Tag Archives: march

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

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.