Category Archives: Call to Action

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Last night, the Occupy Wall Street movement released what is presumably their stated aim for a continuing occupation of Manhattan’s financial district. The action is now entering it’s 14th day, and is showing no signs of slowing.

The statement in full:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.

We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. 

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them. They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges visits Liberty Plaza, NYC

Chris Hedges sits down with New York City Revolution Media via Livestream to discuss the need for American nonviolent radicalism, capitalism in its death throes, the challenges that lie ahead, and essential titles to read.

“Acts of violence are exactly how The State wants us to react, they know what to do with that. They don’t really know what to do with this.”

Day 10 of the occupation.

Chris Hedges Interview at Occupy Wall Street (Part 1 of 2)

Chris Hedges Interview at Occupy Wall Street (Part 2 of 2)

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/

“…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/

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.

Al-Jazeera Presents: The Economics of Happiness

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley recently co-hosted a conference on happiness and economics--EPA

Editor’s note: As potentially thousands of Americans prepare to descend on Wall Street this weekend, and many others plan their own demonstrations and occupations in other parts of the country, I’m sure many of us are thinking about the kind of country we want to live in. Is it a country that values “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?” I think that’s what many of us are struggling for every day, but cannot realize because of a dysfunctional, corrupt system dominated by overwhelming corporate power over our government. I post this piece as a tribute to the many who are heading to Lower Manhattan to begin the first occupation of Wall Street in American history, and in so doing begin to help our fellow Americans realize a true economics of happiness, not a false consumer-based one–something we haven’t seen in a very, very long time.

In Bhutan, national policy emphasizes increasing people’s happiness, rather than income.

By Jeffrey Sachs
Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University

We live in a time of high anxiety. Despite the world’s unprecedented total wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest, and dissatisfaction. In the United States, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is “on the wrong track”. Pessimism has soared. The same is true in many other places.

Against this backdrop, the time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other goals.

In this respect, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has been leading the way. Forty years ago, Bhutan’s fourth king, young and newly installed, made a remarkable choice: Bhutan should pursue “gross national happiness” (GNH) rather than gross national product. Since then, the country has been experimenting with an alternative, holistic approach to development that emphasises not only economic growth, but also culture, mental health, compassion, and community.

Dozens of experts recently gathered in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to take stock of the country’s record. I was co-host with Bhutan’s prime minister, Jigme Thinley, a leader in sustainable development and a great champion of the concept of “GNH”. We assembled in the wake of a declaration in July by the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to examine how national policies can promote happiness in their societies.

All who gathered in Thimphu agreed on the importance of pursuing happiness rather than pursuing national income. The question we examined is how to achieve happiness in a world that is characterised by rapid urbanisation, mass media, global capitalism, and environmental degradation. How can our economic life be re-ordered to recreate a sense of community, trust, and environmental sustainability?

Here are some of the initial conclusions. First, we should not denigrate the value of economic progress. When people are hungry, deprived of basic needs such as clean water, health care, and education, and without meaningful employment, they suffer. Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.

Second, relentless pursuit of GNP to the exclusion of other goals is also no path to happiness. In the US, GNP has risen sharply in the past 40 years, but happiness has not. Instead, single-minded pursuit of GNP has led to great inequalities of wealth and power, fueled the growth of a vast underclass, trapped millions of children in poverty, and caused serious environmental degradation.

Third, happiness is achieved through a balanced approach to life by both individuals and societies. As individuals, we are unhappy if we are denied our basic material needs, but we are also unhappy if the pursuit of higher incomes replaces our focus on family, friends, community, compassion, and maintaining internal balance. As a society, it is one thing to organise economic policies to keep living standards on the rise, but quite another to subordinate all of society’s values to the pursuit of profit.

Yet politics in the US has increasingly allowed corporate profits to dominate all other aspirations: fairness, justice, trust, physical and mental health, and environmental sustainability. Corporate campaign contributions increasingly undermine the democratic process, with the blessing of the US Supreme Court.

Fourth, global capitalism presents many direct threats to happiness. It is destroying the natural environment through climate change and other kinds of pollution, while a relentless stream of oil-industry propaganda keeps many people ignorant of this. It is weakening social trust and mental stability, with the prevalence of clinical depression apparently on the rise. The mass media have become outlets for corporate “messaging”, much of it overtly anti-scientific, and Americans suffer from an increasing range of consumer addictions.

Consider how the fast-food industry uses oils, fats, sugar, and other addictive ingredients to create an unhealthy dependency on foods that contribute to obesity. One-third of all Americans are now obese. The rest of the world will eventually follow unless countries restrict dangerous corporate practices, including advertising unhealthy and addictive foods to young children.

The problem is not just foods. Mass advertising is contributing to many other consumer addictions that imply large public-health costs, including excessive TV watching, gambling, drug use, cigarette smoking, and alcoholism.

Fifth, to promote happiness, we must identify the many factors other than GNP that can raise or lower society’s well-being. Most countries invest to measure GNP, but spend little to identify the sources of poor health (like fast foods and excessive TV watching), declining social trust, and environmental degradation. Once we understand these factors, we can act.

The mad pursuit of corporate profits is threatening us all. To be sure, we should support economic growth and development, but only in a broader context: one that promotes environmental sustainability and the values of compassion and honesty that are required for social trust. The search for happiness should not be confined to the beautiful mountain kingdom of Bhutan.

This is cross-posted on Al-Jazeera English.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0) by Al-Jazeera English.

The Security State is Watching, but the Peaceful Revolution Must Continue.

Department of Homeland Security Police at a peaceful San Francisco BART protest on August 29th, 2011..

When nonviolent demonstrations (like occupying a public sidewalk) and online civil disobedience (like crashing a website) against Wall Street’s crimes and the hijacking of American democracy by big-moneyed interests strike fear into the U.S. security state, it only makes those demonstrations more relevant and necessary. The mere act of challenging institutional corruption and the security apparatus which protects that corruption, shines a light on that which needs changing, and creates possibilities for reform.

The Department of Homeland Security (@DHSJournal) issued a bulletin this month:

The bulletin, issued by the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), warns financial services companies especially to be on the lookout for attempts by Anonymous to “solicit ideologically dissatisfied, sympathetic employees” to their cause…The DHS alert also warns of three cyber attacks and civil protests it says are planned by Anonymous and affiliated groups.

The bulletin shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the same security bureaucracy that was ostensibly created to protect us from terrorists has, over the years, crept into other areas of American life. This is a natural phenomenon of any police state, a sort of “mission creep,” if you will. Here are some examples, and by no means is this list exhaustive:

1) The CIA has been actively working with the NYPD (via US Day of Rage, et al.):

Citizens have been prevented from exercising their right to peaceable assembly 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.”

2) The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring protests against Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an organization that video has captured committing egregious acts of police brutality and, with the help of telecom companies, had shut down cell communication of activists there.

3) The Justice Department has been arresting and prosecuting members of Anonymous for what some call a form of online civil disobedience, but has failed to start even one investigation into Wall Street’s criminal activity. Any alleged crimes Anonymous may have committed pale in comparison to the havoc wreaked on America in 2008 by casino capitalism.

4) The security state goes far beyond just the FBI, DHS and CIA, however:

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security [emphasis mine] and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

According to the DHS and other agencies, Anonymous and US Day of Rage now fall under the auspices of “homeland security.” Where does this “mission creep” end? Habeus corpus has effectively been eradicated for anyone deemed a “security threat.” Think about that.

The demonstrations planned for September 17th represent nothing less than the first direct, unflinching challenge to the hijacking of American democracy in recent memory. Remember that Wall Street’s power over this country’s politics has largely gone unchecked. No prosecutions of the Street’s criminal class have occurred. Indeed, they’ve corrupted institutions like the SEC, which was created to monitor and regulate the financial sector. And to make matters worse, the Obama administration is going out of its way to avoid investigations into Wall Street malfeasance. Large corporations are now able to pour unaccounted amounts of money into elections, effectively drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. The writing is on the wall: We are rapidly losing our democracy to corporations and other special interests, and they are being aided and abetted by a sprawling security state that protects the elite while limiting dissent.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” That is US Day of Rage’s simple demand. And it is this crucially important idea that has the U.S. security state sending out bulletins to the very criminal class that has, until now, gotten away with barely a slap on the wrist. It is because of this that the peaceful revolution to restore power to We the People must continue. September 17th, 2011 isn’t just about Wall Street. It’s about challenging an utterly dysfunctional, corrupt system, a system with a security apparatus which seeks to protect the real threat to national security: the Too Big to Fail banks and financial institutions in Lower Manhattan that brought down the American economy.

For more information on the alarming expansion of the U.S. security state, visit: Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the “Homeland”, a comprehensive collection of investigative journalism by Truthout in cooperation with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

For the latest updates on US Day of Rage’s peaceful occupation strategy for September 17th, 2011, visit here.

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. Videographers who would like to commit to recording and producing a short film of any of the actions taking place across the country, please contact the Project.

No Missiles, Holograms or Demolitions: “9/11: Press for Truth” Asks Legitimate Questions

New York, 11 September 2001. Photograph: Hubert Michael Boesl/EPA

“This is a scandal of tremendous proportions. It makes Watergate look small. There’s a strange lack of interest from people both on the left, and the right. Nobody seems to want to uncover leads and follow them where ever they may go, because I think it goes to a lot of very damaging places.”Paul Thompson, author of The Terror Timeline

People who question the official narrative of September 11th, 2001 are often chastised as being “Bush-bashers” or utter lunatics. I’ve suffered all of these accusations at one time or another while spending nearly six years pursuing my own line of inquiry. And while I haven’t arrived at many, if any, answers, I do know that the official line is simply not possible, and is insulting. I hasten to add that blaming Bush for orchestrating the attacks is incredibly shortsighted and naive, because it fails to take into account the vast military-industrial-intelligence complex that has built up rapidly since the days of President Eisenhower. I doubt I’ll know the full story within my lifetime. But with each year that passes, more and more comes to light. And as far as lunacy, there is certainly plenty of unfounded and downright ridiculous theories out there regarding what happened that fateful September morning. What is sadly (and dangerously) overlooked are very real and very substantiated facts that have been overlooked and never tied together.

Ray Nowosielski’s documentary 9/11: Press for Truth helps people who have always had lingering doubts about America’s greatest tragedy consider an alternate story, one that encourages the thinker to truly question why our government has lied to us and led us into bloody, tragic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and created an increasingly alarming security state that, ostensibly, was for protecting Americans from terrorists but now monitors activists involved in Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) protests and nonviolent demonstrations planned on Wall Street for September 17th. It’s not about red herrings like controlled demolitions, a missile hitting the Pentagon, or holograms. It’s about actual documented evidence from mainstream news sources that have often been overlooked or ignored altogether.

Consider just three of the many points that this film raises (via

Pakistani Connection – Congressional Connection
a. The Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, creator of the Taliban and close ally to both the CIA and “al-Qaeda,” allegedly wired $100,000 to Mohamed Atta [the alleged lead hijacker] just prior to September 11th, reportedly through the ISI asset Omar Saeed Sheikh (later arrested for the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was investigating ISI connections to “al-Qaeda.”)
b. This was ignored by the congressional 9/11 investigation, although the senator and congressman who ran the probe (Bob Graham and Porter Goss) were meeting with the ISI chief, Mahmud Ahmed, on Capitol Hill on the morning of September 11th.
c. About 25 percent of the report of the Congressional Joint Inquiry was redacted, including long passages regarding how the attack (or the network allegedly behind it) was financed. Graham later said foreign allies were involved in financing the alleged terror network, but that this would only come out in 30 years.

What did officials know? How did they know it?
a. Multiple allied foreign agencies informed the US government of a coming attack in detail, including the manner and likely targets of the attack, the name of the operation (the “Big Wedding”), and the names of certain men later identified as being among the perpetrators.
b. Various individuals came into possession of specific advance knowledge, and some of them tried to warn the US prior to September 11th.
c. Certain prominent persons received warnings not to fly on the week or on the day of September 11th.

Obstruction of FBI Investigations prior to 9/11
A group of FBI officials in New York systematically suppressed field investigations of potential terrorists that might have uncovered the alleged hijackers – as the Moussaoui case once again showed. The stories of Sibel Edmonds, Robert Wright, Coleen Rowley and Harry Samit, the “Phoenix Memo,” David Schippers, the 199i orders restricting investigations, the Bush administration”s order to back off the Bin Ladin family, the reaction to the “Bojinka” plot, and John O”Neil do not, when considered in sum, indicate mere incompetence, but high-level corruption and protection of criminal networks, including the network of the alleged 9/11 conspirators. (Nearly all of these examples were omitted from or relegated to fleeting footnotes in The 9/11 Commission Report.)

The film’s heroines are “The Jersey Girls“, who spearheaded the call for an investigation into 9/11. Had it not been for their persistence and irreverent attitude towards those in power, the 9/11 Commission would never have been formed.

From Michael Collins’ review of 9/11: Press for Truth:

Their demands for a thorough investigation, the many unanswered questions, and the resistance of the information gatekeepers form the narrative that carries the film forward. The twists and turns offer a fascinating and compelling collection of major stories (or dots) that have never been connected.

As the reputable and comprehensive website 9/11 Truth News, an editor (Jon Gold) from which I will be publishing an interview with this coming week, astutely notes:

“…this movement, at it’s most basic, is about people learning for themselves about very solid facts and developing their own curiosity and skepticism.”

And now, the Project is proud to present 9/11: Press for Truth:

American Students Should Take a Page from the Chilean Uprising

The strike by Chilean workers, students and citizens begins peacefully in Santiago. Photograph: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

“In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010

Chilean society has been rocked by over three months of protests, beginning as a student uprising demanding affordable education and culminating in workers, environmentalists, LGBT rights activists, and others demanding reforms ranging from “building electric dams in Patagonia to improving education.”

The unrest began when students started taking to the streets en masse to demand “the elimination of a voucher system that supports private universities and demanding free, higher quality education at public universities.” The student revolt’s de facto leader, as it were, is Camilla Vallejo (@camila_vallejo) who has come to be known as “Commander Camila”. According to The Guardian, Vallejo has the ability to shut down whole sections of Santiago. Her call for better, cheaper education, has galvanized nothing less than a major populist uprising:

“Her press conferences can lead to the sacking of a minister. The street marches she leads shut down sections of the Chilean capital. She has the government on the run, and now even has police protection after receiving death threats.

Yet six months ago, no one had heard of Camila Vallejo, the 23-year-old spearheading an uprising that has shaken not only the presidency of the billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, but the entire Chilean political class.”

Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo sits among a peace sign created from empty teargas canisters used by police against protesters. Photograph: Roberto Candia/AP

And now, incredibly, student leaders and teachers’ union leaders met with President Pinera for the first time this past Saturday. While both sides found the talks productive, there hasn’t been an agreement on affordable education hammered out yet.

Let’s turn to America now.

Student loan debt is projected to reach $1 trillion by June of 2012. An unjust and downright punitive student loan debt system exists for borrowers, locking them out of discharging their debt in bankruptcy and bringing the full force of the Department of Education down on people who default. This is the same government that ensures that lenders get their money paid back in full (subsidized student loans) and then come after the financially crippled for the bank’s profit. There is much more to be outraged about with this immoral system that ensnares the newly graduated, trapping them in a twisted sort of indentured servitude to a profit-driven education industry. Many of you are probably acutely aware of just how disgusting our higher education system has become, however, as default rates have skyrocketed–and the numbers available are likely conservative, and represent for-profit colleges only. Private college graduate default rates aren’t publicly available.

Where’s the mass outrage on campuses over obscene tuition hikes? Why aren’t graduates organizing to fight back against the lack of protections for people who are forced to default? I asked higher education justice advocate Cryn Johannsen (@cjohanns), founder of All Education Matters, why America (despite massive income inequality rivaling Rwanda and Nepal, a worsening economic outlook, and a more dysfunctional education system that leaves graduates tens of thousands of dollars in debt after graduation) isn’t seeing an uprising even approaching what Chile is experiencing:

“There have been numerous protests this past year, especially in response to tuition hikes. Much like the poor coverage of protests in Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as the protests against harsh immigration laws in Georgia and elsewhere, corporate media fails to cover these stories.”

And while it’s true that there have been a number of protests related to tuition hikes, as well as push-back against state-by-state education budget cuts (not to mention Pell grants on the federal level), one wonders what it will take to get students organized to push back against the tyranny of the higher education system as a whole. Perhaps inconsistent mainstream coverage of student protests contributes to a lack of momentum, much like the town of Budros in the Palestinian territories was experiencing, until independent media began to spread the word about their nonviolent resistance movement (which in turn galvanized other towns.) It’s more complicated than that, of course, but it can’t be denied that political ideas and movements snowball when attention is paid to them, and their popularity increases.

Johannsen continues:

“Just like other groups and facets of U.S. society, students have been depoliticized here. Instead of being citizens, they are repackaged as “consumers.” The language is key. People lose a sense of what they belong to, especially when they are rarely, if ever, referred to as citizens. That means civic engagement is undermined by the constant barrage of messages to consume.”

The scourge of consumption is certainly one factor of many to consider in the depoliticization of America’s student population. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Chris Hedges writes eloquently of the depoliticization of American universities, which were once hotbeds of resistance and critical thought. Thanks to people like Johannsen, the lack of consumer protections for student borrowers is starting to be examined in Washington D.C., although predictably there are powerful interests vested in maintaining the status-quo when it comes to the student loan industry: the industry as a whole has spent over $62 million lobbying Congress over the past decade.

Perhaps as austerity sets in, and many of these education cuts really go into effect, students will see the inequity of continually-rising tuition while educational resources dwindle due to draconian budget cuts–and perhaps that will be the moment when the spark is lit. After all, it took Chile three months to really gather the numbers that made the country’s political elite sit up and take notice–and discontent was brewing long before protests broke out into the street, undoubtedly. America may just take a little longer, right?

Young demonstrators run away from police on horseback. Photograph: Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters

Hey, Documentary Filmmakers! We Need YOU on September 17th–and Beyond (with video)

Saturday, September 17th will be a new page in American history, as pockets of Americans from Wall Street in Lower Manhattan to Los Angeles (and numerous points of light in between) rise up nonviolently to protest, occupy public spaces, and declare one simple demand: “One Citizen. One Dollar. One Vote.” The planned non-violent direct action in Lower Manhattan will be the first attempted occupation of Wall Street in American history.

But don’t count on this historic day being televised. That’s why your help is needed. Do you have a digital video camera and a good microphone? Sure, there will be plenty of cell phone cameras, but good video with quality sound are very important. Video is crucial for a number of reasons, in case you didn’t know:

1) Monitoring police interaction with activists makes it less likely that law enforcement officials will deviate from procedural rules and violate the civil rights of nonviolent activists.

2) Filmmakers bear witness by recording and, with the help of social media networks, amplifying the voices of activists. More on recording events below.

3) Filmmakers aren’t just observers of historical events–they’re active participants. Just as the late Howard Zinn once urged scholars to engage, to take a side, in matters of social and economic justice, so do filmmakers have a duty to stand up and fight with image and sound for a better, more just and equitable society. The cult of objectivity can do little to cure injustice.

General Tips for Recording Events:

For those of you shooting on cell phones, it’s probably not necessary for you to read this. It’s crucial, however, that you monitor police interaction with protestors, as well as any provocateurs attempting to incite violence. Remember too: you have every right to film the police, even if they tell you to stop.

With that out of the way, below are some guidelines and instructions on how to create a short film for online distribution that will keep your audience engaged. You will need editing software.

1) Make a list of shots you want to get before heading to the scene. This might include establishing shots of street signs (to give the audience an idea of where the event took place), wide shots of protesters marching down the street, as well as chants, signage, and public reactions. You’ll also want to interview people and ask them their personal reason(s) for being at the event. And lastly, an old rule in documentary filmmaking: It’s important to get as much b-roll (non-interview shots) as possible, so it’s not one interview after another. Intersperse this b-roll to put some space between interviews. If you decide to put narration in later, you’ll also be glad you shot additional footage for the narration to go over. The information from your interviews is important, as will the narration be (if you decide to use this), and making it as aesthetically palatable as possible is just as important.

2) When editing, keeping the film to under five minutes (three minutes or so is optimal length) is important. Most viewers will usually click away to other things after this. And if you’re going to include narration (good for conveying facts, such as: “Protestors are organizing in part because of Wall Street’s stranglehold on agencies such as the SEC, which has failed repeatedly to regulate powerful corporations…”) it’s usually a good idea to write the narration after you have the film close to finished.

3) Finally: once you’ve posted the video on You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, send it to online outlets such as the The David and Goliath Project, GRITtv, The Public Record, and others. They’re always hungry for well-produced, aggressive short films. The key is to get your work into circulation. And with enough of us putting material out there, the message activists are trying to convey on September 17th (and beyond) will be amplified exponentially with the help of activist filmmakers like you and I.

If you plan to commit to documenting the US Day of Rage, please email The Project or US Day of Rage (site down for maintenance until September 2nd) with the following so we can begin creating a list of contacts:

1) Your name, city and relevant contact information;

2) Whether you’ll be using a digital video camera or cell phone;

3) Whether you’d be willing/able to UStream with a laptop computer and webcam, or cell phone (laptop preferable for connectivity issues.)

In case you want a short film example using guidelines I listed above, this film documents a health care reform sit-in at Blue Cross headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in 2009:

Will Occupying Wall Street be America’s Tahrir Square Moment?

A year or so ago, the notion that Americans would descend on lower Manhattan to set up peaceful barricades, outdoor kitchens and attempt to camp out for a couple of months would seem unlikely, if not laughable.

But on September 17th, 2011, that’s just what’s going to be attempted.

Maybe this isn’t so surprising, though. After all, it has become abundantly clear that a prolonged occupation of America’s financial nerve center is absolutely necessary. As The Project and others have stated before, traditional parliamentary avenues to remediate grievances have been corrupted by powerful interests, not the least of which is Wall Street:

1) Big banks are pushing hard to walk away from mortgage fraud with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and the Obama administration is perfectly fine with that, even going so far as to remove proponents of a thorough investigation into Wall Street malfeasance.

2) Wall Street influence has infected the highest levels of the SEC, the very agency that’s supposed to regulate the market.

3) Unfavorable opinion of Wall Street is at an all-time high, Bloomberg finds:

“Most people interviewed in the Bloomberg National Poll say they don’t like Wall Street, banks or insurance companies and favor letting the government punish bankers who helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

4) And yet, not a single prosecution has come down from the U.S. Department of Justice for any of Wall Street’s casino capitalists.

When government becomes unresponsive to the needs of the people and fails to punish the very criminals that were bailed out by the American taxpayer, the people must (as our ancestors did for labor and civil rights) organize nonviolently to take matters into their own hands.

The Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStreet) movement will demand an end to “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” The organizers state: “The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America”[emphasis mine]. By attempting this occupation, the organizers hope to strengthen and amplify their message to D.C. that politicians must begin addressing the problem of special interests’ influence on government.

People from across the country “have stepped up to organize this event, such as the people of the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage” (an interview with the latter organization can be found here.) The hacker group known as Anonymous, which has recently been organizing protests against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), has now joined the movement as well.

How successful will this effort be? Things could get sticky. An occupation of the Street has never been attempted before. Wall Street has a strong security presence, especially after September 11th, 2001. And it’s not clear, with heavy NYPD interference quite likely, just how many people will end up staying past the weekend. The true test of this movement, then, will be its commitment to persistence, and also how much media attention it receives. A movement truly fails only after it gives up.

During a Project interview with Alexa O’Brien (@carwinb), an organizer with US Day of Rage, she said of the influence Tahrir Square is having on reclaiming democracy here in the U.S.:

“I see an American moment coming to America. It’s not that Tahrir isn’t inspiring. People all over the world are facing tremendous challenges in the face of globalization, increased institutional complexity, and ancient problems of just and stable governance. But our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”

I think that’s an excellent place to start from when organizing nonviolent resistance against the American oligarchy, don’t you?

Subscribe to the Project to stay up to date on this and other upcoming actions. We will be on the ground covering #OccupyWallStreet. Please contact us if you would like to participate in covering this event as either a journalist, photographer, or filmmaker.