Tag Archives: Bank of America

Why “Bank Sleep” Matters

The march from Independence Mall to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange begins. An Occupy Philadelphia affinity group has been holding this federally-enforced space for over two weeks now – without signing a permit – and sleeping outside a Wells Fargo regional headquarters directly across the street at night. The National Park Service would not allow them to sleep on the cement apron at the entrance to the Mall.

Occupy Independence Mall. Photo by Dustin Slaughter, Copyright 2012

Now Michael Mizner, a former Marine and Occupy Delaware transplant, carries a wind-battered tent up Market Street. Others carry sleeping bags and pull a wagon filled with supplies, including signs. This night march from the Mall consists of no more than 20.

This is Occupy Philadelphia adapting a tactic which initially was borne of necessity: unable to sleep at the Mall, the logical solution to avoid fines and possible federal charges was to sleep on public sidewalks, where “sleepful protest” is technically not illegal.

By the end of the occupation at Independence Mall, however, it was decided that outreach – which had suffered considerably during the Winter by some estimates – was going very well, but mainly consisted of interfacing with tourists. Moving into the heart of the city to begin continuous, small and mobile occupations on sidewalks outside the Stock Exchange, as well as banks throughout the financial district, seemed like a smart next step, in an effort to reach out to residents. It also fit nicely with the desire to refocus on messaging.

This “bank sleep” tactic appears to be taking off in other cities too – finding its genesis after the NYPD began evicting Occupy Wall Street protesters from Union Square on a nightly basis because of a park curfew. Once curfew rolled around, protesters would get pushed out of the park – so they took sidewalks outside of a nearby Bank of America. The idea then spread to the New York Stock Exchange. Occupiers in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Baltimore started their own too.

Could this be a tactical evolution for the Occupy movement as summer approaches?

“Occupy is built on memes,” says Mizner, repeatedly driving this point home to me as we march into Center City.

Memes, to paraphrase a Wikipedia definition, are cultural analogues like genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

This makes sense. Bank Sleep is a tactic that easily transmits itself to groups in other cities, because it rekindles the idea of constant public visibility and pressure against “Too Big to Fail” banks, for example, which have been a cornerstone target of the movement and which continue to evade one of the movement’s foundational themes: economic justice.

The feeling among these Philadelphia “bank sleepers” that a loss of focus on core messaging occurred during the winter – as well as a lack of outreach during the winter – was instrumental in launching, rather autonomously, the Independence Mall occupation.

However more widely Bank Sleep is adopted – and whether it will even attract more movement participants in Philadelphia, many of whom are pursuing a multitude of projects ranging from reversing urban blight (Occupy Vacant Lots) to fighting Mayor Nutter’s ban on outdoor food service for the city’s homeless – one thing is certain: Bank Sleep is a much more sustainable form of occupation than the initial sprawling encampment which started in October at City Hall.

The encampment created immense logistical challenges – as well as physical and emotional tolls on the “diehards” who held the space until occupiers were evicted in late November. The influx of the city’s homeless population to the occupation at City Hall forced occupiers into the role of social service providers, despite many protesters having hardly been politically active to begin with, let alone equipped to deal with people struggling with addiction and other mental health issues.

That was back in October, however, and Spring has arrived with warm winds and renewed spirits.

Photo by Timothy Kyle (@firstnightfree). Copyright 2012

The small march arrives at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange – purchased, incidentally, by NASDAQ in 2008, linking it ever closer to Wall Street. An occupier – clad in a dinosaur costume which doubles as pajamas – mic checks:

“Inside this building is the regional office for Goldman Sachs!”

The assembled crowd repeats this fact.

“You have THEM to thank for rising gas prices, due in part to commodities speculation!”

Across the street from the Exchange is a Bank of America branch. Some occupiers want to take the sidewalk there. Others want the sidewalk outside the Exchange. It is eventually agreed upon that bigger numbers in one location is preferable. A coin is flipped.

Bank of America.

I ask Mizner what he thinks of their new home.

“It’s perfect.”

The crew here begin making signs to greet morning pedestrians, before turning in for the night. One sign reads: “Bank of America was Sued $410 million for Overdraft Fees.”

A short while later, a woman and her child walk by, initially somewhat weary of this unusual sight. She takes note of the sign and suddenly gives the group a thumbs up.

“Keep it up!” she says. “I hate those damned overdraft fees!”


Occupy 2.0: “Defending the Everyday Aims of Life” while Persisting in a Police State

Occupy Philadelphia marches in early morning hours after eviction. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

“No government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”
–Gandhi

The Occupy movement is now a genie that cannot be put back in its bottle.

And while it has certainly gone through growing pains, and will continue to do so, the adversity faced has only forced the movement to adapt and refocus.

After their first eviction, Occupy San Francisco decided to occupy sidewalks around the downtown financial district (the original strategy for Occupy Wall Street before 17 September, I should add.) Can’t have an encampment? Adapt and take public sidewalks. There is now a nationwide movement to also throw the gauntlet at major banks like Bank of America, and re-occupy foreclosed homes for families thrown out by the financial criminal class. The move has even prompted Bank of America to fire out an email to its employees. And yes, the email’s existence has indeed been confirmed by a Bank of America representative.

The financial elite are not the only ones concerned about this nonviolent peoples’ movement, of course. Incredibly, Mayor Jean Quan stated in a recent interview that mayors from at least 18 cities have been holding conference calls with each other to discuss how to deal with the Occupy movement. There are legitimate questions as to whether federal agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are playing some kind of advisory role or even assisting in coordinating crackdowns on occupations too. Indeed, it would be surprising if the federal government were not, given the history of programs like COINTELPRO. It is well known, however, that DHS operates what are known as fusion centers, which serve as “focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial (SLTT) and private sector partners.” Investigative journalists such as Jason Leopold are continuing to search for more answers about what role, if any, the federal government is playing in these crackdowns.

What is no mystery, however, is the contempt and cruelty often displayed by police towards this movement. Here’s what Patrick Meghan, a writer for the sitcom “Family Guy” experienced at the hands of the LAPD:

“I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted ‘We Are Peaceful’ and ‘We Are Nonviolent’ and ‘Join Us.'”

It gets worse.

“When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor. It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us.”

The police state will continue to use terror to coerce this movement into backing down. It will not work, however. As Andrew Kolin states in his book State Power and Democracy: Before and During The Presidency of George W. Bush: “Keep in mind that police states are by their inherent nature dysfunctional,” Kolin said. “The Occupy movement is hope of a return to mass democracy as a countervailing force to the police state and to it’s possible breakdown.” In an excellent interview with Jason Leopold at Truthout, Kolin says that “in all police states, ‘and Germany in the [1930s] is the classic example, they develop by crushing democracy.'”

Philadelphia police on a SEPTA bus arrive in riot gear to evict Occupy Philadelphia. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

Myself and over 50 others were arrested in the early-morning hours after Occupy Philadelphia’s eviction–for marching. My resolve, as well as those who were arrested or were outraged at the way the police handled the eviction, has only strengthened. This movement must use love and persistence to fight back. There is no other way. The state knows only violence and fear, and this can only continue for so long in the face of what the Occupy movement offers as an alternative. This movement must continue to struggle for what dissident playwright and later president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel calls “defending the everyday aims of life.”

As Mark Kurlansky writes of Havel in Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea:

“Organizations were formed to support the families of those persecuted by the government; alternative ‘universities’ taught the things excluded from official education; environmental groups were formed and cultural activities established…Increasingly citizens could live life apart from the one established by the regime. Though the actions were small, the goals were large.”

Kurlansky goes on to write of Havel’s strategy:

“…if people lived their lives parallel to the state system and not as a part of it–which he [Havel] termed “living within a lie”–there would always be a tension between these two realities and they would not be able to permanently coexist.”

The Occupy movement has for months now been engaged in creating the very same “counter-society” Havel and the Solidarity movement created to eventually bring the Soviet empire to its knees. Occupations across the country have been stepping up to offer free food, shelter and healthcare to the homeless because the state has failed to do so, a state that in turn uses its own failure as an excuse to evict peaceful protesters. The “occupation” has plans to offer free college education in Philadelphia, with local college professors volunteering their time, as I’m sure there are similar initiatives to do so in other parts of the country. And the movement is now standing–physically–with American families from across the country who are trampled on by banks who knowingly committed fraud and tossed people out of their homes.

Despite the winter, Occupy 2.0 is just getting warmed up. What are YOU going to do now?


Al-Jazeera Presents: The Men Who Crashed the World (Part 1)

“The crash of September 2008 brought the largest bankruptcies in world history, pushing more than 30 million people into unemployment and bringing many countries to the edge of insolvency. Wall Street turned back the clock to 1929.

But how did it all go so wrong?”

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


History Demands Nonviolent Resistance from Us

We are living in extraordinary times. The gulf between rich and poor has widened to its greatest since the Gilded Age: executive salaries have skyrocketed 23% in just over a year, while wages (when adjusted for inflation) have lost ground since the 1980s. Based in large part on a corporate-backed, state-focused legislative agenda called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) unleashed by radical conservative legislators and governors, women’s reproductive rights are facing an unprecedented, nationwide assault. Public education is being dismantled, and its carcass fed to private enterprise. The assault on collective bargaining, which began and has succeeded in Wisconsin, is the first step in what promises to be a protracted dismantling of public sector workers’ rights across America, followed by the rights of private sector workers. And last but not least, efforts to restrict voting rights are well underway. On a federal level, social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are on the chopping block—and under a Democratic president, no less, who habitually acquiesces to corporate influence.

Extraordinary times indeed. Pennsylvania is no exception.

Governor Tom Corbett, according to the July 3rd, 2011 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer, issued his “maiden budget [which] makes deep cuts in aid to schools and colleges and slices millions from social-service programs that provide job training, health care, shelter, food, and counseling to the poorest citizens.” His cuts also include $212 million from community colleges and $220 million from the state’s 14 colleges (which include University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Pennsylvania State University, and Lincoln University.) The evisceration doesn’t stop there, however. Governor Corbett wants to cut $900 million from special education, teacher training, tutoring, and other aid to public schools. In other words, he’s willing to destroy the future of our state’s children and young adults, all so he can pay back his corporate benefactors, who happen to be the charter school corporations that largely funded his campaign for Governor. Corbett is willing to feed our public infrastructure to free-market capitalism, so that a select few reap large profits at the expense of the working and middle class.

This is class warfare, and it’s time Pennsylvanians begin fighting back. But how do we fight back effectively?

We often cling to the misconception that real change comes from parliamentary measures and the ballot box. But in so doing, we each shoulder a forgetting that meaningful reform, be it in labor struggles or the civil rights movements of our past, were not accomplished through legislation. Reforms were, and will always be, achieved by direct action. In spite of itself direct action has at times turned violent (as the struggle for labor rights illustrated), but just as often it manifests its message in non-violent civil disobedience: sit-ins, marches, boycotts. The machinery of government is slow, and it suggests through its impotence the need for responsive measures. The groundwork for peaceful, radical reform techniques has already been paved for us in historical stone. We as a people now need to find the courage to throw ourselves at “the machine.”

Our American ancestors did it in Selma, staring down police brutality, angry segregationists, and lynchings. Exploited factory workers in early textile mills of New England at the birth of the industrial revolution did it. And now our Arab brothers and sisters are doing it.

Imagination and a commitment to non-violence are the only guidelines:

Crash a governor’s press conference with your school choir to poignantly illustrate the impact cuts to education programs will have on public schools.

Organize a church group to pray-in at a fracking site to rail against the immorality of natural gas corporations who don’t pay an extraction tax, while Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens suffer a 50% cut in low-income health care services.

Hold a teach-in inside a bank, like US Uncut Philadelphia (of which I am an organizer, in the interest of full disclosure) has done on numerous occasions, and invite media to draw attention to the fact that major banks like Bank of America don’t contribute any income taxes despite paying their investment bankers billions of dollars in bonuses.

Stage a sit-in at the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, or the state capital, protesting how our state loses hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue because PA-based corporations don’t pay their fair share (unlike small-business owners and the working class.)

Organize a rally of small business owners to protest against large corporations exploiting tax loopholes.

How do we organize into a non-violent force that our government must reckon with? I’ll use the Egyptian revolution of 2011 as an example.

The main thrust of Egypt’s Arab Spring demanded that Hosni Mubarak step down as leader. He represented the corruption and tyranny that was oppressing the Egyptian people, and that made basic necessities like food, education and employment unreachable. There’s a buzzword that covers things like that: it’s called freedom, right? The Egyptian activists’ strength, in my humble analysis, relied on three key factors: 1) their ability to frame their demands into one succinct statement; 2) that statement’s simplicity bonding otherwise disparate interest groups together to rally as one, building a coalition for Mubarak’s ouster; and 3) the movement using their growing numbers to solidify a mass presence who would no longer be ignored.

We are now in a struggle to regain our freedom from corporate aggression. Basic necessities like education, health care, and gainful employment are becoming increasingly inaccessible to a growing swath of Americans, and while the solution to these problems is admittedly complicated, there is one demand that activists both in Pennsylvania and across America can rally behind: corporate America is gaming the system. As a result, our country’s revenue stream has starved, and it has little allowance left for those basic freedoms and necessities. It also cannot be denied that normal channels to redress grievances are failing in large part because these corporations hold a tight grip on the levers of government. We must make it clear that we will no longer be ignored, and that the time for passive opposition (letter writing, petitions, and even voting) alone simply will not do anymore. Come August, when Congress breaks for recess and comes home to hold town halls with their constituents, we must make our message loud and clear: We will not tolerate corporations gaming the system at the expense of working-class Americans and our most vulnerable neighbors. And we must proclaim and make good on our promise to engage in non-violent disruption in order to ensure that we are taken seriously.

Like Tahrir Square, which brought together the Muslim Brotherhood, trade unionists, students, women’s rights groups, and others, so we must be unified and strong behind our message of corporate fiscal accountability, because it is this issue that Americans of all stripes—be they small business owners, students, teachers, public employees, the unemployed, church groups, etc—can, and must, rally behind.

Political scientist Gene Sharp (whom Egyptian activists credit in-part with galvanizing them to resistance) writes in his brilliant book, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice And 21st Century Potential: “While individual acts may at times not have much impact, the defiance of organizations and institutions—for example, trade unions, business organizations, religious organizations, the bureaucracy, neighborhoods, villages, cities, regions and the like—can be pivotal.”

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This piece is cross-posted at Raging Chicken Press.
Dustin M. Slaughter is the Founder of The David and Goliath Project


US Uncut Olympia Occupies Capital Building, National Protests Planned for this Weekend

Activists, including members of a grassroots network called US Uncut Olympia, held week-long demonstrations at Olympia, Washington’s state capital building, culminating in the occupation of the capital rotunda for 3 days. According to the blog, Occupy Washington, there were 50 activists who staged the act of civil disobedience. Their actions were aimed at proposed budget cuts to a variety of public programs. Austerity measures like this are taking place all over the country, as conservative governors and state legislatures roll out unmitigated assaults on the working and middle class.

Also from Occupy Washington: “The proposed budget removes the basic support framework for the most vulnerable members of our community including seniors, people with disabilities, low income families, students, and single parent families. At the same time, the budget includes over $8 billion of lost revenue in corporate tax exemptions [emphasis mine]. Those inside are demanding an end to this dichotomy, effective action from the legislature to close tax loopholes, and restoration of basic services. Their rallying cry is, ‘No more cuts until fair taxation!’”

The activists were forcibly removed by state police on Saturday night.

Their rallying cry, “No more cuts until fair taxation!” echoes similar calls from their national counterpart, US Uncut, which is a network of citizens dedicated to exposing corporate tax evasion, and highlighting the effect this missing revenue has on community education, low-income healthcare, and other vital public services.

Since its inception almost two months ago, they have staged well over 150 protests and acts of civil disobedience, including occupying and shutting down major bank branches owned by Bank of America, and other corporations. US Uncut has drawn their inspiration from UK Uncut, who began pushing back against their own country’s austerity measures.

Actions in over 30 U.S. cities are planned for the weekend of the 15th this month, timed with the arrival of Tax Day on the 18th. Telecommunications company Verizon is expected to be the focus of US Uncut’s efforts, where “bail-ins” will occur in stores, and in tandem with UK Uncut, who will focus on Vodafone, Verizon’s sister company.

Not having paid federal income tax in two years, Verizon made over $12 billion in profits last year, and were it not for tax loopholes the company exploits, it would have owed $4 billion in taxes. That amount, for instance, would have made every single proposed budget cut in Pennsylvania unnecessary, where millions of dollars in cuts to public education and low-income health care are being proposed by Governor Tom Corbett.

To learn more and get involved with your local US Uncut chapter, visit their website.