Category Archives: Biography/Profile

How to Radicalize a Moderate: The story of a former OP City Liaison

Dylan Hewitt and Monica Hartlove, both of Philadelphia, participate in the Occupy Philadelphia protest in front of City Hall on October 7, 2011. Photo by Metro Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: This account is a strong example of why systems of control often times backfire. It also exposes the truth that governments often use the law to their advantage, as the author’s experiences dealing directly with the city illustrate. The allegations made in this piece can be independently corroborated. You can follow Julia Alford-Fowler on Twitter: @jalfordfowler. – D.S.

In the mind of most American citizens, local government officials exist (at least the majority of the time) to serve and answer to the people who elected them. It is within this system of accountability that we rely upon to make sure our best interests are being served. While I had a healthy amount of skepticism, this was my held view until the fall of 2011. I believed that the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and his staff were in office to protect their citizens, myself included, and that the problems of this country were for the most part the result of unchecked corporate greed on Wall Street, amid a variety of other issues.

What follows is an account of how my thinking was transformed from this moderate view of a trust in those in power into one in which my faith in our government and specifically, those who govern, was destroyed. For me, the Occupy Movement started with a purpose of giving a voice to the voiceless and a way for all of us who were angry at the state of our country to come together and create real change. I believed that this could be accomplished through dialogue and negotiations. Over the course of the two month encampment in front of City Hall in Philadelphia, I saw the necessity of the people’s voice to override the restrictions set to us by our lawmakers. I saw first hand that these lawmakers who were put into office through corporate dollars often do not serve the people who cast the ballots, but instead work to protect the interests of those who funded their campaigns. I began to ask myself the following: What makes free speech free? Is it something that falls within guidelines dictated by the government (as in such guidelines as “time, place and manner”) or is it citizens finding their voices and expressing them how they see fit, especially if they are not causing harm to another person?

At 7:00 am on October 6th, I stepped onto Dilworth Plaza full of hope, love and passion. What was sweeping our country had inspired me to throw myself head first into something I had never tried before – activism. What had happened with the NYPD at Occupy Wall Street disgusted me, but that was New York and as far as I could tell, Philadelphia was going to be different. I had already been told that the city was looking forward to working with us, that they were excited about this showcase of democracy at the footsteps of City Hall and that they wanted to present Philadelphia to the rest of the country as “The Cradle of Liberty.” All they wanted in return was a small group of people to act as liaisons with them and for us to apply for a permit. Over the course of the day, a small group of people decided that I would start out being that “liaison”.

Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. Photo from his personal Twitter account.

By 6:00 pm that day, I was sitting in the office of Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. During our conversation he said one thing in particular which struck me as unusual, but in the flurry of activity, I pushed it aside: If we get a few weeks into this and we need to boost publicity for the movement, they could help us stage an arrest.

A top-ranking city official just told me that they would be willing to set up a situation wherein 10 or so people lie down in the street and they would very politely cuff them and haul them away to jail.

In a later meeting with our small team of city liaisons, he repeated this statement and was echoed by Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and now Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff. Gillison confirmed this tactic, saying that it was something that they had done in the past and we simply needed to let them know how many people, at what time, and they would work with us to coordinate these arrests.

I should note that we never took the administration up on their offer.

Over the next two weeks I began to see a pattern in which the city was happy to have us there as long as they were able to subtly control our actions. When it came to the permit, the city was anxious for us to sign this piece of paper that would change our camp from a space that was a reclamation of public property for use by and service to the people of Philadelphia, to them granting us permission to be there under their oversight and control. Supposedly open-ended, once signed we could have access to electricity and protection from “other groups” trying to take over the space. At one point, Negrin called to warn me that we should sign immediately because the Tea Party had applied for a permit and they could only hold them off for so long. After checking around, I discovered that no one in the administration could confirm that this was the case. Once the permit was signed, we were given a long list of complaints from the city that we had to fix about the camp, which then dominated three weeks of daily General Assemblies. The pattern continued to build. As soon as we resolved one issue, the city would present us with another one, each of which would dominate endless hours of our time.

In regards to the “city liaison working group”, the General Assembly eventually voted to dissolve the working group and grant the role of communicating with the city on our behalf to the Legal Collective, which I then joined.

After the first and only meeting with the mayor and his staff, the General Assembly decided to answer the Mayor Nutter’s request for weekly meetings with a simple answer: No. We made clear that Occupy Philadelphia did not intend to cut off communication, and that continued emails and letters would be exchanged with the administration. I saw this as our group making the statement that we were going to protest on our terms, not theirs. I believed that as people of the United States, it is our right to do so. The government is supposed to be for the people and by the people. We would no longer tolerate a country in which our government’s voice is more important than that of the people who elected them. Additionally, we were demanding that all communications with the city be documented in order to protect our rights. As any meeting with the city in person was not allowed to be recorded, we refused to participate.

What happens when citizens decide they are no longer going to allow the suppression of their voices by the government? Shortly after we notified the Mayor’s office of our decision, on November 12th, there was a sexual assault at the camp. The following day, Mayor Nutter held a press conference which he used as a platform to attack Occupy Philly. He mentioned the assault in passing for only one sentence. During the conference he made the following statement, “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.” The Mayor of Philadelphia blatantly lied. All of the people that the city had worked with from day one, myself included, were still there. The only thing that had changed was that we were no longer allowing ourselves to be controlled by a system that served to protect the status quo. Incidentally, this press conference was held less than a week after the Mayor’s reelection bid was secured.

The mayor’s main complaint against Occupy Philadelphia? Sanitation. How many times have you walked through the subway and it smelled of urine? Or walked through your neighborhood and stepped around broken glass? Where is the press conference condemning these issues?

Luckily for the city, they found a new pawn in the form of a recently established group, Reasonable Solutions. In reaction to the General Assembly’s earlier decision to resist eviction, the leaders of this group set up a meeting with city officials and applied for a permit for Thomas Paine Plaza, located directly across from Dilworth Plaza. When the city handed one proposed permit to them and one to Occupy Philadelphia, it was entirely restrictive. It allowed for a single canopy tent and was limited to the hours of 9am to 7pm. In effect, it negated the purpose of our protest – no occupation. While Occupy Philadelphia submitted an appeal, Reasonable Solutions did nothing. Shortly after we were notified that our appeal had been denied, the city held a press conference to showcase Reasonable Solutions signing the new permit. This gave the city every excuse to evict us without any further negotiation. Because a group that vaguely resembled Occupy Philadelphia had been willing to sign this permit, the Mayor could now say that they had done their due diligence, and to the common observer, they had.

Within a week, the city had us evicted. Late on the night of November 29th, roughly 400 riot cops, countless bicycle cops and what I counted as eight mounted officers on horses, all assembled to challenge approximately 100 protesters. At this time there was evidence that the evictions were being coordinated by both a series of nationwide conference calls between Mayors and later calls between Police Chiefs that were set up by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The fact that this show of force to evict our camp was beyond excessive should come as no surprise given that our police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, is the President of the Board of Directors of PERF.

Protesters marching from City Hall after eviction. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

After we left the plaza following the final dispersal order, there was a group of 50 or so protesters (i.e. residents of Philadelphia) on the street and the sidewalk in front of Dilworth Plaza. At one point I turned to see the mounted police charging into the crowd, trampling the foot of a member of our media team. This incident was so shocking that my husband, who had been watching via livestream, called and pleaded with me to return home. Later, I sent the following tweet to Richard Negrin and Mayor Nutter:

Richard Negrin’s reply?

This video clearly shows the officers first moving people onto the sidewalk and then, once they are on the sidewalk, charging into the crowd and overtaking the sidewalk. Once I returned home I watched the rest of the events unfold via livestream and the ABC livefeed. What follows is the first hand account from friends who were on the scene: After this incident, the evicted protesters kept marching through the streets with chants of “You can’t evict an idea!”. As the march was beginning to wind down, the police kettled in half of the crowd, abused several of the marchers, including an African-American male who was punched in the kidney multiple times. Even if the kettled marchers were given a dispersal order, which they were not, they had no means of leaving. Instead they were told to get on the sidewalk or they would be arrested. They got on the sidewalk and were subsequently arrested.

When I started working with the city, I saw a purpose to it. I saw a chance to create dialogue between people that normally wouldn’t talk to each other and through these conversations we could create real change. Unfortunately, the conversations were short lived. Our General Assemblies were more often than not dominated with discussions about how to respond to the city and how to keep the tenuous relationship peaceful. We were acting out of fear, fear that what had been brought down on the heads of our compatriots in other cities would be brought down on ours. We forgot the golden rule of democracy, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

From the beginning I made it my maxim that I would work with the city until they harmed my people. Early in the morning of November 30th, they harmed my people. I awoke to the fact that this sort of abuse of power had been occurring throughout this city, country and world for centuries and I was just beginning to join a fight that was vital, powerful, terrifying and righteous. While I may never understand what it is to risk my life in Syria, or to be threatened by police in the poorest neighborhoods in this country because of my skin color, I now see the danger of any government which has more power than that of its people. There is an inherent necessity for all of us to rise up, stand together, and make our voices heard through action.

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Activist Spotlight: 9/11 Researcher Jon Gold

Jon Gold engaged in civil disobedience at the White House, January 31st 2011

I first began following Jon Gold’s (@911JusticeNow) work in late 2003. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq galvanized me from apathy to a newfound political consciousness, and I soon discovered his work on one of the first websites questioning the official theory of 9/11. What impressed me about his research was that he was deeply committed to using verifiable facts found in mainstream news articles and reports. But perhaps what stands out most about his activism is his unwavering support for the first responders. He was made “Honorary Director” of the FealGood Foundation. He describes himself as “an American trying to make a difference.”

What was the first discrepancy, or discrepancies, that moved you to begin researching the hidden history of 9/11, and how long have you been involved with it ever since?

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that Dick Cheney and George Bush went to Tom Daschle’s office, and asked him to “limit the scope” of the Congressional Inquiry into 9/11. At the time I thought, “why would the President and Vice President, of all people, not want to know exactly how and why this happened, so as to make sure it could never happen again?” After 9/11, we were told repeatedly that there were no warnings, that no one had any idea that anything like that could happen. Then in May 2002, news of the August 6th, 2001 PDB entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike In US” was reported on. That was a “warning.” Once I saw that we were being lied to, I was “off to the races.”

If there were just three facts that discredit the official theory that you feel people must know, what would be those facts?

There were a multitude of warnings, and a lot more known about the hijackers by our Government, prior to 9/11, than the public has been led to believe. The investigations we got into 9/11, in my view, were compromised and corrupt. Especially the 9/11 Commission, which was led by Philip Zelikow. We were told that the source of the funding was “ultimately of little practical significance.” There are indications that some of the money was connected to Prince Bandar’s [of Saudi Arabia] wife. That’s significant. There are indications that some of the money came from Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh at the behest of Lt. General Mahmood Ahmed of the Pakistani ISI. That is significant.

What have been some of the biggest or most intriguing revelations to surface within the past couple of years?

That the 9/11 Commission considered referring NORAD to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation because of the lies they told to the 9/11 Commission. That 9/11 Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds said Osama Bin Laden had “intimate relations” with the U.S. up until 9/11. The multitude of whistleblowers that were ignored and censored by the 9/11 Commission. There were “Government Minders” that intimidated witnesses before the 9/11 Commission, and in some cases, answered questions for witnesses. That a complete outline of the final report of the 9/11 Commission was written by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow before the 9/11 Commission’s investigation even began. That Philip Zelikow may have been taking direction from Karl Rove. That’s really off the top of my head, but there is so much more.

We’ve both talked about our respect for the film 9/11: Press for Truth. Can you talk about why that film is such an important document about the hidden history of 9/11? Would you recommend it as an introduction to people just starting to question the official theory?

When Kyle Hence told me he was working on the film, I was extremely excited. It was going to tell the story of my heroes, the Jersey Girls, and it was going to be based on the work of someone that greatly influenced me, Paul Thompson. Nothing could be better in my opinion. When Kyle told me he needed money to finish the film, within a few minutes after he told me, I asked my father to loan me the money so they could finish the film. I didn’t hesitate for a second because I knew this was going to be an important documentary. The film is clearly one of the most important documentaries of our generation. It tells the story of the cover-up from the perspective of those who lost the most that day. It completely obliterates the legitimacy of the 9/11 Commission in the first 30 minutes. It shows the basic inconsistencies in the “official account.” I have always thought this documentary was the best tool for activists. In my opinion, 9/11 activists should show this film to people before anything else if they want to be taken seriously.

Will you talk about why (if you agree with this assertion, of course) the movement to question the official theory and uncover the truth hasn’t gained more traction in America, and why it seems to have made more headway in other parts of the world?

Well, the “9/11 Truth Movement” did gain some momentum in 2005-2006. But the “media” decided to focus on the fringiest of the fringe. As a result, we weren’t taken seriously. The “media” overall, has done its best over the years to paint us as conspiracy theorists, as crazy, as unpatriotic, as terrorist sympathizers, as terrorists, as holocaust denying murderers, etc… and so on. No one wants to associate with us. The media’s campaign to tarnish anyone that questions the official account of 9/11 has been extremely successful. People are dying in the Middle East, so it would make sense for people in the Middle East to question the official account of 9/11. As far as parts of the world outside the United States that question the official account, that aren’t directly affected by America’s occupations… they probably have better media than the U.S.

We now know from various news reports that the U.S. security state has turned its attention inward to spy on American activists as well as potential foreign enemies living in the country. Homeland Security was seen monitoring a peaceful BART protest in San Francisco the other night, and they’re also likely monitoring organizers and participants involved with US Day of Rage’s upcoming occupation of Wall Street, based on a bulletin released recently. Can you talk about how 9/11 has eroded the freedoms America used to cherish, and do you think we’ve allowed the 9/11 tragedy to get the best of us? Is there hope of beating the security state and regaining our civil liberties?

Expose the 9/11 Cover-Up, and I believe that everything that happened as a result of that day, will stop, or be reversed. The occupations will end, and the majority of legislation written that takes away our civil liberties will be reversed. Peace of the Action, the group Cindy Sheehan founded that I am apart of, was spied on by the Institute Of Terrorism Research And Response. I was spied on before I committed civil disobedience at the White House for 9/11 Justice. I assume I was spied on because when I got there, a cop asked me “are you Jon Gold? Are you still planning on chaining yourself to the White House fence?” There are many examples of liberties lost since 9/11. Look at the TSA, look at the wiretapping of phones, look at free speech zones, etc… Again, expose the damn 9/11 Cover-Up.

Would you care to offer any sort of narrative regarding what you think happened on 9/11, based on the extensive research you’ve conducted over all these years?

I don’t know what happened on 9/11, or who was ultimately responsible. That’s the problem. I have an idea, but I don’t know. Everyone has theories about what happened that day. Some are ridiculous and far-fetched, and others aren’t. However, without a real criminal investigation, we just don’t know. I believe 9/11 was a crime as opposed to an act of war, and as with every crime, there are suspects for that crime. In my opinion, elements within our Government and others have MORE THAN EARNED the title of suspect for the crime of 9/11.

How do you suggest people get involved in the struggle for 9/11 accountability?

By telling the next person until we have a majority of people. We can’t do shit with the system we have.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Since today is 9/11, I’d just like to say that I hope the families that lost someone that day have the easiest day possible. I hope the responders that were down there are honored, and that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act is made to include cancer for the coverage it gives.

Jon Gold (@911JusticeNow) is a prolific contributor to sites such as 9/11 Truth News, History Commons, Peace of the Action, Secrecy Kills and helped fund the film 9/11: Press for Truth.

http://www.peaceoftheaction.net


Esther Phillips: A Self-Designed Life

Lisa Miles: Dustin recently asked me to contribute to the Project, and I was humbled by his kind introduction to my essay about Artists and the WPA. What informed that work was the life of Esther Phillips, my own as an artist, and the many others I know like her and I, who fiercely adhere to an inner compass.

Esther Phillips was an artist who endured much hardship, including institutionalization, just so she could pursue a life of painting. Her paintings explored the essential physicality of the human figure, the city street, the outdoors–all in broad strokes, muted earthy palettes, and reminiscent of Milton Avery and Doris Lee. Esther’s life story, however, is really the tale of many forgotten artists, throughout history, and working unto this day.

She made Greenwich Village her home in 1936 and never came back to her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But what would surface was pieces of her story, making themselves known through decades of correspondence and speculation among friends, as well as through her paintings, which did return. In the Village, Esther lived very minimally, but very committed to this way of artistic life. She would write of “the stark tragedy of trying to exist on nothing.”

Upon falling ill, she was institutionalized for over six years in the small town of Wingdale, in eastern New York. There she would commence the prolific painting activities that would always make up her life, producing canvases that portrayed her otherworldly existence at the time– women playing cards and bowling, and dancing around half-dressed in day-rooms. Then upon Esther’s release to post WWII America, returning to the transient living in the harbor that was the Village, she once again attempted to cope with a larger society that did not recognize artistic efforts, despite the ‘late 30s Federal Arts Projects (WPA), yet at the time played up (and ultimately ‘played with’) the success of the male Abstract Expressionists.

Esther wrote constantly to woman writer Merle Hoyleman, a dear friend from Pittsburgh, and an agent of sorts for her art. The diligence she expended on both is startlingly apparent in letters to Esther and those she successfully marketed to, and also in scores of journals that reveal the intensity of her own creative life. And the effects of fellow Village artist Eugenia Hughes, in the New York Public Library, illustrate another remarkable bond of friendship that survived adversity. They alone spin a tale– perhaps the greatest find among them, which includes everything from actual art work of Esther and “Jerry,” source material on the famed personalities of the Village, and diaries galore, are original copies of letters Esther wrote while institutionalized.

“I felt a vague, strange, and then real impulse to write you–knowing or rather remembering that you had written to the doctor. I still feel almost no hope for myself…but what I want Jerry is this–my watercolor box & 2 good brushes….”

Later in life, Esther gave entertaining portraits to a young niece of the lascivious Village, and a peek into the inner-relationships among the lucky few who would reach fame as Abstract Expressionists, and those who did not, as most of the rest of the Village artists. Esther’s very voice also eerily arises from institution documents. “Patient was asked why she didn’t go in dining room to work this a.m. and patient very sarcastic. “This God Damn place is enough to make patients sick.’” And Esther’s treatment from the institution director was most unusual. For, upon seeing her talent (and hearing incessantly from Merle Hoyleman), Dr. Alfred M. Stanley of Harlem Valley Hospital provided means for Esther to sell back in Pittsburgh.

The intensity and commitment Esther placed on the creative way of life was the same as with the equally vibrant individuals who lived creatively in her world. But Esther slowly lost her sight toward the end of her life. One of her closest friends from the 1950’s, Edward Kinchley Evans, felt that Esther Phillips’ blindness was a “self-inflicted sorrow wound,” essentially because the world would not view her and her friends’ work as meaningful.

Despite all obstacles, Esther had managed to make her own world through that which she was most able and passionate about, her art. She was not selfish or self-absorbed, she was simply self-aware. She (and most current-day American artists) had no health insurance, no pension, and never adequate income– forever under-employed. But her professed occupation, when queried at the institution, was “artist.” Little matter society doesn’t really consider “artist” an occupation as much as a sparingly-decorated frivolity.

Esther very determinedly chose to embrace and cultivate an individual essence that she recognized within herself, going passionately after a self-designed life. Like Esther, creative artists the world over– who are committed to creation of an outer life that is attuned to the inner– have so much to teach others. Sadly, mainstream America, at least, doesn’t want to think about creativity, or worse yet, critically examine the conditions and constraints under which creative people usually live.

For more on Esther and other pieces by Lisa Miles, visit her website.


An Early American Class Warrior: William H. Sylvis

William H. Sylvis was born on November 26th, 1828 in Armaugh, PA, the son of a wagon-maker. The New York Sun wrote of him: “…[he] never went to school six days in his life,” but he “could not long remain in the bondage of ignorance” because “perseverance and determination are as plainly written in his countenance as if the words were penned there with indelible ink.” This determination and perseverance made Sylvis America’s first national labor leader.

While many of the Iron Molders’ International were at war, Sylvis assumed charge of the organization, and in fact saved it after its financial officer was killed in combat, and he did this by taking “three lengthy organizing trips he made to the South, the Midwest, and Northeast, covering ten thousand miles,” according to Philip Dray, author of the comprehensive and essential There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America:

“He wore clothes until they became quite threadbare and he could wear them no longer,” his brother recalled of Sylvis’ wanderings. “The shawl he wore to the day of his death…was filled with little holes burned there by the splashing of molten iron from the ladles of molders in strange cities, whom he was beseeshing to organize.”

He often slept in train cars and neglected his wife and children by being away for such long periods of time, and quite frequently pushed his health to the limits, often stricken with nerve and gastrointestinal problems. “He drove himself feverishly, consumed with the prophecy he spread.” Sylvis was a man uniquely-suited to the task of creating the National Labor Union, America’s first national labor federation, in 1866.

The NLU was “dedicated not to any specific trade but to all, to the cause of labor itself, to both skilled and unskilled workers, as well as to farmers, women, and African Americans.” Sylvis’ NLU fought hardest for the eight hour work day, which he “embraced as a moral crusade.”

His love for the working class, and his acute awareness of capital’s class warfare on labor, were often conveyed through his fiery speeches and frequent indignation. “His bright blue eyes seemed to flare with hotness when he was angry, which was most of the time,” it was observed once. His attitude towards the elite and their control over workers might best be summed up with this:

“If workingmen and capitalists are equal co-partners, why do they not share equally in the profits? he demanded. “Why does capital take to itself the whole loaf, while labor is left to gather up the crumbs? Why does capital roll in luxury and wealth, while labor is left to eke out a miserable existence in poverty and want? Are these the evidences of an identity of interests, of mutual relations, of equal partnership? No…on the contrary they are evidences of an antagonism…a never-ending conflict between the two classes, [where] capital is in all cases the aggressor.”

How true those words ring today, when labor is under attack with an intensity not seen in years.