Category Archives: nonfiction

Teach-in for Bradley Manning

A teach-in for Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and Julian Assange was held on Friday, October 22nd, in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. Independent journalist Alexa O’Brien, writer Chase Madar and others spoke to a crowd assembled in Bryant Park.

O’Brien is covering the trial “transcribing by hand,’ and has said, “There is no public docket for the trial. It is being conducted in de facto secrecy.”
Army Private First Class Bradley Manning has been in jail for over 900 days, allegedly for leaking the largest collection of documents ever leaked from the United States military, 92,000 of which were shared with the New York Times, The Guardian of the UK, and Der Speigel in Germany, all of whom wrote extensively about the leaked documents.

Manning’s defense is currently arguing a motion to have his charges dismissed with prejudice, due to a lack of a speedy trial. The law requires that no more than 120 days pass from arrest to trial, while Manning has spent almost two and a half years between his arrest in May 2010 and trial, which is scheduled to begin in February 2013.

Manning is being charged with aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, theft of public records and transmitting defense information. Manning could be sentenced to life in prison, if convicted.

Rock and roll legend Graham Nash recently played a fundraiser with the proceeds to benefit the Bradley Manning’s Support Network. Over 14,000 people have donated money to Manning’s legal defense fund.

One member of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, avoiding questioning in Sweden on sexual misconduct charges and, critics warn, eventual extradition to the United States for prosecution, like Manning’s.

An official protest against secrecy in Manning’s trial was lodged recently with the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forced by dozens of media outlets and organizations, including the New York Times, the Associated Press, Dow Jones, CNN, Reuters, the Washing Post and the New York Daily News.

Nevertheless, no major media outlet has a journalist at the ongoing proceedings at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Alexa O’Brien said in interview recently: “At the pre-trial hearing there was a smattering of mainstream media there. They left during this period. They’re not there now. All of the American networks were there for the first couple of days, but to be quite honest with you, they were looking at pictures of George Clooney and dropping for wedding shoes in the press pool while this trial was being conducted. That is a fact. I was there, and I saw them doing it.

“The AFP is there. I haven’t seen the AP…”

(originally aired in tv form at Occupy Public Access TV)

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Sandy and the City’s Response

It has been over two weeks since Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, devastating neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – as well as many other places in the region. The relief response has been sometimes overwhelmingly large from activists and community groups and individuals, working with scant resources and doing what many expected the city to do but has not: to help those most affected in a time of crisis.

By Mayor Bloomberg’s own estimation, 30,000 people will need shelter provided to them to survive the winter. Those who don’t want to go to a city shelter can be relocated to temporary housing, but only in places outside of New York City and far from people’s neighborhoods and communities.

Throughout the hurricane and into what is now a housing crisis, volunteers, political figures and communities have expressed frustration with the city’s seeming inability to help, or to even acknowledge the scale of the crisis, with the Mayor expressing that “the financial markets will resume, as will business in all five boroughs” just one day after the storm – while hundreds of thousands of people in the region lacked transportation, water, electricity or even shelter.

The crisis is so large that the humanitarian-aid group Doctors Without Borders, which usually operates in undeveloped countries, has set up a clinic in Far Rockaway, calling the area a “global disaster zone.”

Mayor Bloomberg announced on November 9 a new city program, called “Rapid Repair,” that would return people to their damaged homes beginning next week, at the expense of FEMA. The Mayor promised more ideas for other stranded New Yorkers “next week.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently derided the performance of the utility companies’ preparation for and response to Hurricane Sandy, including National Grid and Con Edison, in a letter to the companies, complaining of their “failure to keep the trust that New Yorkers have placed in you by granting you the privilege to conduct utility business in New York State.” Many residents are not expected to have power back until after Thanksgiving.

(originally aired in tv form at Occupy Public Access TV)

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Greenpoint Responds to Hurricane Sandy

The Greenpoint Reformed Church‘s volunteers prepared more than 1,000 bag lunches over the weekend, on top of thousands of meals prepared by the Church’s volunteers throughout the week as a relief effort for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The volunteers of the weekly Wednesday hot meal at the Church’s Soup Kitchen led the organizing of up to 60 simultaneous volunteers preparing lunches and hot meals. Bag lunches included peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, juice, chips, cookie or granola bar, and fruit. The lunches were provided to Greenpoint’s Church of the Ascension on Java Street, where Councilmember Steve Levin has been coordinating drop-off donations and deliveries to Red Hook, Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach.

Many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are reeling in the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. The city itself, without having done door-to-door inquiries, admits 40,000 – 50,000 people will need shelter. (In addition to the already 30,000 people homeless in the city on any given night.) Reuters quoted Mayor Mike Bloomberg as stating that, “We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city. It’s a problem to find housing.” This despite homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless’ findings that there are enough vacant properties in the city to easily house over 200,000 people, and then some.

I, along with thousands of other North Brooklyn residents, treked into Queens today to grab the 7 train into Manhattan. Why? Because the city has decided, by opening the schools and demanding that city workers return to work, that all workers can return to work – putting pressure on all of us to commute any way we can, or risk losing our situation. If the city actually cared about the communities that have been devastated, they would encourage us all to volunteer and help out, instead of working our usual dayjobs as though nothing happened.

Elsewhere in the city, ad-hoc volunteerism leads the response, not the city government. One volunteer from West Harlem, Ely, reported of volunteering in Staten Island: “We got there and per the Occupy Sandy site, ended up in New Dorp High School to drop off all goods. Later we walked to New Dorp Beach where the damaged houses were. We helped (loading our carts with garbage) move garbage bags from small alleys to a larger street where garbage trucks were picking up garbage. They still need a lot of cleaning.”

As the Red Cross continues to draw criticism for its lax response to the crisis in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the city continues its tepid response, it is only community groups, churches, Occupy Wall Street and thousands of individual volunteers that are responding to the needs of victims of Hurricane Sandy. While mainstream news continues to cover the Mayor’s carefully staged storm updates and delight in power returning to lower Manhattan, activists and volunteers are beginning to write and post about their experiences online, revealing a deeply disorganized city unable or unwilling to respond to a population in dire need.

Governor Cuomo tweeted Sunday night, “#sandy #safety: Shivering, confusion, memory loss & drowsiness may be symptoms of Hypothermia, #staysafe” with a link to a CDC info page on Hypothermia. As though anyone suffering these things would be on Twitter, checking tips from the Governor. The disconnect is astounding.

If people left homeless by Sandy held up an Occupy sign, would they get Bloomberg’s attention?

As tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers remain without shelter, food, warmth, water, or any sign that help is on the way, this becomes Bloomberg’s well-earned legacy: those he couldn’t stop and frisk, he let eat cake in the wake of Sandy.

originally published at greenpointers.com

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Stop & Frisk Trial in Queens

Protesters of the controversial and unconstitutional NYPD practice of Stop and Frisk are currently on trial in Queens. Four people arrested protesting Stop & Frisk in Jamaica Queens in November 2011, are currently on trial: Carl Dix, teacher Jamel Mims, Morgan Rhodewalt and Bob Parsons. All four have been charged with Obstruction of Government Administration charges, which could carry one year in jail for each defendant, for chanting protests on the steps of the 103rd precinct, which at the time had been barricaded by police.

The 103rd precinct is one of the ten most heavily affected neighborhoods under Stop & Frisk. It is also the precinct where Sean Bell was killed by police in 2006.
The New York City Council is currently trying to amend Stop & Frisk, and other NYPD practices, through the Community Safety Act. The Community Safety Act would create an NYPD Inspector General, whose responsibilities would include oversight of the police force, as well as prohibiting discriminatory profiling. The Inspector General would be able to oversee NYPD practices like Stop and Frisk; as well as the surveillance of Muslim communities. The IG would also be responsible to make sure the NYPD follows its own Handschu guidelines, which prohibit political policing.
The Community Safety Act would also require that the name and rank of the officer(s) performing the stop-and-frisk be given to the citizen.
A recent AP story about a 19-year old paid informant demonstrates the predatory nature of NYPD practices, with the informant using a “create and capture” strategy of “creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD.” The NYPD has admitted that the spying on Muslim communities did not lead to any charges or investigations.
A recent op-ed in the NY Daily News by NYC Councilpersons Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams explained the need for an IG: “At the FBI and CIA, and in cities around the country, inspectors general have helped law enforcement agencies improve unwise policies. Other times, IG investigations have shown that an agency under fire was actually in the right.”

A petition urging Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, to drop all charges against all defendants is currently circulating. The petition has been endorsed by City Councilperson Jumaane Williams; as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham.

The trial has been delayed by Hurricane Sandy, and is set to resume on November 5th.

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#S17 with Occupy Wall Street

We were at the Red Cube by 7:15am, joining hundreds of other Occupiers and supporters for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Liberty Square itself was barricaded, a dozen or so people inside – I assumed Occupiers, since what neighborhood resident would be trying to enjoy their park this early on a Monday with so many barricades and police about?

The brutalization of random protesters was rampant throughout the day, apparently as another tactic by the NYPD to punish political dissent, and intimidate those not brutalized into leaving – and to intimidate those who were not there in the first place from ever coming to a subsequent protest or event.

The day began for my group (me, my girlfriend, and friend, who all trekked in from Brooklyn) similar to last year’s #N17 action. We left in a column from the Red Cube and marched down Broadway to Pine & Nassau. Some Occupiers sang parody lyrics to the tune of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” including lines like, “Hurry hurry hurry / Get me out of jail / I am an occupier / I can’t afford the bail / Oh no no no no / Ba ba ba / I was incarcerated.”

Police lined the streets facing protesters, who mostly stayed on the sidewalks. A saxophone-playing Occupier played The Star Spangled Banner. Protesters massed on all four corners of the intersection. As the song reached “the land of the free” climax, a glitter bomb was popped over Nassau Street. An arrest most of us couldn’t see occurred in the intersection. Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Then the saxophone played and we sang, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” Someone berated the police about how Bloomberg would be stealing their pensions and laying them off soon enough, and then they’d be on our side.

An occupier Mic Check’d saying, “If they block the streets here then go around!” But those of us who were attending and not wanting to be arrested didn’t know where to go around to – we were trying to be witness to those participating in the traffic-stopping sit-downs, as planned and announced on the S17 website.

The Amalgamated Bank (a Union-owned bank; and the bank I switched to from Chase last autumn) on Broadway greeted the day’s protesters with a large poster in their window: “Amalgamated Bank supports the UFT and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

By 8:15am we decided to go find the Labor protest contingent, slated to begin at 8:30, and started heading back up Broadway. But this proved difficult with police lining the sidewalk (on the street). Particularly so because the police themselves relentlessly insisted that we “Keep moving. If you don’t keep moving you will be arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic” even as they themselves impeded more pedestrian (and vehicular) traffic than anyone else. (Many Occupiers were sure to let the police know about this with chants of “You are blocking pedestrian traffic! You are impeding pedestrian traffic!”) One female protester called out, “The NYPD shuts the city down for us. Great job, boys!” I was reminded of May Day 2012, when police were so concerned that protesters would shut down the Williamsburg Bridge that the police themselves shut down the Williamsburg Bridge. Obviously who shuts it down is more important than that it is shut down at all.

As we marched north on Broadway on the sidewalk, spirits were high. A band of horns and percussion had everyone clapping and feeling good; spoons were used on scaffolding to accompany the band. And right on time the police entered the sidewalk, waded into the crowd to randomly grab a protester, slam them to the ground, and arrest them. This split the march into two as people recoiled from the brutality. Several white-shirt police with macabre faces lunged at us, grabbing a protester next to me by his backpack and slamming him to the ground, and then a blue shirt cop jumped on him, then cuffed him. I had no doubt that he was grabbed instead of me because he was black, young and male – and I was let alone because I was a white male.

It was at this moment that I felt a peculiar failure as a protestor: I didn’t grab my fellow protestor from the police and try to pull him back to me. In the split second between being grabbed and being thrown to the ground, he looked at me and said “Help me out!” and I didn’t do a thing. Should I have grabbed him back and probably been arrested myself? I don’t know. I know I should have gotten his name and followed up with jail support, but in the chaos I lost him and did not. The money I was able to contribute later was a minor penance for this failure, which I partially blame the police for creating (he had done nothing to warrant the arrest, after all) but mostly just myself, for not knowing enough going into the action and not being confident enough to know what I should and would be willing to do at any given moment. I hated the police for having created this situation, but that is a futile waste of time and energy.

Wall Street itself was barricaded at Broadway, with police behind the barricades, in front of the barricades, and on the street. Protesters were attempting to move their way north, but the police suddenly cut the march in two, separating me and my friend from my girlfriend. Several people were brutally arrested. The police pushed us north onto the sidewalk, and then stopped. Then they came at us again and pushed us further and further north, until we were practically to Pine Street.

I began calling my girlfriend over and over waiting for her answer, fearing she’d been brutally arrested. Finally she answered the phone and we re-convened. She told me that the police had been pushing her from behind to move south, and she’d told them she wasn’t going to push the people in front of her just because she was being pushed by the police. She told them she wasn’t going to hurt someone else just because the police were pushing her. Then a protester near her was thrown to the ground and arrested. The police continued to push her, and she asked them if her moving south was more important than the brutal arrest going on right in front of them. The police told her, Yes, it is more important. She told them they had fucked up priorities. They told her to move.

Eventually we found our way to Bowling Green, where hundreds of protesters were gathering. An enormous Debt Bubble was pushed from hand-to-hand over the top of the crowd. We set out to peacefully march around the bull, which was at least triple barricaded by this time, as well as lined with police on foot and on scooter. We were pushed back almost immediately, and ended back where we started. The immense resources going to protect this bull are always astounding. Protecting the bull from what? An occupier straddling it? Graffiti? What other harm could befall it? It is as though the city fears that Occupiers “taking the bull” would mean the downfall of the whole establishment. Is there a secret self-destruct button on there?

Back at Bowling Green near the Museum of the Native American, some musicians playing guitar sang songs I didn’t know and some I did – including a rousing cover of Sublime’s “What I Got,” which rang true and pure over the OWS crowd: “Loving / Is what I got.” Signs in the crowd hailing the Love Generation, or Time For Love, were, like the Troggs song says, all around.

I felt transported in time, as though it were 1968 and 2012 at once. It was like I’d imagined the 60s generation, and I was no longer wishing it was the 60s – I was ecstatic to be alive today, to be alive to witness and participate in OWS.

At Bowling Green several people spoke using the People’s Mic, including Rev Billy, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who said that the world was “on a breaking point. It’s time to change the breaking point to a tipping point” for the movement. Helicopters overhead lowered as though to drown us out with their noise, and then elevated again.

Taking a break for a seat, some coffee and a salad in a nearby lunch counter, we overheard some exhausted-looking protesters needing ibuprofen. We provided some from our pockets, glad to be helping.

In the afternoon protesters swarmed into Liberty Park. I was surprised the police had allowed anyone in at all. And of course the population was diverse: young and old, whites and blacks and Latina/o and etc., LGBTQ, the disabled. I spotted again the French fellow who’d kept shouting over police brutality all day, “This is a peaceful protest, thank you!” I spotted at least three city councilmembers. And perhaps best of all, plenty of people who supported OWS even though they had serious problems with it. It is a place of solidarity, but also a place of disagreement and debate.

For about an hour, I stood in the midst of the drum circle (complimented with sax and trumpet; drummers banging on drums, staircase-handles, the ground, etc.) and joined Occupiers in the jubilee of celebration. As someone announced after calming the drummers into quiet, “The greatest thing we have done is meet each other.” The number of actions, groups, events and change that come from us having met each other can probably never be quantified – which means Wall St will never understand or respect it. But it is an amazing achievement.

I and a few other ebullient, celebratory souls led the chants over and over, familiar ones like, “Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!” and “An / Anti / Anti-capitaliste!” But mostly the one refrain: “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!” The refrain, repeated so many times, took on new and different meanings. For one, the initial meaning: Occupiers occupying Wall Street non-stop demanding change. But further, it also meant: We support the movement that is Occupy Wall Street, and we support it all day and all week. Or: There is a movement called Occupy Wall Street, and it exists all day and all week; it exists in me right now as I stand here in the midst of my fellow Occupiers; and it exists in me as I move through the world making decisions and taking actions; it exists in me as I try to learn about the world and better the world; it exists in me and changes me, and I change it. And in Liberty Square it exists within me and all around me, palpably.

A drummer, taking a momentary break, reminded the crowd via the People’s Mic: “All you need to solve all these problems is to love each other. And that’s the truth.”

originally published at occupiedstories.com

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scavenged-clothing deliveries to zuccotti park

#OccupyWallStreet – first visit – 10/8/2011

Dear Joan, Dear Bob,
Thank you ever so much for getting me down to the occupation so
expeditiously! There was an info table up front, where I was told that
the sleeping-bag-and-clothing drop-off site was in the middle, just in
back of the Kitchen. I unloaded the clothes, then went to the kitchen to
drop off the two packages of cookies I had scavenged from Gristedes.
There were bins of fresh food, canned food, etc  While I was trying to
figure out where cookies would go (if anywhere) someone behind me asked
if he could help. I handed over the cookies to him, and then wandered
around.

A whole bunch of signs were spread out on the ground in a display. Quite
a number had to do with the concept of corporate personhood, as well as
corporate greed. My favorite signs were

To ignore this movement would be an OBAMANATION. WHERE ARE YOU?

I got sold the American Dream. I want a refund.

Joes Pizza Hollbrook L.I.
The D’Onofrio family

Love you & support
Occupy Wall Street
Enjoy the pizza!
&  fight hard

LOST MY JOB, FOUND AN OCCUPATION

MR. PRESIDENT, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL

Many people were bedding down for the night, curling up communally under
tarps. But many others were still up, conversing, singing, etc.

I ran into only one person I know, Sharon from the Really Really Free
Market.

One corner of the plaza was set up as a library–something like 27 bins
of books. Quite a varied selection.

A substantial area of the plaza reeked of a sweet smell–incense, I
guess. Sharon thought it might be serving to cover up the smell of pot.
There was also a lot of tobacco smoking going on. (I mention these
because both were hard for me to take.)

I went back to the sign area and was copying down some of the slogans.
Someone near me commented on a sign mentioning the Rothchilds
[sic–proper spelling is Rothschilds]. The message wasn’t clear, but I
commented that it might be antisemitic. This led me to become embroiled
in a mainly good-natured discussion with a young open-faced man who was
unembarrassed by his lack of knowledge, asking a lot of basic questions
about Jews, history, etc. (a quality which I found admirable–what a
place to get an education!) and a slightly older young man who
identified himself as of Iranian origin, who was pretty much spouting
the Israeli party line (Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,
Palestinians are treated better than they are anywhere else, etc.). We were joined by a pudgy young black guy who said, “I’m just listening.”
I finally pulled myself away, having lost patience with both the Iranian
and the incense. In my attempt to extricate myself, I said,  “My name is
Vicki.” The Iranian said nothing; Openface said, “I love you.”

I asked at the info table what people did about toilets, and was
directed to McDonald’s, half a block away.  Before I located the women’s
room I was online for the men’s room, along with another women. The
sweet guy in front of me said he had been in Central Park earlier. I
asked what had been going up there. Nothing political, he explained. He
had met a girl at the occupation, and before she caught the train back
to Long Island, they had hung out in Central Park.

Then I went home.

* * * * * * *

#OccupyWallStreet – second visit – 10/25/11

Dear Folks,

On Thursday I made my second visit to #OWS, a quickie, two weeks after
my first trip. Things have changed. Near the Help Desk was a big sign
with about 10 guidelines–no drugs or alcohol, no violence, etc. Perhaps
as a result, there was no smell of incense, so being there was much more
pleasant for me.

I headed into the middle of the park to look for the clothing drop-off
site. This time the only person I knew was the surly American Indian guy
who used to work at the Yippie Cafe on Bleecker St. I said hello, &

asked where the clothing depot was. He pointed me farther on, and
grumbled that the clothes needed to be clean. I refused to take the bait
and forged ahead. Now there are racks and hangers for the clothing–much
more satisfying that just leaving bags of stuff. A tall, gaunt man with
a nose ring grabbed a quilted vest, then held a small flashlight to
shine on the rack I was filling up. When I finished, I said, “I
appreciated the light. I figured you were looking for more clothes, but
it made it easier for me.”

He said, “No, I was doing it to help you.”

I had a few non-clothing items, including a plastic cigar that I had
been saving for a street-theater prop. Next to the clothing racks was a
medical dispensary, with bins for all sorts of drugstore items. The guy
in charge of that said he’d take it.

Then I had a plastic 4-pack of tomatoes that I had encountered sitting
in the middle of the sidewalk on Spring Street, along with a couple of
loose tomatoes, one whole and one squashed, a couple of hours earlier. I
dropped that off at the kitchen.

It was already close to midnight and I didn’t want to linger. Many folks
were burrowed under their blue tarps. Now there are reports of tents; I
didn’t notice any then, but I did see a folding army cot, as well as
many silvery reflective sheets, the kind that are distributed at the
Marathon.

On my way out I passed the Library, which has expanded from part of the
wall area further into the center of the plaza, with several tables
holding more bins of books.

I passed up the chance to pee at the local McDonald’s, but several
blocks later regretted my decision. As I walked up Broadway I hoped to
find another all-night place, but didn’t. Then I came upon a
brightly-lit Duane-Reade drugstore, not open for business but in the
middle of receiving a delivery. I asked the manager if there were a
bathroom I could use. He said it was against policy but he would let me
in. He sent me down the escalator with an escort, who led to me to the
rest room and would have punched in the code except that it was occupied.

When I got back upstairs I thought I should give the manager some
positive reinforcement for his humanitarian gesture, so I said, “That
was WONDERFUL! Thank you!”, which tickled all the women wage slaves
deployed around him.

On the weekend I was at the War Resisters League office to feed the cat, and noticed a
printout from the Mother Jones magazine website on the desk. It was
about how #OperationWallStreet got started, and had a lot of interesting
info I had been unaware of. [By Andy Kroll. Mother Jones 10.2011]
* * * * * * *

In fact, I should have been aware of this whole dynamic, because I had
been hearing about it for months, it seems. An activist named Matt is
around a lot, doing some computer work for EarthMatters, the organic
internet cafe up the block. He’d been talking to me all summer, first
about Bloombergville, then about the downtown organizing meetings,
trying to get me involved. I was really happy to know that all that
stuff was going on, but I’m just off in my own little corner and I
didn’t have the time. But they seem to have done just fine without me!

* * * * * * *

#OccupyWallStreet – third visit – 11/10/11

Dear Folks,

Recently I was struggling home with an unbalanced bag of clothing hung
on the outside of my wheelie suitcase. A young man at my corner asked if
he could help.

“Yes!” I said. “Just hold onto the bag and keep it from listing to one
side or the other.”

The load-steadyer, whose name is Josh, told me he’s studying photography
at ICP (International Center for Photography, I think) and is doing a
project on night workers. Would I participate? Sure!

I decided that if he we got together on Thursday, he could document me
taking another load of clothes to Zuccotti Park before I went on my
scavenging rounds. Turns out it wasn’t his first visit to OWS, but it
worked out fine anyway.

I still have no idea what this place looks like during the daytime. When
we got there, the place was a sea of tents. There were little pathways
at various places, but it was harder to maneuver the wheelie over to the
clothing area. An occupier named Malik wanted me just to give the stuff
to him, but I wanted to give Josh his photo op, so I hung the clothes up
myself. Someone came over looking for a sleeping bag or blankets. but
Malik said they were all out. I pulled out a nifty sleeping bag I had
recently scored on Orchard Street and handed it over.

We made our way out on the north side, through a bicycle-repair area,
and stopped at the McDonald’s across the street to use the restrooms.

* * * * * * *

I made a fourth clothing delivery just a few days before Zuccotti Park was cleared and shut. I didn’t get around to sending out a report, but the high point of it would have been the tall, rectangular tent where the clothes were then stored–donated, I was told, by Patti Smith. For a while after that, I was still storing clothes for Occupy, but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Eventually I put them out locally, in the free store I run outdoors on my street.

 

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speaking, truth and power

It was recently suggested to me that the expression “speak truth to power” is a bankrupt expression, or, if not bankrupt entirely, a misleading testament to what is intended, required, and occurs in such an activity.  The argument for its bankruptcy, in brief, is that the expression implies that to address or correct the repressive, negative aspects of power what is required is that the reality of power’s actions and policies be revealed to them, that prior to such a revelation power is unaware of the negative, controlling, or repressive consequences of their practices, and that speaking the truth to power will facilitate awareness and in doing so will change their practices.  The argument contends that this is an absurd assumption for a number of reasons, though primarily because power is already aware of its actions’ consequences and this awareness does not and will not result in a change in the policies and practices.  This analysis intends to explore the phrase in light of Foucault’s interest in these concepts.  What will be more closely examined are the concepts ‘speaking,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘power’ as discussed by Foucault, as well as how putting speaking truth to power into practice might operate and if it might be of any merit.

I would like to begin by examining the concept of power, and consequently knowledge, for Foucault.  Foucault makes significant efforts to dissect and identify the many modes by which power can be understood.  It is important that power not be understood as merely one side of a binary.  This reduction is far too limited in scope and an inaccurate representation of the nature of power and how it operates.  Foucault says:

 

One should not assume a massive and primal condition of domination, a binary structure with ‘dominators’ on one side and ‘dominated’ on the other, but rather a multiform production of relations of domination which are partially susceptible of integration into overall strategies.[1]

 

Power is not located within a single site, it is not as readily found in the Sovereign today as it may have been at one time.  Despite the insistence of many to locate power purely in terms of Government or State, Foucault insists that “relations of power… extend beyond the limits of the State….”[2]  Instead, power is an elaborate conglomeration of relationships, a diffuse multiplicity of forces at work upon one another and with a myriad of localities and means by which it operates.  Foucault goes so far as to say that “power is ‘always already there’, that one is never ‘outside’ it, that there are no ‘margins’ for those who break with the system to gambol in.”[3]  The image here, of an existence, a frolicking even, without the controlling effects of the influence of power, is an image made possible in a conception of power in such a dominating/dominated binary.  In such a binary it seems possible for one to simply step outside of the struggle, to remove oneself from the attention of the dominating power in order to avoid domination.  Or, alternatively, it is a conception in which the alternative to being dominated is to simply work to locate oneself in the realm of the dominating.  However, for Foucault, power is much more subtle and ever-present, it is at work throughout the dynamics of our knowledges.

Throughout his work Foucault explicated how power, far from being solely negative and restrictive, far from being the entity whose primary object was to say “no,” was perhaps more aptly described as being the entity that defines both what activities and knowledges receive a “no” or are otherwise governed, controlled or ignored, as well as when and what we might say “yes” to.  Elsewhere Foucault writes, “The notion of repression is quite inadequate for capturing what is precisely the productive aspect of power…  [It] is a wholly negative, narrow, skeletal conception of power.”[4]  Part of the argument being made is that if such a narrow conception of power proved to be an accurate representation, power would be much more easily confronted.  Power, as such, would be met directly, it would be known by name, easily identified and located, and it would be hard to imagine that any given incarnation of power would be around, in such a way, for long.  Foucault points out, however, that power, while perhaps desiring or even disseminating this wholly negative conception (so that it may be misrecognized, unknown, and remain hidden), is not so easily recognized precisely because its positive, productive effects are so engrained within our societies as to be often unrecognizable as effects of power.  Foucault writes:

 

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse.  It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body.[5]

 

It is not just that power is much more fluid than the rigid negative conception often held, it is that its fluidity is shape-shifting and present throughout society in numerous and often in relatively beneficial forms.  Furthermore, many of the localities in which power is at play are considered integral and essential for ‘proper’ or ‘moral’ governance and functioning of society.  It is difficult to imagine proposing doing away with such institutions as penitentiaries, hospitals (medical and psychiatric), and a standardized educational system, and yet, for Foucault, it is sites such as these that serve as primary examples of the ways in which power operates.  He spells it out explicitly in Power/Knowledge when he writes, “To put it very simply, psychiatric internment, the mental normalization of individuals, and penal institutions … are undoubtedly essential to the general functioning of the wheels of power.”[6]

In returning to the question at hand, that of the viability of “speaking truth to power,” it seems that thus far it is becoming an increasingly difficult activity, at least inasmuch as there is not a single, or simply recognized location from which power operates and to which “truth” could be spoken.  But the outlook grows steadily bleaker in that it is not merely that power is multifarious, but that the mechanisms by which it operates, the wheels by which it functions, are located within, and deployed by, the construction(s) of truth itself.  Consider the following illuminating description of truth for Foucault:

 

Truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power… Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.  And it induces regular effects of power.  Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.[7]

Severance_Speaking

Truth and power coexist in a symbiotic relationship, and as such are not so simply divided into two separate entities, for power not only constructs and deploys truth, but it is also involved by simply organizing statements and speakers into hierarchies, into more accepted truths, less accepted truths, and their opposites, the outright falsities or the misleading.  This returns us to the power/knowledge dynamic, where it is not so simple as to say that power dictates knowledge, but that these two are entwined, that fields of knowledge allow for operations of power, and power is located within and by means of the development of a given knowledge’s discourses.  Foucault hypothesizes that “’Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.”[8]  In other words, power produces and sustains truth by means of fields of knowledge which power recognizes and creates the space for, as well as approves for content, and which truths thereby, in their status as such, reinforce and provide further means by which power might direct and control.

To “speak truth to power,” appears to be a contradictory or outright meaningless exercise, for to do so implies an opposition of truth to power, and, as was just discussed, such an opposition does not exist.  Truth is wrapped within power and power is extended by truth.  To be considered true is to have power’s blessing, to be true is to be knighted as such and once so knighted, these truths serve and protect the power that created them. The expression to speak truth to power, it seems, is indeed a bankrupt one.  Power not only already knows the truth, as the argument contended; it is connected to it and manufactures it, developing an ongoing and reciprocal relationship.

I would argue, however, that despite appearances otherwise, Foucault’s writing and viewpoint does allow for the phrase to retain its commonly held meaning and intent.  It is not that there is no alternative truth to speak; it is only that a particular speech, in content and standpoint, is not validated and promoted by power.  As Foucault writes, “There is a battle ‘for truth’, or at least ‘around truth’—it being understood once again that by truth… [I mean] ‘the ensemble of rules according to which the true and false are separated and specific effects of power attached to the true.”[9]  For Foucault there is an ongoing war to both speak and be recognized as valid, as well as a struggle to more explicitly understand, to expose, and then, perhaps, to resist, the means by which truth has been constructed and accepted thus far.

One of the more optimistic points that can be drawn from the conclusion that a battle for and around the conceptualizing of truth is ongoing, is that it makes revolution and resistance possible.  But for Foucault it does not merely make them possible, for to the same extent that he shows power to be multifarious and dispersed throughout the social body, so too does he multiply the opportunities for resistance.  He writes:

 

I would say that the State consists in the codification of a whole number of power relations which render its functioning possible, and that Revolution is a different type of codification of the same relations.  This implies that there are many different kinds of revolution, roughly speaking as many kinds as there are possible subversive recodifications of power relations.[10]

 

In every power relation, on the level of his microphysics of power, there exists the potential for a “subversive recodification.”  Power’s codification is power’s formulation of truth.  It is power’s effects, its naming, classifying, cataloging, normalizing, approving and disapproving, an acceptance of a narrative and narrator or a marginalization or a silencing, of object(s) within its given purview.  As such, in every instance of this there is inherent a potential to re-inscribe alternative meaning, to usurp the given categories and discourses and re-employ them, to re-create them as an act of resistance.  In a transcribed conversation between Foucault and Deleuze an example of this is touched on.  Deleuze comments on Foucault’s organizing the “information group for prisons” where prisoners were given the opportunity to speak of their experiences.  Foucault responds, “And when the prisoners began to speak, they possessed an individual theory of prisons, the penal system, and justice.  It is this form of discourse which ultimately matters, a discourse against power, the counter-discourse of prisoners and those we call delinquents….”[11]  Elsewhere Foucault will speak of this as a reverse discourse, or a discourse that appropriates the language or mechanisms of power and reemploys them toward alternative and revolutionary ends.

Speaking the truth to power may be seen as speech activity that proclaims, or (re)claims, and insists upon the validity of an alternate perspective, discourse or truth.  Engaging in this activity, speaking out against power and power’s truths, is indeed a resistance, and doing so does place one in opposition to power’s mechanisms and effects.  More importantly, it ought be remembered that given the diffuse, widespread, positive and productive (and consequently, welcomed as socially necessary) nature of power, to put oneself in opposition to it is to be, at least seemingly, in opposition to formidable and powerful opponent(s).  This is an important aspect of this discussion to remember, and one that is considered further in the collection of Foucault’s later lectures titled Fearless Speech.  What is central to this discussion, however, is not the dangers and consequences involved for the individual speaking, but that the speaking occurs in opposition to power, that it is an act of resistance, and that it be viably considered an alternative truth.  Returning to Foucault and Deleuze, the following quote illustrates much that is at work in this activity and is worth quoting at length:

 

Each struggle develops around a particular source of power… And if pointing out these sources—denouncing and speaking out—is to be a part of the struggle, it is not because they were previously unknown. Rather, it is because to speak on this subject, to force the institutionalized networks of information to listen, to produce names, to point the finger of accusation, to find targets, is the first step in the reversal of power and the initiation of new struggles against existing forms of power.  If the discourse of inmates or prison doctors constitutes a form of struggle, it is because they confiscate, at least temporarily, the power to speak on prison conditions…[12]

 

For Foucault it can be easily seen that such speech activity, the work of individuals speaking their individual truths to the powers that would otherwise restrict and dictate the narrative of their experience, is oppositional, is resistant or revolutionary and is, at least locally true.  Furthermore, given power’s ubiquitous presence, and that the widely accepted truths are power’s truths, it can be argued that alternative truths are not known by power.  While in the previously discussed binary of dominating/dominated it would likely be that power is aware of the truth both of and in their domination, here it is a much more difficult task to parse the forces at work, the intents of those forces, and the scope of awareness accompanying the applied force.  The parsing of power’s forces is not necessarily an archeology where we discover hidden truths, but a re-examination of what was previously believed or understood to be true, and a comparison of this with what actions are actually committed.  Perhaps it is only that some power relations require reminding of their original intent, or a redirection toward what may have otherwise been the noblest of intentions gone the well paved path to hell.  As such, the ‘speaking’ of truths, the calling out of misaligned behaviors with supposed intents, is exactly what needs to happen for there to be an awareness of a necessary redirection of course.

“Speaking truth to power” may be an expression that today is overused or misunderstood, but this does not discount its ability to be useful in discussion of power relations and in practice as a form of resistance to mechanisms of power.  What is obvious is that for the expression to be considered valid in a Foucauldian sense, a degree of qualification is required.  It must be understood with the accompanying features inherent in such speech activity (c.f. Fearless Speech); it must be heavily examined and explicated in respect to Foucault’s definitions of truth (especially with respect to the ideas of local or regional truths); and it ought to be considered in view of his conception of power and its relationship to both truth, knowledge, as well as the individual speaker’s own place within that relationship.  For speaking the truth to power to make sense as a practice, it must be understood that truth is by and large a construct or a tool, and that as such there may indeed be truths in opposition to or in conflict with one another.  To throw up one’s hands at this point, despairing about the nihilism of relativism, is to give in too easily and to discredit the discussion at hand unfairly.  That truth is man made, that it cannot be found etched in stone by the hand of goD, is merely to begin to better understand the nature of truth, so that one might better address it when it comes time to speak.

 



[1] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings (PK), ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980) 142

[2] Foucault, PK, 122

[3] Foucault, PK, 141

[4] Foucault, PK, 119

[5] Foucault, PK, 119

[6] Foucault, PK, 116

[7] Foucault, PK, 131

[8] Foucault, PK, 133

[9] Foucault, PK, 132

[10] Foucault, PK, 122—3

[11] Michel Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (LCMP), ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), 209.

[12] Foucault, LCMP, 214

References

Foucault, Michel. “Intellectuals and Power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, edited by Donald F. Bouchard, translated by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, 205-217. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. Edited by

Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

 

This paper was originally presented on April 13, 2012 at the Undergraduate Conference on Social Responsibility hosted by Georgia Southern University’s Department of Literature & Philosophy. 

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Entry Visa For Afghan Peace Activist Hard To Come By

Dr. Hakim, an Afghan peace activist who was two times denied entry visa by the US embassy in Singapore, has been granted a visa to enter the United States after a wave of protests and email/letter writing campaigns that sent over 7,000 messages to the U.S. embassies in Singapore and Afghanistan, and to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hakim, who is also known as Wee Teck Young. is a doctor and activist who has been working in the Afghan peace movement for almost a decade, including his work organizing the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. Hakim had been seeking the visa specifically to speak at the Caravan of Peace (organized by international human rights organization Global Exchange) in August/September of this year.

The visa was originally denied by the U.S. embassy in Singapore for a standard visa-denial reason: Hakim could not prove to the embassy that he would return to his country of origin – as though this were possible to prove, never mind what the Statue of Liberty has to say about it. Even though Hakim had been working for years as a committed activist in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Province, the embassy didn’t see that involvement as a commitment to return. This is perhaps revealing of the U.S.’ attitude in the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.

Google searches revealed that the only U.S. publications to bother with this story wereThe Progressive and Common Dreams. A Lexis Nexis search for “Afghanistan” “visa” and “hakim” revealed nothing. A Lexis Nexis search for “Afghanistan” and “visa” revealed nothing.

Hakim was interviewed on Democracy Now on April 19, 2012 about the release in theLos Angeles Times of pictures of U.S. soldiers posing with Afghan corpses. About his name, Hakim said, “…the Afghan friends that I’ve met over the past seven – nine years have given me a name out of affection, and the name Hakim means doctor … as well as an earnest person. And I’ve been trained as a medical physician. It also conveniently fits into my struggle with the Afghan people in just searching for non-military, nonviolent solutions here.”

Why is the U.S. so opposed to peace activists in Afghanistan and the U.S.? RAWA (the Revolutionary Organization of the Women of Afghanistan) claims simply that, “The US government and NATO … were looking to invade and stay in Afghanistan for their own military, economic and strategic aims. …The US [only cares about] their permanent military bases … for threatening and controlling Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and India.”
The campaign to obtain the visa for Hakim was organized by the groups Roots Action, Global Exchange, and Voices for Creative Non Violence. The Caravan of Peace begins August 12 in San Diego, and culminates in Washington D.C. on September 10.

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is currently in its 11th year, the longest of any U.S. war.

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Stop and Frisk Numbers Drop

The occurrence of the controversial NYPD practice of Stop and Frisk declined during the second quarter of 2012, according to department-provided statistics. The NYPD claims that in April, May and June of this year there were 133,934 Stop and Frisks in the city, a drop of 34% from the first quarter of the year; and a drop of about 25% from the second quarter of 2011.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denied that public pressure and opposition to the practice by organizations like the NYCLU and the NAACP played a part in the declining numbers. Instead, Kelly claimed that sensitivity training, as well as having fewer rookie officers in high-crime areas during the second quarter, were the reasons behind the decline.
The New York Times, citing “police supervisors,” reported that one reason for the decline was that “police commanders have grown wary of pushing for such stops at daily roll calls.”

The NYCLU pointed out that the data (which was provided to the New York Post by the NYPD) did not include data about the number of innocent people stopped. Previous statistics have shown consistently that almost 90% of those stopped by the NYPD are innocent.

The New York Post originally broke the story, claiming that, “On the face of it, the statistics seem to provide the NYPD with evidence that – at least in this one period – more stop-and-frisks resulted in fewer crimes and more gun seizures.”

John Surico at the Village Voice countered the Post’s claims about the statistics, writing that “you cannot make a wholehearted declaration of something based on a correlation.”

685,724 Stop and Frisks were performed by the NYPD in 2011, the highest year to date. Almost 90% of those stopped are black or Hispanic, with 9 out of 10 people stopped being totally innocent.

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No Nukes Protest at Rock Center

On August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the nation of Japan, on the city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 80,000 people and making ill hundreds of thousands more. This bomb was code-named “Little Boy.”

On August 9th, 1945, the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Japan, this time on the city of Nagasaki. Code-named “Fat Man,” this bomb killed approximately 75,000 people.
In total, it estimated that nearly 300,000 people died as a result of the two bombings.

Occupy Nukes, and other anti-nuclear protesters, held a “die-in” protest at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan on Monday, August 6th, to demand an end to nuclear weapons proliferation and production. The protest was held in front of the headquarters of General Electric in New York City, where Occupy Nukes activists, and supporters, staged a “die-in” or “melt-in,” wherein protesters dressed in black – to symbolize charred bodies – howled in pain before falling to the ground “dead.”
Five of the six nuclear reactors that melted down in March 2011 in Fukushima, Japan were designed by General Electric.

Other protests occurred on the same day at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the bomb was developed; and at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base in Puget Sound, Washington, which is home to eight nuclear powered submarines, which carry nuclear missiles.

At an annual ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6th, Harry Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, said “It’s now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again.” U.S. Ambassador John Roos also attended the ceremony in Hiroshima.

The United States remains the only country in the world to have ever used nuclear weapons in war. GE is currently seeking permission, to build a new uranium enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, pending approval by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Polls consistently show American believe that were it not for the dropping of the atomic bombs, the U.S. would have had to have a ground invasion of Japan, presumably causing more death and destruction than the bombs. This despite many official figures who have stated otherwise, including Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II, and Admiral William D. Leahy, Truman’s Chief of Staff, who wrote that the “use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”

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