Tag Archives: NYPD

Al-Jazeera English’s Danny Schechter: “A Happy ‘News’ Year”

OWS protesters attempt to enter Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve 2011 in Lower Manhattan. Photo courtesy of Newsone.com

Editor’s note: As editorial writer Danny Schecter (@Dissectorvents) points out in the following opinion piece, New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Time Square was a surreal spectacle. While Lady Gaga kissed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “the NYPD, a force he [Bloomberg] recently had the temerity to call his ‘private army’, pepper sprayed an attempt by Occupy Wall Street to regain the park [Zuccotti Park] they had been forcibly ousted from a few miles downtown.”

He goes on to note:

“”Happy New Year” has become a mantra of good cheer and smiles all around but it’s a sentiment that’s strangely disconnected from any deeper reality.

Would so many millions be cheering if they had any inkling of what lies ahead, as one really bad year foreshadows one that may be even worse?”

Indeed. In a society that has been warped by celebrity culture, and that has swallowed what Benjamin DeMott calls “junk politics”, the only thing the masses can do is watch an oligarch kiss a media-created fantasy like Lady Gaga during a thoroughly-commercialized event in Times Square, while the country plunges head-first into what many are predicting to be a very bleak year.

Meanwhile, the 68 Occupy Wall Street protesters who know perfectly well that this country is living in an illusion are brutally arrested and will continue to be villified by many in the media who either choose to ignore what the Occupy movement represents or truly cannot fathom what it means.

Schecter’s piece is republished here under Al-Jazeera’s Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License agreement.

New York, NY – Who doesn’t love fireworks, especially on New Year’s Eve, when it’s out with old and in with the new?

Who knows how much all these crowd-pleasing explosives cost as they ricochet from loud celebrations all over the globe?

And who cares? Many partygoers got too drunk to think about it.

Here, in New York, the great ball drop in Times Square has blown up into a major spectacle with celebrities galore that is followed by entertainment specials on every network.

We had Lady Gaga kissing Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the NYPD, a force he recently had the temerity to call his “private army”, pepper sprayed an attempt by Occupy Wall to regain the Park they had been forcibly ousted from a few miles downtown.

Sixty-eight activists became the first arrestees of 2012.

Mayor Bloomberg and Lady Gaga kiss in Times Square to bring in 2012. Photo courtesy of Mamapop.com

“Happy New Year” has become a mantra of good cheer and smiles all around but it’s a sentiment that’s strangely disconnected from any deeper reality.

Would so many millions be cheering if they had any inkling of what lies ahead, as one really bad year foreshadows one that may be even worse?

The hunger for happiness and the ability to deny reality is pervasive, and permeates borders everywhere.

Somehow there are those who know how truly absurd it is to celebrate when your life is about to turn for the worse. But, even if many did know, would they know what to do?

As Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes, “Could there be a single phrase that explains the woes of our time, this dismal age of political miscalculations and deceptions, of reckless and disastrous wars, of financial boom and bust and downright criminality?”

Maybe there is, and we owe it to Fintan O’Toole. That trenchant Irish commentator is a biographer and theatre critic, and a critic also of his country’s crimes and follies, as in his gripping book, Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.

He reminds us of the famous saying by Donald H Rumsfeld, the former United States secretary of defence, that “There are known knowns… there are known unknowns… there are also unknown unknowns”.

But the Irish problem, says O’Toole, was none of the above. It was “unknown knowns”.

Given the degraded state of American media, we can’t assume that a TV-addicted audience of young people can know how bad it is or will become.

These partying crowds would have to wait a day to hear the BBC predict the downturn that awaits Europeans:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was experiencing its “most severe test in decades…

France’s President Sarkozy said the crisis was not finished, while Italy’s president called for more sacrifices.

Growth in Europe has stalled as the debt crisis has forced governments to slash spending.

Protesters across Europe strike and demonstrate against severe austerity measures. Photo courtesy of SFGate.com

The leaders’ New Year messages came as leading economists polled by the BBC said they expected a return to recession in Europe in the first half of 2012.

Liberal economists like Paul Krugman at the New York Times have dismissed any talk of recession. He says the right word to use is depression. Politicians who believe that it takes confidence to promote a recovery want to stay positive, even though critics call this confidence-hype a “con game”.

“These realities will only be more obvious when gas goes to $5 a gallon… when more students drop out because they can’t afford the loans or tuition.”

Attorney Max Gardener, who runs popular “boot camps” for bankruptcy and foreclosure defence lawyers, knows the personal details of the avalanche of distress among the Middle class. He is skilled at fighting back, but is not optimistic in his New Year’s predictions, which include:

The unemployment rate will not drop below 7.00 per cent at any point during the year and will be above 8.00 per cent for at least half of the year. With our educational system in disarray, and technical skills at an all-time low among US workers, the fact of the matter is that all of the good jobs are in China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Thailand and Argentina.
One of the top 10 United States banks will fail or be forced into a takeover by the end of the year. My best guess is Bank of America. BOA will be forced into liquidation under the too big to fail provisions of the Dodd Frank Act. The FHFA as conservator of BOA may impose the Chapter 13 principal reduction programme for all loans and serviced by the Bank.
The number of homes in foreclosure will double or triple from 2011 levels and home values will drop by another 15 per cent to 20 per cent by the end of year. I do not expect to see any real recovery in the housing market until at least 2022.

Ok, maybe this is all boring stuff that glazes over most minds. It’s certainly not as much fun as reading about Hollywood scandals.

These realities will only be more obvious when gas goes to $5 a gallon, when more cities plunge into darkness to save money on electricity, or when more students drop out because they can’t afford the loans or tuition.

As the Movie Biz is reporting one of its worst years, food prices are rising although some of this is invisible because of new packaging techniques that permit selling fewer of a product for more.

It is no wonder then that politicians don’t want to sound like bad news bears and talk about any of this because they know they can’t do anything. Politicians can’t tell markets what to do.

They prefer to demonise Iran perhaps in the hope that a new war will divert public attention and get keep the military-industrial complex generating new jobs. They are always on the prowl for new threats to exploit.

President Obama has now written off the possibility of doing anything new while planning to wage war on the Republican Congress as his campaign focus. The Republicans, meanwhile, are still battling each other, determined to prevent the rich from paying a fairer share of taxes.

As the New Year comes in with a bang, we are seeing our politics recede with a whimper, with signs of paralysis and stalemate all around. Even Lady Gaga can’t help us now.

News Dissector Danny Schechter is a blogger, author and filmmaker. His latest DVD is Plunder: the Crime of Our Time. He also hosts News Dissector Radio on ProgressiveRadioNetwork.com. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org


A New Chapter for Occupy Philadelphia

Occupy Philadelphia General Assembly debates whether to stay and expand or move entirely in the face of City Hall renovations.

On a frigid Friday night at Dilworth Plaza, Occupy Philadelphia faces a crucial vote that may well determine, at least, the short-term direction of the movement. Nearly 100 supporters mill about beneath the cold stone facade of City Hall as they wait for tonight’s General Assembly to convene. The proposal up for a vote tonight: whether to defy a city order to disperse ahead of planned renovations to City Hall’s apron, and hold ground, with the intention of falling back to Thomas Paine Plaza across the street. The second proposal, which would only come up for a vote if the above was voted down, would be to move camp entirely.

After over five hours of contentious debate and amendments, it is decided to simply stay with no plans for expansion to any space beyond Dilworth Plaza. Occupy Philadelphia as decided to dig in and face down a police force and administration that, until now, has worked to build a widely-heralded relationship with the occupation, a relationship heralded as anomalous because of the stark lack of police violence when compared to cities such as Oakland.

The reasons to stay or move are fairly sound on both sides:

We cannot allow the city to lead this movement by even indirectly naming locations to which we can relocate. The city’s cooperation is also largely built on political calculation and a desire to avoid the negative publicity other administrations receive when occupations are cracked down upon.

Or:

Staying at Dilworth simply to force a confrontation with an oddly gentle–at least with the occupation itself–police force and city administration won’t play well with the public, and makes us look like we’re standing in the way of construction jobs.

There are variations on these arguments, but those two are the crux of the debate.

An observation even a casual observer of this movement has noticed since it began on September 17th: nonviolently confronting a city administration and its police force can grow a movement. One need look no further than New York City, Boston and Oakland, where occupations have bravely held their ground to assert their First Amendment right to a redress of political grievances. In light of what these other occupations have accomplished in this vein, I think it’s important to highlight differences with those occupations and that of Occupy Philadelphia. The latter is a very different situation, and here’s why.

Unlike Philadelphia, most of the occupations mentioned above weren’t facing an administration that went out of its way to forge a working relationship with their respective encampments. The Philadelphia police department has been as civil as any police force to date since the movement began. And perhaps the defining difference with Philadelphia: the construction project. The city has been touting it as a job creator, and one that will employ union workers.

Political radicals have played a crucial role in getting the Occupy movement off the ground. After all, it was a small group of New York City anarchists, with supporting roles played by other parties, that spearheaded Occupy Wall Street. Without their nerve, others might have folded under intense police harassment. And these radicals had every right to challenge the NYPD: after all, without demanding their right to peacefully organize in a public space, the movement may not have taken off as it did.

But will Occupy Philadelphia’s defiance have the same effect?

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (@Michael_Nutter) held a press conference on Sunday, and it was important for a couple of reasons: the inaccuracies contained in his statement, as well as the tone and language which framed the argument the administration will use to justify clearing Dilworth Plaza. We will simply look at the language Nutter used in framing his argument against the occupation. False statements will be examined in a separate post following this one.

Mayor Nutter’s full statement on Sunday, November 13th:

“I’ve asked you here today because of my very great concern about dramatically deteriorating conditions on Day 39 in our engagement with Occupy Philly on City Hall apron, also known as Dilworth Plaza.

Occupy Philly has changed. We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis.

Occupy Philly is fractured with internal disagreement and disputes. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed and their intentions have changed…and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.

When I met with representatives of Occupy Philly on Wednesday Oct. 5 in my office, I made it clear to them
that the City would in fact protect their free speech rights and that we wanted to cooperate with them,
But I also said that the life of the City must go on: it is our daily business that must be conducted and not be impeded.

And I pointed out to them that day that there is a major project planned for Dilworth Plaza, that it’s been in works for a number of years now – a $50 million remake of Dilworth Plaza into an open, green, vibrant space…built by the 99 percent for the 99 percent.

And they told me that they would be peaceful, that they would not be disruptive, that they would obey the laws of the City of Philadelphia and that they would communicate with us regularly and they only wished to express their free speech rights.

On Oct. 11, the City sent a letter to Occupy Philly representatives, setting out a series of public safety and public health concerns that had quickly arisen, including the following: Combustible structures near historic City Hall; The lack of an emergency fire lane near the building; And a growing problem with litter, public urination, defecation and graffiti.

Unfortunately, Occupy Philly did not respond to our growing public safety and health concerns.

Finally, two weeks ago, on Sunday Oct. 30, a group of Occupy Philly leaders met with my staff and me at the American Friends Services Committee offices at 15th and Cherry. It was a cordial exchange of views and concerns.

The following day, the City of Philadelphia sent an email to the group asking for weekly meetings, which we had discussed the previous day when we met, so that we could better understand each other’s issues, concerns and requirements, and so that we could work together to identify possible sites for relocation or even other programs and activities that we could work on mutually to address some of the concerns the group has had here in Philadelphia and across the nation.

We also described in that Oct. 30 meeting, two additional pending maintenance related projects: the removal of scaffolding from the tower area and a separate project requiring a scissor lift to make repairs to a number of City Hall windows that actually look down on the Occupy Philly location.

It’s now two weeks later, and there has been no response to our concerns … none whatsoever!

Instead, what’s abundantly clear now is that Occupy Philly is in violation of the terms of its permit, which requires it as an organization to observe our city ordinances.

Let me describe just a few of the issues:

Into this highly combustible environment – with tents and wooden pallets, bedding and waste – we know that some are using cooking stoves, candles, lanterns and of course there has been widespread smoking with the potential for fire and tragedy.

On Oct. 28, we had a small fire in that location in which a nylon tent went up in flames.

This past Friday, the Fire Marshal and a Haz-Mat team supervised the removal of a known propane tank that was Gerri-rigged to a small heater and a hurricane lamp. We are quite sure, unfortunately, that many more such units are hidden in tents throughout their encampment. In spite of the presence of porto-potties, the problem with public urination and defecation remains a significant health threat. In short, conditions there are unsanitary and that also includes food distribution.

Friday night, the Occupy Philly general assembly voted against moving from Dilworth Plaza:
Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of a nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families.

We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations; Many of the people that we talked to in the beginning of this event and activity are now gone. They are no longer on the site. They are no longer on the scene. And Occupy Philly has refused to engage in active, regular discussions with us. This change in behavior is no accident. It is a direct result of the fact that this movement has changed and the people have changed.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of thefts and assaults in the Occupy Philly space. In addition, between Oct. 6 and Nov. 11, there have been 15 EMS runs related to the Occupy Philly site.

And then last night shortly before 8 pm, a woman reported an alleged sexual assault in one of the tents. This incident is also under investigation.

These conditions are intolerable. Occupy Philly is not acting in good faith, and it’s now abundantly clear that on many levels this group is violating a range of city ordinances and the terms of their permit.

Of necessity, we are now at a critical point where we must reevaluate out entire relationship with this very changed group.

Occupy Philly has changed, so we must change our relationship with them – things have changed.

Very soon, we must prepare for the renovation project of windows in City Hall on the west side. It is a project that is vital to the safety of our city employees and Occupy Philly members who are directly below. It will require a number of tents and structures to move.

We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. As a matter of fact, I have expressed almost every day my very strong belief in many of the issues and concerns that the original Occupy Philly individuals that I met with have raised: Issues related to unemployment, poverty, bank lending, homelessness, the rights of people to express themselves.

Again, we do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. We prefer cooperation but these issues of public health and public safety must be addressed, and addressed immediately.

Misconduct is not about free speech, and the behavior we’re now seeing is running squarely into the needs of our City government that also represents the very real 99 percent. As Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, I represent the 99 percent also.

Our responsibility is bigger than Occupy Philly, our responsibility is to all of the citizens, all of our public employees, to the entire city and the region.

And so for all the reasons I’ve enumerated including public safety concerns, I have asked Police Commissioner Ramsey to increase the uniform police patrol in the area where Occupy Philly is as well as establish structured and strategic positioning and deployment of officers on a regular basis in that location as well.”

The administration has begun to build a case against Occupy Philadelphia. Nutter is also deftly using the language of the Occupy movement, in addition to his administration’s record of cooperation with the encampment, to create a rift between the occupation and the public. And at this point, the Nutter administration has the upper-hand, framing the encampment as standing in the way of construction that would benefit “the 99%”, ignoring safety concerns and even attempting to drive a wedge between this so-called “Radical Caucus” and the rest of the occupation. This is Nutter’s fight to lose at this point, and I’m concerned that the result of Friday’s vote will be problematic for the occupation. Just imagine how much more difficult it would have been for the administration and police to shut down the occupation, had they voted instead to occupy an abandoned school or clinic closed by budget cuts.

At this moment, it is difficult to see why staying at Dilworth Plaza is a good strategy.

The Project is posting a counter-point to Nutter’s press conference, which will be posted very shortly.

The Project will continue to bring you reports and editorials on the #Occupy movement, with emphasis on events from @OccupyPhilly. If you have photos, writing, artwork or music with a focus on the Occupy movement or with protest culture in general, don’t hesitate to send it to DGP. We’d love to share it with the world. Thanks so much for your continued support and and if you’re new to the Project, welcome!


Is Occupy Philadelphia Facing a Crossroads?

Occupy Philadelphia Sit-in at police headquarters. October 23rd, 2011

The march starts off right on schedule. A group of 40 or so protesters stage under the imposing shadow of City Hall at Occupy Philadelphia on October 23rd, and then cross 15th Street, winding through Center City, repeatedly chanting: “It’s a reality! Stop police brutality!” They then take the street, careful of oncoming traffic as they lock arms and maintain their path within the oncoming lane. Philadelphia Police cars escort them through the streets. Onlookers pop out of store fronts and pedestrians stop mid-stroll to record the small, vocal group as they move up Market Street past the Convention Center through Chinatown.

An Occupy Philadelphia group marches through Chinatown. October 23rd, 2011

Their purpose, eventually released in a statement later that evening, is to highlight the issue of police brutality. Protesters tell personal stories of police malfeasance: one girl talks about how she was essentially ignored by officers after she went to a police station to report that she had been sexually assaulted. Another woman, who had watched a late night news report on the protest, stops by to share another heart-wrenching story about Philadelphia police officers beating up her grandmother and son, and after realizing that they had entered the wrong house, lied about the law enforcement agency with which they were affiliated.

The protesters also include in their statement the belief that police forces across the country are used to crush nonviolent occupations, and in so doing, protect the interests of the elite. 16 are later arrested the next morning after a night long sit-in on 8th Street in front of police headquarters. It marks the Philadelphia occupation’s first act of civil disobedience since it began in early October.

The march only garnered less than a quarter of the occupation’s population. This could be chalked up to the last-minute nature of the march, and that many on site were not aware that it was National Day of Action Against Police Brutality. A low turnout isn’t necessarily surprising when these factors are taken into consideration.

Yet the controversial action highlights something of a dilemma for the occupation here in the City of Brotherly Love, and this stems from the much-lauded relationship the administration has forged with the protesters. On its face, this appears to be a very good thing. No one has been injured or killed and the city has not been disrupted in any significant way. It’s a very positive anomaly in a sea of reports about police brutality against protesters. But it may pose a problem for the growth of this movement here, as the number of occupiers appears to have leveled off and a potentially difficult winter approaches. There are some characteristics about this very different occupation worth considering.

The prevailing wisdom at Occupy Philadelphia appears to be: Do not disrupt the relationship with the authorities to avoid a crackdown and public backlash.

Oakland riot cops raid Occupy Oakland. October 25th, 2011

The history of the Occupy movement has shown, from New York City to Boston and Oakland, that nonviolently challenging police, be it through trying to hold ground staked out for occupation or other bold acts (such as taking the Brooklyn Bridge) tends to balloon the number of supporters and participants. Does this “model” work for Philadelphia, however?

Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brookyln Bridge. October 1st, 2011

It is important to note that in every case, what went hand-in-hand with this nonviolent militancy, be it New York City or Oakland, was the brutal, sometimes violent tactics the police employed against protesters. This without question horrified many Americans, which likely grew sympathy and support from the public.

I have also heard speculation from a number of protesters here at camp that the city’s largely hands-off approach to the occupation is a tactic born out of a need to influence public perception of the administration itself. This is certainly not a far-fetched theory. By not acting in a reactionary manner, it’s possible city officials have essentially contained the movement here, and left the occupation in a difficult position: Do we nonviolently escalate and risk losing public support, giving even more support to the police, or take the chance that bolder, nonviolent direct action (challenging the police in the process) might just grow the movement?

So if the Philadelphia occupation decides to become bolder–not just marching, but holding sit-ins at banks and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, as hypothetical examples–what would the police response be to such actions? One obviously can only speculate, but judging by how the police department handled the sit-in at their headquarters–allowing the protesters to stay for an astounding 18 hours–they may not employ the violent responses we’ve seen in Oakland, New York City, Boston, and other cities. Mayor Nutter is facing re-election soon and may not want to risk upsetting union support. It’s possible the administration has also taken note of what happens when occupations are antagonized, and may be fearful of major public backlash, unlike Denver, who launched one of the most brutal crackdowns since the events in Oakland. The administration’s tone may also change after Nutter’s re-election too.

Only time will tell how both the occupation and police move ahead.

The Project will continue to bring you reports and editorials on the #Occupy movement, with emphasis on events from @OccupyPhilly. If you have photos, writing, artwork or music with a focus on the Occupy movement or with protest culture in general, don’t hesitate to send it to DGP. We’d love to share it with the world. Thanks so much for your continued support and and if you’re new to the Project, welcome!


What the Occupations Have Taught Me: Lose the Fear

Taken from my cell phone while on march across Brooklyn Bridge. October 1, 2011

I groggily awaken in my sleeping bag to a sharp nudge, followed by another.

“He needs to wake up. Get up, out of the bag.”

The bag is over my head to block out the park lamp light. I hear my friend Ghost, who is mere feet away in his own bedding, reply sharply.

“Fine. Fine, I’ll wake him up.”

I sit up from my bag to see a D.C. white-shirted Park Police officer walking away. As my eyes adjust, I glance at my cell phone: 3:30 A.M. I growl a profanity. All around me, people who have boldly asserted their right to occupy McPherson Park mere blocks from the White House, are standing up per Park Police orders.

I’ve seen variations of this harassment during my two visits to Occupy Wall Street. And by this time in D.C., it was frankly grating on my nerves.

I am inexcusably fearful of giving public speeches. During my month long trip to various occupations, from Wall Street to Boston to D.C., I had observed numerous General Assemblies and the powerfully moving Peoples Mic. Yet I had never actually participated in an Assembly.

Today, however, would be different.

Later that day, I get “on stack,” which is a term used to describe the process of addressing the Assembly on specific agenda items. After two days of harassment by Park Police, the issue of whether to comply with the McPherson Park “no-sleeping” ordinance at last became an agenda item, reportedly with various opinions on the matter. Ghost, myself and others had decided before dawn that we would get arrested before obeying another order by Park Police to not sleep. I wanted to get a “temperature check,” essentially, on how people felt about defying the order.

I stand before the General Assembly now, shaking inwardly as I begin to speak to the 50 odd people sitting in the grass on this beautiful day.

“In New York, I and others witnessed–”

“IN NEW YORK, I AND OTHERS WITNESSED–” repeated the Peoples Mic (the crowd).

“Police use intimidation tactics–”

“POLICE USE INTIMIDATION TACTICS–”

“Such as random arrests of media team members–”

“SUCH AS RANDOM ARRESTS OF MEDIA TEAM MEMBERS–”

“And tearing down tarps during rainstorms, day and night–”

“AND TEARING DOWN TARPS DURING RAINSTORMS, DAY AND NIGHT–”

“To break the will of the occupiers–”

“TO BREAK THE WILL OF THE OCCUPIERS.”

I then shared my opinion that this sleeping ordinance is designed to wear us all down.

“Do not let a ridiculous sleeping ordinance trump our Constitution.”

“DO NOT LET A RIDICULOUS SLEEPING ORDINANCE TRUMP OUR CONSTITUTION!”

A banjo player in the back shot his fist up in the air and bellowed:

“WHOSE PARK?! OUR PARK!”

The Assembly broke out in whoops, magic fingers and claps.

The passionate banjo player clearly understands what much of mainstream media has failed to grasp. Enough talk about demands and one clear message. This movement is so much bigger than one or two lines the media may or may not choose to digest. At its heart, the Occupy movement is about summoning the courage to use public space to begin a revolution to not just reform a hopelessly broken system, but to create a new one. The movement is the message. And revolutions don’t start when people stay within the confines of legal and physical boundaries set up by authorities. Revolutions start when the people recognize that these paltry confines are implemented by forces who either don’t understand the democracy inherent in the First Amendment or are simply determined to maintain the status quo, and quash the spirit of a people and idea whose time has come.

We are seeing it across the country and all over the world: shortly after I left Boston, a brutal Boston Police Department raid launched when the growing occupation attempted to move to a larger space. Riot police beat up Veterans for Peace members and punched college kids. The police cut off the expansion effort to protect expensive, newly-lain grass–this directly from BPD’s own Twitter account–and the raid nonetheless destroyed much of the grass:

@Boston_Police
Boston Police Dept.
@Occupy_Boston: the Greenway Conservancy recently invested over 150k in new plantings 4 all to enjoy @ 2nd site. Pls return to original.
10 Oct via Twitter for BlackBerry®

The veneer of law and order falls away and reveals the absurdity of a morally bankrupt police state, who stray from their duty to protect and serve 1st Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, when they are called upon to crack down on the citizens whose rights they are sworn to uphold.

As occupations spring up, carrying the spirit of the 1st Amendment ignited by Occupy Wall Street with them, the crackdowns have commenced, resulting in some estimates of nearly 3,000 arrests in just under a month. Cities like Philadelphia, who have an extremely agreeable relationship with the police, have prided themselves on cooperation with police, but as Boston shows us, occupations will only be tolerated for so long. This is a battle of wills.

After the brutality in Boston, the following evening’s General Assembly, according to contacts there, had doubled. This development is indicative of a larger lesson that occupations like Boston and New York have learned: confronting the police state with nonviolent defiance grows the movement. Naturally, no better example of this exists than in New York, where protesters stood their ground in Liberty Plaza (without a permit, knowing full well that they had every right to be there under the U.S. Constitution) against continued NYPD harassment, where marchers took to the streets, Union Square and the Brooklyn Bridge, boldly but nonviolently challenging the wishes of the police. In so doing, the New York occupation has helped to eradicate the fear of standing up to authority and to assert citizens’ rights, a concept we’ve continue to lose even before President Bush, when President Clinton began the policy of “free speech zones.” But don’t take my word for it. If you don’t believe that Occupy Wall Street has made this country bolder in demanding their 1st Amendment rights be respected, just look at the direct results of their Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge victories: nearly 1,000 occupations sprung up across the country in a matter of weeks, followed by solidarity marches and occupations internationally.


Oakland Police Department attempt to stop #OccupyOakland from retaking Oscar Grant Park on the night of October 25th, 2011.

Yesterday, three American cities and a number of smaller towns launched raids against their occupations: Oakland, Atlanta, Albuquerque,and Eureka, CA. Being speculative, one may conclude that these operations were coordinated, perhaps by a federal agency. This would not stretch the imagination, as we know that the Department of Defense, for instance, considers protests “low-level terrorism” and that the Department of Homeland Security maintains an active presence at numerous occupations (I personally witnessed them in New York City as well as Philadelphia.) What isn’t speculative, however, is that the elite’s instrument of control–the police state–cannot extinguish the idea of the 1st Amendment at these occupations, as Oakland–facing tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons last night–regroups today and begins rebuilding their movement, shaken but resilient.

And so the second American revolution continues.

The Project will continue to cover the #Occupy movement as it unfolds, with some emphasis on #OccupyPhilly. Please follow us at @DavGolProject and @DustinSlaughter for updates. People who have artwork, video or writing celebrating or analyzing protest culture should feel free to submit any work to the Project, and we will gladly promote. Thanks for your continued support and for those of you new to the Project, welcome!


No Time for Sound Bytes Now: #OccupyWallStreet is its Own Message

At Liberty Plaza, New York City (CC BY SA Carwil Bjork-James)

A formidable NYPD presence holds one side of the exit ramp while an equally-large throng of soaked, defiant youth face them on the other side. I’m heading back towards the ramp after witnessing a white-shirted police supervisor commandeer a public bus, ordering the passengers off and instructing the driver to turn around and head back to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge has been shut down for over an hour now. When the bus arrives, hundreds upon hundreds will be arrested and boarded onto the bus, as well as police vans. Meanwhile, the protesters on the street begin chanting to the police: “We pay YOU! We pay YOU!” and “It’s OUR bridge. It’s OUR bridge!” as a cold, driving rain fails to dampen their spirits.

Police square off against protesters. Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Arriving four days earlier, I had hoped for, and was greatly disappointed when, a short list of demands never materialized from the occupation’s General Assembly. Repeal corporate personhood. Remove special interest money from elections. Something. Yet by the fourth day, standing at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge with this standoff, it was clear to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement had evolved.

The occupation at Liberty Plaza may outwardly appear to be just a large encampment of hundreds of tired, exuberant, unwashed people. But it’s an incredibly subversive idea. What the occupation has managed to do thus far is set up a center for agitation on Wall Street’s doorstep, while simultaneously stand up to the most militarized police force in America. In that brave act of defiance, they’ve begun the process of recapturing public space to assemble and foment resistance against a corrupt system, a public space lost to us after 9/11 (with the introduction of “free speech zones”) and just as importantly, begin to remedy the fear and cynicism so many Americans have been feeling for well over a decade now under the hand of a police state and a domestic intelligence apparatus unparalleled in American history. The Founders clearly understood that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals. Liberty Plaza is a long-overdue civics lesson.

The protesters have collectively said, simply by holding the plaza: This is OUR square, the PEOPLE’S square, and we have a right to assemble and organize a campaign against the economic and civil injustices perpetrated by the plutocrats and their tax payer-funded security service, the NYPD.

They’ve managed to pull back the curtain and expose the police state which works to protect the ruling elite’s interests at the expense of the citizens they originally took an oath to serve: CIA-trained NYPD counterintelligence squads; videotaping the faces of peaceful protesters to feed into a facial recognition database; commandeering public buses for mass arrests; entrapment; kettling and pepper spray. And perhaps the most audacious: A $4.6 million bribe, ostensibly for new laptops, given by JP Morgan to the NYPD. All of this against peaceful citizens who are the living embodiment of a wildly-popular sentiment in America since 2008: the rich and powerful in this country have gotten away with too much. When Americans demand fundamental change and refuse to rely on or even trust a thoroughly-corrupt system to achieve that change, they must begin at the root of their oppression, and it’s as simple an idea as occupying public space in the face of police intimidation.

This movement is only getting started, with many, many cities developing their own occupations. Maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps it’s time to just let this people-powered movement grow on its own, because you can’t package an idea whose time has come into one or two pithy sound bytes. As one protester told me: “It’s bigger than one or two issues because it’s not about reforming the hopelessly corrupt system we have. This is about creating a new system entirely.”

If you would like to donate to #OccupyWallStreet, visit the New York City General Assembly website.

The Project is leaving Wall Street to report on the Boston occupation, and then to Washington D.C. for the major October 6th occupation in our nation’s capital, but we can’t do it without your help. If you enjoy my work and would like to help me cover expenses such as travel, food and gear, please consider donating to the David and Goliath Project’s #Occupy Media Fund.


Faces of the Occupation: Nicki Angelo

Nicki Angelo is running the public outreach table at the Broadway Street entrance to Liberty Plaza on this overcast, humid day. Outreach is but one of 12 “working groups,” ranging from sanitation and media, to direct action and legal. She speaks with a quiet intensity when I ask her what brought her to the camp last week.

She is one of many other young people saddled with massive student loan debt–in her case, over $50,000. And like many other Americans lumped into the 9.1% unemployment rate, she hasn’t been able to find a job for two years.

I ask her what her experience has been like dealing with a public who has likely never seen anything quite like the encampment at Liberty Plaza.

“At first, we had some people walk by and say ‘Get a job, hippie.’ They called us communists.”

Yet as time went on, she tells me, and New Yorkers saw these young people’s commitment through bad weather and NYPD intimidation, remarks grew more and more encouraging. In front of her sits a sizable stack of signatures in support of the camp’s presence and of the protesters right to be there. As of last night, the camp won the neighborhood council’s endorsement also.

I ask her how long she intends to stay. She grins.

“As long as it takes.”

For more pieces from the Project on Occupy Wall Street, please subscribe to stay up to date on profiles like this one, to commentary and special reports.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


The Project is Returning to Occupy Wall Street

This weekend’s brutal and unacceptable repression of free speech and the right to peaceable assembly, including the targeted detention of citizen journalists by the NYPD, has inspired me to return to Liberty Plaza. Journalists, filmmakers and others must join the occupiers.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all Americans to be direct participants in changing the course of an historical outcome that has been dictated by the criminal financial class for far, far too long. Thousands have already begun this struggle at the doorstep of America’s financial nerve center. Many more have already started their own occupation movements in numerous American cities.

Whether you can make the trip to Lower Manhattan, join an occupation in your city, or make reasonable, sustained donations, now it’s time to help your fellow Americans carry this forward, whatever may come.

Please subscribe to the Project for on the ground updates as news from the occupation unfolds. Thank you.

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To Liberty Plaza’s Patriots: “Change the Hearts of the Oppressed” (with video)

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

“…but far more important was the effort to change the hearts of the oppressed. They needed to become unwilling to continue accepting their oppression, and to become determined to build a better society.”
– “Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

Something important is happening at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The encampment that began there on Saturday, September 17th, is a vocal and stark reminder of growing American youth discontent. Banks and other corporations are sitting on record profits and CEO salaries continue to climb at an unprecedented rate, while students and the average American worker face an anemic job market and growing economic disparity. The occupation in Lower Manhattan may be the start of a sea-change in so-called American democracy. But if it is a true change (and other organizing efforts in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, including an ongoing one in San Francisco suggest that it may be), certain things must change in order for this nonviolent revolution to be sustained and really have an effect. More on that in a moment.

I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the camp. In many ways, the camp is a world unto itself: very self-sustaining, with its own media center, food area, trash committees, etc. It’s a shining example of a cooperative community. The protesters are very open to pedestrians, quite willing to engage them in conversation, and often invite the homeless to eat the seemingly-endless supply of pizza that continues to flow in from supporters across the country. The sense that the camp’s inhabitants are making history, and that they’re fighting for a fairer, more equitable system is palpable and infectious. The NYPD is increasingly using tactical intimidation in the form of brutal harassment to quell the spirit of the protesters, as this video below shows:

There have also been unconfirmed reports of alleged agent provocateurs (not uncommon considering increased counter-terrorism activity with the help of the CIA) and ordering tents and tarps be taken down during rain storms. The resolve and courage of the protesters only seems to strengthen, however: Immediately after a police raid, for instance, a march is organized as a show of strength. The marches to “the belly of the beast,” as many protesters call Wall Street, are dismissed by outlets like CNBC, who just this morning said that the occupation will fizzle out by week’s end. Presumptions like this come off as naive because they underestimate the passion, energy and commitment these young people have for their mission.

But this begs the question: what exactly IS the mission? What exactly are the demands that Liberty Plaza wants met?

Since getting back to Philadelphia last night, I’ve been able to catch up on media stories about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some outlets capture the youth energy and thirst for change accurately, while some it seems go out of their way to downplay the significance of what’s happening in Lower Manhattan. Almost none can really zero-in on one specific demand, however. As friends and family (many of whom share this anger towards Wall Street) have told me: “I still don’t know what they want.” And that may be the most accurate part of this story thus far. Watching news reports and reading eyewitness accounts, we see brave young people marching and facing ramped-up police intimidation, but the average American watching these reports can’t latch on to one specific message.

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

Growing a movement means bringing others from different segments of society together. It quite often starts with the radical left (intellectuals and the youth), as the Egyptian revolution this year and the student-started revolution in Poland that eventually brought down the Soviet Union show us. But in order to sustain these movements, one demand or even a short list of demands must be crafted to appeal to larger segments of society. While the people in Tahrir square had a long list of grievances, from high food prices to political oppression, eventually one solid demand emerged: oust Mubarak.

As the picture above illustrates, there are a whole host of grievances at Liberty Plaza, and nearly all of them are legitimate. There is great anger at Wall Street, hence the reason for camping out mere blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. But the connection between grievances such as “Forgive student loan debt,” or “End the wars,” or even “End corporate personhood,” is lost because there is no coherent narrative to connect those demands. A sustained campaign of civil disobedience and highly-visible public marches on Wall Street is crucial and is coalescing well at the moment. If these demonstrations get bigger, however (and there is currently great momentum) one loud and clear demand to feed to the media–and to broadcast as an invitation to Americans of all stripes to join the demonstrations–can only strengthen the movement, because when whole sections of society refuse to participate or be complicit in a corrupt system, they take away the ability of rulers to exercise their power. Hence the power of a general strike, for instance.

“The internal stability of rulers can be measured by the ratio of the strength of the social forces that they control and the strength of the social forces that oppose them.”
–”Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

So, permit me to make a suggestion: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” Getting special interest money out of politics changes the whole game, and addresses a myriad of concerns expressed by not just the Liberty Plaza occupiers, but an overwhelming majority of Americans. For example:

1) Student loan debt is astronomically high in large part because of special interest money (i.e. Wall Street banks) influencing political decisions in Washington, D.C. It’s so powerful, in fact, that chronic gamblers can discharge their debt, but graduates are unable to discharge their debt. Period.

2) Our country is in a perpetual state of war due largely to the military-industrial complex (Wall Street) occupying the halls of power.

3) Corporations are allowed to pour unaccountable and unlimited amounts of money into elections because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Clarence Thomas and the Koch Brothers, anybody?

4) The state-by-state campaign to break the backs of public sector workers’ right to collectively bargain, or to disenfranchise Democratic voters? Big-moneyed (Wall Street) interests under ALEC have literally been crafting legislation in every state to perpetuate such injustices.

Monsanto at the FDA. Oil companies and climate change legislation. The list goes on and on.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” It’s a demand that speaks to all Americans. My libertarian father, myself (a democratic socialist) and my Republican friends firmly agree on the need to get money out of politics. Special interest corruption of our democratic processes IS our Mubarak. And Wall Street is a clear-cut example of the power of special interests. It’s a perfect focal point for popular rage and misery at our broken economy.

It’s time to start organizing nonviolent civil disobedience, petitions, and other efforts in order to galvanize our country into a concerted effort to make “One citizen, one dollar, one vote” not just a slogan, but a mainstay of our democracy. Some suggest legislation. Some suggest a Constitutional amendment. Whatever the solution, we need to start that conversation. Liberty Plaza, with the world watching them and support growing, is in a perfect position to push the national conversation on corruption in our government into the spotlight. I hope they do so. To learn more about how to organize this campaign in your community, visit US Day of Rage.

If you want to help those at Liberty Plaza, you can donate here.

For the latest news and analysis on what’s happening with the protests and life at the camp, visit the excellent Waging Nonviolence.


#OccupyWallStreet Activists Conduct a Trial Run, Creating More Questions than Answers (w/ video)

via Adbusters.org

On September 1st, 2011, activists organizing the upcoming September 17th Occupy Wall Street action decided they would test law enforcement response by spending the night on Wall Street “in a peaceful demonstration to confirm their Constitutional rights.”

Below is a video produced by Occupy Wall Street’s Arts Committee:

The nine activists were arrested for legally and peaceably assembling on a public sidewalk. According to a 2000 federal ruling, the use of

“public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression” is allowed on public sidewalks in New York City as long as you do not block pedestrians. See METROPOLITAN COUNCIL, INC., Plaintiff, -against- HOWARD SAFIR, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, et al., June 12, 2000 [99 F. Supp. 2d 438; 2000 U.S. Dist.]

It must be stressed that the NYPD violated these activists’ rights by arresting and detaining them. Furthermore, no permit is necessary for a prolonged assembly on a public sidewalk. The only prohibition is that there be no camping (i.e. use of tents) because that would obviously impede pedestrian travel. I’ve noticed, especially on the event sponsor’s website, encouragement to bring a tent to the event. Setting up tents is not a good idea.

The sense from one of the activists present was that the police didn’t want to arrest them, and that the order to detain them came from a higher source. This cannot be fully confirmed, and should be considered speculation, although it certainly isn’t far-fetched considering the very high probability that organizers are under surveillance (via US Day of Rage):

Citizens have been prevented from exercising their right to peaceable assemble in New York City because the force established to serve and protect civil society, the NYPD, has become a counter-intel paramilitary force. CIA training has turned their operations into one of the “most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies“. Just last week the New York’s police commissioner confirmed that a CIA officer is even working out of police headquarters.

The arrests and detentions, however, raise more questions: will the NYPD have the audacity to violate protestors rights en masse when they begin their occupation? And as Alexa O’ Brien (@carwinb), an organizer for US Day of Rage astutely pointed out to me, on a wider public relations level, can Mayor Bloomberg afford to be seen as defending Wall Street criminals from peaceful, justified public outrage at the American financial elite? The occupation will no doubt draw attention to the fact that no one on Wall Street has been prosecuted yet for crimes committed against Main Street. In addition, using taxpayer-funded police to defend major financial institutions, many of which pay absolutely nothing in taxes, is hard to justify.

Below are resources for activists in New York City, via the Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStreet) website:

Demonstrating in New York City
What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police

Please subscribe to The Project to stay up to date on the latest developments concerning the September 17th occupation, including on the ground coverage of the event that weekend.


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