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Rocking the Boat

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Text by Jehovah Jones.

Photos by Ellen Davidson and Jehovah Jones.

When several hundred social-justice activists gathered at the White House Wednesday to demand that President Obama free the scores of martyrs being illegally held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there were some in the crowd who were quietly determined not to be ignored yet again.

Representing Veterans for Peace, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Code Pink, CloseGitmo.net and World Can’t Wait, this constitutionally protected citizens’ protest featured prayer and singing of hymns, a huge contingent of protestors in orange prison jumpsuits, some bearing the names of the 86 prisoners who have been cleared of any crime and yet not freed, and a flock of pink umbrellas spelling out ‘Close Guantanamo.’

There was testimony by some of those whose lives have been impacted, and by a group of women who had just visited the prisoners’ families in Yemen, as well as lots of silent protest by those of us who are just sickened by how badly those people are being treated in our name.

At least one person decided this wasn’t enough, and chose to go the extra mile, which in this case measured about 8 feet vertically.

Texas shrimp-boat captain and Vietnam veteran Diane Wilson was in her 57th day of a water-only fast undertaken to show solidarity with the 104 prisoners of conscience who have vowed not to eat until they are free. That much time without food can make you seriously weak.

But you’re not Diane Wilson.

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 Wilson, 64, draped a painter’s dropcloth across the spikes at the top of the fence that shields the president from his people, got a boost and vaulted over. With that small, innocuous act, she was in effect crossing the rubicon, pissing* in the face of those who believe they are The Law.

As ridiculous as it may sound, when she entered the lawn in front of her country’s seat of government, unarmed and unthreatening, Diane was promptly converted into The Enemy.

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And so this calm, motherly woman who lay on the ground just inside the fence to show she was no threat, was beset by screaming thugs pointing assault rifles, and threatened with the release of a snarling, snapping German shepherd purposely whipped into a frenzy by his grinning frat boy of a handler.

In addition to Wilson, who was roughly cuffed and jailed, at least 18 other protestors were arrested for refusing, when arbitrarily ordered, to leave the sidewalk outside the fence, where any tourist is allowed to stroll.

In an apparent bit of delayed payback, Code Pink’s waifish Medea Benjamin, who confronted the President over exactly this issue a few weeks ago while he was giving a speech at Fort McNair’s War College (sanitarily euphemized as National Defense University), was roughly thrown down on the sidewalk and cuffed, as you can see in the photo below.

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As was former Veterans for Peace President Elliot Adams as he tried to chain himself to the outside of the fence. Frail and in his 41st day of fasting, Adams was pressed facedown on the hot pavement for a ridiculous amount of time, held by the foot of a hulking bully of a cop, who eventually got around to cuffing him.

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Both were released without charges within the hour. Based on the way the cops acted, they apparently felt that they deserved some gratitude for that.

How did we get here, people? How is that a man who ran on a platform that specifically included freeing the people his predecessor had illegally and cruelly locked away in that inhuman hellhole for a decade, sits serenely behind that fence and does nothing while the people he claims to serve are abused by sneering, condescending pricks in clownish uniforms?

How did the country’s first African-American president, running as a progressive and presumptively representing a minority that has long been mistreated in this country, wind up as the defender of a malignant status quo established by neoconservative pond scum?

How is it that this presumably decent professor of constitutional law has become The Man standing in the schoolhouse door barring entry to those who would expose the extent to which that constitution is still being trashed, long after the departure of Grand Dick Cheney and his idiot minions?

How is it that President Obama, who still claims to personally want to close that shameful chapter and return to the rule of law, sits on his nuanced multicultured ass and does not lift a finger to help a courageous kid like Bradley Manning, who’s been stripped of his humanity, had his legal rights trampled for years, for simply trying to tell his fellow citizens about the war crimes committed in their names by Bush and his henchmen? It’s now on your head, Mr. Obama. Make no mistake about that. You inherited this mess, it’s true, but you didn’t have to buy into it.

How is it, now that you’re the overseer of Plantation America, ensconced in the columned antebellum mansion, that you extend such crimes as these, and have added your own? Eavesdropping on citizens without a warrant, and claiming for yourself the right to play judge, jury and executioner of people across the world, fellow citizen or not? How is that you’ve tasked your own AG to play John Ashcroft and break his arm reaching for justification for the Cheneyesque bullshit that you’re pulling?

Where, at last, is your humanity? And don’t give me that ludicrous, juvenile ‘War on Terror’ schtick. It’s an insult to your intelligence as well as mine.

Folks, It’s way past time to rock this boat. Get in the streets, scream and howl, and refuse to be ignored. Do it while there’s time, because it’s fast running out.

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Those prisoners on whose behalf we were here to protest? I doubt the government will admit it, but they don’t want to release them for one simple reason — fear that in the last decade of being imprisoned, abused and tortured, these innocent people have been radicalized and could actually be tempted to commit some of the acts for which they were falsely imprisoned. Would you blame them if they were?

But preemptive imprisonment, for whatever reason, is lawless madness. And it’s exactly that sort of madness that your government is getting very comfortable about rationalizing. Guess what they’ll rationalize next? I don’t wanna.

Rattle the chains. Now. It may already be too late, but there’s only one way to find out.

*Not literally, but I can dream, can’t I?

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Occupying minds.

Occupying minds.

My friend Chris says it better than I could.

Transportation Workers, Day Laborers Join Occupy DC’s May Day Protest

By Jehovah Jones

Bus drivers and other rank-and-file union employees of Washington’s Metro bus and subway system, along with Hispanic day laborers from Virginia, joined Occupy DC’s May Day celebration at Malcolm X Park and marched across the city to the White House.

Workers with the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 addressed the evening gathering in the park on 16th St. NW at Meridian Hill, saying that the revitalization of the unions needs to come from the bottom, because the unions’ leadership isn’t doing the job.

Metro bus drivers Patricia and Shamika, whose surnames are being withheld as befits honorary Occupiers, said that their mission is to fight “racism, sexism and capitalism,” and that a change in the methods used by unions is  long overdue.

“The strategy of the past 30 years is not working,” Patricia said. “Endless negotiation and accommodation doesn’t scare” those who would exploit labor and the poor, she explained. “Strikes scare them.”

ATU’s Mike Golash, addressing a crowd of several hundred, said that the labor movement has been sold out by a union leadership which “has no interest in defying the unreasonable restrictions that have been placed upon them” by such legislation as the Taft-Hartley Act, restrictions that say Metro workers are not allowed to strike.

Like Occupy DC, he said, “they are forcing us to become an illegal movement.”

The union workers suggested that Occupy could lend the unions a hand, and vice versa.

“Metro says it’s illegal to stage a sympathy strike, but there’s nothing to stop Occupy DC from conducting a protest” in support of the union strikes, Golash said.

And while the powers that be can feel unthreatened by Occupy’s actions at times, they’ll have a harder time maintaining being sanguine if Occupy is joined by the city’s transportation workers, Patricia said. “If a few hundred Occupiers protest, they can blow it off,” she said. “But when a thousand Metro workers go on strike, the whole city notices.”

“We are under attack,” she said, and castigated Metro for raising its rider fees and freezing wages to meet its budgeting goals instead of getting the money from the people who benefit from the it the most — the large corporate interests that cluster their outlets around Metro stations.

Those who worried last fall that the Occupy movement was being co-opted by the unions can rest easy, Golash said. “Occupy DC, and the movement in general, has by now clearly shown that it’s beholden to no one.”

The Washington Labor Chorus led the activist crowd in belting out labor classics “Solidarity Forever,” “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night” and “The Internationale,” each rendered in Spanish and English, and even, in the latter case, French.

Occupiers dressed as heroic figures from America’s labor history gave speeches, including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who noted that the “impossible chasm between all workers and all exploiters” has not been bridged, and is in fact widening again.

A re-enactor dressed as Haymarket martyr August Spies read from the speech he gave before he was hanged:

“…Anarchism is on trial! …very well; you may sentence me, for I am an anarchist. I believe that the state of castes and classes–the state where one class dominates over and lives upon the labor of another class, and calls this order–yes, I believe that this barbaric form of social organization, with its legalized plunder and murder, is doomed to die and make room for a free society…but let the world know that in 1886, in the state of Illinois, eight men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future; because they had not lost their faith in the ultimate victory of liberty and justice!”

Other historical figures invoked the 1971 May Day action to protest the Vietnam War, when 35,000 activists effectively shut down this city, noting some similarities between that movement’s leaderless structure and Occupy. The fact that the Nixon administration also changed the rules abruptly and raided the event despite the permits, knocking down tents and teargassing the legal protest, didn’t escape Occupiers’ notice.

The gathering featured poetry readings, a solidarity speech by a new labor organization that has sprung up among immigrant day laborers in Northern Virginia, the traditional dance of the Maypole, and then, the march.

The crowd, by now numbering about three hundred activists, rode and biked down the 15-20 block route toward the seat of paralysis, accompanied by a giant dragon puppet made up of a dozen or so people in costume, wriggling along at the end of the pack. Chants rose:

“When the working class is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!

Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.

The whole world is striking!

We are unstoppable; another world is possible.

At 2400 14th St, Hispanic construction workers high on a cable-lowered work car shouted their approval and pumped fists.

“We are the 99 percent; we are the working class. And so are you!”

Horns blared along the route, but most of the honkers did it rhythmically, a smiling show of solidarity with the protest.

“Don’t just watch us, come and join us!” the marchers urged the crowds. “We’re only fighting for your rights.

Greed and corruption are weapons of mass destruction.”

“We hold the system up. We can make it fail,” one sign proclaimed.

On and on, accompanied by two saxophones, a guitar, a violin, and a drummer playing a bucket.

Finally Occupiers reached the White House, and wrapped it up with a performance for its Occupants.

They didn’t grace us with an appearance, but it seems likely they heard our musical entrance.

This article was simultaneously published on OccupiedStories.com

A tale of two protests

Author’s note: This article was published on several other movement blogs in April and May 2012.

By Jehovah Jones

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April 24, 2012: The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (‘and Bradley Manning!’, an addition which seemed hastily pasted on at the last minute) rally at the Justice Department drew many angry and some fairly incoherent people. But not quite the usual Occupy suspects; The New Black Panthers were present, of course, and making use of the Occupy-popularized ‘Mic Check’, a phrase originally borrowed from rap music.

And I got to march with Chuck D.

The Panthers’ newspaper, which their olive-drab-encrusted ‘soldiers’ relinquished with suspicion to the cheeky white boy in kente cloth — obviously a cop —  after he made with the required cash ‘donation’, contained some articles that actually made sense, showed reasonable, logical development. Not all of them, no, but some, especially those explaining why they don’t view Obama as their president.

Warm day. Sunshine everywhere. Except along the sidewalk in front of Justice. Cold, forbidding, like an alleyway that runs through Red Riding Hood’s forest. The man on stage announces that he just got a text from Chuck, and that he’s “circling.”

While we wait for Chuck, and get word that Danny Glover had to bail, Ramona Africa of MOVE and a bevy of less-inspiring, less-talented and less-imaginative rappers and speakers fill the flatbed of the AAA Emergency truck that serves as a stage. A moronic call-and-response that serves no apparent purpose except to pump the egos of the callers: “When I say ‘Free ‘em’, you say ‘all’!”

Deeep.

The American Indian Movement rep tries his hand: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!”

Better.

A phone call from Mumia, in prison, is garbled and mostly unintelligible, thanks to the brilliant plan of holding up an iPhone to a mic. I assume he’s confirmed that he is still in jail, on questionable charges brought by a criminal justice system that had no credibility whatsoever*, and that he’d like to get out sometime soon. We knew that, and that’s why we’re here.

Chuck’s speech, when it comes, doesn’t inspire me as much as his lyrics, but the way he walks down the street later, just being one of the crowd, does. No security; I was behind him for awhile as we marched from Justice to the White House before I realized it was him, alone except for one other man helping to carry the sign. Hey brother, he smiles when he sees me looking, slaps my hand.

When Kevin Zeese makes his impassioned plea for freeing Wikileaker Bradley Manning from military prison, a few people sign up for the rally the next day at Fort Meade. I am torn between that event and the rally at the Supreme Court, which will begin hearings on the noxious, racist Arizona immigration law.

In the end, the ‘civil disobedience’ promised by the organizers of this march didn’t come at Justice (“just ice,” per Chuck. Maybe speaking in the cold shadow of the building inspired him) but rather at the White House, where the march ended after circling the Justice Department building. And it was so long coming that many drifted off, exhausted by all the waiting. Why, in the name of all that is allegedly holy, do they take so long to arrest someone who’s been warned, and who so clearly wants the arrest as much as or more than the cops want to arrest them? Why the need to surround them with trucks, push everyone back behind police tape, then metal barricades, carted in by the truckload, then painstakingly unloaded and used to slowly push the crowd out of Pennsylvania Avenue,or whatever that pedestrian walkway is now called in front of the White House? The kids are sitting, waiting to be arrested so they can make their statements. Total time, for the posturing, the pomp, the gassing and everything: 7 hours. Clearly intentional; make the protestors work for the arrest.

Next Day: Supreme Court. Arizona SB1070 protest. Lots of angry people screaming, no one could reasonably hear what they were saying. More deeply moving and unintelligible call and response. Much marching and chanting. Many people being interviewed by their friends, presumably for blog/Youtube immortality.

A black man in a robe blows a flatulent blast on a shofar.

I yawn, then leave the court and stroll, looking for a cuppa.

Half a block away, a pedicab driver stops, says I’m walking like a man with back pain. Wants to give me a ride. He’s in the mood for a chat. First we discuss whether I look like the sort of man who needs and can afford another man to be his donkey. He smiles, asks if he’s guessed right. Yes, I am having back pain; a poor night’s sleep in a narrow bed at the Friends’ hostel, I suppose.

He says he’s having ‘home pain.’ I inquire, and he says he’s from Arizona, and that it was never like this when he lived there, that “a bad crowd of neocolonists” has since moved in and ruined the neighborhood.**

“My friends were citizens but their parents weren’t, and now they deport them, 20 years later, separating them and their kids. That’s fucked up. When people ask where I’m from, I usually say ‘DC’.”

Yes. The land where citizens are denied the right to a vote in Congress.

A neocolony.

The man blows the ram’s horn again.

*The police who beat, shot, and arrested Mumia in 1981 were at the time being investigated by the Department of Justice. (Obviously this was at a time, long past, when Justice was occasionally a valid description of what this agency is practicing.) Then, for the first time in our history the federal government sued an entire police department for civil rights violations, and charged the Philadelphia Police Department with police brutality. The DOJ suit said that the Philly cops made a practice of shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, suppressing dissension within its ranks, and engaging in a pattern of brutal behavior that “shocks the conscience.” Within days after Mumia’s trial ended in his conviction for the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, 15 of the 35 police officers involved in collecting evidence in his case, including Alfonzo Giordano, the police inspector who controlled the Faulkner crime scene and led the Mumia investigation, would be convicted and jailed on federal charges of graft, corruption, and tampering with evidence. The federal investigation did not provide relief for defendants like Mumia who were convicted, presumably fraudulently,  by these corrupt and convicted cops. Some justice, hmmm? 

**  In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court soon ruled on Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 , declaring several key provisions of the law to be unconstitutional,  but allowing Arizona law enforcement officers to ask for documentation from people they believe might be in the country illegally. In other words, profiling is allowed.

Welfare abuse

Make the corporate junkies to kick the habit — the hard way.
By Jehovah Jones
“They’re trying to anesthetize our institutions,” Ralph Nader told a gathering of several hundred people at a recent gathering in Washington of Occupiers from across the country.
That’s about right. There’s certainly some doping of the public going on, and it’s happening in plain sight as surely as if addicts were tying off and shooting up in Franklin Square.
Addressing “Protecting the Commons from the insatiable advocates of privatization,” one of a series of lectures collectively entitled Stop the Corporation, hosted by The National Occupation of Washington, DC on April 2, the co-founder of Institute for Local Self-Reliance laid out how our Post Offices are falling victim to that effort to stupefy.
Across the country, 3600 communities were given notice last fall that they may lose their post offices, David Morris told the activists. The announcement roused such outrage that the Postal Service issued a six-month moratorium on any such closures.
But that’s not the end of it, he warned. When the moratorium ends next month, you can expect to see rapid closures of many small-town Post Offices, and to add insult to injury, Congressional Republicans are pushing for Saturday postal delivery to be ended nationwide, in order to give Corporate America a chance to trojan its way into the public mail system.
The community impact statements the agency is required by law to conduct are being fudged, he said; the statements do not include the cost to community of the loss of postal service. The Postal Service is using fanciful corporate-speak — “Starbucks language”, in his words — to put a positive spin on what they’re doing, but it’s not working. Local Occupy movements have seen through the smokescreen, and are involved in fighting the closings in a number of states, with some success.
All of this begs a question: Why is the Postal Service having the alleged shortage of cash that is given as the reason for all the closings and cuts? Morris did hit that in passing; it’s the usual Republican budget shenanigans involving shifting deficits across the budget year and across the federal government to hide the truth.
But there’s one important aspect that this seminar didn’t address at all, and it’s the one that explains where the money’s actually going, and it’s one that should resonate most with Occupiers: the fact that this public agency is subsidizing private corporations to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Think about it, and I’m guessing you’ll know what I’m referring to: junk mail.
That’s right. In addition to ‘franking’ political junk mail for your alleged representatives in Congress, the Post Office hugely subsidizes giant corporations at your expense, helping them to fill your mailbox with useless crap that has your name on it.
Not only do these corporate junkies get to sell your personal private information to other addicts without asking you, but they also get to send you garbage for a fraction of a cent per piece, while you, the individual taxpayer, get soaked for — what; 44 cents? — when you want to send mail. Or has it gone up again overnight?
Yes, they call one variety Third Class or Fourth Class and the other First Class, but that does not come anywhere near explaining the difference in price.  And as you can tell by the timing of the subject matter of your political junk mail, it gets through the system  as quickly as that birthday card from your Aunt Fanny, regardless of what the damn stamp says.
Junk mail is yet another way that our tax dollars pay for massive corporate welfare, and it’s one that is a pain in our collective ass every single day. We shouldn’t tolerate it. Why should they be allowed to send us unsolicited junk emblazoned with our names at all —  pointless crap with the sole purpose of trying to sell us shit we don’t need, wasted paper that we have to use our valuable time to recycle, and remove our names from if we want to be safe — much less at our expense?
Make ‘em kick the nasty habit. And force ‘em to go cold turkey, since that’s how they roll when it comes to other junkies. Tough love? Maybe. But they shouldn’t have gotten hooked on the junk in the first place.

“I love the smell of Roundup in the morning.”

Occupy pays a Leap Day visit to Monsanto and ALEC

by Jehovah Jones

Feb 29: Occupy DC’s Leap Day actions started at the butt-crack of dawn.

Ok, maybe 7am doesn’t precisely qualify as time’s anus, but it’s right next door. And Occupiers aren’t known for liking to get up early. Back in the good ol’ before-February-5 days when I used to crawl out of my tent at McPherson around 5am to go to work, the few hardy souls I bumped into seemed less than completely alert, partly due to the neocon agitators honking horns ’til the wee hours.

Everybody’s milling around drinking coffee, and because this is Occupy, there’s a woman with a Domino’s box.

Cinnamon bread sticks, maybe.

No… it’s pizza.

Note to self: Tell that woman why Domino’s should be the target of a boycott.

And stop salivating.

We’re about 50 strong now, maybe 60. It’s too early for accurate counting. Three U.S. Park Service cops, including an older guy who’s always here, seems mostly decent. Somebody says he’s the one who got Tank’s foot in the ‘nads back in December. Seems pretty calm and easy, chats with any and all of us, doesn’t seem angry or vindictive. The other two look like Beaver and Wally going to pepper-spray camp, hands on their ‘batons’ a lot; maybe they like caressing wood..?

7:30 a.m. Occutime, and we’re off. Down 14th and turn on L St NW, a couple of DC cops and a black SUV trailing us.

On this rainy morning, Occupy DC is acting in solidarity with Occupy Portland, which has declared today to be Shutdown the Corporations day; we’re visiting our neighbor ALEC, formally known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, on the 11th floor at 1101 Vermont Ave. N.W. (They seem fond of ones; maybe it’s the one-percent thing?)

Our homeboy ALEC, who provides right-wing legislation for state governments that’s ghost-written by corporations — one of the benefits of their being declared people, perhaps? — has been busy over the past year, pushing hundreds of anti-worker bills to stop public employees from unionizing and bargaining for a fair deal and a living wage. Alec’s been hanging out with some real douche-bag governors, including Jan Brewer and Scott Walker.

“No legislation for human subjugation!” the people chant to the beat of a drum and whistle. “ALEC, can’t you see? We’re a democracy!”

Then we’re off again, with Occupiers at the head of the pack determined to find another corporation to congratulate on his or her civic-minded citizenship.

“We are unstoppable. Another world is possible!” A cop on a motorcycle hears, believes, and shuts down K Street for us. Yeah! Let the lobbyists curse. “Get up, get down! There’s revolution in this town!” We cut through a park–Franklin Square? Who cares? Parks are so yesterday.

An OccuKid pulling a cart full of signboards announces that we’re about to see some anarchist street theater. Seems like that might best be done on the street, so we head out the other side, and…Jesus. Some students from AU want me to fill out a survey about Occupy’s relations with police. I tell them I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve never screwed a cop while Occupying.

On to 1300 I Street to visit Sigñor Monsanto, the scourge of farmers and eaters everywhere. This fine Corporate-American’s first product in 1901 was saccharine, a harbinger of all that was to come, including a flurry of poisons used to make it dirt cheap for corporations to produce food-like substances that will enrich them almost as fast as they kill you.

In a partnership with Dow, Monsanto made Agent Orange, a potion that Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers alike can attest has a bit more kick than Orange Crush.

Monsanto was the first to modify a plant cell’s genetics to create fake-but-photogenic food. “Food with a boob job,” a friend used to call it.

They manufacture Roundup, a name which describes what their security thugs are trying to do right now to their Occupying neighbors. “Can I get a wagon over here?” a scruffy woman in plain clothes yells into a walkie-talkie, and a screech of sirens answers from the box.

The Occupiers sit in front of the revolving door holding a large Occupation Nation sign. “Take the day off!” they advise Monsanto employees. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we are shutting the building down. This is what democracy looks like.”

“This is a peaceful, nonviolent protest,” they calmly inform the cops who approach. Some cops aren’t interested in nonviolence, yanking at those sitting. “Who do you serve?” the Occupiers demand.

“If you do not move, a police officer will arrest you!” one very large cop bellows, his stomach heaving with indignation. “He’s talking to a donut,” one kid grins. “Why don’t you go an arrest Monsanto?” another yells. “They’re the ones killing us. We’re upholding the law.”

But they’re not moving. Well, one girl is. She’s being dragged across the pavement by a giant donut masticator. “Medic!” she whimpers, her arm firmly clutched in his large sweaty palm. “Show me what a police state looks like!” the crowd chants. “This is what a police state looks like!”

“Show me what a donut looks like,” a kid begins, and a cop grabs his hair… then sheepishly lets go and walks into the street, where the Occupiers are unfurling a huge banner. One rope catches on a cop’s parked motorcycle, and Occupiers yell, “Stop! Don’t turn the bike over!” A cop, whose name tag reads Farr, helps free the snagged rope, and smiles at the Occupiers as they get back to work. “Thanks, officer!” the Occupiers yell. But after a bit, seeing that the paddy wagon has been backed up to the curb, he informs them that they have to get off the street or be arrested.

An Occupier does a mic check. “Should we stay in the street and get arrested, or hold the doors?” he asks.

“Fuck the street, hold the doors!” the crowd yells. And under the leering grin of the cardboard ghost writer dripping simulated blood, 12 people are arrested for doing just that. “Fuck Monsanto!” they yell as the cuffs are attached.

“Fuck Monsanto,” a cop agrees.

As I walk away through the rain, headed for the job it seems I am lucky to have, some workmen prepare to go into the building. Music by Canadian rock band Rush blasts from their van’s speakers:

“It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit. It’s a far cry from the way we thought we’d share it.”

Originally published on CoolRevolution.net, March 1, 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.

Fear and Loathing in McPherson Square, January 2012

Image

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.