Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park: A Record from Tuesday, October 11

I took the following twenty-eight photographs on Tuesday, October 11 in Zuccotti Park in preparation for my third blog post on the Occupy Wall Street movement [OWS] although this was my first visit to the protesters' actual encampment.  Zuccotti Park sits a few blocks north of Wall Street and one block north of New York's National Historic Landmark Trinity Church, a Gothic Revival building designed by architect Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.

Zucotti Park is a block long rectangle bordered on its east by Broadway, west by Trinity Place, north by Liberty Street, and south by Cedar Street.  Being located just a few blocks east of the World Trade Center Towers, the park--then named Liberty Plaza Park--was in need of repairs after 9/11.   The fact that at this moment it serves as the camp site for the OWS protesters is fitting, in that it also served as the staging area for the emergency operations following the 9/11 disaster.

The park had been a private park ever since 1968, when it was built by the US Steel Corp., whose building flanks its north edge. When it was redesigned and reopened in June, 2006, it was named after John Zuccotti, the chairman of Brookfield Properties, as they were the new owners of what had been the US Steel building.

We all can thank Mr. Zuccotti for generously allowing the OWS protesters to use this private park.  He has been an important public servant for decades and has been quoted as saying "my heart is in this city."  Appropriately, given the Park's present function as a place of refuge for people, many who are here from other parts of the country and the world,  at its rededication ceremony of 2006 then-Governor Pataki spoke these words:  "The park has been re-imagined as an urban oasis, and just like the new Lower Manhattan, it too will be vibrant day and night with 500 twinkling lights making the park a welcoming space for workers, residents, and visitors."  Little did he realize how bright those lights would twinkle and how special they would be!

I present twenty-eight photographs taken in Zuccotti Park, organized roughly in terms of three broad subject areas: one being the Broadway edge of the park, its most public side, and some other interactions with the city beyond its perimeter;   another being the individual people who are camping there as protesters;   and a third being some examples of the activities and organization within the campsite itself.  However, my comments that appear below each photograph won't expand so much on these three subject areas.  Instead, they will interpret a specific aspect found within the photographs--each a specific document of this day, Tuesday, May 11, 2011--as a way to connect them to the broader condition of our country.  I encourage you to read these entries piecemeal, image by image; they needn't be read as a single document, in one sitting.

Zuccotti Park: Keith, Get used to it

Keith came to New York six days earlier from North Dakota.  He left his job selling cars to join New York protests.  His inspiration were social news websites like; after spending the good part of two days on them, he packed up and left home (but he says that he will be allowed to return to his job).  For an example of the sort of commentary that he may have been watching on those two days, see this post from reddit politics.

Keith's sign is priceless, an acknowledgement of a major criticism of OWS, and yet, one of its strengths. What do these protesters want? What are they after? The answer seems at once everything and nothing. They want decent jobs, living wages, safe homes, clean air and water, good schools, affordable public transportation, you name it.  Theirs is a call for simple human dignity.

In the words of Van Jones of the American Dream movement, they may lack "message clarity," but they have an abundance of "moral clarity."  Watch this wonderful ad, less than thirty seconds, which offers an overview of what OWS wants.

But then, maybe now the time has come to present some specific demands, as Matt Taibbi writes in the most recent Rolling Stone
, and he proposes five short, powerful ones.  I encourage you to read his article.

Zuccotti Park: Justin at the Info Desk on Broadway

Anyone walking north on Broadway will first encounter this OWS information desk.  Justin, in the red cap, is talking to pedestrians and offering literature, including issues of the newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal.  He came from Michigan to participate in this event and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

Hovering above him is a mock-up of a predator drone with a paper sign naming it Unmanned Assassination Vehicle.  It was put up by anti-war activists, although I was unable to find out who, in particular, did this, except for locating a group named AttaX which has a (musical?) piece with this name and a possible connection to an internet personality and early podcaster named Adam Curry.

The use of the word "assassination" in the name clearly contradicts official US policy in regard to the drones, in that the Administration has argued that drone strikes agains Al Qaeda and its allies are lawful military actions and fall under the general principle self-defense.  Therefore, their targeted killings are not "assassinations."  But then, in contradiction to this argument, in April the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, stated that drones could be used to "assassinate" Colonel Gadaffi.  So much for cooperative allies!

Zuccotti Park, Broadway Line-up: Mark, Ryan and Scott

Pedestrians walking up-and-down Broadway will encounter quite a few protesters standing with signs, fairly quietly but always ready to engage in a discussion. Mark (to the left, looking down) is from Riverside, CA and holds a sign saying "Tax Wall St. Transactions."  He has a PhD in Philosophy and had taught at a charter school until he was let go for lack of any union protections and with no warning.   Ryan (in the center) is from Asheville, NC, and his sign reads "End the wars--End the Fed (two simple ways to fix the economy)." He is a student at the University of North Carolina.  Scott is a student from Philadelphia and only came up for the day.  His sign reads "Capitalism is a religion that makes Satan a God."  Typical of the OWS protesters, these are thoughtful, intelligent and sincere fellows.

Ryan's sign on ending our wars, thus fixing our economy, may sound too simplistic.  However, the cost of our wars since 9/11 is at least $3.7 trillion and it could easily reach $4.4 trillion.  Under half of that sum would have sufficed to upgrade and modernize all of our infrastructure problems: aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, national energy power grid, hazardous waste, navigable waterways, railroads, roads, schools, solid waste, transit systems, and wastewater.  This, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has given America a grade of "D" on its infrastructures.

Zucotti Park: Henry Ford on our Banking System, Myles

Myles is an "IT-guy" from Queens and comes down to volunteer his time for the cause.  His quotation from Henry Ford hints at the longer history behind the criminal disregard for people within our banking system.  This, alone, ought to call into question the deregulation of that industry that has taken place over that past thirty years and has been promoted, in particular but not solely, by our Republican politicians.

But we could go back even farther in our history for insightful warnings about banks.  Thomas Jefferson, in the 1809 debate over the re-charter of the Bank Bill said:  "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies."  A century later, Theodore Roosevelt said that "The issue of currency protected from domination by Wall Street.  We are opposed to...provisions [which] would place our currency and credit system in private hands."

But, alas, what contemporary Republican can resist privatizing any moving body under the sun?  And so, we come to today's fiscal and economic crisis, fueled by the greed of Wall Street bankers.  Even J. Edgar Hoover realized the danger when, in 1955, he wrote, "Banks are an almost irresistible attraction for that element of our society which seeks unearned money."

Zuccotti Park: Devon, Read the Bible

Devon came up from Jersey City, NJ and already had been in New York for five days.  He came when he saw the video of a senior police officer pepper spraying two women who were talking to a representative of Democracy Now and were properly standing behind the orange netting of the police lines.  His sign asks "right wing politicians" to read the Bible and "follow its teachings!"  He then quotes from 1 John, 3:17 to illustrate the hypocrisy of many of the religious right: "If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim to love God?

Even if religious placards hardly dominate the signs at OWS, many commentators have noted a religious dimension to the movement.  Marisa Egerstrom, a PhD candidate in American Religious History at Harvard observes that the democratic society that OWS is promoting "sounds pretty Christian to me. What the early Apostles called 'The Way'...repudiates the pursuit of individual wealth in favor of building communities that care for the marginalized, the desperate and the powerless. Jesus demonstrated this by healing lepers and dining with prostitutes and tax collectors."  Others have made similar associations.

Zuccotti Park: Aly's Coffee, et. al.

Moving on to a few examples of what I call "other interactions with the city beyond," here we see the Cedar Street edge of Zuccotti Park lined with food kiosks from early morning until late afternoon: Aly's Coffee, Halal, Sam's Falafel, Smoothie and even two upstate farmers familiar to local farmer's markets, Migliorelli Farms and Pick of New York have set up tents to provide the demonstrators with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Free enterprise is alive and well, even in Zuccotti Park!

Rising above the kiosks in the background are two neo-Gothic office buildings built between 1904-07, the Trinity building and the US Realty Building.

Zuccotti Park: Chris watches as Anthony plays chess with a passer-by

Chris, from Long Beach, CA watches as his friend Anthony, from Philadelphia, plays chess with a New Yorker who had passed through the park.  This was just one of many examples of local office workers, residents, and tourists engaging with the demonstrators in their encampment.

Zuccotti Park: Construction Workers on lunch break on Cedar Street 

Workers from a nearby construction site sit on the granite wall defining the southern edge of Zuccotti Park.  Behind them can be seen some of the fifty-four honey locusts that were part of the 2006 remaking of the park and that provide the campers with the comfort of shade and protection from the elements.

Although these workers have their backs to the Park interior, many others were interacting with the demonstrators elsewhere.  Although initially skeptical about the young demonstrators, the construction workers have been won over to their support.  One worker was quoted as saying, "You are our future, and I will march with you!"  Another remarked, "'We are the 99%' is pretty f**ng genius," in regard to the main motto for OWS.  A third added, "Thank you for sparking the labor movement...and for showing us how to do it."

The most powerful endorsement of all, however, might be the first several minutes of this YouTube video of several thoughtful, and eloquent construction workers--clearly a part of the 99%.

Zuccotti Park: Kitchen

Inside, the Park may at first appear chaotic, but soon its organization becomes apparent.  Located in the center is the Kitchen, serving free food donated from various organizations, from local restaurants, and from individual, local donations at collection jars within the Park itself. Thousands are fed daily, and seemingly smoothly, even without a centralized acquisition system, nor on-site ovens or refrigerators.  As Michael Kimmelman has written in the New York Times, the demonstrators "have devised their own form of leaderless governance....[and] the governing process they choose is itself a bedrock message of the protest."

Zuccotti Park: The People's Library

The Library, which takes up about half of the Liberty Street edge of the park and makes use of its granite wall and bench structure to serve as shelving, contains donated books on nearly all subjects, including a children's book section.

Zuccotti Park: Occupation Status Board

Posted near a locust tree is a large cardboard sheet noting that this is day 25, indicating the weather predictions, cautioning what should not be done, noting required "quiet hours" (10:00 pm-8:00 am), other important regulations and events, and updates on kindred movements in other cities around the world.  Nearby is a "Comfort Center" stocked with donated clothing, bedding, toothpaste, deodorant, all free for the taking.

Zuccotti Park: Drum Circle

At the western edge of the Park, facing Trinity Place and taking advantage of the steps that lead up into the Park from that side to form a convenient amphitheater,  drummers and other musicians entertain themselves and a gathering crowd.  At times, celebrity entertainers have joined them.

Zuccotti Park: Dancers

Festive music and a heavy beat entertain the gathering crowd as several of the "campers" perform an ecstatic dance.  One holds a sign that admonishes us:  "You weren't afraid to dance as a baby."  

In the background can be seen the black structural steel frame of the original US Steel Building, designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and built in 1972.  Its site was that of the former Singer Building designed by Ernest Flagg; when completed in 1908, this was briefly the tallest building in the world.

Zuccotti Park: Sacred Space and Tree of Life

The single London plane tree, encircled by a granite bench, occupies the north-west corner of the Park.  The demonstrators have christened this their sacred space with an altar full of offerings surrounding the base of the tree.  Their intention is hardly pagan, and the concept of the tree of life, found in so many mythologies, appropriately conveys the idea that all life on earth is related.

Just out of the picture is a bronze sculpture, entitled Double Check, of a life-sized, seated man looking into his briefcase.  It is a work by the New Jersey artist, J. Seward Johnson.  Thus, at least one (inanimate) Wall Street type businessman sits among the demonstrators who are trying to change his ways.  And so, within the compass of the "tree of life" the 1% and the 99% also unite.

Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, detail

Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, view from behind

Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, front view

Greedozer, the embodiment of human greed and industrial disregard for our environment, is the invention of the Australian performance artist, Benny Zable.  He has been using some version of this figure to protest around the world ever since the early 1970s.  Silently, as a mime, he stands, then slowly turns to reveal his full message:  "There are no jobs on a dead planet."

Assuming the form of Greedozer, Zable encourages his audience to "work, consume, be silent."  He relies on our apathy to achieve his goal of making earth a dead planet.  On the back of his black robe he informs us that we have chosen extinction.  

This is a powerful piece of performance art.  Too bad our politicians continue to approve drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal, factory farming, greenhouse gas emissions, ever increasing consumption and growth, private modes of transportation and the many other things that jeopardize our earth but increase the wealth of the individuals and industries that lobby Congress and serve Greeedozer hourly.

Zuccotti Park: Stephen

Stephen, as his sign makes perfectly clear, can't afford a lobbyist.  Luckily,  he could afford to fly to New York for five days to participate in OWS.  He arrived from Minneapolis and was inspired to come to New York in his words, "to go to the heart of the beast."  His moment of inspiration was Steve Jobs, not his untimely death, but his words about living:  "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

Zuccotti Park: Charlie

Charlie came to New York from Arkansas, claiming to have been inspired by the Transit Workers Union. His message asks our leaders to activate their conscience.

Zuccotti Park: Chris (in tank top)

I found Chris working at the Info Desk in the northwest corner of the Park.  He came from New Jersey, has been with OWS for seven days, and says that he will stay "indefinitely."  The energy and dedication of these kids is wonderful, as is their discipline to remain calm and focused.

For example, Chris told me about an encounter with a Tea Partier who was attempting to foment trouble, but he and others simply laughed at the man, rather than engage him in a challenging way.  Their mirth increased when the man tried to tell them that Eisenhower was not a Republican, and he apparently went off to find other, more gullible, victims.

Zuccotti Park: Media Center, Colin

Colin was one of several workers at the Media Center, which has computers powered by generators.  He comes from Connecticut, is interested in journalism, and claims to have been with OWS for seventeen days.

Zuccotti Park: Herbie, OWS to SCOTUS

Herbie lives near Albany, NY, and comes down to volunteer for several days at a time.  This was his third trip to New York to work with OWS.  His sign is a message from OWS to the Supreme Court of the United States, its logic clear except within the Wonderland that seems to have turned our Supreme Court topsy-turvy: "Corporations are not persons," and "money is not speech."

We all know about the Citizens United v. FEC case, to which his first statement about corporations refers.  But the Roberts' court has come out with several other decisions that would seem to be giving corporations free rein to completely handcuff workers and individuals.  Wal-Mart v. Dukes, essentially says that there can be no class-action suits, that some companies are just too big to sue; so does AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  Then, going further through the looking glass, in Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, the Supreme Court essentially has allowed large financial companies to produce false prospectuses and lie to clients with impunity, simply by doing so through dummy corporations.

As Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate in July of this year, "the Supreme Court is giving corporate America a handbook on how to engage in misconduct."  Ralph Nader, in a scathing analysis of this most "activist" [my word] Supreme Court ever, whose majority is completely beholden to big business, concludes an article entitled "The Corporate Supreme Court" (July 18, 2011) with these words:  "Never have I urged impeachment of Supreme Court justices.  I do so now, for the sake of ending the Supreme Court's corporate-judicial dictatorship that is not accountable under our system of checks and balance in any other way."

Zuccotti Park: Just waking up, Kaley

Kaley, in her fake fur boa, arrived the previous night from Sarasota, FL, along with twenty-five other students from the New College of Florida.  They all decided to come to volunteer with OWS during their Fall Break.  Now, isn't that a change from college students using their break to party in Ft. Lauderdale!

Zuccotti Park: Rae and friends

Rae, the gal in the center with her head turned down to her right, came from Michigan for a few days with the blessings, so she says, of her professors.  her sign reveals the disillusion of so many of our youth:  "They call it the American Dream--you have to be asleep to believe it.  WAKE UP."  

Zuccotti Park: Library Reference Desk, Sam

Sam, who is working the People's Library Reference Desk, has been helping OWS for the past five days.  he arrived from Pennsylvania in order "to be productive," since, in his words, "America today has no work for people."

Of course there's no work for Sam and millions of others.  Senate Republicans have blocked the American Jobs Act and won't allow it to go forward in the Senate, even though it would likely have led to the creation of 2 million new jobs.  And House Republicans, after claiming to be in favor of infrastructure investments, blocked the Infrastructure Investment Plan.  Sorry, Sam, you may have to stay in Zuccotti park a while longer, but you're in good company.

Zuccotti Park: Paul

Paul, who was a veteran and served in Iraq, came down from New Hampshire, although he first volunteered for one day in Chicago and then in Boston.  He says that he will remain in New York "for the duration."  His sign captures many of the uncommitted of the 99%, and he becomes their surrogate: those who can't, those who won't, and those who are too afraid.

Zuccotti Park: The Undocumented

The undocumented may well be among those too afraid to protest, so Paul can serve as their surrogate.  What are we to do when some of us legislate against others.  Alabama is seeing Hispanic students disappearing from school rosters, too scared to attend classes.  It is losing Hispanic farm workers for the same reason, threatening to lead to millions of dollars lost in unharvested crops.  Michelle Bachmann has pledged to build a double fence the entire length of our border with Mexico; so has Herman Cain, an electrified fence twenty feet high that can kill, topped with barbed wire, and guarded by military troops.  Won't that be beautiful!   South Carolina, Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia are all calling for Big Brother Government to check immigration status, as is the Tea Party in Texas.

These people are part of us.  They are part of the 99%. How pathetically shameful we have become!

Zuccotti Park: When Texas Executes One

Among the many signs waiting for a march is the one in the center distance: "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."  More shame on our wonderful country.  Texas Governor Rick Perry has been in office eleven years and has allowed 234 executions to take place.  This number is more than executions in the next two states, not in eleven years, but in the thirty-five years since the death penalty was restored in our country.  Those two other states, California and Florida, even have larger "death row" populations than Texas.

Given the fact that Texas has spent $700 million on those executions, we must question Perry's claim to being a fiscal conservative.  We already know that he isn't a compassionate conservative!

Zuccotti Park: Sleeping Inside
If you are counting, you know this is photograph 29 (out of my stated 28).  It was taken by my friend, Leslie Wagner, who sent it to me with the following poem that she wrote. I thought that her poem was the perfect way to conclude this post, and so it is the companion to this twenty-ninth image:

the park

trees and flags

trunks and poles

for catapulting and leaning on

for belongings

like friends

leaves falling, now, my bed

a blanket of stars

and stripes

this park to sleep in

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 99% Occupy Wall Street in Search of Another World

In the later afternoon of Wednesday, October 5, people began to gather in Foley Square, just north of City Hall in Manhattan. Word had it that the labor unions would join with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on a march from there down to Wall Street.  With about two hours to spare before I met a friend for dinner, I went to Foley Square, camera in hand, to have a second look at the demonstrations that had begun two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The photographs that follow represent my second attempt to present and interpret this growing movement that calls itself Occupy Wall Street.  They are my main material for this post, although I have added some commentary after each one.  I also have chosen to make the horizontal images the same size as the vertical ones so they "read" better, even though they then will extend beyond the right margin of the text ( a design issue within the Google blog over which I have no control).  Enjoy.

New York Supreme Court, 60 Centre Street

Before marching down to Wall Street, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators gathered in Foley Square. I left the square before the march started, but in the hour-and-a-half that I was there, I watched it fill to bursting, to the point where I could barely manage to blaze a trail out to the subways.

This courthouse, with its pedimented Corinthian front, overlooks Foley Square from the east and provides a certain gravitas to the civic center.  It was designed by Guy Lowell, a Boston architect, and completed in 1925. Engraved above the columns are the words of George Washington, “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

Supreme Court reflected in fa├žade of Court of International Trade

Across Foley Square to the west, we see the James L. Watson Court of International Trade building reflecting the Supreme Court as well as a demonstrator’s sign that is emblematic of this event: “It’s About Freedom.”

America is losing its freedom, and it’s not from outside forces. Rather the threat comes from unregulated and increasingly unfettered greed and hunger for power from within our own country.

Anti-Corporate Flag

Replacing the stars on this American Flag are corporate logos, and it’s an equal opportunity selection. Not only are the obvious culprits like Shell, Chase Manhattan, Citigroup, GE, IBM, CBS and Xerox represented, but also corporations that do not so clearly lean to the political right, like Adidas, Nike, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Playboy and Quiznos. Overlaid on this field of "uncaring corporate greed" [my words] is the symbol of denial, a circle with a diagonal line through it. 

Corporations, no matter what they make, have become insatiable.  They are structured for short-term gains and they neglect long-term decisions that would benefit them as well as the country, such as educational and social programs.  Today’s corporations have no respect for national boundaries, and the idea of local, American corporations in which we can take pride is a thing of the past.  Why we still feel loyalty to them is a mystery.  They only care for the bottom line.  They are prepared to destroy our environment for it and to sell us dangerous products for it. They are inhuman entities and they are definitely not individuals!

We Are The 99%:  Barry with a Transport Workers Union sign

In contrast to the corporations that seem to have taken over the soul of our country, here is the real heart of America--the other 99%: those who are actual people and not corporate entities, who are not millionaires, who right now pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than do the very wealthy.  They are the upper middle class, the middle class, the working class, the poor, the out of work, the out-of-home.  They are doctors, teachers, truck drivers, packers, public servants (including the police overseeing this demonstration), workers in the private service industry.  They are the backbone of America and they are being eaten from within, at their marrow, by the greed of our large corporations, banks, other Wall Street operatives, and by wealthy people like the Koch Brothers who don’t give a damn for our country and just want to make more money for themselves.

This sign represents the Transport Workers Union, which was founded in 1934 by New York subway workers, and later became a  member of the AFL-CIO.  Since 1945 the TWU also began to represent airline employees, and since 1954, railway employees. Barry, who is holding the sign, lives in Manhattan.  He is not a member of the union, but has come out to support this and other unions, as of course he should support them.   We all should. Without the TWU, we would not be flying, taking the train, or the subways and busses.  Without the 99%, even the Koch Brothers would be unable to leave their gated community!

The Cancer Cell

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the CANCER cell,” reads the sign. In one sentence, this manages to summarize the problem of America today and the reason for this on-going Occupy Wall Street demonstration. 

Cancer, the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body which divide and grow, invades neighboring tissues and spreads throughout its host body.  One of many ways to apply this cancer analogy to today's political environment is to use it as a lens by which to examine the the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision: what can possibly be more “abnormal” than calling a corporation a “person?”

We are seeing the results of this decision already with the cancerous spread of untold amounts of corporate money funding efforts to restricting voting in many states, to buying elections and candidates, to destroying public and private unions, to rescinding child labor laws, to cutting health coverage for low-income families, to selling state-owned entities to private (corporate) buyers, to dismissing elected officials of local government and appointing unelected "emergency managers" (isn't this what dictatorships do?!).  I could go on for paragraphs, but you get the picture.  A cancer is destroying America, and our Supreme Court is helping to spread this infection.

Government for the People

Andy, who is holding this sign, is from the Bronx, and how can we argue with his message which simply asks for a government of, by, and for the people?  How is it that we have come to the point of needing to state the obvious?  These words, of course, reference Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Isn’t it ironic that we need to recall the words and the message of a great Republican president because today’s Republicans (and the right wing that it embraces) are undermining the great government that Lincoln envisioned and served!

Real Democracy

This sign, “We want REAL Democracy, not 2 ‘Parties’ run by Wall Street,” echoes the sentiment of Andy’s sign as well as the meaning behind Lincoln’s words.

God and Wealth

Annie, who attends Union Theological Seminary, quotes  Matthew on one side: “You Cannot Serve God & Wealth,” while on the other side she has written, “people of faith support Occupy Wall Street.” This is a good reminder that, among the other 99% that constitute normal, everyday Americans, there are many people of faith, many religious people. Very likely, the majority of Christian Americans are not the right-wing evangelicals who always seem to enjoy national press coverage.

Books not Bombs

Barbara from Manhattan is a member of Code Pink, a well-known women’s anti-war group founded in 2002.  She holds up a sign that ought to have every American thinking and reconsidering our priorities: Why IS there always money for war but not for education?

Teamsters Local 111

Bill represents the Teamsters and the official presence of unions, which have joined Occupy Wall Street as of Wednesday.

Chop from the Top

Katherine from Brooklyn expresses what well over 90% of Americans would like to see: a much greater measure of economic equality among Americans.  In fact, a recent study revealed that 92% of Americans would prefer a society with much less income disparity, choosing Sweden's model over ours.   Given that the average CEO today makes well over 400 times what his average employee makes, and the top 1% of Americans own 38% of the nation’s wealth, the outcome of this recent study makes complete sense.

Keep this in mind:  The wealthy were still wealthy during the Eisenhower era, when the top tax bracket was 91%; yet today they (and their Republican toadys) are screaming “class warfare” at the idea of returning to the relatively paltry 39% tax bracket of the recent pre-Bush era.  Maybe they'd stop their screaming were we to threaten to impose
 Sweden's tax rates on wealthy Americans!

Katherine represents US Uncut, a grassroots movement fighting the budget cuts that are now directed toward working Americans and also acting against corporate tax cheats and public service cuts.

Holly & Ken from the Judson Memorial Church

Holly and Ken hold the banner of the Judson Memorial Church, a Greenwich Village landmark that dates from 1892 and was designed by McKim, Mead & White.  Long known for its progressive activism and support of art and artists, the Judson Church works on immigrant rights, peace action and women’s reproductive rights.  Its senior minister, Donna Schaper calls it a “gathering place for people who seek spiritual nurture to build public capacity for social change.”

Joel with Shirtwaists

One hundred years ago, March 25, 1911, the Triangle shirtwaist factory caught fire, killing 146 garment workers within eighteen minutes, then the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York.  The reason:  managers had locked the doors to stairwells and exits.

Here we see Joel, a retired teamster, who, with some friends, is carrying actual shirtwaists overlaid with diagonal sashes that call for “Solidarity,” “Power to the People,” “People Over Profits,” and several similar statements.  Rather than mere placards, these shirtwaists serve as inspiring pieces of activist art.  In the context of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, these "talking" shirtwaists serves as powerful reminders of America's corporate greed and a lack of concern for the worker.

Michael and the RICO Law

Michael from Manhattan carries a sign that equates the Wall Street bankers with a crime family and calls for them to be indicted under the RICO Laws.  The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act allows for the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for crimes that they ordered others to do, even if they remained above the acts themselves.  Naturally, what Michael asks for will never happen;  but it should.   After all, virtually every bank and financial company on Wall Street was involved in criminal scandals that destroyed trillions of the world’s wealth.  As Matt Taibbi wrote in an article of March 3, 2011 titled “Why Isn’t Wall Street In Jail?,” ours was “an industrywide scandal that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.”

Vernal and the NYCC

Vernal, from Brooklyn, is one of several representatives for New York Communities for Change at the demonstration.  NYCC is a coalition of low and moderate income families fighting for social and economic justice throughout the state.

Writing on their web site as to why NYCC is joining Occupy Wall Street,  John Kest puts forth the theme shared by most of the demonstrators: “While the big banks have destroyed our economy and working people have fought to make do with less and less, the richest one percent of Americans continue to take of more of the pie.”

Collective Bargaining Works

In the mid-1950s, 36% of America’s labor force was unionized, a number far below the percentages of almost every other developed democracy of the world. By 2007, this number had fallen to 13.3%, due to a half-century of business propaganda that demonized unions because they were feared as a democratizing force that needed to be eliminated in order to promote the “capitalist story.”

Collective bargaining, the process of normal union employment negotiations as well as a way to resolve labor-management conflicts, “is, essentially, a recognized way of creating a system of industrial jurisprudence.”  It forces management to honor the civil rights of workers and to operate within a set of established rules.  Of course collective bargaining works; and without it, workers work less well.

Donna for Workers' Rights

How can one argue with this statement?  Workers’ rights are human rights.  Worker’s rights are simply a cry for a living wage, job safety, workers’ compensation, a paid vacation, health benefits, pensions, an eight-hour work day...and a right to organize to insure that all these other rights are recognized.

War on Workers

Collective bargaining and trade unions are being castigated by many Republicans today, especially by governors of states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Maine, who clearly have declared a war on workers.  Nevertheless, collective bargaining is recognized internationally through human rights conventions, while the organization of trade unions is recognized as a fundamental human right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.   In other words, America’s demonization of unions and today’s war on workers places us squarely on the opposite side of most of the world’s developed democracies and in conflict with one of the early, major declarations of the United Nations General Assembly.

Chuck says "Tax the rich until they're poor"

Chuck came in from New Jersey with this sign that indicates the degree to which growing economic inequality and wealth stratification has overtaken America.  Income inequality has been increasing since the 1970s, in contrast to America in the mid-20th century, when income inequality had been decreasing; and in 2006, the United States had one of the highest levels of income inequality among high income countries.

Chuck's sign reads: “Tax the Rich Until They’re Poor...Let them see what it’s like.” Below this it reads: “Corporate America is stealing the American Dream from your children and grandchildren.”

Robbing the Middle Class

There are so many ways in which today’s Republicans are robbing the middle class (and giving tax breaks to the rich) that I hesitate to start down this rocky road.  Instead, why not state one example in which Republicans and Democrats have been ganging up on the middle class like some trash-talking WWE tag team.  That example is Social Security.  Although Social Security actually has a $2.5 trillion surplus, Congress (during the Bush Presidency) blithely (and improperly) spent much of it for year-to-year budget allocations for the wars, tax cuts and oil subsidies. 

Nicole: Greed Against the Earth

Nicole, from New Jersey, brings forth a broader, ecological,  problem of greed, not only of Wall Street and the banking industry but also of the extractive industries.  Fracking and the pollution of our land and water, mountaintop removal, deep water oil drilling, the heating of the globe due to human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are putting us close to a point of no return, a “tipping point,” after which we may not be able to survive on this earth.  But, of course, there is money to be made, and some of those making it are happy to fund the dissemination of misinformation that leads to the insane denials of global warming, or the equally insane rally cries of “drill, baby, drill.”

Analyzing this crisis in its broadest context, paleontologist Peter Ward has coined a phrase for this (and he also has written a book), calling it the Medea Hypothesis
, which claims that our very success will cause our extinction.

Civil Liberties, et. al.

A man holding a sign saying “Jobs not Cuts,” a younger man raising his right hand in a clenched-fist salute, a Muslim woman with a sign reading, “Dude, Where’s My Civil Liberties?,” a fourth man with a sign that appears to be a play on the word “bomb” that may also allude to Obama, and a fifth sign indicating the lack of truth in television.  This photograph captures the wonderful eclecticism that characterizes the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Erica: Star Stuff

Erica, a graduate student at CUNY, holds up a sign that reads, “We are ONE SPECIES; we are star stuff, harvesting star light,” a quotation from Carl Sagan.  So, Erica urges us to think beyond our country and the earth and into the Cosmos, or, more accurately, back to the Big Bang, which caused the earth and every living thing to be made of star stuff.

Michelle: My Professor

As Michelle, a student at Pratt, implies, everyone in this country ought to have health insurance, even her professor.  Now, most professors have health insurance through their college or university plans.  However, since we are in New York City, and New York colleges have the “luxury” of hiring many adjuncts along with full-time faculty, it may well be that her professor is an adjunct and does not on a college health plan.  Yes, he should be covered--and so should every other person in America.  But because of private insurance company greed and inefficiency, health spending per capita is much higher in America than in most other countries, the quality of care is lower, and our system is among the least equitable.

Richard: Strumming for the Social Contract

Richard, an actor with the WorkShop Theater Company, is entertaining the growing crowds on his banjo and has written a song, “Marching Down to Wall Street,” which can be found on YouTube. As he says, the reason he is here is that we are all in this together, and we must find a balance between socialism and capitalism.  For a healthy social order, they need to co-exist.

The NYC Raging Grannies

Also entertaining the growing crowds in Foley Square are the Raging Grannies, or to be specific, the NYC Metro Raging Grannies and Their Daughters, for the Raging Grannies is an international movement which began in 1987 in British Columbia.  Their purpose, as stated on their website, is to “promote global peace, justice and social and economic equality by raising consciousness through song parodies and satire.”

Foley Square ca. 4:30 pm,  October 5, 2011

Here is what Foley Square looked like around 4:30 pm. The march downtown would not begin for quite some time, but it seemed as if a body was occupying every square foot of the civic center.

Christopher: Another World Is Possible

Christopher, from Brooklyn, holds two signs. The one states optimistically, “Another World Is Possible.”  The other is a quotation from George Soros: “The Collapse of the Global Marketplace would be a Traumatic Event with Unimaginable Consequences. Yet I Find It Easier to Imagine than the Continuation of the Present Regime.”

George Soros has devoted himself to creating and promoting open societies around the globe, particularly in the Eastern bloc as the Soviet empire crumbled.  He has championed tolerance, democratic governance, and human rights through his Open Society Foundations.

I and the many thousands of participants in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations would love to entertain the possibility of another world, a world of greater equality, a world in which the wealthy, the big bankers, the heads of our corporations all felt an obligation to the poor and the less wealthy, a world in which politicians cooperated consistently with the opposing party for the benefit of all their constituents and their country, a world in which no entity would consider defiling the natural environment, a world in which politicians and other decision makers primarily would consult scientific experts and not paid lobbyists, and a world in which the health and education of the entire citizenry would be given primacy.

These, indeed are the goals and the dreams of the 99% who are Occupy Wall Street.  If only the other 1% would listen and join in; then, maybe, we could rescue our country.