Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.
Demonstrators flash the peace sign during an anti-NATO protest march in Chicago May 20, 2012. Four police officers were injured and 45 demonstrators arrested after baton-wielding police clashed with anti-war protesters marching on the NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday, police said. Reuters/Eric Thayer
Check back for updates. This is an early report.
NATO has been a weird mix of two normally separate and entirely autonomous events: permitted marches, run usually by unions, and the black bloc’s runs, which are complete anarchy by anarchists who lead police on wild goose chases through the city.
First there was the event organized by National Nurses United at Daley Plaza, an entirely peaceful demonstration of around a thousand individuals, including rocker Tom Morello, who demanded the US government start properly funding health and stop funding death with an ever-expanding military budget. Also, the nurses were pushing the Robin Hood tax, a small trading tax on Wall Street that would raise badly needed revenue.
Contrast the totally adorable image of middle-aged nurses dancing around to James Brown in their red NNU shirts and Robin Hood green masks and hats with the chaos of the black bloc run Saturday night. Contrary to the stereotypical image of the property damaging anarchists presented by the media, this group appeared satisfied to merely race around the city, leading the Chicago police on an unending parade.
It was the police who first escalated the violence by clubbing protesters across their heads with billy clubs, roughly arresting activists, and acting extremely aggressively toward media. For example, shoving press back towards the sidewalk as they attempted to photograph arrests, whilst shouting “Back the fuck up!”
Several individuals were arrested Saturday in a brutal fashion that settled the brief debate over if the CPD would be a warmer, friendlier version of the NYPD, which adopted a legendarily aggressive management style with Occupy Wall Street.
Much praise has been heaped upon the CPD for their ginger approach toward policing protesters. However, while the CPD might have initially lacked the bash-you-in-the-face forthrightness of the NYPD, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some seriously creepy stuff happening behind the scenes.
To select just one story: In the early hours of Sunday, livestreamers Tim Pool and Luke Rudkowski were pulled over by the CPD, and had their vehicle surrounded by police, who drew their weapons upon the activists.
Later, police said Pool and Rudkowski’s vehicle matched the description of another vehicle they sought.
Saturday was Chicago’s first taste of police brutality, and the weird duality of the marches continued into the next day when veterans and thousands of protesters peacefully marched to NATO, or as close as they could get to the conference, anyway, in order for the vets to return their service medals.
The black bloc was present then, too—actually leading the march at times—but all was peaceful until after the veterans returned their medals in a highly dramatic, and at times, extremely moving fashion. Since the way into the NATO conference itself was blocked, veterans threw their medals in the general direction of McCormick Place.
One emotional veteran addressed the crowd, “Looking out at this peace-loving crowd, I’m convinced my daughters will have peace.”
Veteran Scott Olsen, perhaps best known for being severely injured by police during an Occupy Oakland march, returned his service medals, as well.
“These medals once made me feel good,” said Olsen, adding, “I came back to reality. I don’t like these anymore.”
It was after the veterans spoke to the crowd that police ramped up their official policy of unbridled aggression. The veterans climbed down from the stage and dispersed, leaving the remaining crowd to mill about as they tried to figure out what to do next.
Initially, no order for dispersal was given, when suddenly police arrived in what can only be described as souped-up riot gear that gave the officers the appearance of Storm Troopers.
CPD appeared ready for a violent confrontation with protesters, which of course became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Police attacked protesters, clubbing them across their heads with billy clubs, and generally shoving activists around.
At least two protesters were badly injured.
“Just saw protesters gushing blood from head,” independent journalist John Knefel tweeted, “Photog witnessed it, called it terrifying.”
Later, Knefel tweeted, “2 protesters bleeding from head being treated by medics in alley.”
The infamous LRAD, or sound cannon, also made an appearance. Additionally, independent journalist Jesse Myerson tweeted that he saw Chicago police dolling out ear plugs among themselves, and protesters tweeted they too were suiting up with earplugs and gas masks after several witnesses noticed police and firefighters donning masks.
(This story is still developing. Check back for updates.)
The Chicago police wasted no time harassing protesters Wednesday evening when they raided a Bridgeport apartment complex without a valid warrant and detained up to nine people without cause. The individuals have been identified as NATO activists, and the NLG quickly responded to the arrests.
“We’ve called police officials at every level trying to find out where they were being held. We were denied any information at all about any people being arrested, let alone a raid happening last night. So essentially these people were disappeared for more than twelve hours until we could finally locate them,” said NLG spokesman Kris Hermes.
Lawyers from The NLG were allowed to meet with nine individuals and reported that they were in low spirits, confused about why they were arrested and shackled at both their hands and feet at the meeting. No charges have been filed against them almost 24 hours after their arrest and an Illinois States Attorney at the station refused to meet with the NLG lawyers.
The theme of harassment continued over the weekend when a memo allegedly from the Chicago Police Department Office of International Relations, marked not intended for general distribution was posted online.
The three-page document outlines press behavior that will and will not be tolerated, including normally acceptable media maneuvers that will no longer be considered acceptable and actually might be grounds for arrest.
“No ‘cutting’ in and out of police lines will be permitted, or ‘going up against their backs,’” the document states, reportedly quoting Debra Kirby, chief of the Chicago Police Department Office of International Relations. “Those who follow protesters onto private property to document their actions are also will be [sic] subject to arrest if laws are broken.”
Weaving in and out of police lines is a critical right for journalists, particularly photojournalists, who frequently need to pass police lines to document police actions, most often arrests.
Upon arrest, media will go through the same booking process as anyone else, though “release of equipment depends on what part the equipment played in the events that led to the arrest,” the memo vaguely states.
Most absurdly, Kirby appears to place the onus of getting arrested on the press.
“She urges media to keep safety in mind and warns them to ‘not become the story,’” the memo warns, as though journalists are nothing more than spotlight-craving narcissists hellbent on enduring the thoroughly unpleasant experience of getting arrested and acquiring a police record in order to reap the lavish rewards of blogging about it later.
The ominous warnings to press and CPD policy of harassment and intimidation of protesters didn’t stop around a thousand people and a decently sized media presence from flooding Daley Plaza Friday afternoon for the National Nurses United rally.
The NNU gathered to demand the creation of a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street. Members wore red National Nurses United (NNU) shirts accompanied with green Robin Hood masks and hats in keeping with the theme of a small trading tax in order to raise badly needed revenue.
“[It’s] less than half a penny tax on financial transactions,” said Casey Hobbs, a registered nurse for thirty-seven years, adding, “With the billions of dollars we’d get from that, we’re gonna heal America. We’re going to do that by providing Medicare for all, we’re going to provide college educations, we’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, and put people back to work, and give back to the 99 percent.” (photo: Casey Hobbs)
Speakers, including rocker Tom Morello, regaled the crowd before a separate environmental march left the plaza for a non-permitted march.
Occupied Chicago Tribune editor Joe Macare witnessed at least one arrest during the procession, a young man named Henry who was reportedly arrested for wearing a mask. Some protesters believe Henry was specifically targeted by CPD. (photo by Joe Macare)
Friday kicks off a weekend of anti-NATO protests, including a “Say No to the War and Poverty Agenda” scheduled to take place at Petrillo Bandshell on Sunday, which includes a march afterward to McCormick Place. The event includes participants such as Jesse Jackson, SEIU Health Care Illinois/Indiana, the United National Antiwar Coalition, Chicago Teachers Union, National Nurses United, United Electrical Workers Western Region, Malik Mujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition and Veterans for Peace, among many others.
Afghanistan and Iraq veterans also plan to converge on Chicago that Sunday in Grant Park to march to the NATO summit where they will ceremoniously return their medals to NATO’s generals.
A call to action released by Iraq Veterans Against the War states, “We were awarded these medals for serving in the Global War on Terror, a war based on lies and failed policies.” Calling this a march for justice and reconciliation, veterans say they will mobilize to “demand that NATO immediately end the occupation of Afghanistan and related economic and social injustices, bring U.S. war dollars home to fund our communities, and acknowledge the rights and humanity of all who are affected by these wars.”
In this May 1, 2012, photo, Occupy Chicago activists block the entrance to a Bank of America branch as part of a May Day demonstration in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Even though the G8 participants have fled the great city of Chicago in order to bunker down at Camp David, organizers and protesters continue to diligently prepare for the other major conference scheduled for this week, NATO.
Protest plans were announced by activists during a press conference held in an empty warehouse loft on Chicago’s South Side last week, where press gathered to hear the next steps for the Occupy movement. The conference, organized by Occupy press committee member Rachael Perrotta, and speakers from Occupy affiliated groups, included the speakers’ listing grievances against NATO and also what the public can expect for the week-long protests.
“Why has Rahm Emanuel and world business Chicago brought NATO to our city?” said Zoe Sigman of Occupy Chicago. “A city whose communities are crumbling and schools are underfunded? Whose clinics are being closed? Whose jobs are disappearing and whose homes are being stolen by the banks?”
“All the demands that we’re making—for social justice, economic equality, against the wars and occupations—they’re all linked by opposition to a system that’s out of control,” Ashley Smith told the Chicago Tribune.
Smith is one of the out-of-towners who traveled to Chicago for the summit.
Kevin Rambo, 19, is another visitor representing Occupy San Diego, who told the Trib, “There’s a revitalized activist community because of the Occupy movement, for the most part. Because of the growing number of people who are getting involved, I couldn’t really not protest against NATO.”
Jan Rodolfo, Midwest director of National Nurses United (NNU), an organization of 170,000 nurses across the country and around the world, explained how nurses all over the world are coming to Chicago to protest against—what she explained as—the austerity measures of the G8.
“Students drowning in student loan debt, patients unable to refill their pain mediations and unable to afford health insurance,” Rodolfo said. “These are not the policies discussed in the G8 abstract, but affect our communities.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel briefly went to war with the NNU last week when he demanded the organization move its scheduled May 18 rally with musician Tom Morello from Daley Plaza to a far less visible location, despite the facts that the nurses have possessed a protest permit for quite a while and the plaza has served as a traditional public venue for rallies in Chicago.
Emanuel backed off that decision following protests by the nurses and public supporters, and criticism from Morello.
Rodolfo says the NNU will also be supporting a proposed Robin Hood tax on investment trades of fifty cents on every hundred dollars of trade.
Another major march planned for NATO week has been organized by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and Andy Thayer and the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8), who will lead a procession to the NATO summit at McCormick Place on May 20. Organizers hope thousands of people will turn out to support the veterans as they hand over their service medals to military NATO generals in order to show their opposition to future war plans in the Middle East, as well as the terrible legacy of the “Global War on Terror.”
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) member Aaron Hughes will lead the demonstration. An Iraq war veteran, Hughes emphasized his negative experiences during his tours overseas and the lack of results as funds continue to be diverted away from the social issues within society.
“These Generals that are tasked with the care of service members are not living up to that task,” Hughes said. “And these are the same soldiers that sacrifice themselves everyday for them. How are they to build a democracy for others in Afghanistan?”
“A wrong has occurred. And we live with that wrong every single day,” Hughes added. “We don’t want to be part of a mistake any longer.”
Occupy also plans to march on Boeing without a permit May 21 as part of a ten-day “direct action” plan, including free bus rides for protesters from other cities, and participation in a series of rallies and protests, culminating in a downtown march by thousands of individuals on Sunday.
Zoe Sigman, of Occupy Chicago, said the group would proceed without regard for city permits and aimed to “shut down” Boeing’s main office May 21, a Monday.
“Boeing is a corporate war criminal that profits off violence on a massive scale,” she said. “They’re receiving huge tax cuts from the city of Chicago while they’re making money off of death and war.”
John Dern, a Boeing spokesman, told the Chicago Tribune that the company was assessing the situation and completing its plans and would protect its people and property.
Protesters insist they are committed to a peaceful protest, despite the fact that the march does not have a permit.
Meanwhile, the police presence in Chicago is peaking as activists from out of state begin to flood the city. NBC Chicago reports that “squad cars and vans were seen on nearly every corner of the Mag Mile Sunday night,” adding it was unclear if the police were conducting some kind of drill or merely “show[ing] their numbers”.
The United States Postal Service has also taken the unusual measure of removing all mailboxes along the planned protest routes between Grant Park and McCormick Place, as well as boxes around the convention center itself where the world leaders will convene this weekend, NBC reports.
To those who had become accustomed to seeing the Occupy movement build its camps in squares and buildings, the occupation of a farm seemed a curious choice for the protest group. However, the truth is Occupy the Farm is arguably one of OWS’s most important offshoots—a movement that not only draws attention to the rotten corporate practices of Big Ag but also focuses on issues near and dear to Occupy’s heart, such as the environment and overall health of society.
Media coverage of superbugs, food recalls and pink slime meat have all brought the issue of bad food production to the forefront in American culture. Yet the issue of food sovereignty not only includes safety, but also access, and this concerns everyone even if they’re not a farmer. As the author and farmer Wendell Berry once wrote, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.”
According to the Obama administration’s Health Food Financing Initiative, about 23.5 million Americans live in low-income areas that are more than one mile from a supermarket. Unfortunately, sometimes the so-called “solution” proposed to alleviate this crisis is to build a Walmart, which will indeed sell produce, but that produce is unlikely to come from a local, sustainable farm. The result may be the alleviation of one problem (food deserts) but at the cost of worsening other areas (food safety, sustainability, environment) while quietly tolerating Walmarts already legendary mistreatment of workers.
Another way to think of food sovereignty is in terms of food security. La Via Campesina, an international movement that coordinates peasant organizations of small producers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America and Europe, defines food sovereignty as “the right of people to define agriculture and food policy, including prioritizing local agricultural production, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit.”
If our society eats better and ensures the sovereignty and dignity of the people growing our food, we all grow stronger.
Keeping with all of these themes, OTF activists moved onto the Gill Tract, a patch of land along the San Pablo Avenue in Albany on Earth Day, April 22, and they’re asking that UC Berkeley preserve part of the tract for agricultural study and urban farming. (photo by @chrismyee)
“We envision a future of food sovereignty,” OTF states on its website, “in which our East Bay communities make use of available land—occupying it where necessary—for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.”
But why this particular farm? OTF explains:
“These are the last acres of Class One soil left in the urbanized East Bay. Ninety percent of the original land has been paved over and developed, irreversibly contaminating the land.”
The group goes on to detail how students, professors and the community have fought for decades to save the land from development so they could use it for sustainable agriculture, but UC Berkeley currently administers the land and has it slated for rezoning and redevelopment, i.e., building supermarkets (ironically, a Whole Foods), parking lots, apartments etc. in 2013. Furthermore, the university uses the land to research corn genetics, which OTF claims can be done anywhere, as opposed to this unique site.
The standoff between UC Berkeley and OTF has led to some bizarre coverage of the farm rejuvenation, including the San Francisco Chronicle’s accusing the activist farmers of planting “renegade crops.”
Professor Migel Altieri, researcher at the Gill Tract for thirty-one years, planned to begin planting his research plot with his students this week, but an hour before he was scheduled to begin, the UC administration barricaded the Gill Tract with concrete, metal barriers and dozens of police who threatened farmers with “chemical agents and impact force,” according to Altieri.
View more videos at: http://nbcbayarea.com.
Despite the blockade, Altieri and the activist farmers did manage to plant a small part of his organic, drought-resistany crops that the activists say have benefited East Bay soup kitchens for years.
The university has taken the additional step of filing a lawsuit against fourteen of the occupiers, demanding they leave the property and reimburse the university for legal costs. (photo of police locking farm gates by @Chrismyee)
A UC spokesman named Dan Mogoluf said there is a “plan on the table” that would allow urban gardening and university research to continue, and in a statement released Tuesday, the university said leaders have sat down with protesters and “discussed steps that would allow for a peaceful end to the illegal occupation.”
One of the activist farmers, Lesley Haddock, wrote an article about her experience at Gill Tract for Occupy.com.
She opens the article by stating, “Before our project began, I had never planted a seed, but in the past two works, I have become a farmer.” (photo of activist farmers by @yvonnegraphy)
In the past two weeks, our little collection of activists and students has grown into a family of farmers. I am awed. As the time to begin the farm drew closer, I was the one in the meetings arguing that we could not just lead 200 urban dwellers onto a piece of land, shout “let’s plant!” and then expect them to build a farm from scratch. I was so wrong. Within 10 minutes of walking onto the Gill Tract, hundreds of people had spread out across the fields, weeding and tilling soil. By the end of the day, we had a farm. Two weeks later, more people have become farmers on this public land than had set foot on it in all the years of U.C. ownership combined.
Haddock closes by saying the farm aims to be an asset to the broader East Bay community.
“With thousands of local families living in food deserts with no access to fresh produce, this farm is an attempt to address the growing threat of food insecurity,” she writes, adding “In this spirit, today I wake up as a farmer.”
This is an early report. Check back for updates.
Updated 2:25 pm
A broad coalition of activist groups will descend on Charlotte, North Carolina, today to protest Bank of America’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Occupy Wall Street, one of the groups involved in the planning, expects thousands of protesters for a day of nonviolent protest, marches, and theatrics.
I previously wrote about the extraordinary measures the City Manager of Charlotte, Curt Walton, has taken to ensure that one of the largest banks in the world won’t have its peace disturbed by a group of enthusiastic citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. Walton has unilaterally declared the shareholder meeting an “extraordinary event,” meaning the city plans to restrict free speech and expand the ability of police and security forces to target activists.
In New York, the Bank of America–related arrests started early yesterday when police took into custody several Occupy protesters outside the Manhattan offices of BoA after demonstrators briefly blocked midtown traffic with a banner that read, “Bank of America, Bad for America.”
“My house was foreclosed by Bank of America after I lost my job,” Guillermo Calle, 49, an electrical engineer from Hempstead, Long Island, told the New York Daily News.
“It’s not a joke to live without a job. My family depends on me. We don’t deserve to be put on the street. I’ve tried to modify my mortgage five times with Bank of America, but they’d rather put it in a short sale.”
Jaron Benjamin, 32, of Brooklyn, was one of the people arrested.
“I’ve had an account with Bank of America since 1998—since I was old enough to have an account,” said [Benjamin], who said he would be closing his checkings and savings accounts.
“The government is always saying it don’t have the money to pay for social programs we need, but there’s the money right there!” he said, pointing at the bank tower.
Updates will be coming in throughout the day about specific actions, but for now, it seems protesters in North Carolina have gotten off to an early start (Twitter users can follow the unfolding story by searching the #99power hashtag).
Stephen Lerner, a member of the executive board at the Service Employees International Union, sent the Huffington Post the following update:
“We have moved into streets. Shutting down key intersections. Cops mellow so far.” (photo by @jwjnational)
Tim Franzen from Occupy Atlanta sent in the following photos from this morning’s march:
New Bottom Line, a national fair economy coalition, has been posting photos and crowd estimates of the protest all morning.
“Police estimate of #makeBoApay rally is 2000-3000,” NBL tweeted, before posting this photo of protesters chained to a giant “debt ball”:
The scene of thousands of protesters carrying signs, a giant debt ball, and BoA puppet, greeted shareholders who were forced to stand in long security lines.
“Security is so tight that stockholders are forced to wait in line outside. They cant help but see & hear the power of the people,” tweeted Occupy DC activist Sara Shaw. (photo outside BoA shareholder meeting by NBL)
Activist Michael Premo sent in the following photo to the Huffington Post from the environmental march converging at 5th and College outside the shareholder entrance.
Activists with ForecloseWallStreet are running livestream of today’s protests:
Update: NBL tweets several arrests have been made when protesters attempted to break past the barricades and get inside the meeting.
“Shareholder breaks through barricade; is promptly arrested as thousands chant ‘let Johnny in!,’ ” NBL tweeted, adding moments later, “Two more arrests are being reported at the barricades.”
NBL posted this photo of a protester named Johnny being arrested:
Jobs with Justice puts the arrest count at four individuals.
Update 10:50 AM: Reports of contentious interactions inside the shareholder meeting. One shareholder reportedly commented, “I’m of the judgment that Bank of America is a felon,” adding, “I don’t believe that Bank of America would be here today without the 99% of taxpayers that bailed out Bank of America. The $45 billion that you received pales behind the hundreds of billions that were guaranteed in bonds, commercial paper, and the list goes on and on.”
BoA CEO Brian Moynihan has thus far attempted to defuse the situation, but the critiques keep on coming. Earlier, Andrea Luquetta of the California Reinvestment Coalition spoke in favore of a resolution requiring Bank of America to conduct a review of its foreclosure practices and publish the results for shareholders.
“We’ve found that federal programs and rules have not stopped illegal foreclosure sales,” she said. “Housing counselors have consistently rated Bank of America as the worst servicer…even in violation of HAMP rules.”
“We obey the law every day,” Moynihan responded, adding that the bank is “cleaning up” problems.
Update 12:57 pm: While it’s clear there were many “activists,” in the words of the Observer business reporter Andrew Dunn, inside the BoA shareholder meeting, most of the proposals made by shareholders were ultimately defeated.
In a tweet that essentially summarizes the corporate-political landscape of the United States, Dunn wrote, “All management proposals pass, all shareholder proposals fail,” adding that the most support thrown behind a shareholder proposal (30 percent) was for more lobbying disclosure.
In addition to having their wishes ignored, some shareholders were turned away from the meeting entirely. Campaign for America’s Future spokeswoman Liz Rose sent the following anecdote to Huffpost:
I just got a call from the Bank of America’s shareholder meeting in Charlotte from Richard Eskow, a writer for the Campaign for America’s Future. Richard represents 82,000 shares of investor stock of BoA and yet he was turned away with 40 other shareholders just now and he and the others were asked to leave BoA property. Some shareholders who were turned away were elderly.
Update 2:25 pm: MoveOn tweeted some footage of the #99power march on BoA
A coalition of activists is gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week to protest at Bank of America’s headquarters and its annual shareholder meeting to “demand an end to their practices that are bankrupting our economy and wrecking our climate,” according to the NC Against Corporate Power website.
The group includes members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, homeowners, students, immigrants, environmentalists, workers, women’s groups and peace activists, among others.
NCACP lists a plethora of complaints against BoA, including the facts that the bank is the leader in home foreclosures and funding of the US coal industry, and a huge job-killer (100,000 workers have been let go over the past several years). Meanwhile, BoA’s top five executives rewarded themselves with over $500 million in bonuses, while the bank saddled students with a lifetime of debt.
And the checklist of grievances goes on.
On the morning of May 9, the groups plan to participate in “creative, mass non-violent direct action” against BoA, including a march to the doors of the shareholder meeting and surrounding areas. On the day of the meeting, NCACP states that people will have the opportunity to engage in a variety of creative educational, cultural, theatrical, visibility and nonviolent direct action activities.
In response to the planned actions, the city manager of Charlotte, Curt Walton, has unilaterally declared the shareholder meeting an “extraordinary event,” meaning the city plans to restrict free speech and expand the ability of police and security forces to target and profile the homeowners, worker, community members, students and immigrants who plan to demand justice from one of the largest banks in the country.
The label tightens restrictions on what protesters are allowed to do at such events and gives police more power to search people’s property (backpacks, coolers, etc.) in the vicinity. Certain items, such as scarves, are now banned from the event, and the possession of items like markers, hammers and spray paint is now grounds for arrest.
The extraordinary event tag’s origins date back to a city ordinance enacted in January in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Charlotte in September.
Thus far, it seems like the unprecedented measure adopted by the city manager has done little to ebb the tide of protester enthusiasm.
A dozen members of the Rainforest Action Network, Action NC, Greenpeace and the NC Coalition Against Corporate Power, among others, gathered in front of an unfurled banner that read, “Duke Energy/ Quit Coal Quit Nukes/Clean, Safe Energy Now” to speak with reporters. (all photos courtesy of RAN)
Hours earlier, members of Rainforest Action Network scaled the side of the Bank of America Stadium with climbing equipment and hung a 70-foot by 25-foot banner that read “Bank of Coal Stadium.”
Activists plan to protest against what they call “unjustified rate hikes” from Duke Energy and Bank of America’s reliance on coal at the upcoming shareholder meetings, they said.
“We will not be intimidated by these restrictions on our rights,” Todd Zimmer, an organizer for RAN who helped document the hanging of the banner earlier in the morning, told CLCLT.
UNC Charlotte student Elisa Benitez expressed similar frustrations to reporter Ryan Pitkin over the extraordinary events designation at the rally. “Why have these meetings been called extraordinary events, when all of our events are peaceful? Police should be protecting us instead of protecting them.”
The meeting itself should prove to be interesting. Trillium Asset Management, a firm that manages $1 billion in environmentally friendly investments, will present a resolution that would bar BoA from making contributions to politically oriented groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the US Chamber of Commerce.
“For the better part of the last decade, we’ve seen consistent and increasingly strong shareholder votes on political spending proposals,” said Shelley Alpern, Vice President of Shareholder Advocacy for Trillium. “A growing number of investors consider this area to be a material factor in evaluating the financial worth a company and the strength of its governance mechanisms. Investors will be better off when the SEC requires disclosure from all publicly traded companies. Companies deserve a level playing field and investors need the information.”
A record-breaking 178,000 Americans agreed with Trillium’s assessment when they recently called on the SEC to regulate corporate political spending.
While the protesters outside and the shareholders attending the meeting have different concerns, they do overlap in one area: weariness over BoA’s toxic books and those pesky bad mortgages that refuse to go away.
“This year there is a very clear overlap between the two groups, though they may not see eye to eye,” said Jessica Clarke of Moxy Vote, an organization that helps individual investors and customers get involved in shareholder voting. “They’re coming from different angles, but it’s the same target.”
One of Occupy Wall Street’s enduring legacies is the Occupy Our Homes movement that successfully managed to protect families from evictions at a time when not even the government of the United States seemed overly concerned with an epidemic of foreclosures.
In February, Helen Bailey, the 78-year-old former civil rights activist who was threatened with foreclosure by J.P. Morgan Chase while the company trumpeted its efforts to uphold Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, was able to stay in her home following a successful campaign by Occupy Nashville.
A Detroit husband and wife who spent months worrying they could be evicted from their home of twenty-two years received the news that 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 the dumpster.
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.
And the list goes on.
These kinds of Occupy victories used to receive a fair amount of news coverage, though never at the same level as the more dramatic aspects of the movement, such as violent camp evictions and mass arrests. However, as of late, the work done by Occupy Our Homes has almost entirely dropped off the media radar.
“VICTORY: Monique White Wins Negotiation to Save Her Home!”, “A Victory for Lesliane Bouchard”, “Minneapolis: Homeowner Demands—and Gets—Meeting with CEO of Bank Foreclosing on Her Home”, the Occupy Our Homes website declares, and yet, barring any local coverage of these stories, Occupy’s victories have for the most part gone untold.
Not only have Occupy’s successfully thwarted evictions gone unreported, but the establishment media has more or less completely lost interest in the ongoing epidemic of foreclosures. Just as Occupy is no longer shiny and new and exciting, so too have the images of families being ousted from their homes of decades grown tiresome and repetitive and, like, totally depressing.
In Atlanta, a Dekalb County sheriff evicted a four-generation family, which had been occupying its home, in a 3 am raid earlier this week. Christine Frazer, a widow who lost her job in 2009 and lived in her home for eighteen years, shared her story with Occupy Our Homes:
The group says the early morning raid resembled a drug bust with officers sneaking across Frazer’s property in the middle of the night before fifty officers stormed her home to serve an eviction notice.
Occupy Our Homes claims Frazer’s home was foreclosured on fraudulently by Investors One Corporation in October 2011, and she has been fighting it in court ever since. In January, activists set up camp on her lawn and told the Frazer family they would defend their home.
Sheriff Thomas Brown said police used “intelligence” to wait until the activists were not present at the home to guard it, and neighbors were asleep, to serve the unprecedented eviction, which includes kicking out Frazer’s 85-year-old mother and 3-year-old grandson. Occupy alleges that police refused to allow Frazer to shower or for her elderly mother to get dressed and told Frazer to behave as if it were a fire drill.
Adding insult to injury, the police then rounded up her dogs and took them to the pound.
Again acting as though a major crime was going down, police blockaded the neighborhood and wouldn’t allow anyone to secure the family’s valuable personal belongings from the curb.
“Once again, it is clear that the government and our law enforcement officials are being used to serve and protect the interest of the 1% and not of ordinary people or even the laws that they have put in place. Occupy Atlanta is more committed than ever to the fight for Chris Frazer’s home, and the thousands of other homeowners just like her who are being disrespected every day,” said Occupy Our Homes in a press release.
Sheriff Brown called into WAOK to give his side of the story and answer questions from listeners and offered a couple untruths and vague details about the case. After having to be reminded of Frazer’s name, the sheriff claimed Frazer was offered a ride when she was not, and said her case is not in federal court, which it is.
The militarization of local police when it comes to things like drug raids or even routine searches has rightfully received much media attention and condemnation from the public, particularly when it comes to terrible stories like the police officer in Texas who shot Cisco the dog without reason.
But the same level of condemnation isn’t present when a four-generation family has its home raided in the dead of night as though local police discovered a drug cartel in the basement.
The absurdity of this kind of hostile raid, combined with the fact that Frazer’s lawyer claims there is evidence of fraud because there’s a break in the chain of title—a surprisingly common bit of sloppy bookkeeping that occurs as banks shuffle around mortgage papers and never bother to keep track of what institution actually owns the house—should be enough reason to allow Frazer and her family to remain in their home until the courts can work things out.
“Now, I’m not saying all bankers out there are wicked, but I think there are a lot of them that turned their heads when they knew what was going on,” says Frazer, “And it was just that old, evil thing called greed.”
In my recap of the May Day event in New York City yesterday, I briefly summarized the inaccurate crowd estimations published by major publications like Reuters and the New York Daily News. Reuters declared the protest was a “dud,” though eventually walked back that diagnosis to make the exact opposite claim that the resurgence was “far from being a dud,” and the Daily News absurdly claimed that mere “hundreds of activists across the U.S.” participated in the marches even though in New York City alone, tens of thousands of people took to the streets.
But that was only skimming the surface of bad establishment media coverage. CNN published a screed from Amitai Etzioni, a professor at George Washington University, titled “Why Occupy May Day fizzled,” that appears to make the argument that Occupy failed because capitalism still exists.
Part of the issue seems to be that certain media outlets believe the protest failed because there wasn’t a general strike, mostly because general strikes are illegal in the United States. No Occupy Wall Street representative I ever spoke with genuinely believed there was going to be an across-the-board general strike, which is why the group started to rebrand the event as a day of “economic noncompliance” that they continued to call a general strike. The title was kept for a number of reasons, including to draw as many laborers into the fold as possible and also to bring attention to the fact that workers showing mass solidarity in the United States is illegal. Which is kind of insane.
However, keeping the “general strike” theme also gave lazy journalists an easy out to dismiss the entire protest as a failure.
In a prescient article titled “Occupy and Failure,” Salon’s Natasha Lennard laid out pre–May Day exactly the course the establishment media took with its coverage of the protest, in which journalists rested their narratives on a fulcrum of success or failure. This has always been the mainstream media’s approach to OWS. Occupy failed to shut down Wall Street on September 17. Occupy didn’t successfully occupy the Brooklyn Bridge. The Oakland General Strike wasn’t really a general strike. And so on. Oh, and there are also oodles of Occupy success stories, but weighing the wins against the losses is a waste of time, Lennard argues, because the whole point of mass resistance is the struggle itself:
Queer theorist Judith Halberstam pointed out in her explorations of failure and success that failure, simply put, “connotes effort without achieving the desired result.” As such, broadly speaking, Occupy—the weird, ever shifting assemblage of actions, gatherings, and connections that it is—technically avoids the logic of success and failure altogether. The consistent refusal to pose demands or set out specific goals as a movement means there has never been a “desired result” to achieve or fail to achieve in the first place. But that’s speaking about Occupy as a (loose) whole. Different Occupy groups have certainly set out plans (crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to set up camp on the other side on October 1st, stopping the Stock Exchange bell ringing on November 17, occupying Union Square overnight to name a few New York examples)—and they’ve failed. Granted, they succeeded in escalating energy and garnering media attention, but in terms of enacting a plan or stated goal, these actions were duds.
However, as many people who experienced some of those events might attest with me, these failures constitute some of Occupy’s greatest wins. It was during these days, when chaotic crowds surged into the streets and moved en masse through the city on unpermitted routes, that the chants of “we are unstoppable” boomed most apt. I was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge while reporting on the day’s events for the New York Times. When I stood in plasticuffs with other arrestees, flanking the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound roadway awaiting our carriage in police buses, it was cold and rainy; the bridge and its iconic view have never looked so exhilarating and beautiful to me. As far as failing to cross a bridge goes, this was pretty spectacular.
That model of failing toward victory is not something the establishment media understand, unless of course they’re writing a rosy hagiography of some Wall Street CEO that failed upwards into securing a fat bonus after helping to tank the economy.
Tens of thousands of individuals taking to the street is a show of a “weak immigration movement,” according to Businessweek, or a “slow and soggy start,” if one were to consult the National Post on the matter. Most subtly, the New York Post published an article titled, “Goodbye, Occupy” that offered as much of an optimistic interpretation of the day’s actions as you’d expect.
To summarize: Every business in New York City didn’t shut down, protesters “made a mess of the evening commute,” and all of those people in the street were folks “with nothing better to do.” Diagnosis: FAILURE.
The derision from the Post is to be expected, but the under-reporting of the significance of May Day at less extreme outlets is also important. Crowd estimates are sort of a running joke among journalists, particularly after the wildly inflated figures reported by Glenn Beck’s disciples during his rallies, and the reason people laughed at Beckian hyperbole is because accurately reporting on protest turnouts is critical. There’s a big difference between reporting “hundreds” of people showing up and “tens of thousands” because the two narratives paint radically different images in a reader’s or viewer’s mind.
One version means Occupy is dwindling, the other means Tuesday was a resurgence of sort, and clearly indicates the movement maintains support from tens of thousands of individuals, at least, in New York City alone.
Occupy acknowledged that it was going to get the shaft from the press in this way when one of their first missions was to create their own media. OWS has its own newspaper and media team that creates videos and mini-documentaries and is a constant force on social media. This was a way to circumvent the corporate filter that has been so dismissive and belittling of one of the most important social movements to come along in several generations.
One could find literally thousands of “What’s Next For Occupy?” pontifications on-line and in print, but the point is no one knows what’s next for Occupy. OWS might not even be the endgame of economic reform. In fact, it probably isn’t. In all likelihood, OWS will evolve into some other kind of movement, which may evolve again, and so on.
None of this is meant to imply Occupy is incapable of failure and extinction because those are very real possibilities, but because none of us are capable of understanding the trajectory of this movement precisely because nothing like it has existed before it’s more important than ever that journalists accurately report things like turnout figures, if only to keep gauging the popularity of the resistance.
Banging out 300 words about the “future of Occupy” and publishing wildly inaccurate crowd estimates provides a service to no one. It’s not the job of a journalist to be psychic about these kinds of things. A journalist is simply supposed to report what actually happens to the best of their ability, and crowd estimates is the most basic feature of that role.
Occupy Wall Street, unions and immigrants’ rights groups collaborated to organize massive protests on Tuesday in New York City and Oakland and smaller events across the country and around the world.
Yet one would have little knowledge about the scale of the rallies by reading and viewing the establishment media. The New York Daily News absurdly claims “hundreds of activists across the U.S.” participated in the marches, despite the fact that in New York City alone tens of thousands of people took to the streets. Reuters concurred, calling the resurgence a “dud,” adding accusations of a “poor turnout.”
Even the so-called left-leaning network MSNBC devoted little time to the gatherings. (photo via @dontbeaputz)
Perhaps it would have been easy to adopt a pessimistic perception of the day standing in the rain at 4 am by the Brooklyn Bridge, waiting for a mass show of civil disobedience that never came or later sprinting through the streets of Chinatown on the Wildcat march that consisted of hundreds of masked young men and women overturning garbage cans, carrying a “Fuck the Police” banner and leading police on a wild goose chase that lasted forty-five minutes, as officers used their scooters like battering rams and activists seized police barricades to partition the street and make their getaway.
There was a time in that morning period when even the most devoted Occupier felt some anxiety about the protest. The weather was crappy, the turnout smaller than expected and police ultimately arrested around thirty activists (the AP puts it at fifty arrested), sometimes in highly aggressive fashions for specious reasons. For example, the Wildcat marchers barely took two steps before police attacked them, and one young man I saw arrested was taken into custody for jaywalking. (photo: Wildcat march)
Zack, an Occupier who had been involved with some of the May Day organizing, remained optimistic during those hours and said he attended the event to see how the past four months of organizing would shape up.
“I think this is going to be a really important test for the movement and where we’re at in in New York. We’ll see what kind of support we have from the city and the people of the city,” he said, emphasizing that the protest was just one day. “It’s a day of economic noncompliance, a day of withdrawing our consent. It’ll be interesting to see how the collaboration with unions and immigrants rights groups pans out.” (photo: protester arrested after jaywalking)
I asked Zack what he thought would need to happen for Occupy to consider the day a success.
“We’ll know it if we feel it. I think a lot of people have taken down their expectations quite a bit from like a couple months ago just because it does feel like we’ve lost some momentum. I think the solidarity march will be really powerful, and I think success looks like…the pickets going really well, and us really working together and working in solidarity with each other to be very disruptive today so we’re actually affecting capital and we’re actually disrupting the economic engine in the city.”
While Zack admitted the day was “pivotal,” he shied away from calling it a do-or-die moment for the movement.
“It’s definitely going to affect whether this kind of format or the meme of Occupy maintains traction in the coming months, and over the summer, but I definitely think as economic conditions worsen over the next several years, or even months, people will be more receptive to grassroots activism and organizing. So I do think public perception of Occupy is going to be affected by today. But I don’t think this is do-or-die because a lot of us are in this for the long haul, but it is a critical moment.”
In the afternoon, several breakout protests, called the 99 picket lines, picketed businesses that have a history of mistreating workers.
Members of the Legal Services of NYC, including Gibb Surette, president of the Legal Services Staff Association, a part of UAW Local 2320, met at the New York Times building on Eighth Avenue to fight for a better contract. (photo: picket outside NYT)
“We spend our days fighting for other people’s rights, but on some days like this, we have to come out and fight for our own,” said Surette, after listing a laundry list of complaints against management and the board, including abuse of senior workers and the targeting of another round of givebacks to healthcare.
Surette said he think it’s extremely important workers in the United States show solidarity on May 1 with the laborers of the world.
“May Day is International Workers Day, and internationalism is an extremely important concept for workers’ rights—not just because of globalism and solidarity with workers in other countries—but because the character of the working class in the United States is extremely international, and it always has been. It was a major feature of the working class movement and the struggle that gave birth to May Day. Most of the Haymarket martyrs were immigrants. The ability to target and exploit a class of people with less rights than others undermines the rights of all workers, so to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with groups that are fighting for immigrants’ rights is an absolute natural for labor.”
Though Surette said a great deal of credit for labor issues reclaiming the national spotlight must go to the organized labor movement itself, Occupy has managed to refocus attention on wealth disparity—and, he adds, the group has been successful in its effort to “take back the dialogue from an obsessive focus on artificial budget deficits, and I say artificial because of the enormous military spending, and spending on tax breaks for the rich, among other things. And of course, when you talk about wealth disparity, and disparities in power, that obviously has everything in the world to do with labor.”
“99 pickets” converged later in the day at Sixth Avenue and 49th Street for a lively march that included protesters screaming “Fuck Jamie Dimon!” as they nearly stormed a Chase bank before security and the NYPD, batons wielding, frantically pushed back the surging crowd, and protest organizers convinced the activists to keep marching. (photo: police seal off Chase bank entrance from protesters)
But it was in the evening, long after the rain passed and Reuters’s Conway Gittens hurried home to file, that the coalition representing the 99 percent really got to flex its muscle and show its potent strength.
Tom Morello and the “guitarmy” led hundreds of protesters along Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Union Square where bands and artists, including Das Racist, Dan Deacon and Immortal Technique, and speakers entertained the teeming crowd.
Afterwards, tens of thousands of individuals poured out of Union Square and marched up Broadway where stores and restaurants along the city’s most famous street closed for the evening, thereby aiding Occupy in at least one of its goals for the day: disrupting business.
The procession was led by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who drove a handful of taxis at the front of the march with a sign attached to one of the cars that read, “No disability insurance—15 years on the job.”
May Day protests were held across the country, where police fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades at demonstrators in Oakland, protesters smashed windows in Seattle, and activists occupied a building owned by the Catholic archdiocese in San Francisco. Protests were also held in Chicago; Washington, DC; and Atlanta; and globally in Greece, London and Turkey.
In total, the Occupy movement organized protests in 125 US cities, according to the group’s website.
In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn said he was making an emergency declaration allowing police to confiscate items that can be used as weapons following the May Day chaos.
A group of about 1,000 Occupiers gathered at a park on Water Street to the east of Bowling Green in New York at around 10 pm and discussed the possibility of trying to spend the night in the space, though police eventually moved in and pushed most of the protesters out of the park with little resistance. However, some activists did resist, again leading to sprinting chases through the streets. (photo: protesters briefly sit down by Wall Street)
Midnight came and an estimated 100 protesters gathered at Zuccotti—protesters cried, “We’re home!” upon seeing the small concrete square—to discuss whether or not they should stay through the morning.
Beyond the short-term conversations about reoccupation, however, activists are asking big questions about the future of their movement, namely if the solidarity felt on Tuesday will last throughout the summer.
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators stand and cheer in front of the George Washington statue on Wall Street as they celebrate the protest’s sixth month, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Occupy Wall Street hopes to capture headlines once again next week with the May 1 “General Strike”, long advertised by the group as an event that will prove to the public and media that OWS is currently experiencing a resurgence. Whether workers, students or banking customers, OWS is calling on all Americans to stop offering their labor and money to corporations for one day and join their local Occupy chapter for a day of resistance.
The plan initially drew the ire of some labor leaders who quickly declared their members would not participate in the so-called strike.
“It won’t happen,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, flatly told Buzzfeed. “They are not working with the unions in a serious way yet; nor are the unions working with them in a serious way. And it is the wrong strategy.”
Under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, a general strike in support of other workers is illegal. Furthermore, individual unions must call for a strike, so the participation of workers in a protest does not constitute a general strike.
The official OWS press release about May Day mentions the phrase “general strike” twice: once in the headline, and once in quotation marks in the first paragraph. Perhaps keenly aware of the likelihood that an across-the-board labor strike is not only unlikely but illegal, the day is now being described by organizers as a nationwide protest with themes of economic noncompliance. (Poster by Nina Montenegro, via Occuprint.)
“We wanted to create a broad space for people in all different circumstances from all sorts of backgrounds to be able to participate,” the OWS press release states. “But we also recognize that for some people skipping work is not feasible so we are encouraging people to participate how they can whether that involves wearing a button at work or leaving early or simply showing up to the march after work.”
Shawn Carrié, an Occupier who has been working on the May Day project since January, remembers the exact moment the direct action working group he was participating in passed a proposal to the General Assembly announcing OWS would stand in solidarity with the call for a general strike. He remembers the event in precise detail because the group was so conscious of its wording.
“There was varying opinion over whether to call for only a general strike, or only a day on economic noncompliance, and we wanted everyone’s views to be represented in the call,” he explains.
OWS May Day Press conference expressing solidarity for workers and immigrants:
“We are calling for ‘a day without the 99 percent’ based off the success of ‘a day without immigrants,’ ” says OWS spokesperson Diego Ibañez, referring to the 2006 US immigration reform protests. “Early on, Occupy Wall Street realized that the unions couldn’t call for a general strike, we were told, because of legal reasons. However, that’s the beauty of the call. It can be answered in various ways. When we say general strike, we aren’t limiting ourselves to the word’s traditional meaning.”
“The powerful thing about this May Day is that immigrant rights groups, labor unions, the May First Coalition and Occupy Wall Street have been working together and will join forces for a special day that will focus on all our struggles as workers, immigrants, students and mothers,” says Ibañez.
By expanding the definition of the day’s actions, Occupy hopes to attract a broad coalition of support from students, immigrants and labor. Showing solidarity with OWS no longer strictly means refusing to show up for work. Now, students can walk out of class, younger people can refuse to do chores, citizens can take the day off from giving banks business, and all of these actions will symbolize standing in unity with the Occupiers. (poster via occupywallst.org)
Despite facing a backlash from some union organizers, many unions and pro-worker advocacy groups, including 1199SEIU, Retail Action Project, Domestic Workers United, and New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, have expressed support for May Day, and their endorsements are listed at maydaysolidarity2012.org.
In total, more than 100 activist groups, labor unions and other progressive organizations have pledged to participate in the rally and march. Rhadames Rivera, vice president of the SEIU Local 1199, told Downtown Express Monday that more than 12,000 union members are signed up to participate, and that number was likely to grow dramatically throughout the week.
“May Day represents the long and brutally repressed history of the workers’ struggle for dignity, equality and fairness,” Chris Longenecker writes at Occupy.com, an independent and nonprofit website run by Occupiers working in solidarity with the movement. “The general strike is the most powerful tool we have inherited from the organized labor movement, a tool designed at its inception as a vehicle through which the boldest of revolutionary dreams can come to fruition.”
However, Longenecker recognizes the limitations of calling what might be, for all intents and purposes, a really big, coordinated, nationwide protest, a “general strike.”
“A general strike will not come from a few general assemblies and organizations coordinating together. We need everyone’s participation, with various levels of engagement and risk,” he writes.
Since the group’s inception, OWS activists have debated the limitations of acceptable forms of protest and resistance, and the role of violence and property damage in social movements. That unease still exists today with labor leaders expressing concern that “anarchists” might steal the headlines for the day.
Chris Silvera, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808, said at the meeting that labor leaders “fear” the potential for “anarchist” disruption to May Day plans.
“They feel a level of discomfort knowing that they are dealing with something which they don’t control,” said Silvera in an interview. “You know what I’m saying? And I think for the first time, labor is going to make a step to do something in which it is not in complete control. That’s huge.”
Mostly, OWS wants a big May Day turnout to prove that the movement is far from dead.
Occupy’s day of action in New York City will consist of a pop-up occupation at Bryant Park in the morning, followed by a march to Union Square in the afternoon and a “coalition program” at Union Square in the evening, where a broad coalition of “left groups” and musical acts will hold an event.
Dan Deacon, Das Racist and Tom Morello, among other artists, are scheduled to perform at the afternoon solidarity rally in Union Square. Organizers plan to enlist 1,000 guitar-wielding volunteers to play with Morello during the protest, and are seeking the musicians through an “Occupy Guitarmy” tumblr.
The night will culminate with a permitted march down to Wall Street, and afterwards the coalition march will invite people to join in an “un-permitted OWS march.”
Throughout Tuesday’s day of action, there will be a number of “community pickets” of “corporate targets,” according to Occupy’s press statement. Those targets are typically Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street corporations associated with rampant corruption and greed.
Occupiers have also expressed some loose plans to block “one or more” bridges or tunnels going into Manhattan and a “wildcat” march is planned to leave Sara D. Roosevelt Park the afternoon of May 1 before the Union Square rally, Downtown Express reports.
In Oakland, protesters have planned events to support workers at the Golden Gate Bridge, a work stoppage by ILWU Local 10 which effectively shut down the Port of Oakland for the day, a one-day strike by thousands of California Nurses Association Bay Area nurses and a large March for Dignity and Resistance from Fruitvale to downtown, among other protests.
“Let May Day be a day when we re-conceptualize what a general strike can be,” Longenecker writes. “The eyes of the world will be on us as we reject the state and capitalism and take the models of direct democracy and mutual aid we practices in hundreds of occupied parks across the country to the streets of the cities and towns in which we live.”