Published: Monday 10 September 2012
“Alone, I stood up and interrupted the governor of New York when he gave a speech at my campus.”

 

In its first year, Occupy Wall Street was called a “movement of movements.” Some likened its broad reach to an octopus. One person described occupied Zuccotti Park to me, wistfully, as a “city on the hill.” Then again, over dinner with organizers of the National Gathering in Philadelphia this July, I heard OWS compared to “a bad dating scene.” As Occupiers gear up for a weekend of one-year-anniversary activities, it seems like the right time to offer my reading. For me, Occupy was more like psychotherapy — a process that helped me see new things about myself and overcome some of my fears.

Last winter, at the height of my Occu-enthusiasm, I did things that, for me, took a lot of gumption. I got arrested with about 30 others as part of a foreclosure auction blockade. Alone, I stood up and interrupted the governor of New York when he gave a speech at my campus. I spoke before large crowds through the “people’s mic,” sometimes in support of public education, sometimes against corporate personhood, and often on the theme of love.

What motivated me to do these things? I had never been an activist before OWS. I hadn’t even been to a protest. The idea of joining a rowdy, confrontational demonstration never appealed to me. Or else, I thought, I didn’t have enough time or job security to put energy into activism.

It’s true that I had just spent a couple of years studying the history of nonviolence. The abolitionists, Gandhi, Tolstoy and the Bhagavad Gita all captivated me. And I’ve long been a student of Iyengar yoga. Along with the stretching and breathing, that meant learning about satya (truth) and ahimsa(non-harming, love). Living fairly close to Lower Manhattan, I felt OWS was a chance to witness a nonviolent movement unfold.

Plus, Occupy’s central message ...

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012
“Oakland has always stood to remind this country and the larger Occupy Movement, that the unfair economic system we protest is maintained every day by massive police violence and military violence all over this world.”

It was May Day and Oakland was bathed in sunshine. Union workers staged militant actions; immigrants and allies marched for justice with brass bands and drummers; spontaneous street parties erupted.

 

There was also tear gas, flash bang grenades, screams, vandalism and arrests on Oakland Streets.

 

"Today, as we stand in solidarity with labor, as we stand in solidarity with immigrant workers, as we strike against this exploitative economic system, we also stand up to police violence and state repression," Laleh Behbehanian of the Occupy Oakland Anti- Repression Committee told a rally in Oscar Grant Plaza, the space renamed by protesters for a young unarmed African American man killed by a transit police officer.

 

Behbehanian went on to say that Oakland sometimes gets blamed for over-focusing on police violence and "diverting the occupy movement away from its original goals."

 

She addressed critics, saying, "Oakland has always stood to remind this country and the larger Occupy Movement, that the unfair economic system we protest is maintained every day by massive police violence and military violence all over this world....

 

"Whenever there is an unjust economic system, there is a police state to defend it....Today that police state is showing its face all over the world. But all over the world, from Oakland to Cairo, from New York to Syria, people are standing up."

 

The midday rally got off to a late start, delayed by a police action. According to one protester, "hundreds of people were just hanging out a 14th and Broadway; everything was chill." They were waiting for a convergence of several small morning marches protesting banks and various businesses.

 

Suddenly, police "snatched" a woman from her bicycle as she came into the intersection, the protester said, adding, "Really ...

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012
“Occupy’s ambitious calls for a general strike and mass economic noncompliance appear to have gone mostly unnoticed.”

I’ve been attending Occupy Wall Street planning meetings for May Day since they began in New York four months ago — twice as much time as there was to plan the initial occupation itself — and I still went into the day feeling like I had no idea what would come out of it.

All along, May 1 has been talked about among Occupiers in apocalyptic, beatific terms, which was what got me so addicted to the meetings in the first place. In the process of getting my fix, I also became witness to the politics of assembling a coalition of Occupiers, labor unions, immigrants’ groups and community organizations — not always pretty, though occasionally it actually was. Much the same could be said of the day itself: Come for the dream, trudge through the reality.

Occupy’s ambitious calls for a general strike and mass economic noncompliance appear to have gone mostly unnoticed. The financial markets followed a trapezoidal journey over the course of the day — apparently unperturbed by the movement’s threat to shut down the flow of capital with “99 Pickets” across Midtown — spiking in the morning and crashing back down to where they started by late afternoon. The mainstream press has been predictably, conspiratorially silent, which may or may not have anything to do with the morning pickets at News Corp. and the New York Times Building. But when has the U.S. media ever done justice to big days of popular protest?

A few hundred people slogging their way through pickets on a rainy Midtown morning swelled into closer to a thousand filling Bryant Park at midday. There, hard-boiled eggs, first-aid and the movement’s latest publications were on offer, while across the park Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello led a rehearsal for the Occupy Guitarmy, a hundred-strong orchestra of guitars that played old protest songs, a Morello original, and a particularly hypnotic arrangement of Willie ...

Published: Tuesday 1 May 2012
“The Occupy movement expresses what the majority feels.”

As Occupy Wall Street plans nationwide protests marking International Workers Day, or May Day, we discuss the movement with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Chris Hedges; Amin Husain, editor of Tidal Magazine and a key facilitator of the Occupy movement; Marina Sitrin, author of "Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina" and a member of Occupy’s legal working group; and Teresa Gutierrez, of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. We also get an update from protests on the streets of New York City from Ryan Devereaux, former Democracy Now! correspondent, now with The Guardian.

“People all over the country are talking about May Day as our day, whether you want to call it 'workers’ holiday' or 'immigrant rights' or 'the 99 percent,'’ says Martina Sitrin, who notes Occupy activists hope to use May Day as a way to also build solidarity with the student movement and non-unionized workers as well. "This year is an important year to revive the struggle for immigrants in the wake of a million of our people being deported," adds Teresa Guitierrez.

Meanwhile, a debate over tactics continues within the Occupy movement. Chris Hedges discusses his recent column titled, "The Cancer in Occupy," which critiques Black Bloc anarchists who cover their faces during protests and sometimes destroy property. "The Occupy movement expresses what the majority feels. The goal of the security state is to sever the movement from the mainstream," Hedges says. "The way they will do that is by using groups — and some of these people may be well-meaning, but by using groups that will frighten the mainstream away." But "nothing is off the table," responds Amin Husain, who says the Occupy movement needs to re-conceptualize how struggle works, how decisions get made through dialogue, and how to build power from within.

Husain and Hedges ...

Published: Tuesday 1 May 2012
“Striking students insistent on free elections and a change in government then sent hundreds of their numbers into the countryside to visit industrial plants and talk with workers, enlisting their involvement in the general strike.”

A general strike can be one of the most potent noncooperation methods in the repertoire of nonviolent resistance. It is a widespread cessation of labor in an effort to bring all economic activity to a total standstill. Although it is easy to broadcast the call for a general strike, it is exceedingly difficult to implement for the maximal impact that it potentially exerts. What’s more, a general strike must be called prudently, because it loses its effectiveness if weakly executed.

The Occupy movement’s calls for a general strike in the United States on May 1 make me think of an instance in which a general strike was brilliantly carried out and with great effect, in Czechoslovakia in 1989 — for only two hours.

For years beforehand, the sharing of subversive literature, drama and ideas against the communist regime had been occurring in Czechoslovakia, virtually unseen. In fact, historian Theodore Ziółkowski reminds us that “almost from the moment when the Soviet empire, after Yalta, swallowed up the nations of Eastern Europe, the fight against Communism began.” Thousands of clandestine samizdat (Russian for self-published) publications had been manually typed on onion skin with carbon paper, read, passed from hand to hand and circulated sub rosa. Incarcerated authors and dramatists worked intensively in contemplation and planning from their prison cells. While building strong networks among these civil society organizations in formation, Czechoslovaks considered how to withdraw their cooperation from the communist party-state, and thereby bend it to the popular will.

On November 17, 1989, in Czechoslovakia’s capital, Prague, police brutally interrupted a student demonstration. In ...

Published: Tuesday 17 April 2012
“Such calls for a general strike raise challenging questions about what a strike could even look like in a society with the lowest rates of union membership in generations.”

An Occupy Wall Street organizer I know — one of the original ones, from the planning meetings before the occupation began last September 17 — has a striking banner atop his Facebook Timeline. It’s from the History Channel series Life After People, an artist’s rendition of a cityscape after which all the humans in it somehow disappear. It’s quiet, and still, with trees growing out from the sides of crumbling towers.

To say that this image has anything to do with the movement’s plans for May 1, which the person who posted it is involved in making, might cause both paranoid-style right-wing radio hosts and the most anarcho- of primitivists to froth a bit at the mouth. And so they should. Ever since the idea of working toward May Day started catching on in Occupy Wall Street last January, it has been infused with the impulse of creating the vision of a radically different kind of city.

The visionary impulse, however, has also mixed with things more mundane. Over the course of the May Day planning process in New York, in at least two meetings each week, OWS organizers have been patiently patching together an historic joint rally and march with labor unions, immigrants’ rights groups and community organizations, many of which were invited to participate in the planning process since the beginning.

The members of this tenuous coalition, however, have refused to demand the impossible together — which is to say, a general strike. Instead, the coalition speaks of “a day without the 99%” and the slogan, “Legalize, Unionize, Organize.” But at just about every other opportunity, people from OWS have been echoing the call for a general strike on May Day, which originated from Occupy Los Angeles’ General Assembly in December. During the April 4 press conference announcing the New York coalition’s plans, the OWS representative avoided saying those words, but after ...

Published: Tuesday 17 April 2012
“Those familiar with arithmetic know that it would be almost impossible for them to earn a substantial lower rate of return, barring a complete collapse of the economy.”

Politicians across the country are using heaping doses of the politics of envy to try to arouse the anger of workers. However, their targets are not the corporate CEOs pulling down tens of millions of dollars a year in pay and bonuses. Nor is it the Wall Street crew that got incredibly rich inflating the housing bubble and then took government handouts to stay alive through the bust. The targets of these politicians’ wrath are school teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers.

They are outraged that many of these workers still earn enough to support a middle-class family. Even more outrageous, many of these workers have traditionally defined benefit pensions that assure them of a modicum of comfort in retirement. Having managed to ensure that most workers in the private sector did not benefit much from economic growth over the last three decades, the same upward redistributionist crew is turning their guns on public sector workers.

There are two major deceptions in their story. First, after working to eliminate traditional pensions in the private sector, they now tell us that getting a pension in the form of a guaranteed benefit is hugely more valuable than having the same money placed in a 401(k) type defined contribution account. Second, after shoving stock down everyone’s throat in the bubble years, they now tell us we cannot expect a very good return from investing pension funds in the market.

Starting with the pension story, it is really touching to hear conservatives singing the virtues of defined benefit pensions. They argue that if a state or local government puts $1,000 a year in a defined benefit pension and guarantees the market return for its workers, this is hugely more valuable than if it takes the same $1,000 a year and puts it into a 401(k) type account.

Since most public sector workers still have defined benefit pensions, this is a central part of their story about public sector workers being ...

Published: Tuesday 17 April 2012
“A Day Without the 99% and the 11.8 Million Undocumented Immigrants”

Social movement without a history do not exist.

 

We are now 14 days away from celebrating May 1st International Workers Day in Los Angeles. From any rational logical perspective, a successful May Day 2012 mobilization will place the issues of the 99% as well as immigration reform and legalization for the country’s large undocumented immigrant community on the front burner, before and after the November presidential elections. To be clear, success on May 1st unequivocally means, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the streets of downtown LA and in cities throughout the country in addition to the a general strike shutting down Los Angeles. Then and only then will this social movement create a significant political groundswell of the people to not only partake in the defeat of the ultra conservative Republican block in many fronts including the November elections, but also augment the public pressure on Congress and the White House, demanding real solutions to the mega problems faced by the overwhelming majority of Americans, including the large immigrant community.

 

The last time we had an upsurge of massive street power nationally in America was in 2010, when 200,000 people, mostly Latinos, marched on Washington D.C. demanding immigration reform. Forty days later, on May 1st , over ¼ million people marched in downtown LA on the same issue and against Arizona’s SB1070. Subsequently, for thirty days straight, the City of Phoenix saw continuous protests and on May 30th over 100,000 people marched 7 miles in sweltering heat to the State Capitol, to also demand a stop to the anti immigrant legislation.

 

However, today, as in 2009, the LA movement is deeply divided and if the efforts now being made to crystallize unity of all the forces fail, once again, we may be on the path to political disaster. What’s at stake in real human terms means the welfare of the millions of ...

Published: Monday 16 April 2012
“Our aim is to confront Wall Street’s unchecked power to put profits over people’s right to housing.”

In support of homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction in NYC, members of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and other community groups will conduct vibrant singing protests and raise the people’s voices at foreclosure auctions in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx next week, with the aim to: disrupt the sale of people’s homes and the eviction of their occupants; call for a moratorium on all foreclosures; demand justice for all New Yorkers struggling for affordable housing; confront Wall Street’s unchecked power to put profits over people’s right to housing. Watch the October 13th rendition of “Listen Auctioneer” at the Brooklyn foreclosure auction blockade http://bit.ly/IBucZA.

MONDAY, April 16th, 2pm
Bronx Supreme Court, Rm 600. 851 Grand Concourse, Bronx
Who: Organizing for Occupation (O4O), OWS

THURSDAY, April 19th, 3pm
Kings County Supreme Court, 360 Adams St, Brooklyn
Who: Occupy Faith, Catholic Worker, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ)

FRIDAY, April 20th, 11am
Queens Supreme Court, 8811 Sutphin Boulevard, Queens
Who: Occupy Queens, Columbia Univ students, Occupy the New School

Everyone has the right to live freely, securely, peacefully and with dignity in his or her home. In the US there are over three times as many “people-less” homes as home-less people. Financial institutions have stripped individuals and communities of their savings and property while receiving $7.7 Trillion in taxpayer bail-outs.

“At the same time that banks are getting bailed out, rental assistance programs are being reduced–even completely eliminated,” says housing rights activist and organizer Blair Ellis. “Empty buildings fill New York City boroughs, while those in need of housing are forgotten by our economic and ...

Published: Wednesday 11 April 2012
“Solidarity to the freedom fighters across this world. Join us on May 1st to take the streets.”

To the activist, the rebel, the revolutionary, the dreamer. To all who believe in a better world. To those who have found their voice, and those voices that have been met with the sniper's bullet. To those whose voices have been taken from them. To the peaceful who have been met with brutality and violence, the loving who have been met with hatred. Those who beg for understanding, but are met with ridicule. The free thinkers, the questioners, the dissenters, those who have woken up, and now rattle the chains that have held us down. To the freedom fighters all around the globe.

Raise your fists, break your chains. Shake the world under your feet, and make a noise so loud, that the 1% will cower in their marble halls. For the time of The People has come. Those who consider themselves our masters will find themselves standing in the path of a force the likes of which the world has never seen. For the world relied on our compliance. Our silence, our sheepish ways of living how we are told, for our acceptance of the oppressor’s so called power. But this power was an illusion. Yes the power did not lie in the bank accounts, the pockets of CEOs, the chambers of Ivory towers under lock and key. No. the power has been with The People. The people who survive day to day. The children who cry at night from the pains of hunger, the students who dreams were stolen from them, or sold at prices so high, there is no hope of escape. Those who face violence and weaponry, and defend themselves with nothing but an idea. But it is this idea you see, that makes them strong. An idea cannot be beaten. An idea cannot be gassed, or shot. For it lives in our very souls, and no matter what stands against us, this idea cannot be destroyed.

So my fellow people, rise up without fear. Take back what is rightfully yours. This world belongs to you. You are powerful. You are a force so strong that Mother Nature herself cowers in your presence. This world will bend to your ...

Published: Wednesday 4 April 2012
Published: Tuesday 3 April 2012
“Supporting the armed resistance with foreign military power would demoralize and disempower those in the nonviolent resistance who are daily risking their lives for their freedom.”

Although the impulse to try to end the ongoing repression by the Syrian regime against its own people through foreign military intervention is understandable, it would be a very bad idea.

Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral. Other studies demonstrate that foreign military interventions actually increase the duration of civil wars, making the conflicts longer and bloodier, and the regional consequences more serious, than if there were no intervention. In addition, military intervention would likely trigger a "gloves off" mentality that would dramatically escalate the violence on both sides.

Even putting aside the recent historical record, however, virtually anyone familiar with Syrian politics and history can recognize the fallacy of such foreign support for the armed struggle.

Many nonviolent protesters have tragically been killed, as will many more. However, proportionately a far greater number of armed resisters have been killed and will continue to be killed. The question is not whether thousands will continue to die but what is the best way for the Syrian people to overthrow the hated regime, end the violence and bring democracy and social justice.

Violence vs. Nonviolence

The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians engaged in the ongoing resistance against the regime are nonviolent. Some support the simultaneous armed struggle; some don't. However, there is little question that the regime fears ...

Published: Friday 30 March 2012
Published: Friday 23 March 2012
“This week has been one of Occupy Wall Street’s most extreme encounters with the violence and intimidation meant to maintain order in a society characterized by extraordinary inequality.”

The sound rang out at exactly 4 p.m. last Friday: four measured chimes increasing in pitch. Ding, ding, ding, ding! Standing in concentric circles with clasped hands, protesters held the last note, and it echoed against the New York Stock Exchange. Tourists and workers stopped to stare as the people-powered bell chimed again. Inside, another bell was ringing — a mechanical, computerized sound marking the end of the day’s trading. Six months since the Occupy movement began, it was clear that the bell inside was losing its resonance, and the “people’s gong” outside was getting louder.

After last weekend, news of the “police riot” on Saturday night in Liberty Plaza made headlines. Yes, the NYPD beat, kicked and stomped on peaceful people, using the type of violence that the department unleashes daily on communities of color across the boroughs. Officers broke bones, dragged people by the hair and ignored a woman suffering from seizures induced by the attack. They did it again at Union Square early Wednesday morning — throwing medics down to the sidewalk, pepper-spraying dozens of protesters, sending many to the hospital and barricading a 24-hour public park that has stood open and unobstructed for the last 20 years. This week has been one of Occupy Wall Street’s most extreme encounters with the violence and intimidation meant to maintain order in a society characterized by extraordinary inequality.

Yet our actions were not about violence or anger. From Wall Street to Bank of America to the courthouse at 100 Centre Street, we demonstrated a renewed sense of creativity as we confronted sites of injustice with a sense of carnival.

Even after Saturday’s eviction from Liberty Plaza, we gathered outside the courthouse at 100 Centre Street on Sunday and Monday, tired but festive. More than 50 people brought coffee, cigarettes, sandwiches and their bodies to greet the 70 ...

Published: Wednesday 7 March 2012
“Movements have sometimes produced regime change with no real democracy and the same 1 percent still in charge.”

In the discussion within the Occupy movement on whether violence is necessary for making change in the United States, the debate has so far conflated three of the movement’s possible goals. Are we talking about using violence to produce regime change? Or do we really mean “regime change with democratic institutions following the change”? Or is what we really mean “regime change followed by democracy in which the 1 percent lose their grip on power”?

Movements have sometimes produced regime change with no real democracy and the same 1 percent still in charge. The American Revolution did that: King George was booted out and the resulting government, to its credit highly innovative, was still not a democracy for women, the enslaved, and working class people. A couple of centuries later, the 1 percent are still running the United States. A number of other anti-colonial struggles had a similar result.

Many regimes are so oppressive that people will give their lives to change them, even without guarantees that the new regime will be a whole lot better. But as we consider what we want out of our sacrifices to the cause, we should ask: What’s the track record of movements that depend on violence to overthrow their regimes?

Political scientists (and Waging Nonviolence contributors) Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan analyzed 323 attempts at regime change between 1900 and 2006. They were curious about the comparative success of violent and nonviolent campaigns, among other things. They found that violent campaigns succeeded 26 percent of the time, and that nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent ...

Published: Friday 2 March 2012
“The Antonian movement, like Occupy Wall Street, fought against unchecked greed and to limit the power of self-serving local elites.”

Debuting at yesterday’s “Shut Down the Corporations” action, the + Brigades is a new and growing part of Occupy Wall Street intent on supplementing upcoming protest actions with life-affirming energy, color, dance, song and costumes. A squad of dancing clowns led a rainy day of protest in Midtown Manhattan, targeting the offices of Bank of America, Pfizer and Koch Industries.

At the initial + Brigades meeting a couple weeks ago, there were cross-dressing, rollicking games, buffoonery, strategizing and one thoroughly orange man. Andy Bichelbaum of The Yes Men presented a slide show that had the 40 of us transfixed with images of Civil Rights marchers, Chilean students paint-bombing police and Abbie Hoffman pretending to burn a puppy in a bid to set America’s wartime conscience alight. Occupy organizers cheered as images of themselves appeared among those of others. Afterwards, the brainstorming began about how to drastically expand the movement’s repertoire in the streets.

The meeting raised questions for me about what happens when people working toward changing their society tell stories about the past. What role, I began to wonder, does the creative interweaving of past and present play in supporting radical thought? The history of West Central Africa’s Antonian movement, active mainly between 1704 and 1706, suggests that what historian Peter Burke has called “social memory” might be an especially valuable supplement for people resisting oppression and also seeking strength and inspiration.

The Antonian movement, like Occupy Wall Street, fought against unchecked greed—to limit the power of self-serving local elites, to end two generations of civil war and to deal ...

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