I’ve been involved with the Occupy Movement for almost a year now, and during that time, I’ve been talking about how the influence of money has been corrupting our government and harming our country. When someone asked me if I was going to s17, the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, my response was, “I don’t know how I can’t go.” I never got the chance to experience Zuccotti Park when Occupy Wall Street was there, and I felt the need to be a part of the anniversary. I followed Occupy Wall Street, OWS, from the beginning. I watched the livestream and thought it was amazing. I was so happy someone was speaking against the wrongs in this country, and they helped me realize I wasn’t alone in my aggravation. I jumped when I saw the call for an Occupy Philadelphia planning meeting. I’ve been active ever since; I have met so many new people, grown from what I’ve experienced and continue to connect with others unwilling to play a rigged game. Occupy has connected many of us. It has created the opportunity for many different people to teach, learn, and work together to achieve a better world. And I feel Occupy refocused me on creating positive change. I had to show my appreciation on its birthday, plus one of the major focuses was money out of politics.
In fact, the theme around s17 was that all roads lead to Wall St., which was connecting the 3 major causes they were focusing on throughout the weekend. The causes were debt, environmental issues, and the influence of money on our government. OWS was looking to highlight how these problems are caused by corporate greed driven by the 1%. They drew attention to the causes the whole weekend through Education on Saturday, Celebration on Sunday and Resistance on Monday. And while I went to participate and support, I also saw an opportunity to meet face to face with others who are striking at the root of our problems.
I have been working with the Money Out of Politics Working Groups in the North-East Region over email and phone, so I was excited to talk with them in person. I was also looking forward to meet with the NYC Rootstrikers for the first time. S17 continued my Occupy tradition of meeting people, growing from my experiences and connecting with activated citizens. On Saturday, I met with a whole group of people involved with getting money out of politics to discuss our cause, autonomous actions, and how we would participate in the s17 action on Monday. There were people from different Occupies who were involved in working groups or affinity groups focused on getting money out of politics. There were also Occupiers not associated with these groups, like the supervoters.org people. There were people from professional activist organizations, like Move to Amend and Common Cause, as well as big name supporters like Ben Cohen. I don’t know how this group would have met otherwise, if not for OWS.
Even though we are all allies in our cause, connecting with each other is not as easy as you would think. I believe this has been the case for a long time. Groups trying to make a difference seem to compete over precious, limited resources and are constantly looking to outshine other groups to garner those resources. This battle for sustainability is self-defeating and can dissuade groups from engaging in the one tactic that terrifies our opposition - cooperation. Occupy scares those in power because it creates space for people of different backgrounds, supporting different causes, pushing different agendas to interact with each other. It brings people together who feel there is something grossly wrong and who have the desire and the courage to do something about it. As I write this, I think about all the “journalists” who ask if Occupy is dead or what has Occupy accomplished. I don’t like those questions because they’re based off a premise that Occupy’s purpose was anything but to create space where people can discuss the problems they see, create new ideas, present possible solutions and learn to cooperate in taking action and bringing about positive change. Changing the dialogue in this country was just the initial fallout from this action. From what I experienced at s17, Occupy is not dead, because it continues to create opportunities for people to engage one another online, over the phone and in person. If Occupy continues to provide these opportunities, then accomplishment will follow as a result.
For example, on Sunday I participated in Direct Action training. There were all kinds of people participating. Everyone was different in their willingness to take on risk of arrest as well, but the OWS people were very aware that some are willing to participate in civil disobedience and be arrested, while others were not. You could see they were conscious of this fact by the way they encouraged everyone to only commit to what they felt comfortable doing. They were very good at making people feel necessary and included regardless of how they participated, and they reiterated how participation at any level is valuable to this movement and to creating change. As someone who promised his wife to not get arrested, this was integral in establishing a feeling of inclusion and reinforced my participation. S17 showed how Occupy is still creating a space for people to learn how to take action.
After the training, I met with a couple of people from NYC Rootstrikers. They are beginning to grow, so it was great to talk with them about what we’ve done in Philly and what Rootstrikers are doing across the country. Of course, we could have met anywhere; however, s17 provided space for the NYC Rootstrikers, the Money Out of Politics Working Group people from OWS and Occupy Albany, and a number of people from the Philly group to meet and exchange ideas. Occupy continues to provide a space for discussion and collaboration. Hopefully the NY groups from Occupy and Rootstrikers can continue to connect, support each other and coordinate ideas. I know Occupy Albany’s Money Out of Politics Working Group is considering joining Rootstrikers, which would only cement the relationship between groups. Sunday’s multi-group meeting spurred discussion about conducting our own Money Out of Politics Organizers meeting in January to coincide with the anniversary of the Citizens United Ruling. This may have occurred through online discussions, but there’s something about sustained in-person interaction that breeds ideas and nurtures them out of infancy.
Later on that night, a bunch of us from Occupy Philadelphia got together. There were over sixty of us there from what I was told. I worked with many of them when Occupy Philly still had an encampment, then on organizing different actions like the Occupy National Gathering, and so I trust them. As a result of this mutual trust, we decided to keep an eye on each other during s17. S17 was the day of Resistance, where occupiers would participate in a mass direct action focused on the Financial District, which looked like a sanitized East Berlin check point. At first, I didn’t know what to think. I was shocked at how much man power and equipment was being deployed around the New York Stock Exchange. It seemed like such a waste of money and police power, because OWS has not really done anything to warrant such a show of force. Then I realized that in a world where money corrupts our government, the world’s fifth largest army guards the place where money is created and exchanged. The heart of Wall St was surrounded by NYPD check points with fencing, hydraulic blockades, horses, riot gear, scooters and aggressive intimidation. What has prompted the NYC government to deploy such a force? OWS conducts peaceful protests, and even though occupiers exercise their First Amendment Rights in a variety of creative ways, we are not violent. Even if there have been scattered incidents around the country, I don’t think it justifies the security state establishing base camp on Wall St. It didn’t seem right that public streets were accessible to only people who worked there. ID checks and questioning at the gates is either paranoia or a test run for people’s tolerance of the police state. On Sunday, there were twenty people taking pictures on the bull by bowling green. Kids were even getting pictures of their heads up the bull’s ass. But on Monday, there were ten cops encircling it, and at one point, NYPD cleared and secured the entire block around the bull. It was an example of direct influence over government by those with access to endless amounts of money. Because what’s more important, our First Amendment rights or preventing the possibility of someone defacing a statue(I have no idea what other concerns they may have had)? With crimes being committed in poor neighborhoods and on Wall St, you would think there’s a better use of police time and resources. However, I don’t think Bloomberg and the money interests he protects agree. This is a representation of the what the relationship between the government and the people is becoming.
Those in government don’t care about the people anymore. They only care about those who can keep them in office. Government officials care about keeping their jobs, and the way they keep their jobs is by making the wealthy and corporations happy. The wealthy and corporations only care about making money. As a result, moneyed interests demand the government protect their symbols and temples of greed, so our government cares more about a bull statue than the rights of American citizens. This is what Occupy is resisting! This is what Rootstrikers is working to change! Both groups see people as our greatest resource. The people can no longer be ignored; in fact, the people need to be empowered.