Labor Party members reflect on their local involvement in the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.
SUCCESS LIES IN OUR ABILITY TO BROADEN OUR BASE AND IDENTIFY LOCAL DEMANDS
Katherine Walters, Occupy Tampa/Gainesville
I came to my first Occupy Gainesville meeting expecting to see mostly familiar faces and hoping for a turnout of 30 to 50 people. Instead, happily, I was met with a crowd of easily 150 people that continued to grow as we spoke. OWS has really created something, a lightening rod, attracting to it everyone frustrated with the economic inequalities in our system. At that first meeting I felt the impact this national movement could have here in Gainesville, and I got involved. The slogan “We are the 99%” and the class nature of this movement has attracted people brand new to the political arena, locally, and nationally.
I was in Tampa for the international day of solidarity [October 15] and marched with somewhere in the ballpark of 700 – 800 people, all of whom were very excited and many of whom were union members.
Personally, I have never had less than two jobs since I graduated college in 2007 with honors and a double major. I have never made more than 20k a year (and that was only once) and now have nearly 5k in credit card debt. I am on food stamps and can barely afford my rent. I finally have a car now after two years of not having one, and it broke down a week ago. I can’t afford to fix it and am currently borrowing a bike to get around. I turned in all my savings bonds to pay rent, so now I no longer have that $300 “cushion” I’ve saved since I was a child. I am the 99%.
There have been criticisms of the Occupy movement from all sides, but this is an outburst of class anger by huge amounts of people – so there will be mistakes made as we figure out the best ways to move forward and work together. I believe in Gainesville our success lies in our ability to broaden our base even further, and to continue to work together to identify local demands that will empower us to continue to fight. Our enemy has been named, the 1%, and the Occupy movement is giving us a way to fight back. I hope you join us.
A PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO SHARE THEIR STORIES
Candi Churchill, Occupy Gainesville
I was consumed by the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East, especially in Egypt. I felt like I knew the people personally and like I was part of it somehow, partly because unlike other uprisings I could see their statements and the reaction by the 1% in those oppressive regimes first hand. And then to see workers and students occupying the capitol of Wisconsin, I started to feel our time was coming here in the United States, that we the people had had enough. We just needed a nudge.
The Occupy Wall Street movement lit a fire in our country; it’s been more than a nudge. It awakened both a fierce anger at the 1% for the indignities and injustices we endure, and it also sparked a beautiful movement with renewed creativity, humor, love, and determination attracting people who haven’t been involved before in demanding change. We are not blaming each other, or ourselves, any more.
I went to the Bo Diddley plaza several times and was humbled by the people supporting Occupy Gainesville and by the people willing to stay the night in defense of the 99% of us. I stand with the people arrested, all of whom who over 50 years old, I feel like pointing out.
As a National Women’s Liberation organizer, I felt the need for a place for people to share their stories, so I called for a “Speak Out for the 99%” with Occupy Gainesville. With only a day and a half to mobilize, and a march to Wells Fargo earlier in the day, over 115 people (I counted!) came out and dozens told their stories about foreclosures, debt, mental health struggles, a lack of democracy on the job, immigration, toxic treatment of our neighborhoods, fear of not being able to retire, terrible treatment of teachers, unemployment and underemployment. It was a global day of action with occupations and demonstrations in over 80 countries and 1000 cities. I was proud of Gainesville for being a part of that. Part of a beginning.
OUR BIRTHRIGHT: THE WEALTH OF THIS WORLD BELONGS TO ALL OF US
Carol Thomas, Occupy Gainesville
I joined with the Occupy Gainesville movement to affirm my solidarity with the 99% who are my brothers and sisters on this planet. I joined the OG to claim with others our birthright.
The wealth of this world belongs to all of us and to all living beings inhabiting the earth.
But the 1% believes our birthright belongs only to them. So they rob and plunder, rape and torture to secure it. They swing the Earth as though it were a trinket on their wrist.
Yesterday, October 15 at the OG gathering, the stories of the 99% were heart-wrenching indeed.
It made me know that together we can — we must! — create a new world. For the first time in my life of struggle, I feel completely hopeful. Our work will be difficult, and we’ll make many mistakes. What we have now is not working. Forward with the 99%!
THE NEW MIDDLE CLASS
Larry Thompson, Occupy Portland
What is happening in Occupy Portland is beautiful – tens of thousands of families marching out of their neighborhoods with homemade signs; over 650 tents set up in two city squares; neighbors marching together; bars serving free beer; restaurants and chefs cooking and providing food; unions providing Porto lets and food.
I support Occupy Wall Street-Portland because it is about no longer blaming ourselves for not having what we need; it’s about speaking out publicly of our pains, unemployment, foreclosure, environment, student debt, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and not having a political voice.
This is the Gainesville model of organizing that brought me into the movement, and it is bringing all of us together and uniting us as a class in a struggle with another class that is much smaller but owns everything. It’s the 99% versus the 1%, or as we are saying now – the Working Class vs. the ruling class. Our movement includes unionists, vets, active duty soldiers, students, parents, employed, unemployed and homeless. When the media says it does not include the middle class I say this is the new middle class.
Occupy Wall Street-PDX is raising the consciousness of which class we are and that we can run this country better than those who are RUINING it now. We know how to feed, educate and doctor those in need. There is less confusion than when we did the question about class prior to the Labor Party Convention several years ago.
The media and politicians complain that we have no demands, but the Oregonian on 10/4/2011 lists one demand being made is to change the economic system. What is now changing is we no longer protest in front of banks but go in saying we are with Walter who is being kicked out of his home and not running when the cops are called.
As Dave Hennig said when referring to the street actions, “Somehow we need to make it happen in the work place”; so we need to demand democracy in the work place and the end of labor exploitation. We’ve been marching to cheers of We Are the Working Class and singing Get the Bosses off Our Backs.
My question is why haven’t the 1% shut the movement down? Do they not feel threatened or do politicians and the rich think they can use this movement and could this be the wedge that Kimberly talks about to weaken them? Let’s start saying what we really want and we will get the fruits of our labor in the work place and from our labor on the streets.
In solidarity with the ACLP – the people who taught me how to fight and win!
Get money out of politics: pass a Constitutional Amendment
Scott Billings, Occupy Gainesville
Codified by a right-wing, political Supreme Court, the Citizens United case, enabling corporations to ‘give’ unlimited secret donations to political campaigns, completes a 30 year class war by the wealthy 1% to buy our government. All issues are corrupted and subverted by this uneven playing field, as policy and law are now determined by the highest bidder.
Polticians will not help us: 94% of political winners have received the most money from special interests. The only way to get money out of politics is to pass a Constitutional Amendment. Several movements have started to do just this, and to make this issue a focal point of the 2012 elections. Go to www.getmoneyout.com and add your signature to the wave. Convince a friend to do the same. This is the concrete essence of the OccupyWallStreet movement. It is the only way to restore a clean democratic system.
THE SENSE OF POSSIBILITY
Sheila Payne, Occupy Gainesville
I am participating in Occupy Gainesville, out of a sense of solidarity with everyone else who is taking the time to go downtown to make a statement about how corporate America has all of the power and the citizens of the United States are treated as burdens on the system of capitalism. State Sen. Oelrich said that the Occupiers felt entitled and it all started with a system that “provides free and reduced lunches to school children”. Are you kidding me? How did this guy get elected? I see children at the school I work at who walk in the dark to get to school early, because they are hungry.
I have lived in Gainesville for 3 years and just officially joined the local Labor Party here. I joined out of solidarity with my friend Kimberly Hunter, who I work with on immigration issues and is doing a great job of organizing for the Labor Party. I also wanted to speak about the 130 Meal Limit campaign and solicit the Labor Party’s endorsement for ending that terrible practice. I gave money to the local Labor Party when I first moved here, but was not interested in being involved as I thought folks in it were only doing Single Payer Health Care stuff. I have been excited at the leadership the LP is taking in many labor and human rights issues. This is why I have been participating in the Occupy Gainesville, just out of solidarity, and also to try to recapture for myself the sense of possibility that a growing movement can provide.
I am not hopeful. When the Supreme Court decided that corporations could give unlimited money to political candidates, I have never felt such a hopeless feeling of doom. I have been an activist for 40 years; organizing around farmworker, free trade, Central American wars, anti-war, immigration, etc. campaigns. I have also put many hours into knocking on doors for political campaigns. I was a shop steward for the postal carriers for almost 25 years. I thought when millions of people marched against the Gulf wars, we would be listened to. When I worked to get Obama elected, I felt elated at our victory. Now, I can see that our political system is never going to work for the 99% of the people in the US.
I am concerned about the jobless rate, student loans, bank monopolies, lack of health care and food for all. I am concerned about our educational system and astonished I have picketed in front of Congressman Stearns office 20 times and he has never been willing to meet with anyone in any group I’ve ever gone with to meet with him. I feel duped. I do not know what the answer is. I appreciate that there are others I can stand with, who are still willing to fight.
TIME TO START OVER
Scott Camil, Occupy Gainesville
I have been an activist for 40 years and it is very apparent to me that the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of fewer and fewer citizens is destroying the quality of life for the overwhelming majority.
This is the first generation not expected to do as well as their parents. I am very excited to see our children finally realize how corrupt our system is and how it is robbing them of their future. We are being robbed to feed the appetite of an economic system governed by greed.
As president of Veterans for Peace Gainesville, I am very supportive of these young people who are spontaneously standing up and saying we see how the system works against us and we demand change.
Like in the game of Monopoly when someone owns all of the hotels, houses, utilities and the bank, it is time to start over. The primary responsibility of citizens in a democracy is to control their government. This is what the Occupy movement is all about.
Jenny Brown, Occupy Wall Street (NYC)
Occupy Wall Street has obviously been very exciting in New York, with activities almost every day including two disruptions of Sotheby’s art auctions that cater to the super-rich. Sotheby’s locked out its union art handlers when they refused to take a pay cut while the company is rolling in extra dough.
Occupy Wall Street from the first has been supporting the labor struggles in the city and in turn the unions have been overwhelmingly supportive of the occupation–both officially and in terms of mobilizing people power. The first big march that unions participated in, on October 12, brought out between ten and twenty thousand to march to Zuccotti Park. Most of the big unions had endorsed the march and many were organizing actively to get members there. The blue collar unions representing transit workers and Verizon workers, along with the college teachers and graduate assistants, seem to be most represented.
Zuccotti Park is right next to the World Trade Center construction site, and a couple of blocks from a big new transit hub construction project, so the ‘labor table’ at Occupy Wall Street gets regular union visitors from the building trades. This was reflected in a 30-person labor outreach committee meeting I attended where union construction workers made up half the meeting. The mostly older, mostly Black and Latino union members were very respectful of the young, mostly white meeting leaders. Everyone is taking this very seriously, even though the extreme consensus process was clearly alien to most union members.
New York unions had marched on Wall Street several times before the Occupy Wall Street effort got going, the most recent time the nurses union National Nurses United marched for a transaction tax. The unions led a 15,000 march on Wall Street May 12, and there was an occupation at City Hall park for two weeks (called Bloombergville after the mayor).
Experience pays off: The city used the trick that they had to ‘clean the site’ to evict Bloombergville, so the Occupy Wall Street folks knew that history on Friday when the City wanted to displace them on the pretext of cleaning. People showed up with mops and brooms, including members of the SEIU building services local 32BJ (many of the members are janitors), and the site was thoroughly scrubbed. (The real dirt is in the banks, they pointed out.)
Unions and other groups sent out a call to defend the site at 6 am on Friday (October 14). The police were expected to make their move at 7 am. When I got there, before dawn, the square was packed, and all around the square the sidewalks were packed, including a good number of union members in their t-shirts and jackets. I estimated the crowd at 1,000 to 1,500. In the face of the crowd, the city and the cops backed down! On Saturday around 10,000 marched on Times Square.
Occupy Wall Street is saying the kind of basic things about class that unions have been afraid to say so clearly, instead of talking about “saving the middle class,” Occupy Wall Street is saying the clearer, more accurate, “We are the 99 percent.” Instead of boring policy recommendations, they’re saying we can solve the problems in our society, but the 1% is standing in the way. “You want a demand?” said one woman’s sign, “We want a future.” They’re also raising the union chant first heard at the Republic Windows and Doors sit-in in Chicago: “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” (I heard a cop humming this to himself as one of the marches went past.) And although the occupation of the Wisconsin statehouse was targeting an immediate enemy, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are targeting THE big enemy, the paymasters of the likes of Scott Walker and Rick Scott.
Like the Civil Rights Movement’s demand, “Freedom Now,” there’s really little confusion about what the protest is aiming at. I’m glad that at this stage they’re not saying we want this law or that law.