Tag Archive | "solidarity"

Excuse me, but can you spare a smile?


New Orleans, LA–97 to 284… 381 people in total. Sat on Decatur St in the French Quarter and tried to spange [to ask for spare change, panhandle--ed] on all of these people–but not for money, or cigarettes nor booze. No, I was pleading for smiles, or grins or even a small smirk. I turned down every offer of money and cigarettes (though I did accept a bag of cookies from one man, for it was food. And a tall boy of PBR from a couple, as we had quite a long conversation about my thoughts on several scientific topics, including the most likely form of the universe, to cryogenics.

I spanged this way for a number of reasons; one, because a smile can be quite contagious. And I was hoping for a domino effect. But more importantly for the next two reasons, the second being that it’s a break from the usual selfish plea that barrage the average passerby on any given day. The plea wasn’t for me, but instead for them, to make their nights slightly better, and yes, if only slightly… but the main reason for this performance art/social study was to gauge just how detached we as a society, and as a species, have become towards the cries of those desperate and in need. It was meant to pierce that bubble of indifference, a calyx many have formed over their conscience throughout the years from a steady form of indoctrinated false elitism, in hopes of exposing the empathy that lies underneath and, more importantly, the ability to preform acts of charity and good will. I understand why people feel the need to turn a blind eye, though I can never condone such a reason.

In this country of extreme privilege, it’s difficult to see how one can be so self-absorbed with such petty first world problems, that they can’t even acknowledge others who are in far dire circumstances–to push that line of comfort to the point of breaking, just to be seen and heard, not as a beggar, but as a human being. And for them to understand that, they both are one in the same. With only a dollar in my pocket I turned down (for certain) 18 dollars (and another 43 cents that was thrown at me from what appeared to be a man who became quite irate after I turned down his first advance of the change… also, this excludes the uncertain amount from the offers of money from people who hadn’t pulled any out yet) and 23 cigarettes. I did so because it would have sullied the entire project, to look the way I look and to respond to these people with “No thank you, but please share the same consideration and kindness to any brothers and sisters in need of it, down the road.” And to see their expression change to slight confusion, and then an unspoken acceptance of such a drastic diversion of the usual routine, only better solidifies the message. And that is, it isn’t about what one needs, but what one can spare to make this world a better place. If only just a few fleeting seconds, to hear a voice that is usually lost to the wind.

On a side note, the dollar was given to me by a homebum, he saw me outside of a gas station salvaging some food from the trash. He told me not to do that, and before even laying eye on my face had offered and insisted on buying me a burger, a gesture I couldn’t turn down–not because I was starving, but because that must have taken a lot, when one has so little. When buying the burger he handed me the dollar, to my usual “No, brother, I can’t,” to which he insisted further saying, “Take it, son, it will keep the gangs off you.” He gave me some pointers on stealing food from major supermarkets, and he went on his way, not expecting anything in return. And that’s what it’s really about–to have a sense of humanity. Hence why you can see how I can’t understand how someone can’t stop for a few seconds just to acknowledge someone else. And for all of those who think they can’t, the bullshit you’re rushing off to isn’t that fucking important, hate to break it to you…
-William Gunner Estrella-

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A symphony for Trayvon Martin


Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.

Atlanta, GA–I had been to Atlanta, Ga., before — running trainings with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta as part of the Wildfire Project. But until Saturday, I had never been to Atlanta the day George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In some ways, it was strange to be away from New York when it happened — the city whose streets I’ve gotten used to marching in, the people I’ve struggled alongside for years, the cops I’ve learned so well. But in many ways, being in Atlanta felt lucky — away from the shiny glass of Wall Street, the manufactured dreams of Times Square, even the quiet Park Slopes that blur our vision and obscure hard truths. Instead, I was in a place where the faces of slave-owning Confederate generals still stand chiseled into the sides of mountains commemorating them, where a sizeable majority of the population is descendant from people kidnapped, enslaved and brutalized ever since. Being in the South felt somehow closer to the truth. But you know what Malcom X said: “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re south.”

The first night after the verdict came we marched in the streets, and the march grew with the very real anger and sadness and fear and hope drawing people out to join. The next day was even bigger, in the thousands. We must have marched five miles, much of it in the pouring rain. The city erupted in a symphony of car horns honking in solidarity, echoed by people cheering and clapping from their windows, emboldened by thousands of people stopping on every sidewalk with their fists up, and strengthened by people jumping out of homes, restaurants and cars to join. The music was loud — genuine mourning, righteous fury and deep purpose. I remember thinking, while marching to the beat, that this is the kind of music that revolutions come from.

The sound of the car horns struck me most — in anger, but not anger that they couldn’t get through, all in solidarity and encouragement. I heard from friends who were part of the demonstrations that took over Times Square that even there — in a city where people are so stressed out that they eat while walking — the honking was supportive. Tens of thousands were in the streets in dozens of cities across the country, and the media couldn’t help but report on it. Friends and family who have never identified themselves as political or radical were furious, and many of them took their first steps into a march. Maybe people have had it. Maybe the music is finally getting loud enough.

I suppose it’s like Aura Bogado wrote in The Nation: The question is not whether the Zimmermans of the world (or the rest of us) are white, brown or black; the question is whether we uphold white supremacy or fight to dismantle it. Oddly enough, in this sense, this case is black and white. In a country where a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante every 28 hours, where more black men are in prisons today than were enslaved just before the Civil War, where drones come home to rest after bombing people of color all across the world in the service of U.S. imperialism, you are either for white supremacy or against it.

The honking horns seemed to compel us — white, black and anyone else — to choose a side. They pierced through the wall of white guilt that threatens to handicap some of us, booming: Yes, you are different, your experience in this country is different, and your role in the struggle is different — but you, too, can choose a side.

Rather, You must choose a side.

As the march snaked through downtown Atlanta, the protesters flooded around cars like water. The drivers — the musicians of the day — sat with their windows down, high fiving or clenching a fist in the air. And every so often a marcher would stop at an open window, have a conversation and take down the driver’s phone number to put it on a list for future organizing. At moments like those I was reminded that people don’t march forever, that crisis moments pass and that we must always think of tomorrow today.

The sight of a young woman taking down people’s numbers reminded me how too often we tell ourselves the myth of spontaneity to avoid the hard work of organizing. There is nothing spontaneous about people streaming into the streets. It comes from a rage that builds over years and centuries, the hard work shifting narratives and raising consciousness, the organizing to bring people in and connect groups to one another, the movement-building to create structures to carry us as we fight. And, of course, people join only when an organized community is willing to step off the curb in the first place, ready to go into motion when confrontations are thrust on us and lines are drawn in the sand.

Then I drifted back into the music, an epic score dedicated not just to Trayvon Martin, but also to all the kids carried through the streets those nights by their parents, whose raised fists seemed to declare that they would no longer permit a world in which they were forced to fear for their children’s lives. The horns — and the rest of the music that gives life to our struggles — blasted through Atlanta and all across the country. The tune was unmistakable: Choose your side, organize and take to the streets.

-Yotam Marom-

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Because I’m Afraid for My Child


Last Saturday (July 13) was the night that reiterated for the thousandth time that the system we continue to seek justice from will never provide that for us–especially if we aren’t white.

The months leading up to the Zimmerman verdict were filled with vigils and protests, outcries and anger, not for 1 young soul taken away from the earth too soon, but for many youth who have been murdered because they are black.  I remember sitting in the pew at the church where the 1 year vigil for Ramarley Graham was being held, listening to countless stories from a group called Stolen Lives.  I couldn’t contain my tears, my pain for them.

I have a 6 year old boy who I have to fear will grow up to be not a successful beautiful human who contributes to his community, but a target because of his skin color.  My son’s future is riddled with obstacles because they close schools to build prisons.  My child is worth more money to this capitalist slave system as an inmate than a productive member of his community.

All of these things came to a head Saturday night, and I could not contain the rage, the anger, the disappointment, the fear.  How in the Hell can I protect my child from being the next Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, or Kimani Gray?  I felt helpless because I can’t protect him from this world, and it only made me more angry.

My temporary therapy is expression on social media, and while I do this often, this time was different.  Some family and “friends” reacted to my posts and became critical of me and upset.  They tried to pacify my anger and rage.  I was told that this behavior wasn’t good; I was told it wasn’t productive, and was even called a divider, a racist.  This society is so fearful of words, especially when spoken from the mouths of the oppressed.  An angry Latina anarchist who speaks her mind is viewed to be so dangerous and wrong, yet we passively watch as a controlling system wipes their ass with the Constitution and no one blinks.

My words aren’t the bullets that kill our youth, but rather the ones that blow holes through the oppressive state that systematically attempts to make us worthless, to make us afraid.

I used social media to process my very strong emotions about the verdict and what it means to a society of people who share that child’s skin color.  They don’t care about Black people.  They don’t care about our kids and they will never give us justice.

I had the amazing opportunity to process my anger in a more direct way because I was able to participate in the NYC Justice for Trayvon march.  Over 5,000 stood together in Times Square to rally for Trayvon and his family as well as all the families who have lost their loved ones to senseless violence at the hands of a racist system.

It was so invigorating to take the middle of Park Avenue in NYC and march all the way to Harlem.  ”Whose streets?!” That night they were ours.  I was able to belt out chants and hug my comrades, break down and cry when I needed.  Why? Because we were all one community that night.  We all worked together that night.  We were all one.

That was the display of unity I needed to see and feel.  That unity is what will move mountains.  That unity is what my son needs to be enveloped in, in order to survive.  That unity is what will save the lives of so many children in our communities.

I will stay angry and diligent.  I will continue to be a connector, bringing the members of our communities together so that we don’t have to hold a rally for a child who was senselessly killed.

It has been less than a week since this verdict and while my voice has become sore from all the chanting, I will continue to organize, educate and equally agitate the system, which has failed to represent us–especially the darker shades of us in this society.

-Katt Ramos-

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Where is Occupy Now?


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Art F City.

Where is Occupy Now?

June 1, 2013.  Answer: Turkey.

Gliding down Broadway last Saturday, the blazing-red Mark di Suvero sculpture known to arts professionals as “Joie de Vivre” and to Occupy Wall Street as “the Weird Red Thing” comes into view. The scene is familiar. Facing west, I see white-shirt cops on Broadway and Liberty and the Imperial Walker-esque NYPD surveillance tower perched in the lower right corner of the park. More friendly are the falafel and juice stands lined up on the left.  The 33,000 square feet of public/private space formerly known as Zuccotti Park pulses with energy: men and women waving red flags, shouting in unison and singing spirited songs in Turkish.

It is day one of #OccupyGeziParkNYC, an American offshoot of the Turkish #OccupyGeziPark, that began as peaceful sit-in demonstration against a shopping mall slated to replace Istanbul’s last major public square. The protest quickly morphed into a Tahrir-like movement to oust Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square were tear gassed, arrested in the hundreds, some beaten and killed by the police.  Within hours, a solidarity group called #OccupyGeziParkNYC had begun to organize a response. There were even those from the OWS movement who flew to the action, like Justin Wedes, a member of the communication working  group in Zuccotti. “The revolution has just begun,” he tweets, the first of a day, in seemingly hundreds he sends out. (He also files regular posts at Animal NY).

This converged last minute with a planned OWS re-occupation or “homecoming” action for June 1 which I was attending. Since the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15th2011, big days of action such as May 1st (M1) or the September 17th anniversary (S17– we activists convert important dates into codes to make them sound ominous) partially fell into the shadow of the original Occupy season. Each big march provided proof that the movement is still here but dwindling.  You’d see many familiar faces from the glory days of the park, but a reunion just does not equate to a movement that can take on Capitalism. Especially a slightly dysfunctional reunion. Occupy was slowly fragmenting into groups (though impressive ones);  big moments where Occupiers came together were becoming  less and less convincing.

Saturday felt different though, and it looked different, too.  I saw very few familiar faces in the park, now filled with Turkish protesters. “It’s exciting” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me, speaking of the new upbeat energy in Liberty Park. This energy flows in from elsewhere causing creative hybridized memes to pop up like wildflowers. OWS posters from 2011 have been re-tooled for Turkey, yellow “Occu-tape” is wrapped around trees to highlight the eradication of green space in Istanbul,  those famous ragged cardboard signs are scrawled in Turkish. Someone bangs a pot with a spoon in the protest style of the Quebec student movement or “Casseroles.” Others hold signs that say “Turkish Spring,” harkening back to Egypt and Tunisia.  It’s as if all the movement memes from the last couple years have ended up in a common whirlpool.

By noon, the park was so packed that all I could see of the movement were those squeezed up against me. I made my way through the dense crowd to catch a better view from Zuccotti’s northern wall (hallowed site of the speakers’ area in the very first OWS general assemblies). There I met a Turkish woman in her fifties, Lutfiye Karakus, a nurse from Staten Island, who has been in the US for twenty-one years.  She’s part of the 99%, having lost her home to foreclosure, and watched the American Dream slip away. She made it out to Liberty Park once in 2011 to join the protest.

This time, she tells me tales of Turkish corruption where the 1% straddle the financial and political lines, similar to the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. Luftiye was enraged at the Turkish media blackout, including even CNN Turkey, during the protests and police violence. “The police sprayed tear gas in people’s eyes and blinded them,” she told me.

The focus on Turkey– with red crescent flags, pictures of Turkey’s modern state founder Ataturk, and chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye! Turkiye!”– may seem strangely nationalistic for an Occupy movement. But Occupy doesn’t espouse a singular political view. The activist and anthropologist David Graeber reported from among the different political players in the planning stages before September 17th; not only Anarchists, but members of the Democratic Party and quite a few Ron Paul followers. (One of the “bottomliners” of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City was a big fan of Ayn Rand). And then once the movement went viral, hundreds of cities interpreted Occupy differently, from Oakland’s militant style to El Paso’s protests against the government.

After we parted ways, I began to wonder why Lutfiye and her Turkish community decided to use Occupy to raise their voices. A few years ago, she had participated in a large Turkish protest outside the United Nations. Why head down to Lower Manhattan this time? “Because they’re not appealing to the UN” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me. She believes the slowness of a bureaucracy is unappealing to many, particularly now that there’s a little Occupy-inspired Anarchism in the air. Appealing to fellow citizens directly may be more effective than the state, and Occupy is building a platform for it.

That’s exactly why it’s exciting. For one, the “Occupy” meme itself can be interchanged with other locations and causes like Legos (Occupy Gezi Park, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Museums, etc).

Second, it offers tools for communication, whether through social media mutual aid efforts or offline “social software”: the hand signs, and the people’s mic, which allow large groups of people to project their voices without speakers or microphones.

Third, Occupy serves up a toolbox of direct action tactics: the long-term holding of space (Tahrir Square, Liberty Park, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) shorter-term occupations (a 2011 sleep-in at Lincoln Center, a 2012 occupation at the Berlin Biennale, and last month’s occupation of the Ludwig Museum in Hungary) and spectacular actions (just today, Occupy Gezi crowdfunded a full-page ad in the New York Times).

Finally, Occupy offers a form of horizontal organizing which discourages the centralization of leadership. These tactics have diverse roots, from the Zapatista Movement of the 1990’s to Spanish Anarchists. But this time, an unprecedented ability to socially network makes it possible for these tactics to flow in bursts of energy across the globe, and also to rapidly morph and develop in a co-authored but connected way: kind of like the Internet.

Circulation is happening offline as well, as occupiers travel the globe to exchange movement experiences and tactics. Hundreds of occupiers, for example, attended The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis as part of a group called Global Square. Their attendance, fellow occupier Marisa Holmes told me at Zucotti, took the form of an occupation. “They didn’t know how to relate to us.” she said, explaining this was in part due to a generational clash and in part due to an entrenched vertical leadership. Still, group met every day, and over all, Marisa concluded that “It was really great for us.”

I got that sense from other occupiers as well, but it’s important to remember that these movements have a darker side as well. Damage to the body can easily occur during protests, as police violence is common. Activists can lose jobs or damage professional reputations by standing up for strong political positions. The time and risk required in the heat of a movement can destroy relationships; a member of Occupy Museums went through a divorce, partly due to her strong commitment to the movement in 2011. Activists have power struggles with other activists, and most of all, exhaustion. Most of us have gone through some form of movement trauma.

At this point, Occupy Wall Street increasingly operates within totally separate networks.  When the Turkish community began to thin out that evening, the tribe reconvened in little clusters to discuss re-occupation. I heard many woeful tales about power struggles, people’s Occu-nemeses, their banishment from groups, or just sense of burnout. Although there was a 6 PM assembly to discuss re-occupation organized by a group called Occupy Town Square, it became clear that any sort of large consensus wasn’t going to happen.

These may sound like big problems, but they don’t define the movement.  It just means that the movement is moving along in stages. To name just a few of the many efforts in the last 9 months, Occupy Sandy has figured out a new model to provide direct relief to those affected by global warming-fueled catastrophes. Strikedebt has come up with ingenious new economic proposals such as the Rolling Jubillee, a crowdsourced fund to buy up personal debt, and it’s produced a manual for debt resistance. Occupy the Pipeline is putting up a spirited fight against fracking. The group I’m in, Occupy Museums, is launching Debt Fair: an experimental art fair spread  throughout the streets of New York City that invites collectors buy art in exchange for artists’ debt.

These projects flow naturally from a view of the world you acquire by fatefully stepping into the public squares.  But they take a tremendous amount of energy. As we enter the long-haul, this practice can seem like a heavy burden to bear.

Yet on June 1st, I remembered something that is actually totally obvious: Occupy is no one’s burden. It’s an uncontrollable open source project where all responsibility is shared, and in that way, I see Occupy as an alternative model for culture. For a generation, the private sector has been encroaching on the public, reenforcing the mentality that we must achieve individual goals at all cost to shared resources. As depicted in mainstream entertainment and news organizations, we are people who distrust strangers and associate the public realm with poverty.  Occupying a park challenges these assumptions through practice. Serving food in a park, chanting, or organizing actions with people you just met points toward a culture based on shared, rather than private, space.  There’s a sublime feeling of connection with fellow protesters anywhere in the world.

From its inception, it was a perfect storm of talent, wisdom from past movements, catalyzed by economic and political shocks. It’s always had a random quality: the name and initial call itself was coined by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, who didn’t even show up to their own party!  I have learned to suspend disbelief as the protest unfolded differently than any script I could imagine.

Yet another chapter is unfolding as thousands of Turkish protesters fill Liberty Park on June 1. This time however, the novelty has worn off, and Occupy is looking like a permanent part of our post-crash reality: a direct democratic forum for citizens to highlight and link political situations globally. And, as I stood there looking at a poster of Ataturk printed out on foamcore and decorated with yellow Occu-tape, I had another thought: Occupy just may be ahead of the curve.

-Noah Fischer-

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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We Are the 6%


Brooklyn, NY–I felt extremely empowered at the March 15th Rally against the 6% budget cuts, yet at the same time I’m profoundly sad, a little frightened and very worried that we live in a society and a culture that can shun and throw away disabled people like my brother Stephen, the poor, the working class, yet celebrate the rich, wealthy and moronic celebrities. How is it that in America, my country that I love and served in the Military (U.S. Army) to protect, has become a place where the poor and disabled have to fight for the basic dignities of life, whereas the Koch Brothers, Mayor Bloomberg, Rockefellers, Bushes, Rupert Murdoch, and the 1% are automatically entitled to not only the basics but even the small luxuries that should be available to all Americans? Disability rights and activism is also part of the Gospel of Inclusion. We refuse to go back to the days when developmentally and physically disabled children and adults were hidden away in attics or cast into torture chamber institutions never to be seen or heard from. Let’s view disability in a different light as being differently abled, not less than but a person with unique and special abilities.

It’s a crying shame the way we’ve devalued people with disabilities! We should have an allegiance to our most vulnerable populations, especially the disabled. It’s scary to see things moving backwards. I don’t want to see my brother Stephen warehoused in some institution. Willowbrook was a living nightmare for developmentally disabled people and a true disgrace. However each of us has to stand up and fight. I, Stephen and four van loads of his fellow residents went up to Albany on Tuesday in all that pouring rain to face off our elected officials. I’m doing my part to make sure the disabled are not cast aside like garbage on the trash heap. We need more alternative voices. We all must speak up. The rally more than proved that for me. We must not be lulled into apathy and compliancy by fear or the right wing media. We need to return to the civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks.

One of my girlfriends from the Bronx informed me that I made the 11pm Channel 7 Eyewitness news and on the local Bronx Cable station. I believe that God hears the cries of his children especially the disabled and he will turn Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s heart towards us and restore the 6% budget cuts. Faith without works is dead. We have to make our government accountable to our most vulnerable citizens and for all Americans. Protest. March. Advocate. Be an Activist. Indifference equals death to our basic rights and freedoms. Be the solution and make it so!

-Deborah Ann Palmer-

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The Theft of Everyone’s Home: A Personal Account of the Fall of #FuerzaHernandez


Los Angeles, California–At 4:30 am on December 27, 2012, over 200 members of “Law Enforcement”, including some 50 LA county sheriffs deputies, and more than 150 LAPD officers descended on 14620 Leadwell St. in Van Nuys. They brought with them the implied violence of firearms, armored vehicles, tear gas and full riot gear, all to throw one family out into the street and end the longest post-eviction foreclosure defense in California history.

That morning, on Sherman Way and Van Nuys Blvd., one block away from the Hernandez home, a homeless woman was set on fire at the bus bench that had been her spot for years. Even though 200 sworn officers were just down the block, a civilian had to chase down the attacker, and hold him for 30 minutes till the police arrived because the police were too busy with their eviction plan to make more people homeless.

Even though we had known this moment was coming for the last 124 days, as the 30 of us were led into the chill of the early morning air at gunpoint past the seemingly endless lines of nervous cops equipped with shotguns and bulletproof vests, I could not help but be surprised at the extreme response to what had been an entirely peaceful protest. I shouldn’t have been. Having been involved in many police incited confrontations on the streets of downtown LA, I should have been well aware that the first response of the reactionary monied class to any attempt by the people to enforce their basic human rights is to criminalize us, using the very agencies we pay for to deny us our rights. But still, the response was, in a word, overkill.

Despite the direct and obvious evidence of fraud on the part of Countrywide and BOA presented by the Hernandez family, both directly to the police and in court, our elected officials spent nearly half a million dollars in public money to harass, patrol, surveill and criminalize an innocent family, simply to evict them from a house with a market value of barely $260,000. I remember thinking, how, in a country where vacant homes outnumber homeless people 5 to 1, in a city where hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the streets every night, is this ridiculous waste of public funds even slightly justifiable?

The pigs finally shuffled us out from behind the police lines and into the parking lot of the Lucky’s supermarket, which had recently closed down because of all the displacement in the area. Guadalupe Hernandez, who we had come to call Mama Lupe, stood on the sidewalk across Wynedote St. wrapped in a purple blanket, looking distraught, and shivering in the cold. Ulisses stood next to his mother, eyes fixed on the ground, the heat of his anger palpable in the early morning air, while Antonio and a few supporters mocked the police’s ridiculous show of force on live stream. But it was the look on Javier Hernandez’s face, that mixture of sorrow, guilt, and shock, as he took in the scene of his mother, brothers, and the rest of his newly adopted family, huddled with whatever meager possessions they had managed to save, that still haunts me to this day.

A gray Mustang followed by two U-Haul trucks pulled onto Wynedote and was stopped at the police line, until the driver announced that he was from the bank, and the jeering from our people began, at which point the police surrounded the car as if President Obama himself was inside. This served only to reinvigorate our makeshift clan of family members, houseless activists, and organizers, and shake us out of our dejection.

The rest of the morning was a blur of activity as our team sprang into action, testing the police lines, herding the media, and destroying the police’s credibility in front of the neighbors, our people were in rare form, and I was never more proud of them than in those immediate post eviction hours.

A little past 10am, after the U-haul trucks pulled away illegally carrying out the Hernandez families memories and possessions from their home of 7 years the sheriffs returned to their armored vehicles, patting themselves on the back for following orders, and we hoped they might hate themselves a little. The LAPD slinked wearily back to their patrol cars after a rough morning of oppressing the people behind them, and the neighbors finally poked their heads out of the houses only to be told to “get the fuck inside” by the pigs. Antonio and Javi led us back down Leadwell st, to the place that had, until that morning, been everyone’s home.

I walked a few steps behind Mama Lupe. The wooden barricade painted with the large letters “Government of for and by the people” had been replaced by a 12 foot chain link fence- how fitting. The banners reading “housing is a human right” and “Bank stolen property” were gone, replaced by a 2×2 foot sign, “For Sale, Ben Soifer Realty”. Mama Lupe sighed deeply to herself “Mi casa”, then looked around at her children, the ones she had given birth to, and those of us she had taken in over the last 4 months, we were dejected, depressed, powerless. Swallowing her own pain, Lupe did what needed to be done, what only a mother could do. She grabbed a lone metal lawn chair, left behind on the curb by the real estate company that had just stolen all of her earthly possessions, pulled it up in front of the fence, sat down, threw her fist high in the air, and proclaimed “La Fuerza Sigue!”, the strength continues.

Those words, spoken in the kind and powerful tones of her voice sparked something in those of us who couldn’t speak, nor think, nor do anything in that moment but silently stare at the ground and one another with confusion and sadness. It was as if the sun finally burst through the clouds after a rainstorm. A reminder of why we had come to Leadwell st in the first place, to empower the people. She continued, translating through Javier, “ Thank you all for all of your hard work. I love you all. Our fight isn’t over, it has just begun. Anyone else that needs help, we will be there to fight with them.” It was at this moment that the tears I had been repressing all morning finally pushed their way past my anger.

See, that’s what made #FuerzaHernandez, and the Hernandez family, so special. Not only was the one story house with the 9 foot painted barricade around it there to protect the Hernandez families human right to housing, and many houseless organizers and activists, it had become the unofficial heart of the local community. A place where children’s parties and know your rights classes were held, where tenants could go to learn how to fight their evictions, or neighbors could stop to have a friendly conversation. For 4 months, Van Nuys finally had a real community center. The Hernandez resistance served to inspire housing victims across the country, and presented a strong example of people coming together to fight an unjust system to the world. The Lucero family, of east LA, had also built a barricade to protect against their eviction, and as of this writing they are still standing strong 91 days after their November 4, 2012 eviction date. La fuerza sigue indeed.

But, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the look on Javi’s face on that cold December morning, looking at all of us with such sadness and guilt, as if he had failed us, when, the way I see it, it was the other way around. If the #FuerzaHernandez action was any kind of victory, it was a Pyrrhic one. When Lupe left that morning, her and her family were forced to cram 12 people into a small apartment down the street from their stolen home. When they tried to pick up their belongings, a representative from Soifer’s office tried to get Javi to sign off on the contents of the storage space without being able to examine them, everything the family owned still being held ransom.

A month and a half later, Lupe still can’t find work, and may be forced to move back to Mexico with Adrian, her youngest son. The breakup of the family we fought so hard to prevent, may well still happen anyway, while Ben Soifer, the board of BOA, and all the other money grubbing scumbags involved in the their fraudulent eviction are safe in their homes with their families. Homes purchased by perpetrating the suffering of others while 150 million of us struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of poverty, and the police spread terror in the name of those who exploit and oppress us.

The Hernandez family will survive, and thrive, have no doubt. Their family and community solidarity has never been stronger. Their courage and self determination in the face of a corrupt vampiristic system serves as an inspiration to us all. BOA had to send it’s minions to destroy #FuerzaHernandez, it’s very existence exposed the illegitimacy of the US financial system, simply by telling millions of other people in the same situation that they were not alone, and they could fight back. Now imagine if everyone facing forced eviction did the same. What would happen? We would win.

So what is holding us back? Fear? Everything that has happened to the Hernandez family post-eviction, would have happened whether they had resisted or not. A lack of leadership? It is time to stop waiting on someone to lead us out of the darkness, and turn on the lights ourselves. You are the next great leader in your community. You are the next Malcolm X, the next Ella Baker, the next Fred Hampton, the next Guadalupe Hernandez. If you or your neighbor are facing eviction, do not panic, do not move, organize. The power is yours sisters and brothers, all you have to do is seize it.

Take back your land! Take back your homes! 

Amandala Ngawethu! Power to the Poor People! And peace to you all, if you are willing to fight for it.

-Adam Rice-

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Love In A Time Of Mass Incarceration


Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at the Suicide Girls blog.

Chicago, IL–“What are you doing for New Year’s?” The question, posed by friends and family members this past week, seemed innocent enough. When I cheerfully answered, “Protesting the prison industrial complex,” however, most people were taken aback.

My sister-in-law tried to convince me that a prison protest on New Year’s Eve would accomplish nothing beyond annoying the guards. A friend said I should take the day off of political activism and do something fun. My parents have given up making sense of my extracurricular activities altogether.

But to me, a prison noise demonstration was the only place I wanted to be. I have been very active in supporting political prisoners this past year, primarily the NATO 5 and Jeremy Hammond. Through my interactions with them and the system that has taken them hostage, I have come to recognize how many lives are ruined when we lock people in cages. I no longer trust the “justice” system to determine guilt or innocence, and I know that the prisons have done far more harm to individuals and our society as a whole than can ever be justified.

The first noise demonstration began mid-afternoon at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, a federal prison. Like many protest actions I have attended, there was a festive spirit to the gathering. Many protesters wore brightly colored masks and used a variety of New Year’s party noisemakers to add to the general ruckus. The plaza was still cordoned off with yellow CRIME SCENE tape from a recent prison break, in which two bank robbers successfully wove a rope out of bed sheets and lowered themselves down 15 stories. One of the men remains at large. We asked people to bring their old bed sheets and knotted them into a rope of our own right there in the plaza. It was a symbol of liberation for all who are incarcerated as well as an embarrassing reminder of the facility’s recent security breach.

We chanted and sang, shouted and danced. A few people swung the bed sheets like a jump rope. We marched around the building, followed closely by Chicago Police Department and Department of Homeland Security vehicles. The building goes straight up and has only the narrowest of windows, but we were soon able to see prisoners waving at us from every floor. Some turned their lights off and on repeatedly to get our attention. We cheered. The guards just stood their ground and glared at us.

The first noise demo ended at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building. A woman spoke about travesty of workplace raids, as well as whole families rounded up in home raids, all resulting in record numbers of deportations. These immigration detention centers are like a shadow prison system – “detention” is not considered “incarceration” and a different set of rules apply to the undocumented.

***
After a short break to allow people to warm up, we met at Cook County Jail for a second noise demo. This time we armed ourselves with glow sticks and were joined by a ragtag anarchist marching band. Also joining us was a veritable fleet of CPD and Cook County Sheriff cars, and two bike cops who must have drawn the short end of the stick. By this point it was very cold, and getting colder by the minute.

The plan was to circle the perimeter of the jail, which is close to a 2-mile walk. (Cook County is not only one of the most notorious jails in the country, but also the largest, and houses 10,000 inmates at any given time.) But first we veered off course and crossed the street to stop by Division 11, the newest section of the jail, built outside of the main compound. The other divisions are set back behind rolls of razor wire or overlap with other buildings, blocking our view of the windows. But Division 11 has windows facing directly onto an open plaza, and we were able to easily see and be seen by those inside.

The reaction of the inmates to our presence was incredible. We saw rows of silhouettes waving, clapping, dancing, jumping with joy. They banged on the windows and flickered their lights at us. One inmate took off his uniform shirt and swung it around his head. It was the most electric, uplifting feeling imaginable. The band played louder, we danced and clapped and made some noise. We ignored the guards yelling at us and the lights flashing atop squad cars and gave it everything we had. When we finally turned back to circle the main compound, a young woman stopped banging on a pot lid long enough to exchange a high five and irrepressible grin with me.

The jubilant spirit did not last long. Within a few minutes, we were having a tense confrontation with our law enforcement escorts, which result in a violent and entirely unnecessary arrest. The protester would later be charged with felony aggravated battery, but the only violence I saw that night was perpetrated by officers of the law on unarmed, peaceful activists.

Still, we made a complete circuit around the jail. On the last leg of the journey we spent some time blocking a side street with the bed sheet rope snaked between us, dancing and singing. It was a glorious moment, in no way diminished by the police officers watching us dubiously from every direction.

As a society, we try to hide our problems, to lock them away instead of working proactively on solutions. When our problems inevitably worsen and multiply we lock those away, too – and find a way to make the whole system profitable for well-connected individuals and corporations. We do everything possible to make prisoners –– most of whom are serving time for non-violent offenses, most of whom have dark skin –– invisible.

Noise demos such as these, in solidarity with others held on New Year’s Eve across the globe, refuse to buy in to that mentality. We stand up and say: They have hidden you away, but we see you. They have told us to forget, but we remember you. They have demanded that jail be miserable and dehumanizing –– but we brought you a marching band.

In a call from Cook County Jail on the morning of December 31st, one of the NATO 5 explained to me: “It’s hard to be in here this time of year. Even if you aren’t big on celebrating the holidays, other people are feeling it. Everybody is missing someone.”

I feel good about how we spent New Year’s Eve. It was exciting to see prisoners expressing joy, which they get to do so rarely. It was cathartic to unleash my own pent up frustration at the jail’s unforgiving walls in the form of a primal, wordless scream. Most of all, it was inspiring to see so many others committed to supporting prisoners in 2013 and beyond.

This is what solidarity looks like.

-Rachel Allshiny-

Photos courtesy of Lee Klawans and Chicago Indymedia.

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Always Low Wages


Black Friday is always day of resistance for me, at least it has been in recent years. Last year I remember Occupy said it was “Buy Nothing Day” and I didn’t really do much, other than sitting around my house. This time I didn’t want to sit around. I heard about the Wal-Mart Strikers and so my whole family got in the car and drove the nearest plaza with a Wal-Mart. Happy with glee, I found there were protesters.

My family and I climbed the hill, where at the top there were 20 protesters with signs in solidarity with the workers. My mom left after asking a few people and determining that there were no workers there. Instead, my dad and I stayed up there, and looking around one could see people of all colors and creeds. I took a sign they had and stood there on the corner as I held the flimsy sign blowing in the wind. I felt such solidarity standing there with others, on that corner. People were sitting up on a white-painted wall, as others stood by the curb side, while cars honked in support of workers. Then, after about an hour, I and my dad left, saying we’d return.

After a series of delays and such, we came back about two hours later. But the other protesters were gone. We engaged in what one would call vigilante activism. We protested on the corner, as I sat up on the wall with a sign that said “HONK IN SUPPORT OF WAL-MART WORKERS” while my dad had a sign that said “WAL-MART=ALWAYS LOW WAGES,” a sign I had made earlier but used again. I ended up taking the major role, sitting on the wall as people honked for workers (probably about 100 honks), and my dad yelled out at cars. It was exhilarating no doubt, sitting on that white-painted wall, thanking people for honking in support of workers. It was a two-man show, but that was okay because we were standing for the workers. This action seemed to follow these thoughts in my head, of Charlie Chaplin leading a march in Modern Times, and when I walked around before with a sign against Israel’s war of aggression in Gaza. Then it all ended. My mom came in a car, calling from the parking lot below. Then she came to the hill where we were, my dad and I taped up a sign that said to honk for Wal-Mart workers, and it was over. But I knew this time wouldn’t be the last time I would stand for justice in the world.

-Burkley Hermann-

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From mutual aid to mutual inspiration


I was a bit freaked out about this storm on the night before it hit, which increased as the hours passed and I followed my bud @occuweather’s tweets regarding the storm. Having come through the storm with minimal roof damage and a leak, I started checking in with family and friends to ensure they were fine.

I got a call mid-morning on Tuesday from two awesome friends and fellow occupiers, Laura and Diego, who needed help locating shelters and hubs in Red Hook and Rockaways since those areas were horribly hit by the storm. I had power and was ready to do what I could. I had no clue how I would find places, so I started with Red Cross Locations as locations. I had a dry erase board that I planted on the ground and started listing shelters by borough and plugging in these places with cross-streets on a document. I got FEMA number and info for Spanish-speaking people as well. Keeping in contact with both Laura and Diego, I sent this information to them. They printed and canvassed areas to provide information door to door to anyone who needed it.

This sent me on a whirlwind of an adrenaline-fueled anxiety rush that intensified as I kept seeking information. I decided I had to use what I could to get the information out to anyone I was connected to about shelters and FEMA and any details that would be helpful. It dawned on me that I needed to send out information to people regarding New Jersey. I tried to get verification from friends and family of what conditions were like where they lived or had family, and many couldn’t respond, which I confirmed later was due to loss of power. I still kept posting on Twitter and Facebook, the information I could and thought would be of use.

More and more Occupiers began plugging into the group of people trying to mobilize efforts to reach out to all the communities that were in desperate need of water, food, and basic supplies. Reports kept coming in about Barrier areas in New Jersey and then NYC and the other boroughs. I was so overwhelmed and felt hopeless that all I could do was gather info and post, update and tweet out. All forms of transportation were shut down and I was home with my son, hoping to shield him from the hurricane porn and my own panic over the destruction this storm had caused.

In what seemed to be less than 24hours Occupy Wall Street morphed into @OccupySandy and I was tuned into the hyper speed network from an angle I had never experienced. Once the group found the ability to tackle efforts for NJ, I began gathering more info to assist with this aspect, which is now called @OccupySandyNJ. It was a bit easier to gather data since I have family and friends in different areas of NJ, and I used them as sources of information. I was connecting w lots of people through Facebook that were and still are working toward a common goal of making sure the communities that could be reached had or could attain what they lost in the storm. I got super addicted and was sleeping 3hours a night for the first five days after the storm. Being part of how this came to be this wonderful efficient expanded system of #mutualaid still amazes me and baffles me because it was so rapid.

At the first opportunity to get out on the ground and canvass areas that were possibly hardest hit I headed south on a train and met other occupiers who were ready to push this through for NJ with me.
Fast forward to today. We have multiple hubs in NYC and the boroughs and NJ has Hubs and great connections in at least 7 communities with countless drop off zones all over the state. I am currently the connection for the central hub in Newark NJ, which runs 24/7, feeding large groups and accepting donations from everywhere, which the entire community in Newark comes to in order to begin the process of putting their lives together.

The stories of empowerment that we hear on our nightly conference calls, through twitter and on Facebook keep fuelling me to push through. I have never been so proud and equally amazed at the occupy community that I belong to. I am extremely humbled by the people within the communities I grew up in because of how we have banded together to defeat the threat and devastation this storm posed on our lives. It has manifested into #mutualinspiration. It has been a gift to be so involved in this effort because knowing how this all came to fruition and that the beauty of humanity is continually winning in the face of devastation, gives me hope that my son will inherit a community full of humanitarian support, interdependence, and above all LOVE!

-Katherine Ramos-
@LatinaAnarchist

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Digging in at Jacobi, Digging out Far Rockaway


In my time with the occupy movement, I’ve been a part of hundreds of conversations about the ‘future’ of the movement and tiring debates about what direction to go next. These conversations and debates have often been fraught with disagreement and hot tempers, and most of the time end in frustration or too many proposals tabled for discussion. Its funny how sometimes the things you don’t and can’t plan for are the things that force you to pivot and change direction.

As “Superstorm” Sandy came ashore, I really did not expect it to do as much damage as it did. I’m from Miami – I’ve been through countless hurricanes (and even Irene in New York) and had chocked up the hype around this storm to the usual fear-mongering of the media machine. I experienced the storm seated at my computer, intermittently checking social media websites to see what was going on. When I started seeing photos of a flooded lower Manhattan, videos of power stations exploding and cranes precariously dangling from skyscrapers, I began to understand that the repercussions of this storm were going to be on a grand scale. I was proven correct the next day as more pictures of the devastation in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island and other affected areas starting cropping up online. Personally, I never lost power and my neighborhood of Jackson Heights was left relatively unscathed by the storm. But I knew that in other parts of the city, people had lost everything. And I wanted to help.

I was elated as murmurings began in my many occupy email lists of a occupy-led relief effort, but when I went down to one of the main distribution hubs in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for the first time I was truly blown away. I spent the day today sorting donations, answering questions, directing traffic and generally running around like crazy. The stream of donations was constant; even as we were leaving, two U-Hauls were pulling up full of more stuff. Occupiers (READ: not FEMA or the Red Cross) were coordinating the distribution of these goods to the worst affected areas in NYC AND sending hundreds of volunteers to these sites to provide relief. While one group is helping a family gut their flooded basement in Far Rockaway, another is going door to door on Coney Island checking if folks are ok and delivering supplies. The sheer human effort at work here is breathtaking, reminiscent of the ‘good ol’ days’ (a little over a year ago) at Liberty Square. This is a people-powered recovery. We’re going where the institutions are not – hell they are giving us supplies to distribute!

A week after volunteering at Jacobi, I had the opportunity to go down and help first-hand in Far Rockaway. This time I was also blown away, not as much by organizational work going on, but by seeing this shattered community come together to recover. After checking in at YANA (which stands for You Are Never Alone, a community center acting as Occupy’s hub in the Rockaways), I went down to Beach 60th Street, right where water meets land. Here the boardwalk had been ripped apart and lay strewn on the beach and on the street. Directly across from it, houses were practically buried in 4 to 6 feet of sand that had washed up during the storm. In fact, most of these streets were absolutely inundated with tons and tons of sand. It wasn’t exactly what I thought I was going to see upon going out there. I was ready for mangled houses and moldy basements, but seeing the piles and piles of sand everywhere – and the hundred or so people with shovels and wheel barrows engaging in the Sisyphean feat of digging it out – really took me back. I thought about the people here and what it must be like to have every single possession washed away, but I also thought a lot about the utter power of nature. How quickly it had reclaimed this tiny barrier island and essentially shut it down.

After a few hours of working with both volunteers from outside and community members, the sun began to set and we were advised to leave before ‘the darkness.’ As I got back into the bus that brought me out there and prepared to leave, I looked back at all the people who lived here that didn’t have that option. They would face another long, cold night at the edge of New York City and of the media’s consciousness. I was exhausted after a laborious day moving sand around, but I had a heated, lighted home to return to. These people had no where to go but back to their cold, damp, dark houses. After over 2 weeks, they’re still living in these conditions – powerless, both in the electrical and political sense of the word. There are many beautiful moments of solidarity and kinship happening every minute here, but there is also a lot of work yet to be done.

-Danny Valdes-

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