Occupy Wall Street Turns Two

Photo Sep 15, 5 50 54 PM

Sunday marked the return of Occupy Wall Street to New York City as preparations got underway to celebrate its second birthday on September 17.

There were free teach-ins at Washington Square Park in many subjects, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, Green Living Principles, Economic and Banking issues, Immigration, Climate Change, and Money In Politics. Several hundred people joined the classes which ran throughout the day. People were there to learn and enjoy themselves.

Later there was a walking tour of the financial district around Wall Street. The tour began next to the Wall Street Bull in Bowling Green where people reminisced about their experiences in Zuccotti Park in 2011.

Many spoke about how the movement changed and inspired them to dedicate their lives to activism and change in their communities.

There was nostalgia in Zuccotti Park as people told stories and reminisced with old friends about personal experiences and why they believe the issues underlying the social movement are still relevant.

There was one big difference, however: things were a lot less tense compared to last year at S17. At least, the people were relaxed, although police persisted in closely monitoring the walking tour its entire length. Somehow they seemed to expect law-breaking. Some things haven’t changed much.

The week promises to be more eventful as more rallies in labor, money in politics and tax on Wall Street are scheduled for the anniversary of OWS, September 17.

S17: Occupy protest tactics mature with experience

NYPD barricades Wall Street on S17

by John Zangas

Occupy Wall Street held a 300+ person public action meeting at One Police Park Square, the NYPD headquarters, while several dozen officers watched. The stern-faced officers were privy to the details of the plan for S17 before it even kicked off.

It was one of Occupy Wall Street’s most elaborately planned non-violent direct actions to date. The Shut Down Wall Street plan called for splitting protestors between four major zones in downtown Manhattan and effectively disrupting the financial district.

Groups of protestors met early in the morning in predetermined places to disperse into the four zones, designated Eco, Education, Debt and the 99%. Each zone represented the major objectives Occupy has organized to change: the behaviors of Banks, Lobbies, Corporations, the NY Stock Exchange and Wall Street.

There is strength and critical mass in one giant group, yet OWS tried a different strategy: four groups scattered and roving in random directions in an effort to create more confusion and chaos. Separating into four groups was a bold tactical risk because it diluted the strength of the protest. The splitting tactic demonstrated the growing confidence organizers have gained since the Occupy movement began a year ago.

Authorities attempted to keep the NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and banks open, but the roving protest groups challenged their resources. Hundreds of NYPD officers were pulled between sites and constantly needed to be on the move to keep up. Unpredictable roving protests challenged logistics and communications, both for protestors and police. Authorities were deployed in advance to block access to key sites, because it was not certain when a group would show up. Barricades, foot patrol, mounted police, motorcycle police and vehicles clogged major arteries and snarled traffic. When blocked from proceeding, protestors countered by circling intersections.

Photographs and video footage show Wall Street, the NY Stock Exchange, Pine and Exchange Streets and other streets closed off, as well as barricaded and restricted access to corporations and banks (except for ID carrying employees). It shows that business was anything but business as usual on S17. Protestors may have been blocked from the targets they most wanted to reach, such as the Stock Exchange. But police themselves essentially completed the task protestors had set out to do–impede the normal flow to the point of shutdown.

In addition, there were the props of street theater and good visuals for press. Chalk slogans and messages were drawn at critical junctures. A five-foot “Debt Boulder” rolled over and through the crowd. A slick body guard cleared a path for a Transformers-like character called the “Bain Capital Job Eliminator.” Lady Liberty marched along with colorful dancers, and the baseball team of the One Percent–the Tax Dodgers–paraded with their cheerleaders the Corporate Loopholes. And of course there was no shortage of signs expressing the feelings of the 99%.

It wasn’t the intent of OWS to close the stock market, prevent banks from transferring funds or stop corporations and lobbies from business operations. The NY Stock Exchange opened on time and closed promptly at 4pm, despite barricades, police and protests. There was no interruption in the electronic ticker tapes, which closed down 40 points at the bell.

But there was no doubt everyone knew OWS was back, on the street and in Zuccotti Park again, even if it wasn’t a permanent Occupation. OWS demonstrated flexibility in tactics of protest, showed that can mobilize thousands of people from all around the country and has no problem announcing its action plan beforehand.

The massive presence of Occupy Wall Street shows it is still an organization with much energy, active and relevant at its one-year mark. The true test for OWS will be how much it is able translate direct actions into influence for the betterment of citizens affected by social and economic woes. Its tactics must remain interesting, informative, non-violent and provocative in order for its strategy to work in the long run.

S17: Shut Down Wall Street

 

Tactical map of Shut Down Wall Street

by John Zangas

The plan to Shut Down Wall Street consisted of dividing lower Manhattan into four zones of non-violent protest, each assigned an issue area. Activists could gravitate to their area of interest: Education Bloc, 99% Bloc, Ecology Bloc, or Strike Debt Bloc. Each bloc communicated by text message.

The elaborate plan was a tactical split of the thousands of protestors into these four blocs with 8-10 targets per zone. The targets included banks, corporations, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Wall Street Bull, and lobbies.

The NYPD response effectively blocked protest access to many targeted sites, including the NYSE, the Bull, and major Banks. Protestors reverted to “Plan B” which involved roving between sites, further extending the protest zones and police coverage. Although police blocked access to major targets, it was in fact the massive police response to protestors which resulted in achieving the objective: a virtual shutdown of the financial district.

Spokes Council at Battery Park

Protestors eventually converged in Battery Park at midday for a giant Spokes Council. Reps of various affinity groups gave report backs of successes and challenges. Later everyone reconvened at Zuccotti for the final General Assembly and cutting of birthday cake for the 99%.

 

Zuccotti Park Re-Occupied

by John Zangas

On September 15 at 5pm, about 300 Occupy Wall Street activists assembled at Washington Square arch. Escorted by a contingent of fifty NYPD motorcycle police, several dozen police vehicles and over 150 foot patrol, they marched down Broadway chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” An “Occupy Wall Street’” banner led the way to Zuccotti Park, former home base of the movement.

Thus Occupy Wall Street temporarily and symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park for the weekend of its anniversary. Zuccotti Park is located in the heart of New York’s financial district only a block from Wall Street. It was the hotbed for a wave of protests which swept across New York City last year.

The Zuccotti encampment inspired the occupations of parks and municipal sites in almost every major city in the country. The camp endured for eight weeks until evicted by New York police on November 15, 2011.

Occupy Wall Street turns One

After a summer of near-dormancy, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) came roaring back to life in lower Manhattan in a stunning choreography of protests. trainings and events. OWS had carefully planned the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the movement’s founding on September 17, 2011. The weekend culminated in activists’ attempting to shut down the Wall Street financial district on Monday morning.

Members of Occupations all around the country traveled to New York to join OWS in solidarity. Occupiers also symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park, site of the OWS encampment for nearly two months.

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.

OccuBarn trial: Background

Photo by Anne Meador

Thinking back to December 4, 2011 when Occupy DC erected the OccuBarn in McPherson Park, it’s worth remembering that violent police confrontations with the Occupy movement were happening with great frequency. Paramilitarized police of metropolitan areas had the opportunity to try out on Occupy protestors all the techniques they had learned–and many of the toys they had acquired–in their post-9/11 homeland security training. Moreover, iconoclastic events like the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from New York’s Zuccotti Park were still fresh news. That eviction had only just taken place on November 15.

In light of the recent clashes with police forces, it took a lot of chutzpah to raise the Barn–the “temporary structure” intended to shield General Assemblies and other meetings from the winter cold.  And, as trial witness Sara Shaw put it, it also “served as a symbol. We were protesting foreclosures, the rise of homelessness. [With the structure,] we were providing a shelter.” Wooden, rectangular, about 30 feet long and at least 15 feet high, the OccuBarn was a provocation, and there was no question that National Park Police were going to respond.

Moving in early that crisp December morning, Park Police demanded that the structure be disassembled. In spite of a somewhat confused emergency General Assembly, which ultimately decided to comply with the order, 23 people conducted an autonomous action, stationing themselves within the structure or climbing into the rafters. An all-day stand-off ensued.

More than six months later, 14 defendants are on trial for minor offenses–all of them charged with failure to obey in an emergency situation, and one additionally charged with public indecency and urinating in public. The trial is actually being conducted in traffic court by Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Wingo.

It’s speculation, but Judge Wingo may be enjoying defense counsel’s approach–challenging the basis of the statutes on Constitutional grounds. In his motions to dismiss, Occupy DC attorney Jeff Light essentially asked the judge to strike down District laws on obscenity and public indecency, public urination and failure to obey police.

Talk about chutzpah.

A reminder: the recurring theme of the preliminary hearing on May 30 was Judge Wingo’s excoriation of the prosecutor’s office for failing to meet filing deadlines. She opened Day 1 by asking, “Is the government ready for trial?”

Noam Chomsky on May Day

From Huffington Post:

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Zuccotti Park Press, a project of Adelante Alliance, a Brooklyn-based immigrant advocacy group, is releasing Occupy, a new book by Noam Chomsky, on May Day.

People seem to know about May Day everywhere except where it began, here in the United States of America. That’s because those in power have done everything they can to erase its real meaning. For example, Ronald Reagan designated what he called “Law Day” — a day of jingoist fanaticism, like an extra twist of the knife in the labor movement. Today, there is a renewed awareness, energized by the Occupy movement’s organizing, around May Day, and its relevance for reform and perhaps eventual revolution.

If you’re a serious revolutionary, then you are not looking for an autocratic revolution, but a popular one which will move towards freedom and democracy. That can take place only if a mass of the population is implementing it, carrying it out, and solving problems. They’re not going to undertake that commitment, understandably, unless they have discovered for themselves that there are limits to reform.

A sensible revolutionary will try to push reform to the limits, for two good reasons. First, because the reforms can be valuable in themselves. People should have an eight-hour day rather than a twelve-hour day. And in general, we should want to act in accord with decent ethical values.

Secondly, on strategic grounds, you have to show that there are limits to reform. Perhaps sometimes the system will accommodate to needed reforms. If so, well and good. But if it won’t, then new questions arise. Perhaps that is a moment when resistance is necessary, steps to overcome the barriers to justified changes. Perhaps the time has come to resort to coercive measures in defense of rights and justice, a form of self-defense. Unless the general population recognizes such measures to be a form of self-defense, they’re not going to take part in them, at least they shouldn’t.

If you get to a point where the existing institutions will not bend to the popular will, you have to eliminate the institutions.

May Day started here, but then became an international day in support of American workers who were being subjected to brutal violence and judicial punishment.

Today, the struggle continues to celebrate May Day not as a “law day” as defined by political leaders, but as a day whose meaning is decided by the people, a day rooted in organizing and working for a better future for the whole of society.

Originally posted by Zuccotti Park Press

Pitching a Tent of Dreams

When I arrived at McPherson Square that Monday afternoon, all I could think was, “Good god, what have they done? Are they crazy?” Yes, I knew instantly that the DC Occupiers were crazy in a daring and stupid way. At the same time a giddy, elated feeling arose in me, and I also knew that they were crazy in a bold and beautiful way. The Tent of Dreams was already casting a spell on me.

We all knew that weekend that Occupy DC was under grave threat, particularly McPherson Square, which didn’t have a permit like its sister protest at Freedom Plaza. Following the hearing of the House Oversight Committee the previous week and under political pressure, the National Park Service announced that it was going to enforce its “no camping” regulations. Park police officers posted flyers at the camps making clear that enforcement would go into effect at noon on Monday.

Tension was high. No one knew exactly how this would play out, whether the Park Service had found a way to gradually kick Occupiers out by giving them citations and barring them from returning, or if this was the harbinger of a Zuccotti Park or Oakland-style eviction. It seemed like everyone anticipated a paramilitary police invasion promptly at the stroke of noon, although that scenario was unlikely to say the least. A call went out for all Occupy DC supporters to come to McPherson at midday–ready, it was assumed, to defend the Square.

A blaze of blue rose up from the center of the park. A huge tarp draped the statue of the General, except it was no longer Lee McPherson straddling the fiery steed high above our heads, it was Guy Fawkes. The tarp was painted with yellow and white stars, figures and slogans, and large letters spelled out “Tent of Dreams.” Occupiers defiantly stationed themselves at the base of the statue under the tarp. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “They’re toast.”

This deed surpassed even the erection of the OccuBarn on December 4, something that I eventually concluded was misguided and poorly executed, putting the camp in unnecessary jeopardy. The modular, wooden structure was intended to shelter General Assemblies and other meetings and symbolically to highlight the problem of foreclosure and homelessness. McPherson Occupiers seemed not to know that the US Park Police would come down on them like a ton of bricks–which they did as soon as morning light broke.

Although I had been involved with Occupy DC at McPherson Square since early November, the camp at Freedom Plaza was probably a more natural fit for me. A slightly older crowd who tended to work with authorities suited my style of conciliatory activism and preference for nonviolence than the younger, more radical crowd at McPherson Park. They had often disappointed me with high tolerance for drugs, alcohol, and unacceptable behavior and reflexive hostility toward police or any authority. Yet I was drawn to them and not Freedom Plaza. Freedom Plaza was boring, frankly. The McPherson Occupiers always made the news, were the news, for good and bad reasons.

Now a huge tent on the sacred icon of the General? Not even George W. Bush could say “Bring it on!” in such clear and unambiguous terms. The raid didn’t happen immediately. It was five days later when the Park Police invaded at dawn with full paramilitary force. The subsequent compliance inspection exceeded the scope of recent court rulings and, with the sleep ban, was the equivalent of eviction.

The Tent of Dreams was folly, I thought, wrecking any chance the camp had for compromise and survival, and given the outcome five days later, maybe that was true. Yet the striking appearance of the Tent and its symbolism was palpable. It became the image seen throughout the nation if not the world that day. My 40-something sensibilities weakened, and I began to believe in revolution again like a 20-something. I got a vision from the Tent of Dreams.

That day the Occupiers chanted, “Let us sleep so we can dream.” Sleeping in the park was something that the Park Service was trying to prohibit, according to their definition of camping versus protest. DC Occupier John Zangas argued that “sleep is a human right,” not that sleeping in a park is allowed under the law. I knew that much of the camp was made up of homeless people, who wouldn’t have anywhere to sleep if the camp was evicted. Before Occupy DC and after, the homeless have no legal right to sleep and are not only exhausted but deprived of dignity because of it. Zangas continued, “If moral correctness doesn’t coincide with legal correctness, then [we] need to be morally correct.”

“Let us sleep so we can dream.” Sleep invokes dreams. If I could never fully square the presence of Occupations with fair application of urban statutes, I’ve supported them because of the overwhelming knowledge of our loss of power as citizens. Bit by bit, our civil rights have been whittled away, our economic worth decimated, and our votes rendered worthless to an unprecedented degree. There is nothing left but to get out on the streets. To Occupy. To dream of taking back our power and our dignity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream.” To make that dream a reality, he asked people to consult an inner compass that knows what dignity is, what our true inherent rights as human beings are. The Day of the Tent of Dreams taught me something: to be unapologetic in asserting that moral compass, to be bright and bold and beautiful. And that big dreams will come to pass only if many people dare to dream them together.

Police Captain Ray Lewis at Occupy Congress

Occupiers surrounded retired Philadelphia police Captain Ray Lewis on the West Lawn of the Capitol this afternoon at Occupy Congress. Many thanked him profusely for his support of the movement.

Captain Lewis received much attention when he was arrested on November 17, 2011 during an Occupy Wall Street protest. He criticized Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD for their handling of the protests and forceful tactics in evicting OWS from Zuccotti Park.

Dressed in his police uniform and sunglasses, Captain Lewis chatted with attendees and took pictures with them as the wind blew across the muddy West Lawn. He offered candid opinions and full-throated support of Occupy.

“I am here to further show solidarity with the Occupy movement,” emphasizing that by attending he sought publicity for Occupy and not for himself. “I am in full agreement with the declarative statements [of Occupy Wall Street] as posted online,” he said.

There had already been two confrontations with Capitol police earlier in the day. Many protestors were openly antagonistic. I asked him what he thought when he heard them yell, “Fuck the police!”

“I fully understand,” he said. “They are so sensitive to evil and corruption in government. They tried working within the system and with Obama.”

He continued by harshly assessing President Obama. Following Obama’s election, “What did we get? One of the biggest political betrayals in history. He’s nowhere near the president he said he would be.” He added, “He’s nothing more than a black George W. Bush.”

He praised all the alternative media arising from the Occupy movement and stressed the necessity of bypassing mainstream media. “What you’re doing is so important,” he said. “We didn’t have this during the Vietnam War.”