Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Occupying Labor, pt. 1

This is the first in a series of posts on the history of the labor movement in this country, which bears directly on the current Occupy movement for economic justice.

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“The calendar is lying when it reads the present time.” – Phil Ochs

Working people of 100 years ago put in unimaginable work days – 18, even 20 hours — under conditions that could – and did –kill. And yet they managed to find the time to think, to recognize that the only people who could probably understand their lives were the recently freed slaves. The tipping point came when poor black working folks, recognizing that working yourself to death for so little pay that you die still owing your corporate massa for food and shelter wasn’t that far from being literally owned,  joined forces with labor, and the masses of working poor found the energy somehow to fight the powers that were—and to a large extent, still are.

And the right wing, which then and now glorifies hard work in the abstract, persecuted, demonized, shot and killed them when they sought to use the democratic process to rectify that injustice. It’s a grim picture that’s been utterly erased from the glorious pseudo-history that we Americans have been spoon-fed in our schools, but all you really have to do is look around, and you’ll see it, because it never really left. Like a vampire, that past was only briefly hiding in the shadows waiting for its chance to again feed on the blood of a society made vulnerable by political cravenness.

The names that you encounter these days mostly as benevolent sponsoring foundations on NPR originally belonged to brutal, rapacious men who treated humans like machines “to be used and tossed in the street after they are done with them.” J.P. Morgan got his start by royally screwing the taxpayers *and* endangering the Civil War soldiers with a defective-rifle swindle made possible by inept, corrupt oversight; instead of being tried for treason and properly punished, he made an obscene fortune courtesy of us all, and left it to his heirs. Andrew Carnegie. John D. Rockefeller. Andrew Mellon. All of them milked the U.S. government and ruthlessly overworked its citizens, getting filthy rich.

When the people whose labor created that wealth decided to band together and form unions to balance the scales, they were harassed and jailed on almost any pretext by a “police” force controlled by the monopolists. Groups of miners or railroad workers who tried to exercise their First Amendment rights and take their protest directly to their alleged Representatives were “arrested for stepping on the grass” and jailed. Sound vaguely familiar, Occupy?

While the toys our corporate masters sell us to distract us today are slicker and smarter, under the skin of society not much has changed. Or rather, it changed briefly for the better, but there’s been a steady rollback of that progress, and the present looks a lot like the 19th century. Look around, and you’ll see many of the companies the monopolists founded, some still bearing their surnames and some disguised, still raking it in, still raping the rank and file. Mellon Bank. Morgan Stanley. Chevron-Texaco. CBS Corporation. Siemens, Rockwell, U.S. Steel, Heinz, General Motors, and ExxonMobil; all sprang from the loins of these scourges of American workers. The money that allowed them to survive and thrive came from the interest paid on the obscene fortunes they extorted from your parents and grandparents.

The constant march of monopoly-friendly acts issuing from the right wing and the opportunistic “opposition” party eagerly cashing in whatever principles it has left has brought these and new monsters out of hiding and they’re ravenous for more, more, more. They’re getting it. More of your tax money in their private bank accounts, more cuts to the things your taxes should pay for, things you need to protect you from them. The sneaky repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act by Republicans and Bill Clinton. The Telecommunications Act of 1996. NAFTA. Citizens United. All crafted to make it possible for these corporations to roll over the powerless in their rush back to the end of the 19th century.

With all the powers aligned against us, and the longevity they’ve demonstrated, Occupy’s effort may seem like a fool’s errand. But isn’t it always that way? Ask the people who rose up against murderously corrupt leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and all over South America.

Sometimes ‘solidarity forever’ means exactly what it says. Those starving farmers and miners, persecuted by lazy, irresponsible media so they could be killed by their own governments, finally created a movement of working people that made life briefly bearable for the people who built the country: the same unions the right is gleefully decimating today. It’s time to finish what those populists started.

For more, read http://www.ranknfile-ue.org/untold.html

 Originally published at http//journeyamerica.wordpress.com,  Feb. 23, 2012.
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Fear and Loathing in McPherson Square, January 2012

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Story and Photo by Jehovah Jones. 

Mic check.

When viewed through the wall of your soaking tent, every flashing light looks like a
police raid. Every accelerating truck engine on the street a few dozen feet away
sounds like a bulldozer heading your way.

This is the second night like this at McPherson Square in recent weeks, with Occupy
DC’s “de-escalators” keeping an eye out from the perimeter and the Occupiers in
their tents listening with nervousness and dread.

The last time was a few days before Christmas. After a large, drunk, tank-shaped
ruffian kicked an arresting cop in the balls and left him puking in the street, the
camp buzzed with the rumor: Tonight’s the night we get raided.

For veterans of Zuccotti Park, Oakland, U.C. Davis and dozens of other Occupations
across the country, the conditions seemed right: wet, cold, dark, and cops had been
humiliated; it was now personal. Word was that it would happen around 3am.

On that night, our number included Occupy DC’s ambassador of goodwill, a
pipe-smoking man of substantial age who has lived in this park for years, who sits
in a prominent spot and greets every passerby with “Happy Holidays and Happy New
Year!” There’s a guy here who’s got a petition with 1776 signatures that he hopes
will get him–and his waist-length dreads–into the Coast Guard. A genial 50-year-old
unemployed laborer/short-order cook from Tennessee who calls everybody “brother.” A
40-year-old Deadhead who is clueless about the political aspects of this venture, but says he’s here because this is the best living situation he’s ever had. A sweet, sad-eyed woman named Pepper, “as in pepper spray.”

A former journalist who had stopped by regularly to donate food and blankets, I set
up a tent in early December in response to a friendly challenge from a few
Occupiers–“What else do we need? How about your body?”–who encouraged me to sleep here as many nights as I could, even if I had to leave to go to work most mornings.

Elsewhere in the park there’s a man who styles himself a working journalist, who says he’s been here since October 1, the first day of this Occupation. He says he’s here for the stories, sleeping here because it gives him access that other media types don’t have, and because of the high price of hotels in DC.

I’m here for the most unprofessional of reasons: to experience grassroots democracy in action.

I have long wondered if the people of this country would forever sit passively by
and watch our hard-earned gains in the direction of decency and humanity be reversed
by the Republicans (aided by weasel Democrats), watch as the clock is turned back to
the dark ages of crony capitalism. This group is trying to do something about that.

Mic check.

Sleep for many of us never did come that night in December, but neither did the
police. It was one of very few blessings that brutally cold holiday season brought;
the weather was about to take an even more drastic dip, one that would cost us some
Occupiers.

There are those who say the movement is incoherent. In a way, I can see the
point–the causes cited by Occupiers are myriad, and it’s not being packaged in those
convenient little soundbites that media talking heads prefer. But if you actually
think about it, my erstwhile colleagues–employing your own brain cells instead of
your tendency to lazily regurgitate–it becomes obvious why that’s the case. With so
many powerful people dedicating so much time to screwing up this country for their
own narrow benefit, the fact that one can’t simply hand over a concise statement of
purpose to cover it, says far more about the size of the problem than about those
trying courageously to begin to correct it.

Some say the movement is too inclusive for its own good, that those hangers-on who
aren’t here for a specific political reason need to be booted. But how can you kick
out the already marginalized, many of whom have things to teach you about surviving
in a hostile environment?

Among the hundreds of people who have come to watch the circus, many have clearly
joined it, at least in spirit. A steady stream of messages from the street tell us
how the revolution looks from there.

“Thank you for doing this for all of us. What can we do for you?”– a carload of elderly women stopped at the light close to my tent.

“God bless you from the rest of us. Don’t lose hope; you’re making history.”  — a
middle-aged Hispanic man, through the window of a battered pickup, to a chorus of
honking horns behind him.

“Go home, commies. Get a job, dirty hippies.”   — screamed from the windows of a  series of SUVs and sports cars barreling down 15th street.

If volume is the measure, the wingnuts win; one of their favorite tactics is to park
close by at 3am and blow their horns nonstop to keep us from sleep.

One of the more blatant hypocrisies I’ve heard is “Give us back our park!” I used to
work across the street, so I know that the main users of this park before October 1
were the homeless and the rats–and both are still here.

Tonight, the rumors fly again, probably with more reason this time: On Friday, the
Park Police, our nemesis/defender, apparently caving to pressure from a rabidly
partisan neocon congressman from California, issued an ominous warning: after noon
today, they will start enforcing the “no camping” rule. Nobody’s sure precisely what
form that enforcement will take, but it involves potentially arresting those
“sleeping or preparing to sleep.”

Once again, we wait. Will the dreaded crackdown come, and if so, what will happen to
my friends and neighbors who are unlucky enough to have no other place to go?

Mic check.

Text first published on CoolRevolution.net, January 31, 2012, and on OccupiedStories.com, April 26, 2012.