Category Archives: Occupy Movement

The Philadelphia national gathering reveals Occupy’s law of entropy (Guardian)

A disappointing turnout of true believers this Fourth of July week exemplifies how – and why – the movement has lost its mojo

Arun Gupta

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 July 2012

Betty Beekeeper, an activist affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, at the 4 July national gathering in Philadelphia. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP

Judging by the Occupy national gathering in Philadelphia this week, the Middle Ages is making a comeback. In the shadow of Independence Hall, America’s secular Bethlehem, hundreds of pilgrims gathered here for a five-day festival of democracy culminating in night-time procession around the manors of power on the nation’s high holy day, 4 July.

By day, in downtown’s Franklin Square, an Occupy burgh popped up, complete with jugglers, acrobats, dancers and poets. Minstrels from the “guitarmy” belted out Occupy ballads. Itinerant preachers of socialist, liberal, conservative and anarchist faith spread the Occupy gospel. The “mic check” acted as the town crier. Colored banners signaled to the commoners where to join their humble village of origin – the Southwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic and so on. Activist nobles such as Medea Benjamin and Lisa Fithian circulated among the unwashed. Artisans crafted signs and peddled T-shirts, buttons and stickers.

The colorful semi-mystical gathering – among the faithful, Occupy has near-magical powers – recalled why it captured the imagination. There is no public space in which Americans of all types, income and opinions can talk, play and live together. The carnival spirit of Occupy flourished and the night-time curfew kept the decay and drugs at bay that burdened so many other occupations. The “king’s men” kept a low profile in Franklin Square, but police materialized the instant a procession exited the park.

Months earlier, word of the gathering spread throughout the land, but barely 500 people made the journey from distant realms. Some confided they were disappointed by the turnout, but the true believers still see Occupy as their and the country’s last, best hope. Alexis Terry, a homeless and unemployed transgendered African-American woman from New Haven, home to Yale University, says Occupy “has given me tangible hope for the first time in my life”. Billy Lolos from Tucson, whose stage-three emphysema didn’t deter him from puffing on cigarettes, says he was “unemployed, living in his sister’s house” before the movement appeared. Jeanine Molloff, a speech pathologist from St Louis, passionately called on Occupiers to work for universal healthcare and education, explaining that her 49-year-old brother “died a hideous death last year, and I think the system murdered him.”

Nonetheless, the hundreds of thousands who participated in Occupy protests last fall did not trek to Philadelphia. There is no one reason why it has submerged back into the middle-class discontent from which it sprang, but this Philadelphia scene does reveal why the movement has faded.

On Monday afternoon, I entered the park with two friends and we were greeted by Sage. Bare-chested, sitting on the grass, he yelled out to us, “I don’t like you.” His object of anger was Gregg, one of the nicest people from Occupy Wall Street. Sage continued, “Actually, I like you just fine. You taste sweet. It’s the effects of what you do that I don’t like.” Mild words were exchanged and we quickened our pace. But Sage was not to be denied. Flying in from our left flank, he planted himself in front of us, babbling about “double sarcasm”. Gregg asked to be left alone, but Sage deftly claimed he was being denied his right to speak.

It’s unfair to blame Sage, who claims he was “born in a mental hospital”. Virtually every occupation was beset by the same types, though New York seemed to have a surplus. Nonetheless, one seasoned Occupy organizer, by way of the Middle East, does blame the wayward behavior of a minority for “destroying Occupy as a functioning entity”. He claims after the eviction of the Zuccotti Park occupation last November, there would be meetings of up to 300 people groping for a path going forward, but constant disruptions would “suck the energy out of the room”.

The Middle East organizer mentioned that in Tahrir Square, Egyptians would surround provocateurs and disrupters (both of the voluntary and involuntary kind) chase them out of the square. If they came back, then a beating was in order. He said, “While it’s a different political culture, the Egyptians and Syrians have had to deal with people shooting them from windows. Occupy Wall Street couldn’t even deal with a few crazies.”

That moment in Franklin Square encapsulated why Occupy Wall Street crumbled. It was not – and still is not – able to negotiate between conflicting rights. Occupy’s child-like view of politics – how consensus and participatory democracy will free the angels within every one of us – was a big reason for its success because it offered a palpable alternative to our cynical, acquisitive society. Yet it apparently hasn’t dawned on the hive mind that it is impossible to satisfy all rights, every time, everywhere.

It follows that democracy is not just about compromise; it’s also about conflict. Politics is about picking winners and losers according to higher principles like justice and equality. Occupy is still present in campaigns, from labor and immigrant solidarity to home foreclosure defense, student debt and the environment. But, for the idealistic core of Occupy, its original flowering was like a Fourth of July firework display: something dramatic and beautiful, but ultimately ephemeral.

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Cleveland Occupy arrests are the latest in FBI’s pattern of manipulation (The Guardian)

The FBI says the five arrested before May Day are terrorists, but friends in Cleveland say they were goaded on by informant.

Connor Stevens, one of the five Occupy Cleveland members accused by the FBI of plotting to blow up a bridge. Photograph: FBI/AP

by Arun Gupta

Like real-life Avengers, the FBI and 23 separate police agencies joined forces and pounced on a band of villains hell-bent on sowing chaos in a sleepy Midwest suburb earlier this month. The FBI reassured the world that thanks to the “swift collaborative action” of law enforcement, it had rounded up five “self-proclaimed anarchists … intent on using violence to express their ideological views” by attempting to blow up a bridge near Cleveland on May Day.

Now, the Cleveland Five look more like bedraggled punks than diabolical geniuses, but surely doom was averted in the nick of time. In fact, the G-Men admit the exact opposite: “At no time during the course of the investigation was the public ever in danger.”

So if there was no threat, what really happened? This case was a familiar set-up in which the FBI fishes for dupes it can manipulate with informants and agents who stroke their marks, plant ideas, suggest the plans, provide money, weapons, vehicles and then heroically foil a terrorist act of the FBI’s own design. Since September 11, scores of these entrapment cases have been sprung on Muslims in America. It appears the Occupy Wall Street movement is now worthy of the same treatment.

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What happened to the Occupy movement? (Aljazeera)

Although media coverage has dwindled, Occupy cells are alive and well all over the United States – and beyond.

Police cleared New York’s Zuccotti Park, and the movement has reportedly struggled to find more organising space [Getty Images]

Occupy Wall Street was at the pinnacle of its power in October 2011, when thousands of people converged at Zuccotti Park and successfully foiled the plans of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sweep away the occupation on grounds of public health. From that vantage point, the Occupy movement appears to have tumbled off a cliff, having failed to organise anything like a general strike on May Day– despite months of rumblings of mass walkouts, blockades and shutdowns.

The mainstream media are eager to administer last rites. CNN declared “May Day fizzled”, the New York Postsneered “Goodbye, Occupy” and the New York Times consigned the day’s events to fewer than 400 words, mainly about arrests in New York City.

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How to Rebrand Occupy (Truthout)

“The 99% Movement” has something for everyone, even the left, but is it Occupy?

(Photo: Dana Deskiewicz / Flickr)

By all measures the Occupy movement is a powerful brand. It has thousands of spin-offs such as Occupy Our Homes, Occupy Money, Occupy the Hood, Occupy Gender Equality and Occupy the Food System. It has powerful name recognition, snagging “word of the year” honors in 2011. And now, ardent supporters are manning the ramparts to defend its integrity.

Adbusters, the culture-jamming magazine that helped spark Occupy Wall Street (OWS), is accusing unions and liberal groups clustered under the banner of the 99% Spring of tarnishing Occupy’s sterling name. Launched in February by groups like Greenpeace, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn and Rebuild the Dream, the 99% Spring announced it would train 100,000 people in April for “sustained nonviolent direct action” against targets like Verizon, Bank of America and Walmart.

These groups, bellowed Adbusters in an online missive “Battle for the Soul of Occupy,” are “the same cabal of old world thinkers who have blunted the possibility of revolution for decades.” Adbusters fingered MoveOn as one of the primary saboteurs of Occupy and linked to an article in Counterpunch that claims the 99% Spring “is primarily about co-option and division, about sucking a large cross-section of Occupy into Obama’s reelection campaign, watering down its radical politics and using these mass trainings as a groundwork to put forward 100,000 ‘good protesters’ to overshadow the ‘bad protesters.'”

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The Wonderful, Unpredictable Life of the Occupy Movement (Truthout)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

By Arun Gupta, Truthout | Report

Occupy Wall Street demonstration on March 15, 2012. (Photo: Sunset Parkerpix)

I met Nomi on a bus in Baltimore. She was from Wisconsin and had been involved with Occupy Wall Street. She was part of Occupy Judaism and fondly recalled the Yom Kippur services she attended at the Wall Street occupation with hundreds of other people. Nomi said that, for the first time, she and her friends felt like they could combine the religious and radical dimensions of Judaism. The conversation fell silent as the bus rolled along. Suddenly she turned to me and excitedly announced that she met her girlfriend at Liberty Plaza. I smiled and responded, “That’s why Occupy Wall Street matters.”

By enabling people to find fulfillment in all parts of their lives, whether romantic, spiritual, political or cultural, the Occupy movement is more than a movement. It is life-changing. People experience themselves as complete social beings, not just as angry, alienated protesters. Nomi said she was no longer involved in the movement, which I thought was more evidence of why the actual occupations were so important.

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Occupying the Unexpected (The Nation)

Photos of Occupy Wall Street on Day 20, Octobe...

Photos of Occupy Wall Street on Day 20, October 5, the day of the big march with unions in solidarity with OWS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

March 14, 2012

The few remaining occupations aren’t easy to find, but visiting one reminds you why Occupy set the imagination on fire. At a late-February “Occupalooza” organized by Occupy Fullerton in Orange County, we talked with Wolf, a 25-year-old transgendered activist, who explained how the group is lobbying the City Council to pass resolutions on issues ranging from Citizens United to predatory debt. We also met John Park, a Korean-American with two kids in college, who launched into a blistering critique of the ideology of free trade. That Wolf has found common cause with a middle-aged immigrant computer programmer speaks to the raw ideological and emotional power of the twinned slogans—“We are the 99 percent” and “Occupy Wall Street.”

At Occupy’s encampments, anyone could walk into the public space, share his or her story, find people with similar grievances and participate in building mini-societies. Creating democratic town squares next to centers of power drew in huge numbers of people who gave the movement life. First-time activists didn’t need to arrive having mastered volumes of social and cultural theory, and they weren’t treated to the same old canned chants and pre-printed signs. The movement didn’t require consultants, focus groups or polls to occupy the center of American politics with a radical left message. As such, Occupy wasn’t just a rejection of Washington and Wall Street; it revealed the failings of liberals, unions and the organized left.

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Occupy invades “America’s storage shed” (Salon)

Faced with protest, Walmart unilaterally shuts down three warehouses in Southern California

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Spilling out below the snow-dusted San Bernardino Mountains, California’s Inland Empire in Southern California is America’s storage shed. Its economy is a key link in the global supply chain. Goods from Asia funnel through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports that handle more than one-quarter of all the imports pouring into the United States every year, and much of it is warehoused here before finding its way into homes and businesses across the nation. If all the storage space was gathered under one roof, more than 700 million square feet, it would make a warehouse larger than Manhattan.

With manufacturing scant in the Inland Empire, an estimated 118,000 workers are employed hustling through cavernous warehouses to stack and fetch goods or hauling them in rigs. The area is infested with banal exurbs that clump in towns such as Mira Loma, which has been tagged the “diesel death zone” for the lung-searing truck pollution that envelops it. It was in Mira Loma that a few hundred members of various Southern California Occupy movements converged at sunrise  on Feb. 29 with the goal of shutting down a Walmart distribution center.

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To camp or not to camp? That is Occupy’s question (Salon)

Occupy Tampa protest Oct 2011

Occupy Tampa protest Oct 2011 (Photo credit: Sasha Rae Photo - Shanna Gillette)

After a wave of shutdowns, about 20 Occupy camps still stand. What do they tell us about the state of the movement?

Occupy Tampa has had a rough life. Born on a “Day of Rage” that drew 1,000 people to Tampa, Fla.’s downtown on Oct. 6, it put down roots three days later on a public sidewalk bordering Curtis Hixon Park. It soon blossomed into a community of more than 100 residents adorned with tents, medics, media, kitchen and library on a concrete patch less than 10 feet wide.

From day one, the Tampa police were a fixture in their lives. “They would come by at 6 a.m. to wake us up, and again in the afternoon to make us move our belongings off the sidewalk,” says Samantha Bowden, a 23-year-old senior at the University of South Florida. The occupiers taped off a 6-foot section of the sidewalk for egress and say the city conceded it had the right to a 24-hour presence, but the police were intent on retarding the occupation’s development by wielding a code against leaving articles on the sidewalk. Occupy Tampa occupiers adapted by placing their belongings on carts so they could be wheeled away whenever the police descended.

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Occupy’s challenge: Reinventing democracy (Salon)

Behind the scenes with rogue drummers, homeless, liberals and the black bloc as OWS grapples with self-government

Occupy Wall Street protesters demonstrate on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 17. (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The panicked emails and texts sounded like a prank worthy of the Yes Men. Occupy Wall Street — which like some comic book character only grew stronger after each attack by nefarious forces, whether pepper spray, mass arrests or New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s threat to close the park for cleaning – had finally been brought to its knees.

What was about to kill the most successful American activist movement in decades? The drum circle.

Drummers possessed with a Dionysian fervor were demanding that they be allowed to pound their bongos and congas late into the night because they were the “heartbeat of this movement.” In response, a letter circulated with the dramatic warning that “OWS is over after Tuesday.” With equal doses of Middle East diplomacy and Burning Man theatrics, the writer explained that weeks of negotiations between a drummers’ working group called Pulse, the OWS General Assembly and the local community board had collapsed.

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Occupy fights the law: Will the law win? (Salon)

From Boise to Nashville, the movement faces an unconstitutional legal siege

Occupy Boise is under legal and meteorological siege. (Credit: AP/John Miller)

The Occupy movement is an exercise in the workings of power whether it is social, financial, policing or political. The occupations that began in September spread with an infectious passion in part because the police violence and mass arrests, the tried-and-true methods of state power employed to suppress radical movements, backfired and the movement grew more. By October hundreds of encampments had popped up nationwide with the tacit cooperation and sometimes explicit approval of local officials. For a few heady weeks Occupy Wall Street had the glow of popular legitimacy – social power – trumping whatever fusty laws prohibited camping or a continuous presence in a public space.

The inevitable counteroffensive was launched in November. Using the mass media, politicians hyped the movements as imminent threats to public health and safety, justifying aggressive evictions of prominent occupations in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and New York City. Within weeks other major encampments in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New Orleans were scattered with hundreds of arrests. A third wave of closures has been underway since late January with occupations shut down from Hawaii to Miami and Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y.

Nonetheless, some encampments survive. In Houston a small contingent is legally maintaining a presence in downtown Tranquility Park, though a ban on tents and tarps has kept all but the hardy or desperate away. In Tampa Bay, after months of police harassment, occupiers found a safe haven in a privately owned public space donated by a wealthy supporter.

Now, a new strategy is being deployed to yank the rug from under occupations in four cities: legal power. Politicians have recently passed laws in Honolulu and Charlotte, N.C., that with a stroke of the pen made the occupations illegal, enabling police to sweep them away. Two more occupations, in Boise, Idaho, and Nashville, may be nearing the end as their respective state legislatures are on the verge of outlawing the democratic villages that for months have been thriving next to edifices of power. Critics charge that the anti-Occupy laws reveal how the law is not an objective code that treats everyone equally, but an arbitrary weapon wielded by the powerful.

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