ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY & EQUALITY NOW! GLOBAL TO LOCAL, LOCAL TO GLOBAL
Rights Action forwards more articles and links about "Occupy Wall Street" actions spreading across the world.
- Global coverage: http://blogs.aljazeera.net/liveblog/Occupy-Protests
- Canada: http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/
- USA: http://occupywallst.org/
The systemic exploitation and poverty and inter-connected racism and repression in much of Central America, that Rights Action has been denouncing and resisting for years, are directly and indirectly related to and caused by "Wall Street".
FROM ARGENTINA TO WALL STREET: Social movements from Argentina and other Latin American countries have been emulated in protests all over the world
Massive buildings tower over Wall Street, making the sidewalks feel like valleys in an urban mountain range. The incense, drum beats and chants of Occupy Wall Street echo down New York City's financial district from Liberty Plaza, where thousands of activists have converged to protest economic injustice and fight for a better world.
As unemployment and poverty in the US reaches record levels, the protest is catching on, with hundreds of parallel occupations sprouting up across the country. It was a similar disparity in economic and political power that led people to the streets in the Arab Spring, and in Wisconsin, Greece, Spain and London. Occupy Wall Street is part of this global revolt. This new movement in the US also shares much in common with uprisings in another part of the world: Latin America.
This report from Liberty Plaza connects tactics and philosophies surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement with similar movements in Latin America, from the popular assemblies and occupation of factories during Argentina's economic crisis in 2001-2002, to grassroots struggles for land in Brazil.
Almost overnight in late 2001, Argentina went from having one of the strongest economies in South America to one of the weakest. During this economic crash, the financial system collapsed like a house of cards and banks shut their doors.
Faced with such immediate economic strife and unemployment, many Argentines banded together to create a new society out of the wreckage of the old. Poverty, homelessness and unemployment were countered with barter systems, factory occupations, communally-run kitchens and alternative currency.
Neighbourhood assemblies provided solidarity, support and vital spaces for discussion in communities across the country. Ongoing protests kicked out five presidents in two weeks, and the movements that emerged from this period transformed the social and political fabric of Argentina.
NEW ORGANISING MODELS
These activities reflect those taking place at Occupy Wall Street and in other actions around the US right now. Such events in Argentina and the US are marked by dissatisfaction with the political and economic system in the face of crisis, and involve people working together for solutions on a grassroots level. For many people in Argentina and the US, desperation pushed them toward taking matters into their own hands.
"We didn't have any choice," Manuel Rojas explained to me about the occupation of the ceramics factory he worked at outside the city of Mendoza, Argentina during the country's crash. "If we didn't take over the factory we would all be in the streets. The need to work pushed us to action."
This was one of hundreds of businesses that were taken over by workers facing unemployment during the Argentine crisis. After occupying these factories and businesses, many workers then ran them as cooperatives. They did so under the slogan, "Occupy, Resist, Produce", a phrase borrowed from Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST), which has settled hundreds of thousands of families on millions of acres of land through direct action.
In 2008 in Chicago, when hundreds of workers were laid off from the Republic Windows and Doors factory, they embraced similar direct action tactics used by their Argentine counterparts; they occupied the factory to demand the severance and vacation pay owed to them - and it worked.
Mark Meinster, the international representative for United Electrical Workers, the union of the Republic factory workers, told me that the strategies applied by the workers specifically drew from Argentina. In deciding on labour tactics, "We drew on the Argentine factory occupations to the extent that they show that during an economic crisis, workers' movements are afforded a wider array of tactical options," Meinster said.
Many groups and movements based in the US have drawn from activists in the South. Besides the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, movements for access to water in Detroit and Atlanta reflected strategies and struggles in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where in 2000, popular protests rejected the multinational company Bechtel's water privatisation plan and put the water back into public hands.
The Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which organised homeless people to occupy a vacant lot and pairs homeless families with foreclosed homes, mirrors the tactics and philosophy of the landless movement in Brazil. Participatory budgeting in Brazil, which provides citizens with direct input on how city budgets are distributed, is now being implemented by communities across the US.
These are just a handful of movements and grassroots initiatives that provide helpful models (in both their victories and failures) for decentralising political and economic power, and putting decision making into the hands of the people.
In the face of corrupt banks, corporate greed and inept politicians, those occupying Wall Street and other spaces around the US have a lot on common with similar movements in Latin America. Besides sharing the same enemies within global banks, international lending institutions and multinational corporations, these movements have worked to make revolution a part of everyday life. And that is one of the most striking aspects of about what's happening with the Occupy Wall Street movement right now.
OCCUPYING WALL STREET
The organisation and activities filling Liberty Plaza in New York are part of a working community where everyone is taking care of each other and making decisions collectively. During a recent visit, a kitchen area in the center of the park was full of people preparing food for dinner with donated cooking supplies. Other spaces were designated for medical support, massage therapy, sign-making and meditation. One area was for the organisation of recycling and garbage; people regularly walked around the park sweeping up debris and collecting garbage.
A massive People's Library contained hundreds of books along the side of the park. As with the cooking, sign-making and medical supplies, the movement had received donated materials and support to keep these operations thriving.
Occupy Wall Street also has its own newspaper, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, copies of which were being handed out in English and Spanish editions on nearly every corner of the park. A media centre where various people sat around computers and cameras provided ongoing coverage of the occupation.
Within this community were pockets of areas with blue tarps and blankets where people were resting and sleeping, having meetings or simply holding home made signs on display. Singing, drumming, chanting, guitar and accordion playing were also going on in a wide array of places.
Ongoing meetings and assemblies, with hundreds to thousands of participants, dealt with issues ranging from how to organise space in the park and manage donated supplies, to discussions of march plans and demands. Police outlawed the use of megaphones, so people at the park have just been relaying what others say during these assemblies by repeating it through the layers of the crowd, creating an echo so everyone can hear what is said.
At the Comfort Station, where well-organised piles of clothes, blankets, pillows and coats were stacked, I spoke with Antonio Comfort, from New Jersey, who was working the station at the time. Antonio, who had his hat on backwards and spoke with me in between helping out other people, said that the donations of clothes and sleeping materials had been pouring in. People had also offered up their showers for activists participating in the occupation to use. While I was at the station someone asked for sleeping supplies for an older man, and Antonio disappeared into the Comfort Station piles and returned with an armful of blankets and a pillow.
"I'm here so I can have a better life, and so my kids can have a better life when they get older," he said about his reasons for participating in the occupation. Everything at the station had been running smoothly, Antonio explained. "Everybody works together, and it's very organised. We'll be here as long as it takes."
Adeline Benker, a 17-year-old student at Marlboro College in Vermont who was holding a sign that said, "Got Debt? You are the 99%," told me that for her - like many other young students participating in the occupation in New York and elsewhere - it was all about debt.
"I will be $100,000 in debt after I graduate from college, and I don't think I should have the pay that for the rest of my life just to get an education in four years." Benker said this was her very first protest, and her first time in New York City. When I spoke to her, she had been at the occupation for a few days, and would be returning the following week.
Down the sidewalk was activist Tirsa Costinianos with a sign that said, "We Are the 99%". Costinianos said, "I want the big banks and the corporations to return our tax money from the bailout." Costinianos had been at the occupation on Wall Street every weekend since it started on September 17.
"I love this and I'm glad we're doing this. All of the 99% of the people should join us - then we could stop the stealing and the corruption going on here on Wall Street."
Ibraheem Awadallah, another protester holding a sign that said "Wall Street Occupies Our Government: Occupy Wall Street", told me: "The problem is this system in which the corporations have the biggest influence in politics in our country."
These types of encounters and activities were happening constantly in the ongoing bustle of the park, and underscore the fact that this occupation, now nearly into its third week, is as much of a community and example of participatory democracy as it is a rapidly spreading protest.
As the late historian Howard Zinn said, it is important to "organise ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organise ourselves in such a way as to create the kind of human relationship that should exist in future society."
That is being developed now within this movement, from the leaderless, consensus-based assemblies, to the communal organisation of the various food, media and medical services organised at the occupation.
Similarly, movements across Latin America, from farmer unions in the Paraguayan countryside to neighbourhood councils in El Alto, Bolivia, mirror the type of society they would like to see in their everyday actions and movement-building.
As Adeline Benker, the 17-year-old student at the Wall Street occupation said, echoing the struggles from Argentina to the Andes and beyond, "We need to create a change outside of this system because the system is failing us."
[Benjamin Dangl is author of book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America: email@example.com]
AT OCCUPIED HARTFORD: LIVE FROM OBAMAVILLE
by Vijay Prashad
Poor Herbert Hoover. A multimillionaire by thirty from the vast profits of gold mining, Hoover went into public service as retirement. His early administrative work was in agriculture, but he spent the longest time of his career in the Department of Commerce. In 1925, Hoover warned Calvin Coolidge about the dangerous speculation in Wall Street. Coolidge was not interested (he had a witlessness about economics, having once said, "When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results").
It was Hoover's cross to bear that the stock market crash of 1929 came on his watch. It is a sad fact that just before the October 29 debacle on Wall Street, Hoover told the country, "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land."
The final triumph never came. By 1933, the jobless rate was twenty five per cent. In May 1932, seventeen thousand veterans came to Washington on a Bonus March. They were fed up. Their friends and relations had been thrown by the wayside, and promises made to them had been betrayed. Across the Potomac from Washington's offices, the Bonus Army created an encampment. It would soon be given the name, Hooverville, and it was soon to be imitated across the country.
Hoover sent General Douglas MacArthur (later of the wars in Asia) to quell the peaceful Bonus Army. MacArthur unleashed tanks and tear gas. But the Hoovervilles continued.
The Occupied Hartford encampment has a significant view. If you stand in the middle of the camp at the intersection of Broad and Farmington, you can see Richard Upjohn's dazzling Connecticut State Capital (the Government), the plantation of Aetna and various office buildings of the major insurance firms (the Corporations), the office of the Hartford Courant, the oldest continuously published newspaper in America (the Media) and the Connecticut State Armory (the Military). The ensemble of power is within sight of the protestors.
So too is the city's heartbreaking poverty (the official jobless rate is thirty-three percent, the highest in the nation).
I asked a group of Occupiers whether they have formed Obamaville, the 21st century's Hooverville. It was fitting that they missed the point of my question. Brian leapt in. "I'm not here for any politician," he said, "I'm against all political parties. Our politics are the problem."
Talk of the Occupy movement being co-opted by the Democratic Party had come here, and it had been rejected. "This is not for Obama," Dave interjected, "but it is our fight against the corporations."
I heard much the same thing at Wall Street. There is no appetite for Obama.
What unites the Occupiers is that they are in general not coming into the movement for the first time. Most of those in Hartford came from the more beaten up side of the tracks, raised in Hartford's streets where the bonds of community battle daily with the temptations of the drug economy and the itchy fingers of the police department. For many that I spoke with the reality of poverty and inequality led them to despair until they found each other, to work together in groups like Food Not Bombs, anti-war organizations, and in ad hoc groups to defend their communities' right to survival. "When we struggle, it's therapy," raps M1 of the dead prez. So it was for many of the Occupiers.
Hartford struggles to survive. Chronic joblessness, with a collapse of state institutions to expand the social wage, is met by an increase in the means of repression (police and jails) and the ideology of consumerism.
It is the same condition along the Interstate 91 corridor, from Hartford to Springfield to Holyoke. The future along the Freeway has been left to the resilience of families and communities and to the underground economies (legal and illegal). Michaelann Bewsee of Springfield's Arise for Social Justice calls these neighborhoods "an economic dustbowl."
Angelo, born in Hartford to Puerto Rican parents who worked in a factory and in the lunchroom of a school in the North-End, came from economic poverty but social dignity. His father's political roots lay in Puerto Rican socialism, and pictures of Fidel Castro decorated the walls of his home (Angelo inherited these pictures). At seven, Angelo joined his father on the picket line. It took years for Angelo to put these memories into focus and to find the confidence to believe that change was possible (getting a computer helped, he says, as it "opened up the world to me").
Victoria, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found her hope in prayer. But it was not enough. One day she was listening to an interview with the band members of Me Without You, when one of the musicians mentioned a book (Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, written by Shane Clairborne). Victoria read this book, which tells the story of Clairborne's radical faith community house from the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia called A Simple Way.
This house was in the same neighborhood as the Kensington Welfare Rights Organization, whose long-time leader, Cherie Honkala is running for sheriff of Philadelphia on a Green ticket, with the express purpose of fighting foreclosures.
Visiting A Simple Way and then other intentional communities, Victoria came to Hartford to be part of a movement that engenders this form of social living (there is a Catholic Worker house in the North-End of Hartford, held down by the remarkable Brian Kavanagh who should have a cell in the Hartford jails named for him).
Jeffrey Harris had recently lost his job, and then his wife died. Returning home from the hospital on the public bus, Jeffrey saw the tent city. He got off at the nearest bus stop, walked over and has stayed. The epidemic of foreclosures in the city angered and saddened Jeffrey, a pleasant man who wore his life's tragedies with grace. "It's crazy," he said of the inequality in the city. "It's a bunch of bullshit. These guys, the corporate elite, have to back down and give us something. It's crazy man. When the system's not working, then it has to be fixed."
Such sentiments are commonplace at the Occupied camps that I have visited. John Pitman, standing near Jeffrey concurred. "People that are out here are here to bring back the country from the corporates," he said. I asked John what gave him hope through his agitation. "Hope?" he said, "It's not hope. It's survival. I want to take back what belongs to us."
On August 31, George Magnus, the senior economic advisor to UBS in London, published a letter in the Financial Times, which the newspaper titled, "Capitalism is having a very Marxist crisis." Magnus pointed out that Marx "analyzed and explained insightfully how and why capitalism would succumb to recurrent crises, and especially big ones after a credit bust."
In light of this analysis, Magnus from his perch in the well-appointed glass towers at Finsbury Square, wrote that we need to "reboot intellectually and think about how to address a very Marxist crisis of capitalism, starting with job creation, income formation, and money gross domestic product targeting."
It is sensible stuff, but rather odd coming from the same building where a Delta One desk was busy conducting the kind of prop trading that has given bankers an especially ugly image problem. Magnus is an unusual banker. Most have battened down the hatches, ready to weather out this storm toward the Seas of Business As Usual.
Up the river from Hartford, in Springfield, a significant coalition of community activists and survivors of foreclosure named No One Leaves had pushed for a far-sighted city ordinance. Banks would have to jump through some cleverly crafted hoops before sending in the sheriff to eject people from their homes. Among these are a mandatory mediation program and a $10,000 bond to secure and maintain properties that had been foreclosed upon.
This is the kind of innovation that one has come to expect from community organizations, and it is the kind of policy that we have come to expect would be pushed by local politicians such as Springfield's Amaad Rivera and Hartford's Luis Cotto.
The banks did not take this quietly. The Massachusetts Bankers Association sent a seven-page document to the city, saying that the council was not on firm legal footing. Florence Savings Bank, one of the parties to the letter, has made much of its localness since the credit crisis, with its slogan, "Don't Blame Me, I Bank Locally." But that does not stop this Northampton institution from getting into the fight against the residents of Springfield. On Monday, October 17, No Ones Leaves and Councilor Rivera will hold a rally against the banks' maneuver in front of city hall in Springfield.
"We believe that this is the strongest anti-foreclosure ordinance in the entire country," said Councilor Rivera (who is up for re-election this year, and needs all the help he can get). I think he is right. No One Leaves is effectively Occupied Springfield.
IV. COUNTERREVOLUTION COMETH
The Boston police, in the name of protecting flowers, has already clobbered and arrested the residents of Occupied Boston. They are unmoved.
The New York mayor has threatened to remove Occupied Wall Street to "clean the area." There is an emergency mobilization to defend Liberty Park.
The patience of the elite has been tested, and found wanting. They want their country back.
In 1786, the farmers of western Massachusetts were angered by the denial of the right to vote in their new republic and by the shoddy treatment of the veterans of the revolutionary wars. One farmer, Daniel Shays, led his band of veterans and farmers to Springfield, where they marched around with fife and drum to prevent the court from hearing cases against rioting farmers.
The Shays' movement then marched toward Boston, where the Senate's President, Sam Adams, signed a Riot Act and sent General Benjamin Lincoln to crack some heads. Northampton, where I live, was the home of the trials of the captured rebels, many of whom were put to death.
From Paris, France, America's Ambassador, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison about Daniel Shays' rebellion. "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
[VIJAY PRASHAD is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT: firstname.lastname@example.org]
By Benjamin Dangl
PLEASE GET INFORMED; GET INVOLVED YESTERDAY, TODAY & TOMORROW ARE GOOD DAYS TO "OCCUPY WALL STREET"
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