Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.
Occupy Our Homes, a movement to protect families from foreclosures and evictions, has enjoyed a recent string of successes. In February, the group helped Helen Bailey, the 78-year-old former civil rights activist who was threatened with foreclosure by JPMorgan Chase while the company trumpeted its efforts to uphold Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, to stay in her home following a successful campaign by Occupy Nashville.
The group also aided a Detroit husband and wife who spent months worrying they could be evicted from their home of twenty-two years. The couple received news they would be permitted to stay after an aggressive campaign that was led by members of Moratorium Now, Occupy Detroit and Homes Before Banks and included the family’s supporters blocking the contractor from placing a dumpster.
Additionally, Occupy Atlanta prevented the eviction of a family when two dozen protesters encamped on the family’s lawn, and Occupy Our Homes delayed another foreclosure in Rochester, as did Occupy Cleveland in November.
Most recently, Occupy Homes MN worked with a mother of one of the group’s organizers to keep her home.
Colleen McKee Espinosa is a nurse and a single mother of Nick Espinosa, an organizer working to prevent foreclosures in Minnesota. Espinosa said she was reluctant to ask the group for help because she felt “humiliated” by not being able to make the payments on her home.
McKee Espinosa says she overcame the shame when she realized it is the banks, and not homeowners, who should be ashamed for the mortgage foreclosure crisis.
McKee Espinosa was able to come up with money she owed the bank after falling behind on her payments, but Citibank refused to accept the money.
“My mother has struggled her whole life to keep our family afloat and give my siblings and I a better life than she had,” said Nick Espinosa at the time, “I’ve dedicated the last 8 months of my life to helping families fight against unjust foreclosures and the greedy banks that would rather leave homes vacant than work to keep families in their communities even after being bailed out with our tax dollars. CitiBank won’t be stealing the home I grew up in from my mom—it stops here.”
Following pressure from the group, Citibank has called off a sheriff’s auction on McKee Espinosa’s home and also agreed to reduce her monthly payments by one-third.
“I’m so relieved that my family’s home of 16 years will not be on the auction block tomorrow,” said McKee Espinosa in a press release from Occupy Homes MN. “We are grateful that Citibank has decided to accept my payments, and we look forward to signing the final paperwork.”
“I am deeply grateful to everyone from across the country who stood with our family as we fought our foreclosure,” said Nick Espinosa. “I’m inspired by the outpouring of community support, and it renews my commitment to stand with other families who are struggling to stay in their homes.”
Minnesota foreclosure activity was up 11 percent from March to April and 3 percent compared with last year, according to RealtyTrac.
McKee Espinosa admits she did not originally desire to be part of the Occupy movement.
“Nick tried to drag me to homeowners meetings,” McKee Espinosa told the Star Tribune. “I had heard their stories and thought they were naive idealists. I supported Nick, but thought that you couldn’t fight the banks.”
However, after seeing the movement’s success, she changed her mind.
“This negotiation represents a victory not just for our family, but for millions of families facing foreclosures across the country,” said Nick Espinosa. “Countless families could stay in their homes if banks simply modified their loans based on the actual market value and reduced their principal, instead of the price to which banks inflated them before they crashed our economy.… If they can fix it for our family, they can fix it for millions of others.”
Nearly six months after their arrests during a December 17 Occupy Wall Street protest at Duarte Square, eight activists accused of trespassing finally went on trial Monday.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Duarte Square back in December to mark the three-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Those present included the OWS hunger strikers, who at the time, were in their fifteenth day of fasting.
On Monday, the Guardian’s Ryan Devereaux described a packed courthouse, filled with Occupy supporters who spilled out into the hallway, as they awaited to hear the testimonies of the New York City police officers responsible for arresting the protesters in a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church.
Trinity is one of the largest landholders in Manhattan, and the revenue from the church’s real estate holdings funds the parish’s work. This dual function has placed Trinity at the center of controversy when Occupy called upon the church to grant the movement sanctuary—indeed, Trinity provided a plethora of services to protesters in the initial months of the movement—but the church’s relationship with protesters has since grown strained. (Photo: retired bishop George Packard, one of the D17 arrestees.)
The church has claimed it’s seeking “non-criminal dispositions” and does not wish protesters to be sentenced to jail.
Attorneys for the defendants questioned the orders received by officers to make arrests, whether they noticed “open to the public” signs posted around the property and whether Trinity Church had the authority to order police to clear the area of demonstrators.
Trinity Church has said it is “not seeking retribution or punishment as a result of the OWS actions of December 17 at Duarte Square”.
In a statement posted to the church’s website Rector James Cooper claimed that Trinity had requested the district attorney seek “non-criminal dispositions without fines or incarceration be granted to all”.
“Trinity has welcomed and continues to welcome OWS members, like all members of its community, to its facilities in the Wall Street area”, he said.
Meanwhile, the so-called “NATO 3” appeared in a Chicago courtroom Tuesday to face terrorism-related charges accusing them of plotting to attack President Obama’s campaign headquarters and other targets with Molotov cocktails.
Defense lawyers say the three men (Jared Chase, Brian Church and Brent Betterly) plan to enter not-guilty pleas.
The accused, who originally belonged to the Occupy Miami chapter, claim the evidence presented against them was planted in their apartment.
Defense attorneys also attempted to cast aspersions on the word of the undercover police known as “Mo” and “Gloves,” who infiltrated the group before the NATO summit.
Attorneys for the men say they were entrapped by law enforcement, and that weapons recovered at their apartment were in fact left there by undercover agents.
“Occupy Miami has always been a peaceful movement,” said one local Occupy Miami participant who calls himself Bruce Wayne. “The culture of the movement is nonviolent…no drugs and alcohol.… we went to great lengths to assure our activities were legal.”
Wayne said his conversations with 27-year-old Jared Chase—one of the three arrested in Chicago—revealed no nefarious plans in the works. Wayne described Chase as “very calm and soft-spoken,” a person who “did a lot of listening.”
Prosecutors say the men assembled a wide variety of weapons, including a mortar, swords and knives with brass-knuckle handles, in addition to the Molotov cocktails (beer bottles filled with gasoline).
Chicago prosecutors find themselves in untested waters with the NATO 3 trial. Ordinarily, federal attorneys handle terrorism-related charges, but Illinois was one of at least thirty-six states to adopt anti-terrorism laws in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and the decision by the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office to test Illinois’s law for the first time against activists has left many wondering why federal authorities aren’t more involved.
“These are completely unchartered waters,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor. With nothing close to the manpower and expertise of the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, state prosecutors’ ability to win terrorist convictions is “very much in doubt,” he said.
Few state prosecutors elsewhere have even tried.
The New York-based Center on National Security says states have attempted to prosecute terrorism charges no more than a few dozen times, though precise figures were not available. By contrast, U.S. Department of Justice data indicates 403 people were convicted in federal courts for terrorism from 2001 to 2010 alone.
Attorney Sarah Gelsomino says prosecutors are using terrorism charges to try and scare off summit protesters. She compared the NATO 3 to a case in which eight activists were charged under Minnesota laws with conspiracy to riot before the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Those charges were later reduced or dropped.
“If these guys are really scary terrorists, why aren’t the feds on this?” Gelsomino said to WLS.
(Photos from Dec 17 rally by Allison Kilkenny)
Teachers in Louisiana have found themselves on the frontlines of austerity.
First, in an unprecedented vote, the Jefferson Parish School Board voted 8–1 to close seven campuses, four of them traditional elementary schools and the rest alternative programs for students struggling academically.
The board issued more bad news when it announced it was dropping plans to add an art instruction wing at Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts due to cost concerns.
Construction of the wing is a hot-button issue in the area because the proposal to convert Lincoln into a magnet school that would draw students from across the parish was a result of the deliberations leading up to the system’s settling a forty-seven-year-old desegregation lawsuit last year.
NOLA.com interviewed Lena Vern Dandridge, whose father sued to integrate Jefferson Parish public schools in 1964.
“At the time I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was a kid, I was just there to learn,” said Dandridge, who now goes by Dandridge-Houston. “Looking back on it, it wasn’t just education from textbooks. It was cultural.”
Forty-three years later, her name is still on the federal court docket.
In August of last year, US District Judge Kurt Engelhart noted that the Jefferson Parish School Board and lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Dandridge desegregation case had reached an agreement to end the litigation.
During the debate over how to “improve” school policies, the judge proposed several strategies, including firing teachers (called a “staffing shuffle” by NOLA.com) and the “reconstitution of four elementary schools into specialized magnets.”
By tossing out plans to add the art instruction wing, the board was, in essence, destroying one of the key tactics for desegregating schools, flawed as that original strategy might have been.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed not one, but two, civil rights complaints against the board.
In the first complaint, SPLC alleged that the school system discriminates against black and disabled students. Part of the evidence presented by SPLC was comments made on Twitter by Mark Traina, a school psychologist in Louisiana.
“Young black thugs” need to be “put down like the dogs they are,” Traina tweeted.
SPLC also claims African-American students are being unfairly subjected to arrests and seizures. The complaint outlined what the center calls a widespread and disproportionate number of arrests of black students for minor school disciplinary matters.
SPLC cited the fact that African-American youth comprise 46 percent of the student population yet 76 percent of all school-based arrests.
To offer only a handful of examples:
A ninth-grade boy was arrested and subjected to racially charged language after violating the school’s cellphone policy; another ninth-grader was arrested and subjected to racially offensive language because he was in the hall without a pass (even though he had permission from a teacher to leave class and call his mother), resulting in the youth being restrained, placed in a patrol car and taken to an adult jail where he was held overnight; and another ninth-grade girl was arrested, searched and subjected to racially offensive language for skipping class.
And the list goes on.
Most recently, the board voted to strip teachers of their contract after June 30 and begin negotiations anew with a blank slate. During the decision, teachers sat in the meeting room holding signs that read “Protect Our Schools From Bad Decisions,” “No Contract = Chaos In My Classroom” and “Dictatorship vs. Negotiation.”
“This school system is in chaos,” Meladie Munch, president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, told the board prior to the vote. “And if you don’t believe me, go talk to people in the community. Total chaos. Don’t do this to your teachers because they are the rock of this school system.”
Now, the plaintiffs in the Dandridge school segregation lawsuit are back, charging that the school closures and scrapping of construction plans are in violation of their settlement.
Four of the closures take place in mostly black neighborhoods and will displace 1,071 black students and 224 white students.
Additionally, thousands of students will be affected by transfers to relieve overcrowding in their schools, and officials admit they’re struggling to find suitable receiving campuses for students in higher grades.
“In the absence of compelling reasons, school closures shall not disproportionately affect one racial group as opposed to another racial group,” the August 2011 settlement reads.
School Board attorney Michael Fanning told NOLA.com that he received the complaint, but had not yet formulated an answer.
“We’re just going to review it,” he said. “We have to look at it and see what the allegations are.”
Cedric Floyd, the only African-American member of the board, called the closure plans an “injustice” during a meeting in May, and said they disproportionally impact black students.
Yvetta Chesser, a speaker in the audience and resident of the Bunche Village neighbourhood, agreed with Floyd, saying Bunche was chosen because it was considered to be a “throwaway school.”
Late Wednesday, about 100 teachers and other protesters waited outdoors to confront board members as they left the building.
Activists booed and shouted, “Shame on you” and “We won’t forget” at board member Michael Delesdernier, NOLA.com reports.
At one point, the crowd gathered around the cars of board President Mark Jacobs and Acting Superintendent James Meza, and system officials and deputies had to come help clear the way so they could leave.
But protesters cheered and applauded three board members: Cedric Floyd, Etta Licciardi and Ray St. Pierre, who voted in the minority to keep some parts of the teachers’ contracts.
Jacobs has publicly said the erasion of contracts will not interrupt pay and benefits, but teachers and union officials believe the move is a thinly veiled tactic to break the union and devalue teachers.
Dedicated activists in Quebec have received much praise for their 100+ days of straight protest, and deservedly so, but there is another movement—right here in the United States—that has remained vigilant for 478 days.
In Madison, Wisconsin, pro-union protesters occupied the Capitol rotunda and the surrounding property, and committed themselves to a twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week effort to recall Governor Scott Walker.
Last night, that effort fell short, but rather than sitting around, feeling sorry for themselves, some activists say they are ready to continue fighting for their causes.
“It will be a struggle but we are not going to give up,” said Craig Spaulding of Madison, who demonstrated often at the Capitol.
He says the fight to restore collective-bargaining powers for state workers continues.
“Many people have said there’s this recall fatigue setting in and we won’t be able to keep up this intensity but we will, we will for the rest of our lives,” he said.
Other observers, many of them Occupy Wall Street activists, have called for more radical change, partly because the institutions—the Democratic Party and elections—that historically housed the left have proven themselves to either be inadequate or hopelessly corrupt.
For example, Mother Jones posted a disturbing chart showing the difference in out-of-state contributions between the two parties. Challenger Tom Barrett (D) received 26 percent of his $3.9 million in total donations from out-of-state contributors, whereas Governor Walker received a total of $30.5 million, 66 percent of which came from out-of-state sources.
When out-of-state anti-union parties obliterate the autonomy of a state—strange, considering conservatives believe so deeply in those states’ rights—and the Democratic Party remains largely complicit in the gutting of public sector unions, where are pro-union protesters to go?
Their choices in the election booth are bleak.
Walker’s challenger, Tom Barrett (D), surrendered the narrative early on to Walker when he stated he was not labor’s candidate. Ditto on austerity. Even though Wisconsin’s corporations are taxed at a rate below the national average, Barrett never challenged Walker’s rationale that the state is “out of money.”
As a result, Democratic voters were experiencing some serious ennui about their candidate. 47 percent of Barrett’s backers said their vote was more against Walker than it was for Barrett.
As for voters, the hostility toward unions (52 percent of voters polled said they supported the changes to the collective bargaining law), can easily be explained by the facts that fewer people than ever belong to unions, and Democrats have joined in on the union-bashing, oftentimes embracing the same “special interests” narrative first shaped by the right.
Alienation from the traditional leftist institutions was the cause of the original occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol, followed by a slew of occupations all across the country and the world. Burnt by the Republicans and abandoned by the Democrats, protesters turned to nontraditional forms of protest, including camping in public spaces and refusing to leave.
Tuesday’s loss is unquestioningly demoralizing, but it is unsurprising. Pro-union supporters were outspent $30 million to $3 million. Wisconsin is under siege by anti-worker forces. Some view that as a rallying clarion, while others say they’re ready to pack up and go home.
“People were still voting,” said Russell Novkov, who had spent the day as a volunteer worker at a polling station in the city. “I can’t believe they called the election before everyone got a chance to be heard.”
In fact, Walker won by eight percentage points, a bigger victory than in 2010 when he was first elected governor.
Novkov, who said he regularly participated in anti-Walker protests outside the state capitol, vowed to be back on the protest line Wednesday morning.
But others seemed exhausted by the 16-month-long fight.
“I’m done,” said Mary Swenson, a public school teacher in Madison.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about what Wisconsin’s election means for November, but little emphasis on what this means for voters and voters’ choices.
Yeah, okay, President Obama might secure Wisconsin in November, but what will Obama do for unions and their supporters? If the recent union-gutting history of the Democratic Party is a barometer, pro-worker voters are in for a tough decision.
But if pro-worker protesters in Wisconsin, and all across the country, have proven anything, it’s that they often thrive when pushed into the margins of society. It was only after Wisconsin’s dark hours in which Walker all but eliminated collective bargaining rights for public workers than tens of thousands of protesters launched the original Occupy.
The dedication of these pro-worker protesters is unquestionable. However, what is up for debate is the soundness of traditional institutions, such as the Democratic Party and corporate cash-soaked elections, which are simply not worthy of these individuals.
Occupy Wall Street’s Twitter echoed these grievances in the wake of the Wisconsin loss.
“WORKING people are forced to fight for what they have or left to fall in giant gaping holes by both major parties,” the account re-tweeted from a supporter.
“Any more elections? Or just auctions…” OWS tweeted, and most simply:
“If no one goes to jail, he’s a fake and a fraud”—Matt Taibbi, during the #F29 “Shutdown the Corporations” gathering at Bryant Park, in response to what he thinks of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation.
Last month, around fifty protesters marched from Zuccotti Park to 120 Broadway, where New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is located. Along the way, the activists, most of them from the “Foreclose the Banks” group within Occupy Wall Street, chanted the following radical sentiment:
“How can we help? How can we help? How can we help?”
After Schneiderman was charged with investigating the pandemic of fraud and corruption on Wall Street post-bubble burst—he chairs President Obama’s task force—and while millions of Americans were being kicked out of their homes, he told The American Prospect, “I need everyone out there to help us make this investigation as strong and thorough as it needs to be.”
This protest was Occupy stepping up to volunteer.
Truthout’s Jesse Myerson reported on what happened next.
Fourteen petitioners, mostly dressed in business attire, sat in a circle on the floor and said they would leave only when granted an agreement from the AG’s office for a public forum on the task force.
“What are the obstacles?” Han Shan raised as one question to be addressed at the proposed forum. “And why is it under-staffed?” Deliberations in the group brought about consensus that they would not set a time limit for the forum. One person had suggested 30 days, while another worried that this would be unreasonable and proposed a more generous 90-day window.
In the middle of negotiations with the AG’s office, the building manager appeared and read a prepared statement, instructing the protesters to vacate the premises immediately or risk arrest.
Four activists: Brett Goldberg, Daniel Scott, Henry Harris and Jordan Stern, volunteered for arrest rather than abandon negotiations.
Now, this same group, along with Campaign for a Fair Settlement, plans to continue placing pressure on the Obama administration to support investigating and prosecuting Wall Street for its crimes.
Foreclose the Banks will meet this evening (6–9 pm) at Bryant Park to coincide with an Obama fundraiser.
“This is our attempt to continue to put the pressure on the Obama administration to actually deliver on their promise of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which was formed early this year with the promise of holding accountable those who brought down the global economy,” says Alexis Goldstein, a former Wall Street firm employee.
Goldstein says the coalition wishes to draw attention to the fact that the task force doesn’t even have the $55 million it was promised to prosecute the crimes of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, “Obama is raising hundreds of millions for his re-election campaign,” says Goldstein.
Protesters insist the president could throw his weight behind real, meaningful actions that could help homeowners.
For example, the coalitions implores Obama to more aggressively staff and support the mortgage crisis commission, push for criminal indictments (and not just civil judgments), fire Federal Housing Finance Agency head Ed Demarco for his “unwillingness to grant principal reduction measures to Fannie & Freddie Homeowners,” and stand with America’s 11 million underwater homeowners while exploring additional measures needed to rejuvenate the housing market.
“Years after systemic wrongdoing by Wall Street destroyed America’s housing market, not a single major bank or executive has been prosecuted or held accountable,” said Nish Suvarnakar of the Campaign for a Fair Settlement. “The president has refused to dismiss the head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who stands in the way of assistance for millions of Americans. It’s time the president stood up for Main Street and homeowners—that’s why we’re joining F-the Banks and turning out on Monday.”
Over the past few weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have organized marches and other symbols of unity for ongoing status quo–shattering movements in Quebec and Mexico. As a result, the protest communities in North America have expressed unprecedented levels of solidarity between activists, who often share nothing but a common language of struggle and solidarity.
It’s easy for, say, an NYU student buried in debt to inherently understand obstacles facing a Quebec student (whopping 82 percent tuition hikes over the next five years), or for a Quebecer to discern why the Yo Soy 132 movement in Mexico doesn’t want a monopolistic party that ruled for seven decades to once again return to power, or glean why students aren’t crazy about the idea of Televisa and TV Azteca controlling 95 percent of Mexico’s TV market.
Corporate and political monopolies and the consequences of austerity are realities all too familiar to young people, whether they live in Quebec or the United States or Mexico.
NYC March in solidarity with the Quebec student strike (May 22, 2012)
To hear the motivations for the 100 days of protest launched by the “red square” revolutionaries—the symbol chosen because they are “in the red” because of student debt—is to hear echoes of student movements within the US.
Student activists from CUNY explained why they choose to protest at Alternet:
For the majority of us seeking degrees, higher education is indeed dying a slow and painful death. Too little considered, however, is the role we as students are playing in its demise. The combination of tuition hikes, a lack of democratic governance in our schools, ballooning student debt, and the intimate relationship between our financial institutions and our academic ones are certainly killing higher education—but what is killing the student movement is our own complacency with these policies. While here in America, students on many campuses have limited themselves to mourning, elsewhere in the world they have taken to the streets—and there is much we can learn from their activism, in order to better our own.
That “take to the streets” mantra appears to be gaining momentum.
Last night, OWS groups marched to show support for university students in Quebec. Around 200 demonstrators in New York City gathered at Union Square and proceeded on a route through the city, ending in Times Square. (photo by @Jeff5mith)
There were some reports of aggressive behavior from police. Independent journalist Jesse Myerson tweeted, “Officer St. Jacques. Badge 2433. Keeps hitting me with his club. Told him I’m press. ‘I don’t really care.’ #again”
The Village Voice’s Nick Pinto interviewed protesters who identify strongly with the red square movement.
Gregory Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate at Stonybrook who teaches in the SUNY system, said it’s a message he can identify with. His students are facing their own five-year “rational tuition increase.”
“A lot of my students are the first in their family to go to college,” Rosenthal said. “All these kids are working their way through college, working two or three jobs. You might say ‘SUNY’s only $7,000 a year,’ but for a lot of students, especially students who are mothers or fathers, that’s a lot.”
Intra-country expressons of solidarity are also plentiful. Between seventy and 100 people from Occupy Winnipeg gathered at the legislature, banging loudly on pots and pans, a strategy of disruption first adopted by the Quebecers. Another hundred members of Occupy Edmonton demonstrated in Churchill Square Sunday, and hundreds more marched in an Occupy Toronto protest.
“I’m hoping with the momentum and the energy in Quebec it will inspire people not just in Alberta but Canada-wide to stand up and fight for the values of socialism,” said David Laing, one of the organizers of the event.
“Education is a right. And we will not give up the fight.”
“Solidarity with Montreal!” a headline in the Occupied Oakland Tribune exclaims.
It is now time for us to extend our solidarity to our comrades in Montreal and work to inspire the same solidarity and desire to disrupt business as usual in our friends, families and neighbors.
Keep striking and don’t ever stop!
Infinite solidarity with the infinite social strike!
An article titled “Solidarity With the Mexican Spring” is posted at the official website for OWS, and organizers from Occupy Boston constructed a flyer for a solidarity event that reads, “Solidarity Rally: For Quebec & Mexican Students. Come show support for North American students in their struggles for education!”
The spirit of solidarity between Mexican and US protesters has actually existed since Occupy’s first days. Back in November of last year, Mexican students sent a statement of support to Occupy Oakland:
Here we drew one of the first lines of struggle against global capitalism in our laboratory of resistance. With humility in front of you, our comrades, we would like to tell of our experience. Encampments and occupations are common in Mexico and comrades joke about the lack of space to put up more encampments. But this isn’t by chance and was won through struggle. One recent example: in 2006, in the state of Oaxaca, the local teachers union setup an encampment in the center of Oaxaca City during their annual collective bargaining. One morning, on the 14th of june, the state police tried to take down the camp of the teachers and the city rose up, they not only retook the plaza but kicked the police out of the city. The Commune of Oaxaca was born on this day and the following 6 months transformed Oaxaca and the participants in the uprising. Like you, they also had problems of repression and representation. Against the repression they put up thousands of barricades each night to protect the population from the murderous paramilitaries of Governor Ulises Ruiz, who they struggled to kick out. Against the lying representation of the media, they took over their television and radio studios, collectivized the resources and began to have conversations that had never been had by those means.
We are following closely everything that is happening in Oakland. The police kill youth like Oscar Grant and gravely injure anti-war veterans such as Scott Olsen. The media lies about the popular participation in the movement and they propagate superficial divisions. The self-defense and sefl-representation [sic] of our movements are essential to our collective struggle. We invite you to learn from our experiences and we hope to learn from yours. Together and in concert we are toppling this miserable system.
The statement closes, “In our stories you will see your story.”
In times of great economic disparity, governments have a habit of becoming much more fascist in behavior, and those who suffer under the subsequent approval of right-wing policies are usually immigrants and minorities.
But in this case, the opposite is true (at least, in part, among activists). Rather than slipping into nationalistic tribes, anti-austerity protesters have extended their hands across their country’s borders in the spirit of solidarity. These students refuse to believe, for example, the narrative that Mexican immigrants are the cause of all their woes, and instead they see these southern students as being part of their class, the 99 percent, and together they face a showdown with their 1 percent overlords, who continue to chop away at their already meager means.
It’s been more than eight months since the NYPD started arresting Occupy Wall Street activists, and yet the first cases have only now reached the court system for trial.
That glacial process is one of many reasons would-be activists are scared off from OWS-like demonstrations. Many don’t have months to set aside strictly to fight legal battles due to obligations like jobs, school and/or caring for their children.
Yet, for those who have chosen, or been forced into, a situation where they did have to face down the NYPD in court, OWS has been accumulating many victories.
A judge recently threw out the third case in a row against an OWS protester, this time for the alleged crime of “impeding pedestrian traffic” during a Zuccotti Park protest back in March.
The judge found the summons to be “insufficient” and ordered it be thrown out.
The Village Voice’s Nick Pinto:
The next day, another criminal case in which video evidence on YouTube appears to contradict the police version of events was set for trial, but the case was continued because the police witness failed to show.
The whole witnesses-not-showing phenomenon has become an ongoing problem for the NYPD.
Yesterday, Sarah Maceda-Maciel, who had been charged with blocking traffic and failing to follow police orders on November 17, also had her case dismissed after a police witness failed to show.
Another case scheduled for trial yesterday resulted in the same outcome: another missing witness, so Emmet Kavanaugh of Philadelphia and his legal team will have to return to court in late October when maybe the witness will show up.
Pinto reports that, far from feeling jovial, many protesters see the rulings as “evidence that the NYPD never made the arrests with any intention of securing convictions.”
But these arrests did still preserve their intended consequences. The physical fear and intimidation of being beaten bloody by the NYPD, combined with the arduous, potentially life-ruining consequences of a legal battle, not to mention the on-going harassment of loyal Occupiers, are more than enough to scare individuals away from the OWS community.
This morning, the largest group of OWS cases (twenty-two) come to trial, and will be consolidated into four trials in Jury Part 7, the special section of the New York City Criminal Court created to solely handle Occupy-related cases. Today’s cases all stem from the first mass arrests on September 24 of last year, the same day Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper-sprayed peaceful demonstrators, Pinto notes.
Unlike the protesters in these twenty-two cases, Bologna was never forced to go to trial for assaulting protesters. Instead, he was transferred to work in Staten Island.
Meanwhile, the OWS librarians have sued New York City in federal court over the destruction of the much-loved OWS library, which included thousands of books, during a late-night raid at Zuccotti. (OWS library October 26, 2011, photo by Allison Kilkenny)
The suit names Mayor Bloomberg, police commissioner Ray Kelly and sanitation commissioner John Doherty.
According to the lawsuit (filed late last week), the city confiscated 3,600 books on November 15, 2011, but the city returned only 1,003 of the books.
The librarians posted this statement at their website:
We believe that the raid and its aftermath violated our First-Amendment rights to free expression, Fourth-Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, and Fourteenth-Amendment rights to due process, as well as the laws of the City of New York regarding the vouchsafing of seized property. We are demanding compensatory damages for the lost/destroyed books and equipment, which we have estimated at at least $47,000. In addition, because we believe the seizure and destruction of the books went beyond negligence to constitute a reckless and callous indifference to our constitutional rights, we are demanding punitive damages of at least $1,000.
A university student holds the Mexican flag during a protest against Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and to demand balance in the media coverage of the presidential race in Mexico City May 28, 2012. The “YoSoy132” movement was organized by students to create awareness of Mexico’s current political situation and media censorship, local media reported. Reuters/Edgard Garrido
A coalition of thousands of mainly university students, unionized workers, and farmers in Mexico City have taken to the streets to demand greater freedom of speech and also to protest the possible return of power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
One banner read, “I have a brain, I won’t vote for the PRI.”
The PRI is a member of the Socialist International, but don’t let the name fool you—the party is actually quite “centrist” (the term pundits usually use to describe center-right parties) in most of its policies. PRI’s main rival is the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). (Mexican Spring poster in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, via @mexicoOWS).
Dubbed the “Yo Soy 132” movement (Twitter users can follow protest updates by searching #YoSoy132), or the “Mexican Spring” by observers, this latest wave of protests marks the third large student demonstration in less than a week.
The name “I Am 132” symbolizes the continuation of the original demonstration by 131 students during Peña Nieto’s visit to the Jesuit-run Ibero-American University (UIA).
“Our main goal is to seek greater democracy within Mexican media,” said fellow activist, Rodrigo Serrano.
The name, “YoSoy132” alludes to a group of students from the Universidad Iberamericana, who heckled PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto during a recent visit to the university that chased him off the premises.
After the incident, PRI leaders accused the Iberoamericana students of being intolerant, inconsiderate “stooges” paid to protest against Peña Nieto by the leftist PRD party.
Students claim their heckling of Peña Nieto was a grassroots event, uninspired or funded by any political party.
In particular, students have expressed frustration with the “monopolization” of Mexican politics and media. The example New America Media provides is a company named Televisa, which along with TV Azteca, controls 95 percent of Mexico’s TV market.
Similarly, students believe PRI has a monopoly of sorts on Mexican politics. The party ruled for seven decades (1929-2000), but was defeated by the National Action Party (PAN) then, which has ruled for past 12 years. The PRI now has a very good shot of winning the July 1 elections.
Furthermore, students see these two monopolistic forces as being in cahoots with one another. Documents obtained by Proceso magazine suggest Peña Nieto paid Televisa for favorable media coverage while he was governor of Mexico State.
Proceso journalist Jenaro Villamil spoke to the Washington Post about Peña Nieto:
In his books and articles, which are being cited by Peña Nieto’s rivals, Villamil asserts that as governor, Peña Nieto gave millions to Televisa in advertising contracts to guarantee maximum exposure on the network’s programming, allegations the candidate rejects.
Much like the Occupy movement, which operates outside the political system, the Yo Soy 132 movement has not yet called for students to throw their support behind the PRI’s rival party, PRD.
This reality has led some political analysts, such as Hector Faya, to claim Mexico City–oriented protests will have little impact on election outcomes. However, the protests could impact candidates’ political agendas.
“I am not with any party, but I am sick of so much corruption,” said Eduardo Nolasco, a 22-year-old student.
“We are fed up of so many lies and of the hypocrisy of Pena Nieto and the media,” added Isabel Leyva, a 53 year-old house wife who was accompanied by her daughter, a student.
Police said there were more than 40,000 protesters at the demonstration.
Like in the case of Occupy, the establishment media has been somewhat dismissive of Yo Soy 132 thus far. The LA Times described it as “not quite a moment,” but at least credited the students with “shaking up the presidential campaign.”
Yo Soy 132 might confuse some observers, just as Occupy baffled many witnesses, because it’s a general rejection of the status quo. That big, ambitious agenda of rejecting huge institutions such as corporate media could overwhelm many, which explains why the initial reaction to these kinds of movements is hostility and belittlement. Many may subconsciously feel it’s easier to mock than to join and fail, or be crushed by police.
Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II summarized to the LA Times why these kinds of youth-led revolutions are always a good thing for a nation that has grown complacent in its corruption: “The real miracle is that a complete generation that was condemned to apathy, to only observe, and to individualism, is once again making the nation’s destiny their own.”
Some videos about Yo Soy 132 (en español, but good crowd shots):
The Occupy Wall Street movement has been quietly racking up legal victories in court with the third case in a row being thrown out by a judge Wednesday due to an “insufficient” summons.
Occupy’s “freedom fairy,” Marni Halasa was ticketed by the NYPD for “impeding pedestrian traffic” during a protest at Zuccotti Park back in March.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that I was impeding pedestrian traffic with silk chiffon wings and Rollerblades,” said Halasa, who was ready to plead not guilty and request her day in court for the alleged offense.
“I wanted the case to go further to really challenge the law.”
Halasa added that she felt like her First Amendment rights had been violated.
The excellent Nick Pinto over at the Village Voice has been following Occupy’s legal battles in court and summarized the other two OWS victories.
In a single month, Occupy secured three court wins, beginning with the case of Alexander Arbuckle.
Arbuckle was arrested while photographing a march on January 1 and was charged with disorderly conduct for standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic.
That was the police version of the story—told under oath.
As it turns out, Officer Elisheba Vera lied to the court. Arbuckle’s own photographs from the evening place him squarely on the sidewalk during the march, and all video from the NYPD’s Technical Research Assistance Unit also showed Arbuckle standing on the sidewalk.
Additionally, livestreamer Tim Pool’s video from the march also corroborated Arbuckle’s version of events.
Pool’s video of the event (beginning around minute 31:50 and ending with the arrests around minute 35:00).
Pinto reports that this arrest is particularly ironic given Arbuckle doesn’t identify with the Occupy movement and in fact was working on an assignment for class to document the officers assigned to police it.
Arbuckle remarked, “I felt the police had been treated unfairly on the media.”
In “another black eye for the police,” Pinto reported on the second trial in which the NYPD’s version of events unraveled.
Jessica Hall, an OWS protester arrested on Novemeber 17, was charged with the ol’ reliable “disorderly conduct” for obstructing traffic.
During trial, Sergeant Michael Soldo told the court that he arrested Hall because she was blocking traffic.
But Soldo later admitted under cross-examination, and the NYPD’s own video confirmed, that it was the NYPD metal barricades that prevented vehicles from passing.
After Soldo’s testimony, Hall’s lawyers moved to dismiss, and Judge Matthew Sciarrino agreed that the prosecution hadn’t made its case.
The Village Voice:
“The police arrested people willy-nilly without any determination that they had actually committed the offenses that they were charged with,” Stolar told the Voice afterwards. “That’s what tends to criminalize protest activity.”
Across the country, Occupy protesters have achieved similar legal victories.
Back in January, about one-fourth of the cases filed against Occupy Los Angeles protesters were dismissed because of paperwork errors by police, and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who was arrested and charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration and Resisting Arrest during the NYPD’s eviction of OWS from Zuccotti on November 15, also had his charges dismissed.
Charges of a felony robbery and hate crime against three protesters from Occupy Oakland: Nneka Crawford, Michael Davis and Randolph Willkins were also dismissed.
Either these dismissals are the result of a pandemic of sloppy police work and unfortunate errors in the ticketing process, or officers have been knowingly and arbitrarily arresting protesters on trumped-up charges, and in some cases, later lying about it under oath in court.
As news of these arrests and dismissals trickled in over the past eight months, it might have been tempting to label these unjust arrests as isolated incidents. However, when one steps back to examine the big picture, it becomes clear there has been a systematic effort by police forces all across the country to stifle dissent, even if that means lying under oath in court.
The act of being arrested is not inherently an indication of guilt, and yet when an individual has his or her name blasted in the headlines as being an arrestee, the public automatically assumes guilt. Later, a two-sentence retraction hidden at the back of the newspaper is cold comfort to a vindicated citizen.
As Occupiers were being arrested over these past eight months, the public perhaps understandably, although naïvely, believed these protesters were committing crimes. But as these dismissals continue to occur, it’s clear the overwhelming majority of Occupy arrestees are innocent, and guilty only of trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Austerity protests have become part of the new global landscape, a reality underscored by a wave of recent protests in Philadelphia and Quebec.
More than 1,000 people rallied Wednesday to protest the Philadelphia District’s plans to “transform schools,” a pleasant euphemism generally meaning school closures and mass layoffs. The Philly district plans to possibly lay off 2,700 blue-collar workers, including every member of SEIU B2BJ Local 1201, the city school union representing bus assistants, cleaners, mechanics and other workers.
Philly.com reports that all these workers have received pink slips and could be let go by the end of the year.
Eleven men and three women were arrested during Wednesday’s protest, including B2BJ president George Ricchezza, union health and welfare administrator Dennis Biondo and retired teachers Lisa Haver and Ronald Whitehorne, among others. They were later released and are to be arraigned in June.
The individuals were arrested for “clogging traffic,” according to a local CBS affiliate.
Earlier in the month, the school system announced that it expects to close forty public schools next year and sixty-four by 2017, shocking figures that received little national attention, prompting Black Agenda Report’s Bruce A. Dixon to publish an article titled, “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?”
Shannon Lane, a bus aide for 16 years, faces being laid off at the end of the year. She’s angry that “wealthy corporations aren’t being taxed fairly, and public schools are being cut.”
And she doesn’t like the plan.
“This is privatization,” Lane said. “Children will lose.”
Students’ being on the losing side of austerity has become something of a global theme, prompting a massive student-led backlash in Quebec that so terrified officials that the government essentially tried to ban protests.
Needless to say, this censorship strategy did not work.
For over 100 days now, protests have raged in response to Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his Liberal Party’s plans to raise tuition fees at universities by a whopping 82 percent, or $1,700, over five years, a move that would price many students out of an education.
The police have responded by making mass arrests. More than 300 protesters were arrested overnight on Sunday following the passage of the draconian law, Bill 78, that places restrictions on demonstrations and suspended classes at strike-bound universities, the AP reports.
Wednesday night, the mass arrests continued with police taking 400 people into custody, alleging that some protesters threw stones at officers following a large protest.
In perhaps the understatement of the century, the AP reports, “Rather than quelling the unrest, it appears to have made things worse for the embattled premier.”
A poll released this week by the Journal de Montreal showed an 18 percent shift in favor of the students.
Last night’s demonstration was the thirtieth mass demonstration since the protests began at Parc Emilie-Gamelin.
May 22 marked one of the largest protests ever to be recorded in Quebec’s history with anywhere between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of students taking to the streets, depending on the news sources.
The event also served as a demonstration of students’ ability to organize and defy the government’s attempt to stifle dissent.
Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said Wednesday she’s willing to speak with student groups, but warned they must be prepared to make concessions.
She’s not willing to eliminate the province’s proposed tuition hikes, according to The Canadian Press.
“I’m not giving up. I’m very tenacious, very determined,” she said, CP reported. “I want to talk to them, and it’s up to them to take some steps so that we might talk.”
If negotiations fail or are delayed, students warn they will continue protesting into the summer tourist season, potentially disrupting cash cows like the Montreal Jazz Fest, Just for Laughs and the Formula One Grand Prix.
“Rich douchebags are going to be disrupted by night demos,” activist Jaggi Singh told CP.