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Winter | Occupied Stories

Tag Archive | "winter"

Fear and Loathing in McPherson Square 2012


Editors note: This was written on January 31st, 2012. 

WASHINGTON, D.C.-

Mic check.

When viewed through the wall of your soaking tent, every flashing light looks like a
police raid. Every accelerating truck engine on the street a few dozen feet away
sounds like a bulldozer heading your way.

This is the second night like this at McPherson Square in recent weeks, with Occupy
DC’s “de-escalators” keeping an eye out from the perimeter and the Occupiers in
their tents listening with nervousness and dread.

The last time was a few days before Christmas. After a large, drunk, tank-shaped
ruffian kicked an arresting cop in the balls and left him puking in the street, the
camp buzzed with the rumor: Tonight’s the night we get raided.

For veterans of Zuccotti Park, Oakland, U.C. Davis and dozens of other Occupations
across the country, the conditions seemed right: wet, cold, dark, and cops had been
humiliated; it was now personal. Word was that it would happen around 3am.

On that night, our number included Occupy DC’s ambassador of goodwill, a
pipe-smoking man of substantial age who has lived in this park for years, who sits
in a prominent spot and greets every passerby with “Happy Holidays and Happy New
Year!” There’s a guy here who’s got a petition with 1776 signatures that he hopes
will get him–and his waist-length dreads–into the Coast Guard. A genial 50-year-old
unemployed laborer/short-order cook from Tennessee who calls everybody “brother.” A
40-year-old Deadhead who says that this is the best living situation he’s ever had;
he says he’s clueless about the political aspects of this venture, but if he’s truly
lived on the street for as long as he says, perhaps he has a clue even if he doesn’t
know it.

A former journalist who had stopped by regularly to donate food and blankets, I set
up a tent in early December in response to a friendly challenge from a few
Occupiers–“What else do we need? How about your body?”–who encouraged me to sleep
here as many nights as I could, even if I had to leave to go to work most mornings.

Elsewhere in the park there’s a working journalist who’s been here since October 1,
the first day of this Occupation. He’s here for the stories, sleeping here because
it gives him access that other media types don’t have, and because of the high price
of hotels in DC. I’m here for the most unprofessional of reasons: to experience
grassroots democracy in action.

I have long wondered if the people of this country would forever sit passively by
and watch our hard-earned gains in the direction of decency and humanity be reversed
by the Republicans (aided by weasel Democrats), watch as the clock is turned back to
the dark ages of crony capitalism. This group is trying to do something about that.

Mic check.

Sleep for many of us never did come that night in December, but neither did the
police. It was one of very few blessings that brutally cold holiday season brought;
the weather was about to take an even more drastic dip, one that would cost us some
Occupiers.

There are those who say the movement is incoherent. In a way, I can see the
point–the causes cited by Occupiers are myriad, and it’s not being packaged in those
convenient little soundbites that media talking heads prefer. But if you actually
think about it, my erstwhile colleagues–employing your own brain cells instead of
your tendency to lazily regurgitate–it becomes obvious why that’s the case. With so
many powerful people dedicating so much time to screwing up this country for their
own narrow benefit, the fact that one can’t simply hand over a concise statement of
purpose to cover it, says far more about the size of the problem than about those
trying courageously to begin to correct it.

Some say the movement is too inclusive for its own good, that those hangers-on who
aren’t here for a specific political reason need to be booted. But how can you kick
out the already marginalized, many of whom have things to teach you about surviving
in a hostile environment?

Among the hundreds of people who have come to watch the circus, many have clearly
joined it, at least in spirit. A steady stream of messages from the street tell us
how the revolution looks from there.

“Thank you for doing this for all of us. What can we do for you?” A carload of
elderly women stopped at the light close to my tent.

“God bless you from the rest of us. Don’t lose hope; you’re making history.” A
middle-aged Hispanic man, through the window of a battered pickup, to a chorus of
honking horns behind him.

“Go home, hippies. Get a job, dirty commies.” A series of SUVs and sports cars
barreling down 15th street.

If volume is the measure, the wingnuts win; one of their favorite tactics is to park
close by at 3am and blow their horns nonstop to keep us from sleep.

One of the more blatant hypocrisies I’ve heard is “Give us back our park!” I used to
work across the street, so I know that the main users of this park before October 1
were the homeless and the rats–and both are still here.

Tonight, the rumors fly again, probably with more reason this time: On Friday, the
Park Police, our nemesis/defender, apparently caving to pressure from a rabidly
partisan neocon congressman from California, issued an ominous warning: after noon
today, they will start enforcing the “no camping” rule. Nobody’s sure precisely what
form that enforcement will take, but it involves potentially arresting those
“sleeping or preparing to sleep.”

Once again, we wait. Will the dreaded crackdown come, and if so, what will happen to
my friends and neighbors who are unlucky enough to have no other place to go?

Mic check.

-Story and Image by Jehovah Jones-

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#M17: Occupy Reignited


I boarded the World Trade Center-bound E train on March 17th (M17) not knowing what to expect when I got out on the other side, a few blocks away from the now infamous Zuccotti Park. It’s been a long winter for Occupy Wall Street. The past few months have seen the movement deal with increasingly violent repression and evictions nationwide, as well as – at least in New York City – a lot of internal bickering and debate on everything from nonviolence to funding sources to housing of occupiers. Many occupiers have been referring to winter as an “incubation” period. The mainstream media pretty much considers the movement dead. Whatever it is, it is vastly different than the Occupy Wall Street of 6 months ago. Or at least it was until M17, the movement’s six-month anniversary.

I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding  it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.

When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.

 It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.

As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.

Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.

At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.

After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”

Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.

By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.

A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.

When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.

Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.

– Danny Valdes –
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Wintering Our Discontent


SPINGFIELD, IL – Spring brings forth buds; the rebirth of mother earth lifts our spirits. Summer celebrates the sun, showing off the full flowering of beautiful blossoms. But growth, real natural growth, happens now, under gray skies, bare trees, brown grasses and shriveled shrubbery.

It is happening hidden from view, under the earth. In the Fall, sap retreats from the branches. It heads down deep into the earth to the roots and goes to work growing the tree. Right now, fed by the sap, the roots are pushing outward and downward creating a more firm foundation for the tree. Without this process, the tree would be uprooted in the Spring with top heavy growth.

I have used this metaphor before to describe the ebb and flow that organizations go through and personal growth as one grows older. It is apt in so many instances. Most recently, I have been thinking of the issue of Winter and the Occupy Movement.

The bureaucrats and police may be doing us a favor by breaking up camps, denying permits, and forcing the movement to “Winter” our discontent. We should not squander the opportunity.

At Occupy Springfield, IL.(OSI), we are offering Teach-ins through our so-called “OSI University.” They are not for us alone but are open to the community. So far we have had Teach-ins on Conviction of the Innocent and How the Legal System Perpetuates Inequality. Future Teach-ins include topics that include Revolution and Insurrection, Conflict Resolution, Radical Therapy, Revolt and Occupy, Women and Genders Studies, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Illinois Election Process and Law, and more.

We have moved outside the confines of our small encampment. We discovered “freedom chalk”; an outrageously fun water-soluble sidewalk chalk; and we learned how to make it rather than buy it. It is the medium and public sidewalks our free speech canvas to carry the message of the 99%.

Our movement is connecting with activists and activist organizations. We are home-schooling ourselves about how to get an ID card if you are homeless, and other ways to help the homeless in our community (a topic for another blog, later), researching city ordinances, finding free, accessible, and Occupy-friendly businesses to meet inside. We are “occupying” our City Council meetings and OUR house, the Illinois State Capitol, in incredibly creative ways.

We have even occupied the back of a couple of squad cars, and lived to write about it. The outrage solidified our commitment to one another and to the 99%.

The OSI People’s Library is growing, and people are using it for their personal growth and education. Knowledge is power, and we are becoming very powerful. Our root system is moving the earth under our feet to create a firmer foundation. It is impressive growth for a three month old movement. We are a sapling on steroids, and we encourage all other movements to take up the same line of growth.

And, winter has yet to officially arrive!

-Cilla Sluga-

reposted from Occupy Springfield IL

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11/15 And Moving Forward


LIBERTY PLAZA, NEW YORK – First, I would like to tell you a little something about myself. My name is Sean, but that doesn’t really matter. I’ve been a part of Occupy Wall Street for 35 days, and that does. Most recently I have been a part of the Fire Safety team that was recently formed at Liberty Plaza to ensure that no generators were used unsafely in the park until we could put together a fire plan and electrical wiring plan for generator use in the plaza to be audited by the FDNY, to earn for the Occupation and the residents of Liberty Plaza the right to be warned of noncompliance in advance and given time to come into compliance with FDNY safety guidelines, but that point has become rather moot.

Today, Liberty Plaza was taken from us. For some, it was our homes. For all, it was a symbol: a symbol that free speech was still possible, for us in the park yes but not only for us, but for us as Americans in specific and as residents of the world in general.I would have us build a new ten times better than that which was taken from us.

I wish I could tell you that for my part I felt I had ideas that were too big to risk, last night; that I felt myself too important, too ‘unarrestable,’ to put my body on the line in defense of Liberty Plaza. I was at Canal Street and Broadway at midnight when we saw a mass of approximately three hundred police officers and 30 NYPD vans gathering on that street corner as a staging area for what we all too quickly learned was just the backup to the force gathering against the Occupation at Liberty Plaza, which saw fit to go up against unarmed protestors with riot gear and not just the threat but the reality of force. I and my friends drew on our arms the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild—212 679 6018— better safe than sorry. We returned down to Liberty Plaza though we knew what was assembled against us, and that we would not be able to get within the cordon to actually reach the park. I lost them quickly in the crowds, but stood with those I found, and stood by the side of a man who identified himself to police as the district representative for the district they were taking action in, an elected official with direct authority over the neighborhood in which we were standing. This man demanded, repeatedly and very clearly, to speak with their supervising officers about the actions they were taking. I saw that man pushed by an officer behind a riot shield, and I caught him before he could fall over a fire hydrant and seriously injure himself. I saw that man bent over a nearby car and arrested with zip ties, and then I saw a woman chanting in defense of the Occupation pepper sprayed in the face.

So much for free speech. In the face of that, I didn’t see anything I could do, so I took the easy exit down a subway hatch and waited to be taken home to the bed I meant to be in hours ago. I fielded calls to our Legal team to relay what I knew of our fire safety efforts in the week leading up to that night, how we were actively stopping any generator use within the park ourselves, how we were choking the Media working group down to only as much as they could accomplish off of battery-stored power recharged during the day. If you watch the Livestream channel for last night, you’ll see that even without anything more than battery power to work from, the Media team was still able to do rather a lot. I stumbled home half in a daze, wishing tears would come but finding somehow that I could not cry, and neither could I rest as I made it to the bed I convinced myself was where I actually wanted to be that night.

I have for the past several weeks been working on a proposal for Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza, called simply ‘Winter Proposal: Event Tents’ on the NYCGA.net forums. It’s still a work in progress – for example, I had been asked by our Legal department to defer any negotiations with Brookfield Properties until we received the results of a Freedom of Information request to determine the exact legal status of the park, before trampling all over the place setting precedents that the rest of the Occupation would have to honor and obey regardless of what that request determined as the current legal status of the park.

We thought at the time we had some time to burn; it wasn’t too cold yet, and save for a freak October snow the weather was mild. I let the information request go play itself out and readied my proposal for discussion with Brookfield to discuss its salient points. I met with the architecture firm Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to learn more about permits and what would be necessary for the project, before they could vet the project to New York Tent Co., the contractors I had chosen to bring the project to in order to design it in actuality using their expertise to build frames upon which to hang event tents all winter long over Liberty Plaza as a solution to all of our safety needs. It was hoped that these tents would enable us with the ability to access electrical power just by paying for it, rather than having to worry about the complexities and safety of a generator providing power to the park; the ability to have heat, common sleeping space again, and a roof over our heads all winter long without losing a single resident of the Occupation to an enemy so simpleminded and yet so implacable as the inconvenience known as snow.

It is clear we do not have time quite as I had hoped we might. I will be bringing an emergency proposal to the General Assembly tonight, to discuss the merits of waiting for the outcome of this Freedom of Information request versus moving forward on discussing this proposal with Brookfield Properties sooner rather than later, and will abide by the ruling of the General Assembly regardless of their decision. That’s the way this works. I will be advancing this proposal, then, at the timeframe they see fit: as early as tomorrow, if they so see fit, or perhaps in a week or so, after the five days required by law for a Freedom of Information request to be returned, plus the extra time it actually takes regardless of what the law says on paper, Legal tells me it’s more like two weeks, so we can expect another week on top of the five business days that expire this coming Thursday. If it’s to be discussed with Brookfield, I’m happy to advance that discussion; if it’s something we can do without Brookfield’s needing to be involved, I am prepared to pursue that as well given the information that shows this to be the case.

In the meantime, they say money is free speech, and if that is so, I would ask that if you support this proposal to rebuild the symbol that was taken from us all this morning anew, ten times better than it was before, support it with your hearts and with your words, but also with your pocketbooks. We do not believe that money is free speech, but money will be needed to make this project happen, and money is something that we can raise for this project to see if it is supported by the world that watches so intently upon us in our time of crisis. I am starting this on Kickstarter with two facts explicitly stated:

1. This will not be a tax-deductible contribution. 501(c)3 donations cannot go towards political speech or action, and this would be providing for the winter a forum for exactly that, as well as a symbol that would be the definition of such.

2. This project will not fire without the direct and expressed consent of the New York City General Assembly, and no matter how much is collected for it, nothing can happen without that prerequisite first being met.

If you wish to donate money in a tax-deductible way to Occupy Wall Street, we thank you, but we must point you here, to the NYCGA.net website and its Donation link.

The proposal I bring forward for consideration is simply this: to raise over Liberty Plaza for the duration of winter three event tents, using New York Tent Co. for this purpose and their permit expediters Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to seek all permits for this proposal on our behalf. Exactly whom we must ask for permits or permission to do this, we do not yet know, but shall learn in exacting detail as we pursue this forward, in the manner deemed best by the New York City General Assembly that represents Occupy Wall Street of Liberty Plaza and in the manner required to accomplish this legally and with full permission, so that which we have raised cannot be taken from us as Liberty Plaza was today.

These tents will serve as clean, open, and inviting space to serve as a public forum during the day, for all who wish to visit the Occupation to come and join us in discourse and debate as we exchange ideas and opinions to the purpose of repairing our financial system, our political system, and the culture in which we find ourselves living. These tents will let the sun shine on all of our faces, as well as the plants and trees that called Liberty Plaza home before we of the Occupation came to join them, while keeping rain and snow off of us, and will enable us to safely heat Liberty Plaza by day and by night to provide a comfortable atmosphere to those who visit as well as to those who call it home.

By night, the tents will serve to host our General Assembly and Spokes Council, with power turned on in the park and built-in amplification for speakers and facilitators… to answer them back, I suspect we will still be happy to use The People’s Mic. And they will also serve as shelter and home to those of the Occupation who call Liberty Plaza home and are those who actually occupy Liberty Plaza, without whom we have an idea but not an Occupation, those who put their bodies in harm’s way this evening to make a better world for themselves but also for the rest of the world as well, the 99% as well as the 1%, for it is not a very good world at all that does not accommodate for 100% of the people. With these tents in place, sleeping bags and cots will be more than enough to keep us warm at night, and we can return to the communal sleeping arrangement that served us so well at the beginning of the Occupation.

These tents will house our Working Groups as they go about their work on our behalf, changing the world or just changing a trash can, no task too big or too small to be undertaken cheerfully and with purposeful drive. And they will serve as the symbol that says to the world: change is necessary, change is coming, change.

These tents will also be works of art – living installations in addition to living spaces.  We will be covering them with our words, our ideas, and the images that spring forth from our imagination as we seek to change the world into a better image.

-Sean McKeown-

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