Activism


UPDATE: [1:46 pm]:  Samhita over at Feministing says it way better than I can: “I ask not ‘where is occupy?’ but what will it take for the mainstream political [conversation] to reflect [Occupy Wall Street] values?” Read her.

– – –

It’s the beginning of year two of this movement. Almost one year ago, I filmed this video of the mass protest and march in Times Square NYC:

The crowds are now smaller, and I think it will take something major–like the election of Mitt Romney–to see crowds that big again.

But the urgency still exists, and I think most of the people who ever participated in any Occupy events would agree.

I have to admit, every time I’d walk by the remnants of the movement–stragglers still meeting, camping out, human mic-ing, arguing, squatting around the Financial and Flatiron District–I’d feel a mixture of regret for not getting more involved and a simultaneous tinge of judgment. Like, you’re still trying to revive this movement, to capitalize on that original energy? Of course most people only have the energy and interest for the occasional march and protest and aren’t going to be in it for the long haul, to build organization infrastructure (or organic structure, whatever the case may be). I am only somewhat surprised to remember that I–someone who a few years ago would have been in the front lines–is stepping back, observing, commenting.

There’s a place for everyone in this movement. The movement for transparency in our government, for getting corporate money out of our elections, for getting the financial priorities in this country realigned so that we don’t have teachers needing to strike in Chicago while other people are getting their pockets lined with bonuses and tax breaks.

I salute you Occupiers all over the country and the world. I salute the tens of thousands of anti-Putin protesters who gathered in Russia two days ago. I salute the Libyans who condemned the violence against the U.S. Ambassador.

Let’s get back to work, whatever that looks like for you.

Advertisements

About 150 homeless campers and activists affiliated with the OccupyNOLA movement were evicted from Duncan Plaza yesterday, Tuesday December 6. They had been occupying the space across from the New Orleans City Hall for two months.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that “public health issues, such as unsafe electrical outlets and unsanitary conditions” were part of the motivation for the police sweep. After some homeless were offered temporary shelter, remaining protestors dragged their belongings across the street. “By 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday…dozens of city workers had already piled tents, sleeping bags, and other personal items into dumptrucks parked in the plaza.”  The plaza was fully cleared and scrubbed clean with power washers.

Some photos of the forced eviction from WWL.com:

This is one at least half a dozen trucks filled with tents, tables, and other gear protesters had brought to the park

This is one at least half a dozen trucks filled with tents, tables, and other gear protesters had brought to the park

Here are photos that I took in the very same Duncan Plaza on approximately December 21, 2007:

City contracted waste removal employees dragged any remaining tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless.

City contracted waste removal employees dragged any remaining tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless.

Yes, it looks eerily familiar. In ’07, the encampment was a post-Katrina right-to-affordable-housing protest. Homeless people and those kicked out of the soon-to-be-demolished public housing units were demanding that public housing be reopened and that the city not forget its poorest residents. City-contracted waste removal employees dragged tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless people. (See more from my original reporting back then.)

One theory from 2007 that seems perfectly applicable to this recent eviction: that the forced removal was timed for the holiday season beautification and to make sure that tourists didn’t see the tent city. (The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the much-beloved New Orleans Saints play, is located nearby.)

So really not much has changed. Much of New Orleans’ public housing stock was demolished even though it wasn’t significantly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. There are little to no viable replacements. People in 2011 are protesting skyrocketing rents and a city government that is out of touch with the needs of the 99%. A forcible eviction of tents in Duncan Plaza comes around Christmas time.

The only good news is that today, a Judge overruled the Mayor’s decision and has allowed occupiers to return to the Plaza, but only for seven days while the judicial reprieve process is worked out.

The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn.

This is great news:

On the evening of Monday, November 7, The Ali Forney Center …reopened a 20-bed emergency shelter in Brooklyn as a shelter specifically for this population.  The reopening was made possible by a $620,000 grant from the New York City Council, turned over to the AFC by the New York City Dept. of Youth and Community Development. As the shelter is an existing shelter, previously operated by an organization that failed to comply with licensing requirements, it does not add to the city’s total number of shelter beds, which currently stands at around 250. However, it does increase the percentage of such beds set aside for LGBT youth, and brings the total of AFC-operated beds to 77.  Nonetheless, the AFC’s waiting list currently stands at 199 youths – a figure which has grown by 40 percent in the last year alone.

I reported on the rally and movement for more shelter beds in my last blog post, and I can’t help but feel like this must have been a direct result of the activism that has been taking place. I don’t know if it’s the increased media attention on Occupy Wall Street, yesterday’s elections, or what, but it does feel like there is a revival of progressive direct action and activism afoot. People are waking up from the slumber of Obama’s first term.

For the complete press release and more information on the LGBTQ homeless shelter update, click here.

I attended a rally on Monday of this week put on by a coalition of organizations fighting for more homeless shelters for LGBTQ young people. According to the flyer, an LGBTQ teen is 8 times more likely to experience homelessness than a straight teen in New York City. This is because as people come out younger and younger, many are being kicked out of their homes or facing isolation and bullying in schools. Every night in New York City, almost 4000 young people are without stable housing, but there are fewer than 200 youth shelter beds. Facing cuts by the city and state, supporters came out to demand protection for these vulnerable young people.

I interviewed a few people at the rally and spliced together a quick video of people’s impressions:

If this inspires you to take action, visit aliforneycenter.org.

I shot some video at last night’s Occupy Wall Street protests in Times Square (commentary by my friend Matthew Palevsky, a strategist at Purpose):

By the time I got to Times Square around 6:30, the group, with number in the tens of thousands, had already marched over from Washington Square Park, and some confrontations with the cops had already taken place. (I did see an older woman with short hair on the ground with a bloodied head getting assistance from others. I don’t know the details, but 50+ people were arrested as the cops stifled the movements of the marchers.)

While I was there, the situation was more diffuse, with hundreds of metal barricades set up so that protesters were mainly relegated to the sides, allowing some car traffic to drive through. Protestors, tourists, and onlookers were squeezed into narrow spaces and kept apart from one another, so as far as I could tell, there was no central spot for Occupy Wall Street. Instead, there were mini hubs up and down Broadway from 42nd street up to 47th, with people grouping around one another in each block to chant, do mic-checks, etc. This was probably not ideal–and it’s probably exactly what the cops wanted. The protest was effectively fragmented. I was getting word that a General Assembly was happening, and even though I suspect I was only half a block away from it, there was no way to get to it or hear what was going on.

I just stayed until there was a decision made to march back to Washington Square Park. Perhaps the situation in Times Square was too tense, crowded, and tight. According to reports, people stayed in the Park until midnight or 1 a.m., when police enforced the curfew.

While I have visited Occupy Wall Street twice over the past few weeks and have supported the movement in various ways, I refer to the movement and its participants as “they,” only because I haven’t invested enough time in it to truly consider myself a part. Here is my take on the infuriating dismissals of the seriousness of the protests and my call to action. Photos throughout this post were taken by me. Please give credit and link back to this post if you use them.

– – –

I’m tired of people dismissing the legitimate concerns of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together movements. It’s especially hurtful when it comes from people on the left. For example, New York Magazine ran this silly piece in last week’s magazine that insulted the intelligence of partipants using silly pop quizzes. On the next page of the magazine, they took free yoga classes waaay too seriously and explained them using terms like “democratization.” Way to give due seriousness to serious matters, guys. Or even this column in the progressive magazine Mother Jones, where a former Obama staffer, despite supporting the movement’s larger goals, still insists on calling the initiators of Occupy Wall Street “all crazy ones.”

Stop Corporate Greed

But this is old news. Ever since the beginning of the movement, media outlets, politicians, left-wingers, right-wingers, and members of the public have tried to discount the Occupy Wall Street protest activity by accusing participants of not having concrete plans, of being vague and decentralized, and of not streamlining their messaging. The coverage always insists on reiterating the same question: What exactly are you people asking for?

But the burden of proof should not always have to fall on the public. Occupy Wall Street and associated protest movements have identified the circumstances of the crisis and have pointed to the context that drove them to action: no jobs, no affordable healthcare, impunity for the real crooks of the financial crisis, staggering corporate profits and executive bonuses, a widening wage gap, too much corporate influence in our government, and much, much more.

Concrete Ideas

These are the collective concerns, many of which were outlined in the Declaration on September 29, and yet people keep accusing the movement of not having any tangible complaints or proposals for change. Well, I have a two-pronged response.

1.) Coming up with policy solutions and proposals should not be the job of Occupy Wall Street. Protestors should not have to have centralized messaging, single-issue demands, or charts and graphs to demonstrate their rationality and seriousness. Occupy Wall Street and its partner protests around the country have pointed a finger at a crisis. They cannot reverse it or make steps to prevent it from happening again without the collaboration of larger social institutions. It is the work of economists, elected officials, the President’s cabinet, members of government agencies, and nonprofit advocacy organizations to put into motion reforms, laws and regulations based on the people’s demands. The people have cried out for help to ensure that corporations don’t have undue influence over our government, that there are no more predatory lenders or rapid stock trading. Now it’s your turn to act, America.

2.) Of course, Occupy Wall Street protestors aren’t just sitting back and waiting for the world to change. Protest is not just about getting the attention of those in power and hoping that they’ll respond to make lasting change. Occupy Wall Street participants are spending their time actively responding to and shaping an alternative to the moral crisis in this country. Through the consensus-based model known as the General Assembly, people in New York City’s Zucotti Park are creating the world they wish to see. The micro-communities camping out all over the country are modeling themselves after a world that doesn’t exist in the U.S., a world where grassroots democracy is a reality.

Watch this incredible short video to get a taste of the consensus model if you haven’t already seen it in action, or just to be re-inspired if you already know about it:

And that should be enough.

Indeed, many unlikely allies have begun latching onto the messaging of Occupy Wall Street to show that the protest’s concerns are real.

First, there are charts from Business Insider that show how “inequality in this country has hit a level that has been seen only once in the nation’s history, and unemployment has reached a level that has been seen only once since the Great Depression. And, at the same time, corporate profits are at a record high.”

David Weidner, Wall Street columnist for MarketWatchpenned an op-ed arguing that “the bankers who brought us this mess not only walk free, they drive free in Bentleys paid for by money looted through toxic mortgages, trading debacles and derivative madness…The ones outraged by greed run amok, reckless behavior and fraud are getting wrestled to the pavement and arrested.”

So why not stop trying to malign the movement? They are here to stay. Take them seriously.

The Economy Could Be More FairThanks for listening.

Sita deconstructs (and ultimately trashes) the word “problematic” and its over usage in certain activist circles.  Check it out — I couldn’t agree more:

Last week, I was talking to a McGill student about upcoming elections for one of the student groups. She was concerned that the political gains she had ben working on would be lost if the group faced a coup d’etat by people she deemed to be “problematic.” This word seems to stand in as a bizarre synonym for another equally strange term: “oppressive.” In her mind, people were divided into two camps: oppressive and anti-oppressive; problematic and unproblematic; good and bad.

The whole conversation made me want to scream. Her perspective was so woefully simplistic, and an apt demonstration of the way in which the language of “anti-oppression,” in this particular social milieu, has replaced the usual youth vernacular. Put simply, you can’t call someone a bitch (that’s like totally oppressive and like, patriarchal, y’know?), but you can call them “problematic,” and essentially mean the same thing.