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Allison Kilkenny | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Occupy Hong Kong May Be in Its Last Days

Long after the Occupy camps at Zuccotti Park in Manhatttan and St. Paul’s Cathedral and Finsbury Park in London were evicted or disbanded, an encampment in an unlikely location defiantly remains.

For nine months, protesters in Hong Kong have been occupying an open-air plaza beneath the Asian headquarters of HSBC in Central, Hong Kong’s financial district. Many in the city have expressed surprised that the bank allowed the encampment to remain for so long, but the tense truce between HSBC and activists from the Occupy movement is now at an end.

Occupy Hong Kong: October 2011

In an initial court ruling, the New York Times reports three named defendants (Ho Yiu-shing, Wong Chung-hang, and Mui Kai-ming), who have no lawyers and are representing themselves, were asked to submit reasons they should be allowed to stay.

HSBC’s main complaint is that the camp is “now attracting homeless and otherwise vulnerable people”.

Bank spokesman Gareth Hewett said: “I don’t think we’re talking about many people. Less than five stay overnight and during the day it’s six or seven. At weekends it’s a bit more.”

A follow-up hearing is scheduled for August 13, but some of the protesters say they intend to stay regardless of the outcome.

New York Times:

“If there’s an order for us to move out at last, we will try our best to stay,” Mr. Wong said. “Of course, some of us don’t believe in law and may not follow the court order.”

“Our victory or defeat is not determined by the court,” Leung Wing-lai, a participant of Occupy Central, said to Bloomberg News. “We’re not going to leave. We’re still operating. We’re not going to pay any attention to the court’s decision.”

The Times reports on the disenchantment many in Hong Kong feel as the wealth gap widens, property prices soar, and citizens increasingly feel marginalized.

The average home price is around 13 times the median annual household income.

Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality in which zero represents perfect equality and 1 means one person holds all the income, rose to 0.537 last year, according to government figures released last month. That is the highest reading for any developed economy in Asia.

In June, Bloomberg News reported Leung Chun-ying, the property surveyor who was a surprise choice to be Hong Kong’s new leader, would face a record high wealth gap as the city’s new leader.

Public discontent in Hong Kong may draw as many as 100,000 protesters at the start of Leung’s term to push the government to address rising living costs and hold China to its promise to allow direct leadership elections in Hong Kong by 2017. Leung will need to address that pressure from below while meeting China’s demand for stability as it goes through its own once-a-decade leadership transition later this year.

While Occupy fades from the headlines in the United States, the movement, or at least the concept of combating the wealth divide, is gaining support in Hong Kong due to a perceived collusion between big business and an undemocratically elected government.

Hundreds of thousands marched in an annual pro-democracy rally on July 1.

Protesters breaking through a police block during July 1 protest:

Hong Kong protesters use the language of the 99 percent, including “us versus them” jargon that can be heard in class uprisings anywhere in the world.

New York Times:

“It was once thought that people like Li Ka-shing were cultural heroes and everybody could become rich if you worked hard enough and a few breaks came your way,” said Gordon Mathews, a professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, referring to the Hong Kong tycoon who is considered the wealthiest man in Asia.

“Today, increasingly, people don’t think that, and they have become much more cynical about the gap between rich and poor,” Professor Mathews said. “This is having a fairly remarkable effect on Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong’s wealth gap now exceeds that of Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia as well as other major cities notorious for inequality such as Washington and New York City.

Man Sets Himself on Fire During Tel Aviv March

On Saturday evening, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv to mark the first anniversary of J14, a movement centred around social justice and against inequality and the high cost of housing in Israel.

The march ended on Kaplan Street where a man in his 50s first distributed copies of a typed letter before pouring gasoline over his body and lighting himself on fire.

Witnesses were able to extinguish the flames, but Moshe Silman was badly injured. Later reports state that he sustained burns to more than 90 percent of his body.

Silman’s suicide letter details his financial, housing and health difficulties in addition to his anger at the state “for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich.”

972mag.com:

The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing

and the Tel Aviv District Court blocked me from getting justice. — registrar at the Tel Aviv District court, broke the law, disrupted legal proceedings, out of condescension.

It won’t even assist me with my rental fees

Two committees from the Ministry of Housing have rejected me, despite the fact that I have undergone a stroke and was granted 100% work disability

Ask the manager of Amidar, in Hafia, on Hanevi’im Street.

I blame the State of IsraelI blame Bibi Netanyahu

and [Minister of Finance] Yuval Steinitz

both scum

for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich, and to public servants

those that serve the State of Israel

The National Health Insurance, especially  —, the manager of their operations, and the manager of their claims department, —, on Lincoln Street in Tel Aviv, who illegally seized my work equipment for my truck.

The Haifa National Insurance Institute branch, who abused me for a year until I was granted disability

That I pay NIS 2300 per month in Health Insurance taxes and even more for my medicine

I have no money for medicine or rent. I can’t make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes I did the army, and until age 46 I did reserve duty

I refuse to be homeless, this is why i am protesting

Against all the injustices done to me by the State, me and others like me

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the act of self-immolation a “great personal tragedy,” but the incident has much wider implications than Silman’s private suffering.

Haaretz details Silman’s decade-long struggle—a “bureaucratic nightmare”—that will sound familiar to millions of Americans.

In 2002, the National Insurance Institute (NII) bailiffs seized one of the four trucks that were used for his company due to an outstanding debt of NIS 15,000 ($3782). Silman was able to pay off a third of the debt, but then he was asked to pay an additional NIS 1,200 ($303) to cover towing expenses.

Silman was unable to reclaim the truck because of a strike at the NII, which he blames for the collapse of his business.

Six years later, he decided to sue the NII and submitted a claim for damages for NIS 8 million ($2 million) to the Tel Aviv District court.

The case was never heard in court.

Silman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, drifted aimlessly between jobs through the years, but he finally found stability and a steady income at a messenger service. However, at the end of 2000, his business was damaged by the outbreak of the second intifada, forcing Silman to move his business to a smaller warehouse and his office to his home in Jaffa. During that time, the NII continued to send him debt notices at his old address, which never reached Silman.

In 2005, after his business collapsed, Silman was forced to vacate his apartment.

He tried to support himself as a taxi driver, but quickly found he could not make ends meet. Soon, his bank account was seized, along with his savings and insurance benefits. His mother, a guarantor to his debts, was also left without her savings.

Haaretz reports the experience motivated Silman to try and organize his friends to protest the NII. On a Facebook post last March, he wrote:

I think that considering the upcoming appointment of a new general director of the NII, which is actually the Anti-Social National Insurance Institute, which has throughout the years caused the most cases of injustice by any governmental service to the weakest segments of society—and continues to do so daily—we should organize protests in front of NII offices, [exposing it] as an anti-social organization, leading the wrongdoers, conducting itself as one of the worst private insurance businesses, and not as a national social insurance [service].

Two years later, Silman’s mother died, and his health faltered, resulting in a stroke.

He moved to Haifa, trying to scrape by on a NIS 2,300 ($580) monthly disability pension (the NII absurdly categorized this as Silman’s losing only 50 percent of his working ability). Silman’s sisters helped and fed him, and yet his requests to receive public housing were consistently rejected.

Then, on July 14, Silman set himself on fire.

Haaretz posted another Facebook message from Silman written in April:

I want to tell you what I’m going through now. This morning I lost my balance, but fortunately fell on the bed and wasn’t hurt. At Rambam Medical Center, I underwent two CT scans, which negated the possibility of a stroke. Dr. Wasserman says that it was possibly my ear and wanted to send me home. She said they don’t want to treat me and I should be treated at the clinic. But I’m afraid to go home, I live alone, and I’m afraid to go home. They insist on releasing me from the hospital without medical treatment, they also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long.

Silman’s self-immolation triggered another wave of protest on Sunday night, with a crowd of 2,000 activists marching in solidarity.

Self-immolations have a global history of setting off huge protests—and even revolution, in the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his livelihood (his cart) and the humiliation he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.

“So far this has been a middle class protest. I think [Silman’s] act will draw in the working classes,” filmmaker and activist Danny Rosenberg, 32, suggested to the Guardian. “This summer’s protests will be more concentrated—and potentially more violent.”

“I have a wife and a young kid. We both earn very well and yet we can’t afford our own home. The prices are too high so we live with our parents,” said Adi, 28, to the Guardian.”The government should do something but it probably won’t. All of these protests, 50,000 people on the streets last year, and nothing has changed.”

'Occupy the Arts': South Carolina Activists Protest Governor Haley's Cuts

Governor Nikki Haley recently announced additional austerity measures for her state, including cutting $1.9 million in funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission and $500,000 in funding earmarked for grants. Haley called the agency redundant, and said it can receive private funds and apply for funding through grants.

Several lawmakers have vowed to override Haley’s budget vetoes next week. Senator Joel Lourie, D-Richland County said he thinks the legislature will likely see “strong override votes that way surpass” the necessary two-thirds approval.

In response to the proposed cuts, South Carolina art groups plan to hold an “Occupy the Arts” protest next week at the Statehouse, and a Twitter hashtag (#SaveSCArts) is accompanying tweets in support of arts funding.

A core disagreement between the governor and activists is the role of art in society. Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey defended the cuts, saying the Arts Commission was not a core function of the government.

Lexington Patch:

“While the governor loves the arts, she does not believe the Arts Commission, which uses significant taxpayer dollars to fund administrative costs, is a core function of government—and she has been clear about this since her first State of the State address,” Godfrey said. “The arts and Arts Commission are not the same thing, and those who represent that they are, are doing the taxpayers of South Carolina a real disservice.”

Activists, and their Democratic supporters, disagree, noting that a feature of strong societies is a thriving arts community:

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland County, said: “When you see a thriving community, with jobs and economic opportunity, you’ll see a thriving arts community there as well because they go hand-in-hand. For every dollar we invest [in the arts], 50 dollars is generated in economic activity.”

He added: “78,000 jobs are related to the arts in this state so why is this governor insisting on killing jobs in South Carolina? This is backwards thinking, it’s the kind of thinking that has held South Carolina back in the past. It must change—it will not stand.”

South Carolina is not alone in this struggle. In the age of austerity, arts and arts programs are usually one of the first sacrificial lambs offered up to the budget cutters. In the Guardian, Melissa Denes explored what the arts can offer during times of economic strife and made the case for why the Guardian should continue to cover the arts.

Denes writes that, in addition to offering universal diversion and a solace to suffering citizens, culture gives us community, much like organized sports.

Perhaps most importantly, artists are often society’s greatest dissidents.

Poems on the Underground’s Judith Chernaik says she doesn’t care for the word “austerity,” as she believes there’s still plenty of money floating around London.

Artists, she argued, were part of a great tradition of outrage and protest. Even Shakespeare and Chaucer, while not oppositional artists, gave us a sense of the moral base of life: reading them was an enlargement of experience. Art, she said, would continue to exist without government or local authority support—but it was tremendously important they give that support even so, as a means of placing value on culture. She pointed out that artists had, and did, face worse than austerity: elsewhere in the world artists risk their lives simply by telling the truth. They have survived censorship, war, the Great Depression.

But on a practical level, a state arts commission needs the support of the state, or it cannot exist.

Commission executive director Ken May says the $2 million of state money in last year’s budget more than paid for itself.

“Just in matching funds for grants, we realized about $80 million in local matching funds,” he said to a CBS affiliate. “Which means our return on investment was about 40 to one, which is not bad.”

In addition to eliminating funding for the arts commission, Haley axed the Sea Grant Consortium, which helps the state’s research universities pursue federal funding to research issues relating to the South Carolina coastline, a particularly essential function given lawmakers like Lindsey Graham have been pushing the state to open its waters to offshore drilling.

Offshore drilling is where we need to be,” said Haley to Businessweek.

Just don’t research the effects of that drilling, please. 

Activists Protest Romney's 'Koch Problem'

On her way into a swank fundraiser for Mitt Romney in the Hamptons—the recommended contribution for the event was $25,000—a donor spoke to the LA Times and said the following:

“I don’t think the common person is getting it…my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies— everybody who’s got the right to vote—they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income—one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

That might seem like a cartoonishly villainous attitude, but it’s a commonly held belief among the one percent. The 99 percent are naïve, or idealistic, or stupid, or they simply don’t understand how things work in the real world—you know, Southampton—where stuff really gets done.

Romney echoed the sentiment early in his campaign when he remarked, “I’m not concerned with the very poor,” only to say later on that he misspoke.

Whether or not he really did flub a line, the fact is Romney’s tax plan would give the richest 0.1 percent of Americans an average tax cut of $246,000.

But apparently that still isn’t radical enough for some of Romney’s donors. CS Monitor spoke with a money manager on his way into one of the fundraisers, who remarked it’s time for Romney to “up his game and be more reactive” and that so far Romney has had a “very timid offense.”

The “common people” against whom Romney apparently has a “very timid offense” were the protesters, many of them from Occupy Wall Street and MoveOn.org, showing up outside the fundraiser to protest not only Mitt Romney but also energy billionaire David Koch, who was hosting one of the fundraisers at his beach house (suggested contribution: $75,000).

Outside the estate was a queue of Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsche roadsters and a red Ferrari.

It’s not a coincidence that many of the donors interviewed by press refused to give their names. Oftentimes, these individuals claimed doing so would hurt their business, perhaps because the 99 percent are some of their customers.

Among the guests were the Zambrellis of New York City, independent voters who were previously Obama supporters.

Sharon Zambrelli voted for Obama in 2008 but has been disappointed with his handling of the economy and leadership style.

“I was very disenchanted with the political process, and he gave me hope,” she said. But ultimately: “He’s just a politician,” an “emperor with no clothes.”

The Zambrellis added they think it’s ludicrous the Democrats have attempted to seize on the language of class warfare, pointing out that Obama holds the same types of swank fundraisers, and that the president’s fundraisers consisted of “all of Wall Street.”

CS Monitor:

“It’s not helping the economy to pit the people who are the engine of the economy against the people who rely on that engine,” Michael Zambrelli said as the couple waited in their SUV for clearance into the pine-tree-lined estate. “He’s basically been biting the hand that fed him in ‘08…. I would bet 25 percent of the people here were supporters of Obama in ‘08. And they’re here now.”

Holding a banner that read, “Koch Kills,” around 200 protesters gathered outside the fundraiser and shouted “shame on you” as wealthy donors began to arrive. Above, a plane flew carrying a banner that said: “Romney has a Koch problem.”

Lisa Tyson, the director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC), stated in a release handed out at the protest, “David Koch has done everything in his power to erode the few protections that we have for workers, for the environment and for clean elections. We may not be able to stop the fundraiser, but we can make sure that it’s clear to everyone who attends: if you’re siding with David Koch, you’re standing against the 99%.”

David Segal with the LIPC said his group isn’t worried about who’s running for president. “What bothers me,” he said to ABC News as a black stretch-limo drove passed, “is that people like David Koch are buying our politicians.”

Koch’s $50,000-per-person dinner was highly secretive, and when protesters attempted to approach Koch’s home, they were greeted by an entourage of Secret Service agents, “posted on a bluff between the beach and tents in the backyard,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard patrolled the waters offshore.

Two men were arrested after attempting to sail across a lake near Koch’s property and striking a police vessel with their boat.

The tight security ensured protesters couldn’t get anywhere near Romney or his wealthy donors. In the words of CS Monitor, “They never got close, and Mitt Romney may not have even seen them.”

During the trio of Southampton fundraisers, Romney raised $3 million.

Michael Korn, a 57-year-old protester from Brooklyn, spoke to Bloomberg News: “It doesn’t matter if it’s Romney or Obama,” he said. “Votes shouldn’t be weighed by oodles of cash.”

NYPD Brands Occupy Wall Street Couple 'Professional Agitators'

The New York Daily News recently exposed a story centered around two Occupy Wall Street activists, Christina Gonzalez and Matthew Swaye, who have been targeted by the NYPD.

In speaking with Occupy activists, it quickly becomes clear that protesters are extremely paranoid when it comes to the topic of the police. Many activists, based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, believe undercover police are constantly in their midst, or target demonstrators perceived to be the “leaders” of Occupy, even though, as the group has emphatically stated since its inception, the movement has no leader.

These suspicions are not without foundation. Undercovers do attempt to infiltrate Occupy, and most recently, two agents did so quite quite successfully in the case of the NATO 3.

Gonzalez and Swaye are a unique example of police harassment because they weren’t exactly perceived as leaders, and they weren’t suspected of committing a crime. Rather, the NYPD branded them “professional agitators,” whatever that means. Police have been circulating flyers that look suspiciously similar to wanted posters, featuring the couple’s mug shots (the two have been arrested for civil disobedience in the past), warning officers to “Be aware that above subjects are known professional agitators,” and notes the “subjects’ MO” is to videotape officers “performing routine stops and post on Youtube.”

Gonzalez frequently videotapes police activity, such as stop and searches of vehicles, and other actions she perceives as police harassment. Here is video of Gonzalez filming police who are idling in front of her home.

 

It’s not a crime to videotape police officers in New York City, and the “routine stops” detailed on the flyers is a departmental euphemism for the controversial Stop and Frisk action, a policy of racial profiling Gonzalez expressed her disdain for to me back in January at an Occupy protest in Harlem.

The mood at the protest that day was tense—not in the usual melodrama played out between police and protesters– but between pro-Obama supporters and those criticizing the president’s policies.

However, Gonzalez did not seem intimidated by the uneasy environment and she certainly didn’t mince words. First, she criticized the president for attending a swank fundraiser.

“I’m outraged that the president of my country, who I voted for, who hasn’t done a damn thing for this country, has the nerve to come to the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem and charge $100-to-$25,000 for a seat to hear him speak—about what, I don’t know, because I can’t afford to get inside.”

Then, she moved on to criticizing the NYPD’s policy of stop-and-frisk.

“Meanwhile, in this city right now, the NYPD are using these [Stop And Frisk US 250] forms, which is basically the new Jim Crow, which says that they have the ability to go out and stop people in the streets, almost 700,000 people they stopped in 2011, 85 percent of them were black or brown men. There’s something wrong with that.”

Here’s Gonzalez discussing Stop and Frisk with Democracy Now!:

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, I feel it’s important to stress that filming police officers and peacefully protesting (even when using a loud, authoritative tone) is perfectly legal. Gonzalez and Swaye weren’t secretly recording police, but rather exercising their rights as citizens.

Yet, now the couple is being treated as criminals.

New York Daily News:

“What we do is not a crime,” said Swaye, adding that the NYPD flyer looks more like a “wanted poster” than a police department advisory.

“It’s more insidious than a wanted poster because it’s undefined,” Swaye said. “People can take their pick: Are we dangerous, criminal, insane?”

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the NYPD treated a citizen filming their activity as a criminal.

In 2009, police arrested blogger and freelance photographer Antonio Musumeci on the steps of a New York federal courthouse for the crime of “unauthorized photography on federal property.”

The result of his arrest was the NYPD issuing him a citation, and the NYCLU countering with a lawsuit that resulted in a settlement in which the federal government agreed to issue a directive acknowledging that it is completely legal to film and/or photograph on federal property.

NYCLU:

On Oct. 13, 2010, a federal judge signed a settlement in which the federal government agreed that no federal statutes or regulations bar photography of federal courthouses from publicly accessible property. It agreed to issue a nationwide directive to members of the Federal Protective Service (the agency responsible for all government buildings) instructing them about the rights of photographers. Since Musumeci had been charged with violating a regulation that applied to all federal property, not just courthouses, the NYCLU hold the position that the settlement in effect covers photography og all federal buildings.

NYPD spokeswoman Inspector Kim Royster denied the poster was an attempt to silence the couple, and told the New York Daily News it was designed only to alert officers at the stationhouse.

Alert them of what?

Surely, police officers know there are individuals who call themselves activists who use all kinds of tools to monitor police behavior (not just videotaping, but Twitter too).

While it’s illegal to arrest anyone for filming police in New York City, the NYPD have circumvented those inconsequential legal barriers to launch a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Gonzalez and Swaye, who simply attempted to hold police accountable for their actions. That duty doesn’t make them professional agitators but rather concerned citizens.

The couple, who met at a Pace University rally in December and shared their first kiss on New Year’s Eve at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, told the New York Daily News, “There’s nothing radical about us.”

National Occupy Gathering Kicks Off in Philadelphia

Occupy participants from around the country have converged on Philadelphia for the “National Gathering” June 30 through July 4. Organizers estimate the event will draw around 1,500 protesters and has been independently endorsed by more than 100 Occupy groups across the country.

From its very beginning, the convention was less about occupation and more about building communities.

“Tents more than likely won’t be necessary,” a statement on the group’s website reads.

Instead, the group plans to develop a list of grievances to take to legislators, presidential candidates, and Supreme Court justices in Washington, and the event will culminate with a planned march to Independence Halls on July 4.

“For me, this is a chance to finally meet face-to-face with people who are doing work in other cities and build real relationships,” said Jeff Rae, an Occupy activist who had his Twitter records subpoenaed by the New York District Attorney in March.

“In a much broader scope, I hope that at the National Gathering, we can have some real dialogue about what’s next for Occupy. New tactics and strategies.”

Rae said he believes the Occupy movement is alive and well.

“The conditions that created Occupy in the first place have not gone away, and if anything things have gotten worse,” he said, citing the 7,308 Occupy arrests since the movement’s inception, “and I think you have a lot of people dealing with that, along with working on other projects like eviction defense, stop-and-frisk, and banking issues.”

Rae emphasized Occupy’s fledgling status—the group will only be a year old this September—and stated it takes years for movements to hit their peak.

“Imagine if, after nine months of the civil rights movement, we didn’t see significant change. Would we have told civil rights leaders to call it quits?”

“I hope we get to know each other, so we can continue working together as a stronger movement through movement tools such as interoccupy,” said Tamara Shapiro, a National Gathering organizer. “Occupy has a mix of experienced and brand new activists, and I hope we can use this experience to share skills and knowledge.”

Shapiro recognizes that Occupy’s numbers have dwindled since last November, but insists that does not mean the movement is dying.

“There are still hundreds of people organizing every day in New York City, and consistent actions to challenge the power structures. But I believe we really need to look to the rest of the country to discover the true strength of the movement. The fact that there are activist communities from all over the country: from Wichita, Kansas to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, that didn’t exist a year ago is a sign of strength.”

Julia Alford-Fowler, another National Gathering organizer, said the “Occupy is dead” narrative is a total fallacy, and blames the peddling of it on the mainstream media.

“People are involved in local movements on a daily basis. The only thing that has changed is the absence of camps in most cities,” she said.

Occupy Philadelphia reports that twenty-eight people were arrested late Sunday night during a protest in Center City. Initially, activists reported they were unclear on why protesters were being arrested, but later Dustin Slaughter, a member of the National Gathering media team, said charges might be related to obstructing a highway.

Video footage of part of the kettle and arrests:

The Resistance Continues as Citizens Fight Budget Cuts

Much has been written about the future of Occupy: the movement is dead, it is not dead, it evolved into something else, it will experience a resurgence in the fall etc. But what has received less air time are all the ways in which citizens, be they part of Occupy or not, continue to battle budget cuts in their own communities and across the country.

The blasé reception of this ongoing resistance might be explained, in part, by the decline of Occupy’s occupations. Revolution is sexy, but the quiet resistance of low-key direct action lacks Liberty Park’s flash.

Yet the resistance continues, in ways large and small.

A city in central New York is losing its top two law enforcement officers to retirement after lawmakers announced major spending cuts for the police department. Auburn Police Chief Gary Giannotta and Deputy Chief Thomas Murphy both announced their retirement plans this week in response to the city council’s plans to slash $400,000 from the department’s budget.

Giannotta said the cuts to his department will be detrimental to public safety.

In another example, NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and the NETWORK Education Program organized fourteen nuns to ride in a “Nuns on the Bus” vehicle through nine states to protest federal budget cuts proposed by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI).

 

NETWORK emphasizes that Ryan’s budget will have a detrimental effect on struggling families, and cites tax breaks for the wealthy and decreased funding for health insurance programs for low-income individuals as two of the biggest problems with the proposal.

In a country where citizens are often failed by traditional institutions (even the Catholic Church has criticized the Nuns on the Bus), direct action by these nuns has proven to be pivotal in their communities.

Toledo Blade:

“The nuns have always reached out and provided programs for low-income groups,” said Karen Krause, social justice chairman of Toledo Area Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition, part of a national network that advocates for the rights of working individuals.

“The Ryan budget breaks the circle of protection around the poor and vulnerable,” Ms. Krause said.

Nearly 100 students, parents and coaches gathered in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Monday evening to protest budget cuts that could eliminate some sports.

“I’m concerned that the school board is cutting middle school athletics; I’m concerned that they’re cutting academic programs; I’m concerned they are cutting field trips,” said Aaron Hajduk, a parent, to KDKA. “I think this is a critical time in a child’s life.”

The most dramatic proposals include entirely eliminating all athletic programs at the middle school. Other proposals include firing teachers and cutting back on field trips, buses and uniforms.

“It’s a failure no matter; it’s like when you build a house, you’ve got to have a good foundation. There’s our foundation that’s going down,” said Cliff Thompson, of the high school football coaching staff. “I’ve been coaching in high school for 35 years and I’ve never seen it like this.”

In Oakland, protesters at Lakeview School invoked the spirit of Occupy as they entered the second week of camping out at the elementary campus in an attempt to stop the district from closing it.

KQED reports that several hundred people marched this past weekend in support of the protesters, who accuse the school board of voting for the closure (along with four other elementary schools) despite the school’s rising test scores and high level of community involvement.

Activists say the plan will backfire and create instability, driving more families from district-run schools.

Families at Lazear Elementary, another school slated for closure, applied to convert their school into an independently run charter in order to keep it open, a request the Alameda County Board of Education approved on appeal last week.

Mercury News:

Joel Velasquez, whose children attended Lakeview, said the group has no plans to leave the area. The effort has drawn support from local businesses and residents sympathetic with the cause, he said. On Tuesday, passers-by brought coffee and bagels. A sign on the Grand Lake Theater marquee, questioning the school board’s decision, remained up.

“It’s been very inspiring,” Velasquez said.

 

Thousands Occupy Tel Aviv, Police Respond With Brutal Force

Police arrested eighty-nine protesters after more than 6,500 people flooded Tel Aviv’s Habima Square Saturday night to protest the arrest of Daphni Leef, the leader of last summer’s mass protests against inequality and the high cost of housing in Israel.

Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Eksel told Haaretz, “Protesters crossed the line. They set out to clash with the police.”

Police also say the protest was illegal, and that protesters attacked inspectors and police by spitting and throwing objects.

In rhetoric that should sound familiar to any American protester, demonstrator Khen Tsubery told the Jerusalem Post that the lack of a permit was intentional because permits are difficult to obtain.

 

Ynet News painted a much more violent image of the protest, choosing to focus on vandalization incidents involving shattered windows and protesters charging into banks as part of what the outlet dramatically described as “socioeconomic riots.”

Activists claim one protester, Moshe Menkin, was arrested by an undercover police officer after entering an abandoned building that the police were using as a staging area.

Barak Cohen, who claims he was injured when an officer kneed him, told Haaretz, “We came to create a confrontation, not to stand across from them. You’re fighting for your life and you have to fight them, without fear. They can carry out arrests and close off streets, but they can’t affect the choices we make in our souls.”

This isn’t the first accusation of police violence during the weekend housing protests in Tel Aviv. A 24-year-old woman was videotaped being violently shoved by an officer during the protest after she attempted to reach her boyfriend through a wall of police who she claims were beating him.

Haaretz:

Maya Gorkin said she still can’t believe the extent of the police violence at the Tel Aviv rally, even though she was subjected to it herself.

“I’m in shock,” she said. “I admit that I didn’t believe something like this could happen.”

 

Amnesty International has come out in defence of the protesters and condemned what they call “police brutality.”

“There is no room to compare this violence to the violence displayed by the police. The former is a violation of the law while the latter is a violation of human rights,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The surge in police violence has raised concerns, leading Haaretz to publish an article titled, “Police violence against Tel Aviv protesters should raise the alarm with Israel’s authorities,” in which Or Kashti states that if the housing movement needed “a spark” to get angry Israelis back on the street, the police provided it by arresting demonstrators.

Kashti also takes issue with the official police version of what occurred this weekend:

After the arrests on Friday, police claimed that the 12 protesters arrested “cursed, spat and threw objects at the offices.” Are calls such as “Officer, who are you protecting?” or “Money, power and police” are now forbidden by law? And what does “throwing objects” mean?

Perhaps in one of two cases, in the scorching heat and confrontational air, a protester may have sprayed water at a group of police officers and protesters. But there were other sights—brin[g]ing to mind last summer’s protests—of demonstrators handing police flowers. Perhaps these sights eluded the police’s cameras, alongside other images such as a municipal inspector cheering after penetrating a group of protesters and snatching a tent that they were holding up the air, or two officers dismantling a tent that was placed on the roof of a car.

 

Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of last year’s social protest, told Ynet New that, while the protests are certainly about housing rights, they’ve also become something bigger.

“While we’re struggling for what we’ve been fighting for throughout the year, we realized there’s another struggle, a great one, for democracy,” said Shaffir.

“It’s embarrassing to see the State of Israel using violent means and beating up protestors,” she said.

Thousands of Doctors Strike in UK Protest Over Pensions

Thousands of doctors in Northern Ireland began strike action this morning in a UK protest over pensions. As a result, hospitals have cancelled some non-urgent operations and General Physicians are accepting only emergency cases.

This marks the first strike by doctors in the UK in almost forty years.

BBC:

Dr Paul Darragh from the union’s Northern Ireland branch said: “We were driven to this.

“We had a fair pension scheme that we had negotiated with the government four years ago by which new entrants to our scheme would have a normal pension age of 65.

“We increased contributions. There were tiered contributions by which those who were highest paid would offset the contributions of those who were lowest paid. We also had an agreement by which, if there was any increased cost for those pensions, it would be met by us and not the tax payer.

“The government has walked away from those agreements and refuses to negotiate with us.”

Under the proposed changes, doctors currently under the age of 50 would have to work to 68, and pay more for their pensions. The government is imposing a deal that would require the best-paid doctors to contribute 14.5 percent of their salary (up from 8.5 percent).

Strikes involving the professional classes tend to be treated with more gravitas by the establishment media, perhaps due to a degree of bigotry rooted in classism. It’s one thing if teachers and janitors strike, but lawyers and doctors? Now things are serious.

A similar style of reporting occurred in Egypt and Tunisia when the professional classes there gathered to strike. Of course, devoting special coverage to a sea of lawyers marching in the streets is understandable. The spectacle of attorneys dressed in suits, marching toward an army, makes for great media.

Additionally, the presence of doctors and lawyers in a protest movement serves as a bellwether for how high up the social ladder the rot of instability has risen. Class snobbery has conditioned us to expect blue-collar workers—those people—to have to take to the streets to fight over their scrap benefits, but we expect the professionals to live lives of permanent comfort.

However, this is no longer the case. In fact, here in the United States, the number of individuals with PhDs who are on food stamps has tripled.

Overseas, class barriers are blurred under the crushing pressure of authoritarianism. In Tunisia, thousands of lawyers went on strike to demand an end to beatings by security forces at the beginning of that country’s unprecedented unrest. Similarly, doctors in white lab coats and lawyers in black robes poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the seventeenth day of the revolution.

 

Although treated more seriously, strikes by the professional class also risk facing a special kind of discrimination, even perhaps from parties who may otherwise claim to be sympathetic to workers.

“UK doctors strike despite $105,000-a-year pension offer,” one headline decries, leaving the subliminal message, the greedy bastards, to the reader’s discretion.

The implied text here is that generous pensions negate doctors’ right to strike when they are suddenly ordered to work for an additional eighteen years. This kind of dismissive reaction is a symptom of the dog-eat-dog mentality that befalls countries during times of great economic turmoil. Things are tough all over, and so it’s easy to attack doctors as being “greedy”.

Rarely is the conversation framed as, Are other pensioners paid too little? Rather, doctors are cast as the problem, as though their salaries are anywhere near the lavish “golden parachutes” handed out to people like Richard S. Fuld Jr., the Lehman Brothers chief executive, who earned $350 million between 2000 and 2007 even as his company headed for disaster.

“Taxpayer has contributed £67bn to pension pot for doctors,” the Daily Mail declares, but that kind of figure isn’t unusual. Teachers’ pensions here in the United States cost each state billions of dollars. Quite simply, that’s the price tag required to pay for people’s health and living costs in the latter years of their lives.

Undeniably, there are pension shortfalls both in the United States and the United Kingdom, but it’s not a coincidence they are occurring at a time when the lavishly wealthy are taxed at historically low rates, corporations abscond with billions in stolen revenue and the US and UK governments devote their agendas to unending war.

To offer only one example, the anti–corporate tax dodging group, UK Uncut, claims clamping down on tax avoidance by corporations and the rich and tax evasion could save the state £95 billon a year.

Unlike doctors’ pensions, that £95 billon-a-year price tag (£28 billion more than the pensions of every single doctor in the UK) isn’t compensation for tasks generally valued by society. That’s £95 billion a year in stolen revenue, but there are no angry headlines today decrying the greedy practices of Vodafone.

Activists Protest G20 While US Media Talk Trivialities

Protests continue in Los Cabos, Mexico, during the G20 summit of world leaders, though learning of these demonstrations—especially if one lives within the United States—is quite a difficult task for consumers of the establishment media.

On Monday, activists unfurled a giant “one trillion dollar” bill to represent the money given in fossil fuel subsidies every year, and the group Avaaz.org says it collected more than 750,000 signatures for a petition calling for a shift to renewable energy.

But rather than discussing environmental policies or austerity measures, NBC’s Chuck Todd obsessed endlessly over the body language between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama.

“Body language experts are going to have a field day interpreting this Obama-Putin joint statement,” Todd tweeted Monday.

However, unwilling to leave that analysis to the experts, Todd took his own thoughts to the airwaves the following day to participate in a segment on MSNBC devoted entirely to the body language between the two leaders.

Todd wasn’t alone in this superficial coverage. CBS News breathlessly reported about the little “shared eye contact” between Putin and Obama, and lamented that they two men did not “appear to express much personal warmth following a two-hour meeting.”

The AP reported that the leaders “hardly looked at each other,” and yes, “shared little eye contact,” before adding that aides say the media shouldn’t draw conclusions from the “chilly body language,” but, oh well, here’s 500 words about it anyway.

Superficial media coverage during the G20 summit becomes all the more glaringly wasteful when considering the real, substantial stories unfolding in a country where there is widespread, severe poverty, underscored by the presence of the twenty richest economies in the world. According to the country’s National Council of Social Development Policy Evaluation (Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, CONEVAL), as much as 44.2 percent of the Mexican population (over 49 million people) live below the poverty line.

It’s these issues of mass poverty, inequality and policies threatening the environment that have brought protesters from all over the world to Mexico.

Lacy MacAuley, an Occupy DC activist currently at the People’s Summit in La Paz, Mexico, said La Paz is the closest activists can get to the G20 Summit because Los Cabos is under such heavy security:

“No one can travel to or from Cabo unless they are a documented Cabo resident. They have even closed the schools and hospitals. I’ve heard a story from a woman whose pregnant family member in Cabo was told that the hospital would not even be open if she were to give birth during the summit. They were lucky: The baby was born last week. This is just another example of how the G20 acts with total disregard for everyday people—they make decisions behind closed doors that impact all of us, decisions that serve the corporate elite of the world, and leave the rest of us out. We need to build our own solutions to the crises of the world, and move beyond big institutions like the G20.”

Juan Beristain, a member of the Mexican Electricians Union (Sindicato Mexicano de Electristas), who is also at the People’s Summit, said the G20 has no “moral or political responsibility for the people…yet they have more power over us than the governments of our countries.”

Hector de la Cueva, a member of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade (RMALC), said activists are protesting the G20 because they want to “make sure that the people’s voices are expressed for the rest of the world.”

“We are here to make sure that our story, the 99 percent story, is heard,” said de la Cueva.

 

A protester who travelled from Spain’s indignado movement told Democracy Now! that the anti-austerity struggle is worldwide.

“It’s a matter of resistance to the politics of neoliberalism, to criminal policies of the G20, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, and our own Spanish government and other governments of the world, such as the one we are protesting today in Mexico.”

Where these stories aren’t being told is in the establishment media. Voices like the ones above are entirely shut out of the conversation so pundits like Chuck Todd can blather about things like body language, because talking about such things is easy and doesn’t threaten the precious ideologies of the elite.

In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that the second Chuck Todd says something to challenge the hegemony of the G20, he’ll be taken off the air. As a result, we get less talk about wealth disparity, environmental destruction and food security, and more talk about Putin’s chilly body language.

This kind of terrible coverage has become par for the course as the mainstream media prioritize reporting on every banal detail unfolding within the halls of power, in the boardrooms and within the vestibules of summit headquarters, while the stories of the teeming masses protesting the events outside go unreported, or at best, under-reported or irresponsibly stereotyped by bias media figures (see any Erin Burnett segment during the first weeks of Occupy Wall Street).

During the NATO summit in Chicago, reporters from the big media networks isolated themselves within the summit itself, and while it’s certainly important to keep tabs on what the most powerful players in the world are up to, it’s also the job of a responsible reporter to ask the thousands of people outside why they’re peeved. And then maybe—and this is a super-crazy idea—give both parties time to discuss their feelings.

Tragically, the media continues to miss an opportunity to document the fascinating lives of these protesters, and to discuss meaningful problems facing the world today. By limiting their subjects to the one percent, the media thereby limits its scope of conversation. Hence, we wind up with Chuck Todd talking about body language and no one learns anything.

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