Reports from Occupy: 11/3
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, SocialistWorker.org 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
ON OCTOBER 29, Occupy Seattle held a teacher-led action against Chase Bank and also officially moved its encampment with the aim of finally being able to establish a stable and secure organizing center.
Wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with "I am a teacher" on the front, public school teachers with the Social Equality Educators (SEE) caucus tried to enter a Chase Bank in order to do a teach-in on the economic crisis. As several hundred Occupy Seattle participants rallied out front in support, four teachers were able to get inside the bank before security and the police locked the doors. Those four teachers, refusing to leave, were put under arrest, but then immediately released outside.
While the teachers tried to re-enter the bank in order to administer their lesson plan and an exam to the bank manager, hundreds of supporters chanted, "Teacher layoffs, no thanks! Bail out schools, not the banks!"
With police blocking the entrance to the bank, the teachers decided to go over the first part of the lesson plan on the sidewalk in front. With large posters and graphics as teaching aids, they discussed how much wealth has been concentrated and inequality has grown in the U.S. over the past several decades.
After marching to another Chase branch but again being denied entry, teachers moved on to the rest of the lesson, which focused on JPMorgan Chase's direct role in starving the state budget and public education of much-needed funds. Specifically, JPMorgan Chase pays no taxes on its mortgage-related income in Washington state, using a loophole it inherited from the bankrupt Seattle-based Washington Mutual, which it acquired in the 2008 financial crash. This loophole robs the state $100 million in revenue each year.
Teachers also explained that Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the country. With no income tax and a reliance on sales and property taxes, the poorest 20 percent pay 17 percent of their income in taxes while the richest 20 percent pay less than 3 percent.
Meanwhile, the Washington state legislature cut teacher pay by 1.9 percent earlier this year in order to help close a $5 billion budget deficit. With sales tax revenue already much lower than expected, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire recently announced a further $2 billion budget gap and called for a special session of the legislature at the end of the month in order to implement further cuts.
Marian Wagner, an elementary school teacher and SEE member, explained the difficulties that teachers face in dealing with repeated budget cuts:
We want a well-educated society, but the lack of resources and investment make it impossible to do that. Education policies right now are draconian. It's all about teacher evaluations based on test scores and this corporate-driven "reform" doesn't actually address the problems in public education. They're forcing out good teachers who've worked their whole lives to do everything they can to help their kids. I have kids with disabilities who need more than I can possibly give them. We need smaller class sizes and more teachers. Without these supports, "accountability" is just draconian.
The crowd then outwitted the police in order to take the street and march through downtown chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back!" and "We, the people, are too big to fail!"
"This was really awesome," Marian said. "We got a lot of allies out and people learned the specifics of education issues and how they fit into the larger economy. It's really important for the Occupy movement to have teachers involved. We need the working class to be visible and organized--to put a human face on it."
Afterward, roughly 700 people marched to Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) to officially move Occupy Seattle's base of operations there--and to finally set up an ongoing tent encampment.
Occupy Seattle has only been able to set up a functioning tent encampment in Westlake Park for a total of six days over the past month. While police attacks on Occupy Seattle have not received the same media attention that crackdowns in other cities have, that is only because Democratic Mayor Mike McGinn and the police have taken a lower-profile approach of constant daily harassment and targeted arrests of relatively small numbers of people.
Just four days after the occupation of Westlake Park began a month ago, several dozen bike cops and park rangers took down every tent and arrested 33 protesters, stating that overnight camping in the park was not allowed. Occupiers, however, were not deterred. Despite near-freezing temperatures at night and pouring rain, dozens of people continued to sleep in the park with nothing more than sleeping bags, tarps and umbrellas.
Mayor McGinn responded by outlawing umbrellas in the park, claiming that unless they are held upright by someone standing, they are considered "structures."
Police also "occupied" the awnings of businesses along the plaza to deny protesters any relief from the rain. Then police started ticketing cars that honked in support of the movement after 10 p.m. for noise ordinance violations while also using their loudspeakers to repeatedly threaten arrest after the 10 p.m. curfew. Police also shined squad car lights on the camp throughout the night and walked around shaking people awake.
As a result of this ongoing harassment, the encampment was plagued by exhaustion, strained nerves, sickness and hypothermia while the number of overnight campers dwindled. In response, Occupy Seattle put out a call to re-occupy the park and over 150 tents were erected. However, in a pre-dawn raid two days later, police moved in quickly, tearing down all of the tents and arresting eight people.
For the next week, Occupy Seattle discussed how to establish an ongoing encampment, ultimately voting to move the occupation to the SCCC plaza.
The 99 percent of SCCC have shown strong support for the Occupy movement. The faculty union, Local 1789 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was one of the first unions in Seattle to pass a resolution in solidarity with Occupy Seattle. Three weeks ago, up to 200 SCCC students walked out of classes in support of Occupy Seattle.
The 1 percent of SCCC, however, immediately responded with hostility and threats. "Camping on college property is prohibited for all individuals and groups," wrote SCCC President Paul Kilpatrick. "If this rule is violated, the college may choose to impose its own sanctions, including criminal or civil prosecution...Seattle Central neither sponsors nor endorses activities or opinions expressed by Occupy Seattle protesters. The college will not be liable for any injuries or damages whatsoever."
But no one was expecting a red-carpet welcome. In order to pave the way for moving the encampment to SCCC, Occupy Seattle members got to work building on campus. Through daily organizing meetings, they petitioned, flyered, made classroom presentations and garnered support from local businesses.
"We framed the issue in way that directly related to the struggles of the SCCC community," Daniel Douglas, an SCCC student, said. "We explained that Occupy Seattle is part of the movement against budget cuts on campus and the corporatization of education. Occupy Seattle is not an 'outside force' coming to SCCC. It is part of SCCC and SCCC is part of it."
The most important step came when the faculty union passed a resolution welcoming Occupy Seattle to SCCC and vowing to put pressure on the school president--and it worked. In response to the support built on campus, President Kilpatrick was forced to give in. The day before the encampment was set to move to SCCC, he wrote:
In my discussions with legal counsel, we learned of ambiguity in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) as it applies to college property...Yesterday, I met with representatives from Occupy Seattle. They declared that regardless of college policies and college concerns, they intend to continue their action. While I remain concerned about a host of possible adverse impacts (personal safety, financial impact, etc.), the WAC, as it is currently written, allows this occupation to take place.
As demonstrators marched into SCCC's plaza on Saturday chanting, "No cuts, no fees! Education should be free!" they were welcomed by the faculty union president Karen Strickland. "Welcome to Seattle Central," she told the crowd. "We are honoring a long tradition of protest and social justice movements at SCCC. Let's work together to turnaround the inequality gap that has grown beyond measure. Let's fight back against the 15% cut to community colleges that Governor Gregoire proposed the other day."
Later that night some 50 tents were set up in addition to large tents for food, medical supplies and information. Occupy Seattle's goal to have a stable, ongoing encampment was finally achieved.
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Grand Rapids, Mich.
By Fermin Valle
WITH LESS than a weeks notice, 300 people turned out for the first General Assembly on October 8 in Grand Rapids, Mich. The spirit of discontent with the current system resonated with every person present. The General Assembly brought out people from all over the western part of the state including a diverse crowd of students, professors, union members, service workers and the like.
The meeting lasted several hours and in the end it was decided that the formal occupation would start immediately after the general assembly.
Only two days after setting up camp at the local Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the occupiers were forced by police to relocate due to public park's closing after sunset hours. The occupiers have since moved to the local Fountain Street Church, which resides in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
Overnight occupiers started strong, with about 30 people spending the night. Due to unexpected relocation, overnight camping numbers have dropped, but the occupiers have been working hard to establish a strong occupation set to last.
On October 13, Vice President Joe Biden came to Grand Rapids for a private reception for the Obama Victory Fund 2012 campaign fundraiser. Occupiers quickly responded by marching outside the restaurant San Chez Bistro, where the event was taking place. They wanted to make their voices heard by taking advantage of Biden's visit to speak out against corporate greed and social inequality that plague not just the citizens of Grand Rapids but people all over the world.
On October 16, the Grand Valley State University Student Environmental Coalition organized a local march as part of a larger movement called "Millions Against Monsanto." They were walking against the corporate greed of Monsanto and the right for people to know where their food is coming from. Around 40 people gathered where they would later meet up with occupiers for an amazing display of solidarity. At this point, Monsanto became one distinctive face of corporate greed that occupiers could openly dissect as part of our environmental problems.
On October 17, local occupiers joined their struggle with local antiwar and anti-nuclear power activists who hold weekly demonstrations right outside of the occupying site.
The past few Saturdays have seen the largest turnouts of occupiers and have included specific discussions around topics like the Communist Manifesto, economics, race, media and legalities of protest. They have also included speak-outs, open mics and marches throughout the city. Brianna, a student from Aquinas College, rightly described Occupy Grand Rapids as a "movement about activism and social justice to bring about change in the world."
Currently, Occupy Grand Rapids is mobilizing its occupiers for a march on the November 2 National Day of Action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and against police brutality. Although occupiers in Grand Rapids haven't faced police brutality, the support for a solidarity action is well understood and welcomed with an amazing spirit of solidarity under the banner of "An injury to one is an injury to all!"