occupy

A Revolution of Rising Expectations

THE PHRASE “a revolution of rising expectations” is now part of the social science literature. When people who are not oppressed have a belief that life is getting better as economies improve, their expectations often outstrip the pace of actual change. Those rising expectations lead to unrest as demands for improvement continue to grow.

This summer we have seen that play out in several countries. As living standards increase, people are less likely to tolerate corrupt and inefficient governments. Washington Post reporters Anthony Faiola and Paula Moura recently wrote, “One small incident has ignited the fuse in societies that, linked by social media and years of improved living standards across the developing world, are now demanding more from their democracies and governments.”

In Turkey, it was the government’s plans to destroy the only public green space in the heart of Istanbul, a park that was to be replaced with a shopping mall. Protests against the plan soon grew into broader concerns about what is seen as increasingly authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They turned violent when peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police, and ultimately an Istanbul court ruled against the plan, although it is not finally settled.

In Brazil, protests that began over a proposed rise in bus fares brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. The protests soon escalated into opposition to the large amounts of money the government is investing in facilities for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, while neglecting basic health care and education. President Dilma Rousseff has promised political reforms and increased spending on public transportation and other social needs.

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Homeless, Not Helpless

THE RED, RUN-DOWN, two-story frame house on Morris Avenue in the West Bronx that houses the Picture the Homeless offices looks much like those around it, except for the organization’s blue banner that hangs from the porch. The youths (there are older members too) who log in to their homeless blogs and look for jobs on the computers upstairs, surrounded by images of Zapata and the Selma freedom marchers, are mainly black and Latino, and they could be almost any of the young people you see on the street. Picture the Homeless is seamlessly embedded in this New York City neighborhood, where the new poor from Africa and South Asia join the long-established poor from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Picture the Homeless (PTH) combines social action, advocacy, outreach, and community and is run almost exclusively by homeless and formerly homeless New Yorkers. The organization’s name references the importance of challenging widespread stereotypes about people who are homeless. “Don’t talk about us; talk with us” is a PTH slogan, and it claims as a founding principle that “in order to end homelessness, people who are homeless must become an organized, effective voice for systemic change.”

Kendall Jackman, in her 50s, one of PTH’s housing organizers, lives in a women’s shelter not far from Morris Avenue. The former postal worker from Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood—“No matter where I live, I will always be a Bed-Stuy girl,” she said—lost her housing two years ago when the building she was living in was foreclosed on.

“Of the 72 women in my shelter, 69 of us either work or go to school,” Jackman said. “With no low-income housing available, shelters are now the homes of the working poor.”

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A 'Guitarmy' for the Working Class

Tom Morello

IF YOU EVER wondered what you would get if you crossed Woody Guthrie with Jimi Hendrix, you might want to check out guitarist and activist Tom Morello, also known as The Nightwatchman, whose work combines very modern flurries of feedback and distortion with old-school Popular Front politics. Last year, Morello played a prominent role in the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol in support of public employees’ unions, and this May Day he led a “guitarmy” through the streets of New York, singing “This Land Was Made for You and Me” in support of Occupy Wall Street.

Morello first made his name playing with Rage Against the Machine, a 1990s band that blended a potent Molotov cocktail of rock, rap, and revolution. For most rock stars, getting political means promoting Amnesty International or Greenpeace, but Rage’s favorite organization was the Mexican revolutionary Zapatista Army. After Rage fell apart, the guitarist had another successful band, Audioslave, fronted by former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. Audioslave was a great rock band, but it lacked a political agenda. Morello is a great rock guitarist, but one with a political science degree from Harvard who said he finished his degree because he wanted to “learn how to get my hand on the levers and be an effective revolutionary.” So simply making cool noises couldn’t possibly keep him satisfied for long. Soon Morello was turning up for open mic nights at folkie clubs, disguised as his alter ego, The Nightwatchman.

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We Are Unstoppable! Another World Is Possible!

Earlier this month, I boarded a train with my brother-in-law and headed to Chicago to protest the 2012 NATO Summit. If you are asking "why protest?" you can find a substantial list here

Security had been ramped up and no food or liquids were allowed on the train. We met some fellow protesters during the trip and when we arrived at Union Station we hustled to make it to Grant Park on time. In transit to the park the sun was already warming our necks and I found myself reaching for the small tube of sunblock that I had stashed in my pocket. 

We arrived in plenty of time to catch the pre-march rally at Petrillo Bandshell. Many stories were shared by fellow activists from around the world. The air was humid, yet vibrating with the passion of thousands as we prepared to march together for peace.

Amidst a swirl of percussion the crowd was chanting: "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!"

Finding a Space for Occupy

A key figure in the Occupy movement, Arun Gupta writes for Al Jazeera:

The real stumbling block for the Occupy movement is also the reason for its success: space, or now, the lack thereof. Understanding the significance of political space and Occupy's inability to recapture it reveals why the movement is having difficulty re-gaining traction.

Read this full article here

 

May Day and the Occupation

May Day workers' event in Bordeaux, France. PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/GettyImages.
May Day workers' event on May 1, 2012 in Bordeaux, France. PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/GettyImages.

Today is May Day – an historic day of protest and action for the working class. This year, in light of the Occupy movement, many are hopeful of the resurgence this day can bring in the fight for national against economic injustice. 

Banking For the Rest of Us

One meaning of the word “occupy” involves asserting sovereignty over a place. For the demonstrators who set up camp in lower Manhattan last fall, “occupying” was a reassertion of popular sovereignty at the very epicenter of our economic system. It was a challenge to the power that giant corporations—and Wall Street banks in particular—have amassed. It was a challenge to the way these firms have captured the levers of government and rigged policy to protect their own positions and profits at the expense of everyone else.

More than three years after their reckless greed triggered the Great Recession, the nation’s biggest banks have paid almost no penalty and are bigger than ever. In 2007, the top four banks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—held assets of $4.5 trillion, which amounted to 37 percent of U.S. bank assets. Today, they control $6.2 trillion, or 45 percent of bank assets, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. For them, the recession was a brief hiccup, promptly ameliorated by a public bailout and a return to robust profitability. Last year, these four firms, together with the next two largest banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, paid out $144 billion in compensation, making 2011 their second highest payday ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bank teller made $24,980 in 2010. Such rank-and-file employees didn’t benefit from the big bonuses and compensation packages which were heavily concentrated at the top of the corporate ladder.

Meanwhile, joblessness, staggering debt, and foreclosure have devastated countless families. Many have shared their stories on the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr website, which should be required reading for the 1 percent. It provides a heart-breaking account of living in a society “made for them, not for us,” of drowning in debt and struggling merely to secure a means of keeping food on the table.

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Afternoon News Bytes: March 13, 2012

The Psychological Toll Of War (OPINION); Mike Huckabee: 2012 GOP Candidates Must Stop Trying To 'Shred Each Other'; Obama And Cameron Must Strike A Balance Over Afghanistan Withdrawal; Syria Laying Landmines Along Border: Human Rights Watch; Have We Gone From A Mancession To A Shecovery? Not Quite. The Spectacular Triumph Of Working Women Around The World; The Reproduction Of Privilege; Obama Warns Opponents Against 'Using Religion As A Bludgeon In Politics'; Can Progressives Ride The Occupy Train To Congress?; Defining The Occupy Movement: It's Not Just About The Money (OPINION); Where Have You Gone, Mister Rogers?

Occupy the Future

Ten years from now, what will the Occupy demonstrations look like in our collective rearview mirror? Is this a flash in the pan, fated to fizzle in the face of diffusion and growing animosity from authorities? Or will the movement have a lasting impact, changing the way the country—and the world—does business?

We don’t need to wait 10 years to find out. Occupy is already a success.

Conservatives, and much of the mainstream media, have from the beginning sought to marginalize the protests, most commonly with variations of “they’re not specific enough about their demands.” (That one is often repeated by would-be allies as well.) More recently, right-wing figures have sought to paint the Occupiers with the “class warfare” brush.

The next few months are likely to be a defining period for the public demonstrations. Local officials—mostly under the claim that the First Amendment is trumped by sanitation issues or, ironically, “reclaiming public space for all”—have increasingly sought to eliminate the tent cities by force, hoping that with less of a physical presence the movement will fade into insignificance.

But spring is on the way, and warmer weather promises to bring with it a resurgence of these 21st century Hoovervilles. Remember Hoovervilles? Some of the Depres-sion-era settlements of mostly homeless people lasted 10 years—and helped push the political leaders of the 1930s to enact the whole range of New Deal programs for the poor and dispossessed. In fact, they helped change the whole social contract.

And that’s where Occupy has already succeeded, its legacy already established: It has changed the conversation.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as last summer “wealth inequality” was hardly a footnote in public discourse. Few were talking about the “99 percent,” or even fairness, as programs intended to combat poverty and help the vulnerable were shoved toward the chopping block of deficit reduction.

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