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Three Years Ago Today – Oct. 7th, 2011 – the Occupy Wallstreet Movement …

Oct. 7, 2011. Author is in lower right front of photo in white shirt. Photo Credit T.Collins Logan

It was October 7th, in the year 2011, that the Occupy Wallstreet movement  hit San Diego.

In a huge outpouring of demonstrators, up to 4,000 San Diegans marched through the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego – mainly protesting for social and economic justice, against the state of the economy and the role of banks and Wallstreet responsible for the financial downturn.  Occupy San Diego was born in a giant – for San Diego – protest in solidarity with the rest of the country and particularly those in New York City – where the occupy movement began.

After the march ended up at City Hall – where speeches were given in the Civic Plaza, the protesters moved back to the  original site, Children’s Park, for their first night of encampment. In terms of progressive political expressions, this was the largest demonstration in the City for many years – and there hasn’t been anything like it since.

Later the next day, October 8th, Occupy San Diego returned to the Civic Plaza – which they renamed “Freedom Plaza” and made an encampment that would last for days and weeks. A hundred tents were counted at one point, along with a kitchen, first aid, media tents, and sign-making, a couple of libraries,the encampment was a bright spot in San Diego’s political history.

Finally, under intense police pressure – now known to have been directed from Washington DC – as well as its own internal contradictions, Occupy San Diego fell apart – along with most movements across the nation – by or near the end of that year, 2011.

There are remnants, and here in San Diego, the most on-going and spirited spin-off is WomenOccupy San Diego, a mainly singing group.  There is an anniversary celebration of sorts happening this day – today – Oct. 7th, 2014 – at the Civic Center at 7pm.  The event is also in solidarity with the demonstrations going on in Hong Kong.

Even though it did fade, the Occupy Wallstreet movement changed the nation’s discussion – for the first time, the expressions “the 99%”, “the 1%” entered our lexicon, and the discussion focused on the role of banks and the role of Wallstreet like never before – or since.

Here is part of my report of the Urban Village created by Occupy San Diego – from Oct. 11, 2011:

With all that had been put up during the occupation, something new and wonderfully addicting was being born. We were creating the beginnings of a new society right here in the shadow of City Hall, right here in the windy, cold corridors of San Diego power.

As you walk among the nearly 90 tents set up in the Plaza, and observe what the occupiers are actually doing, you can sense that a small town, a small village, has been created right in the bowels of our large city, right in the heart of its civic government. A village born in the middle of a city.

I  looked around.  People were in a food line, a constant figment of the occupation.  The Food Tent was one of the first to be installed, and multiple tables were covered with boxes of food stuffs – lots of bread and rolls . Washing tubs stood nearby, along with bins for recyclables and trash. Stacked behind the tables were cases of water bottles and boxes of donated foods. Campers had been asked to bring their own plates, containers and utensils and most had.

Twenty yards away was the medical tent, and it even had a cot inside. A sign hung outside that announced: “The People’s Clinic”. The Medical Committee appears to be very well organized and that there was always some volunteer hanging out in its tent waiting to be of service.

From there, if you took a 90 degree turn to the west, you might run into the Voter Registration booth and tent, prominently set up so anyone walking by would see it.

People were in their tents, talking, reading, eating – you know, the things that people do when they’re home. Small groups sat in circles, sharing food, stories and laughter.  A few children were visible. Here and there, someone fingered their guitars.  And you cannot escape seeing the overall amazing diversity of the encampment. All colors and varieties of  human folk.

Mingling with the humans were a number of very friendly dogs – all on leashes.  I didn’t see any cats, however.  I did pass the “Comfort” tent, where bins of donated clothing and blankets were being collected and displayed for the taking.  Out of nowhere, two old friends appeared and strung up a Bulletin Board for the village. A hammock had been thrown up, hooked on sign poles, and someone had added a cardboard sign on the City pole with all the different destinations around the world that simply said “Occupy San Diego”.

I walked some distance and around the corner was the Library, with a large display of books and reading material. Everyone had been asked initially to bring a book to share, and the occupiers and their supporters had certainly responded.  There were also stacks of DVD’s to view, magazines, and other literature for perusal.  No library cards needed here – the check out policy is very liberal.

Up against one of the walls of the Quad was a string of tables under a tarp labeled “Media”.   A live-stream camera was constantly on and a half dozen people sat behind their laptops.

Legal observers and Safety Committee people mingle about. Tonight it was quiet.

Occupy Wall Street activist ‘threatened to kill police officer’s family’ after …

  • Cecily McMillan, 25, interfered when she saw plain-clothed officers arresting a couple at Union Square station in December
  • Officer claims she accused his partner of being a ‘male chauvinistic pig’ 
  • Then she allegedly said: ‘He probably doesn’t have any wife or kids’
  • Continuing the suspected abuse, saying: ‘But if he did, I would kill them’
  • McMillan denies a misdemeanor charge which carries a year-long sentence 
  • Was jailed for three months earlier this year for elbowing an officer during the protest in March 2012

Wills Robinson for MailOnline

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Allegations: Cecily McMillan, 26 (pictured arriving at a hearing earlier this year) appeared in court to face allegations she threatened to kill a police officer’s family during an incident on the New York subway

An Occupy Wall Street activist has been accused of threatening to kill a plain-clothed police officer’s family during an incident on the New York subway. 

Cecily McMillan, 26, who was jailed for three months earlier this year for elbowing an officer during the 2012 demonstrations, allegedly made the threats when two fare-dodgers were being arrested. 

The graduate student from the New School appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday, charged with obstructing governmental administration during an altercation in Union Square station last December.

Officer Luis Castillo told the pretrial hearing that he heard McMillan accuse his partner, officer Brian Rothermel, of being a ‘male chauvinist pig’,The Guardian reported. 

He claims she then said: ‘And he probably doesn’t have any kids or a wife, but if he did, I’d kill them.’

McMillan has denied the misdemeanor charge which carries a year prison sentence if convicted.

According to her supporters’ website, McMillan was ‘arrested again’ by the NYPD for filming the police as they arrested two people inside station.

The post reads: ‘Cecily saw two plainly dressed men begin to abusively confront and interrogate a young couple. 

‘When she began to question them about the harassment, it turned out the men were police officers who then arrested them. 

‘Cecily followed them to the subway precinct, watching to make sure they were not further abused, and began to take a video of the arrest process from outside the precinct doors. 

McMillan, dubbed the ‘queen of non-violence’, was found guilty in May of assaulting a police officer during a demonstration two years before.

As the verdict was read out and she was led away from the court room, her supporters shouted: ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’

The student, who was 25 at the time, was sentenced to three years but served around eight on Rikers Island in New York. 

Her defense team maintained throughout the trial that she was startled and knocked the officer accidentally after he groped her left breast from behind. 

Activist: The graduate student was jailed for three months earlier this year for elbowing a police officer as she was led away from the Wall Street demonstrations in March 2012. She served eight weeks of the sentence 

Activist: The graduate student was jailed for three months earlier this year for elbowing a police officer as she was led away from the Wall Street demonstrations in March 2012. She served eight weeks of the sentence 

During the subway incident, McMillan was said to have grabbed the officers hand when one of the fare-dodgers tried to hand over his ID. 

As the pair were taken away, she continued to film the incident on her phone.

Throughout the altercation, she claimed she was a lawyer, and when they reached the precinct doors, she tried to force her way in.

According to officer Castillo, she then started shouting and screaming before she was arrested and handcuffed. 

A trial will begin when a jury has been selected while the judge ruled that her previous assault charges must not be mentioned by the prosecution.  

McMillan was one of 56 people to be convicted at trial for the demonstrations in March 2012, while another 11 people have been acquitted.

The city had evicted Occupy’s Zuccotti Park encampment four months earlier, but activists gathered there to celebrate the six-month mark.

McMillan (pictured outside a Manhattan court in May) denies the charges, saying she was only filming two plain-clothed police officers arresting two fare-dodgers at Union Square station, New York

 

 


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The Americans Who Inspired Hong Kong’s Protesters

Last week at the United Nations, after condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and ISIS’s barbarism in the Middle East, Barack Obama acknowledged what, for non-Americans, is usually the elephant in the room: the morality of American behavior itself. “I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals,” he noted. But while admitting that the United States cannot offer the world a model of democracy and human rights, Obama argued that it can offer a model of how a flawed society struggles to better itself. “What you see in America,” he said, “is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems, to make our union more perfect. … [W]e fight for our ideals, and we are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.”

By deploying the pronoun “we,” Obama slyly conflated state and society. He deflected criticisms of America’s government by spotlighting the struggles of America’s people. In so doing, he implicitly acknowledged something important: America’s greatest contributions to democracy abroad often stem not from Washington but from the Americans who mobilize against it.

Look at Hong Kong, where a group called Occupy Central with Peace and Love is playing a key role in a broader movement for free elections. If the name sounds familiar, it should. It’s a variation of the phrase made famous when protesters began congregating in New York’s Zuccotti Park roughly three years ago. In Washington, Hong Kong’s Occupy movement is widely admired for its challenge to China’s undemocratic rule. But in taking the name “Occupy,” Hong Kong’s protesters are paying homage to a movement that challenged the lack of democracy in Washington itself.

The relationship between the two Occupies dates to 2011. “Central” is the name of Hong Kong’s main business district. And the term “Occupy Central”—which has gained international renown over the last week—was coined a few years ago when Occupy Wall Street was gaining steam. In October 2011, soon after protesters began sleeping in Zuccotti Park, several hundred Hong Kongers created their own encampment outside the headquarters of HSBC, the world’s second-largest bank. Calling their movement, “Occupy Central,” they remained encamped there until September 2012, thus comprising one of the longest-running Occupy protests in the world.

A few months later, in January 2013, a law professor named Benny Tai proposed that protesters descend upon Central again, in the movement that became Occupy Central with Peace and Love (OCPL). At first glance, this new effort has little in common with the movement that started in lower Manhattan. OCPL is demanding electoral democracy: the people’s right to choose the candidates who will run for chief executive of Hong Kong. Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, was born from frustration that America’s electoral democracy was a sham because the country’s radically unequal economic system concentrated power in the hands of financial and corporate elites.

But it’s worth remembering that Occupy Wall Street never formulated specific demands. Its message was broader: that unaccountable elites—“the 1 percent”—had created a political and economic system that denied ordinary people a voice in their government and a chance at a better life. It was the breadth of this message that helped Occupy spread rapidly across the globe, as local activists adapted it to their particular circumstances.

And that’s exactly what Hong Kong’s new Occupy movement is doing today. Tai and his allies are not merely protesting a rigged electoral system. They are protesting the way China’s government and Hong Kong’s economic elite work together to empower themselves at the expense of the region’s people. Earlier this year, when The Economist unveiled its “crony-capitalism” index—“the countries where politically connected businessmen are most likely to prosper”—it ranked Hong Kong number one. The territory also boasts one of the world’s highest Gini coefficients, making it among the most economically unequal places on earth. As Jeffrey Wasserstrom of the University of California at Irvine and Denise Ho of the Chinese University of Hong Kong recently observed in The Nation, “The grievances of Occupy Central have much in common with those of Occupy movements worldwide: Hong Kong is a vastly unequal society, and government policies are seen as favoring real estate development over affordable housing, shopping complexes over little remaining farmland, and low taxation over more equitable redistribution.”

The Democracy Report

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, and the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong have all denounced Occupy Central with Peace and Love. The protesters in Central may be focusing on electoral reform while the protesters in Zuccotti Park were focusing on financial power, but in both places, they were protesting the link between a lack of true political participation and economic unfairness.

We’ve seen this kind of global ricochet effect before. In 1968, demonstrations broke out in the United States, in Western Europe, and in Warsaw and Prague. America’s cold warriors—who admired the Eastern European students protesting Soviet domination but scorned the American students protesting the Vietnam War—denied any connection between the two. To do so would have sullied the moral divide between the free West and the unfree East. But as Jeremi Suri and others have documented, students on both sides of the Iron Curtain saw themselves as protesting the way their governments used the Cold War to impose authoritarian, militaristic policies that offended their values and blighted their lives. While advancing different agendas, they shared a common spirit.

The lesson of 1968, and of Hong Kong, is that the best way for Americans to promote democracy abroad is to struggle for it at home. Yes, the United States government can use its power against tyrannical adversaries. It can impose sanctions against Moscow, condemn Beijing, and bomb ISIS. But even the non-Americans who support such actions recognize them as tainted by the self-interest of a superpower that often supports tyranny itself. When America actually inspires non-Americans struggling for democracy, it’s less because of the actions of our government than the actions of those Americans willing to challenge it. The “most useful place to look for the inspirations that drive Arab democracy activists these days is not the speeches of George W. Bush but rather the protest movements among American civil rights activists in the period 1956-1964,” wrote the Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri several years ago. By choosing the name Occupy, the people risking their lives in Hong Kong are saying something similar about a new generation of American activists today.

From Wall Street to Central—how to Occupy a space

Back in 2011, I was small part of the Occupy Wall Street movement (occasionally helping stock the kitchen and First Aid tents in Zuccotti Park), so arriving in Hong Kong, I had a sense of what Occupy Central with Love and Peace would look like.

This morning (Oct. 1), I headed over to Central, the main street through Hong Kong’s financial district, to see the occupation trying to secure for Hong Kong the democratic election they were promised in 2017. Walking east from the ferry terminal, the scale of the event certainly seemed like Occupy in New York—hundreds of people, many wearing that dazed, curious smile people get when they see their fellow citizens behaving as if politics could include them.

Walking uphill on Central, now turned into a political pedestrian mall, felt like a kind of elongated Zuccotti Park. Then I got to the crest of the roadway, and looked down towards the Admiralty neighborhood, the moment captured in the picture above.

And I realized how wrong I was about the size. Occupy Central is absolutely massive, endless participation as far as the eye can see. (Amazement at the scale of the event seemed to be a common reaction—my picture includes several other people holding up their cameras at about the same spot, having had roughly the same reaction.)

I took my kids with me, and while I have never lost my midwesterner’s wonder at tall buildings and big groups, my kids have grown up in New York City and now Shanghai, so crowds don’t impress them much. What they were interested in (and what came to interest me) were the ways the occupation is adapting to the need to inhabit a two-mile stretch of asphalt 24/7.

The first thing we noticed was the need to alter the surface of the space, to take an impersonal environment and modify it to say “We’re here. This matters.” Cities are occupied, every day, by their residents. To make an occupation different, to kick off a political conversation in what had just recently been a transportation corridor, requires taking urban-scale space and adding human-scale adaptations.

Someone could update Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn to talk about the way various Occupy movements adapt seemingly impassive urban space to their particular needs, both rhetorical and practical.

One common pattern is signs, of course…

A clear statement of purpose: Beijing has said the only candidates who can stand for office in 2017 will be hand-picked by them; the Occupiers want to be able to nominate candidates, not just vote for them.

Media is also a hugely important part of Occupy Central. All political movements look for coverage, of course, but here, evidence that an event is being documented takes on an additional resonance, since every bit of independent documentation knicks at the government’s ability to keep coverage of the event limited to its side of the story. Though the peer communication app FireChat is getting a workout (and a lot of attention as a result), the real social media story here is about publicity, not privacy. For people who want to be heard, the event has to carry past the streets of downtown Hong Kong, and outside the bounds of legacy Chinese media.

Some of what was posted on the walls was just evidence that the event was being documented (making this picture fairly meta).

There were also practical adaptations by the score. One of the first ones we came across was about wayfinding. Because the occupation is in the middle of a formerly busy street, there are no guides for pedestrians, so maps were drawn up and posted, to help people find their way along the avenue.

The most famous practical adaptation, of course, was the umbrellas.

Because the first clash of the protest involved occupiers defending themselves against pepper spray with umbrellas, this has become known as the Umbrella Movement.

Even broken umbrellas can serve a second, rhetorical function. Tied to the the western-most barricade on Central, the umbrellas say “This is where business as usual stops and our particular temporary autonomous zone starts.”

Since Hong Kong is, per Wikipedia, “a monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate”, umbrellas are ubiquitous; politicizing them provides some of the hiding in plain sight symbolism An Xiao Mina has written about so brilliantly. It also means that political symbols are readily for sale in a country known for subtle and pervasive symbolic control.

An array of donated umbrellas looks like a combination of a yard sale and an armory.

Likewise, the site of the occupation is distinctly not pedestrian friendly. Central is essentially a downtown highway, with borders to match. As people flow in by their thousands, they need to be able to do something the roadway’s designers explicitly tried to prevent: cross the street. There are several improvised barrier crossings, often staffed by volunteers.

The other famous adaptation was to tear gas, with impromptu gas masks being created out of goggles and saran wrap, which they now stock by the bale.

The occupation doesn’t go in for political graffiti—most signs are made and put up, rather than being painted directly onto walls. (Indeed, we saw protestors carefully scrubbing graffiti off the roadway today, an elaborate signal that this movement does not aim to destroy or deface property.)

My friend Marianne Manilov pointed out to me that Occupy Wall Street strengthened its political message enormously with a commitment to look after anyone who showed up. In the industrialized world, taking care of other people has become a radical political act. The occupiers of Hong Kong have created an impromptu but effective distribution system for food, water, first aid, cooling supplies.

The speed with which the participants in this movement have built an encampment with food and water and first aid and even border crossings is impressive. They have shown us, at a scope unimaginable even in Zuccotti Park in 2011, what it means to occupy a space. The odds against this movement are serious, but they have shown that adapting urban space to political communication is an act of shared imagination and adaptation.

The original version of this essay is on GitHub. If you would like to share the photos or copy the essay, you can fork a version of your own.

Unrealized Dreams: Occupy Wall Street Three Years Later

To revolutionaries, and I’d imagine many others too, anniversaries are when we remember past events and struggles, discuss their significance and what lessons they may hold for us in the current moment. Although I hold to the reflections I gave on the previous two anniversaries of the Occupy Movement (see here and here), that still leaves the question: what do we say now? Was this Occupy Movement the herald of a new form of radical politics? A liberal version of the Tea Party? A fun carnival? A necessary learning process that thousands of newly politicized activists had to undergo before moving onto more serious politics? Or just a flash in the pan? Can we even pass judgment on the many unrealized dreams of Occupy?

Compared to old sterile sectarian left politics and the NGOs who march to the Democrat Party line, Occupy was something new and fresh. Here were thousands of people, the vast majority who had never been touched by politics before, suddenly in the streets and shouting “we are the 99%!” and demanding fundamental change in the way society is organized. Now it is true that the structures of Occupy, such as the General Assemblies were a hindrance to developing the appropriate vertical structures with accountable leadership that can develop the programs and strategies necessary to win. Yet this deficiency did not stop people from coming to the encampments in order to discuss politics, capitalism, what a better society would look like, and a thousand other questions. 

And to those of us newly active, even if we were radicals beforehand, it was like being struck by a bolt of lightning. It is one thing to read about revolutions and mass movements in books and essays. All of that is safe and seemingly far away from the mundane concerns of making a living in our decrepit capitalist society. Yet following the 2007-8 crisis, as we lived in the mire of dead end jobs and while the ruling class flagrantly bailed out banks who evicted people from their homes, anger accumulated and boiled. But there was no outlet. It seemed that nothing would give and this state of affairs would last forever. Then Occupy shattered the ice. People were clenching their fists. They were questioning the reigning order of society, it didn’t matter that it was in limited or distorted ways, just that they were questioning it. And to suddenly be in the midst of it was to feel that you were not alone. It was to be touched by a profound truth – we can actually win.

The talking heads of the bourgeois press called us confused and unreasonable because we refused to come up with demands. Yet what did Occupy want? There were those in the movement who wanted demands ranging from End the Fed, repeal Citizens United to communist revolution. So many divergent dreams were contained in all those discussions. And while it is true that having so many people, new to politics with so many contradictory ideas, doomed Occupy from articulating an agreed upon program and goal. Ultimately, a movement needs to come up with a goal, a program, and an organization to carry it forward in order to bring about victory. All of these things that Occupy lacked.

Yet there was a reason Occupy refused to come up with demands – and those who were part of the movement would do well to not forget it. Occupy was a tear in the social fabric and the people had to confront the powers that be. And in that confrontation, to use the language of the movement, between the 99% and the 1% communication was not at all possible. When the rulers and their lapdogs asked Occupy “what do you want?” there was no answer that Occupy could give. Since Occupy wanted something the system would not and could not give – they wanted to remake the world.

However, this was a movement which could not sustain itself or the dreams which animated so many militants of a new world. Occupy’s own structures meant that a cohesive organization could never be created and that the movement ultimately foreswore victory. The energy that came into the movement and the many marches was never channeled or given focus by Occupy’s leading bodies such as the General Assemblies. As the weeks and then months went by, the mass meetings became less and less. People grew tired of standing for hours on end in the cold rain to discuss procedure and the mass of moronic proposals at the GA such as the official color of Occupy. Exhaustion set in and perhaps the movement would collapse in on itself. Occupy never quite reached its natural end, the state sent in its police and SWAT teams to clear out the camps. Excuses such as “health and safe hazard” was raised as a pretext to clear out the camps. Without central spaces that gave it focus, Occupy dissipated.

What about all of us who went through the movement then? What were we to do? It was impossible to just go back to our regular lives as if nothing had changed. That was impossible. It was more than just taking part in a festival. Bertolt Brecht once said that what happens when pledging allegiance to the revolutionary cause is that new people are made, “From this instant forward, you are no longer yourselves. But all of you, without names or mothers, you are blank pages upon which the Revolution will write its directives.” And it was true. Some of us lost our names and adopted new ones. Occupy may have ended, but the injustices which gave it birth continued to rule. It was true that there was much soul-searching to be done. Along with the great exhilaration of Occupy, its flaws needed to be mercilessly criticized in order to carry the struggle forward.

There was still a sense of loss about the way it turned out. When you throw your energies into something – heart and soul, you want it to mean something. You want to see all of your work rewarded with victory. And I personally remember how I demoralized I felt several months after Boston’s Occupy camp was disbanded – and watched as many Occupiers gave up and went into the bankrupt politics of the Democratic Party. Many of the left sects, who had never really become involved in the movement and just watched from the sidelines, could point with a smug attitude “Ha! We told you that it would end this way!” They conveniently forgot nothing and learned nothing. Still, there were others who seemed more inclined to practice heresy hunting by building upon weaknesses to undermine strengths. So was that the end result of the movement? Was the evil of Occupy all that lived after it and was the good interred in its bones?

In answering that question, I pondered the remark of a comrade spoken in the dark aftermath: “Occupy ended up being a hysterical liberal reaction to the crisis, but it didn’t have to be that way.” I thought over his words for a long time before being able to make sense of Occupy and what the participation of those with unrealized dreams ultimately meant. There were many dreams contained within Occupy. There were those who wanted the movement to be reasonable and shift its vigor back into the Democratic Party, NGOs or the sectarian left. All of this was a betrayal of the movement and to put the brakes on those of us who wanted to see how far it could go. So where did that leave the rest of us with those unrealized dreams?

We wanted to go the distance. We did not want to play it safe. We wanted to make Occupy our chance to bring the old order down. And it is true that we did not succeed. Our dreams were too soon. We were too new to the struggle. We still had much to learn and to experience. And we were not the first to dream too soon. During the French Revolution, at the dawn of capitalism, there were a small group of communists around Gracchus Babeuf who fought a premature battle to achieve the “common happiness.” There was John Brown who raised a small band to take up arms against slavery. There was the Paris Commune of 1871 which was drowned in the blood of 30,000 in order to restore “law and order.” And there others too: hundreds of revolts by workers, serfs, peasants, and slaves throughout history. Nearly all of them went down to the defeat. What do we say about the unrealized dreams of all those struggles?

The lesson of all the revolts and struggles throughout history, including our own, is not that we are destined to lose. Rather, it is that the rule of exploiters is not eternal, it can be challenged. There is always an opportunity to fight, despite everything. We nourish ourselves upon the righteous rebellion, from the distant past down through our moment. Yet our goal is not merely to fight the good fight and then congratulate ourselves afterward, even though as the rule of capital remains, but to bring to fruition all those unrealized dreams. So how do we prepare ourselves to organize for victory?

Occupy, like many struggles before it, was seemingly “premature.” The people who came into it were new to politics, no organization was able to channel its energies and there was no agreed upon goal. Yet Occupy’s “premature” action, like so countless actions beforehand, was necessary in order to learn from the long and stubborn struggles in order to forge a new layer of revolutionary activists who will gain maturity, who will remain faithful to the original dream as they continue onward while learning from past errors. We should not forget that while Babeuf, the Paris Commune, and John Brown went down to defeat, others came to pick up their banners where they left them. Those who came afterward remained faithful to the unrealized dreams contained within those struggles, learned the reasons for failure and carried the flags forward – even to victory. So while the revolutionary dreams of Occupy may be too soon and were destined to be defeated, sometimes defeat is necessary in order to learn and advance to triumph. As Rosa Luxemburg said, “But revolution is the only form of “war” – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of “defeats.”
 

Hey Occupy Wall Street, abolish my debt too!

charlene ingram
Charlene Ingram, a single mother of four, has $125,000 in student loan debt.


Occupy Wall Street has been on a debt-abolishing tear lately — recently buying nearly $4 million in student loans from debt collectors and then forgiving it.

Now thousands of people across the country are begging them to forgive their loans, too.

Charlene Ingram is one of them.

A single mother of four from St. Louis, Ingram is 41 and has $125,000 in student loan debt.

After struggling for years to find a job that paid more than minimum wage, she enrolled in an undergraduate program at age 37 — figuring a bachelor’s degree would be her only shot at earning enough to support her family. While she was in school, she and her sons delivered phone books in order to put food on the table.

Upon graduating in 2011, she found a job as a full-time medical assistant. But the job only pays $14 an hour. It’s hardly enough to keep up with the basics — $800 per month in rent, food for her and the kids, utilities, car payments, and medical insurance (which isn’t provided through her job) — let alone the nearly $1,700 a month she owes on her student loans. She said she applied for food stamps but earns $2 an hour too much.

Related: Occupy abolishes $4 million in other peoples’ student loan debt

Every time she applies for a higher-paying job, Ingram says she gets turned down because she doesn’t have a Master’s degree. So she enrolled in a Master’s program in health care management in 2012, juggling classes at night and on the weekends. But now she has so much outstanding debt that she hasn’t been able to qualify for additional loans and complete the program.

“How do they expect us to survive when you spend all that money for school and still can’t get the job that you went to school for and took thousands of dollars in loans?” she said.

Ingram was one of many readers who wrote to CNNMoney seeking Occupy’s help with paying back their loans. “Trying to [pay for a] home, food and clothing for us is very hard as a single parent,” she wrote. “Please help.”

Another reader, Martha Sopher, hasn’t been able to work since becoming severely disabled from a car accident three years ago. When she turned 62 last year she immediately applied for Social Security. But because she had defaulted on the more than $200,000 in student loan debt from a graduate program she attended 10 years ago, 15% of her Social Security payments are being garnished each month.

Related: For-profit Corinthian College urged to forgive $500 million in loans

She is still in the process of applying for disability, and her family is helping her pay her living expenses in the meantime.

“I have to skip meals to get by. I skip medications. I don’t live, I exist,” she wrote. “I made all these wonderful deliberate decisions, worked two jobs more than full-time while I went to college full-time and carried an ‘A’ average — but now the dream I worked so hard for is gone forever. I can’t take care of my needs and as I age, it will only get worse.”

Sen. Warren cites CNNMoney story in hearing 

Upon hearing that Occupy Wall Street has been forgiving peoples’ debt, she wrote: “I have hope for the first time in a very long time.”

But unfortunately, Occupy Wall Street’s Strike Debt division — which is in charge of this initiative — is unable to abolish a specific person’s debt.

Strike Debt says it has received thousands of similar messages from debtors with heartbreaking situations. But the debt purchasing process is random, so while the group can tell a debt collector or broker that it wants to purchase debts from a certain college, it can’t find out whose debt it is buying prior to the purchase.

Related: Senior citizens owe $18 billion in student loans

Instead, the group is encouraging people to sign up for its new Debt Collective, which aims to unite medical and student loan debtors so that they can renegotiate debts together and make change on a larger scale.

For debtors in need of more immediate help, nonprofits like the National Consumer Law Center offer resources on their websites about how to attain debt relief or set up payment plans.

And while it’s much easier to get relief for federal loans than it is for private loans, the first step in either case is to let the lender know the details of your situation.

“Struggling borrowers need to let their loan holder or servicer know they’re having difficulty, rather than just struggle in silence and give up on payment altogether,” said Allesandra Lanza, a director at nonprofit American Student Assistance.

Occupy Wall Street Returns for a Day: Climate Change Radicals Call for …

NEW YORK—Hundreds of activists marched through New York City’s financial district on Monday to protest the role they said Wall Street has played in climate change, blocking intersections on Broadway in an unsanctioned protest that led to at least three arrests. 

In an action they called Flood Wall Street, protesters gathered around the statute of the charging bull in Bowling Green Park during the first half of the day, forming a blockade nearly one block long northward. They then marched Uptown around 4 p.m. to the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, in front of the New York Stock Exchange. 

The protesters were drawn from the radical fringe of Sunday’s People’s Climate March, which drew 300,000 marchers and resulted in zero arrests, according to the city’s police. 

Whereas Sunday’s march had the support of the establishment—it counted Al Gore, Bill de Blasio, and Leonardo DiCaprio among its participants—Monday’s protests clashed with it, which for some protesters conferred more credibility on the protests. 

Protestors march towards Wall Street demanding action on climate change and corporate greed in Manhattan on Sept. 22, 2014. The protestors were also joined by council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.(Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Protestors march towards Wall Street demanding action on climate change and corporate greed in Manhattan on Sept. 22, 2014. The protestors were also joined by council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.(Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

 

“It seemed like a more grass-roots action to me. There were designated free speech zones yesterday for the 400,000 people marching. We only have 3,000 people here, but we’re actually disrupting traffic,” said Max Ocean, a student at Ithaca College. “We’re making an obvious effect that these bankers, when they came out to lunch, they saw. I think that’s more powerful even though the numbers are much lower today.” 

Monday’s protest—nominally a continuation of the Sunday’s climate march—is in many ways a continuation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many of the protesters on Monday were veterans of the 2011 movement, and they used similar techniques like mass tweeting to get a protest hashtag trending on Twitter. 

“We have taken the—one space [the charging bull] that Occupy Wall Street—could not,” said Justin Stone Diaz, an Occupy veteran, in staccato, with the crowd repeating his phrases in the human microphone fashion popular with Occupy Wall Street. “I need you right now—to get on the same page— about our hashtag. The hashtag—is the movement.” 

Billed as a climate change protest, Monday’s gathering excoriated capitalism in its rhetoric more than global warming. A few protesters wore stickers calling for an overthrow of the capitalist system via revolution, and others carried posters from the Black Rose Anarchist Federation. 

“Green capitalism is an umbrella term for businesses that label themselves as green or sustainable,” said James, 29, who carried a “Green Capitalism Can’t Save Us” placard with a black and red anarchist flag as its background. “Capitalism is inherently nonsustainable, it’s a system of endless growth … so the system in and of itself cannot be green in the sense of being sustainable.” 

By 6 p.m. the protesters were enclosed at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street by hundreds of police officers in all directions, separated by steel barricades that protesters stopped trying to overturn after being pepper sprayed. 

“The financial industry has so many ties to the oil and gas industry,” said Max Ocean. “Wall Street is the symbolic heart of capitalism. It’s not just we’re against the banking industry, this representative of the capitalist system we think is necessary to dismantle in order to receive climate justice.” 

Occupy Wall Street: How We Surprised Ourselves

By Arun Gupta

At the top of the list of what the Occupy movement accomplished is, “We surprised ourselves.”

By “we,” I mean anyone residing on the left. To be on the left is to be intimate with defeat. Sometimes defeat is heroic, as with the Spanish Civil War. Sometimes it’s betrayal, as with the fate of the Russian Revolution. Defeat can be bewildering, as in, “What happened to that moment of Feb. 15, 2003?” Often it’s just depressing, like the delirious 60s that gave way to the tortuous 80s.

Occupy, in contrast, was a rocket ship of giddiness for nearly two months. Liberals squirmed, reluctant to criticize or embrace it. Conservatives yelled from rocking chairs that the dirty hippies needed a job. Every police attack gave Occupy strength. A bewildered media tried to grasp how a leaderless movement could shake the halls of power.

It helped that there were no expectations for success. There were no pollsters tut-tutting that the 99% versus 1% was divisive. No professional organizers corralling the herd into a single message. No revolutionaries hectoring that only the scientific terms proletariat and bourgeoisie would do. No Democrats demanding that lofty aspirations be pulverized into middle-of-the-road mush.

Occupy rejected all the rules and injected its own style of class politics into the body politic. Much of the center clambered aboard the 99% train. They got the idea because they had been getting the shaft.

Soon it was Occupy everything – the banks, the homes, the hood, the workplace, universities, cinema, food, healthcare, gender, music, philosophy. Nothing, even abstractions, seemed out of our reach to recreate after checking centuries of capitalist baggage at the door. Iconic images and deeds piled up: Shamar Thomas facing down a phalanx of cops, armed with nothing but fatigues and lungs; a pepper-sprayed but defiant Dorli Rainey; the silhouette of occupiers triumphant at the shut-down Port of Oakland.

The small things made the biggest difference. Occupy changed how we felt. We were the motor of history, not just its victims. The mic check gave us a participatory society, not just one of spectacle. We could have communities where food, shelter and care were available to all comers. We had a platform to share individual grievances and hopes and find unity. The homeless had names and stories. Lost souls found a purpose. The dispossessed were abundant in human kindness and connections.

Now, we know how the story developed. As much as the police repression smashed occupations and the mainstream media returned to snarky indifference, the Occupy movement fell into bad habits. Occupy made us want to be better selves, but pettiness, paranoia and selfishness stewed beneath. Donated money and equipment was stolen. Fights broke out over control of Facebook and Twitter accounts. Shady outsiders set up a national convention unaccountable to the movement. One power-hungry individual tried to grab all the money flooding into the Occupied Wall Street Journal by seizing control of the Kickstarter campaign. One labor organizer in Los Angeles attempted but failed to hijack the entire movement there by setting up a rival occupation. Liberals succeeded in co-opting Occupy through their branded “99% movement.”

At this point, many wistfully recall the heady days of Occupy’s youth, while wrestling with the cynicism of a premature old age. We comfort ourselves with taxonomic analyses, naming every social movement that has evolved from Occupy: a changed national debate; a move-your-money campaign from banks to credit unions; a slew of new and old media projects; a robust home-foreclosure defense movement; a grassroots uprising against coal, natural gas and oil extraction; labor solidarity from coast to coast; a debt strike. Or we describe the anatomy of the movement: the slogan of “We are the 99%” that gave us a voice; the target of Wall Street that gave us a reason to be; the tactic of mic check that gave us a body; the strategy of occupation that gave us the people.

But none of this captures the heart and soul of Occupy. The sensation of surprising ourselves. That we could overcome juvenile bickering. That we could master history. That we could speak to, and not just of, the people. That we could let secret fantasies tumble from minds to mouths to a circle of people that breathed life into them and gave us a glimpse of a future we thought we would never see.

It would be easy to let acid disappointments etch away memories of dreams made real. But they were real if fleeting. And holding fast to the importance of that experience can propel us to new heights still.


Arun Gupta is an editor of the Indypendent. He’s writing a book about the decline of American Empire to be published by Haymarket Books.

This piece originally ran on September 17, 2012.

‘Flood Wall Street’ Protesters To Risk Arrest At New York Climate Change Sit-In

NEW YORK, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters plan to risk arrest on Monday during an unsanctioned blockade in New York City’s financial district to call attention to what organizers say is Wall Street’s contribution to climate change.
The Flood Wall Street demonstration comes on the heels of Sunday’s international day of action that brought some 310,000 people to the streets of New York City in the largest single protest ever held on over climate change.
There were no arrests or incidents in Sunday’s massive march, police said.
Flood Wall Street organizers said they wanted to use the momentum gained by Sunday’s march to “highlight the role of capitalism in fueling the climate crisis.”
As many as 2,000 participants will meet in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park before a planned noon march to Wall Street and the steps of the New York Stock Exchange for a sit-in and blockade without a police permit, event organizers said.
Some 200 people have said they will risk arrest by the New York City Police Department during the civil disobedience action, said spokeswoman Leah Hunt-Hendrix.
“This civil resistance, civil disobedience, shows a commitment to the cause,” said Hunt-Hendrix. “We are trying to escalate this as an urgent issue and show how Wall Street is profiting from the crisis.”
The event’s organizers have roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in a downtown Manhattan park in 2011 to protest what it called unfair banking practices that serve the wealthiest one percent, leaving behind 99 percent of the world’s population.
Flood Wall Street said they hope Monday’s action will draw a link between economic policies and the environment, accusing top financial institutions of “exploiting frontline communities, workers and natural resources” for financial gain.
The event is part of Climate Week, which seeks to draw attention to carbon emissions and their link to global warming, and comes ahead of a Sept. 23 United Nations Climate Summit. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Sandra Maler)

Climate March Spin-Off ‘Flood Wall Street’ Clashes With Cops

Police block protesters from reaching Wall Street (Photo: Will Bredderman).Police block protesters from reaching Wall Street (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Police block protesters from reaching Wall Street (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Yesterday’s 310,000-strong People’s Climate March pivoted left today, as hundreds of activists swamped the streets of the Financial District in a movement called “Flood Wall Street”–recalling the name, tactics and law enforcement clashes of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.

Environmentalist demonstrators gathered in Battery Park City at 9 a.m. and marched on the famous Charging Bull statue at the corner of Morris Street and Broadway around noon. Gone were the numerous union members–from powerful labor groups such as the Hotel Trade Council, 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers–that helped organize yesterday’s event, as was any sign of support from the business community.

Protestors carried a banner to today's action (Photo: Will Bredderman).Protestors carried a banner to today's action (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Protestors carried a banner to today’s action (Photo: Will Bredderman).

The banners raised said things like “Corporate Capitalism = Climate Chaos” and “Capitalism Has No Solutions To Climate Change,” apparently arguing that the climate march’s mission of pressuring the United Nations to create a strict emissions control treaty at its summit tomorrow is insufficient. The demonstrators closed down the streets with minimal interference from the few dozen cops on hand–who stood by as activists rearranged barricades–though the Observer witnessed two arrests take place, though no reason for either was given.

At 4 p.m., the Flooders marched on fortified Wall Street.

“People gonna rise like water, gonna calm this crisis down. All your sons and daughters, gonna shut Wall Street down,” the demonstrators–a mix of 20-, 30-and 60- and 70-somethings–sang as they made their way up Broadway toward the famous financial center.

Police were ready with reinforcements, officers in riot gear, police vehicles and more barriers. As the protesters attempted to turn onto the corridor, the police pushed back, resulting in several minutes of intense shoving in which the Observer witnessed at least one officer use pepper-spray on an agitator.

“Who do you protect?” The protesters yelled in unison. “Who do you serve?”

After an apparent stalemate, the protesters sat in the street, and what followed could have been a scene from Zuccotti Park two blocks away and three years before–complete with call-and-response “mic checks,” chants about justice and peace, trombone and sax players and dancers on stilts.

Dozens of officers surrounded the protest (Photo: Will Bredderman).Dozens of officers surrounded the protest (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Dozens of officers surrounded the protest (Photo: Will Bredderman).

“Remember the history of this place!” one young woman got up and shouted, the crowd echoing her every sentence. “It was named because there was a wall here built on the backs of African slaves. And today, we all live on a giant plantation!”

Meanwhile, two walls of cops closed off Broadway a block away in either direction. The action did not go unnoticed.

“The police are here, and they have batons, and enough zip ties for everybody!” yelled a young man in another “mic check.”

Organizers acknowledged the debt to Occupy, and a break from the inclusiveness of Sunday’s march–which promised in its subway ads to get “hipsters and bankers marching together.”

“Yesterday was more of a feel-good event,” said spokesman Goldi Guerra, himself a veteran of the 2011 protest. “The difference between yesterday and today is that yesterday worked within the system that’s destroying the planet. This is about getting out of that system.”

Others who put the event together argued that Flood Wall Street was a natural outgrowth of the People’s Climate March, pointing out that environmentalist Bill McKibben–whose 1989 book The End of Nature popularized the theory of global warming, and who envisioned yesterday’s cavalcade–spoke at Occupy Wall Street and has been a longtime critic of big business.

“He encouraged the ‘Flood Wall Street’ movement to make this connection between major corporations and climate change,” said organizer Elizabeth Press. “I think we have his blessing, even if it is not a direct extension of the People’s Climate March.”

Just like Occupy, today’s protests ended in arrests. Though the NYPD only confirmed three apprehensions, police reportedly as many as one hundred people into custody after night fell, including two women dressed as eco-friendly cartoon character Captain Planet and one man dressed as a polar bear.

There was relatively little resentment expressed toward police, who some argued helped the movement accomplish its mission by closing off the corridor.

“I want to thank the NYPD. It was the NYPD that shut down Wall Street,” said Mitchel Cohen, an organizer of the Brooklyn Green Party.