Reports from Occupy: 11/7

November 7, 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, 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.

Boston

By Ann Coleman

ON THE evening of November 2, about 500 people marched from Dewey Square through the streets of downtown Boston in solidarity with the Oakland General Strike and against the police violence used against nonviolent Occupy supporters.

Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen is in serious condition from a fractured skull received from a projectile during the October 25 police action in Oakland where officers used tear gas and percussion grenades to disperse crowds. The Boston solidarity march, which lasted just over two hours, stopped in front of the Hyatt Hotel, the Massachusetts State House and the Boston Public Schools headquarters before passing through Quincy Market and returning to Dewey Square.

The Boston solidarity march aimed to connect local issues with the Oakland General Strike by stopping at the downtown Hyatt Hotel to highlight the UNITE HERE Local 26 boycott in support of fired housekeepers. Speakers talked to the crowd about how Hyatt fired its longtime housekeeping staff at its three Boston-area hotels in August 2009. Many of the fired housekeepers worked for the Hyatt hotels for over 20 years and were required to train their replacements before being fired. Their replacements are being paid minimum wage.

A general assembly under way at Occupy Providence
A general assembly under way at Occupy Providence (Harpo Jaeger)

Once the marchers reached the statehouse, several speakers addressed the crowd talking about union rights and the need for occupations to stand in solidarity with one another. It was reported from the crowd that a Boston Public Schools Committee meeting was being held at Court Street and the march worked its way toward the public meeting.

The Court Street building was surrounded by police by the time marchers arrived. Inside, the meeting room was at capacity with more than 300 people, many of them students, teachers and parents speaking out against the Boston Public Schools Committee's plan to move existing schools into some of the schools that were closed over the last year.

While Superintendent Carol Johnson aims to provide more access to top performing schools, questions were raised in the public meeting about the competition between public schools rather than access to a quality education for all public school students.

The Boston Police kept the marchers from entering the building, and the group fractured at that time with some going into the public school meeting and others continuing the march through Quincy Market. An Occupy Boston medic spoke at the end of the march about how a fragmented march puts extra burden on medics and safety crews to ensure safety of the whole group.

Overall, the mood of the march was ebullient. "There's something in the air that hasn't been here in the past couple of weeks," one participant said. He thought that the march had more energy, and more people, than other recent marches have had.

Another participant, a computer science graduate student at Harvard, said that he was very excited about the march. "We need to show our strength so that the police can't shut us down," he said. That day, the newly formed Occupy Harvard disrupted and walked out of Economics 10--a conservative economics class of about 1,000 students--and then went down to Dewey Square.

Once the march returned to Dewey Square, there was an impromptu discussion about the march and the connection between local issues. Colleen from the Occupy Boston encampment talked about how others characterize this as a leaderless movement, "I see it as a leader-full revolution that requires us all to be leaders inside the camp and in our communities."

Alexis Marvel, a student at UMass Boston, spoke about the fractured march. "The police, Mayor Menino and the government want us to split apart and by breaking off into different sections. We are just weakening ourselves which is destructive to the movement. There needs to be a level of respect for each other even if we don't necessarily agree with everything, there needs to be a more democratic decision process rather than just going off on our own."

Another attendee read from the Occupy Oakland's October 31 Declaration of Solidarity with Neighborhood Reclamations:

Occupy Oakland supports the efforts of people in all Oakland neighborhoods to reclaim abandoned properties for use to meet their own immediate needs. Such spaces are already being occupied and squatted unofficially by the dispossessed, the marginalized, by many of the very people who have joined together here in Oscar Grant Plaza to make this a powerful and diverse movement.

The speaker ended by saying, "Our movement has to do more than just march and protest. The occupation of foreclosed homes is one of those ways to expand support."

Many attendees ended the night by sharing their experiences and Twitter feeds from Oakland and other cities hosting solidarity marches. Liz Davis, a student at Boston University, had attended the student march earlier in the day, but said the highlight of her day was going to Northeastern University to stand in solidarity with two students who are facing disciplinary charges for getting arrested at Occupy Boston on October 11.

After a 300-strong student march, students took over the disciplinary hearing and talked about the importance of the Occupy movement. The students were let go with no disciplinary action taken against them. A professor present said, "This is the most educational thing to happen on this campus in a long time."

Parts of this article previously printed at occupybostonglobe.com.


Asheville, N.C.

By Ben Silverman

IN SOLIDARITY with the call for a general strike by Occupy Oakland, Occupy Asheville literally took to the streets without permission or permit on November 2. After over a month of protesting, which has seen several arrests and the break up by the authorities of the main Occupy Asheville campsite, this march was large and high energy with as many as 120 people participating.

For the first, time many onlookers and bystanders actively joined the protesters as they marched through downtown Asheville, N.C., chanting, "banks got bailed out, we got sold out," "how do you fix the deficit, end the wars, tax the rich," and "no cuts, no fees, education should be free."

As this was an un-permitted march in the street, the solidarity protesters were quickly surrounded by Asheville Police Department vehicles (APD), and a cat-and-mouse game began. The APD blockaded one street, the marchers took a different street, the APD goes right, and the marchers go left. When past the federal building it appeared a trap was being set, the Occupy Asheville marchers promptly made a U-turn, doubled back on the pursuing cop cars and tied the APD into knots.

The march ended at the Vance Memorial Square, which is at a key intersection in downtown Asheville next to Merrill Lynch's offices, for a vigil for Scott Olsen, the Iraq veteran who was wounded by the Oakland police. One of the most spirited and inspiring People's Mics yet for Occupy Asheville began.

"We are all here to take a stand against the injustice of a human being who was unnecessarily brutalized by the police who are there to serve and protect. Maybe they should stop serve and protecting only the wealthy, and start serve and protecting the people," said Occupy Asheville activist Victor Ochoa.

"I served eight years in the US Navy," said Marie Combs. "For eight years I was told that I was defending my fellow citizen's rights to protest. That was bullshit. I see my fellow veterans brutalized by the police. I've never been prouder of my fellow veterans than I am now."

The Peoples' Mic and soap box went well into the evening, punctuated by the occasional singing of songs like "We Shall Overcome," "Solidarity Forever" and "The Internationale." The point of the vigil and protest at this point was to consciously break the law by staying in the Vance memorial square past the 10 p.m. curfew.

This arbitrary curfew, for an area which is more of an overblown sidewalk then a square, has been used as a weapon to frustrate Occupy Asheville before, and the idea was to expose by civil disobedience the ludicrous unconstitutionality of this ordinance.

Around 11:30 p.m., nearly 20 APD officers arrived to make the protesters leave the park, and were forced to negotiate with the People's Mic, with protesters asking, "Officer, doesn't the constitution override a city curfew ordinance?"

Twenty-four Occupy Asheville protesters were arrested, including a pregnant woman, a woman in a wheelchair and several activists who had been previously arrested as part of the Occupy movement.

Elizabeth Goyer, a student at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, who was arrested, said:

I have always felt strongly about brining corporate and political corruption to the attention of the public. I think the Occupy Movement is really beautiful because it unifies different groups who have been fighting against oppression and corporate greed. The police brutality in Oakland inspired me to risk arrest through civil disobedience.

To quote the press release from the Occupy Asheville media working group:

The protest movement seeks City park land in order to set up a well organized assembly space better suited to express its message and court cases in Nashville and Cleveland are laying the groundwork for this to occur...Additional challenges to the 10 p.m. park curfew will also be held until the city stops trying to enforce an ordinance that is being used to expressly restrict constitutionally protected assembly and speech.

The question now for the movement is where to go from here with this newly reacquired sense of energy and boldness. The answer in part could be seen in the spontaneous joining-in in the march and vigil by regular bystanders. During the People's Mic, a man in full business suite regalia of the 1 percent professed his support for the Occupy movement for he feared for the future of his children.

Everyone in the 99 percent is suffering these days. The question now is how Occupy Asheville can become a true mass movement of popular participation by reaching out to people and turning their suffering and fear into concrete action for real improvements. We know what we're against, now it's time for us to say proudly what we are for and how to get there.

Occupy Asheville activist Martin Ramsey has this to say:

How much more of our future do we have to auction off to these parasites. There is enough in this world for life to abundant for everyone. We can take of us all. But we might just not be able to do it for a profit."


Austin

By Brian Coalson

HUNDREDS TURNED out in Austin for a solidarity action with Occupy Oakland on November 2.

Before the march, Fernando from the Workers Defense Project drew the connection with struggle for immigrant workers' rights:

On May Day 2006, we held a day without an immigrant across America, we stopped buying things, we stopped working, and we showed them that it was them who needed us not us who needed them. Just like 2006 the people are rising again to remind them of the lesson that they learned. So let's keep fighting fearlessly together across America, shoulder to shoulder. It doesn't matter if you are an immigrant, your color, race, or class, we are going to fight and we are going to win.

Ben Brenneman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520 said:

A strike is when we decide we are not going to accept their authority over our economic livelihoods. We take away the one thing of value that can stop them from making money, and that is our labor. The police stop people from drag racing in front of my street, and I appreciate them keeping my family safe.

I also understand that the police have a role in maintaining the authority of the state. We as citizens, when the status quo becomes unacceptable, are required to challenge that authority.

Injured Oakland protester and veteran Scott Olsen was on everyone's minds, including Kyle Wesolowski of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Under the Hood Café, who said:

They went to war and did not just confront an enemy, but corporations. We call them contractors. Who pays the bills? We do--the 99 percent. Who dies for war profiteers? Soldiers do. What do soldiers receive when they come back from war? The highest rate of unemployment, homelessness and suicide in the country.


Providence, R.I.

By Chris Murphy

AFTER TWO weeks of daily planning meetings, Occupy Providence (OP) officially kicked off on October 15. Close to 2,000 people marched and rallied through the streets of Providence in the largest demonstration in Hope City Sky since May Day 2006.

The vibrant march stopped at various locations in the city addressing immigration, education, war profiteering and workers' rights. Marchers chanted, "Who are we? Who are we? Occupy PVD" and "Occupy Burnside--all day, all night." The occupation and encampment began with Occupy Providence emphasizing that it's a drug-free and violence-free zone while in Burnside Park.

Tents grew from 40 the first night to 100 during the first week. Over 200 people were staying at the People's Park (formerly known as Burnside Park) overnight until recently when numbers have dipped due to the weather.

The participation in the General Assemblies that occur daily at 6 p.m. hasn't slowed down, with new people coming to plan actions and discuss the movement. A strength of OP is its decision-making process. Rather than being true consensus, OP tries to attain consensus when possible, but if not, a majority rules voting process takes over.

During the occupation, numerous occupiers have closed Bank of America accounts, homeless organizations have been supported and push back against the public transit cuts of RIPTA has begun. The last two weeks has clearly illustrated for people in OP that protest works. The Public Safety Commissioner and mayor have both rhetorically stated that the occupiers can't stay indefinitely, but no action through a physical eviction or court injunction has taken place. This is because OP is so large and organized that the city can't stop it.

Another example of how protest works is a press conference OP held at the People's Park, stating that we would not be leaving the People's Park and would remain beyond the "imposed deadline of 2 p.m. on October 30."

The mayor was compelled to come down to the press conference at our place of power--the People's Park--but was not allowed to speak at the rally and was forced to join the march to his own office where the group presented him with a letter stating our intent to stay in the park. The dew of Monday morning appeared, and no eviction by the city occurred.

Finally, there was an excellent immigration action at the Federal Building where OP marched to the statehouse. The group organized the march to show the governor their support for his decision to allow undocumented workers to achieve in-state tuition and to press for him to stop the Secure Communities program in Rhode Island. Amazingly, the governor felt compelled to come out of the statehouse to greet the crowd of people rallying in front.

College students have played a key role in Occupy Providence. On November 1, there was an excellent Teach In at Providence College. A large group of around 100 people, mostly women, gathered to hear firsthand accounts from Occupy Providence members as well as presentations from professors around the economy, media and war.

A group of 30 students met after the meeting to plan a possible Occupy Providence College and to see how they could work with Occupy Providence. At Brown University, there was a one-night Occupy College Hill solidarity action, and students have organized teach-ins at Brown and Rhode Island College.

Like all groupings of people in society, OP has some issues that need to be addressed. The questions of racism and sexism that occur at OP need to be addressed head on so that everyone can feel that there is a safe zone for them at the occupation, so they can participate in the movement. This is starting to be addressed through a women's working group that is forming at OP.

In the beginning, the issues of whether to get a permit for the People's Park and the role of the police in our movement were debated. The group consistently voted to not attain a permit, and, due to the violent crackdown by law enforcement on other encampments, the group's view of the role of police is evolving.

Working groups at OP have been very successful in organizing people for actions. Anyone willing to get involved at OP is always welcome to stop by and have their voice heard and start a working group if they like.

OP does not have a solidarity action with Oakland planned for November 2 but is actively awaiting to see what happens there to see how to plan future events. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is coming to Providence, and OP and the Coalition to Defend Public Education will protest the corporate tool in charge of our schools. Quality public schools for the 99 percent!

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