Stop the Frack Attack

Thousands rallied on the West lawn of the Capitol, then marched to the American Natural Gas Association (ANGA) to protest the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A coalition of environmental and anti-fracking groups organized the protest, called Stop the Frack Attack.

A method of extracting natural gas, fracking causes environmental damage by injecting toxic chemicals at high pressure into shale which can leach into aquifers. The oil and gas industry is stepping up its use of this resource-intensive method, while the full environmental and health impacts are still unknown.

Meanwhile, the energy industry paid Twitter to promote tweets like this:

After 25 years, AIDS Memorial Quilt returns to National Mall

The AIDS Memorial Quilt returned to the National Mall twenty-five years after its original appearance. Its display at the Mall and various locations around the District coincided with the International AIDS Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

When the Quilt project originated in the ’80s, it brought an enormous amount of attention to an under-researched and stigmatized disease.

Each of the 8,000 panels of the quilt on display for the festival memorializes a man or woman who died battling HIV/AIDS.

When the quilt was here 16 years ago, the entire thing stretched across the Mall. At 1.3 million square feet, organizers say today’s quilt is too large to be displayed in full.

The NAMES Project Foundation, curator of the quilt, publicly unveiled a special panel for the first time.

In 1988, a lone panel was delivered quietly to the NAMES Project in Atlanta. Unlike any other panel among the tens of thousands of panels made at that time, this special panel arrived simply with a handwritten note that read: “I hope this quilt will find a permanent place and help mark the end of this devastating disease.” The panel itself was stark in design, white letters on a black background, simply saying “The Last One.”

The Foundation says it won’t stitch the “The Last One” into the quilt until AIDS is eradicated.

The quilt may be now be too large for display in any one place, but you can see the entire thing virtually here, and zoom in on individual panels.

Reverend Nuge dares you to “Occupy This!”

Reverend Nuge performs “Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist”

I love first-person Occupier stories. Everyone who gravitates to Occupy and eventually–almost inevitably–gets sucked in by definition has a unique story. Tommy Nugent, aka the Reverend Nuge, tells us his Occupy story–and he’s a very good storyteller.

Part of the Capital Fringe Festival, Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is a one-man show. Just a guy and a stool. Dressed in ripped jeans and a faded Buddha t-shirt, Reverend Nuge for a full hour simply tells a story, mostly his own story with Occupy Detroit. It’s one hour of well-paced, high energy storytelling–funny, personal, and honest.

Showing up in New York the day after the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, he gravitated to Zuccotti Park. As “an old Burning Man guy,” he found drum circles appealing. So he headed home to Detroit to check out Occupy at Grand Circus Park and make some signs, with the goal of getting the word “asshole” on TV.

If you guessed that a conversion story is coming, you might be right. Yet however much the Reverend Nuge is the accidental activist, he reveals an affection for his Occupy comrades and a command of the issues driving the cause. He weaves his personal experience of clusterfuckery by Bank of America with insight into the dynamics of Occupy camp life. It’s a narrative that entertains and informs at the same time.

Occupy This! tells us a little about a neglected subject–the difficulties of integrating large numbers of homeless people into Occupy camps. He also reminds us that Occupy didn’t end with eviction. Police evicted Occupy in Detroit the same day in November as Occupy camps in twelve other cities–after the mayors of those cities colluded to get rid of them.

In post-camp Occupy, the shift from “fighting against to fighting for” is an important one. Nuge goes on to relate his participation in Occupy Our Homes, an off-shoot that takes up the cause of families “where the banks are just wrong.” When it comes to the greedy and illicit foreclosure practices of the Big Banks, this is one issue “we can all agree on.”

With his first-person account, Nuge reminds us that there’s more than one way to Occupy. As he says, each of us has to divine our own gifts and use them to the best of our abilities. His gift is storytelling with a commitment to being totally present with his audience. If you weren’t an Occupier going in to this performance, you might find yourself one going out.

Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is playing at the Capital Fringe Festival. Remaining performances are July 27 at 6:15pm and July 28 at 1:00pm.

“OccuPlay” puts Occupy DC on stage at Fringe Festival

Joanna Stevens as Lydia the Livestreamer by the Info Desk

Six months or more after most Occupy camps were evicted, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the fruits of research and art that have germinated since. There’s going to be more–research articles, books, documentaries, novels. Each will depict a facet of a remarkable time in history, but none will tell the whole story. Most will focus on Occupy Wall Street; so far there seems to be less being produced specifically about Occupy DC.

Tent of Dreams: An OccuPlay, however, is an admirable effort to grasp the heart of what Occupy DC at McPherson Square was like. It takes a look into the inner workings of the camp, from the moment a naïve, aspiring livestreamer arrives at McPherson in Fall 2011 to the eviction which took place on February 4, 2012. The play took its name from the blue tarp thrown over the statue of General McPherson in defiance of the National Park Service, just when eviction seemed imminent.

It was good to see “our story” on stage. Playwright Emily Crockett and director Emily Todd believe in Occupy and put their hearts and souls into this production. They researched, interviewed, and put in the hours at McPherson.

Emily Todd said that she listened to Occupiers’ personal stories and couldn’t believe what she heard. “I mean, what the fuck is this? I would have had these expectations of Cuba. That’s why we thought this conversation had to happen.”

“Occupy absolutely changed my life,” said playwright Emily Crockett, a reporter for Campus Progress. “It changed the focus of my attention and reporting and art for the next 9 months and surely will continue to. It inspired me to believe that a true positive shift in our culture is possible and is even upon us.”

Dannielle Hutchinson as the Anarchist

Committed actors put in passionate performances. Dannielle Hutchinson, who played the Anarchist, said, “It was one of the more challenging roles I’ve played.” Kelly Keisling, who ironically played both the Cop and the Dirty Fucking Hippie, related the difficulty in moving to a fixed script after improvising for the first two months of rehearsal. “[Emily Crockett] was the one inserting facts, and we [the actors] were the ones inserting drama,” he said. And he must have experienced one facet of Occupy firsthand; he said the collaborative writing process “ran long like a GA [General Assembly].”

My favorite device of the play was the mainstream media journalist, played by Alexia Poe. She does a stand-up in news-speak while police brutally push Occupiers out of the park, an effective contrast. Throughout, she and others repeatedly ask, “What are your demands?” They never quite hear the answer. Yeah, get a clue.

Occupy DC watching itself on stage is bound to get a little meta. It’s only appropriate that part of the first performance was livestreamed, and the second was live-tweeted. The audience for the play though really isn’t Occupy DC, it’s the general public who had only vague impressions of the tents which proliferated at McPherson Square.

Audience member Jennifer Shieh said, “I biked past McPherson all the the time but didn’t actually stop and talk. I had the intention to stop and be a “tourist” [referring to a line in the play], but it never happened.” Her friend Ben Lu said, “I learned a lot. I didn’t realize how organized it was, and how many processes were in place.”

At the end of Tent of Dreams–the aftermath of the February 4 eviction–a character speaks an aspiration for taking the park back. In reality, no matter how much emotion was invested in McPherson, no matter how much grief was experienced when the camp was violently wrecked by Park Police, few now want to “take back” the park. Occupation is a tactic, not the substance of the movement. The hopeful note is a good one to end a play on and shows that Occupy DC didn’t collapse with eviction, but the reality is grittier. Well, the whole thing is grittier, and smellier.

At the same time, the aspirations of Occupy DC in actuality are even loftier, symbolized by the Tent of Dreams. Fact is, the movement lives on, just in a different form–fractious, flawed, idealistic, iconoclastic. What comes after the moment when Tent of Dreams ends is just when it gets most interesting. It’s subtler and more complex, and it will be much more difficult to depict.

Tent of Dreams: An OccuPlay is a production of Nu Sass and is playing at the Capital Fringe Festival through July 29.

View more photos of Tent of Dreams here.

#NatGat reaction and wrap-up

An Occupied News Network interview at the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, July 4. Cool Revolution interviews Eli of Occupy Tulsa, who collaborated on online platform Open Assembly, and Clark of OWS. It’s always a little painful to see myself on camera, but these guys have some great things to say.


Sleepful Protest charges dismissed when prosecution fails to present case

Sleepful Protest defendants Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas

Judge Elizabeth Wingo dismissed the case brought against two activists who participated in ongoing Occupy DC demonstrations in front of several Bank of America branches. At the outset of the trial, government counsel told the judge that they were not ready to proceed with the case. The judge then dismissed the charges against Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas, who were arrested for blocking passage and failure to obey.

Roberts and Nicholas had been active participants in the Sleepful Protest, overnight occupations at Bank of America branches intended to draw attention to the bank’s foreclosure practices and taking taxpayer bailout money. Police arrested many protestors for blocking sidewalks during the first weeks of the Sleepful Protest in April.

Attorney Jeff Light advises Rudy Roberts, Harris Nicholas and Georgia Pearce on their rights at the Sleepful Protest

UPDATE: So why did the prosecution drop the ball in the Sleepful Protest case? It made “representations” to the judge that it was not ready for trial, but it seems unlikely that lack of preparedness would be the reason that it would let a case slide–especially an Occupy DC case.

The District has been consistently pursuing even trivial charges against protestors affiliated with Occupy DC, and sometimes expends great effort to do so. For example, even though the Assistant AG’s office was abysmally late in filing motions for the OccuBarn trial, to the point that Judge Wingo called it a “gross dereliction of duty,” it got its act together in a hurry when she demanded that a motion be turned in overnight. And Assistant AG Sean Farrelly was well-prepared for trial, parrying each motion and challenge brought by defense counsel Light. And after all this effort, the case was in fact successfully prosecuted; the defendants were found guilty. Trials related to Occupy DC tend to be more high profile than most. That could be one reason the AG’s office pursues these to the bitter end.

Defense counsel Jeff Light said that in the Sleepful Protest case the government had failed to even give him video evidence owed to them. He also said that Peter Saba from DC Attorney General’s Office sent him an email the previous day that the government wasn’t proceeding with the case.

Maybe the AG’s office knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. That it could be shown, as the defense alleged in its motion, that the police arrested the defendants in retaliation for First Amendment activity and their constitutional rights were violated. That it could be demonstrated that the offenses the defendants were accused of were not in violation of the blocking passage statute as the Metropolitan Police itself defined it when they testified at a City Council meeting last February.

Failure to prepare is not quite the same as dropping charges, so we’re left to ask why. If defendants choose to pursue a civil lawsuit in the coming weeks, maybe the reasons will become more clear.