Tag Archives: occupy wall street

November 17th on 16th

Tomorrow is November 17th. How many thousands of us will come out with Occupy Wall St? How many children and mothers and elderly will I see and remember to scold myself for ever being afraid of a cop? What Unions will join? How many students? And dayshift people? Homeless and teachers, religious folks. Signs that will make me laugh.

Since the world that is trying to be created will be new to us, it might be strange to even try to imagine its form. But we can imagine its meaning. We can imagine standing over the river. Will we be able to see Greenpoint?

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#OWS Midday March Through the Apple

By the time the crowd reached 116th Street there must have been 400 of them, clanging and shouting and marching south down the west side of Broadway in the warm early afternoon sun. Who? What? By this time, almost two-months into the occupation at Liberty Plaza, one just assumes that commotion anywhere has to do with Occupy Wall Street.

Finally chants of “We are the 99%” and “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!” give truth to suspicions. Police on foot and in automobiles case the sidewalk, more concerned with the demonstrators than many pedestrians, who either watch attentively or try to avoid looking at the demonstration at all. And of course there’s always some grumps complaining about demonstrators’ seemingly chronic unemployment.

The demonstrators had begun from 181st Street & St. Nicholas Avenue, and were marching the 198 blocks down to Liberty Plaza. A solidarity march from the people of Northern Manhattan, participants included State Senator Adriano Espaillat and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, and groups including CB12, NAACP, and United NY.

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The Growing Occupation is the 99%


It was a Friday, and Liberty Plaza was boisterous with drums, conversation, and the ubiquitous People’s Mic. Immediately I met CJ Phillips, who was pushing a cart adorned with cardboard signs detailing his homelessness. When I asked to speak with him, he handed me a three-page document outlining who he was and how he had been mistreated by government services and corrupt private enterprises. As a story of a person’s frustrated attempts for help from the health care and social services systems in the US, it is familiar.

CJ’s story is that he is a homeless unemployed actor who suffers from various illnesses and has lost everything that he owns. Twice.

He believes that Occupy Wall Street is about two issues: “governmental accountability” to the population, and more money for America,” specifically money for the homeless.

As CJ illustrates, OWS participants are disparate in their concerns. Nearby a bulletin for an October 22nd protest against police brutality is taped to a tree. A young woman stares at the line of police on the sidewalk, holding her sign by the stick it’s taped to, her somber face as bleak as her written message: “What Future?”

Another sign leaning against a tree reads, “Dude, Where’s My Middle Class?” Another, “The first time I served my country I was a paratrooper this time I am a revolutionary.” One taped up near the People’s Library reads, “Human Rights Are For Living Persons Not Corporations.”

The growing occupation movement is as described and chanted: the 99%. The people in the movement are outraged at the immense inequality of wealth and power in the country, and the injustice and suffering it causes, and are demanding change.
In the library’s corner of Liberty Plaza, where they have Marx and Zinn and Dickens and “Murder Novels,” a Poetry reading was about to happen. A Friday event.

Holding the sign broadcasting the event is Rafiq Aachwari, 62, who was born in Kashmir and has been living in the US for four decades. Rafiq has been to OWS at least a half-dozen times, and says he comes because he “believes that an earthquake starts with a tremor. I believe we need to raise our voices and take our country back.”

Rafiq is a poet, an essayist, a former businessman and artisan. “A person who would help artisans and empower artisans in the Himalayas,” he says, by purchasing handmade goods that were then sold in the West.

He offers solutions with brevity. “First priority should be education. Second, health care. The defense budget is unconscionable.” He hopes that the people’s voices will be heard, and suggests regulation of financial institutions and reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act.

While stressing that he does not want to be a victim, Rafiq says that predatory lenders coaxed him into mortgaging his apartment, which he eventually lost, having to declare bankruptcy. “I have nothing to lose,” he says. “I am starting all over again.”

At the poetry reading, each poet has three minutes, and can choose to shout or to use the People’s Mic. Names are drawn from a box. Rafiq uses the People’s Mic to read a poem he translated from Urdu, by the poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

“This poem,” he says in introduction, “written in 1979 in San Francisco, foresees the Arab Spring and, by extension, Occupy Wall Street. So listen up.” The poem ends in the unity of the 99%, with a slight change by Rafiq from the original:

“We the pure and the rejected
Standing in Liberty Square
Our hands blossoming into fists
Will rend the sky with a cry
I am truth
Which is you as well as I
And the beloved of earth will reign

While the poetry reading continues, underneath the corporate art known as “The Weird Red Thing” a female on violin and a male on acoustic guitar strum though some instrumental songs until arriving, via audience suggestion, at drinking songs like “Whiskey in the Jar” and even “Seven Nights Drunk.” Several gentlemen – young and old – get down in the dance circle as the audience keeps time with handclaps.

99%ers in over 1,500 US towns and cities are occupying or planning occupations of their own, in solidarity with OWS. The movement has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders, the Working Families Party, Moveon.org, AFL-CIO, SEIU 199, the United Federation of Teachers, faculty of Columbia, the New School and NYU, and Ben and Jerry’s.
It’s beginning to make me hum some bars from “Alice’s Restaurant.”
“Can you imagine fifty people a day, walking in, singing a bar of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ and walking out? Friends, they may think it’s a movement. And all you’ve got to do to join in is sing it the next time it comes around on the gui-tar…”

originally published at the Indypendent

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Talking Greenpoint and Occupy Wall Street with Assembly Member Joseph Lentol

Joseph Lentol has been the New York State Assembly Member for Brooklyn’s District 50 (which includes Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene) since 1983. He is also Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Codes, tasked with reviewing criminal justice legislation. He previously served as Assistant District Attorney in Kings County before he began holding elected office in 1972.

I spoke with Assemblyperson Lentol over the phone on October 19th.

JC: So I wanted to get your thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street protest. I’m wondering what you think of them, and if you’ve spoken with any participants?

JL: I certainly have been thinking about it a lot. Unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to anyone and I didn’t realize until Amy [Cleary, Lentol’s Communications Director] told me that you suggested it was a Greenpoint resident who was the person who was pepper-sprayed by the police department. By the Deputy Inspector, I guess. And later featured in the Daily News and New York Times articles.

So I guess the first thing I can say is that I’m really proud of what they’ve done down on Wall Street because they’ve exercised what we consider to be the founding fathers’ gift to us, which was a democracy and the first amendment in action. So this is what the founding fathers believed in and wanted to promote when they founded a country and adopted a constitution.

So some two hundred and fifty years later, it still holds true.

I have received dozens, if not hundreds of emails on the topic and answered all of them and even spoken to several participants. Or people who are interested, I should say. My sense of it is that these people are frustrated. They are well meaning and they are peaceful. And they’re right.

The most interesting thing that I can tell you about is that there’s almost like a cyclical situation that seems to occur in the history of the United States of America. Where we have come across a situation like this. For example, in the 1900s we have the Robber Barons. John D Rockefeller and all of the industrialists that wanted to take what they could get from our economy, and did. And they created all of the Trusts. And then several later the Trust Buster, Teddy Roosevelt, who wasn’t even from my party, came along and he was the Trust Buster. And that kind of was a correction, at the time, when the Trusts were broken up. And not to far along later you had Wall Street again rearing its ugly head in the Great Depression, when the stock market collapsed and again, there were a lot of greedy people who were taking advantage. A lot of rich people getting richer and poor people getting poorer and what resulted was the Great Depression. And the New Deal had to come along to take us out of that. And that was a correction.

We established a lot of policies in the New Deal that would be a correction so that people would be able to enjoy some prosperity. And they did! For a lot of years, through the 50s and the 60s America a pretty good country, at least economically. In other ways it wasn’t.

JC: So do you see the OWS protests as a reaction against economics in the country, exclusively?

JL: This is the same kind of situation where you’re having a correction. We’re seeing a correction in action. Where a lot of rich people have taken advantage of the poorer people and have gotten their way. Either with government or their way with the economy. And the bankers that people down on Wall Street are complaining about have gotten their way. And now it’s the people’s turn to try and bring about a correction because the people are the ones that are suffering. Kids can’t pay their student loans, they can’t get mortgages, they can’t borrow money from the banks, and they’re fed up and tired of it. They can’t get a job! And something has to give, somebody has to do something.

It’s not simple to come up with an answer of exactly what to do, and think that’s why their message is a little bit foggy and you don’t understand why they can’t come up with a concrete message. But you know, they’re out their in the wilderness because that’s what this is. It is a wilderness. And they don’t know, necessarily, where the problem lies or how to correct it. And an administration in Washington that’s trying to deal with, and we’ve got people on the other side who take a different view of how to deal with it, and as a result there is inaction and gridlock.

JC: So how you been down to the OWS demonstration? Have you seen it?

JL: No, I haven’t, but I plan to go. But I haven’t seen it. And I’m sorry that I haven’t, but I haven’t gotten there.

JC: I’m sure you read about the pepper spraying on the 24th, and then the many arrests several days later on the Brooklyn Bridge. Why do you think that city is responding in this way?

JL: Well, let me preface that by saying that by and large, I think that for a protest of this size and scale the mayor and police commissioner who control the NYPD have been in my opinion fairly supportive of the first amendment rights of the protestors. And the mayor has expressed that. I know that deep down he may have misgivings about keeping them there in the park, but I think he genuinely believes that people have a right to protest. Tempers wear thin, passions run high, anger is misdirected. And I think that’s what you’re seeing with the police department problems.

And it happens in all demonstrations that I’ve seen over the years. It’s one of the lessons that we learned in history and that’s why we have the Citizens Complaint Review Board. And now the situation is a lot different than it was in those days. You know, like the Vietnam War protests and other protests that happened in the past. Because people have videophones, they have cameras. It’s much easier to sort out what happened at these incidents. I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened when all of these incidents took place, so I can’t really condemn, having not seen it firsthand. But I hope that if there was police brutality that it’s is dealt with swiftly and a just conclusion is reached. And if there was not police brutality, that the officer’s names be cleared, as well.

Above all, I believe that these incidents should not infringe upon people’s right to protest and dampen the message that the protesters are trying to create.

JC: One of the issues OWS is dealing with is homelessness, perhaps particularly because the homeless are a part of the movement and life in the park. You have been working for years on the homeless problem in Greenpoint. With what you know about OWS, do you think they offer solutions to the problem?

JL: The homeless problem is certainly related to what’s going on on Wall Street. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. You know, if you don’t have a house, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have a job, and you can’t get a loan – so what are you gonna do, live in the street or live in your car? The homeless problem is related to what’s going on. We’re gonna see a lot more of it if the present situation is allowed to continue and the protesters aren’t successful, in my opinion.

The city is only interested in the big picture. All of the homeless that they have to deal with. And they want to put them in as many mass shelters as they can, rather than really trying to deal with the solutions to the problem, which are the causes of homelessness. And creating affordable housing for people to live in. Because, you know, at the rate we’re going you know the city was very good, they built a lot of luxury houses but where do the poor people live? There aren’t any services for a lot of Polish speaking people that have a lot of problems in this neighborhood. And the city is not concentrating on that, they’re concentrating on the big picture of homelessness and just trying to warehouse them away so that nobody sees them. And that’s not the answer to the problem, we’ve been doing that for thirty years. And it hasn’t solved the homeless problem, has it? All it does is make it worse. …Either they don’t want to solve the problem or they don’t care.

JC: There is an Occupy Brooklyn movement. There’s been two GA’s. What do you think of that? And what you might think of an Occupy Greenpoint movement?

JL: I think it’s great. I think that an Occupy Greenpoint or Occupy Brooklyn, as long as it was peaceful and law-abiding, I think the many people in Brooklyn could benefit from sharing in the ideals that the Wall Street folks are fighting for. We have high unemployment here, some of the highest poverty rates, and a great need for services. And I believe that needs to change.


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#OWS 11.07.11

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Stephen Levin Defends Occupy Wall Street

Local and national organizations – from Moveon.org, to the Working Families Party – have been putting out the call today to stop Mayor Bloomberg from evicting the peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters tomorrow. On Wednesday night, the Mayorinformed (informally) the protesters that they would have to vacate the park on Friday morning at 7 a.m for “cleaning.” They would then be allowed back into the park, but without being able to use sleeping bags, tarps, or even to lay down – effectively ending the occupation. The city used the reason of “cleaning” to end last summer’sBloombergville protests, as well.

A call to Greenpoint’s City Councilmember Steve Levin found that Levin was already at the OWS occupation in the financial district, preparing for an “emergency” press conference at 6:00pm, asking the Mayor to continue negotiations about cleaning with the protesters and not to continue with the city’s plan to effectively evict them.

When asked if Levin were planning to be at OWS on Friday morning, when the police are expected to evict the protesters, Levin’s representative said that they hoped tonight’s emergency press conference would make that unnecessary.

The OWS protesters have been in the park since September 17th. They have a Sanitation Committee responsible for the park’s upkeep, and today they brought in power-washers and other equipment to clean the park themselves, although perhaps not to Brookfield Property’s (the owners of the park) satisfaction.

originally published w/ video at greenpointers.com

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Skywriting Above NYC

Walking east along Nassau Avenue this afternoon, I saw many heads looking up, and followed their gazes.

Above the city two planes were busy writing a message in the blue sky, although this insufficient number was cut to one plane eventually, so that by the time the message was complete the beginning had disappeared.

“Lost Our Lease,” the skywriting finally read. The message appears to be a project called The Sky is the Limit/NYC, by Kim Beck, supported by Friends of the High Line. The project “consists of fleeting messages from advertising billboards and storefront signage” including phrases like “Last Chance,” “Now Open,” or today’s “Lost Our Lease.”

Greenpointers watching the events unfold were wry about the inability of the planes to deliver a full legible message. “Good use of money,” one man said, carrying his infant back inside. Several people wondered why they didn’t just write “#OWS.”

When contacted, artist Kim Beck replied that only one plane was used for the skywriting said the each piece had a “nuanced range” of meaning.

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Holding the Park For Everyone

Brooklyn was almost without pedestrians as we walked through the 5am stillness. One block from the G train we spotted one of Occupy Wall St’s parodic posters, made to look like the MTA’s. It read, “Planned System Changes. Occupy Wall St. We are the 99%.”

The city was threatening to evict the Occupy Wall St protesters, under the thin guise of “cleaning” the park. In the interim between noticing that the park should to be cleaned and announcing it to the occupiers, some new rules occurred. These included a prohibition on sleeping bags, tarps, and lying down. Effectively ending the occupation.

Solidarity had been requested from OWS, and individuals as well as groups answered, including the Working Families Party, the ANSWER Coalition, and Moveon.org. The AFL-CIO circulated a solidarity petition online. Labor Notesreported that members of “United Auto Workers, building services workers in their SEIU Local 32BJ purple T-shirts, and Transport Workers Local 100″ were present. “Everybody’s under attack,” Labor Notes quoted one union participant. “Nobody’s safe.”

This labor support is not only based on principle similarities between the groups, but on the Occupy Wall Street Labor Support/Outreach Working Group’s participation in solidarity actions with several unions in New York, including Teamster’s at Sotheby’s and the postal workers.

Arriving at Liberty Park at 5:57 we heard the familiar call and response, “Tell me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like.” This was followed by the defiant and ambitious refrain, “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!”

A posting taped to a pole relates that there is an “#OWS bagcheck” nearby. Wikileaks’ truck is idling alongside the park with the news vans, which include Fox 5, ABC, NBC, and CNN. Wikileaks’ truck reads, “Top Secret. Mobile Information Unit.” The back reads, “Release Bradley Manning.” The NYCLU is here, too. And many green-hats from the National Lawyers Guild.

We awkwardly estimate that there are 2,000 people in the park already. OWS had spent the day before and all night cleaning and moving their belongings to off-site locations in preparation for the expected confrontation with police.

People passing the park have mostly positive comments. Variations of, “Looks really clean,” and, “I hope they can stay.” Police are lining the park, directing traffic. A couple in business attire holds a prescient sign, “Freedom of Assembly?”

Police are on the sidewalk, outside of the barricades. The protesters are so numerous that the barricades seem barely able to hold their swell. At some point a police officer is stationed on each side of the crosswalk, to prohibit people from entering the park. Many people just merrily walk in a wide arc around the officer and into the park, with bemused smiles.

Someone says into their phone, “They’re not gonna do it. Bloomberg backed down.” Then another says, “It’s not gonna happen.” When it is announced that there will be no cleaning, the crowd’s roar is enormous.

At 6:52 a march of people heads south out of the park on Broadway. A General Assembly is going on but it is often difficult to hear the third wave of the People’s Mic repetitions. Some people want to march on Broadway and don’t know that other people have already left on a Broadway march.

A laughing group with brooms sweeps the sidewalk near the red cube, for a video. Police on scooters zip by the park, south on Broadway. The scooters whine like a substantive insect.

At 7:50 a group of cops with large helmets on march down Broadway, followed by many cameras and somewhat alarmed and somewhat curious onlookers. This is an intense scene early in the morning for an unprepared individual on the sidewalk on their way to work. Some bustling pedestrians are pissed off under their breath that the protestors don’t have jobs and should try to obtain them. The cops stop at 55 Broadway and wait.

Wall Street itself is barricaded, so the marchers have turned down some other street to come around at Wall Street and march on it from the other side.

Gothamist reports that there are 1,000 people on Bowling Green. The cops march back up, north on Broadway. A man stands in the street holding a sign reading, “Resist.” He is later arrested near the park. Some police march back up Broadway, some don’t. The AP reports that 14 people “who obstructed traffic by standing or sitting in the street, and others who turned over trash baskets, knocked over a police scooter and hurled bottles” are arrested.

We follow back to the park, annoying more commuters. At the park vibrations are positive. It was a victory for OWS when under attack by the city. Later one protestor said, “This is my occupation. I will be here forever.” It is estimated that 3,000 people felt the same early on a Friday morning, and that hundreds of thousands did so online, by phone, email, and other actions.

And they held the park. And somehow by holding it, by insisting on the right to it, they demonstrated that the OWS movement isn’t about the park at all. What it is about is not for anyone to say, maybe, since it’s for everyone.

additional reporting by E. D. Severance

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Pictures from Liberty Plaza, NY

(article available here)


Added Wednesday, September 21st, 2011. Filed underfeatured. You can leave a comment

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A considerable amount of media attention to the demonstration today, at least online.

The NYT’ blog.

Not only Al Jazeera – who had it on the homepage (and a stream) – but CBS, too.

And Gothamist.

One Twitter wrote, ‘The police ask to speak with the leader. We told them that there is no leader. They didn’t understand.’

On the live stream, one activist from Spain commented that, ‘They started making assemblies but nobody knows how to do that. So they need to learn from us.’

But the police took the square. And they chanted, ‘We’ll be back!’

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