(Updated Oct. 18) From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy America: A mass movement emerges; Reports from around the USA
[Are you a participant in an Occupy action in your city or town? Please leave a report in the comments section below. For more on Occupy Wall Street, click HERE.]
By Dan La Botz
October 12, 2011 -- SolidaritéS (Switzerland) via International Viewpoint -- A handful of young people started Occupy Wall Street in mid-September, as a protest against the banks and corporations that have grown rich while most have grown poorer. Within weeks they had attracted hundreds and then thousands to marches and demonstrations in New York City — one of them leading to the arrest of hundreds on the Brooklyn Bridge. The movement's chant “We are the 99%" rang out not only in the Wall Street canyon but also across the country. Now there are scores of Occupy groups across the United States [and soon across the world] camping out in public places, marching and rallying in cities and towns against corporate greed.
Occupy Wall Street and its offspring, nearly all of which began with white youth, have grown not only larger, but more diverse, attracting people from all walks of life and every segment of the society. They are making real their chant, “This is what democracy looks like". While some of the young people have been inspired by the occupation of Egypt's Tahrir Square and by the indignados of Spain, this is an essentially US movement about US issues. The Occupy folks are furious at the corporations and many are angry at government as well, they are generally hostile to Republican Party and disappointed with the Democrats. Frustrated with the economic and political situation, they want to tax the rich, they want to stop the mortgage foreclosures, they want jobs for themselves and all the other unemployed. Many demand an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An impressive organisation
While most of those down at Zuccotti Park where the occupation is taking place are from New York, others have come in ones and two from around the country to take a stand against corporate greed. Visitors are impressed with the organisation: the kitchen, the medical centre, the media centre, the daily lectures. Intellectual luminaries such as Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank; Jeffrey Sachs, Harvard professor and special advisor to the United Nations' secretary general; and Barbara Ehrenreich, feminist and author. There is now also a newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal, which plans to go national soon. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised through small contributions by both Occupy Wall Street and the newspaper.
The peaceful movement has had clashes with the police both in New York City and in other cities and towns, but it has forged ahead. There have been dozens of arrests, not only in New York City but also in Boston, Seattle, Des Moines, and yet this has not deterred the growing movement. The weekend of October 8-9 saw a huge demonstration of 10,000 in Portland and good size protest of 750 in Cincinnati. While, as usual, things may be larger, faster moving and more radical on the coasts, the movement has also touched the “fly-over" country of the Midwest. In Chicago, previously planned protests by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), other unions and community groups brought out thousands in demonstrations against financial institutions that ended up merging with Occupy Chicago, a development that could either strengthen or swamp the Occupy movement there.
Utopian and inspiring
Occupy is in part a coming together of activists. Watching any of the demonstrations in any city on any day one sees pass by on the T-shirts and jackets all the logos of every movement that has touched the country in the last decade: anti-war, LGBTQ, anti-foreclosure and civil rights activists. Walking among them are others new to the movement, blue-collar and white-collar workers, so far without their logos, slogans and banners, carrying their hand-painted signs with slogans like “Create jobs, reform Wall Street, tax the wealthy more" and “The people are too big to fail" (a reference to the argument that the US government had to save the banks because they were “too big to fail"). The sense of hope that the movement is creating was expressed by one sign down at Wall Street that read “This is the first time I've felt hopeful in a very long time".
The movement has a utopian character. Many of those involved in it want not only to overcome the immediate effects of the economic crisis — they want a better life, a better country, a better world. The movement as such has no ideology. This is populism of a left-wing sort: the people versus big business and bad government. Though there are anarchists in it, and they have given it some of their style, it is not an anarchist movement. Though there are some socialists in it, the movement is by no means socialist. What is perhaps best and most exciting about the movement is the confluence of the many social movements with middle-class and working-class people who have come down to Wall Street or in some other town or city down to Main Street to say, “We've had it". The utopianism of the movement has inspired ordinary people to say, “We can live differently, we must, and we will."
A month or so into the Occupy movement, the trade unions began to take an interest. In New York the unions turned out thousands of their members for a major march in October. At about the same time, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, spoke out in favour of the movement, as did leaders of various national and local unions. Yet the AFL-CIO and the Occupy movement remain wary of each other. The AFL's principal goal in the next year is to help US President Barack Obama and the Democrats win the November 2012 elections, and both the AFL and the Democrats would love to figure out how to harness Occupy for their political goals. Many in the Occupy movement would love to have more workers involved, the unions involved, but they fear the labour bureaucracy's heavy hand. And, more important for some, they fear losing their political independence to union officials and Democrats.
Occupy Wall Street and politics
The Republican Party, of course, loathes the politics of Occupy. US House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor referred to the occupiers as “mobs". Alluding to Obama he said, “Some in this town condone 'pitting Americans against Americans'". Mitt Romney, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said, “I think it's dangerous, this class warfare." Whatever they may say to the media, the Republicans' real fear is that Occupy Wall Street could buoy up the Democrats, while their hope that the movement's radicalism will blow their opponents to the left, costing them votes in the centre.
The Democratic Party Congressional Campaign Committee and the think-tank Center for American Program would like to bind the Democratic ties to Occupy Wall Street, believing that the movement could put wind in the party's sails for the 2012. Other party leaders fear that the identification with the movement would move the party toward the left and away from the centre where they believe the voters are. Even more important, some Democratic Party leaders argue, supporting a group that is attacking Wall Street could result in fewer donations from the banks and corporations that fund the Democrats. Bernie Sanders, the only independent in the US Senate who calls himself a socialist (though he caucuses with the Democrats), spoke to the Occupy movement with an op-ed piece calling upon the government to break up the banks, support small business and stop speculation in the oil industry. That was the Progressive Party program of 1912, the traditional program of US populism, but it misses completely the radical spirit of this movement.
Some Democrats would like to see Occupy Wall Street become their Tea Party, the rightwing group that brought new vitality to the Republicans. But Occupy Wall Street activists have kept their distance from the Democrats refusing to provide them a platform for their candidates. For example, when Representative John Lewis, a legend of the civil right movement and liberal African-American congress member from Georgia appeared at Occupy Atlanta, he was not permitted to speak. Apparently, so far, the movement is committed to defending its independence.
Many of us are working to nurture this movement, to build it, and to help its potentially radical implications emerge.
[This article will be published in the bimonthly Swiss socialist newspaper SolidaritéS (n°196). Dan La Botz is a teacher, writer and activist currently involved in Occupy Cincinnati. In 2010, Dan La Botz stood as the Socialist Party (USA) candidate for the US Senate in Ohio.]
Times Square taken over as Occupy Wall Street enters second month, hundreds arrested across US
Our voices ring out in Times Square
, New York City
October 17, 2011 -- Socialist Worker -- The day after winning a stunning victory against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to evict its encampment in the financial district, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement achieved a new highlight with a massive mobilisation of up to 100,000 people in Times Square.
The protest was part of an October 15 day of action that saw the Occupy movement spread around the world. In the heart of Manhattan, on Broadway and 7th Avenue, from 42nd to 50th Streets, people crowded in to fill every inch of available space--pushing east and west to fill the side streets as well.
The October 15 didn't have an official permit, but the police were completely incapable -- despite an overwhelming presence -- of stemming the tide of tens of thousands of people flowing into the square.
The demonstrationin Times Square was the high point of a day that was marked by an impressive level of self-mobilisation and initiative.
By late morning, Zuccotti Park -- the site of the Occupy encampment a few streets from Wall Street that was established on September 17 -- had already filled with people. Many were New Yorkers who had heard about the previous day's defence of the renamed Liberty Plaza, and had come to celebrate and learn more. Others came from out of town -- traveling from as far as South Carolina and Washington state--to be part of the new movement.
What everyone shared was the sense that our side was finally speaking up, and it was time to get involved.
Occupy's Labor Outreach Committee had called for a labour march at 11 am to protest the banks and demand jobs and an end to corporate greed. Though the march started with only a few hundred people, it grew to several thousand as it wound its way through downtown Manhattan, stopping at several banks before heading north to Washington Square Park. As one sign held by an 8-year-old read, "Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right."
"The march confirmed the importance of solidarity", said one teacher, describing the mood. "It felt unified. It was important that we knew it was happening all over the world, that the whole world was watching."
At noon, the United National Anti-War Committee (UNAC), a US-wide antiwar coalition, had called a demonstration titled "Wall Street = War Street" to mark the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Like the labour march, it started small, with just a couple hundred people, but it swelled to 1000 as it marched past Zuccotti Park. Though originally bound for the Chambers Street military recruiting station, demonstrators shifted course and followed the labour march north toward Washington Square Park.
Meanwhile, several hundred students were organisng a general assembly in Washington Square Park. Wearing badges that read, "My name is ____ and I have $____ in student debt", students from campuses across the city addressed the crowd.
While staggering levels of student debt was a dominant issue, people also spoke to the range of issues affecting students. A first-year student at Eugene Lang College talked about his experience as a young black man being stopped and frisked and harassed by the police. He encouraged people to join the people of colour working group to continue to do outreach to those directly impacted by racism. A graduate student from New York University talked about the campaign to build solidarity with locked-out Teamsters at the Sotheby's art auction house.
At both parks, the sense of solidarity and empowerment was palpable. Many participants had heard the criticisms of the Occupy movement, considered them, but developed their own response.
For example, one early claim about the New York occupation was that it was not working class or multiracial enough. But rather than allowing the media use that to dismiss the movement, people from all over the city are organising those around them to make sure their voice is part of this movement. One sign carried by a protester at Zuccotti Park spoke volumes: "I am not a hippy. I have three jobs. And I'm still broke."
Rank-and-file union activists set up a table at Washington Square Park and collected hundreds of names of union members who want to help build the labour presence within the movement. Similarly, people of colour and people in the largely working-class and multiracial boroughs of New York City have begun organising within those communities.
One contingent on Saturday, calling itself "Occupy the Bronx", met in the borough to go down to the day's events together. Though the crowd was small, about 100 people, it was eagerly received, and participants vowed to link the issues facing people in the Bronx with this growing movement. Similar efforts to build community-based occupation groups are underway in Brooklyn and Queens.
All of these organising efforts could be felt as the crowds in Washington Square Park grew throughout the day. By the time the labour and anti-war marches arrived in the late afternoon, the atmosphere was electric.
New working groups quickly formed and began meeting in different corners of the park. Parents with young children found each other and began talking about the reasons they had come out despite concerns about the aggressive police tactics in previous weeks.
Everywhere, people were standing in small groups, talking and learning each other's stories. If you asked someone why they were there, the common response was: "How much time do you have?" One young child carrying a sign reading "Money for schools, not for war" had this to say: "My dad says they are killing too many people for no reason."
By the time protesters began leaving Washington Square Park for Times Square -- with several thousand taking over the streets to march uptown -- it was clear that the Times Square demonstration would exceed expectations. But no one could possibly have predicted the massive turnout for a demonstration that never even had a printed flyer.
This was an un-permitted action in the heart of New York City's tourism district, and no one knew quite what to expect. Organisers were certain that there would be at least several thousand demonstrators, but the New York Police Department had proved in recent weeks that it would carry out mass arrests and unleash violence on even relatively large crowds.
But as tens of thousands of people converged on the square, it became clear that the balance of power -- at least for the moment -- had shifted. There were police on mounted horses and in riot gear near the top of the square, and groups of officers surrounded the entire area.
Yet protesters instinctively understood that the numbers massed together represented a powerful show of strength. Throughout the evening, the chant "they can't arrest us all" continued to be raised in the crowd.
This confidence was fed by the growing awareness that the movement in New York City had become part of an international movement. Whenever one of the news tickers on a nearby building scrolled "Occupy Wall Street goes worldwide" the crowd erupted in cheers again and again.
Participants repeatedly referenced the recent mass mobilisations in Egypt, Greece, Spain and Chile. At one point, people began chanting, "The whole world is marching."
One young man expressed the defiant yet jubilant mood: "I'm angry, but also extremely happy... Some people think this is all for nothing... What they don't realise is that this is the biggest movement in human history. There are protests today in over 1300 cities around the world... We are the entire world! We shall overcome!"
Of the tens of thousands of people who descended on Times Square, most were new to political activism. They were driven by a deep sense that something had gone fundamentally wrong, and that the "1 per cent" targeted by the Occupy protesters was destroying our world.
But many have not yet been exposed to different social movements or political alternatives. For them, the convergence in the square was an opportunity to exchange stories and learn new ideas. Veteran activists used the people's mic to teach people chants from antiwar, anti-police brutality and other movements.
There was no sound system, and there were no organised speakers. But people were eager to make their voices heard. In one section of the square, members of the International Socialist Organization turned a large planter into an impromptu stage for a people's mic. For more than two hours, a line of participants waited to talk about why they had come to Times Square, what they were angry about, and what they believed needed to -- and could -- change.
Many of the participants told stories of the economic destruction in their lives -- like 22-year-old Tara, who said: "I've been on job interviews with hedge-fund firms on Wall Street where I have been asked instead for sexual favours. I'm $50,000 in debt and I'm unemployed, and to our leaders, I am not a person. We are important, we deserve jobs, we can make a difference... We are the 99 per cent!"
Sandy said he had turned 67 years old yesterday. "I'm on social security and Medicare and food stamps, and they want to take it away from me", he said. "It's my money! I gave it to them, and I want it back!"
At a certain point, the people's microphone -- where activists repeat the words of speakers in waves so they can be heard in a crowd of thousands -- reached six layers back. This meant speakers had to wait for what they said to be repeated six times, to ever-larger numbers, before continuing.
But people whose voices had been suppressed for so long had to struggle to wait for their words to be carried out to the crowd. One woman, Johanna, shook with rage as she told her story: "I'm 51 years old, and I have $50,000 in student loans that I can't pay back... I owe $50,000 to the IRS that I can't pay back. The student loan people want $500 per month. The IRS wants $500 per month. I went to an accountant, and he told me that I could discharge any amount of consumer debt, but I cannot discharge student loans or IRS debt. If I ever try to retire, they're allowed to siphon off my social security."
Other participants gave voice to the sense of idealism and hope that is fueling this movement. One young woman told the crowd, "My father told me not to protest Wall Street because our stock in AT&T is the reason I can go to college. I told him that's why I'm going to protest! Because that's not fair. I believe that everyone should have the right to an education, no matter what their means... I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Another woman was even more direct, "I'm here because my soul wouldn't let me be anywhere else, and I can't sit back and let the bullshit continue."
As the speakers went on, the crowd developed a habit of turning people's words into chants. When 17-year-old Mark explained that he was here "because the voice of the people is no longer being heard, and we will march, and we will shout, and we will be united until that voice is heard!" the crowd erupted in a chant of "Until that voice is heard!"
The movement started by Occupy Wall Street has grown with dizzying speed and expanded its scope immensely in just four short weeks. The enormous response to the October 15 day of action shows the potential for a multi-racial, working-class struggle. In New York City, activists are discussing plans for continuing to reach out to labor and students--and for spreading the occupation movement to communities across the city.
There are thousands of people who are eager to respond to that call. With the globalization of this movement, and the entry of masses of people into it, we have entered a new phase of the struggle.
Mayor backs off Occupy Wall Street: Just didn’t have the power
Democracy Now! report on "clean up" order backdown.
October 14, 2011 -- Kasama Project -- On October 13, the New York mayor’s office threaten to evict Occupy Wall Street, claiming that Zuccotti Park needed to be "cleaned". Mass mobilisation of supporters and wide responses averted this. One person said to us, “Occupy Wall Street is the only think happening in New York these days … it has gone from being an event to something dominating events.” How to wield, consolidate, continue, defend, expand, radicalise ... all of this confronts everyone, and yet is advancing without anyone’s specific permission.
* * *
By Selucha and Zerohour
The crowd erupted in cheers upon the announcement: as of 6.30 this morning, Occupy Wall Street was not moving. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD postponed their plans to “clean” the park, and averted a confrontation with a 3000-strong occupation. We, raising our brooms in the air like peasants resisting tyrants, cheered and broke into spontaneous chants, beginning with: “We ... ARE ... the 99%!”
While recognising that the threat is still looming, we celebrated this moment as an important victory, not just for New York, but for the other occupations. Facing our most serious threat thus far, we stood our ground and won. But let’s step back for a moment.
Twice, we have been brutalised by police and twice we grew in support and numbers. With their third move, they backed down. For days, Bloomberg whipped up a campaign of lies about sanitation, crowding, harassment of business owners and people on their way to work, but it backfired.
Unions said they would stand with the occupation, countless others from New York City (and beyond) spoke up in support.
Cleaning crews were scheduled to enter Zuccotti Park at 7 am. Our initial plan was to allow the crews to clean the park a third at a time, while we occupied the other two-thirds. Many were prepared to go to jail to defend the space if it came to that.
There has been a shift, a change in the air. Those who rule us are bewildered, angry and frustrated. They want to swat this like a fly, but they can’t find a way to pull this off. Now, there’s a question of power, their insufficient power and the still-unexplored power of those in the streets.
One chant went, “Get up! Get down! Revolution is up in this town!” As those words reverberated through the streets, it felt like so much more was now possible.
Mobilisation saves Occupy Wall Street
Eric Ruder, Danny Lucia and David Judd report on the victory for the Occupy movement that saved the protest encampment in New York City.
October 14, 2011 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- The call went out yesterday, and from well before dawn on the morning of October 14, people in their thousands gathered at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan to defend the Occupy Wall Street encampment from a threatened eviction by New York City officials.
Then the news came in the early morning hours, and cheers of relief but also something more swept through crowd that had now swelled to some 3000: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and real estate firm Brookfield Properties were backing down from the threat to clear the square at 7 am in order to "clean" the plaza.
For hours before, tension hung in the air, as police made preparations and protesters braced themselves for what most expected -- based on the cops' treatment of protesters in prior weeks -- would be a mass arrest carried out with the NYPD's typical brutality.
But the thousands of trade union members, students and everyday New Yorkers who responded to the call to come to Liberty Plaza -- the protesters' new name for Zuccotti Park, a square privately owned by real estate giant Brookfield Properties -- clearly compelled Bloomberg to question the wisdom of carrying out an act of mass repression against a peaceful crowd as the whole world watched.
The day before, Bloomberg announced that the square had become a "public health" concern, and that police would move in at 7 am on October 14 (Friday) morning so it could be cleaned. Officials claimed the protesters could return afterward, but the list of restrictions -- against, for example, sleeping bags -- made it clear what the city really wanted: to put an end to Occupy Wall Street.
Activists sprung into action. The occupiers organised a cleaning operation that had Zuccotti Park looking far better than it ever had before, say protesters. And Occupy Wall Street and its supporters called on everyone to defend Liberty Plaza, the symbolic center of a movement that has gained national attention and spread around the country.
Some 300,000 people signed petitions, and callers clogged the city's 311 information line to protest the mayor's announcement. Crucially, New York City unions mobilised their members to get down to Zuccotti Park. The first calls asked for people to come by 6 am, but as fears grew that police might move in earlier, the messages, official and not, among activists simply said to come down as soon as possible.
Michael Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights had sent a letter to Bloomberg and Brookfield to make "clear that closing down Occupy Wall Street violates the First Amendment and is flatly illegal", Ratner said.
The following morning, Ratner described the "roar of joy" that went up when it was announced that the "cleaning" operation had been called off. "The health emergency was a pretext to destroy something all Americans should be proudest of", he told a reporter. "You can eat off the ground in this park."
Apart from the illegality of it, it was just too massive... It would have been a bloodbath. The idea that they were going to come in here when there were thousands of people all over the place -- union people everywhere -- they could not have successfully closed this park down...It's too big now. This park is becoming a permanent feature of the next generation of protests.
Damon McGee, an organiser for the health care union 1199 SEIU, was one of hundreds of union members who responded to the call to defend the encampment, and he was there when news of the victory came. "It's exhilarating", said McGee. "We're standing up to the wealth. The wealthy have control of our democracy."
Bloombergs's highly public reversal is a big embarrassment for the authorities, which have alternated between acting tolerant of the protesters and their grievances, and looking for opportunities to attack the Occupy movement, with the NYPD leading the way.
Now the movement has a fresh boost of confidence -- and on the eve of a global day of action on Saturday, October 15, against the greed and corruption of the 1 per cent. Estimates of how far and wide the movement has spread are hard to come by, but it's certain that more than 1000 cities, towns and campuses in the US have seen Occupy actions, or meetings to plan for them.
"This isn't just a short-term victory", said Senia, one of many Occupy Wall Street organisers on the scene early Friday. "It's a chance for us to turn the tables and show that really we should be cleaning up Wall Street."
Senia was spurred to join the Occupy movement in part because her parents were almost made homeless after Chase Bank tried to foreclose on their home. The stress of the experience, among other things, contributed to her father's recent stroke. "We're going to move from protest to resistance", said Senia. "On Saturday, there will be a series of actions around the city culminating at Times Square at 5 pm."
The Friday victory has many people feeling a new sense of empowerment.
"After this morning, I'm very optimistic, very hopeful that this will become even more powerful", said Pastor Omar Wilks, who was prepared for arrest this morning even though he had been detained with 700 other people during an Occupy march across the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1. He continued:
So-called expert critics in the media have questioned whether the protesters have a message -- we do! We are coming together to expose corporate greed in the Wall Street banks and bought-off politicians and officials, and stand up to foreclosures that are happening across America. This has the potential to be one of the most powerful movements in US history. Because it didn't start off with a set agenda, it's bringing together people of many ideologies who want real change.
Occupy Detroit begins
October 14, 2011 -- Rustbelt Radical -- Occupy Detroit began last night on a windy, chilled autumn evening. The tents went up on Grand Circus Park, 25 or so by my count, and the general assembly began across Woodward around 7.30. My guess, and I am not great at these things, is that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1000 people showed up. Not bad for a Friday night. The crowd was the Detroit version of those that have gathered around the country; perhaps a little more union and a little more black than other places. 2011 is a remarkable year comrades.
The handful of the Ron Paul cult there were unable to get an "End the Fed" chant going thankfully. One had a professionally made sign with Paul’s face looking longingly at the future saying: "Vote Paul, Vote Peace". You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. This guy is a racist who advocates an economic system that looks something like a Mogadishu weapon’s bazaar, he does not believe in public education or taxes (no "tax the rich" for Ron) and this doctor of medicine believes that health care is reserved for those who "earn it". With that kind of "peace" I definitely prefer (class) war.
There were Democrats there shilling for their man in rearguard defence, but if Obama was mentioned it was mostly to make a demand. The cops were almost invisible, the most visible being those "undercover". The organised left was remarkably low key as far as these things go, subsumed as they were by an assembly that reached well beyond the "traditional" left. Plenty of other folks were there with their particular axe to grind (real movements bring out all kinds); many more just fed up and motivated to act by their own circumstances and the example of Zuccotti Park.
One of the things that screams "genuine social movement" is the homemade, personalised signs scratched out on pieces of cardboard that hundreds of people carried. People desperately want to be heard in a society that wants them to be silent. Gathered in circles all across the park small groups picked up conversations, networked, grievanced, consoled and planned. We all have our own story of waking up on the wrong side of the American Dream and that pain, and it is real pain, has to be shared, be listened to, to be made real. Folks did just that and in the most productive way possible; articulating their interests as part of a building movement.
I have my own particular axe to grind about the 99% slogan; it is far too encompassing though I certainly sympathise with the impulse. Here at château Rustbelt we hate the rich and not just the Bill Gates rich, but all of their class, little and big. I have as little in common (in lifestyle and in interest) with the top 10 or even 20 per cent as I have with the top one. That still leaves an overwhelming majority and globally the number whose interests I share is probably a lot closer to that 99%.
The attempt at universalism is a false promise here though; it can’t help but muddy the waters of this class war (and how heartening to see so many signs acknowledging, even celebrating class war!). We are not all in this together and it is not simply income or wealth that divides society, but our relationship to the way the economy runs. Some of us produce, others live off of what we produce. This country is deeply divided by race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, cultural and social lives as well. The realities of imperialism and white supremacy preclude a 99% solution. These divisions are real and materially manifested everywhere. The first act of any war is to correctly identify the enemy.
The class struggle is fought on a million fronts though; it plays itself out on all kinds of levels including the urge for and embrace of community and social space. Sometimes I think that our next civil war we have will be fought between those who want public libraries and those that don’t. Do you want to live in a society, a community, or live clutching your gun, bunkered down behind a "No Trespassing" sign?
I’m not sure where this thing goes, but it is going somewhere. It has already changed political debate in this country. The Occupy movement’s potency, why it has captured the imagination, has been its birth outside of the institutional framework. It came into this world free from the control of Democratic Party and the sell-out union bureaucracy. It would mean the movement’s death were it to allow itself to be embraced only to be smothered by them. Van Jones, Moveon.org, et al. have no interest in this movement other than its role in getting Democrats elected.
The more the movement identifies with the interests of workers and the poor in this war declared by the capitalist class, the less possible it will be for the Democratic pretenders to keep up their pretenses, the less able they will be in co-opting the movement. In the longer run, the most serious danger to the movement will not be the disorientation the Alex Jones’ and Ron Pauls might bring (serious as that might be), but the demobilisation the poison embrace of the Democrats invariably induces.
But that is not now. Now is a new movement in the process of defining itself, learning who are its enemies and who are its friends. How that process happens will determine if Occupy can match the momentous challenge it has posed with the prosecution of that challenge. There is a war in this country and around the world- a class war. It has been raging ever more vigorously as the crisis in the economy continues and the ruling class attempts to make the working class pay for that crisis. If we talk war, we better think about how to win it, if not the war, than a battle. Losing it looks too much like yesterday; a few more yesterdays and there will be no tomorrow.
A slideshow of photos I took from the first night of Detroit Occupy can be found here, comrades. See you at the occupation.
San Leandro rally supports Occupy Wall Street
October 15, 2011 -- Facts for Working People -- Above is a very short clip of a rally in San Leandro, a small town, almost a suburb of Oakland, California. It has somewhat of a past. The old black guys I used to work with called it Klan Leandro because, they told me, they were often harassed by the police on the way to our corporation yard where they worked or if they were seen driving in the city. If my memory serves me correctly it was on the TV news show 60 minutes in the 1950s as one of the most racist towns in the US.
It is very different now though, a much more diverse community. This rally was organized by the group Move On, which explains why most of the people there were older. It was also very much an Obama crowd. When I first arrived I could see that some of the folks had never taken action this way, or participated in political expression other than the voting booth. I talked with one of them about how we occupied the Wells Fargo bank in Oakland and that the police, when you are a group of workers with children, generally warn you before arresting you, although this isn't always the case obviously.
The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of the OWS movement and urged people to join it and support it which is a very positive thing. Even more impressive was the support they got from people walking past and driving by; it was overwhelmoingly positive a people honked their horns. School bus drivers, firefighters and others in work vehicles showed support.
I got a very good response when I suggested to a couple of teachers that rather than rely on e mail communication we should have a leaflet for the next event and actually go out and hand it out at the high school as the parents pick up their kids and to the youth themselves. We could have two different leaflets for each group.
Anyway, this was a small but important example of the generalised mood in US society against the banks and the rich and the solidarity Americans of different backgrounds and views feel toward the OWS movement. The OWS movement shows no signs of fading at this point. I have noticed an increase in Union staffers at some of the events, young people that the trade union hierarchy sends in to these movements to temper them and hopefully direct the movement solely in to the electoral arena and support for the Democratic Party -- they are actually on the clock. The union hierarchy has been shamefully successful with this strategy in the past like in the Direct Action Network that existed in the aftermath of the shutting down of the WTO in Seattle in 1999. But there's no doubt that the OWS movement is determined and it is a national phenomenon and we will have to see where it leads; the authorities are a little cautious about wading in too hard as they don't want to embolden the movement and increase social unrest. These are interesting times.
Steelworkers occupy Pittsburgh
Occupy Together reports from on the ground
Reports from Solidarity members across the United States
October 11, 2011 -- If there was any doubt just one week ago, it is now abundantly clear that the Occupy Wall Street movement is not an isolated phenomenon. It has reached towns large and small and has proven to resonate with individuals from a variety of backgrounds – from the politicised "usual suspects" to those previously reluctant to participate in any such demonstration – who are recognising the criminality driving the financial services industry and connecting their concerns to a broader anti-capitalist politics. Though it may be too soon to speculate about OWS's long-term prospects, it is safe to say that this is one of the most encouraging developments our side has made in recent years. Here are some on the ground reports from comrades across the country.
* * *
By Bill Resnick and Johanna Brenner
Picture credit: Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian.
Occupy Portland’s march on Thursday October 6 was huge—over 10,000 people jammed Portland’s central square after marching through downtown. The participants were an extremely diverse group of white people -- all ages-- though best represented by the 20-30 somethings many on bicycles. Several drumming bands and music groups kept us all moving.
There were mostly home-made signs and the overwhelming message was “we are the 99%”, but lots of other ideas got expressed—from stop Israeli apartheid, to “They call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
Marchers called for an end to corporate greed and corporate personhood, getting big money out of elections, jobs, debt relief, health care. One of the advantages of a middle of the week, mid-afternoon march through the central retail/office district was that the streets were full of people and office workers hung out the windows many with thumbs up, and some dropping confetti.
At the last general assembly before the march, the organising group was very concerned about keeping everything legal; they advocated getting a permit, but participants at the assembly refused to consent. Ultimately, the city was told we’re marching without a permit; the organisers gave the police the route the morning of the march. At the beginning of the march, the organisers tried to keep the crowd on the sidewalks but the crowd was so large and so ready to begin that they swarmed into the street.
The mayor agreed to allow people to camp out in two parks next to each other downtown—and the police closed off the street so people could flow between them. The huge size of the march encouraged the police to take a laid back position. Police allowed the group to set up tents even though tents are illegal in city parks—an ordinance that targets homeless people.
A test of this movement’s momentum will be this coming Saturday at an anti-war and labour march, planned many months in advance. Until now, Occupy Portland has been consumed by the details of setting up and protecting the encampment with the police hovering, and no one is venturing proposals for what will happen next. But all kinds of organisations and organisers are engaging with the encampment and the huge turnout for the march has energised everyone.
Salt Lake City, Utah
By Dayne Goodwin
Occupy Salt Lake had been coming together for over a week before it was launched on October 6. Leading up to the event, open daily discussions were held at the public library about Occupy Wall Street and the economic and political difficulties experienced by "the 99%”. About 250 people rallied on the morning of Thursday, October 6 at the State Capitol in about the worst weather possible in Salt Lake City -- an early winter storm with heavy rain in cold and windy 30 degree F weather. Numbers grew during the march, which stopped for brief protests at the Federal Reserve and major banks along the way.
According to reports in the media, local and state government officials were saying that an "occupation" would not be allowed since overnight camping is illegal on public property. US Senator Orrin Hatch said, "We are going to have riots in this country because of what these people are doing." But the city and police authorities were cooperative as several hundred people built a tent city in Pioneer Park and prepared to stay around-the-clock indefinitely. US Congress member Jason Chaffetz, who had openly considered challenging Hatch in the Republican primary election, visited the encampment October 7 morning and expressed solidarity with Occupy Salt Lake City's right to protest. Democratic Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker put out a statement saying he supports "residents' rights to peaceful protest and free speech". This variegated support corresponds with the wide political diversity from right to left now participating in Occupy Salt Lake City.
By Colin Gillis
In the early afternoon on Friday, October 7, a small group of activists gathered in Reynolds Park for Occupy Madison, bringing the nationwide occupy movement to the site of the 2011 Wisconsin uprising. Hourly information meetings commenced at 1 pm and, as the afternoon carried on, the crowd grew. More than 150 people attended the first general assembly, where the group began to establish a procedure for self-governance, plan future actions and discuss their reasons for joining the occupy movement. The event received extensive local media coverage.
The size of the occupation fluctuated during the weekend, and early attempts to organise events have met with uneven results. Many of the lead organisers have little experience with political organising and some do not live in Madison. As a result, the occupation was initially disconnected from the local activist community. Meetings and organisational strategies have improved as local activists joined the occupation. Its future is unclear.
Madison Police have set a firm end-date for the occupation and while the first deadline, set for Sunday, October 8, was extended to Monday evening they likely could end the occupation whenever they wish. The survival of Madison's fledgling occupation will depend on its ability to establish solidarity with other local organisations, especially unions.
By Paul Prescod
Tuesday, October 4 was the second general meeting for Occupy Philly. This second meeting had, to my great surprise, more than 1000 people in attendance, up from 200 at the first meeting. It was overwhelmingly young people, mostly white, with a decent gender balance. Many different organisations were represented, including the Green Party, Socialist Action, Democratic Socialists of America, Philly Jobs with Justice and some others.
There was a very strong energy in the room. Despite how sceptical I was about everything, I could not help but get a little excited about it. The most positive thing about this meeting was the amount of people I saw who are not part of the Philly activist scene or involved much in politics. I saw many students from Temple University who were not in any student organications or involved politically, and even some old friends from high school turned up.
The point of this meeting was to decide on a place, date and time to start the occupation. Consensus process was used, and it was effective enough at helping us to decide that we would occupy starting at 9 am on Thursday, October 6. There were no concrete demands or goals discussed, as seems to be the case in many other cities. After this was decided (it took about two hours) we broke up into committees: education, labor, arts and entertainment, medical, legal, and sports and recreation were just some of them.
October 6 was the first day of the occupation. When I arrived there were a few hundred people there, mostly young and white. There was a decent amount of creative, home-made signs. At the general assembly, introductory remarks were made, and they began explain the different committees. This took a long time because there are so many different committees and everything had to be repeated twice so everyone could hear. They were not finished with this process yet when I had to leave two hours on.
One thing I find troubling is that there has been no attempt yet to reach out to the many devastated African-American communities in Philadelphia, those getting hit the hardest. However many comrades have suggested that we should not just stand on the sidelines and criticise this. We should be participating, helping to build it and learn from it, despite all the weaknesses. It is generating excitement, and people are acting outside the traditional political parties. In the Philly Solidarity branch most of us agree with this assessment and have been plugging into different committees, doing what we can.
By Karin B
Occupy Boston was first conceived on Tuesday, September 27, and people moved into Dewey Square, across from South Station in Boston, that Friday. My family and I drove out from Western Massachusetts to join in for a weekend on Saturday, October 8.
We’d heard about the effort from our housemate who had been to Boston to attend a march and rally put on by Right to the City (RTTC), who held a congress in Boston that weekend. RTTC were a bit put off that the Occupy Boston crowd organised march without consulting and coordinating with the them, since they had planned their event months before and it was perceived as one big spin off of Occupy Wall Street. They felt torn about it, because they supported the occupy effort at the same time. From what I heard, they saw the group as young, inexperienced activists, who were simply unaware of the complexities involved in being good organisers.
When we got there, a week after it began, the camp filled the entire square, with tents shoulder to shoulder, and only a few narrow lanes leading through them. There were at least 50 tents, possibly as many as 70. The group on Saturday night were probably more the central core of participants. The general assembly at 7 pm was perhaps 50 people at its peak, youth in their early 20s, 15-25% people of colour, although it’s really hard to say.
The general assembly spent little time on logistics, but was almost entirely focused on discussing various statements. The first was a preamble to a statement that a committee or committees are drafting. The second was a series of proposals against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in favour of a coming anti-war march. After much discussion the effort was blocked and the statements tabled. A concern was that these sounded like demands and there is a committee working on a list of demands.
Another proposal did pass: a statement of solidarity with Indigenous groups, pointing out that Boston is already occupied territory. Four women spoke of sexism in the group: language, men openly judging women’s appearance and inviting women to their tents. There was a lot of good discussion, but also a fair amount of defensiveness and tangents followed rather than acknowledging the issue.
I found myself thinking that the discussions at the general assemblies were exposing a lot of people to this type of process, and to some extent the dissemination and experimentation with the process was at least as important as the content. And while the process can be cumbersome, a lot of people participated, including a good gender representation and ethnic representation, suggesting that the process is comfortable and accessible for many people. The people’s mic seemed to help discussions in that it encourages people to get to the point.
My favourite quote of the weekend: “Attention please. The Tools Against Sexism Workshop will be taking place shortly across the street in the gardens at the Federal Reserve.”
College students started organising on Occupy Wall Street in Bloomington-Normal, attending various organisations' meetings in town, during the weekend of October 1-2. A few travelled to other demonstrations, one to Portland, Oregon, and another student travelled to Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, October 5, there was a rally and march of 200 students on the Illinois State campus, which is very large here and inspired the participants. Many of the people that came together to organise the protests have been attending each others' events for months now, which we credit to the Wisconsin occupation and local networking this year. On Thursday, October 6, the monthly anti-war protest was well over double its size, bolstered by the Occupy BloNo activity, and on Saturday, a number of people travelled to Chicago to attend the mass action against the war.
On Sunday, October 9, late in the evening, there was a meeting of 35 people in Normal, near the campus, to discuss starting an occupation. It was attended by both students and workers, mostly younger with a few older people, majority white. There is a widespread desire to organise a more diverse occupation. The meeting established a week of actions, including the start of an occupation and future general assemblies. All these numbers sound small, but our impression in this town is that the energy is new and exciting.
Long Beach, California
By Barry Saks
On Saturday, October 8, more than 100 people from Occupy Long Beach marched along Ocean Boulevard to Magnolia Avenue to Lincoln Park, next to city hall. At Lincoln Park, residents told their stories with an open microphone. Marchers were multiethnic, many being students with a small sprinkling of unionists.
Jennifer Klasing, a political science major at Cal State Long Beach, said before the march, “I’m concerned about my future. This is the first time my generation has stood up. I want to be a part of it.” Klasing came with five other students.
Lakewood High School student Alyssa Mullenix, who identified herself as gender non-conforming, told the marchers that at her school the students have no computers, books or the proper chemicals for their chemistry classes. She said at her school, nine students have committed suicide because of LGBT harassment. Before the march, retired Longshoreman from ILWU Local 13 Louie Rodrequez said, “The corporations are greedy. They are taking away people’s homes.”
Rodgequez came to the march with two other longshoremen. Elizabeth Spidner, who has been a nurse for 12 years and is a member of SEIU Local 721, said, “I’m tired of the banks ripping me off. I’m worried about my kids future.” On Sunday, October 9, at Bixby Park, another event is planned where residents again will have a chance to tell their stories.
The general assemblies have had been 20 to 40 people each night. The people attending tend to be white and in their middle 20s; some are recent college graduates. While women were slightly less than half of the group, some of them are playing important leadership roles. No site has been chosen to occupy yet.
By Traven L
Perhaps three times larger than last Sunday's [October 1] rally, about 450 people marched and demonstrated Sunday, October 8, in Burlington, Vermont outside Citizens Bank. Occupiers drew connections to local economic justice campaigns: University of Vermont workers struggling to win fair contracts while former UVM president Dan Fogel gets a $660,000 golden parachute; the Vermont Workers Center's Put People First: Peoples Budget Campaign; the efforts of 11,000 early childhood educators to win union rights and fair pay; and the efforts to stop Wisconsin-like budgetary slash and burn policies from taking root in the state house and Burlington City Hall. The crowd was mostly under 30.
By Jase Short
The Occupy Nashville “movement-in-formation” represents a potential sea change in activism here. A grouping of inter-generational politically active people, accompanied by some academics, held the first general assembly meeting last Sunday. more than 150 attended, stunning all those involved as most demonstrations fail to yield such a number in this political environment.
The first rallies—one at Legislative Plaza on October 6 and another later the same day at the important Centennial Park—attracted between them well over 600 people, something quite uncommon for this area. Many of those involved expressed a qualitatively different level of commitment to the politics at hand. Many of those involved seem adamantly opposed to both major parties, something increasingly common as the state's Democratic Party has effectively imploded on itself since 2008.
Highlights of the actions included our contact with several union members—mostly the Teamsters—who saw the events early in the day on television and then came to the later action in the park. Relationships were developed between union members and activists of various stripes. The involvement of the Workers' Dignity Project—a low-income, Spanish-speaking workers' centre—brought immigrant rights to the agenda at the event, as well as enormous support from the crowd for their recent efforts to combat wage theft in Nashville.
A small group of 10 or so [right-wing] Ron Paul supporters and their Oath Keeper friends managed to convince around 100 people to march on the federal building in town. Upon arrival they proceeded to denounce the Federal Reserve and the international Bilderberg conspiracy, much to the crowd’s surprise. The experience has led to a greater integration among the “informal leadership”, various radical elements and others, who have united to ensure a degree of collective discipline concerning messaging and democratically sanctioned actions. Another general assembly—with more community and labour participation as well as a united front of progressive and radical activists—is planned and we will have to see where things go from there.
Occupy Chattanooga held its first general assembly on Friday, October 6, in a park filled with about 200 people. The meeting was facilitated by a layer of organisers associated with a multi-issue social justice group called Chattanooga Organized for Action (COA), as well as students and independents. The agenda started with a rousing “welcome” and explanation of ground rules. We then split into small groups (each group was about 20 people) where people collectively made lists of “demands” to prioritise. After that, each person in the small groups voted for two demands on their group list to prioritise over the others. Through this process, the group that I was in ended up with three issues with the most unity: nationalised health care (their phrasing, not mine), campaign finance reform (“get money out of politics” was the refrain all day),and quality public education. Each small group then deliveredits top two or three demands to the general group.
The whole process was supposed to let the best (or most unifying) points “rise to the top”. From there, we announced the formation of working groups (media, inclusivity/outreach, legal, demands and action proposals). The “demands” group is tasked with crafting a proposal like the Occupy Wall Street “declaration” document, which will then guide local action and next steps.
There were a few big omissions from the proposed list (like war, prisons and immigration), but the process is not over and there will be room to modify whatever is proposed. The mood was good as we adjourned the meeting. The racial composition was heavily white (90%) in a city that is 36% black. Some of the organisers actually do have roots in the city's more diverse neighbourhoods, but that hasn't translated into the involvement of that base in the “Occupy” project. That said, I think there's great potential and room to grow in size and quality. I'm looking forward to the next meeting and collectively deciding a course of action!
Someone (I still don't know who) made a Facebook group for “Occupy North Georgia” -- in the span of a week, more than 1000 people joined. People used the discussion group to plan an initial meeting and this was held in Dalton, Georgia (my hometown and present location, right near the state line, pop. ~60,000). About 25 people came to the meeting. The facilitator guided folks toward making a short statement of common “values” that a working group would refine and propose at the next meeting. I was encouraged by the lack of right-wing libertarian points, though one woman did come with a sign that read “End the Fed” (it went unmentioned). Most participants identified as Democrats but were eager to be a part of a “non-partisan” group. All attendees were white, except for one African-American man.
We spent most of the two-hour meeting discussing local economic issues and, to much a lesser degree, immigration policy. Dalton is a global centre of textile production (for real, y'all), but factory closures over the past three years have sent the official unemployment rate to about 12.6%, if I recall correctly, which is the highest in Georgia and perhaps the south-east USA. This crisis is compounded in the Latino community (about half the population of Dalton) by the recent passage of HB 87, our Arizona anti-immigrant copycat legislation. Undocumented folks and their family members are leaving the city, afraid of the police roadblocks that seem to have popped up everywhere they live and work since HB 87 went into affect. Of course, this has not improved the economic standing of whites one iota.
Meeting attendees understood that immigration had to have a place in our values platform. Likewise, people understood that we couldn't use the “99%” rhetoric until our group was half Latino. Since the meeting, some of us have already been talking with a local immigrants' rights group and we are looking forward to common work -- this is a very encouraging development not just for the group but for the city. Also encouraging is simply the fact that this happened in city with no “left-wing” organisations. The Occupy Together moment yielded what might be a critical opportunity to kick start an independent, anti-corporate project in this small city—and I trust this is the case with many of the other hundreds of cities with populations under 100,000 which held meetings.
Addendum: Since the meeting, it's been announced that a local plant is closing and laying off 270 workers. It's owned by Warren Buffett, who would prefer not to be thought of as "the 1%", but he most definitely is ... and there might just be a new group in town to remind him.
Photos by David Bacon, Oakland, California
October 13, 2011 -- On October 10, 2011, hundreds of people met in Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall to join the nationwide protests that started in New York City with Occupy Wall Street.For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org.
See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008
See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004).
This work by David Bacon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.