Thirsting for Democracy in Detroit: Activists Resist Water Service Shutoffs … – Truth

Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Detroit July 18 to declare water a human right. (Photo: James Anderson).Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Detroit July 18 to declare water a human right. (Photo: James Anderson).

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!

Several thousand people marched from Cobo Hall to Detroit’s Hart Plaza on July 18, decrying the destruction of democracy in Detroit. The rally, organized in part by the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, took place after a week of actions against the disconnection of water service to households unable to pay their bills. People previously blockaded to keep Homrich, a private contractor employed by the city, from shutting off people’s water on July 10. Another blockade took place the day of the rally, lasting six hours before police arrested a pastor, a veteran journalist in her 70s, welfare rights organizers and others.

The water disconnections constitute a human rights violation if the people affected are genuinely unable to pay, said Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN special rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation, in a press release.

Several days after the downtown demonstration, the city suspended the mass shutoffs for 15 days after more than 15,000 households had been disconnected. The Detroit Water Brigade, an advocacy-oriented volunteer-led alliance focused on emergency relief and mutual aid, wrote in an email to their listserv following the announcement “that thousands of families are still without reliable access to water or on the brink of losing it,” and added that people are invited to meet at 1514 Washington Boulevard downtown at 11 am every day – except Friday – starting July 22, to help distribute gallons of water, coolers, rain collection barrels and information to affected Detroit families.

The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), a union of public assistance and low-income workers, denounced the Detroit Water and Sewage Department’s handling of the situation up to the July 18 demonstration, and appealed to the UN for relief in response to what activists see as initial steps in the takeover of the city’s water system by for-profit private interests. Citizens also filed a lawsuit against the city, prompting the halt to the service disconnections declared days after the downtown rally, insisting the shutoffs violate human rights.

Sylvia Orduño, a Detroit resident and activist who has been with the MWRO for 17 years, marched from Cobo Hall to Hart Plaza during the July 18 rally carrying one end of a banner reading, “Stop the War Against the Poor!”

Sylvia Orduño, right, holds a Michigan Welfare Rights Organization banner as hundreds of indignant Detroiters march from Cobo Hall to Hart Plaza. (Photo: James Anderson).Sylvia Orduño, right, holds a Michigan Welfare Rights Organization banner as hundreds of indignant Detroiters march from Cobo Hall to Hart Plaza. (Photo: James Anderson).

Orduño said the situation is fast becoming a “public health crisis for everybody” and “Detroit is ground zero for a lot of the battles” over the public trust, in response to the DWSD actions and against subservience to Wall Street.

The Role of Wall Street in Creating Crisis

Between the “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” chants from hundreds of people marching down Larned Street and the banners chastising the $537 million given to the banks by the DWSD, which shuts off water for the poor, people’s disgust at Wall Street’s contribution to the crisis became palpable.

A report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency overseeing nationally chartered banks found Detroit had a higher rate of foreclosures for subprime mortgages than any other city in the build-up to the housing bubble that burst and led to the global economic crash in 2008.

Some 100,000 homes had been foreclosed by 2012. The population of Detroit decreased from almost 2 million in 1950 when the city was regarded as a major industrial powerhouse to an estimated 688,701 in 2013. The population declined 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2013 in a continued exodus attributable to foreclosures, defunding public services as a result of financial straits and the related job losses and pension cuts for city workers.

Over the past decade, predatory lending by banks with overwhelming numbers of subprime mortgages and mass foreclosures has resulted in a reduction in the tax rolls which compelled the city to borrow from Wall Street in the form of municipal bonds. Financial instruments, like interest rate swaps, compounded the debt crisis, leading to an even greater reduction in city services, causing more people to move as the tax base eroded further and fictitious capital became increasingly abstracted and volatile.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), in contrast to his role in the clandestine drafting of the National Defense Authorization Act permitting indefinite detention of citizens without trial, introduced legislation to stop billions of dollars being kept in “secret” offshore tax haven accounts, and issued a concomitant statement in September 2013 critical of US banks’ engagement in interest rate and foreign currency swaps. As a result, we witnessed “cities like Detroit incur major losses from entering into complex interest rate swaps that went sour,” amidst the $560 trillion global swap market malfeasance facilitated by US tax regulations that permit swap payments to be treated as non-taxable income, Levin said.

Just as the industry concentration ratio for manufacturing – a former economic mainstay for Detroit – has decreased since the 1980s, the financial sector has become increasingly concentrated and big banks rank among the corporate leaders in stock market capitalization.

Wall Street’s role in the oft-cited “deindustrialization” of Detroit – referring to the mass layoffs, factory closures and plant shutdowns in the city – continues because of the effects of those financial schemes, but banks like Goldman Sachs – among the top 50 companies in terms of stock market value in 2013 – now control key aspects of industry in the city and beyond.

In 2010, Goldman bought Metro International Trade Services, a company based in Detroit that runs a network of warehouses that ship metals like zinc, steel and aluminum essential to industry. The New York Times reported last year that some 27 warehouses owned by a Goldman subsidiary ship aluminum back and forth to lengthen storage time and inflate market price.

Among other banks, Goldman started manipulating other commodity markets more seriously after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission freed up futures markets for implementation of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index, allowing assiduous buying strategies associated with a new form of speculation to cause the price of commodities – including food – to soar and aggravate world hunger.

The transformation of basic necessities like food and water into commodities whose allocation is increasingly determined by privately controlled for-profit firms turned many from Detroit, including MWRO’s Orduño, out into the streets on July 18.

“Unless we do something to stop this privatization and now this attempt to take over anything that belongs to the public trust, we’re going to be in big trouble here in the next few years,” Orduño said, adding that her organization receives calls every day from people having their water turned off.

De-Democratization of Detroit

Detroit became the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. It did so under the direction of Kevyn Orr, the city’s appointed – in other words, unelected – emergency manager.

Prior to his appointment as EM, Orr served as a partner for Jones Day, a law firm that represented Detroit in the bankruptcy hearings, and he helped craft the company’s “Business Restructuring and Reorganization Practice” – a model for the city’s restructuring he has championed since.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, less than one year after signing into law legislation modeled on American Legislative Exchange Council language that allowed workers to opt out of paying the costs for the unions fighting for their protections and benefits, declared a state of financial emergency on March 1, 2013.

Under Michigan Public Act 72, a law passed by the state legislature in 1990 permitting the state to intervene in municipalities by selecting an emergency manager, Snyder appointed Orr on March 14. Several days later, PA 72 was repealed and PA 4 was enacted, enhancing the state’s intervention powers by enabling unilateral modification of worker contracts. Voters previously rejected PA 4 in November 2012, prompting the court to consider PA 72 still in effect until the legislature repealed and replaced it with PA 436, immunizing the law from referendum and from abrogation by the citizenry.

The law cemented the EM’s power to hire and terminate municipal employees at will. Per PA 436, the EM, “shall act for and in the place and stead of” the mayor, city council and the constituency, and is thus endowed with “broad powers in receivership to rectify the financial emergency and to assure the fiscal accountability of the [City] and the [City's] capacity to provide or cause to provide necessary governmental services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare.”

For residents whose access to water has been cut off, the meaning of the law now appears inverted in practice.

Lawsuits like Phillips v. Snyder and the NAACP v. Snyder challenged the legality of PA 436, arguing that the replacement of elected officials with appointed managers with power to legislate and govern over those without a say in decisions being made is a violation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution and an affront on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Phillips v. Snyder case was argued in district court in April. The court took it under advisement and will issue a written opinion before the case moves to summary judgment, John Philo of the Sugar Law Center told Truthout. The NAACP v. Snyder case was closed for administrative purposes and stayed in August 2013 by a district court, which said the case could be reopened if the bankruptcy stay were to be removed.

Top-Down Restructuring

Thus far, Orr remains the EM. In 2013, he put forth a proposal to creditors, which included a call to restructure the DWSD. Although the court did not order its implementation, a “Plan of Action” drafted by a committee of DWSD and city officials to determine the reasons for the service dysfunction, called for structural adjustments, “including, but not limited to, the imposition of changes on DWSD employees otherwise forbidden by applicable CBAs [Collective Bargaining Agreements],” according to Orr’s proposal.

The proposal also noted actions taken to address financial challenges, including 2,700 “headcount reductions” since 2011, and implementation of “City of Employment Terms” providing for substantial reductions in worker wages, pensions and health care.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit has a soup kitchen, supports a restorative justice center and is home to Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman who was unable to attend the July 18 rally downtown because he was participating in a blockade – before getting arrested – to prevent a private contractor from shutting of water service to people in the city. (Photo: James Anderson).St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit has a soup kitchen, supports a restorative justice center and is home to Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman who was unable to attend the July 18 rally downtown because he was participating in a blockade – before getting arrested – to prevent a private contractor from shutting of water service to people in the city. (Photo: James Anderson).

Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit who was not at the rally and march on July 18 because he was involved in the direct action at Homrich before being arrested in the blockade, said that Orr-style restructuring has been rampant.

Much of the money for revitalizing the city has been “siphoned off just in payments to the banks,” said Wylie-Kellermann, 65, who was arrested in the July 10 blockade. “The same kind of financial extraction that’s going on with the city as a whole through the credit swaps, that bears on the financial situation of the water department as well.”

The “Detroit Future City” plan, based on a 340-page document, includes an array of maps identifying for the administration of Mayor Mike Duggan and Orr those neighborhoods that should receive resources and subsidies and others that get the plug pulled from them, he said.

Wylie-Kellermann, a native Detroiter who lives in the Corktown area, criticized the project for explicitly eliding issues of race and class, but implicitly outlining a plan of attack that disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. He cited foreclosures, evictions and water shutoffs as instruments in the restructuring and related gentrification in the city, forcing out the poor, largely black population as wealthier – usually white – suburbanites, corporate employees and investors are invited in.

Cecily McLellan, a union leader with the Association of Professional and Technical Employees who is also involved with Moratorium Now! and active with the Detroit Concerned Citizens and Retirees, said Detroit was “selected for a reason” regarding the gentrification and restructuring.

As a former “bastion” of unionism, she said it makes sense for powerful interests to systematically attack Detroit and eliminate organizations, like unions, that protect working people and stand as a barrier to both greater profits and unaccountable decision-making with civic consequence. The poor black population in Detroit also makes for a disposable target in the view of concentrated power, she said after the rally.

National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the US, march down Larned Street after a rally around the Cobo Center near Washington Boulevard and Congress Street. (Photo: James Anderson).National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the US, march down Larned Street after a rally around the Cobo Center near Washington Boulevard and Congress Street. (Photo: James Anderson).

The targeting becomes cyclical because, as Wylie-Kellermann noted, the contractors for DWSD prioritize neighborhoods with a higher concentration of impending shutoffs where they can disconnect service more quickly. Those tend to be impoverished and black communities. Because contractors like Homrich are paid on “a per-shutoff basis,” like many privatization arrangements, he said, the targeting gets even more aggressive.

“I believe if you had democracy, this would not have happened,” said McLellan, who was forced into retirement when her department was closed. Prior to that, she had helped implement the Detroit Water and Assistance program, which has since been discontinued.

“So it’s no wonder you have the crisis that you have right now,” she added.

Recreating Democracy Out of Crisis

When a home-owning resident, part of a neighborhood patrol, beat a homeless man from the same Corktown area with a baseball bat a while back, Wylie-Kellermann said he saw it “as sort of the blunt end of the gentrification process.”

In response, he and the community created a restorative justice circle to articulate together who has been harmed by the violence, which was most everyone in the neighborhood – albeit in different ways – and then reflect on and do “what needs to be done to make things right to live as human beings,” he said.

Wylie-Kellerman, who said he thinks “of the church more as a movement than as institution,” couples restorative justice with non-violent direct action now because pressure from the various levers of power make it “at a very human level, urgent to intervene in,” but also “to see the bigger picture.”

Similar commitment and apprehension of the interrelated sources of violence from a person of faith could be seen in Daniel Berrigan, 93, a Jesuit priest, who was wanted by the FBI during the Vietnam War era for burning several hundred draft files.

“Well Dan is one of my teachers,” said Wylie-Kellermann, who met Berrigan in New York. The former was attending seminary and the latter had just been released from prison when they crossed paths.

“He kind of knocked me off my horse, and my own conversion to gospel nonviolence is directly connected to his life and ministry,” he said about Berrigan, who while in his 90s stood with Occupy Wall Street activists in Zuccotti Park to implore Trinity Church to drop charges against OWS participants for occupying the church’s empty lot in December 2011.

Situating himself in the biblical tradition “set in opposition and resistance to empire,” to advance “the alternative to the imperial way of being in the world,” Wylie-Kellermann said this “moment represents an opportunity not to sell off assets and not to privatize resources” – as can and is being done “with the stroke of the pen” by Orr, but also “to rebuild this city, reorganize the city from the ground-up,” in a “democratically accountable” way, “accountable to one another and neighbors.”

“When our water is under attack, what are we going to do? Stand up, fight back” hundreds of people in downtown Detroit explained, also imploring, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” and responding, “This is what democracy looks like.” (Photo: James Anderson)“When our water is under attack, what are we going to do? Stand up, fight back” hundreds of people in downtown Detroit explained, also imploring, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” and responding, “This is what democracy looks like.” (Photo: James Anderson)

Speakers at the July 18 rally emphasized recuperation of democracy. Many meant they wanted representative politics to be fair and for decisions to be made by elected officials in the interest of people, rather than dictated by an unelected EM at the behest of banks and corporations.

But others have emphasized direct actions that do not appeal to powers above to make decisions affecting them, especially those decisions that most affect their lives, like the decisions regarding termination of residential water services.

“There’s been pressure on the elected officials, and they’ve done nothing,” save for a few of the progressive ones who have shown solidarity, McLellan said after speaking to the crowd in Hart Plaza.

In addition to physically preventing contractors from terminating people’s water access, she said people are also organizing and turning water services back on without asking authorities.

Similar to the inversion of meaning used to justify the EM appointment, a section of the Michigan constitution intended to protect citizens “from the imposition of undue or excessive rates or charges for the supply of water,” has been used to argue against the “Water Affordability Program,” an alternative to the status quo supported by the MWRO.

Designed by civic economics specialist Roger Colton to subsidize lower-income residents, the program would require richer residents to pay higher rates – a potentially discriminatory practice in a narrow, inverted interpretation of law, as explained in Matthew Clark’s water affordability analysis.

When the plan was first developed in 2005, it was estimated 43 percent of DWSD customers would qualify for the low-income rate subsidies. The median household income in Detroit was $26,955 between 2008 and 2012, according to the Census Bureau, compared to $48,471 for Michigan as a whole and $53,046 for the United States. Poverty affected 38 percent of the people in Detroit during that time, compared with the 14.9 percent of all US citizens.

Cleveland, Ohio, a former industrial city which has similar levels of poverty and a comparable below-average median income to Detroit, witnessed revitalization in its Greater University Circle area as a result of worker-owned firms buoyed by the purchasing power of anchor-institutions like Cleveland Hospital and Case Western Reserve University.

Wylie-Kellermann suggests efforts like those in Cleveland, to democratize wealth and promote worker-community ownership, could be tried in Detroit.

“Detroit is in the mix of being physically reorganized,” he said, “so that resources and the infrastructure, support for businesses, even subsiding of homes – rental and buying – [are] not for poor people,” but for profits.

Last year, Goldman Sachs rolled out their “10,000 Small Businesses,” in Detroit, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein and billionaire Warren Buffet in town to promote the start of the program’s educational initiative, which includes lessons on “Being Bankable” and adjusting enterprises to better accumulate capital and obtain profits for growth.

The profit-driven program and associated commodification are at odds with activists in the Detroit Water Brigade, like Sarah Coffey, who said thinking about water as part of the commons and not as a commodity entreats people to think about the kind of future they want.

During the July 18 march, Orduño intimated motions to put Detroit water in a public trust, and McLellan later commented on the renewed but fledgling importance of public land trusts in the city that push against and beyond market-exchange and the profit-oriented paradigm toward alternatives.

She said that both acts of resistance and the creation of forward-looking alternatives are in their embryonic stages, and the various forms both take have implications for what democracy will mean in Detroit and elsewhere in the future.

“So we have to restore democracy in order for us to be in a position where we can really control our own destiny,” she said.

NBC Discovers Hypocrisy of Michael Moore’s Wealth; Used Him to Bash Wall …

Kyle Drennen's picture

On Wednesday, NBC’s Today offered a surprising full report on “filmmaker and liberal activist” Michael Moore tarnishing his “blue-collar, anti-capitalist image” after it was revealed during divorce proceedings that Moore and his now ex-wife lived in a Michigan mansion, “the 10,000-square-foot house, reportedly in the same neighborhood as Madonna and Bruce Willis.” [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Back in 2009, the morning show invited Moore on the broadcast to bash big bonuses for Wall Street executives. In part, Moore ranted against the wealthy business leaders living in “gated communities” and “castles with moats around them.” Perhaps Moore should have remembered that people living in giant mansions shouldn’t throw stones.

During the Thursday report, correspondent Gabe Gutierrez described: “Deep in northern Michigan, this lake-front mansion is the talk of the town….It belongs to one of the state’s most well-known celebrities. Not Eminem or Kid Rock, no, this $2 million home on Torch Lake is owned by filmmaker Michael Moore and his wife of twenty-two years, Kathleen Glynn.”

The segment featured a clip of Moore “slamming the one percent at this Occupy Wall Street protest” in 2011. Gutierrez then explained: “The new court documents reveal Moore and his now ex-wife shared properties in Michigan and New York. The Detroit News reports the couple owned nine total.”

Wrapping up the story, Gutierrez observed: “Already exposed, what some in this small Michigan town feel is a contradiction between Moore’s common-man persona and his uncommon wealth.”

Here is a full transcript of the July 23 report:


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Coming up, a controversial divorce reveals the true wealth of Michael Moore. The question is, will it hurt his image as an every man?


MATT LAUER: Let’s start, though, with a career – a guy who built a career on a blue-collar down-to-earth image. But a potentially messy divorce just finalized is painting a somewhat different picture of filmmaker and liberal activist Michael Moore. Here’s NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Moore" Money, More Problems; Blue-Collar Director's Wealth Revealed in Divorce]

GABE GUTIERREZ: Deep in northern Michigan, this lake-front mansion is the talk of the town.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The way he lives is not how the common man lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: I think he’s earned it.

GUTIERREZ: It belongs to one of the state’s most well-known celebrities. Not Eminem or Kid Rock, no, this $2 million home on Torch Lake is owned by filmmaker Michael Moore and his wife of twenty-two years, Kathleen Glynn.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I am disappointed in what appears to me to be a conflict in his values and what he represents.

GUTIERREZ: But now the pair just settled a high-profile divorce. In court filings, Moore had blamed his wife for going overboard in expanding the 10,000-square-foot house, reportedly in the same neighborhood as Madonna and Bruce Willis.

MICHAEL MOORE: Hi, I’m Michael Moore.

GUTIERREZ: Ever since his 1989 documentary Roger Me…

MOORE: Do you think it’s a little dangerous hanging out with guns in a bank?

GUTIERREZ: …and other films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore had built a blue-collar, anti-capitalist image.

MOORE: I am one person. This is a movement of millions of voices.

GUTIERREZ: Slamming the one percent at this Occupy Wall Street protest.

The new court documents reveal Moore and his now ex-wife shared properties in Michigan and New York. The Detroit News reports the couple owned nine total. No comment from her lawyer. And Moore’s attorney would only say the couple has “mutually and amicably reached a divorce settlement.”

LISA BLOOM [LEGAL ANALYST]: Very smart for Michael Moore to settle this matter. Even if he could have gotten more money, it’s so important to his public image that he not be bickering with his wife of twenty years and having all of that dirty laundry exposed.

GUTIERREZ: Already exposed, what some in this small Michigan town feel is a contradiction between Moore’s common-man persona and his uncommon wealth. For Today, Gabe Gutierrez, NBC News.

Give Us Your Donors, or Else

We’ve seen what happened at the IRS when Democrats launched a political campaign to crack down on tax-exempt groups that don’t disclose their donors. A similar animus is now at work in the states, where two attorneys general are forcing 501(c) groups to disclose their donors if they want to raise money in those states.

In New York, tax-exempt groups must apply for a license to solicit contributions, a process that has traditionally required the submission of their public IRS form 990. But Attorney General Eric Schneiderman…

Wall Street backlash will shake up 2016 election

By David Weidner, MarketWatch

Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren questions Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray last month.

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The Justice Department continues to rain down settlement after settlement on Wall Street institutions. And this is being taken as good news by investors. After all, they’re finally seeing the earnings-sucking overhang from the financial crisis recede.

But the industry, surprisingly, is not on its way to putting the past in the past. A fresh wave of frustration, mostly from the political left, is mounting. And it’s not only pressuring the current administration to keep pressing forward with industry reforms, its threatening to make the conduct of big finance a major issue in 2016.

This isn’t Occupy Wall Street, the 2011 movement whose unreasonable and scattered demands soured public opinion and ultimately fizzled, but it has its roots there. Americans fed up with the financial industry’s sway in Washington, its predatory practices and lack of executive accountability represent a much bigger swath of citizens than those who camped at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan.

Nearly four out of five voters surveyed (78%) said financial rules and enforcement need to be strengthened, and that Wall Street’s bad practices have not changed enough, according to a poll results released Monday
by Lake Research Partners on behalf of Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending.

Click to Play

Hidden commodity gem; closed-end bargains

Barron’s Bounce: Recovering zinc from steel maker’s waste is big business for Horsehead Holdings. Plus, closed-end funds at a big discount, and the case for Halliburton.

The poll found 61% of respondents agreed that Wall Street and the financial industry are still too powerful and engage in reckless practices that pose a continuing danger to the economy.

And the furor overrides the political divide we’ve been hearing so much about. The poll found 84% of Democrats, 82% of Independents and 74% of Republicans say they are concerned about the influence of Wall Street financial companies on elected officials.

Evidence of this frustration with Wall Street was on display last week at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Detroit. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Washington’s most visible bank scourge, was greeted
with rousing cheers of “run, Liz, run.” Warren has denied she’ll vie for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2016, but has given mixed signals otherwise.

This spring she published a book, “A Fighting Chance,” which is mostly autobiographical and seen by some
as a flier on a 2016 bid. A Fox News poll this spring gave Warren 6% support among voters considering Democratic contenders who may seek the nomination, compared with 69% for front-runner Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Vice President Joe Biden at 14%.

Still, Warren’s populist, reform-minded rhetoric is gaining traction. David Cantonese, writing for U.S. News and World Report, said Warren “lit up a gathering of liberals with a fiery speech Friday, championing a progressive agenda amid continuing calls for her to reconsider a run.”

Dana Milbank, the influential political columnist at the Washington Post, wrote “a draft-Warren boomlet is under way.”

“The game is rigged,” Warren told the Netroots gathering. “And the rich and the powerful have lobbyists and lawyers and plenty of friends in Congress. Everybody else, not so much. So the way I see this is we can whine about it, we can whimper about it or we can fight back. I’m fighting back.”

The statement drew big cheers at the event and energized “Ready for Warren,” a grassroots group
aiming to draft the senator into a presidential run. Warren has no ties to the group, but that hasn’t stopped them from touting the senator. “By standing up to Wall Street to defend Main Street, Warren has proven herself to be the spine that the Democratic Part forgot it had,” the group’s web site says.

And Katie Glueck of Politico wrote
that Democrats’ “heads might be with Hillary Clinton, but their hearts are decidedly with Elizabeth Warren.” Glueck added that while the Netroots crowds is among the most liberal part of the Democratic base, it is also among the most active.

How much Warren can, or wants, to mine the public’s discontent with the existing public policy toward Wall Street is up for debate. What’s not? That there is an underlying discontent.

David Dayen of The Fiscal Times captured
the frustration perfectly in a manifesto July 18 in which he wrote of the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s settlements with Wall Street banks: “The Justice Department has massively distorted and perverted the notion of accountability until it no longer has meaning.”

Lest readers think this is some liberal pundit spin, consider that a Forbes consumer survey named
Freddie Mac, American International Group Inc.

/quotes/zigman/557836/delayed/quotes/nls/aig AIG

, Fannie Mae and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

/quotes/zigman/188479/delayed/quotes/nls/gs GS

 among the least-admired companies list.

That’s stunning considering banks and financial institutions should be seeing the benefits of low interest rates that have made buying everything from a used car to a new home eminently affordable and an extended bull market run that has swelled 401(k)s and retirement accounts.

Still, most people believe financial institutions aren’t to be trusted. And that’s something that a billion-dollar settlement will never buy.

More from MarketWatch:

It’s a ‘golden age’ for activist investors, but not us

How to avoid the biggest 401(k) mistakes

Yellen encourages ‘fully-fledged equity bubble,’ Grantham says


add Add to watchlist




add Add to watchlist



Occupy Santa Cruz to Mark Third Anniversary

As Occupy Wall Street prepares to mark its Third Anniversary and looks to the future of the Occupy Movement, this participant and observer of Occupy Santa Cruz offers some reflections as we approach our own anniversary on October 4th. Although these are individual observations, it is hoped that a consensus of Occupy Santa Cruz may find them to be touchstones to the future.

These have been difficult years for the Occupy Movement both locally and across our nation. And although the passage of time has presented new and significant challenges to the Movement, Occupy Santa Cruz remains committed to working for social and economic justice. We are still the 99%. As we recommit ourselves to the great work of Occupy Santa Cruz, it is time to raise our collective voice in support of those ideas and causes that have always been, and continue to be, at its core.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands in solidarity with the Santa Cruz Eleven in their unyielding fight to seek and obtain justice from an unjust system.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands today in solidarity with Sin Barras as it works for the abolition of a prison system which is driven by a failed national drug war policy, fueled by institutionalized racism and that benefits only the prison/industrial complex.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands today in support of the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism as it pursues it primary mission of creating a society in which each person is “judged not by the color or his or her skin, but by the content of their character”.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands today is support and solidarity with those who are working to make the Santa Cruz Sanctuary Village a reality and with all advocates for the rights of people experiencing homelessness and the working poor.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands in solidarity with our local faith community whose continuing efforts to feed, shelter and emotionally support the homeless community are truly selfless and charitable.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands in solidarity with Food Not Bombs and supports its mission to not only feed but to educate and activate the world at large.

Occupy Santa Cruz continues to stand for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary, hard working people who have had their American dream stolen through illegal and unethical foreclosures by the banksters and mortgage lenders.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands in opposition to an oppressive and corrupt police state which even today works to still the voices of activism both locally and across our nation.

Occupy Santa Cruz stands in opposition to overreaching local governments that seek to marginalize and ultimately render invisible the artists and the street vendors that are so much a part of the urban core and culture.

And Occupy Santa Cruz stands in solidarity with every workingman and every workingwoman who struggles to provide for their families as profit margins and corporate greed consume the fruits of their labors.

When the framers set about to create an American democracy, they understood that it was a bold experiment. 240 years later it remains no less so. And when 300 Occupy framers stood up in Laurel Street Park almost three years ago they understood that their experiment was no less bold. Today, while we live in the knowledge that these bold experiments are fraught with difficulty, we believe as the founding fathers did that the Bill of Rights and the Occupy Movement have each in their way created as national forum within which we can exercise the freedom to speak, the freedom to act and the freedom to stand up for our rights and the rights others.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment birthed a great marketplace of ideas. A marketplace in which each individual voice is heard and each opinion cherished. This was the original consensus based, non-hierarchical model that Occupy Santa Cruz was based upon. Whether by dint of time or circumstance or difference of opinion, our local activist community has drifted apart. On Saturday, October 4th we will once again have an opportunity to stand together in Laurel Street Park as Occupy Santa Cruz and re-forge the bonds of activism that showed so much promise that first day. If it is true that past is prologue, it is time to stand together once more in support of a common goal and in solidarity with one another.

Bankers Scotch HSBC’s Warning to Hong Kong Over Occupy Protests

HSBC ’s downgrade of Hong Kong, citing potential risks from the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, has met with considerable skepticism from other banks.

“Historically civil rights movements in Hong Kong have brought insignificant impact to the financial market,” said Fan Cheuk Wan, chief investment officer for Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse Private Banking and Wealth Management. “The Occupy Central movement is unlikely to bring material or long-lasting impact on the stock market unless the political event unexpectedly escalates into a prolonged violent turmoil,” she added.

Some disagree with HSBC’s downgrade of Hong Kong on Occupy Central concerns.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Daiwa Capital Markets said it would not revise its GDP forecasts based on risks from Occupy Central: “We have been negative on Hong Kong’s economy, but only for other reasons, including its exposure to China’s credit risks and the pressure from the Fed’s policy normalisation,” the bank said in a research note. Erosion of Hong Kong’s judicial independence was a bigger concern, the investment bank added. “To say the Occupy Central protest would bring devastating consequences to the city is far-fetched.”

HSBC downgraded Hong Kong equities to “underweight” on Monday, saying the Occupy Central movement “could sour relations with China and may hurt the economy”. Occupy Central has threatened to blockade Hong Kong’s business and retail heartland if Beijing does not heed calls for public nomination of candidates for its chief executive election due in 2017. The U.K.-based bank, along with emerging markets bank Standard Chartered PLC were accused of yielding to political pressure last month when they pulled advertisements from Chinese-language Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, which has expressed criticism of Beijing. Both banks say their decisions were commercial.

By the end of the day Monday, HSBC reiterated its downgrade, this time detailing reasons beyond the threat of Occupy for its decision. Among reasons it put for its downbeat assessment of the former British colony were weakening residential real estate prices, slowing tourist arrivals from mainland China, and rising US interest rates, with Occupy as a lesser concern.

HSBC stood firm on its “underweight” ranking as it published its Asia-Pacific outlook on Tuesday, which effectively recommends the bank’s clients to invest elsewhere, as criticism from financial services professionals mounted on social media. George Magnus, a former UBS chief economist who was the bank’s senior economic adviser until 2012, said on Twitter that markets had bigger questions about Hong Kong’s legal independence than potential protests: “It’s where this might lead that’s the issue,” he said.

The bank’s comments came a week after China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, gave a reminder to Hong Kong’s financial industry of the support it receives from Beijing. China has sought to expand the use of the offshore yuan in the hope it will eventually become a reserve currency like the US dollar or the euro, and banks including HSBC and Standard Chartered have sought to develop this trade through their Hong Kong branches.

“The central government has been supportive of the development of Hong Kong’s yuan market,” said Guo Jianwei, deputy director-general at the monetary policy department of China’s central bank, in comments to the Wall Street Journal reiterating an earlier speech. “The stronger the overall offshore yuan market, the larger size of the ‘cake,’ the more Hong Kong can benefit from the yuan business.”

But China relies on Hong Kong’s banking sector in its efforts to internationalize the Chinese currency as well, said David Webb, a former investment banker who runs the Hong Kong corporate governance blog “We need them to open up just as much as they need us,” he said.

Despite HSBC’s “underweight” call, the bank’s 12-month price target on the Hang Seng Index of 25,000 is 6.1% higher than its current value, generating a higher potential return than some markets the bank rates “overweight”, such as Mexico. HSBC is the biggest component of the benchmark and would be affected by any selling of Hong Kong shares.

Liyan Qi contributed to this post.

From Occupy Wall Street To Big Business In 60 Seconds

One of the most common refrains of the American left for decades has been their attacks on the corporate bogeyman they like to call “big business.” And in the political arena, by extension, Democrats just love to thrash Republicans as being nothing more than Big Business’ political tools. That line of attack has been around so long, it’s to be expected even in our ever-changing political landscape.

Remember Democrats’ gleeful tarring of Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat during the 2012 presidential election? Or who can forget the Occupy Wall Street protests, when squatters in public squares across America expressed a general frustration with individuals and companies who, in their view, made too much money?

Of course, this mindset is nothing new. In fact, the term “corporate welfare” – often employed to describe government’s cozy relations with big business – has been around since at least 1956, when it was employed by Ralph Nader. That term was also used in 2008 by a Democratic senator running for president, who singled out a government program to decry as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”

The senator, of course, was Barack Obama, and the government agency was the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Today, the Barack Obama of 2008 has some unlikely allies. The Export-Import Bank – or Ex-Im, as it’s known inside the Beltway – is being criticized by conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill who see it as an example of the crony capitalism that’s making it tougher for American employers to get ahead.

What’s more, it’s a classic example of government doing something the private sector is perfectly capable of handling on its own. The bank’s purpose is to provide financing to allow foreign companies to purchase American goods – amounting to a government handout to accomplish something the market is better equipped to undertake. And Ex-Im is known for being incredibly friendly to the Democrats’ hated “big business” – 60 percent of their financing goes to ten large corporations. The largest recipient by far is Boeing, which raked in 30 percent of total Ex-Im financing in 2013 alone. Hence, the Bank is colloquially known as “Boeing’s Bank.”

Here again we see Democrats railing against business on the stump, but pulling out all the stops behind the scenes to protect their pet spending projects and corporate welfare. This is the latest and most brazen example yet.

The bank’s charter is due to expireon September 30 and conservatives like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) are eyeing ways to enact significant reforms or allow the charter to expire outright, effectively killing the bank.

Continued on Next Page

Released Occupy Activist Cecily McMillan: "There’s No Sense in Prison" – Truth

Cecily McMillan. Cecily McMillan. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Released from Rikers prison after serving 58 days, Occupy activist Cecily McMillan discusses prisons, policing and why she’ll keep protesting.

Cecily McMillan would rather not be famous. Not for the dubious honor of receiving the most serious sentence among thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists arrested over the course of the movement.

McMillan was released from Rikers Island after 58 days. She’d been sentenced to 90 days for felony second-degree assault for elbowing a police officer, Grantley Bovell, who was attempting to arrest her as Zuccotti Park was cleared on March 17, 2012, but got out early on July 2 for good behavior. She still faces five years of probation and a life with a felony record if her appeal, which is still going forward, is unsuccessful.

At trial, McMillan argued that she accidentally struck the officer after he grabbed her breast, bruising her. She’d previously refused to take a plea deal that would still have resulted in her pleading guilty to a felony. The jury found her guilty – though later nine of the 12 jurors issued a call for leniency in sentencing.

Video of McMillan suffering an apparent seizure after her arrest, while officers looked on and did nothing, was not allowed at trial, nor was evidence of other accusations of brutality against Officer Bovell. Despite the jurors and several members of the New York City Council calling for McMillan not to serve prison time, the judge, Ronald Zweibel, remanded her to Rikers immediately after her conviction, rejecting her lawyer’s request for bail. “A civilized society must not allow an assault to be committed under the guise of civil disobedience,” Zweibel said at her sentencing.

Upon her release, McMillan brought to the press a statement from the women of Rikers that she met while inside, with a list of demands for reforms of the institution. Though, she says, she is nobody special – “I’m just not as interesting as they’re making me out to be” – her experiences have made her determined to speak out about prison conditions, as well as the connections between the prison system and the economic justice issues that led her to get involved with Occupy in the first place.

McMillan spoke with Truthout‘s Sarah Jaffe about prisons, protests, policing and the world she’d like to see. This is an edited transcript.

Truthout: How does it feel to be out?

Cecily McMillan: It’s very discombobulating. I remember coming home, sitting on my bed, looking at all my clothes. It took me literally 30 minutes – being almost paralyzed with decisions available to me – before I could even pick out something to wear around the house. I’ve been wearing the same two outfits, same two sets of pajamas, for 58 days.

It’s like that with everything. Getting up in the morning and choosing what to eat. It took me a while to even get any sort of voice back. When I got out and did the press conference I had to start my speech over because I literally lost my voice. I had forgotten what it meant to be listened to.

I am really overwhelmed with the task of adequately representing the needs of the women in Rikers. I had the very real experience, but nonetheless, that was only 58 days. Many of these women have been in and out, sent back again and again. I take very seriously the task that they have given me to represent their conditions in Rikers and the resources they need in order to get out.

I really fiercely miss my family in Rikers. These are the women that really sustained me in there, that really kept me going, that really helped me to continue to stand up for the values that I believe in. There’s a bond and an experience that I have with them that I don’t really have in my community on the outside.

It sounds like you’ve been thinking a lot about the role you have now, the way you can use the attention given to your case that isn’t given to so many other people who are in there.

I’m really uncomfortable with the concept of a martyr, the concept of a leader. As far as I’m concerned, I just got sexually assaulted, which is a really commonplace experience for women in this country. I just got targeted, which is a really common experience for people of color in this country.

I don’t think that I’m particularly special or even the best person to advocate on behalf of the everyday life of, not if, but when most of these women will find themselves in jail. When they asked me to deliver their demands, when they wrote them down, when they handed me 50 little sheets of paper that I read out to my team over the phone, I realized that I had some idea of what their oppression was, but not a clear structural understanding. It has been a constant worry that I won’t do them justice.

Any particular stories about what it was like there that you’d like to share?

Maybe the best way that I could explain is through describing a search. Our dorm gets randomly searched at least twice a month, more if they want to set an example or if somebody has been smoking in the bathroom or if there have been rumors that somebody had some sort of contraband.

They use this space more or less to haze the new [correctional officers]. Two or three captains, 10 or so officers file into your dorm in full riot gear, the whole Plexiglas panel that’s surrounding their body, the masks and a huge wooden bat. Another set of officers file into the bathroom and stand in a line facing the stalls that don’t have doors. The first time they did the search I was using the restroom and had to finish my business right in front of them. They direct everybody to get down on the beds face down with your hands behind your back, after you put on your uniform and your ID badge. In Rikers you become a number. I’m 3101400431.

A third set of officers file in through sleeping quarters. Sometimes they bring in dogs. They call you row by row into the bathroom to strip down completely naked, do a deep knee bend forward, a deep knee bend backward, then have you open your mouth and shake out your hair and lift up your breasts.

After that the row files into the day room, and they have you face the wall standing throughout what can take up to a three or four hour process. Again you have three or so different captains, yelling “Miss, Miss,” and if you turn around they’re like, “I said turn around and face the wall! You want me to take your good days away?” You don’t know who’s giving orders where. They direct you into the entrance room where they make you sit down on a metal-detecting chair to check your body for any objects that you may be concealing. You have to put your cheek on a similar body metal detector device.

Then they bring out the women row by row again to our beds where they have flipped your bedding over, and you’re made to stand there and hold your mattress off the ground. These old women up to 80 years old having to stand there for hours and then hold their mattresses up like this. They page through everything. They turned to me at one point and said, “McMillan! Why do you have so many books?” I was like, “Because I’m a grad student! Are you looking for cigarettes or are you looking for radical literature?”

If a CO isn’t being humiliating enough, a CO will come over and ravage through your things even more. They can take anything away. These little soap hearts – this inmate would crush down soaps and reform them into hearts and put little pictures from magazines on them. Anything besides two pairs of pajamas – shoes that you got medically cleared, any commissary, if you have more than one shampoo and conditioner, pens. It takes like two weeks to get one of those.

After that you’re all marched back out and whatever doesn’t fit on your bed becomes trash. They will have another set of inmates come in – this is the real dirty part – and sweep up all of your belongings into these big trash bags and when you’re let back into your room, the closest thing I can describe it to is growing up in southeast Texas and coming back home after a hurricane to return with your community to put your life back together again.

All sorts of things can go wrong. My bunkie, the woman next to me, had very serious asthma and they woke her up like this; she had a very severe asthma attack, to the point that she nearly collapsed and they said, “Stand up, why are you sitting down?” I said, “She has asthma,” and they yelled, “shut the fuck up!” and I said, “You’re going to have a lawsuit on your hands unless you get her her inhaler,” and they asked her, “Which bed are you?” and she couldn’t talk. I said, “She lives right next to me, I can get her inhaler,” and they said, “Shut the fuck up!” and then she started wheezing and they’re like, “OK, McMillan, go get her inhaler, quick!” and I trot off, and they yell, “Don’t run, walk!” This woman ended up having to go downstairs to get a steroid shot.

That’s a normal experience at Rikers, something you have to accept. They can come at any time, any day, during any set of services, 3:00 AM, doesn’t matter.

The statement from the inmates in particular focused on the lack of medical treatment given to prisoners, and I hear that again in this story.

I have to agree wholeheartedly – this will seem like the most unlikely ally – with the president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, who I worked with before. Rikers is not and should not be a mental institution. I read a recent statistic that said more than 40 percent of the women there have been diagnosed with mental health conditions and I would say that’s an underreporting. Every inmate is not required to undergo a thorough psychosocial consult. These women need help. Actual resources. Not to be put in a place that will literally drive you mad if you were whatever sane was to begin with.

Beyond the mental health standards, it is the norm to go downstairs for clinic – you have to sign up for sick call the night before; if you don’t sign up you don’t go. Then you have to wake up somehow of your own accord at 6 AM to go prepare for sick call. You could be waiting up to two or three hours at the door for sick call because when the door closes you’re not getting out. I never got through sick call in less than six hours; you could be waiting easily up to 12 hours, and you could also still not see a doctor and have to come back two, three or four days in a row.

Very basic things like a cold, an ulcer, think about it. These tiny little things that can be fixed with ease turn into death sentences, rapidly. I witnessed another woman who had stomach cancer who found herself in so much unbearable pain that she was just yelling out her bunkie’s name for hours before medical finally came up and when they did, they refused to touch her and required her to climb up on the gurney herself and wouldn’t allow us to help her climb up on this gurney. The gurney ended up going up on two wheels as she nearly careened to the floor.

People keep asking me what was the doctor’s name. Doctors don’t have to give you their names. And of course they won’t.

It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Judith’s death. I’m happy to talk about Judith’s death in the sense that I would love for her death to actually have eyes. I would love for anybody to recognize that she died, but I want to really paint a picture that this isn’t an anomaly.

Another girl, when she was brought in for intake, was given what she thought was a routine physical, where a doctor that is known to be – nasty is the term that they use to describe him, telling inmates in Spanish that these uptight nurses, what they really need is a good fuck. He told this inmate that he needed to do an exam, told her that her chromosomal count was off, that he needed to do an exam to determine if she were really a man or a woman, had her pull down her panties as he stroked her. With no female nurse present.

It didn’t even come out until after I had left. They were talking about medical abuses in the dorm after I left, and she said “That doctor? He gave me a gynecological exam when I came in.” Another inmate said, “He’s not a gynecologist,” and she said, “He said he needed to determine . . . ” and it wasn’t until she finished the sentence that she realized that there was anything even wrong with that.

It’s just horrifying. This is the pervasive treatment that such a broad swath of our society experiences on the outside every day, that humiliation has become that normalized.

People promise all sorts of things to these wonderfully resilient women all of the time and they very rarely follow through. I don’t think that they thought that their voices would actually be heard by so many. I was terrified that I was going to get out and nobody was going to want to hear what they had to say on the inside. There’s a reason why we have such a beautiful piece of real estate being occupied by a prison-industrial complex; that’s why they’re way over there with a bridge separating them from the rest of society. It’s easier for society to put those people over there so that they don’t have to be reminded daily of the degrading terms on which our democracy rests.

I’m hearing this, thinking about the incident that landed you in Rikers in the first place. I wonder if you feel like all of this is related, the way the police behaved outside of jail and the way inmates are treated on the inside?

Maybe that’s what has made me relate so much to these women and why I feel so alienated from the community I had before. There’s so much love; people are so overwhelmingly supportive; my friends are just incredible; my entire Occupy family is just beautiful. But to have undergone the experience that I had was in a sense to remove me of my class privilege.

I know that there’s an irony in saying that as I have the opportunity to talk to you right now, which obviously means that I still do have privilege beyond measure in a comparative sense. But it at least allowed me a glimpse into what it means to be targeted by the police, to be characterized as dishonest, as undesirable by the court system, to be remanded without bail, as only the most serious crimes are. I had to spend like a week in jail trying to convince people that I wasn’t some sort of mass murderer. They said, “Did you miss a court date?” and I said “No,” and they said, “How many people did you kill?”

This is a double-edged sword. I went into Rikers and rather than the example to be made for Occupy Wall Street and of all dissent, I was just a normal person in there and there was a certain comfort to that. Even amidst the shocking humiliation there’s also a solidarity of human struggle that I had really missed. Just be amongst other people who had been targeted, who had been treated poorly, who had been lost in the justice system, there was something to be said for that. I feel like in some ways I had been removed of all personhood except for the political idea they had wished to make of me and somehow through Rikers I regained my personhood, in the most humbling and profound way.

You want to talk about really seeing firsthand these books we read about the feminine condition, class condition, racial conditions, there’s nothing like spending time in Rikers to make you feel those words. Feel the reality of the new Jim Crow. Feel the vulnerability of what it means to be a woman. Feel the helplessness of being a part of an undesirable criminal class.

I read that even when they were letting you out, they took you somewhere you weren’t expecting to be?

Captains do not talk to inmates. The captains make all the decisions, so if you want a decision made you have to go through a CO to talk to a captain and the captain doesn’t address you; they talk about you in front of you and then the CO tells you. I was passed through like a dozen captains that morning starting at 5 AM, and you’re never even brought down till 7:30 AM after the court folks have been put into transportation. I was brought down at 5 AM, people from property, people from medication were called in early that morning just to discharge me. I was discharged at 8:30 AM, put into a van and I said to the very nice CO, “Have you ever seen them try to get rid of somebody so quickly?” He said, “No, I’ve also never been ordered to chauffeur somebody to a train station.” I said, “Wait, what, no no no, I’m supposed to go to the Perry building,” which is where people wait for inmates to get released. My friends were there; I really needed to meet them because I don’t have an ID, a phone, without anybody that I care about knowing where I am. Especially being disappeared for 40 hours without any access to a lawyer or anybody able to find me after the initial arrest I was like, “Oh God, what is happening here?” They can and do disappear people at Rikers Island.

I was terrified. What are you going to do at Rikers Island in cuffs, tell an officer who doesn’t show you a badge, a name, “No thank you, I’d like to go back to my dorm now”?

I’m in this car, the CO says OK, let me talk to my captain. He calls the deputy warden over; I tell him I do not consent to being driven to an unknown location without ID, without phone, without keys, without talking to my friends, nothing. Once I have passed the gates of Rikers, you are no longer in charge; I demand to be let go. I sat there for about 40 minutes as I’m sure they called all the way up to the commissioner, and then the CO said, “I’m sorry, I have orders; my wife died a couple of months ago from cancer and I’m in charge of these two young boys and I can’t lose my job; I can’t lose my pension. If I disobey orders, I’m going to get in trouble. This is coming from all the way up.”

He drove me to Queensboro and dropped me off with my package and my MetroCard and he did, I will say, wait around until I managed to find somebody with a phone before he drove off. Luckily there was a young man who recognized my jail bag with my numbers on it; he said, “You look really distressed; did you just get out of jail? Do you want to borrow my phone?” and I said, “Please.” He turned out to be an activist for Chinese immigrant rights; he sat there and waited with me until my friends came and picked me up. They asked, “You’re WHERE?” and I said, “I don’t know!”

You get a real sense that you could die, that you could disappear, that anything could happen to you while you’re in there. This is the reality that these women live every day.

New York has been going through a lengthy debate over the practices of the NYPD, which became central to last year’s mayoral election. How would you like to see the NYPD changed?

As one inmate said in her own demands, “A full-on investigation of the protocols of the NYPD. I mean look at this place, you’re one of two white girls I’ve seen in here.”

I don’t know how to say it better. The NYPD, I have no problem with the human beings themselves at all. I think that there is a way that a police force could actually be used to protect the citizenry. I would love to see police officers help, especially the elderly, help children in times of need, in times of chaos. I think that there could be a really valuable role for police officers in a human community. But what we have right now is specifically not that.

I think “Stop policing, start protecting” is a really valuable chant. We’ve got to ask, who is it that the police are accountable to? It seems to me very clearly that it’s not the people. The bankers haven’t been arrested. I would love to see, what is the total sum of money that every prisoner in Rikers has ever allegedly stolen as compared to the 2007 housing market crash.

In that sense, I do think that the NYPD as a force has become the arm of the corporatocracy. The way that they treated Zuccotti Park, the way that they go out and seemingly round up undesirable people, especially at times that gentrification is in full swing, but never happen to be around in times when the same people actually require assistance or help. What are our police doing? Why are they doing it? Who are they responsible to? Why don’t we have more community oversight? Why don’t we have a democratic hand in selecting the commissioner?

I found it ludicrous that one of the reasons why they were saying I was clearly not the victim of anything is because I didn’t report it to the internal affairs bureau. “Hey, um, excuse me police officers, can I tell you about how this other police officer, your friend, comrade and coworker, abused me?” You’ve got to be kidding me. Who would do that?

This big disarmament facade of removing guns from our streets via racial profiling – where’s your disarmament strategy on the other side? Why is it that every police officer needs a gun?

I heard the recent number of how many New Yorkers died by gunshot wounds in 2013. I want to know how many of those bullets were at the hands of the NYPD. I think the police need to be democratically controlled just as our state is supposed to be. If you look at the basic demands of the women in Rikers, they were just asking for the same rights and the same avenues to participate in their own fate as we have begged for in this country for as long as I’ve been alive.

I think that the platform and demands laid out by the women of Rikers give us some serious direction for our own democratic organization as well. How can we, the citizens of New York City, file a grievance when an officer has abused his duty? If it’s not the officers, who can we hold accountable for issuing the order? How can we know where the orders are coming from? Same demands as Rikers, same demands for New York City. We should have a say in our collective fate.

How do the prison system and these problems of police brutality intersect with the issues of economic injustice that the Occupy movement was fighting? There was tension within Occupy over whether fighting the police overshadowed the focus on economic inequality – do you see these as two parts of the same movement?

I was certainly of the camp that was like “we need to get off the [fuck the police] nonsense,” but in reality, we did have to fight with law enforcement – I don’t mean violently, I mean figuratively – in order to be allowed our basic civil right to protest. It wasn’t so much a choice as it was a reality and because it was the nearest problem to us, the biggest hurdle to get at economic inequality; it became really central to what we were trying to do.

In terms of the NYPD and economic justice and the prison system, our prisons are the clearest barometer of the level of our democracy and our society. Maybe in terms of Occupy, had we been able to start with this, from this standpoint, we might have garnered a lot more strength across the 99% than when we started at Zuccotti. There’s a certain amount of privilege that comes with being able to drop everything in your life and move into a public space.

That’s not to belittle what Zuccotti was or Occupy Wall Street was by any means. Like I’ve been saying since I’ve gotten out, get your nose out of a book and get your ass into the streets; we’re going to make mistakes; we’re going to mess up, but we’ve got to stop talking about what we’re going to do and we’ve got to start doing things in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Prison is the clearest vision of what is wrong with our corporate state. I have never more clearly understood how classist our society is. I did not meet a single other person in my entire time at Rikers who went to trial. Jury of your peers? Ha! They so clearly understand that there is no right to trial by jury, nor right to a speedy trial. There have been women waiting there for five years to go to trial, or for the right plea bargain. I was never in a room with more than I would say three white women. I met maybe a handful of people that lived in Manhattan.

In terms of the NYPD, I think that they have a strong understanding of the fact that the police are there specifically to remove them from society, not to protect them in society. The amount of women that had read The New Jim Crow in there is actually a lot, but they also understand it structurally. They don’t sit around and scream about “fuck the police.” They understand that the police are not answerable to them.

They are some of the most incredible organizers I’ve ever witnessed, in the fact that they manage somehow to continue living, to continue having humanity, to continue having community despite absolutely no access to affordable housing, to quality jobs, to a police system that protects them, to the resources that they need concerning domestic abuse, domestic violence, career training, job training, education, health care, mental health care, welfare. They have managed to organize their way around literally unlivable circumstances.

Can you imagine a world without prisons? Have you ever thought about prison abolition? What would we need for that to happen?

[A world without prisons] seems very easy to me. It’s harder for me to imagine a world with prisons, even having been there.

The problem again isn’t with the COs. We’re looking at people who are not downwardly mobile upper-class white folks who want to run around Jim Crow-ing everyone. These folks, as one inmate said when I asked her what she thought about this story about the COs bringing in contraband, she said, “I’m not really surprised. We all come from the same place. All of them know us. They’re just the ones who were lucky enough to get out.”

These folks that are working these public sector jobs, you think they want to go to prison every day, you think they want to go to jail every day? Hell no. If we provided quality addiction programs where we treated addiction not like some sort of personal choice but the condition that it is, the mental health condition that it is, that helped people, COs would be working there. If we had solid resources for, so many women were actually in there for “assault” because they finally snapped and defended themselves against their abusers. I was in a room with four alone. If we had domestic abuse programs where women had resources for themselves and their children, where they didn’t have to move in with friends in overcrowded high-priced apartments, and weren’t made to resort to jobs that don’t provide the money that is required to raise children. Mental health care programs. Health care programs. I met women in there that were in trouble for grand larceny, for stealing, in order to pay medical bills. If we put the same emphasis on social welfare and education, job training, we provided government sector jobs, both the COs and the inmates would lead much more fulfilling lives.

It is actually mind-boggling to me how we keep up the facade of prisons. The grand waste of taxpayer money, if you just look at it from a capitalistic self-interested standpoint. One of the women in there is writing a book called “Rosie’s Babies” where she talks about the dozens of women that she’s met in Rikers who had been born in Rikers and then were sent back again and again and again. I myself met four of these women.

There’s no sense in prison. There’s no rehabilitation; there’s no citizenship; it is completely at odds with everything that we call democracy. It doesn’t make any sense. People have called me a political prisoner; that’s weird for me. But if I have to really think about that title and really come up with a definition of what a political prisoner is, it’s someone who goes against the law or goes against the social rules or norms in order to stand up for the things that they believe in or the people that they care for, to do what is right by their communities. There’s not a single woman in Rikers who isn’t a political prisoner by that standard.

Just give these women, give these inmates, give our citizens the things that they need, the rights that they deserve. The resources they want to lead happy, fulfilling, contributing lives. That to me is so obvious.