Archive for the 'Occupy' Category


December 4, 2011

Theater-world supporters of Occupy Wall Street conceived and executed a 24-hour performance/ action that began Friday December 2 at 6 pm and ran continuously until the same hour Saturday December 3.

The action took place in the open area between 50th and 51st Streets on Broadway, which had been dubbed the People’s Performance Plaza for the occasion I showed up in time to catch the last half-hour. When I arrived, an a cappella chorus of rather good singers was belting out a song on the theme of “We Are the 99 PerCent.” They were apparently the last in a long string of music, dance, and spoken-word performances that played to anywhere from a couple of dozen (in the middle of the chilly night) to a several hundred (during the day).

A well-spoken young woman in a long red dress seemed to be facilitating things at this point, and she invited the crowd to form a circle around the plaza holding hands. She said there had been a request for some chanting. Spontaneously, someone called out “All night, all day/Occupy Broadway!” We all chanted that for a while, and the tall guy next to me improvised a Rockette-style kick to go with it, which the entire circle adopted. Then there were a few minutes of “Our movement is unstoppable!/Another world is possible!”

If you’ve ever tuned in to the OWS Livestream and wondered how it’s done, here’s how it works — this dude with his laptop and webcam strolling through the crowd.

Next Red Dress Lady proposed that we break up into small groups and have a conversation about our experience with Occupy Broadway. My group consisted of Patrick, a longtime Occupier whose group Gravity performed at 1:00 AM; two Chinese-American brothers, Kevin and James; and a woman named Rebecca. People who only know of Occupy Wall Street from reading or watching news accounts of clashes with police might be surprised at how intimate and communal these actions are. Call it new age-y or call it civilized, it prompts strangers to talk to each other, on whatever shallow or deep level they choose. The diversity of OWS supporters delights me — from Radical Faeries (above) to multiple people in motorized wheelchairs (below).

And of course this is New York City, this is the theater district, so there is the cosmic absurdity of this action taking place across the street from the Winter Garden, with Mamma Mia! bestowing her Abba-fied blessing.

Photo diary: Occupy Wall Street, November 17, 2011

November 20, 2011

Last Thursday, November 17, was a National Call to Action by Occupy Wall Street, which seemed like a good time to hit the street. There was a 5:00 rally in Foley Square that seemed aimed to manifest a critical mass of citizen participants — numerous labor unions had signed on for the event — so I went down with my friend Jonathan to add my presence and, as he likes to say, “get a sense of the meeting.”

Jonathan (above right) is a certified ’60s radical with plenty of experience with political protest, including tales of being caught in police riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. His comrade-in-arms from those days, Mike (above left), now a lawyer whose office overlooks Zucotti Park, also joined us for the rally. Their war stories are older than mine. Events like this one reminded me a bit of my days with ACT UP. This event did make me long wistfully for the elegance, focus, and theatricality that ACT UP brought to its public actions. In Foley Square, there was pretty much mild chaos. There was a loud, crappy sound system — I couldn’t see where the microphones were stationed, but they mostly broadcast exceedingly mediocre rapping.

It was a cold night but the square filled up with tens of thousands of people — a New York mixture, men and women, all colors, all ages, union members pushing comrades in wheelchairs, elderly women on the march, plus the inevitable ragtag marginal old-school lefty soapboxes (Workers World Party, calling for the Communist Revolution, etc.).

The sentiments were all over the place. Observing myself agree/disagree/agree/disagree with signs pointed up the essential value of Occupy Wall Street, which is not to let Them decide what the issues are and what should be done but to look inside. What do I think is important? What are the burning issues I am willing to devote time, energy, and resources to?

The police presence was insanely out of proportion for what is categorically a peaceful protest situation. The police mounted a miliary campaign of control and containment, looking for all the world like they were expecting to face an army of masked bandits wielding automatic weapons and Molotov cocktails. They had set up Foley Square so there were bizarre pockets of metal barricades with dead space inside. Despite their heavy numbers and the threatening presence of police on horseback, I didn’t witness any disturbances, even when the demonstrators decided to push a bunch of barricades aside and occupy the entire square.

As with the Times Square demo I attended, this one got a boost when a few thousand students showed up who’d marched down Broadway from Union Square. Eventually, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge occurred — I didn’t stick around for that, but I understand that mostly it was a peaceful procession in collaboration with a squadron of NYPD Community Affairs officers in light blue windbreakers. There were some arrests for blocking the roadways, an action that usually strikes me as a relatively lame form of civil disobedience, but I appreciated the sentiment expressed by the woman in the sign above: “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the world.”

Occupy: Halloween highlights

October 31, 2011
One of the most inspiring things about the Occupy Wall Street movement is the outpouring of participation in citizen democracy it has engendered.
Here are a couple of excellent contributions I’ve encountered, while spending a sick day in bed with the device that Nicholson Baker calls my “rectangle of slip-sliding joy”:
This excellent bit of cyber-activism intended to Keep Wall Street Occupied is not only an amusing prank but an intelligent analysis with good modelling of thinking-through-the-project AND its reminder that there’s no substitute for taking to the streets with your body.
Also, see Keith Boykin’s excellent eyewitness report in Huffington Post on the Top Ten Myths About Occupy Wall Street. Very moving and inspiring is the sign posted in Zuccotti Park listing “Principles of Kingian Nonviolence”:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.
3. Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil.
4. Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal.
5. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
6. The universe is on the side of justice.
“You may retaliate against us with all the forces of hatred, but we will in turn respond with all the forces of love, and we will wear you down.” — Dr. Martin Luther King
Thanks to Craig Weltha for turning me on to both these links, along with Eduardo Porter’s sensible essay in the NY Times Sunday Review.

Occupy: on Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi and the wisdom of no set agenda

October 19, 2011

My oldest friend in the world, Roxanne Reynolds (nee Green), who lives in Houston, turned me on to Matt Taibbi’s commentary on Rolling Stone‘s website about Occupy Wall Street. It’s worth reading — you can check it out here.

He notes that the images that have emerged so far of OWS have been misleading stand-offs with the police and nothing truly iconic. “That, to me, speaks volumes about the primary challenge of opposing the 50-headed hydra of Wall Street corruption, which is that it’s extremely difficult to explain the crimes of the modern financial elite in a simple visual,” Taibbi writes. “The essence of this particular sort of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: Its worst crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and the usurping of the regulatory structure from within, simply can’t be seen by the public or put on TV. There just isn’t going to be an iconic “Running Girl” photo with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or Bank of America – just 62 million Americans with zero or negative net worth, scratching their heads and wondering where the hell all their money went and why their votes seem to count less and less each and every year.”

He goes on to offer some thoughtful suggestions about demands that might be made to address out-of-control corporate dominance and economic injustice. But to me, the most ingenious thing about a constitutionally leaderless movement with no stated list of demands is that it puts the responsibility on all of us to transform ourselves from passive observers (O Leader, here’s what you need to do!) to active participants in citizen democracy. If you think something needs to be done, well, what’s stopping you from doing something about it? Did you have a response when you heard that Bank of America’s revenues took a big leap last quarter? Did your income take a big leap last quarter? If you have something to say about that, don’t wait for somebody else to say it for you. Occupy Wall Street is giving us all notice that it’s possible to have these conversations and ask these questions aloud.

It’s as much about cultivating a world-view as ticking items off a list, and the model that is emerging is person-to-person, which is really how consciousness gets raised.

It’s also fascinating to watch how apologists for corporate culture (not to mention any names…David Brooks) are reacting to the emergence of Occupy Wall Street. Someone sent me a link to an article from Investor’s Business Daily titled “Tax the Rich? Good Luck with That” whose basic point makes sense to me — that when you shift the tax rates, people with higher incomes simply report less (and nobody complains). But the language of the piece, which liberally refers to “leftists in general,” reflects the kind of paranoid thinking that sees correcting economic injustice in terms of rounding up the country’s 400 billionaires and confiscating their possessions (a short step to, you know, shooting them in the street). We’re going to see a lot more of this.

Occupy: New Yorker “Fighting Back” cover

October 18, 2011

I haven’t even read the issue yet, but I couldn’t resist posting Barry Blitt’s brilliant cover illustration for this week’s issue of The New Yorker. As my hyperbolic friend David Zinn would say: Best. Cover. Ever. It’s the ultimate Consider the Alternative, no matter what you think about Occupy Wall Street.

And then of course there’s this political cartoon making the rounds:

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