Friday, September 18, 2015

Occupy Fourth Anniversary

Slow start to the day as organizers and a few returning Occupiers assembled in Zuccotti Park, I recognized many faces. Congratulations to Occu-Evolve for doing a lot of the work of coordinating speakers and actions from various Occupy-related/offshoot groups. They seem to have taken on this difficult job. I appreciated the discussion about the TPP, which, yes, is still looming, but proceeding so slowly that we can hope it will not be negotiated anytime this century. Also appreciated the discussion lead by Sister Ali (spelling?) of mass incarceration and murder of people of color by police. The whole criminal justice issue is very relevant right now. I think it resonates not only with minorities who have borne the brunt of an extraordinarily unjust justice system, but also with all poor people who become hopelessly trapped in its web, wrapped up and sucked dry. There is a massive march in New York planned for October 24. A young woman also spoke about the rising number of murders of trans women.

Bernie was invited. Didn't show. Of course. It's clear that many are supportive of Bernie's economic message but wary of supporting any candidate. The issue of his views on war was brought up. A few people went to the steps of the Federal Building anyway. Interestingly, another large and vocal group marched down Wall Street about the same time in support of opportunity for minority students. A somewhat nervous sounding guy in a suit asked his colleague, "Is that Occupy?". Actually I wish it had been us. These young people looked organized and determined and Wall Street should watch out. 
The afternoon produced more speakers, including some in support of marijuana legalization, and in the only arrest I saw, a young man was simultaneously hauled away for smoking a joint, in what appeared to be a deliberate event. Another young man spoke about the Need Act but I didn't get all of it. One point was a $10,000 citizen dividend. They have a website,

Vocal New York, a homeless and housing  advocacy group joined by a group protesting what are called 3/4 Houses (these are privately run apartments that provide substandard housing for people in unacceptable conditions and apparently the city looks the other way just to get people off the streets and out of sight). By this time a sizable crowd had gathered for the march to City Hall.

There were several moving speakers who talked about  homelessness/affordable housing and tying it to the Robinhood Act, proposed legislation for a small tax on financial transactions which could be used to fund more housing.  Such a tax would generate alot of income because of the large volume of such transactions. The majority of these activists were black and latino and spoke from personal experience. An apartment in New York City can rent for $5000 a month, and even people with good jobs find it hard to afford housing. Many people in homeless shelters have full-time jobs making what would be in the Northeast Kingdom a "good" wage. The call for affordable housing didn't address what seems to me to be one of the main causes of high rents--the horrendously inflated salaries of the wealthiest residents that push up the price of housing for everyone else. This should be a cautionary tale for us in Newport. Attracting rich people and building a lot of expensive houses for them may create jobs, but those jobs will be low paid service jobs, and though the tax base will increase,  most of that tax money will just have to to go to provide services for those poorly paid service workers for whom the cost of living has gone through the roof. I can't think of an example anywhere where gentrification has eradicated poverty. I don't know why anyone would think it will in the Northeast Kingdom.
I was happy to march for homelessness and affordable housing. I wish the focus had been a little less local, because we have many of the same problems up here in northern Vermont. Except that instead of too many people in homeless shelters, we don't even have any homeless shelters, and a police force that says, "Homeless people? We don't have any homeless people."  But just like NEK 99% is focusing on problems in our local communities, New York Occupiers are also bringing it close to home. The march was not to Wall Street, but City Hall. We were of course accompanied by a large police escort. For our safety, I'm sure.

There is a big arch near City Hall that makes a great place for amplifying sound. "What do we want? Affordable housing. When do we want it? Now. If we don't get it. Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down."  It was pretty inspiring. As we passed through the arch I realized where we were. A sign in the distance read "One Police Plaza". We were at the doorstep of the NYPD. Naturally the troops were barricading the citidel. There was a "Die In" and then the march returned to the sidewalk near City Hall and some planned to spend the night in City Hall Park. It was getting dark. Confused passersby had to run a gauntlet between demonstators and police on the sidewalk. A young woman said the occupation of the park was not intended as civil disobedience and they didn't expect any trouble from the police.
Occupy events wouldn't be Occupy without theater, and here's some:

Still here.