in charge of the scene….

I had found myself stuck in the press pen that was handily provided on one corner of the intersection of Wall St and Broadway, so I couldn’t see the actual arrests, but several arrestees were quickly led away.

Looking for more freedom of movement and better angles for observation and photography, I decided to change venue and moved down Pine Street towards Nassau Avenue. As I reached the intersection of Nassau and Pine, the back side of Federal Hall, another popular flashpoint between OWS and NYPD, I encountered mayhem. Police had started to arrest protesters in this location and cops were grabbing at anything and anyone that couldn’t run fast enough, including a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild, even though he was clearly marked by wearing a bright green hat marked “NLG Legal Observer”. I took some photos of arrests, but soon decided to move on further down towards Wall Street as I heard there were some activities going on there.

As I walked down Wall Street, protesters were marching on the sidewalk across the street from me, chanting and gearing up to block the intersection of Wall St and Pearl St. A massive contingent of police scooters along with cops in riot gear were standing at the ready for the encounter. A police officer started to read out a dispersal order to the protesters assembled at the street corner, and anticipating a new sit-in and some arrest shots, I crossed the street to photograph the officer with his megaphone, as well as any upcoming interactions. As I arrived on the sidewalk I started photographing the scene: The cop with his megaphone, other officers standing around that looking at the protesters, and I was just about to turn around and photograph the protesters, as I hear the voice over the megaphone saying “if you don’t move, you will be arrested.” I took one more shot of the cops standing at the corner, when the white shirt officer in charge of the scene pointed at me and said: “That’s it. She’s done. Take her,” and he promptly grabbed my hand. I shouted out that I’m an independent photographer, and showed him my credentials from the National Press Photographers’ Association. The officer looked at my badge and said “they’re not ours, so I’m not interested.” (an independent account and a great photo can be found here)

I was spun around and felt the zip ties tighten around my hands. This being my first arrest ever, I was surprised that I felt relatively calm and just let them do their thing, but I did notice that the cuffs were beginning to cut off the circulation in my hands. The white shirt officer handed me off to one of the cops standing next to him in riot helmets, and designated him to be the arresting officer, which meant he was now in charge of bringing me to the station for processing and staying with me until I was either released on a Desk Appearance Ticket or sent to court for arraignment. A couple of legal observers took my name, and information, and several other observers asked for it, too while I was being led away. At least I felt people would know where to look for me.

As I was being led to a van, my arresting officer was told that he couldn’t put me there, as only males were in there. So, the officer turned around and called over the radio “I have a body. I need a car.” — Well, while I was out of commission for the moment as a photographer, I still felt very much alive, and found that description of me rather disconcerting. Yet, the numbness in my hands continued to increase, so I decided that, rather than getting into argument with him over terminology, I’d plea my case for getting the cuffs loosened enough for the blood to be able to flow to my hands. The officer explained to me that the zip cuffs they were using could not be loosened without cutting them, and he couldn’t do that unless I was in a van. We walked back and forth searching for a van for me to be put into for another 10-15 minutes, until I was finally placed in front of a door, photographed with a Polaroid camera, and placed into the bus – joining four others already in there – with my backpack still on, and my camera and press pass hanging down in front. When I asked again to get my cuffs loosened, the officer said he didn’t have a knife, so that would have to be done at the station.

Other arrested protesters joined us in the bus and a dialogue started soon amongst everyone: About the day’s protests, occupy’s philosophy and other topics. One of the protesters started making his case for occupy to two of the arresting officers sitting with us in the van, who seemed nice enough to engage in the conversation. Whether any hearts or minds were changed remains to be seen, but it seemed clear that once the confrontation of the actual protest was out the way and a civilized conversation was possible to be had – and the boss wasn’t listening – some rank and file officers were not all that unsympathetic.

Before the cops were ordered out of the van again to accommodate more arrestees, one of them finally cut my cuffs, my hands now a darker shade of blue, and deep imprints from the edges of the cuffs visible on both my wrists. I was allowed to take off the backpack, put the camera into my bag, stretch out my fingers for a second, before I had to be re-cuffed, thankfully looser this time.

Overall the atmosphere in the van was quite festive. The other arrestees seemed to be at peace with their situation and were looking to make the most of it.  One of the late arrivals managed to access his cell phone and started livestreaming from our van. Another one, sitting next to him started reciting some rap poems he had written about Occupy, manifesting some accute wordsmanship and creativity, while another protester accompanied him with a drum beat by banging against the backwall of the van.

About 90 minutes after my arrest, we were finally delivered to Central Booking at 1 Police Plaza for further processing. There I noticed that we were referenced to as “perps”, short for “perpetrator”. While this term may seem a tad less dehumanizing than “body”, it still felt hardly appropriate for a group of people arrested for such “crimes” as sitting down in an intersection, or photographing on the sidewalk.

As we were herded across the outer courtyard of Central Booking, had our names and addresses taken, any cary-ons removed etc, the treatment I received seemed reasonably courteous. I had requested that the Swiss consulate be notified of my arrest, which seemed to make an impression. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting the need of diplomatic interference, I felt it important to ensure access to it, should the need arise. Given how little decision room I was given with every step being pre-ordained (“two steps over here, back against the wall, one step over there) it also felt good to mark at least a little corner of my territory.

I was pulled aside with another arrestee still wearing his press credentials around his neck. He was a livestreamer and reporter for a website based in Portland, Oregon. We were asked as to where our work could be seen and what we were doing exactly, then that officer went away. I’m not sure whether he was a regular plain-clothed officer, from the press office or the legal team, but he was dressed in civilian clothing. Finally, my press pass still hanging around my neck, I was led into the back door of central booking, where my identity was verified, I had to pose for another photo – this time with the arresting officer – and was placed into a holding cell for further processing. My arresting officer seemed pleased with the photo of the two of us and showed it to me. When I jokingly asked him whether we should put that on facebook he laughed but said no, that he didn’t want to be tagged.

In the holding cell I found Nicole, one of my colleagues from the Occupied Stories website, who is also trained as a legal observer. She was arrested for hoola-hooping while directing pedestrian traffic in an intersection, leading her arresting officer to complain “Lady, we don’t have charges for that.” But, on orders of his white shirt officer, he arrested her anyway.

After a while I was taken out of the holding cell and led past the holding den containing many of the male protesters that had been arrested that morning, by that time around 70 of them. They were having a party in there, cheering on every protester who was led by their den, chanting, drumming and even dancing. One officer passing by along with me shook his head and exclaimed “what a zoo!” Others seemed less amused, but unsure what to do about it, so for the time being they let the protesters be. The holding room had glass windows, not merely bars, so the noise level wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been, but they were clearly heard all the way down to the holding pen I was about to be placed into.

I was led to another intake officer who collected all the possessions from my pockets, my press pass, and also my shoe-laces. I was allowed to make my phone call but only to a number within New York City. Other arrestees behind me where not so lucky. Several of the out-of-town protesters who had come to New York for the OWS anniversary didn’t have a local number to call. So, they were sent off to their cells without being able to notify someone outside what had happened.

I was led into a block of 9 cells, each designed for one occupant but allowed to hold up to four, furnished with a wooden blank with some mats on top, a sink at the wall and a toilet besides that which didn’t provide any privacy what so ever. The front wall of the cells were metal bars, so everyone walking by could see right in. Nicole and I were placed into the same cell, along with a sleeping medic and two out of town girls. We could also hear and communicate with the occupants from the other cells, which by that point held around 30 other protesters (we maxed out at 37 in our block). The two female intake officers were in a very foul mood, so any chanting or singing between the cells was met with verbal abuse and threats of delaying our release. We knew they didn’t have the authority to make such decisions, but it clearly put a damper on the festive mood in our corner of the building. Still, we quickly built solidarity around the privacy issue of the toilets that were provided. Every time one of us had to use the bathroom, the others lined up in a wall around her, facing towards the hallway, to shield her from view, all the while singing “Solidari-pee Forever”. We called it our Pee-ples Wall.

As the day dragged on conversations swerved from philosophy to politics. Also, Nicole gave advice to us less familiar with legal proceedings surrounding arrests, as to what to expect in terms of release, possible punishment for different charges etc. While at that time I was not given access to a lawyer (I had asked my godmother to contact a good lawyer we both know on my behalf), it did feel good to have somebody knowledgeable on the subject in the room. Still, time is passing slowly in a prison cell even with the best of conversations, and gradually we all started to chomp at our bits to be released, feeling we were missing things still going on out there.

Some entertainment was provided by our guards trying to assemble a proper count of all female inmates in our block. First the one officer passed by, counting each head, expecting four arrestees to each cell, as they passed by our cell their count got out of synch with their expectations, since we had five people in ours. However, that would take a moment to sink in, so they passed us by, kept counting, and about 2 cells later started to realize that something was amiss. So, they’d come back and do it again, then send a second counter to do the math, and finally a third, and we still had five ladies in our cell. “But it’s not supposed to be that way”, one of them exclaimed, pointing at one of us. “You were supposed to be in number seven”. After a while of headscratching they gave up and left things as they were. Clearly, these ladies are not loaded down with student debt …

Around 1pm, we were served “lunch” which consisted of two sorry excuses for peanut butter-jelly or cheese sandwiches, and a small carton of milk. I didn’t mind the PBJ in principle, but these two comprised basically two pieces of cardboard that had been dragged past a jar of peanut butter and a gotten drop of sugary something plopped on top. I was grateful for some food, and I do understand the impact of budget cuts, but this was ridiculous.

As the afternoon dragged on, one of the out-of-town girls got increasingly agitated, as she became worried about what would happen to her and her friend. As she got more and more upset and started screaming at the cops about not getting her phone call, her friend tried to calm her down, but to little avail. Irrespective of the tone in which she asked to make the call, it was indeed disturbing that she was denied what is ultimately one of her fundamental rights.

Around 5 pm I was finally released with what is called a Desk Appearance Ticket and a charge of “Disorderly Conduct”, which photography in public apparently now qualifies as in the City of New York. Before I was let out, we had to retake those two Polaroid photos I had posed for during my arrest. Apparently, they had gotten lost in the shuffle, but I couldn’t help but notice that this time my press credentials were not hanging around my neck … The entire upper body is visible in these photos, so any press pass hanging around my neck would have been clearly visible.

While I found the experience of this arrest very insightful into a part of America I have never personally encountered before, it also angered me that I lost an entire day’s worth of photographic work over a bullshit arrest. I don’t blame the poor beat cop who got stuck with posing as my arresting officer. This issue begins with his superior who decided to arrest me for whatever reasons he had or was given. I can understand how the prison system can break people, given just how little humanity is allowed to those it oversees and is supposed to reform and prepare for re-admission into the general public. Obviously, with the view from my holding cell I’ve only scratched the surface of what prison life in America can be like, but the stories I’ve heard are beginning to make a whole lot more sense. My spirit is fine but my wrists still hurt, and parts of my hands still have no feeling, which sucks when you’re trying to hold a camera.

Also, if intimidation was the goal of me being snatched off the street, the plan has backfired. I have no intention to interfere with events as they unfold, but I believe that the emergence of a movement like Occupy is one of the largest news stories of our time, and as such it needs to be properly documented. That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I will keep taking my pictures, like it or not. But obviously, I need to take better care of staying one step ahead of the body snatchers …

Far from reformed, once out of jail I went straight back to Zuccotti Park to reconnect with the day’s events and people I had spent the better part of last year with and grabbing dinner at an Irish pub with some of the photographers I had met on marches and in the park. The park had much of the energy back that swept through it last fall. While the park was surrounded by a sea of cops, inside occupiers had a great time reconnecting, and sharing their experiences. It was fun to hear stories about everything that happened, and annoyed me once more that I couldn’t be there to see it myself. Still, I also realized that I was lucky, in that my arrest was not a violent one, as I heard some of the horror stories of what the others saw and experienced. Around midnight I finally went home, completely exhausted, but also well aware that this thing is far from over.

– Julia Reinhart –

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“THEY DON”T REPRESENT US! WE WANT A REAL DEMOCRACY!”

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

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

“THEY DON’T REPRESENT US! THEY DON’T REPRESENT US! THEY DON’T REPRESENT US!”

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

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

our message.

things would never be the same again.

——————————————-

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

– Atchu –

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My Occupy Birthday


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We serve this mission by pursuing the following goals:

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

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

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

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

DONATE TO ME HERE:
https://www.wepay.com/xn3u44g/donations/e-s-occupy-work

OR SUPPORT S17 HERE:
http://actionresourcefund.org/

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

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