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.

 

Answers to My Friend Phil’s Questions Regarding OWS and the 99% Movement

This post is the result of questions posted on my facebook page by a friend of mine, regarding Occupy Wall Street. It is quite lengthy, but they were significant questions. Phil’s message is in bold. My responses are in regular font.

hey man, nearly everyday I log in here I see some post from you regarding the protest that you are seemingly involved in…as I only watch from afar, I have several questions for you so that I can better understand what it is that you/your cohorts are trying to acheive…

Sorry for the delayed response. The questions are deep and important and I think everyone has an interest in this type of discussion. That all said, a lot of effort and time has to go into answering these. I was in jail for a couple days and had a funeral and other family things to attend to this weekend so I couldn’t address them right away. I will try to do my best to answer them now. Additionally, when reading the discussion, please keep in mind that I am not speaking for the movement. These are my thoughts and opinions.

Some people, who don’t know him, have asked me about Phil’s post regarding his intentions and such. Obviously, I cannot speak for Phil and hopefully he will respond if I misrepresent anything. So I want to provide some background information and thoughts on this discussion before I answer the questions. First of all, I consider Phil a friend of mine. We met in school while pursuing our graduate degrees at NYU. We haven’t seen each other in a year or so but we spent many nights after class, having drinks with our classmates, and discussing these type of issues of politics, economics, humanity, etc. Phil worked (maybe still does) on Wall Street (I believe trading???) and is extremely knowledgeable of markets, finance, economics, and so on. He knows what he is talking about from an academic and practical perspective. He is also a genuinely good-hearted dude who intellectually pursues ideas and ways to make the world a better place. He cares about the well-being of people. I understand that the tone of the questions may have appeared to some of my friends as confrontational, and I am not capable of affirming or denying Phil’s intentions, but I want to say that I think it is necessary to have these discussions among friends. My friends are welcome to challenge me and disagree with me. This does not change the friendships. Phil and I are friends from having these types of discussions and from respecting each other’s opinions. My point is, even if he intended to have a confrontational tone, this is not a bad thing as far as he and I are concerned. We are able to have this type of dialogue with this type of tone. It is how we know each other. I believe he respects my opinions, as I do his, and I think it is better for someone who disagrees or thinks they disagree to speak up and create dialogue than to judge from the sideline and say nothing. So, whatever your feelings on Occupy Wall Street, I ask that you do not judge me and do not judge Phil for our opinions, we are both good, caring people. Especially to those who do not know him. Our opinions and beliefs are informed and valid.

1) what is the ultimate goal of this movement?

There are several reasons why this question is difficult to answer. You have to understand the way the movement is developing. There are several levels to the movement and different dynamics at each level. So there is the actual occupations. Here I am referring specifically to the people living and working in the parks. These occupations have several functions. The most important are 1. They are protests. People being there is a statement. Something along the lines of “we are so fed up with the status quo, we are willing to be here, showing that dissatisfaction, all the time”. Exactly what aspects of the status quo that upset people vary, but there is a general discontent. This protest element also is to raise awareness of the general discontent, anger, etc. Whatever, the affect or implications, agreements and disagreements, this protest has let people know we are there. Even though it is heavily distorted in the media, this awareness is crucial to growing the movement. 2. The occupations in the parks serve as a place to work on the issues we are dealing with. People come to the park and nearby locations to get information, share information, work together, etc. We have general assemblies where people can get information, share information, network, etc. Basically, talking to other people and groups who do different types of work so you can contribute, coordinate, collaborate, etc. So this type of work is also happening online and in community spaces like churches and schools. Maybe the need to have these type of meetings outside will diminish overtime, but right now it is important to be outside, at least part of the time, to be easily accessible and because being outside and bearing the elements makes a statement. 3. The occupations in the parks also serve as little communities. They serve an immediate need, which is providing people with services. We provide food, healthcare, education, etc. All donated and free. * A side note here, for those opposed to government healthcare, this is a good way to explore alternatives to public and privately funded healthcare. This is healthcare provided by doctors, nurses, holistic healers, etc, to people who cannot afford it, for free (not saying this is the solution, just saying there are things going on worth exploring). So in these communities there is the politically element that I wrote about in point 2 and the community element. Beyond the discussions and ideas, these create practical issues and problem. Not only do we have to address these problems, we need methods to address them. A huge aspect of this movement is redefining and refining the process of community, social, political organization, etc. This does not mean, necessarily an overthrow of the current system. Some of us want that, some of us don’t. The results of that are uncertain and the process is still developing and probably will continue to develop.

So, once you understand the process of the movement, the “ultimate goal” question becomes increasingly vague and all I can really do is give you broad umbrella ideas. I’m not even sure if they qualify as “goals of the movement.” Let me throw out what I’m talking about and take it with a grain of salt. For goals, I would say most people want change in the current economic model, political representation, and the interaction between the two. Basically, most people think and feel, the current way these forces function do not work for the benefit of the people and planet and they want something better. I’m pretty sure even you agree with that (correct me if I’m wrong). I have friends and family on Wall Street that agree, 100 percent with the system being broken, horrible, corrupt, etc. Now, how we make those change is a subject of heated debate within the movement. I understand fully that this movement is painted as a left-wing, socialist. I’ll tell you right now, these people are there and they are welcome.  When you start along the lines of “everyone wants a hand out”. Well, that’s an unfair characterization. Some people who want the government to do everything are probably there too. But, being angry about student loans, predatory lending, healthcare, and most important, so much tax money going to bailout big banks, does not always mean these people want handouts (in some cases it does, in some it doesn’t). There is a lot of room for discussion and debate here. Besides the left-wing types, we have lawyers, business owners, cops, soldiers, teachers, etc left and right people, all with different ideas how to create the changes we want. In fact, we need the media to go away and we need more conservative voices to come help. The media pigeonholes us as a crazy left movement and then people who do not associate themselves with “the left” avoid the spaces where all voices are welcome. We cannot come up with solutions if we don’t have people coming and sharing different ideas.

So to sum up, I think the goals are along the lines of 1.) a cultural shift. We want people to interact differently than they do, participate in the political discourse beyond just voting and acting out on what they are against (I know that seems ironic because of the “anti-wall street” message but that message is an anti-status quo message, many people want Wall Street folks involved eventually to make this about the 100%). This side note is a lot to get into, sorry if it’s ambiguous, it’s not the point, and we can get into more if necessary. 2.) An economic shift. We want a more equitable society. Again, how we get there is undetermined and the movement is only determining that method by trying to create and expand space for the discussion. On this point, I know you might feel like the methods are shutting people out. I admit, especially with the media portrayal, people are closing off to it. However, if it keeps going like this, it will expand enough and people will get involved who may feel shut out now (like people who feel the movement does not represent them). Right now, we are spreading into communities and getting more people in the discussions. This takes a long time. There’s nothing we can do about that. 3. We want a change in political representation. I’ll say it again, HOW that is accomplished is undetermined. We just are trying to expand and get more and more people involved to have their voices heard and then they can figure out how they want to be represented. Maybe the current system would stay even if the movement grows, but, if it does, people will have more influence on their representatives because they will be speaking collectively. (This seems like a good idea to me. It’s basically just getting people out and talking again).

Everyone should realize this annoying and confusing fact. As a movement, we do not try to prevent autonomous actions. We stand against things like hate speech and violence, etc. We try to mitigate and deal with those types of issues but it is difficult for a movement like this. We have methods I can get into if people are curious. More importantly, the movement is largely based on nonviolence and love for others and respect for other opinions. We try to push a culture of these principles. But autononmous actions make it annoying and confusing from an outside perspective because they may appear to represent things that they don’t. For example, a list of “demands” appeared on th facebook page called “Occupy America”. I was reported in the news and looked pretty official. This was an autonomus action by a group of people in the movement, who do not represent the whole movement. But you wouldn’t know that from the outside. In consensus at Zuccotti Park, demands lists  get rejected because they don’t represent enough people. Also, when we reach consensus at a specific place (say Zucotti Park), the decision only represents the people in that place, not the whole movement. Tell me if this isn’t making sense. This can make it confusing, but we are willing to deal with it because we want to expand and grow and include other people, so we cannot make decisions that represent people that are not involved yet or in different locations. There is a lot of autonomous actions and statements across all the occupys that do not represent all the movement. Sometimes they represent a small minority. I understand, it is difficult to dig through the mess of information. That’s just how it is right now. People are working to make it better and more efficient as the movement spreads.

Finally, one purpose is to begin and maintain localized general assemblies. Obviously, these happen at Zucotti, but they are popping up all over the city and other places nation wide. This is a crucial culture shift, hopefully, not temporary. If we can keep people engaged in the decisions that impact their own lives, we can change anything we need to.

2) why are you specifically taking part in this “movement”?

(I think the quotation marks are a little unnecessary. It is a movement, even if you disagree with it.)

I am specifically a part of this movement because I believe in change through social movement. I am not satisfied with the current economic, political, and social models. These ideas of everyone having a valid voice and self-determination is something I have always believed in. I don’t get into much of the debates of one “side” versus the other. I believe most differences can be reconciled if we get passed the mainstream discourse. Our debates are largely framed by nonsense. For example, we may argue over healthcare, but we both want the same type of results. We all want people to be healthy and cared for and get the services they need. We may even go further and fight over how much the government should or shouldn’t be involved. And then further how much taxes we should or shouldn’t pay to accomplish such a goal. At the root of such a debate, we would all prefer to have everyone have their needs met and not have a huge government and high taxes. So the conversation is really about how to accomplish a better society. Instead of putting two ideas opposed to each other, or putting up one idea and voting for or against it, I think we need to figure out a better way to combine ideas. I mean what if we had a system of coordinated volunteers to provide healthcare to those that couldn’t afford it. We could coordinate these efforts through local governments instead of federal and we could do it through with a substantially lower cost? Maybe this is stupid, but I throw it out and you (and hundreds of others) say “that won’t work because…” we address the “because” and so on and so forth. If experts and people were having that discussion publically, I doubt we would end up with the current system.

The movement attempts to create space for people to construct solutions form differing points of views. Again, a slow process. But there is a place for everyone’s opinions in this type of discussion. My personal role, why I am involved, is to help facilitate these discussions. I have my beliefs about what I want. But I’m not so closed off to other ideas that I am not willing to listen to others.

I want something different and better. I define “better” as more equitable for people and also something that respects ecological limitations of the planet. How we accomplish that, I believe should be a combination of many ideas. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter panaceas. I think most solutions will be highly localized. I am also involved in the protests because I believe any dissent must battle the overwhelming corporate PR and advertising industry. So I add my voice to the movement to help make it louder. I also feel very welcome and accepted by the people there. I think that most people there are open and interested in hearing a variety of opinions. I think that is the right way to be. And for those that are closed off and ignorant (left, right, or whatever), there are enough reasonable voices like mine, to try to show there are different sides to all stories. I like participating in it, I believe in it.

Finally, I think everyone should voice their opinions in public discourse. These occupied spaces are a good community platform for participation. I feel obligated to participate as a US citizen, same way I do to vote. I have always used resources available to use my voice and to listen to other voices.

3) how do you think shutting Wall Street actually accomplishes anything other than angering folks who work on Wall Street – not the supposed “1%” – who may have sympathized with your cause?

The shutting down Wall Street thing is part of the protest element I spoke of earlier. Generally, we do not “shut down wall street.” On November 17th, we had a morning action with this aim. I think a show of power like that for us is probably necessary. My personal belief is that we should minimize our confrontational tactics against “the 1%” and try to focus more on engaging the 99%. But I understand the need to make a powerful statement every so often. Unfortunately, we need to show people we have some strength behind us. There are many people who support stuff like this but won’t participate until they know it is significant. These actions help us grow.

As far as your point about angering folks, I feel bad about it. That morning, I saw some people going to work on Wall St who still support us. Obviously, a lot of people were annoyed with us blocking their commute and don’t sympathize. I did feel bad. Most people who work there are regular working people and good people and part of our definition of the 99 percent. I don’t disagree with you. Maybe there is a better way. Maybe we will find it. I am not saying I think we should not do that type of protest. It may be necessary. I don’t know for sure. We, as a movement, have definitely made mistakes, and will make more. Hopefully, we learn from them. I think the shutting down Wall Street stuff is largely symbolic. And even though it was portrayed the way it was in the news, the message does get out to the masses. We can show people the true side of the movement as it grows.

Ironically, even many officers I spoke with in jail said the support the movement and hope we achieve some real changes.

4) why do you protest downtown when the majority of banks are headquartered in midtown?

The short answer here, I think , is that it is symbolic. I wasn’t part of the original planning. I came like a week in. But originally, the idea was to actually be on Wall Street. It’s symbolic. “Wall Street” is a metaphor for the governing economic institutions. So, actually being on Wall Street doesn’t work so well legally or logistically. Zucotti Park, one block away from Wall Street, is a privately owned public space which made it a space we could occupy legally, 24 hours a day. Everyone down there is aware of that most of the action takes place in midtown. But protests are largely based on symbolism and imagery.

5) besides what seemingly is just living in private/public spaces, is there an actual political arm of your movement using the system to cause change?

There is no political arm per se. I mean, democrats try to co-opt it, but the movement, as a whole won’t tolerate it. Again, there are autonomous actions where people are trying different political organizing and voting campaigns, etc. But the political organization of the movement is really about creating space for everyone to have a say and constructing solutions based on all opinions. I’m not sure what this will turn into as far as how the movement interacts with representatives. There are many possibilities but hopefully it doesn’t turn into another political party or worse, a wing of the democratic party. That would suck. Maybe people will continue to meet and share info on different bills so everyone can have more info on a bill when they tell their rep how to vote. Or maybe people will come together and work on their own legislation. This stuff is uncertain. And long term affects are far off. As of now, people protest or support different political actions based on their own ideas. If there is a march for something, you don’t support, you don’t go on it, or you organize something else. That’s pretty much how it is right now.

6) do you feel that some of the ideals you/your movement espouse are in opposition to traditional American values, and if so why wouldn’t you or other memebers of the movement emigrate to other states who shared the same values as your movement rather than force the movements upon the population?

Ok. This is pretty much the love it or leave it question. I think to frame it like this, is a bit offensive. I think the principles of the nation allow for a wide range of ideas and beliefs. The founding documents set up freedoms, like speech and press, and create a system of checks and balances, with people power of voting thrown into the mix so everyone has a say. While some things are difficult to change, it is literally set up to allow change. To suggest that because someone disagrees with what you think are American values, they should leave the county, is unfair. American values are many things and there can be many interpretations of them but they are based on freedom. In a country based on freedom you should not take the love or leave it stance. People need to be allowed to voice their opinions and work toward the changes they desire. Other people have the right to voice different opinions and stand against change. The country was founded on dissent, the Declaration of Independence explicitly states that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government if it no longer represents them. Not that everyone in this movement are advocating abolishing the government, but the founding documents, structure and organization of the government and political system, and the history and progression of the country are all set up to allow people to work toward changes.

I am going to make a quick stab at what I think you mean by “opposition to American values.” If I’m off the mark, correct me. I think you might be talking about capitalism vs socialism or the idea of keeping what you work for. The capitalism vs socialism debate is an oversimplification. We have a mixed economy. Our debate on capitalism is more a debate on regulation and deregulation and a debate on degree of taxes and what to do with taxes. So that type of debate is going on within the movement. People have all kinds of ideas. There are many people who are involved in the movement who consider themselves pro-capitalism, pro-business, etc. There are people who want more socialist type of organization. So the movement is not against American values. It promotes American values as far as free speech and voices etc. As far as the economic side of things—capitalism vs socialism or the idea of keeping what you work for, etc. I would say that the movement doesn’t have a stance on that. The movement is about people coming together and finding solutions. People in the movement have a full spectrum of ideas and beliefs on that stuff. I think most people are not opposed to someone who works hard being able to get ahead and have more than others. I am speculating based on my experience but I think most people are concerned with the degree of inequality and what the work is people are doing to accomplish that inequality. I haven’t heard anyone say a small business person who works her ass off and makes a good living should be taxed on principle. It’s more the extreme profits from unethical activity people oppose. Not to say there are not people there who want everything communally divided. I’m sure there are, but they are one opinion in a group of many opinions.

I don’t think the movement is forced on the population. If you take the total of what I said about the movement and about the nation, I think there is no forcing of anything on the people. I realize that some people near Zucotti feel inconvenienced by the presence there (many also love us there) but that isn’t the same as forcing some ideology on people.

7) do you or the majority of the folks along with you have jobs, if so, how do they make the time along with work to protest during the day and if not how are you/them being supported (and making efforts to find employment)?

The movement is made up of a wide variety of people and it is much more than Zucotti Park and the other parks. I was working at a restaurant full time and applying to jobs abroad. I left my job to support this movement fulltime and am figuring out ways to support myself as I go. This is a personal decision, based on many factors. It is not the norm. I have worked my whole life, since I was young. I worked in construction jobs in family members’ businesses before I was old enough to get working papers. Started working in a restaurant when I was 15 and became a manger after a couple years. I was a correctional officer for a year. I worked in a hospital and in a school with children and adolescents with development disabilities for several years. I paid my way through undergrad working more than fulltime. I chose to not work through my grad program because I wanted more time to dedicate to my studies so I have significant amounts of loans from that experience.

My father was a veteran from the Vietnam War. He struggled his whole life with the affects of that war (and our family did as a result), he attempted suicide several times, and died of a drug overdose several years ago. I tried to join the marines when I finished high school but was met with the strongest possible resistance one could imagine, from my mother, who lived with the effects the war had on my father, I could not join. While you asked specifically about jobs, I am bring up military service because I think many people who are tossing around the job questions are doing so with implication of laziness, entitlement, and anti-americanism with those questions. (I do not think this was your intention, Phil, but it is relevant to questions other people raise).

I’ve worked my whole life, will continue to work my whole life, I pay taxes, and I love my country. I am not working for pay now, but work full time, more than 12 hours everyday on this movement, because I believe it is necessary. When I am employed again, I will pay back the debt I accrued and make up for the lost time. I am not lazy, nor do I feel entitled. I believe everyone should be taken care of, but I am more than happy to be on the side of service more than a recipient of service.

The movement has every type of person you can imagine. The unemployed and homeless are there more often than most because their situation allows it. There are people who have money and living space but stay there because they are working on the movement. There are people who work and have full time jobs and come there as much as possible in their free time or work on the movement from home.

There are some efforts to help get people work. A lot of these efforts, as far as I know, are new and developing. This is becoming more possible as we spread into the communities and meet regularly with people living there. This is happening in various communities and spreading. I have been helping organize in West Harlem where I live. I think we need more people working on getting people jobs. We will see what happens as these efforts grow. One benefit has been the networking aspect of getting so many people together.

8) do you honestly believe the rhetoric that you/your movement represent 99% of American citizens?

I don’t think everything that every person in the movement says represents 99 percent of the population. The 99 percent is based on a statistic of wealth inequality. One percent of the people controlling 42 percent of the wealth in the contry. I think it is sort of an arbitrary number. I would prefer that the movement eventually transition to representing 100 percent (or maybe 99.9 or something, not sure).  I don’t think any capitalist rhetoric or socialist rhetoric or any other specific and defined model represents the whole population. Chants like “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” represent a genuine frustration of people.

Maybe you could be more specific about what rhetoric you are referring to, but if your specifically talking about the claim that “we are the 99 percent.” I don’t know, the number 99 doesn’t matter to me. I think the movement represents everyone in that all voices are given a space and welcome (or should be). I don’t want to try to define you and your beliefs but I there are business people and finance people and conservatives, etc who are part of the movement and do not agree with what you would think the movement is based on the media portrayal. So the reason I think the movement does represent the 99 or 100 percent (or will  as it grows) are the reasons I discussed earlier. There are all types of different voices and perspectives involved and the platforms, processes, and methodologies we are trying to promote allow everyone to have equal say, no matter where you stand on the spectrum. It’s a lot to take on and it is slow and sloppy but the tools are there and everyone is working on making them work and be better.

Someone coming down promoting the current Wall Street model, I’m sure will meet with a lot of resistance, but if they are willing to engage in dialogue, they will be heard by most people there. Most people I know on Wall Street and in businesses want change though. Many of these types of voices engage in the discussions. We need more of these voices.

There probably isn’t any statement anyone can make that would represent 99 percent of the population (aside from extremely vague statements). The reason I think this movement can represent the 99 percent is because of the model that allows and includes all voices. That is what represents the 99 percent, rather, the 100 percent.

Of course, we have to see how things progress.

naturally a long list of questions as I have pondered these and many others regarding this movement and don’t know anyone else involved with the protest…hope all is well

I think people who are not involved, don’t go there, or go down for a short amount of time and watch from a street corner cannot possible understand the complexity of the movement. It takes time to get in a talk to people and participate in a few things before you can understand what is going on. People who have to rely on corporate media, or really any media, are going to have a difficult time understanding it. Unfortunately, too many people spend minimal time in the park and feel they are capable of judging the entire movement and put out blogs, videos, and reports that are very misleading. This is not much different than what the press did to the tea party. They painted the whole movement like a bunch of crazy people and ignored their valid concerns. It’s very disappointing.

I hope all is well with you too. We should get together and talk more of this through. And you should go to some discussions and see how people are having these conversations.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Love or Hate Occupy Wall Street, it is Now a Question of Freedom

I loved looking at their eyes, seeing their faces as I walked circles around the outside of the newly barricaded Zucotti Park. It was Liberty Square only the night before, but on the morning of November 15th it was vacant of all liberty. I consider myself a reasonable person; I will not hate men and women who work for the NYPD just because I don’t agree with the actions of some. I’m certainly not going to act violently toward them. I am consistently one of the voices (among many) preaching nonviolence at the front line of these stand-offs with the NYPD. Earlier that morning, at 2 a.m., I stood a block away, barricaded from Zucotti Park, trying to promote a peaceful resistance to the violent eviction. I am not someone the police officers should hate. In a different setting, many officers and I would agree on a lot of issues. We all think that corporate and government power is out of control, however, these officers “have a job to do.” Despite that job, their eyes and faces paint a complex picture of the human element behind the helmet and mask. 

The range of emotion among the officers seems to cross a spectrum like any other. They are indifferent to us, hate us, are annoyed by us, agree with us, and maybe even love us. Some talk to us for hours while we stand in front of them, some won’t even look at us, some mock and threaten us. Civilians follow a similar spectrum. With the protesters gone, many residents and Wall Street workers, fed up with the protestors presence, walked by a bit excited the morning following the eviction. Smiles on their faces, many gave a thumbs up or shook the hands of officers. “Great job,” they said.

As one tall, prestigious-looking gentleman walked by, shaking an officers hand and clapping, I couldn’t remain quiet. I clapped loudly behind him. “Good job guys! Oppressing free speech! Way to go!! Eff the first amendment! We only have a right to free speech when we agree with you! Thanks guys!” I yelled. The man turned around and walked slightly in front of me as I followed. He said “I have a right to my opinion.” I replied, “I agree, you do. I fight to protect that right, but your opinion is that I don’t have a right to express mine.” We had a little exchange. Part of his argument was he strongly believes people have a right to use the park. Of course, I agree with that. But I reread the constitution. Come to find out, there is nothing in the Constitution regarding a right to use a park. Maybe the right to publicly assemble, but that favors my point more. And my point is, no one should be celebrating the restrictions on anyone’s freedom. Just because you do not agree with how someone uses his or her freedom, does not mean you should praise the forces that oppress it.

If we are talking about the right to use the park, why is your right to use it is more valid than mine? Is your leisurely stroll through the park more valid than my use of space for chats with visitors because mine is associated with a message you think you don’t like? I feel sorry for those that judge strongly, as it appears their opinions are based on ignorance. The media plays a large role in framing what they think the protest is, rather than what it actually is. It would be hard for American to disagree with what the movement is really about.

The camp at Zucotti is an assembly of people, exercising their free speech to figure out better ways to hear everyone’s voice, and to bring power back to the people, away from corporate power and an over-inflated government. You may disagree with some of the opinions in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point. You may disagree with some of the methods in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point! Come. Disagree. Or better yet, if you like, start your own assemblies in your communities where people can come and discuss issues, agree and disagree, but find solutions together. What I don’t understand is the joy people expressed, knowing people’s freedoms were violently oppressed, and you cannot deny that is what happened.

Clearly, we need to question what happened on November 15th. The sudden, harsh, and secret crackdown in the cover of night, with the eyes of the “free” press strategically blocked by barricades and trucks, is something no one should tolerate. I want to ask these officers if, when they were young and in school studying history, for example studying the civil rights movement, how did they feel about those stories? How did they feel about, reading about the forces that oppressed the voices of Americans because they were people of color? Did they feel anger toward the oppressors? Did they ever wonder if they would one day be the oppressors? Officers on the NYPD need have a personal challenge ahead of them. They need to decide, at what point are they part of something that violates what they believe in. At what point, does “doing their job” go beyond the rhetoric of “public safety,” and translate to oppressing dissenting voices.

We all have “a job to do” but if we believe in freedom of speech, than we all need to stand up for everyone’s use of it, especially when we do not agree with the message because that is when it matters most. If you only believe in freedom of speech when someone agrees with you, then you don’t believe in freedom of speech at all. Make no mistake, our camp in Zucotti Park IS a statement. It says, “everyone can have a voice here.” It is us, using our right to assemble, as an expression of frustration with the state of our country. Violating that is an affront on the foundation of our nation.

How to Kill the Occupy Wall Street Movement

There has been an underlying current of disenfranchisement in the country. Economic and political institutions (and the people running them) have failed us miserably. They have robbed us of our freedom and our self-determination on almost every level. With an abundance of consumerism and materialism, coupled with the lack of capacity to affect the quality of one’s own existence in a meaningful way, our society has systematically suppressed itself from what it really means to be human. People want their voices heard! This is why the Occupy Wall Street protests have exploded across the American landscape, popping up in over one-hundred cities within the first month.

It was no surprise when the corporate media and politicians tried to ignore us. They were hoping we would go away. However, in any smart leadership, holding power means hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. While the mainstream media ignored us, you can bet Wall Street was doing anything but ignoring. On the contrary, they have teams of risk management experts watching our every move. They are preparing and planning how they can kill our movement and mitigate the impact as much as possible.

 

Social Movement theory suggests five ways a movement declines: Success, Organizational failure, Co-optation, Repression, or Establishment within mainstream society.[1] The lines between reasons for decline are blurry and usually more than one will apply. They can be impacted by internal or external forces.

Based on combining these scenarios (excluding repression because it appears to strengthen not weaken us), I will argue that there are two ways that corporations, banks, and people that own our politicians and our economy can strategically kill our movement. And you can bet they are gearing up for both. The first one is co-opting the movement. And the second one is appeasing the movement. This does not suggest a conspiracy theory model; it is really more of a system analysis. Politicians typically care about one thing over all else—their job. Therefore, Democrats, who are less open about their pro-business stance than Republicans , see this movement as an opportunity to gain some approval. Bankers, corporate heads, and lobbyists will be more than happy to take steps to help Dems cash-in on this movement rather than leave it to chance. One thing we can say about Wall Street, they love them some certainty. As far as with the appeasement route, it is not crazy to think Wall Street planners are seeing the potential risk this movement presents. With that, why wouldn’t they plan to cut their losses? In other words, why wouldn’t they figure out, if they had to make some compromises, what the strategy should be to minimize losses?

Let’s briefly explore these options.

Co-opting the Movement

Be honest. Wall Street does not care if Republicans or Democrats staff Congress and the White House; they own both. According to one survey, 70 percent of protesters do not identify with either the Republican or Democrat parties. However, 27 percent do align with the Democrats.[2] With this knowledge (and the inaccurate perception that this is predominately a left-wing movement), there will most likely be a continuous, strategic attempt by the Democrats to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the same way the Republicans did the Tea Party Movement. In an open letter from an alleged former tea partier, the author warns of such a co-opt. “We were anarchists and ultra-libertarians, but above all we were peaceful. So, the media tried painting us as racists. But when that didn’t work they tried to goad us into violence. When that failed, they killed our movement with money and false kindness from the theocratic arm of the Republican Party. That killed our popular support.”[3] The author goes on to warn that corporate and government employees from the liberal side will infiltrate the movement with support, the media will portray the movement as opposing the right, and a Democratic sympathizer will befriend the movement (gaining support from many in the protests) to hijack and neutralize it.[4] The early signs of this attempt are already happening with high-ranking Dems like Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama supporting the message. [5]

In the classic version, co-optation “occurs when movement lead­ers come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents”.[6] Because we have a leaderless movement, I combine the idea of co-optation with establishment with the mainstream, which is when “goals or ideologies are adopted by the mainstream and there is no longer any need for a movement.”[7] Of course, this outcome could be defined as a success or failure depending on how you define mainstream. In this example, the mainstream is the current political system. If the Democrats adopt our ideologies in the current, narrow, bi-partisan American political system, we will not achieve a massive cultural shift and the movement declines in failure. However, if our goals of horizontal democracy, everyone’s voice being heard, fair economy, etc. are adopted by mainstream American people (meaning almost everyone) then our movement will decline in success.

 

Appeasing Enough to Get By

If the Democrats can’t hijack our movement and embolden Obama to raise some taxes on the rich to show support for the people, the next step will be appeasement. All the leadership has to do is figure out the bare minimum concessions it would have to make, to satisfy enough of the movement to the point that people would stop fighting and go home, thereby deflating the movement. In this scenario, many would view the decline as resulting from success and many as resulting from failure. This is why a list of demands like the one released on the Occupy America Facebook page are so dangerous at this early juncture.

Let politicians and businesses run through a list of demands and negotiate an outcome and we could be left with the usual bare minimum that ultimately changes nothing. This will create a fractionalization within the movement where high percentages of the 99 percent, whose individual needs were met, think, “we won!” and go home (even if those folks preparing demands would prefer an all-demands–met-in-full or nothing scenario). Factions of the movement that aligned with one demand or another would be established within the mainstream without fundamentally changing the culture.

The movement is happening so fast that no one knows what to make of it. Liberty Square serves as the ground-zero of the Occupy Wall Street/99 percent movement. People are looking to Liberty Square because it is essentially where the movement began, because of its proximity to Wall Street, and because of the overall size of the Occupation, events, and marches. People everywhere are wondering how they can be involved and help the cause. The media is flooded with analysts trying to deconstruct the movement and its demands. What’s terrible about this is that people are responding. For example, a “demands group” has emerged at Occupy Wall Street. Someone responded on thecoccupywallst.org saying “a group claiming to be on the verge of issuing demands for #OWS has gotten the attention of a story hungry media. We are our demands. #OWS is conversation, organization, and action focused on ending the tyranny of the 1%”.[8]

*Just to be clear, at OWS everyone has a voice and is entitled to use it as they chose. I have not worked with the demands group, so I do not know what they are working on. However, any I would disagree with any demands that attempt speak for people who do not endorse the statement i.e. the rest of the movement and future of the movement. I think “demands” are better stated as goals and are fluid and directed to the people involved, not the government and corporate powers.

A movement that represents the 99 percent based on horizontal democracy should be extremely cautious about releasing demands. First, it is far too early to claim we know what the 99 percent want. We feel great when twenty thousand people flood Times Square and Occupies in over one hundred cities throughout the country. We talk about how the police are escalating the violence because we are winning. (And winning we are!) We have so much momentum and the movement grows exponentially every week. It’s truly amazing. But hubris could be our downfall. There are almost 313 million[9] people in this country. 99 percent of 313 million? 309.87 million people. We cannot speak for them before we have spoken to them. Second, demanding anything from the one percent is essentially telling them what to give us, instead of being the society we want to be. A better option would be to gather the people and allow them to create alternatives—no demands required. This takes patience.

 

Focusing on Goals

While we probably have to make certain transitions at the federal level, like ending the FED and getting the money out of politics, people are discovering that they can find solutions and alternatives by talking to other human beings. Maybe we don’t have to demand these things or, if we do, they don’t have to be a focus of the movement. At Liberty Square, people can have a voice that is heard. Right now they can be the politics of the square through horizontal, participatory democracy. They can affect the policies that govern the park and the Occupy Wall Street protests. As this model spreads, people could bring it back to their communities, make the necessary adjustments, and affect policies that govern their own communities.

In the meantime, we could focus on goals. The difference is that we are not asking (demanding) anything of anybody. Goals are for US to achieve. I do not see anything wrong with setting goals for ourselves. Let’s set the bar high and see how much the power of the people can really do. These goals should be broad enough to include a diversity of opinions and people across the American (possibly Global) landscape. Gathering the 99 percent seems like a reasonable goal in line with the movement – possibly create general assemblies all across the nation. “We want freedom for all, without regards for identity, because we are all people, and because no other reason should be needed”.[10] We can achieve this by spreading a massive cultural shift that targets the way people interact with each other on social, political, and economic terms—human relationships—the formation of “a society of cooperation and community.”[11] That can be our goal.

 



[1] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 2.

[2] Carl Franzen. ‘Occupy Wall Street Demographic Survey Results Will Surprise You’. < http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo. com/2011/10/ occupy-wall-street-demographic-survey-results-will-surprise-you.php >(10/19/2011)

[3] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’.http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet/comments/kyjo/an_open_letter_and_warning_from_a_former_tea/ (10/20/2011).

[4] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’. http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet/comments/kyjo2/an_open_letter_and_warning_from_a_former_tea/ (10/20/2011).

[5]  Rick Klein ‘Democrats Seek to Own “Occupy Wall Street” Movement’. Oct. 10, 2011.<http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/democrats-seek-occupy-wall-street-movement/story?id=14701337&gt;. (10/19/2011)

6 Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 4.

[7] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 4.

[10] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. <http://occupywallst.org /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).

[11] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. <http://occupywallst.org /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).