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The Real Radicals are in Government

One of the best #OWS Livestream moments, this is an hour-long interview with author Chris Hedges from week 2 of the occupation.

An amazing transcript complete with hyperlinks can be found here.

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“With Liberty and Justice for Some” -Glenn Greenwald

Taking a second away from the format I’ve been following to post these videos of one of my favorite political writers, Glenn Greenwald, promoting his new book and talking about #occupywallstreet on Democracy Now. Greenwald’s writings in the first days of the Occupation were one of many forces that motivated me to Occupy. Discussion of #OWS starts around the 5:00 mark of the second video with related talk in the first.

Also, here’s another interview with him on Truthout: Glenn Greenwald: Why Is the Elite Class Protected Under America’s Justice System?

Another lazy post to come tomorrow and then I’ll dig back in.

HAD a Job!

Detroit may have an occupation, but I’m currently commuting there. As much as I’d love to set up a tent and live in the middle of downtown Detroit, I need wifi and electricity (and my external hard drives) so I can continue to work and hopefully land a real job. Also it’s fucking cold out there! This morning is the first morning where I’ve woken up and seen frost outside, so I hope everyone downtown is keeping warm. On that note, if you have any spare blankets, winter clothes, mylar emergency blankets, or hand warmers, #occupydetroit is in desperate need of them!

Schedule for 10/4/11

One of the Fortunate Ones
“Get a JOB!”. It’s become almost as much a mantra for those who oppose our cause as “We are the 99%” has become for us. The funny thing, is the few times I’ve been confronted by these Bizarro 99%ers, the only response I can muster is “HAD a job!”. Since it mimics their condescension towards us, it seems an appropriate response, but what I would like to yell back is “I quit my job to be here because I support exercising our right to peacefully assemble and want to help call attention to corruption of our government and restoring the rule of law!”. But by the time I’d get all that out of my mouth, they’d be four blocks away and I’d be yelling at air. That’s not productive at all.

As they shout at myself and other Occupiers, little do they know, I’m not a lazy, smelly hippie who’s been camping out here for days because I have nothing better to do; I’m a productive hard-worker who hasn’t held a job outside my chosen industry since I was 16. I’m a print-production professional with a decade of experience, a musician with a gig working for a multi-million dollar entertainment company, a small-business owner, and a guy who is no stranger to slamming entire pots of coffee as I plow through 90+ hr workweeks. Or at least I was a month ago before I left all that behind to do this. What I was and still am though, is someone who understands that it’s not as easy as simply “getting a job”, and that for thousands or millions of my peers, it’s most definitely not that simple. Instead of “had a job”, I suppose “what job!?” would be a better response. With national unemployment over 9% and Detroit’s at well over 20%, it’s pretty clear; there are very few jobs to be had.

But the cry “Get a job!” is telling; either most people who deride us don’t understand the complications of getting a job, I’m assuming they already have one, or think we’re just standing around with our thumbs in our asses waiting for someone to offer employment to us. Or worse, that we’re a group of overprivileged young individuals raised and supported by the “dying” middle class who expect everything to be handed to us as has allegedly been the case our entire lives. The fact is though, that in our current economic climate, for our generation and others, even a master’s degree is no guarantee for employment serving coffee to snooty jerks at Starbucks. Thankfully, twenty-somethings are becoming a decreasing demographic in the #Occupy movement as it gains momentum, but the core demographic still remains; educated young Occupiers who have joined the cause because they can’t find work (amongst other reasons) and have instead created an alternate society where their acquired skills can be put to use.

The evidence is all over; #Occupy movements have created sophisticated computer networks with which to communicate both internally and externally and we have used social networks to their full potential to help our message reach as many as possible. Media teams are full of film and multimedia production students or graduates, Medic tents at each Occupation are populated by med students and volunteer EMTs, you’ll find certified teachers and education students giving teach-ins, lectures and running open-forums. You can even get a haircut or take a yoga class. #occupywallstreet has over 70 working groups that have been autonomously created by an individual or group possessing a certain set of skills that they want to lend to the Occupation, and the other Occupations are following in the same footprints. Though misleading, perhaps “HAVE a job here!” would be a better response from those unemployed to the “Get a job”ers yelling at us from the sidewalk. Or maybe we should simply ignore them. After all, we have working group meetings to attend to.

View from my bed the 1st night.

Day 2
The first morning was perhaps the most surreal awakening ever. I remember hearing the sound of a police siren in my sleep and the bustle of New York City faded into consciousness. I was laying on my back, and as I opened my eyes, the tall buildings surrounding Liberty Plaza slowly faded into view. Byron and Nathanael were nowhere to be found, so I stumbled over to the Kitchen to find eggs, coffee, and bagels waiting. It’s a nice thought to look back on this morning, as the food line now consistently stretches from the Kitchen at the center of the park, all the way to the northwest corner and is usually a good 30-minute wait during meal times.

That morning, I wandered in circles through the park trying to meet as many as I could. I have at least 10 numbers in my phone from that morning that I never attached names to, numbers that now mean nothing to me as those people have become lost in a sea of faces and names from the hundreds of people I’ve met in the last few weeks. I write this last line with a sense of bereavement. Each occupier I met has provided an enriching enlightenment on my view of the world. After my experience the first day with such an influential working group, I decided that for the next couple days, I would just focus on meeting people rather than trying to make a difference in working groups. After all, I needed to figure out what this was all about before I started influencing things, right? This is a decision I regretted later.

I came back to my sleeping area and found Byron. We debated whether or not a Kangol hat and green storage bin next to our camp had been abandoned or not, and decided to let them be. This storage bin would later become my most valued possession during my stay, holding all my stuff together so that it wouldn’t get separated during the day by Sanitation, Town Planning, or other Occupiers as they constantly tried to reorganize to keep pathways clear and make sure there was enough space for everyone to sleep in.

Suddenly, a march started up! We wound our way around the park several times, each revolution gaining more people and more momentum, and then we were on our way to City Hall.

*some names have been changed for privacy and shit 

Intro to Direct Democracy

Well, I wouldn’t say the party last night was kickin’. I might say it was “punchin'” though ha ha. There was a fair amount of people there but with LAX being so large, it certainly didn’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter how many people are at a party, if they’re not packed in tight, people aren’t going to have a good time! (That’s how that works, right?) Hopefully we helped Omar get on his feet though. It’s been a rough road for his business. What’s interesting about this whole situation is that if he were to open again while the Occupation is happening across the street, I can easily see our greatest ally becoming an adversary as we struggle to cope with the winter and lack of facilities. This is speculative of course, but I don’t see how letting us continue to use his building while he attempts to attend to his clientele would be productive from a business standpoint. But perhaps I’m underestimating the goodwill of Omar. One of the greatest surprises about joining the #Occupy movement for me has been the glimpses of humanity and goodwill in people that I had never encountered before in everyday life. If the #Occupy movement were to leave one thing behind as it’s legacy, I suppose that’s the best one.

Horiwhatism?
I was surprised upon my arrival at Occupy Detroit that a number of people had never heard the term “horizontalism”. After all, it’s one of the guiding principles of the #Occupy movement; shouldn’t most if not all involved be familiar with it? Then again, I admit that I was quite surprised myself to find out that #OWS had it’s own guiding system of democracy upon my arrival to Liberty Plaza, so perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so judgmental.

There are so many facets to the #Occupy movements that it’s hard to choose where to begin when describing it. (As if that message hasn’t been clear from the national media’s jumbled and superficial coverage of the movements.) There is of course, the “protest” aspect to it; exercising our right to peaceful assembly, calling attention to the corruption of our political/economic systems; and then there is the oft-missed model-society aspect (among others). While the #Occupy movement itself stands for a message, the physical Occupations themselves are attempting to create a microcosm of what an ideal society could possibly be. This is based on a system of direct democracy, guided by the non-hierarchical principles of horizontalism; that no one individual has any more power or sway than any other. We’re all on the same plane. My sentiments on whether or not this is a scalable model for a nation or a world is that it’s debatable, but there is no doubt this is the best way to govern the individual Occupations.

The General Assembly (GA) is the centerpiece of this direct democratic system in the #Occupy movements. It is a gathering of everyone involved, carefully facilitated, so that each voice can be heard and each opinion weighed. Decisions are made at the GA by coming to a collective agreement, or “consensus”. GA agenda items range from announcements, report-backs from working groups such as the media or medical teams, to reaching consensus on direct actions (such as a march), approving financial expenses, and everything in between that affects the community as a whole. If consensus can’t be reached regarding a particular proposal or agenda item, then it is tabled, reworked, and presented again at the next GA until a consensus can be reached.

The GA uses a variety of hand-signals to express their opinions. These are used as a method of non-verbal communication to ensure that speakers are not interrupted, that each opinion is heard, and that everyone is respected. This is especially important in Liberty Plaza, where amplification has been banned by authorities. To overcome this, Occupiers have invented an innovative technique referred to as “The People’s Mic”, where speakers use short phrases which are repeated by the GA in “layers” (rounds) so that we amplify each other’s voices so that everyone can hear.

I could type even more to describe this process, but I already did that for this pamphlet which I’m waiting to get approved by #occupydetroit’s faciliation working group. If you’re interested, read on! By which I mean, click here!

(I’ll also admit, I lifted a great amount of text from NYCGA’s Facilitation Training guide, which can be found here.)

Day 1
The first day was a blur. Earlier I spoke of seeing a glimpse of humanity I hadn’t witnessed before inside the movement. Often times in our daily lives when we’re in public areas, we may pass random people on the sidewalk, make eye contact, and immediately look away as we continue past each other. Other people, and I myself am guilty of this on occasion, will stare into their phones or mp3 players as they pass, pretending that the other person doesn’t even exist in order to avoid any sort of social encounter. Have we become a society of insular assholes, or has it always been this way?

My first couple hours in Liberty Plaza was an exercise in the opposite. As I wandered around, I quickly discovered that making eye contact with someone was an invitation for a conversation. If they happened to be standing in a circle of people, it was an invitation into the collective discussion. Once you break through the perimeter of canvassers, sign-bearers, and performance artists (who were largely absent my first couple days there), you’ll find the park is full of small groups of people talking about big ideas, and anyone can wander freely from circle to circle to collect and express opinions. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that unlike everyday life when discussing politics, these circles contain purely civil discourse. There is a deep mutual respect that runs through the mindset of the Occupiers; where even if vast ideological differences are encountered, they are not treated as adversarial views, but rather as a different lens through which to view the world, and a gauge to weigh your own views against.

In the midst of this, I got a text from Nathanael. “Hey, if u wanna come to the call to action working group, it’s at the library now. I’m here.”. I had no idea what the Call to Action working group was, or even what a working group was at that time, but since I had lost track of Nathanael and this sounded like something important to attend, I made my way over to the Library. When I got there, I found a group of six people hunched over a couple copies of the Declaration of the Occupation; one of the few official documents released from #OWS regarding it’s purpose, and despite my not agreeing with all of it, it was one of the things that after reading it had brought me to Liberty Plaza. As I often repeated the first few days down there, “I may not be down with everything, but goddamn, I support the message.” Ryan, one of the co-authors (who would appear on Countdown with Keith Olberman regarding the Declaration with it’s other co-author, Lex, who I would meet the following week (that’s the video above this paragraph)) stated “this is a living document”, and led the discussion on making revisions to make it more accessible to the public. Wow. There I was, not 48 hours after reading this same document which helped inspire me to be where I was standing right then, and I was already helping revise it so that more people could be doing the same. It was a powerful moment for me early on in my experience at Liberty Plaza and the perfect intro to direct democracy at Liberty Plaza, though I would later attend a teach-in of the same name which I now lead at #occupydetroit.

*some names have been changed for privacy and shit 

It Was Time.

View of Occupy Detroit from LAX

Currently I’m sitting on the 3rd floor of a space generously donated to Occupy Detroit by LAX, a super hip tri-level nightclub in Detroit. The DJs are setting up at a DJ booth surrounded by blindingly bright LEDs that combined with the deep subwoofers here could easily put you into a trance if you stare at them for too long. The owner, Omar, is dressed in a sharp black suit with a yellow tie and is making his rounds upstairs, making sure everything is meticulously prepared for a party that supposedly started 20 minutes ago. Omar is a businessman and a Detroiter who has provided the backbone for operations here at Occupy Detroit, giving us space for our working group meetings, a place to warm up as the cold Detroit winter prepares to set in, and most importantly, a place for us to piss! The party is a fundraiser to help open the doors of his business back up to the public and a chance to relax and have some fun for all who are living across the street in Grand Circus Park.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to start at Day 0. This is post one on day 24 of my dedication to the #Occupy movements, on day 40 of  the Occupy Wall Street movement, and day 13 for Occupy Detroit which stands in solidarity with those on Wall Street so let’s rewind for a second! *cue sound effect*

My First Photo @ Liberty Plaza

I Thought Young People Sucked
My political awakening has been one of an entire lifetime. One of my very earliest memories is of my mother reading a poll in a newspaper in the living room I grew up in, explaining to me who the President was (Reagan, at the time), and why it was such an important job. Fast forward a few years and my father is in the same living room with me in front of the TV trying to explain to five-year-old me why we were bombing the fuck out of Iraq and Kuwait. I believe that may have been the first time I attempted to comprehend the great injustices in the world, a topic I still grapple with each day. The next two decades -most notably the past decade, as we’ve watched our civil liberties wither in front of our faces and as America enacts great feats of oppression across the world- filled me with a sense of frustration and helplessness as I learned more about how our government works, how it’s supposed to work, and how that fits into a global system of bullshit. Most alarming of all was how few people in my generation seemed to understand what was really happening, at least in the larger scope of things. After all, we’re the internet generation. We’re the generation engrossed and self-absorbed in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, our iPods/iPhones, video games, and reality TV shows. I felt we were a generation lost, too complacent, distracted, and ill-equipped to truly create any sort of political change. All our lives, we as “young people” had been told that “we’re the future”, but if that were true, then why the balls weren’t young people attempting to shape the future?

But yes, there I was, over three weeks ago now, in front of the same computer I’m typing this on and watching videos of hundreds of young people being arrested for standing on a bridge. This new and confusing movement I had just become aware of a matter of days beforehand was under attack, and suddenly, everything about Occupy Wall Street made sense to me; young people were attempting to shape the future! At the time, there hadn’t been a lot of press coverage. I hesitate to call it a “media blackout”, but there was limited information in comparison to now. The message was clear though; a group of twenty-somethings had gathered to protest Wall St’s unchecked political influence wielded through crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions, and really, who can’t get behind that message? But now they had just called attention to the Orwellian Police State’s existence and how our first amendment rights were truly under attack right in front of our faces (although I suppose this wasn’t really a question beforehand). I can’t quite describe the feeling I got as it all came into focus, it was pretty much something like “Fuck. Yes.” It was like an explosion inside of me. I was on board; I was compelled as if I had no choice. Occupy Wall Street had gotten serious attention and I was ready to help spread their message. Less than 24 hours later, I found myself on my way to the Manhattan financial district with a resignation letter sent to my boss, waiting for him to find that morning when he checked his email.

First Impressions/Holy Fuck, It’s the Police State!
Being one of those internet-generation types, I of course saw the Tony Bologna video (above) almost as soon as it happened. “Fucking pigs.”, I thought to myself. Not that I have any disrespect for those fine individuals who aspire to help protect and serve the public, in addition to having multiple family members who are “[insert city]’s finest”, I do truly believe the majority of people who become police officers are doing so because they are good people who want to do good in the world. But nevertheless, they are the face of an institution that has turned on it’s subordinates, illegitimately existing to support the two-tiered justice system, to protect and serve the power elite, while (what many internet memes detailing police brutality jokingly refer to as) protecting and serving the shit out of the powerless. rest of us. But in light of all the unnecessary use of force exercised by the various police forces, it’s important to remember that they’re the 99% too. Any time you get large groups of people together in a political-protest setting, you’re going to get protestors who just want to instigate with police, and also police who just want to instigate with protestors (I condemn both groups). That’s why it’s so important for Occupiers to remember that this is a non-violent, peaceful protest. The best part is that we have.

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like"

One of the reasons I was so concerned about the Brooklyn Bridge incident was because my good friend Nathanael was on it! I called him the day after to see if he had been arrested and make sure he was okay, and also as a sanity-check for myself. After describing this whirlwind of feelings I had experienced in the past 24 hours to him and how I was thinking of quitting my job to come support the cause and the message, “Should I come out there?” I asked. “Yes. I think you’ll really like it here.” was his reply. That was pretty much all I needed to hear. “Call Byron, he wants to come too!” Next thing I knew, I was in a car with two companions on our way to become Occupiers.

We arrived in Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon and parked at a lot with one of those crazy car elevator things about nine blocks away from Liberty Plaza which we hadn’t seen yet. The attendant noticed we had an unusually large amount of shit including camping gear and asked if we were on our way to Occupy Wall Street. We told him we were, and he expressed his support to us. On our way out, I attempted to tip him and he declined it, reiterating his support for what we were doing. As we walked down the street, a young woman passed by us and let out an exuberant “Yaaaayyyy!” after asking us if we were camping at the park. She gave us directions and we were on our way and I was already grinning from the rush of being in New York City along with the good tidings from the first two New Yorkers we encountered (because everyone knows New Yorkers are a buncha jerks! ha ha). My grin got even wider as we grew closer, the sounds of the drum circle (which I would later grow to despise) echoing along the canyons of buildings that make up the financial district.

That grin disappeared the second we turned the corner as Liberty Plaza came into view. A row of police cars and vans, capped off with an NYPD surveillance tower bordered one side of the park, and a perimeter of blue-shirts surrounded the plaza, with 2-3 stationed every 20-30 feet. It was a startling contrast to the festivities happening inside the park, and we pushed our way through the crowd to meet up with Nathanael. After the initial shock of seeing so many police officers in one place wore off, I took a look around me and realized that in front of me was everything I had hoped to find and so much more; not only was this a peaceful gathering of politically-minded people, which I almost immediately found was a completely accurate cross-section of America’s ideological beliefs, it was a bustling community with it’s own infrastructure! People stood in front of bins of books under a sign marked “Library” and a station handing out clothes and blankets had been set up next to a group of people bearing red crosses ready to assist with medical emergencies. Others patiently waited to be served food from a well-stocked kitchen area and in front of them, groups of people sat hunched around laptops, getting OWS’ message out across the internet. While taking all of this in, someone pushed a broom across the concrete past me with a nametag marked “Sanitation”, it was then that I realized there were three others wandering the park, sweeping up cigarette butts and other trash dropped by visitors to the park.

Nathanael found us soon after, and showed us to where he had set up camp. And for the first time in a very long time, I felt home.

(That’s all for now. I’m gonna go see if this party is kickin’ downstairs!)
*some names have been changed for privacy and shit