On the streets across the U.S.

November 21, 2011

SocialistWorker.org rounds up day-of-action reports from outside New York City.

SUPPORTERS OF the Occupy movement took to the streets in their dozens, hundreds and thousands in cities across the country as part of a national day of action on November 17.

The biggest crowds were in New York City, where the call for the day of demonstrations originated from Occupy Wall Street, in solidarity with unions. But Occupy activists responded in other cities as well, in one of the movement's biggest overall shows of the depth of its support.

The day of action came in the wake of a series of police raids and crackdowns that culminated in a post-midnight assault on the New York City encampment in Zuccotti Park on November 15. The attacks in New York, Portland, Ore., Oakland, Calif., and many other cities were part of a carefully planned and coordinated offensive against the Occupy movement.

Losing the Occupy encampments in so many cities over the past few weeks is a blow--they served as critical gathering points for people who shared the anger at inequality and injustice that has fueled the movement to come together, exchange ideas, make alliances and plan for the struggle.

Occupy Boston on the march on November 17
Occupy Boston on the march on November 17 (Tim Pierce)

But the demonstrations around the country, like in New York, also showed how the Occupy movement has changed politics in the U.S. in ways that go beyond the camping out in a physical spot. Different organizations and struggles, both new and old, are in touch with each other and working together, and Occupy activists are energized for a struggle that takes the spirit of the encampments into neighborhoods, onto campuses, into workplaces--and that continues to confront corporate and political power in new forms.

In Portland, Ore., several thousand people took part in a variety of actions linked together by a single 10-hour march that persevered through rain and riot cops. Several sit-ins shut down business as usual, with a total of 48 people arrested. Several protesters were injured by the cops' brutality in trying to crush dissent.

The day began with morning traffic alerts announcing that the city's Steel Bridge was closed to car traffic, while the police blocked it off in an attempt to preempt protesters and keep the light rail system moving.

At 8 a.m., the rally, called by the labor-backed We Are Oregon, along with affiliated unions and groups, including Occupy Portland, kicked off with a speech by Laborers Local 483 president, who identified the Steel Bridge as a protest site because it is where city union members could be employed doing badly needed maintenance, rather than being laid off. Mayor Sam Adams, who two weekends ago ordered the eviction of Occupy Portland, has announced possible 8 percent across-the-board cuts in the city budget.

Some 25 people were arrested for sitting on the bridge in front of a line of cops in riot gear. The march was thus forced to use the pedestrian path along the bridge, with 1,000 protesters at one point spanning the entire length of the bridge.

Later, at Waterfront Park, speakers thanked the crowd, and an open forum was held while "action teams" prepared for the afternoon action to "Occupy the Banks." With buckets of donuts handed out and the arrival of the Clown action team, the mood inside the park remained festive, though one look across Front Avenue showed a different scene, with cycle cops lining the street alongside riot cops.

From the beginning of the march, it was clear that we would have to stay on the sidewalks, as police from all around northwest Oregon and southwest Washington had been called in. In an early test of the demonstration, police horses attempted to break up the march when it crossed the street against the light, but the cops were repelled back by the crowd.

The Occupy the Banks march stopped at several banks within a seven-block radius. A sit-in at a Wells Fargo branch ended in several more arrests. Outside, on the grand steps of the Standard Insurance Building, several hundred protesters danced, chanted and mic-checked. Thousands of Portlanders watched out the windows and stood across the street, showing their support.

Later, at a similar sit-in at a branch of Chase, police turned violent and pepper-sprayed protesters. Other banks had simply shut down on their own in anticipation of the march. "The protests represent an elevated level of coordination within the protest movement, with numerous groups coordinating simultaneous acts of peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience along with a march of one thousand people," organizers said in a statement.

In one ironic moment, riot cops had divided the protest into four groups on the different corners of an intersection--with the large number of cops and their vehicles, horses and bicycles causing the disruption. Protesters' chants of "You're the ones blocking traffic" while the Storm Trooper theme from Star Wars blasted on megaphones lifted our spirits in the face of the overwhelming show of force from the state.

The absurdity of the vast police expenditure--both on the day of action and during the eviction of the encampment days earlier--while needed social services are cut was a takeaway message of the day. Speeches and signs made connections to the banks, unemployment, U.S. wars, corporate greed, the Supreme Court and on and on. Far from being a movement with no goals, this is a movement that encompasses all the goals of the working class and the poor.

With all the recent media focus on the "damage" that protesters did to parks when they kept their encampment, November 17 put the spotlight on the real destroyers of our economy, the banks and their owners, and on the violence of the police.

In Seattle, close to 2,000 unionists, students and community members gathered near the University of Washington (UW) to demonstrate about the jobs crisis and state budget crisis in light of another $2 billion loss of revenue.

The demonstration, under the slogan Our Bridges Need Work, So Do We, was organized by Working Washington, a campaign of the Service Employees International Union.

Demonstrators briefly gathered to listen to speakers in the pouring rain before marching to nearby University Bridge--one of the key arteries to the Seattle highway system. The rain failed to dampen spirits since, as one minister put it, "It's been raining on us for years."

Meeting up with protesters from UW on the bridge were hundreds of students from Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) and Seattle Occupiers. Once together protesters occupied the bridge, climbing the girders while chanting "Whose Bridge, Our Bridge!" After demonstrators secured the bridge, they held an impromptu speakout for an hour or so.

Alex, a UW student, summed up the reasons for student participation in the protest:

I'm here because I'm $30,000 in debt, and I'm not done yet. Why should students have to go into so much debt? It seems like education should be a priority. Education is the future. Why should the bankers get all the bailouts? They're the ones who wrecked the economy. We need to re-regulate the banks to make sure they don't wreck the economy again.

When the number of protesters dwindled to a couple hundred, those still occupying the bridge declared victory and marched back to Occupy Seattle at the SCCC campus.

In Boston, about 1,500 people, including Occupy Boston campers, community activists, union members and students, gathered at Occupy Boston's Dewey Square encampment in the middle of a dreary, hazy rush-hour commute on the morning of November 17.

But the cool temperature and rain didn't stop the enthusiastic crowd, which donned rain ponchos with union logos, and carried signs and umbrellas. Attendees were greeted by union activists handing out glow sticks and gathering for a lively rally in support of the Occupy movement with the message: Jobs, not cuts!

An unemployed union member rallied the crowd at Dewey Square, saying, "The economy has left our communities vulnerable. This is why we are here today, to demand the government stop the cuts and instead tax the multibillion-dollar corporations like Bank of America and General Electric, so we can mend our schools and bridges and create other jobs needed in our communities."

The spirited crowd worked their way up Atlantic Avenue, led by a team of bagpipers, toward the Charlestown Bridge. March organizers selected the bridge as a symbol of the kind of infrastructure projects that could put people to work. In 2006, the Charlestown Bridge was one of 50 bridges in Massachusetts classified as structurally deficient. A few years earlier, more than $4 million was spent strengthening the bridge, but to cut costs and reduce capacity, officials permanently closed the two center lanes.

Speakers from construction unions emphasized that fixing such dilapidated infrastructure would put people back to work while being useful to the whole society. As one Iron Worker from Local 7 put it: "We don't want cuts in social programs. We want to work. We want jobs." Other trade unions participated as well, with the 1199SEIU health care workers' union comprising the largest labor contingent.

Students from UMass Boston, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern also showed their support with chants like, "How do you end the deficit? End the War, Tax the Rich!"

The march in Boston came on the same day that Occupy Boston was informed of a November 8 letter from the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which manages Dewey Square, to Mayor Thomas Menino requesting that Menino "enforce our regulations and remove the occupiers." However, the day before, Occupy Boston won a temporary injunction barring the city from evicting the encampment until a further hearing on December 1.

Despite the uncertain legal situation--and the distinct possibility that the city will simply defy the courts--marchers remained confident in the struggle, chanting, "We are unstoppable, another world is possible!"

Parts of this report first appeared at the BostonOccupier website.

In Minneapolis, despite frigid temperatures, hundreds of people turned out for actions during the November 17 national day of action for the Occupy movement. There was a special focus on highlighting failing infrastructure, unemployment and the racial disparity in unemployment rates.

Speakers addressed the fact that Minnesota has one of the worst racial job gaps in the country--with 22 percent unemployment for African Americans, a rate three times higher than for whites. Protesters demanded a federal jobs program for all, funded by taxes on corporations and the rich.

The national focus on infrastructure projects to create jobs holds particular significance here in Minneapolis. Four years ago, the I-35 bridge across the Mississippi River collapsed, killing 10 people and injuring many more in a tragic example of the cost of letting such needed projects go ignored and unfunded.

A 4 p.m. "Bridge the Gap" march and rally of some 500 workers, students, occupiers and the elderly connected how the money being stolen by the 1 percent could be used for projects like rebuilding bridges that would create hundreds of desperately needed jobs. Shouting "Whose bridge? Our bridge!" and "How do we solve the deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!" protesters blocked off and marched across 10th Avenue bridge--from which you can still see the remains of the I-35 bridge on the shore of the Mississippi River.

After letting marchers block the bridge for about 30 minutes, police told everyone who did not want to get arrested to move to the sidewalk. In a pre-planned act of civil disobedience, a group of 11 protesters then sat down on the bridge while everyone else moved to the sidewalk. After the 11 were arrested, protesters were allowed back onto the road to march back toward the University of Minnesota Law School, where the march had begun.

A post-bridge rally concluded with one Occupy Minneapolis activist saying, "We are cold today, but we can take warmth in knowing that the movement across the world is winning. The 1 percent is scared. We can take warmth in solidarity."

People then marched over to the "People's Plaza" (officially Government Plaza) for the night's culminating rally. As hundreds took to the streets, marching down Washington Avenue, a lone police car began to drive alongside the marchers, repeatedly announcing that protesters "must move to the sidewalk." A few people followed the order, and there was a slight air of apprehension, but the majority of protesters stayed in the street.

Eventually, the police gave up, and the mood of protesters lifted. Unchallenged, we continued to take up the four lanes of South Washington Avenue, marching over 15 blocks and blocking traffic going west. As we crossed over I-35, trucks below us honked in a show of solidarity.

Once we reached the plaza, a crowd of about a hundred Occupiers enthusiastically greeted the hundreds of bridge protesters before the rally began. Speakers spoke on subjects from the looming closure of a Ford plant here to the recent police crackdown of Occupy Minneapolis and around the country, to the "super-committee" negotiations in Washington to slash more than $1 trillion in spending on programs such as education, Medicare and Medicaid.

With many of the activists, particularly students, coming out to Occupy for the first time, this day showed that the Occupy movement is in no way defeated.

In Amherst, Mass., students from multiple universities in Western Massachusetts organized to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street on the November 17 day of action.

At Hampshire College, students organized a walkout that ended with a teach-in on the campus green. At UMass Amherst, there was a speakout in the early afternoon and then a march through the campus center and student union before heading to downtown Amherst.

Just before 2 p.m., occupiers and supporters from Occupy UMass, which is on its second week of occupying, met up with Occupy Hampshire students, Occupy Amherst College activists and people from the town's Occupy Amherst movement. The combined groups protested at a Bank of America branch in downtown Amherst. Over 300 people, students and community members occupied the bank's and read a declaration of protest against Bank of America, while protesters attempted to shut down their Bank of America accounts.

Within minutes, cops were on the scene--and the Bank of America branch was shut down!

The day, which peaked at around 350 protesters, ended at the Occupy UMass encampment for a brief General Assembly where working groups met to discuss next steps.

In Houston, a multiracial crowd of about 300 people assembled downtown on November 17 for a rally and march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its national day of action.

The event was organized and called for locally by a variety of unions and organizations, including Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, Occupy Houston and Good Jobs Great Houston. Several speakers, among them union and community activists as well as local religious leaders, addressed the crowd gathered at Market Square.

One reoccurring theme was of the importance of solidarity in this fight. Another was the deep anger with the banks, the ruling elite and current economic situation in general. One speaker referenced a recent book event sponsored by Haymarket Books where John Carlos, who raised his fist in a Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, spoke. The speaker at the protest mentioned how Carlos had emphasized the importance of giving nothing less than 100 percent to the social justice struggle.

After speeches, the crowd marched from Market Square to the intersection of Travis and Commerce, where 13 protesters sat down and blocked traffic access in a previously planned act of civil disobedience. With a number of cops on horseback present, one favorite chant of protesters was, "Get those animals off those horses."

In Austin, Texas, around 300 people from Occupy Austin on the steps of the state Capitol building for a rally to restoring funding for education in Texas and in solidarity with the whole Occupy movement.

Students from the University of Texas arrived fresh from the first General Assembly of Occupy UT. Snehal Shingavi started the rally off with a recap of the repression suffered by the Occupy movement over the last few weeks, and then went on to recite Percy Bysshe Shelly's The Masque of Anarchy.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you.
Ye are many--they are few

Becky Moeller from the AFL-CIO hen talked about how labor leaders had been removed from textbooks while the attack on workers and educators continues unabated. Ken Zarifis from Educate Austin spoke about how state legislators who cut $5.4 billion from public education would return to the scene of their crime in the next legislative session if this movement doesn't succeed in stopping them.

After these and other speeches, we had a spirited 11-block march down Congress Avenue to City Hall for the night's General Assembly.

In Burlington, Vt., some 300 protesters, including a contingent of students from the University of Vermont, began their November 17 day-of-action demonstration with a rally at the city's central post office to oppose postal service cuts and to defend its unions.

Jill Charbonneau, a postal worker from the National Association of Letter Carriers, one of the endorsing unions, detailed the artificial crisis caused by punitive Congressional rules. She stressed that attacks on postal workers were about union-busting, and argued that if postal unions could not fend off such attacks, then no sector of the working-class was safe. "Do not kid yourselves, that is what they are after," she said.

With chants of "No austerity, show solidarity" and "Through rain and sleet and snow, the 1 percent has got to go," the rally turned into a crosstown march to a teach-in held at a school cafeteria. Speakers talked about the important connections between labor and the Occupy movement. "This movement has opened up a space for they creativity of the 99 percent, and we need to use this to tackle the unique challenges facing the labor movement today while also using lessons from the past," said Robert Cavooris, a local worker and occupier.

A bus driver and member of the Teamsters union raised the Occupy movement's solidarity with his fellow Teamsters at New York City's Sotheby auction house, where union art handlers are currently locked out by management. Students condemned the bloated UVM administration and the huge accumulation of student debt, made even worse by lack of jobs for college graduates.

After the local movement was evicted from City Hall Park last week, the night's events were a positive step toward regrouping.

In Baltimore, more than 200 Occupy activists, union members and supporters gathered for a rally and march across the Howard Street bridge in Baltimore. The action was sponsored by Good Jobs Better Baltimore, a local pro-union nonprofit organization.

The bridge was selected to highlight the city's decaying infrastructure. It also served as perfect place for a banner drop over a busy highway at rush hour. The banner called to "Bridge the Gap" between the 99 percent and the 1 percent.

Mary Hill, an unemployed construction worker and union activist, spoke at the rally before the march. Quoted in the Baltimore Sun, she said, "Instead of cutting government programs, we need to invest in infrastructure, so people like me can feed my kids." Other speakers included teachers and clergy members.

In Providence, R.I., some 100 Occupy Providence members marched from People's Park downtown to City Hall to show that this public space belongs to the 99 percent and to pressure the City Council to adopt a resolution and ordinance defending Occupy Providence. The protest was part of the November 17 day of action.

After the brief march to City Hall, occupiers met in the lobby of City Hall at 6 p.m.and held a brief General Assembly. "City Hall is now Occupied," declared Providence resident and Occupier Will Lambek. "It's been cold outside for too long, for too many...[We are] taking back what's rightfully ours," he added.

During the GA, occupiers overwhelmingly voted in favor of a proposal to attend the City Council meeting later that night. Following the assembly, the group marched upstairs to fill the meeting room, chanting, "We are the 99 percent."

During the previous week, Occupy Providence lobbied City Council members to support the resolution. Ward 8 City Councilman Wilbur Jennings supported it. "You're keeping the place like it's your own home," Jennings said of the Occupy encampment in Burnside Park. "My opinion is to leave you the hell alone!"

At least five city councilors supported the nonbinding resolution, which was set for committee hearings and a vote in December. Unfortunately, a proposed ordinance that would lift the curfew on Burnside Park and expand free speech rights for all wasn't raised during the meeting.

Alex Bennett, Tristan Brosnan, Ann Coleman, Paul Fleckenstein, Tim Fuller, Shaun Joseph, Sarah Levy, Mer M., Folko Mueller, Chris Murphy and Dan Trocolli contributed to this article.

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