Reports from Occupy: 10/17

October 17, 2011

The Occupy movement has spread from a small protest encampment in the financial district of Manhattan to a mass movement across the U.S.--and now the world--with supporters in over 1,000 cities, towns, campuses and more. Here, is publishing reports we receive from activists around the country, describing the actions they're organizing and the discussions they're a part of. If you want to contribute a report, use this "Contact Us" page.


By Sam Bernstein, with Brian Huseby

OCCUPY SEATTLE HAS TAKEN big steps forward in the second week of October, culminating in the biggest and most exciting rally, march and sit-in yet--along with the reoccupation of Westlake Plaza--on Saturday, October 15.

The previous Saturday, the Occupy protest received a major boost as supporters from the community and organized labor came out in large numbers for the first time for a rally and march. This followed an antiwar rally the day before that mobilized hundreds out to mark the 10th anniversary of the war on Afghanistan.

The October 8 rally was planned months in advance to commemorate Indigenous Peoples' Day, but as soon as Occupy Seattle sprung up, rally organizers linked up with the Occupy movement. As unions and community groups began endorsing Occupy Seattle, they made this rally the first focal point for mobilizing their memberships.

SEIU Local 925, representing 23,000 workers in Washington State--mostly at the University of Washington, sent an email to their entire membership, urging them to get involved. "These courageous young activists have given us all a shot of inspiration and hope that we can indeed turn this country around," the local wrote. The King County Labor Council also urged its 75,000 members to participate.

Occupy movement activists have reclaimed Seattle's Westlake Plaza for their encampment
Occupy movement activists have reclaimed Seattle's Westlake Plaza for their encampment (Rachel Wilsey | SW)

"Labor organizations have a huge responsibility in stepping up and helping out people that don't have a voice," Pedro Espinoza, a member of the carpenters union, told Q13 Fox News.

Louise was out at Occupy Seattle for the first time that day. She said she was excited about the movement because "it can hopefully make those people in three-piece suits realize that this economy is hurting real people. My husband has been unemployed for 22 months. We have four kids, one is autistic." Without health insurance, Louise's family has had to rely on the state's Basic Health Plan for low-income families--a program that the Seattle Times recently argued should be eliminated in order to cover a looming $2 billion state budget shortfall.

Following the October 8 rally, over 2,000 people marched to the Bank of America Tower, where a very spirited rally and speakout was held. When the crowd marched back to Westlake Plaza for the day's General Assembly, police blocked the street to make it very difficult for people to actually enter Westlake. With the march stopped in the intersection of 4th & Pike--one of the busiest intersections in Seattle--everyone decided to sit down and hold the General Assembly in the street.

While the police scrambled to figure out what to do, demonstrators publicly and democratically debated the merits of getting arrested in an act of mass nonviolent civil disobedience. Following 20 minutes of debate and voting while sitting in, participants ultimately decided to get up and proceed into Westlake Plaza to hold the General Assembly.

On Wednesday, October 12, hundreds of students from campuses all over Seattle walked out of classes, rallied and then marched down to Westlake. Some 150 students from Seattle Central Community College and 250 from the University of Washington took part.

But the biggest demonstrations yet came on October 15, as thousands of people turned out in conjunction with the international day of solidarity for the Occupy movement.

Occupy Seattle had dubbed October 15 "The Night of 500 Tents" when organizers sought to re-establish the occupation of the park with tents. Ten days earlier, the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Parks Department--on orders from Democratic Mayor Mike McGinn--forcibly removed about a dozen tents and arrested 33 occupiers. Since then, the occupation had continued with only sleeping bags, tarps and umbrellas. The number of overnight occupiers fell to about two dozen as a result.

In response, the Seattle General Assembly decided to call for a re-occupation of the park with tents, understanding that the occupation has power in numbers and solidarity. The "99 percent" of the Seattle area responded overwhelmingly.

Meanwhile, several hundred people turned out on October 15 for Occupy Olympia, a rally and occupation of a central park in Washington state's capital, about 50 miles south of Seattle. After the rally, about 100 people stayed to occupy the park.

In Seattle, people from all walks of life came out on October 15 to get involved in the growing movement. The rally had a festival-like atmosphere as people listened to speeches, circulated through the plaza, checked out information and literature tables, discussed politics, made signs at the arts and crafts station, and danced in the drum circle.

Rob Davis, a recently hired electrician at Boeing and member of the International Association of Machinists, came out to Occupy Seattle for the second consecutive Saturday and planned on sleeping in overnight. He explained:

I've been working since I was 14 years old, but the last several years have been the hardest of my life. I got laid off from an air conditioning installation company and was unemployed for a year and a half. I lost my wife, my kids, my house--everything. I've got something to say, and I've never had a place to say it until now. People here understand how I feel, and I've realized that I'm not alone in this. I want the 1 percent to hear us and learn what we've been through.

Rob participated in an impromptu meet-up of union workers who were at Occupy Seattle on Saturday. The meet-up was initiated by teachers in Social Equality Educators (SEE)--a rank-and-file caucus in the Seattle Education Association. Several dozen labor activists discussed how to get their unions and fellow workers more involved in the Occupy movement.

A dockworker with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union talked the need to get workers out to "help support Occupy Seattle every day, not just for big Saturday actions." A member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers agreed, "My union passed a resolution of solidarity but the membership is not here. We need to push our officials to actually mobilize the membership for this."

Dan Trocolli, a teacher and member of SEE, urged union activists to build networks of rank and filers in their workplaces. Ultimately, they decided to start a labor work group within Occupy Seattle and by the end of the day, 150 union members had signed up.

Iraq Veterans Against the War also had a significant presence at the rally with a table that was consistently surrounded by soldiers and veterans who wanted to get organized. "We're out here because the money that is spent on bombing Iraq and Afghanistan should be spend on jobs, education and health care," explained Jorge Gonzalez, the executive director of Coffee Strong, an antiwar GI coffeehouse. "Many veterans are here today because we face some of the highest unemployment rates in the country."

Following the rally in Westlake, upwards of 7,000 demonstrators took to the streets to march through downtown. Upon returning to Westlake Plaza, teachers in SEE went to the front of the Chase Bank across the street and began a speakout to raise awareness of Chase's tax-dodging, and how that leads to budget cuts that take a terrible toll on public education. Several thousand people sat in the middle of 4th Avenue to listen.

"The 1 percent is extraordinarily rich because the 99 percent is struggling," said Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School and member of SEE and the International Socialist Organization. "There's a secret that the 1 percent doesn't want us to know: the 99 percent creates all the wealth in this society. While the 1 percent needs us, we don't need them! Teachers can teach without the 1 percent. Nurses can heal without the 1 percent. Bus drivers can get workers to their jobs without the 1 percent."

Following the speakout and sit-in, protesters returned to Westlake Plaza to set up tents and reoccupy the park. Within minutes, over a hundred tents had popped up everywhere. Over 500 people participated in the largest Occupy Seattle General Assembly yet and even larger numbers stayed in the park late into the night chanting, dancing and talking. That night, 250 people slept over--with no intervention from the police.

"This is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen," said Zack Pattin, a 25-year-old longshoreman from Tacoma who has been sleeping out at Occupy Seattle.

"Just like the Longview ILWU struggle, this is exactly the kind of thing we need to revitalize the working-class movement. It's an open movement, it has broad appeal, and it is passing radical politics to different sections of the 99 percent. It's absolutely crucial that the working class, working poor and unemployed get involved and speak out to shape this movement. I only see it snowballing from here."

Louise agreed. She said:

I'm so psyched about this movement. I love the energy, the creativity, the democracy. It's like the civil rights movement--politicians are going to have to start listening. We can change how politics and business are done--not just here but all over the world because this is a global thing. Multinational corporations control the world and this all started with the Arab Spring. I think we'll look back on this moment and see the beginnings of a massive movement for change. It's just so exciting to be a part of it.

Oakland, Calif.

By Francois Hughes

A DIVERSE crowd of around 800 people took over Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on October 10 to launch Occupy Oakland.

The occupation started in the late afternoon with a speakout and a General Assembly--followed by a dance party that the cops tried to stop, but backed off without arresting anyone. The encampment has continued since, with 10 tents set up for people to stay overnight and General Assemblies are planned for as long as the occupation continues.

On the first day of the occupation, many people spoke out about how the banks have received massive bailouts, and bankers and CEOs gave themselves big bonuses while the vast majority of people have seen their living standards attacked.

Most protesters were upbeat about the movement. "It's the most inspired I've felt long time," said Oakland resident David Bronstein. "It seems like people are aching to get active. I'll be back for teach-ins and the General Assembly."

While Occupy Oakland hasn't had a discussion of demands as of yet, people at the rally had many ideas for what they want to see. For example, Adam commented, "I want to grow an understanding in America that we don't need what capitalism is pushing down our throats--we need food, health care, community. We want people to see that there is possibility for a happy vibrant community not based on the current American system."

Oakland has a history of struggle that touches on the Occupy movement. At the edge of the plaza that is being occupied is a building that used to house Kahn's department store. A Kahn's picket was the spark for the last general strike in the U.s., the Oakland general strike of 1946.

Oakland also was the birthplace and hub of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the 1960s and '70s. Elaine Brown, who helped lead the BPP for a time, spoke at the Oakland rally and talked about the time gap between the 1960s generation and those who are getting active now. "We've been waiting for you to stand up so that we can stand with you and behind you and march with you," she said. "This is a message from the past to the future: Seize the time and power to the people."

Like elsewhere in the country, the Occupy movement in Oakland has many debates to take up. But given that activists only had six days to build for the occupation, the fact that 1,000 people showed up indicates how deep the anger runs against the policies of the 1 percent.

Charlotte, N.C.

By Ben Smith

ABOUT 500 or so protesters attended the Occupy Charlotte General Sssembly and march on October 8. Chanting the slogans of the occupation movement--including the favorite "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"--the group marched en masse to Bank of America's corporate headquarters in uptown Charlotte, and demonstrated in front of the bank's 60-story skyscraper for two hours.

After the protest, the crowd reconvened at the park adjacent to Old City Hall, where the local police department agreed to allow the occupation to take place legally. After a General Assembly, the protesters split into subcommittees on Internet, culture, food and provisions, labor, and others. Around 20 occupiers camped out that night.

The general assembly proposed a number of actions for the coming days, including a march on Duke Energy. Some protesters also plan to attend a demonstration sponsored by the local of the mail handlers in hopes of recruiting postal workers to the occupation.

The October 8 protest marks the spread of the occupation movement to the nation's second-largest banking center. In addition to its importance as a center of capital, Charlotte is also a strategic political city. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to take place in Charlotte in 2012. The significance of the Charlotte occupation has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream press.

The protest grew out of a Facebook group established several weeks ago that has since drawn just under 5,000 members. The preparation for the occupation took place during an organizational meeting attended by over 100 people at a local park the week before.

The demonstration included a wide range of people, including an unemployed union construction worker from Colorado who had come to North Carolina in search of work, a woman laid off from a factory job in Winston-Salem, and an out-of-work man from Spartanburg who lost his job at the city's Adidas Distribution Center after suffering a foot injury at work.


By Sarah Grey

OCCUPY PHILADELPHIA was launched on October 6 with an occupation of the plaza around City Hall. The occupation's first General Assembly included about 600 people from various political, religious and union organizations, as well as many unaffiliated participants who heard about the occupation on the news or through social media.

The protest swelled to over 1,000 as the workday came to an end. Demonstrators began a rush-hour march around the City Hall traffic roundabout, with chants of "We are the 99 percent--and so are you!"

Legal advisers from the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild met with Mayor Michael Nutter, the chief of police and city officials on the morning the occupation began. The city began by taking a non-confrontational stance. Nutter, whose upcoming election bid depends on union support, declared himself "part of the 99 percent" and invited protesters to occupy Dilworth Plaza and pitch tents for "as long as it takes."

Although amplified sound has not been banned--and the Stagehands' Union has promised a sound system--the "people's mic" was in use at Dilworth Plaza, with shouts of "mic check!" energizing the crowd. A library and children's area were set up, and a local production company organized a screening of the Phillies playoff game.

Jonny Rashid, a pastor at the local progressive church Circle of Hope, smiled when asked why he was here. "If this is the revolution," he said, "I don't want to miss it. The wealth disparity between people of color and the rich is just unconscionable. People are finally getting angry about it, even if it took the Middle East to make it happen."

Sarah, a twenty-eight-year-old nursing student at Drexel University and former Army medic, echoed Rashid's sentiment. She said she came down after seeing women on the Brooklyn Bridge being pepper-sprayed by the NYPD. "Are we going to be pepper-sprayed and hog-tied for standing up for what's right?" she asked

Political discussions continued through the crowd. John, a 52-year-old retired Teamster and gay rights activist, argued that the mainstream political parties are unpatriotic: "They're so busy fighting each other, and we're paying the price. They're throwing away our well-being and our infrastructure. They might as well burn an American flag for all they care about this country!"

As we talked, he changed his mind about whether undocumented immigrants should be treated as criminals or equal partners in the labor movement, and laughingly credited the spirit of debate and dialogue that permeated the plaza: "I never would have thought about it, but making us afraid of immigrants is just another way they separate us, like gay and straight, or black and white, isn't it? That's what I love about this place, we're all making each other think!"

Burlington, Vt.

By Steve Ramey

SOME 400 people converged on City Hall Park in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street on October 8 for a speakout focusing on Citizens' Bank next to the park.

There about three dozen speakers, including a woman who lived through the Great Depression. "I never heard the term 'homeless' in the last Depression," she said. "People were considered jobless. My mother had rows of people sleeping on her floor. Now if you aren't on the lease, you can't live anywhere." Several University of Vermont students demanded forgiving student debts that one described as "part of the attack on the working class."

The demonstrations have continued to grow since Occupy Burlington began several weeks before. On October 8, one speaker declared, "We are now large enough to declare a General Assembly and occupy City Hall Park permanently." There are some plans to go forward with a general assembly as well as a larger labor march next Saturday.

International Socialist Organization member Paul Fleckenstein connected many of the issues of the day, declaring, "This is the 10-year anniversary of another occupation, the occupation of Afghanistan. Now, students and workers are fighting austerity because of massive tax cuts for the rich and the ongoing occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have to demand that we end the wars and tax the rich."

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