Monsanto protest in DC part of “Shutdown the Corporations”

Occupy DC took to the streets early this morning, participating in a coordinated protest against a right-wing corporate coalition with undue influence on legislation. Occupy Portland initiated the action, called Shut Down the Corporations, and claimed that as many as 90 protests took place today around the world.

The target was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC drafts “model legislation” to benefit its members–multinational corporations such as ExxonMobil, Bank of America, BP, Monsanto, Pfizer, and Wal-Mart–hands it to legislators, who then write it into bills as is. It’s known for a right-wing agenda, for example, writing the strictest anti-immigration legislation in the country (SB 1070 in Arizona) and proposals in 38 states to undermine the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Fabian, a Freedom Plaza Occupier, stated his objection to ALEC: “They are a group who ghostwrites legislation, that favors corporations and subjugates humanity, where their interests are directly working against the interests of the people. They have no place in America.”

DC Occupiers headed down Vermont Avenue, stopping by ALEC’s headquarters to deliver a mic check, then proceeded to the offices of Monsanto on I Street, where they rushed the doors. Police and protestors got into a shoving match as they tried to push large wooden signs into the lobby. Police arrested 12 people after demonstrators lined up in front of the building in the pouring rain and barred entry for more than an hour.

Many protestors cited their objection to Monsanto’s involvement in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and patenting of seeds. Earlier this month, Monsanto won a dismissal of a lawsuit brought by organic growers who are afraid of GMOs contaminating their crops.

Monsanto Director of Corporate Affairs Tom Helscher issued a statement concerning the protest group: “We believe farmers should have the opportunity to select the production method of their choice and all of the production systems contribute to meeting the needs of consumers.”

After police broke up the protest in front of Monsanto’s offices, demonstrators moved on to Pfizer and plan to go to a Wal-Mart construction site and the Capital Grille, which is part of the Darden Restaurants.

View more photos here.

(Image by coolrevolution.net)

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Proposed DC Crime Bill could affect Occupy protests

DC Council member Phil Mendelson

This year’s Crime Bill proposed by DC City Council is the subject of scrutiny because of controversial provisions which could potentially impact protests in the District such as Occupy DC.

Council members Phil Mendelson and Kwame Brown introduced the Criminal Code Amendments Act at the beginning of the year. It proposes adjustments to existing criminal law in several areas– registration with the Gun Offender Registry, addition of substances defined as “controlled,” penalties for possessing contraband into jail, clarification of obscene behavior in front of minors, and a raised felony threshold for writing bad checks.

The Washington Times reports that “the bill appears to broaden powers vested in an 1892 law allowing police to clamp down on disorderly conduct in public spaces.” Tucked among these provisions, however, are changes to laws about disorderly conduct, and some of these could be interpreted as targeting Occupy DC. For example, infractions for “blocking passage” expanded from just sidewalks to sidewalks, parks and reservations–a change proposed when Occupy protests have made parks their main demonstration site and base of operations.

The proposed changes to the definition of disorderly conduct also include language open to interpretation, such as “disruptive” behavior inside buildings. Law enforcement would be able arrest those who return to the scene of an “unlawful protest,” which brings up whether police could break up demonstrations they deem unlawful and issue undefined stay-away orders.

Phil Mendelson, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, says that the bill’s intention is “to focus on who prosecutes crimes in the District,” local or federal government. He also said that “changes in 2010 to the city’s disorderly conduct laws had the unintended effect of burdening the U.S. Attorney’s Office with misdemeanor cases,” and “I don’t think there’s anything nefarious in it with regards to Occupy DC.”

No council member wants to see the entire Crime Bill die, especially, no doubt, when it has provisions protecting children from obscene behavior. As is, the ACLU’s legal team is reportedly looking at issues of constitutionality and openness to legal challenge, but there is still opportunity to amend the bill. The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Crime Bill on March 16, after which it will go to mark-up.

(Image by mar is sea Y)

Cool Quote of the Day

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

-Albert Einstein

(Image by NASA. It combines data from four space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of RCW 86, the oldest documented example of a supernova. Chinese astronomers witnessed the event in 185 A.D., documenting a mysterious “guest star” that remained in the sky for eight months.)

Occupy Our Homes gains foreclosure negotiation with Freddie Mac

A tall, gray-haired African-American man bangs on the plexiglass doors of 325 7th Street. When officers approach him, I wait for an angry confrontation, an arrest. But following some chilly stares, there are only friendly handshakes.

The tall man was Rev. Graylan Hagler, a participant in a protest in front of the DC offices of Freddie Mac. Occupy Our Homes, which focuses on the foreclosures resulting from the 2008 mortgage-securities malfeasance, organized the protest. In conjunction with Occupy DC, Occupy Our Homes is fighting to save the home of Bertina Jones, a resident of Bowie, MD, from foreclosure.

Locked out of a banking institution’s marbled lobby. It seems appropriate. While Occupy Our Homes protestors circle the sidewalk, I ask Rev. Hagler why he was knocking on the door and what brought him here. He begins to answer, then suddenly darts off without explanation.

He follows a trench-coated man up 7th Street, who stops in a doorway to check his smartphone, then returns to the Freddie Mac office building. A few minutes later, the protest moves around to the side of the building to the entrance of the parking garage. Rev. Hagler explains that the police engaged in a little diversion to allow building occupants to enter and exit while the front doors were locked.

Bertina Jones

At the parking garage entrance, Bertina Jones speaks to the crowd, admitting to nerves in front of so many people. I admire her moxie. It can’t be easy to take your troubles out in the open and step into the limelight for a cause. The Fox News line is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the mortgage crisis with affordable housing policies–in other words, high-risk loans to minorities. In contrast, Occupy Our Homes points to Jones as someone who “did everything right.” In spite of falling behind in payments because of losing her job, she tried to work with Bank of America, the original mortgage-holder, and didn’t try to shirk her obligation.

“I cried a lot,” she said. She told Occupy DC, “Thank you for coming to fight for my house, but I’m just one of hundreds” of homeowners being foreclosed on, and added, “I’m so glad I stood up and fought, and I hope more homeowners will join us.”

At first denied entry, Jones was allowed in to deliver a letter to Freddie Mac, although officials wouldn’t meet with her today. On Tuesday, Occupy Our Homes plans to protest in front of Freddie Mac’s headquarters in Tyson’s Corner. They can claim a victory, however–what was a guaranteed foreclosure is at least now at the negotiating table. Following the protest, Freddie Mac says they have contacted Bertina Jones and are “working with her and Bank of America toward a positive resolution.”

Rev. Graylan Hagler

Meanwhile, counter-protestors on Freedom Plaza calling themselves Occupy Occupy DC objected to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for different reasons today–the taxpayer bailout of the GSE mortgage-holders. David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research said, “Through the quasi-governmental Fannie and Freddie, the federal government now has a virtual monopoly on home loans. As a result, those who made prudent lending decisions must now take on additional debt that they would have never sought on their own. That is not fair.”

UPDATE: OccupyOurHomes has won a victory for Bertina Jones! Freddie Mac says it will rescind her foreclosure and allow her to stay in her home.

(Images by coolrevolution.net)

A Very Cool Occupation: Anchorage

You must obtain a permit for an igloo in the City of Anchorage

Occupy Anchorage, still going strong:

Since 11am on October 22, 2011 a continuous occupation on the corner of 6th & F (WALL) streets next to Town Square Park, across from City Hall, and near the Performing Arts Theater. Occupy Anchorage occupiers have been taking shifts to maintain the spot. At first the People’s Library, Fish Not Bombs food, and tons of signs were the main attractions at the occupation. After an action outside of the Dena’ina Center where Karl Rove was speaking on October 29, 2011, the 1st amendment tent-shaped sign was placed at the occupation to store signs out of the weather. Early in the morning on Day 15 of the occupation a canopy, as well as a food storage, and winter supply storage tents were added. These new storage areas allow for better organization of supplies at the site, especially now that there is snow.

Cool Quote of the Day

Action in the world is not an externally imposed duty or simply a preliminary stage on the path to greater awareness but is in itself a valid spiritual path and an expression of interdependence, freedom, and awakening.

-Michael Stone, Yoga for a World Out of Balance

(Image by Rezaul.Haque)