Review of AWIP by Alternative Culture Magazine

I wanted to share with you the first review of “Another World IS Possible” by Alternative Culture Magazine.

Here it is in full:

Another World is Possible: Freedom, Economic Truth, and Creating a Society of Humanness-Colby Hopkins

Colby Hopkins brings a wealth of scholarship and practical experience from the front lines of the Occupy movement to bear on the central political, social and economic issues of our time. In lucid, commonsense language he demystifies fundamental concepts such as freedom and democracy – digging beneath the polarized rhetoric of conventional politics to the roots of the Western tradition. Then he brings the discussion home to what is needed today to reimagine and remake politics, to be responsive to human needs and rights.

The fundamental premise is that underlying our supposed disagreements is an unrecognized common ground, basic needs and rights that with an opportunity for civil discussion, we can all agree on. Well, at least, say, the 99% of us who are not currently benefiting from dominance over the political, economic and natural landscape. The Occupy movement has demonstrated a twenty-first century evolution and maturing of models of nonviolent resistance and communication that give practical hope for such a revisioning of society.

Hopkins is both humble and thorough in exploring and explaining the principles and techniques of group facilitation and consensus decision-making. Such tools are essential for making meaningful dialogue possible on a group level, as we move up the scale from local agreement to larger-scale political entities. The hope, and indeed the imperative, is that in our time the organization of social problem-solving depends not upon empty and co-opted representation, but upon true, living democracy, thriving In grassroots communities.

The Declaration of Independence (with some minor edits)

Originally presented before Congress on July 4th, 1776:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which … Nature … entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among [people], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

The history of the present [American Government—Congress, Courts, and Executives, as well as their cohorts in various media, corporate, and banking industries] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over the [American people and those abroad]. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

[Government, corporate, and banking institutions and leadership have] refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

[They have] forbidden [the people] to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, (i.e. the US Congress) unless suspended in their operation till [their] Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, [they have] utterly neglected to attend to them.

[They have] has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, (i.e. voting rights, gerrymandering, etc.) a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

[They have] called together legislative bodies [that are incapable and unwilling to submit to the will of the people, except those American who hold enormous fortunes], for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with [their] measures.

[The Executives have ignored the] Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness [their] invasions on the rights of the people.

[They have] refused for a long time, after such [disregard for the rights of the people], to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within (i.e. money and corruption).

[They have] endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners [so corporations can continue to exploit the people]; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands (except to Exxon Mobile, TransCanada, Monsanto, etc).

[They have] obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing [their] Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

[They have] made Judges dependent on [their] Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

[They have] erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

[They have] kept […], in times of peace, Standing Armies [of our young men and women, in positions all over the world] without the Consent of our legislatures [or the people].

[They have] affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power [and use it to usurp civil powers of other free peoples abroad].

[They have] combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving [their] Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops [and police] among us [and keeping us under surveillance]: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For [control and manipulating] our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses

For [disregarding] the free System of […] Laws in [the United States], establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and … [wielding unnecessary military power beyond its] Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these [states].

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For [corrupting and mismanaging] our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

[They have] abdicated Government here, by declaring us [under their] Protection and waging War against us [and in our name].

[They have] has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, [fracked] our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

[They are] at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries (see Academi, formerly Blackwater Worldwide and the exploitation, by government, of our own military abroad) to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

[They have] constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against [other peoples], to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

[They have] excited domestic insurrections amongst us. (deletion of racist characterization of Native Americans)

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. [Political and economic leadership] whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our [wealthiest] brethren [and their congressional counterparts]. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We [the people], therefore, solemnly publish and declare, That [we] are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent [people]; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to [illegitimate power], and that all political connection between [the people and the rule of the wealthiest Americans], is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent [people], [we] have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent [people] may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

On Humanness

The concept of humanness juxtaposes the concept of human nature. Human nature is used as foundational justification for the social contract, which (in theory) legitimatizes government through consent, and for economic policy and theory related to capitalism. Humanness goes beyond the human nature debate and, to some degree, makes the debate irrelevant. This is because humanness includes human nature no matter what human nature is. It considers what it means to be a human being living in Earth regardless of whether certain behaviors of ours are ingrained in our DNA or social constructs—it simply acknowledges how we are.So how are we?

Well, the easiest way to boil this down is to say we are diverse. People have the capacity to act and be every different kind of person one could imagine. Unfortunately, most theories and policies in social science focus on an extremely narrow view of human beings that considers them rational, selfish, and competitive. But people are much more than that.

Consider for a moment what we hold most dear.  Most of us desire and value our freedom because we want to express ourselves without reservation. We want to be ourselves, do what makes us happy, and feel the invigoration of life experiences. More importantly, we want what is best for our families. We want to raise them, teach them, learn from them, care for them, and be cared for by them. We want to have the capability of ensuring that those we love will experience the best possible life. This is what makes such freedom essential.

Being a human today may be very different than two hundred years ago, yet similar in some ways too. Humans in America will have a very different experience from humans in Kazakhstan but there will be many similarities as well.

We are physical beings. We are part of a physical world of air, water, and earth that we interact with to nourish and maintain our own bodies. Our bodies are limited in the short term so we are active and work but need rest. Our bodies are also limited in the long term where we are vulnerable to disease and death. We often hear the phrase “I’m only human” when someone makes a mistake or meets a limitation.

We are dependent beings. No matter how independent we want to be, we all rely on other people for our well-being. We are surrounded by family and friends throughout our lives, we require doctors to care for us, teachers to educate us, farmers to grow food to nourish us, and on and on. Beyond being dependent on other people, we are dependent on the earth for health, nourishment, and resources for our survival.

We always hear that humans are rational beings. We are curious. We think. We solve problems. Humans are also irrational. We are full of a variety of emotions that impact the way we think and act. Emotional experiences such as love, admiration, or joy, make us feel good; and others such as hate, envy, or sorrow, make us feel terrible; but all are part of humanness. Emotions drive motivation and motivation causes human action. Some people act more on emotions than others, but emotions affect all of us. We often make mistakes based on not thinking things through before we act. Even when we are not acting on our emotions, emotions are a significant part of what we are. Sometimes we make mistakes by thinking through things too much—sometimes we should “follow our hearts.” To deny either the rational or the irrational elements of humanness is to deny something vital to what it means to be human.

We are moral. We all have different morals but most of us have a general idea about right and wrong and have compassion toward others. Beyond morality, we are spiritual. Certainly, we are not all religious but humanness includes a connectedness beyond the self, which is ones’ spirituality. For many, spirituality manifests in religious beliefs. For others, it is simply a consciousness of something greater than themselves, perhaps a being, perhaps something like energy. Some interpret spirituality as a connection to nature, humanity, or the depths of the inner-self, among many other interpretations of spirituality.

We also work. Sigmund Freud said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” We are servants. We all serve others, whether it is caring for our family, showing an act of kindness by helping a stranger, volunteering, or something else. Service is the giving of self. In a world dominated by profit motives and mass consumption, serving others is an exchange that has human value outside of monetary measurements. Serving others helps shift our mindset away from selfishness toward selflessness and helps foster communities.

We are social creatures. As humans, we are continuously interacting with others. Of course there are those that prefer isolation, and all of us need it at times, but over the course of a lifetime, we immerse ourselves in the lives of others. Interactions occur at many different levels and with advancements in technology, the amount of interactions and the levels of interaction are continually expanding. Telephones, cell phones, Internet, emails, social media, and video calls allow us to create and maintain interactions over great distances. Part of being human is having intimate interactions. While technology allows us to interact and connect at great distances, it does not replace the need for face-to-face interactions and intimate relationships.

Humans are communal beings. Beyond simple interactions with others, we use various methods of communication to express ourselves, exchange ideas, and build and navigate complex social structures. As communities form, people become free to interact with others to exchange, share, and co-exist, creating a sense of commonality and connectedness. Human societies develop cultures made up of stories, histories, myths, legends, rituals, ceremonies, celebrations, rules, norms, ethical codes, values, beliefs, and habits. We identify with these communities and cultures. We say things like “I am Mexican,” “I am Jewish,” “I am Black,” “I am American.” Those identities have value to us.

We are also creative, both in our work and for self-expression. We make things and we express ourselves in abstracts. We write poems, books, and business plans. We paint replicas and abstracts. We draw pictures and blueprints. We build sculptures and skyscrapers. We sing, dance, and play instruments, which we created. In our work, service, art, community, and family, we want to feel valued. We want to know, on some level, that we matter.

Every human is different. Aspects of humanness vary to different degrees from person to person. Any system of social organization that fosters freedom must account for the vast differences in and among people. Humanness necessitates flexible and inclusive political and economic practices if humans are to be truly free in a society with other people. By participating in a truly democratic process that actually allows us to contribute freely to our fullest potential to the societal decisions that affect us, we are participating in the continual creation of the society in which we exist. As a result, the society reflects and reciprocates our humanness to the extent we participate and have an impact.

So the next time someone tells you “This is the only way because it is human nature” you can confidently reply “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. Our humanness allows us to be whatever we want to be.”

NYC “Another World IS Possible” Book Release Party

The Humanness Project Press Presents: Colby Hopkins’ “Another World IS Possible” Release Party

Join us on Wednesday, June 26th from 6-9pm at Woodrow’s NYC at 43 Murray St (between Church & West Broadway)                           

About the Book:

Colby’s “Another World IS Possible: Freedom, Economic Truth, and Creating a Society of Humanness” challenges the current political and economic structures, arguing they do not correlate with all that it means to be humans in society. He provides an intriguing methodology to transition to another kind of world, one that does correlate with humanness.

Sale Information:

We will be selling paperback copies of “Another World IS Possible” for $17.10 (tax included cash or check) and Colby will be signing books upon request.

Reflections on Living in Palestine

Most of my life, I’ve held a strong conviction against ignorance and intolerance of people in other regions around the world. I was against these notions not only because I think they are fundamentally wrong, but because I believe they are illogical. These ideas stemmed from the belief that if one were to examine any demographic on the planet, they would find people along a full spectrum of social, political, and religious beliefs. This diversity would include all possible different beliefs and varying degrees of those beliefs. It’s incredibly difficult to judge a people or situation, even when you study it extensively. Life is complicated everywhere.

Sweeping generalizations are not only inherently inaccurate, but they are fundamentally damaging. For example, the mentality that all Muslims hate us or support terrorism could not be further from the truth. But this mentality perpetuates anger, fear, hate, and intolerance. Even worse, these stereotypes foster apathy, and can go as far as extending support for policies that devalue and destroy lives of people in other regions. A notable example is Americans’ complacency about drone attacks that are murdering scores of innocent people in Yemen, a country we are not at war with.

The collective mentality is that, as an American, I would be in danger in Palestine. This is not to naively proclaim that there is no unique danger when traveling, especially in a conflict-affected area. But the concerns seem to extend beyond that of conflict and into the realm of “people ‘over there’ don’t like Americans” so I would be at risk. This implies that most people in Palestine would feel this way, which is simply not true. We all know that extremists exist—they exist in every culture. However, the type of danger people fear—because of the stories broadcasted across the news—is extremely rare.

The daily experience living in Palestine was not one of fear—I never felt threatened or intimidated. Even when I attended political rallies or protests, I felt welcomed and appreciated. I felt safe walking down the streets alone at night and walking into a stranger’s house when invited in with a warm, “Welcome, welcome.”

I found that most Palestinians asked me similar questions. They wanted to know, now that I was living there and saw Palestine for myself, what did I think of the Palestinian people? They know how Palestine is portrayed in the western media and they wanted to be sure we know they are a good people. They also asked if I would share their stories with others when I returned to the US. Every Palestinian has a story about how the Israeli occupation has affected their lives and they just want others to know about their experiences.

I’m not going to pretend that Palestinians are perfect—no society is. I have many criticisms of Palestinian society and government, as I would anywhere. It is best to withhold judgments of other people and other places. Instead, one could recognize that people everywhere desire similar things in life and everyone has their own struggles, which are difficult to understand if you’re not experiencing them. When judging another people, the best bet might be to imagine what you think any randomly selected group of people anywhere would be like, and that’s probably as accurate as you’re going to get.

For now, I feel vindicated in my belief in human beings. Although I was only in Palestine a short time, everyone I met exceeded my hopes and expectations, furthering my belief in the goodness of people everywhere.

Apologies for my absence

It has been over a year since my last post. I feel terrible about pulling away from my blog to the extent that I did. As most of you probably know, after the Spring Awakening Event last year, I had to take a break from Occupy for a few family events, and then Simran and I moved to Palestine on relatively short notice.

Before going to Palestine, I thought I would have ample time to write posts, and would simply shift the topic to another subject I am passionate about: Palestine. Unfortunately, the workload for my job was drastically different than what I was led to believe. The preparation for teaching classes consumed most of my hours on nights and weekends. The little leisure time I had to spare was dedicated mostly to writing my book, exploring Palestine, and cooking dinner.

Now that I am home in the States, I will be getting back into a regular writing routine. You may also be happy to know that my new book, “Another World IS Possible: Freedom, Economic Truth, and Creating a Society of Humanness” is going to press and will be out in the next couple of weeks.

Wide Awake and Ready: The Occupy Movement Set to Kick Off a New Season

The burst of exhilarating energy and national attention around Occupy Wall Street (OWS) faded by December but the arduous work persisted throughout the winter. OWS activists have been obsessively preparing for an inspiring and effective year. With weekly marches to Wall Street, an ongoing occupation at Union Square, and a sleep-in action in front of the New York Stock Exchange, OWS in NYC has shown the public what the media tried to hide: we are still here, and we are not leaving. In addition to all these activities, Occupy Wall Street organizers have been working on movement building projects that have yet to emerge.This Saturday, OWS and people from throughout New York City will converge on Central Park. The event, “Spring Awakening 2012: Occupy New York City People’s Assembly” (#A14), driven by OWS organizers, will likely develop as a new invigoration of the OWS movement. While the park occupations, direct actions, and many other types of work that came out of Liberty Plaza continue to grow, many organizers have also began to shift focus toward creating connections with other networks, merging efforts, and strengthening existing relationships. There are two main constituents that the Spring Awakening 2012 is aimed at. First, there is significant focus on effectively bringing new people into the movement by connecting them in a way that suits their needs. Second, we hope to create relationships between seasoned organizers from, both inside OWS and other organizations, in a way that fosters collaboration on existing work efforts. With long-term, lasting, and fruitful relationships being the goal, this event could be a good indicator of the next phase of OWS.

A planning group of over one hundred activists choose April 14 for specific reasons. Energizing events in early spring will pull us out of a long and hard winter where the movement had some degree of disarray and where many have felt defeated. It is designed to propel us into the spring and summer where the work that everyone has done over the last 4 months will begin to manifest, for example, the citywide May Day actions. The group also chose Central Park because the mission of the day and the process to achieve it necessitates having people invested and involved from all over the city. As the movement grows, it is more and more important to have an increasing number of people and a diversity of voices involved in planning. Central Park is a central location for people from all boroughs to converge.

The earlier part of the day will be an open space format with blanketing, teach-ins, performances, and activities. The purpose of this is to celebrate our work and accomplishments, to bring positive energy and reinvigorate people, and to welcome newcomers and help plug them in to existing organizing work. For example, parents may find it difficult to participate in OWS because of overwhelming family responsibilities and safety concerns regarding bringing their children to events. However, parents are among the most concerned citizens because they are trying to shape a better world for their children.

“As parents, we are naturally focused on creating a better future for our children. For me personally, it is important to show my children how to participate in democracy and understand the process. And as my 10 year old is fond to point out, we are here to provide a voice for those that do not have one,” says Myra Kuo Territo, an Organizer with Parents Occupying Wall Street (POWS).  To mitigate fears of parents who are reluctant to participate in activism, Ms. Territo explains that POWS is hosting a teach-in, “discussing how to safely protest with children. Like a yellow balloon campaign so that people and police recognize there are children in actions. Recognizing signs of danger and creating escape plans.”

Spring Awakening organizers will keep all participants informed about activities using an open space system that they constructed in collaboration with Not An Alternative, Occupy Town Square, and other open space experts. It works by listing all activities on a “commons board” that denotes the time of the activity and a letter. Flags with matching letters will be posted throughout the space so participants can see where they need to go to find the event they are interested in. Additionally, all participants can receive constant updates by texting “@SpringAwakening2012” to 23559.

This open space format will continue throughout the day, however at 3pm, an assembly will also convene for those interested in more structured organizing and work commitments. At the assembly, organizers and activists will submit campaigns, projects, and initiatives. Participants will then form clusters, or groups, based on these submissions and collectively plan a strategy around them. They will also form commitments to the cluster with the goal of collectively working toward creating change in that area. Essentially, everyone will combine efforts to accomplish greater goals.

This is one step toward a greater coalescence of people working toward social and economic justice, but it is a crucial one. Occupy Wall Street has shown us that we have a common enemy. Whatever issues you’re passionate about, the oppressive economic structure plays a significant role. #A14 is about merging and strengthening collective efforts, with OWS and other groups who have been doing this work for a long time. Simran Sachdev, an OWS organizer who has been working on this event, said, “so many organizations have spent years working on the issues that OWS is passionate about. Forming greater unity amongst the 99 percent, by increasing collaboration between such groups, is crucial for our success. The Spring Awakening 2012 is a big step in that direction. I’m looking forward to the long-term accomplishments to come out of the event!”

Arrested Freedom (part 2) #n17

I didn’t really know what to do. Handcuffs on, just standing off to the side against the wall, I had never felt like this before. I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience in the past, but it’s different when you choose to break the law as a form of protest. Being arrested as choice is a way to make a statement against an injustice.  This time the NYPD arrested me for legally expressing my opinion, by marching, within the law and even after following an unjust police order to move the other way. Standing by that wall, I felt compelled to sing the Star Spangled Banner, the United States National Anthem. After all, it is the “land of the free and home of the brave” we live on, isn’t it? Well, it is time for the brave to stand up for our freedom. 

By the time I was escorted to the paddy wagon, my right hand was already numb. Years ago, I was a correctional officer for a short time, so I know how these cuffs are supposed to be applied. I told my arresting officer they were too tight.  The right sleeve of my shirt was sticking to my elbow where my blood, from when the police officer unnecessarily threw me on the ground, was soaking into the cloth.  But he didn’t seem to care. Once locked in with eight other arrestees, we drove off. In the back of the police wagon, we tried to predict how long it would be before we were released. We agreed they were definitely not letting us out in time to make the night actions, which meant we were likely being held overnight. We told some stories and got to know each other a bit. The two small, caged windows blocked out most of the light and the large ragged spare tire on the floor left us little floor space for our feet. I guess it’s not supposed to be a comfortable ride to jail. Officers in the front were complaining about all the miscommunications going on. They seem to have been told the wrong place to take us and were turned away. When they started complaining fervently about the condition of their beat-up and broken vehicle, we laughed, and shouted comments like “that’s why you need to join us make the one percent give up money for NYPD equipment!” From then on, the driver was kind enough to slam on the breaks at every stop and turn corners without slowing down so the nine seatbelt-less prisoners would slide, bounce, and bang around in the back cage.

Walking into the courtyard outside prison was like a reunion of sorts. Activists found familiar faces and offered each other comforting smiles. Standing there, officers seemed incredibly laidback. Out of the fifteen or more officers checking us in, only one seemed to be consistently rude to us. Many were even nice to us. Finally, the same officers who an hour earlier threw us to the cement and piled on top of us, took the time to cut the overly tight cuffs and apply new, appropriately tightened cuffs to our wrists.


We moved through the check-in process and officers took and filed our property, then brought us to the holding cell. While in holding, the 99 percent activists were in full form. Every time a new male comrade was brought through the door or a female comrade passed our cell on the way to the female holding cell, we hugged, slapped hands, pounded on the walls, stamped our feet, chanted, sang, and danced. “WE! ARE! The 99 Percent!” It was wild. We shared our stale cheese sandwiches, stories, ideas, and poetry. The strong solidarity can be summed up by one prisoner who mic checked “I just want to say, you all have given me hope again.”

When I was taken from the holding cell to process, one officer courteously applied my fingers to the fingerprint-scanning computer, another officer in the room serenely stated, “We really appreciate the work you all are doing.” The scene was a bit surreal. After the mass police violence against protesters, all the standoffs, and being arrested violently that same morning, to hear an officer of the NYPD openly thank me as if he had nothing to hide was quite shocking.

I have always taken the position that the NYPD institution is made up of many individual people that include supporters and adversaries of Occupy Wall Street. Looking at the officers that surround the park or marches, it is easy to see that some sympathize and refrain from judgment while others are marked by disdain for the activists. However, when the lines of robotic looking riot-police approach non-violent protesters in strict formations and execute violent crowd-control tactics and arrest indiscriminately, it is easy to forget the human element of the NYPD and only see the institution. At these times, it appears that any and every officer just follows orders to dehumanize and unjustly beat American citizens. It is impossible to see any internal conflict or restraint on behalf of individual officers; rather it is one force, massively and violently oppressing people.

Back at the holding cell , the verbal support from officers continued into the next day where several of them approached us in central booking and engaged in hours of conversations that are indistinguishable from Liberty Square debates, aside from the huge metal bars bars between us of course. Conversations with the officers spanned across topics of the economic and political structures we are confronting. According to their words, they are supportive of the cause. Some disagreed with the tactics of our protests, some did not. Police are like working class folks, they just have badges, guns, power, and privilege. That said, as individuals, they are still victimized by the political and economic institutions that oppress our society. Of course some of them agree with us. But if that’s the case, why the violence?


During the conversations, I condemned them for the institutional violence. I think people that break the law should be arrested, even if it is in protest, but police power and authority must be in check. For example, protesters should not be moved from a sidewalk just because police say so. They have just as much right to use the sidewalk as any pedestrian. I also think that police have a responsibility to protect citizens and property and also have the right to defend themselves in violent situations. However, the reality of the police violence at Occupy Wall Street does not fit this analysis. First, the mass police presence escalates tensions because they are preventing peaceful protest, not deterring possible violence or property damage. If the goal was to serve and protect, the NYPD would seek an appropriate balance. Secondly, a cowardice act of violence from a protester in a crowd of peaceful protesters cannot be an excuse to attack the whole crowd indiscriminately. It certainly cannot be used to justify attacking a different peaceful crowd the next day or week when there is no act of aggression from protesters what so ever. But this is the justification we are given/used as an excuse. NYPD officers should refrain from using violence as a way of forcing compliance from nonviolent protesters. There are plenty of nonviolent methods the officers could implement. Instead, they have been using violence in hopes of preventing protester violence, which is not necessary or effective. Finally, it is not acceptable that officers beat crowds of peaceful protesters indiscriminately to “protect themselves.” We are not talking about mass riots here. If a handful of people break a law or become aggressive, arrest them and maintain control peacefully. Instead, officers are drawing batons and pepper spray and wielding their institutional power.

One officer told me that most cops are just doing their jobs and following orders. That doesn’t justify their actions. He said. “We are all individuals and make individual choices.” I pressed him, saying, “I have been at these front lines. I am telling you your colleagues are beating innocent people for exercising their freedom of speech. I was tackled and arrested violently for marching peacefully on the sidewalk.” He replied, “If I was given that order, I wouldn’t do it.” I would like to believe him. I would like to believe that individual people that make up the NYPD are not the same as the institution, but it is increasingly difficult to do so. We don’t see these types of officers surrounding us on a regular basis. It is time for brave officers, who know what is right, to follow their hearts and say “no!” It is time for the real heroes to be human, stand up as conscientious objectors, and really protect and serve.


Goodbye Freedom. Be Careful. (#NDAA)

From my mom, to family and friends, to Facebook acquaintances, so many people have bestowed the same advice upon me: “be careful”. Two simple words that carry with them a complex tornado of confusion and emotion that not only magnify the lack of comprehension regarding the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) dynamics, but also carry the weight of an eye-opening debunking of nationalist rhetoric that has shaped my identity.
I know why everyone keeps telling me to be careful. They see the news, the perceptions of chaos, mobs, and riots and they see reports that the police are cracking down and violently arresting people. Meanwhile, I post pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter that let my friends and family know I’m usually in the mix of things. The concerns derive from a combination of two things: the media shaped illusions that portray a gathering of loving American citizens as an unpredictable mob, and the police. Apprehensions regarding my presence at OWS are dominated by the latter.


This notion should baffle the American-patriot’s mind. Why would I need to fear the police when I am in public spaces, lawfully exercising my American rights to freedom of speech and assembly? How could my perceptions of country and freedom have been so wrong? Why should I fear those who are meant to serve and protect me?

The police and government are cracking down on dissent all across the country. On November 17th, I was arrested and I hadn’t broken a single law. I simply spoke out against my government in a peaceful and public gathering. The NYPD detained me for being part of OWS, in America, where we are supposed to have freedom of speech and assembly. Over the last decade, we have sat by as our government has stripped our rights away.

On New Years Eve, President Obama cowardly signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when he knew most Americans would be busy celebrating the coming new year. I emailed the White House several times asking why this bill was not listed under pending legislation only to receive a generic response about Obama’s defense strategy.  As I write this blog, NDAA is not posted on the White House site under signed legislation. When the President signs a bill purposefully, when the people are not watching, what does that tell us about the bill and about him as a leader? And this from the man who campaigned on transparency. As Obama swiped his presidential pen across the NDAA he wipe away even more of our constitutional rights. This bill codifies indefinite detention of American citizens who were “a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” by the military “without trial until the end of hostilities” in the War on Terror.


Now you may feel certain that you or I are unattached to “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States” however, media pundits have already tried to align protesters with terrorists. Furthermore, it would behoove you to know that what appeared to be a leaked memo shows London Police have already aligned the Occupy Movement with terrorism. As far as we know, neither the NYPD nor the US government has done the same, but… we don’t know. The FBI has targeted activist as terrorists (maybe in part to justify a the terrorism budget), so the connection of OWS protests to terrorism is not farfetched.

Historically, the US government has not been above robbing its own people of their liberty. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that allowed the US military to detain tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese heritage. While a drastic measure, this was less extreme than signing indefinite detention into law. The Internal Security Act of 1950 and the witch-hunting of the Red Scare obliterated civil liberties in America. In the 1960s, the FBI targeted the Black Panther Party, who militantly spoke against the US imperialist establishment, as the greatest threat to internal national security. They also targeted Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke of peace and used nonviolent resistance. In September 2002, US officials deported Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, in an example of extraordinary rendition, to Syria where he claims he was interrogated and tortured for almost a year. One thing seems certain: it is not beyond the US government to use vague laws and fear to crush dissent by obliterating civil liberties.


Whether the military detains innocent Americans citizens is not the only issue. It will do well all lovers of freedom and justice to consider the impacts of simply passing a law that gives the government that power. When people fear their government, they hesitate to speak out against it. For governments to control people, they do not always have to crush dissent with an iron fist; in many cases all the government has to do is make people afraid to speak out. The power shift itself is an affront on American freedom.

I love my family and friends for their concerns. I call on them and everyone to stand up for justice. I know that when they say “be careful” they don’t mean I shouldn’t protest. However, if being “careful” in the current swarm of government disenfranchisement, police brutality, and oppression of freedom means not expressing my opinion, voice, and beliefs to the fullest extent, then I refuse to “be careful.” I love my family and country too much to hold back.  I choose, instead, to be care full. As our freedom dwindles, and oppression perseveres, I will remain hopeful. However, I shall bid farewell and offer the advice of my family and friends to that, which needs it most, and simply say “Goodbye freedom. Please be careful. You are under a much bigger threat than I”.


Arrested Freedom (part1) #n17

On Thursday, November 17th 2011, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of lower Manhattan, surrounding Wall Street in response to a call for a global day of action, celebrating the two-month anniversary of occupying Liberty Square. As a full time participant in the movement, I met up with some friends at 6am to pass out the new poster edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal to the protesters gathering at Liberty. The plan for the day was well known: show an overwhelming presence in the morning to disrupt business as usual at Wall Street; fill the subways in the afternoon with teach-ins, posters, and fliers to spread our message and gather more support for the movement; in the evening we would march across the Brooklyn Bridge, which was a milestone in our movement because of the mass arrests in early October.


People were probably aware of specific acts that would get them arrested. Sit-ins to block streets and entrances were met with mass arrests, which was no surprise. Police used, the now standard, excessive force in dealing with non-violent protests. To break through human chains where peaceful protesters linked arms, police punched and beat them. When arresting protesters there is little, if any attempt to do so without slamming them to the ground, jumping on top of them with several officers, and tightening the plastic zip-cuffs to cut off circulation.

Most participants, however, including myself, were trying to avoid the early morning arrests. I mean, who wants to be in jail with so much excitement planned for the day? Many people also had to go to work the next day. Personally, I had planned a teach-in on the one train with a small group of organizers in West Harlem and I volunteered to speak at it. I literally promised them I would not get arrested. To keep my promise, and against my natural inclinations, I tried to move along every time the police presence foreshadowed arresting time. It’s always a struggle to leave any compatriots behind, but one thing I’m learning from this movement is the importance of checking my ego and allowing others to make their sacrifices without feeling like I need to protect or join them.

As a result of my morning fluidity, I ended up following a small march up Broadway, passing the iconic bull at Exchange Street. It was a small march, probably under sixty people. As an artistic blockade of New Street, an access point to Wall Street, one group had held large cardboard paintings of houses and buildings. When held, side-by-side, these paintings created a wall, symbolically sending the message “Wall Street is closed”. These folks became the front row of our small march as we searched for the next protest intersection that needed support.

As we marched up the sidewalk of Broadway, riot-ready police sprang to formation. Helmets on and batons drawn, they formed a three officer-deep line across the sidewalk, blocking our way. We stood in our lines, face-to-face with the police lines, in what was a standard police-protester face-off. We basically just stood there. We want to walk forward, and have a legal right to do so, but the police are in our way. What could we do? We are not going to push through them and provoke violence. We could walk back the other way, but that might be too easy of a submission. We cannot walk away from the police every time they block us or all our marches would just amount to a bunch of people walking around in circles all day. Why should the police be able to dictate where we walk when we are not breaking a law and when there is no justification for their blockage? So… we wait.


Cardboard vs. Batons

After several minutes of standing, a heavy-set, white shirt officer walked up behind the line of riot police and shouted that we needed to walk the other way or they were going to start arresting us. This order took a couple of seconds to process. Why do we have to walk the other way? What is the reason for this demand? All things considered, it seemed like everyone was willing to take this loss and walk away so we could continue with the larger effort throughout the day. Everyone, including me, began filing out. However, seconds after the white-shirt demanded we leave, the police began to storm through our front line of cardboard-bearing marchers and pulling on their signs. A bit of a struggle ensued as protesters tried to hold onto their signs, which the police had no justification for taking. One officer tore at my sign. I pulled it back exclaiming, “I’m allowed to have a sign.” He replied, “you are allowed to have it but you have to keep walking.” The only reason I had stopped walking was his pulling on my sign challenging my inertia, however, I followed the order and “kept walking,” to avoid arrest. While I walked, I pulled out my cellphone to capture the police escalations that I knew could lead to violent arrests. While walking, I tried to film the scuffles behind me.

The white shirt officer that pushed through the line said “grab him. He’s a camera. He’s camera.” An officer tried to grab at my arm, which I pulled away and said “I’m walking the way you told me to. I’m not resisting.” She said, “keep walking” as she did not appear to be attempting to arrest me. At this moment, the white shirt cop barreled through her and another officer and grabbed my arm, obviously intent on arresting me. I said, “Why are you arresting me? I am NOT resisting you!” To which he replied, “you’re resisting now!” As he pulled me violently to the ground gashing my arm on the pavement and he and two other officers jumped on me to “hold me down.” All of this was unnecessary as, after a failed attempt to brace my fall, I, face-down, simply and peacefully put my hands behind my back.

I have been speaking adamantly against the NYPD’s infringement on the first amendment rights of speech, assembly, and press. I believe strongly in our rights as American citizens. I am willing to accept limitations on these freedoms only when the use of them infringes others’ freedoms. I am not willing to subordinate my, or anyone else’s freedoms, because someone disagrees or is inconvenienced by and how they are used. No American should tolerate this.

I defend the protesters because of what I have seen happening to us. I know, from actually being there, that our actions are almost entirely nonviolent. When someone uses violence, I think they should be arrested. But this was personal. I know I am allowed to express my opinion nonviolently, I know I am allowed to walk on the sidewalk, I know that it was not I or my fellow protesters blocking the sidewalk, but the tight line of police. There was not even pedestrian traffic around to block. Everyone on that sidewalk was either a cop or a protester. I know I should not have to walk “the other way” just because some angry cop with a hatred for informed people, or just on a power trip, tells me I have to. But I did. I did follow his unjust request. I swallowed my pride, and walked away. In spite of this, I was arrested. My voice, my right to express my beliefs, and my freedom were stripped away from me for 32 hours for no other reason than that my voice, what I have to say, was an inconvenience to some.

This should be clear to everyone: you do not have freedom if those freedoms are subjected to the will of the government. You do not have freedom of speech if the government prevents your speech when you say something they do not want you to say or if you say it too loud. You do not have freedom to assemble if you are told how, when, and how many people are allowed to assemble. Or if the assemblies are disrupted when the message of dissent is too strong. You do not have freedom of the press when the press can be kept away from seeing and filming what is happening at the whim of the police.

Whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, every American should be outraged at the affront by police forces around the country on our fundamental American freedoms.