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February 6, 2012 · By Lacy MacAuley
This past weekend, I stood in the rain at Occupy DC as police in riot gear trampled through the camp at McPherson Square. I ran as they charged the crowd with police horses. I watched as they grabbed clothing, books, tents, shoes, and other personal property, and tossed it all into dumpsters.
Some are asking how the Occupy movement will accomplish anything now. I say, it already has. It has already changed our world.
I marched through New York in September of last year on the first day of Occupy Wall Street. I laid down my sleeping bag in the open air in Zuccotti Park on the first intense nights of the occupation. Then, I brought my sleeping bag back to Washington DC, where I live. With some hopeful companions, I began occupying McPherson Square on K Street, home to some of the most corrupt lobbyists in the world. We held meetings in the cool October air, not yet the biting chill of winter. And we went to work building a library, a clinic, a kitchen, a media center — a small village. A second camp quickly emerged in another part of town, within sight of Congress.
I occupied because the rich are too rich, because Wall Street and the corporations control too much, and because all of our governments won’t even begin to seriously address some of the biggest challenges of our time, like climate change. I occupied because, like so many in the 99 percent, I am fed up with the status quo. I occupied because people are suffering all over the country and all over the world, while the power to build a better future is in our hands.
Now, most of Occupy DC has been emptied. Many occupiers were made homeless. Miraculously, the cops spared my humble little tent, with a newly broken pole, but sleeping in the park would now likely get me arrested. (I hadn’t slept at the park recently anyway. Another occupier was staying in my tent.)
Was it all worth it? Yes, and I’ll do it again.
This week, the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing about inequality and social mobility, hearing from experts like Sarah Anderson at the Institute for Policy Studies, who has published studies on the CEO-worker pay gap for 18 years. Would the Senate be doing this before Occupy? Probably not.
Mitt Romney is struggling to shed the stigma of being a “one percent candidate,” because his Richie Rich image continues to harm his campaign. Even Newt “Huge Tiffany’s Tab” Gingrich is making jabs at Romney’s wealth. Would this have happened before Occupy? Probably not.
One of President Barack Obama’s favorite stump speeches these days is on making the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share, which would reduce inequality in this country. Would this have become a favorite presidential refrain before Occupy? Probably not.
A thousand plans are afoot to “re-occupy” this spring. But even if the camps were to end now, the Occupy movement has made millions of Americans think harder about our economic, environmental, and political realities, and that has the potential to change everything. It has created spaces for us to bring a bold new world to life. It has sparked conversations and ideas that no police barricade can hold back. And it has opened dreams that we are all still dreaming — whether we campers are allowed to sleep or not.
Lacy MacAuley wears two hats, which isn’t always easy. She is the media relations manager at the Institute for Policy Studies and a participant in the Occupy movement. www.ips-dc.org
October 17, 2011 · By Karen Dolan
It's "a dagger pointed directly at the heart of Montgomery County," warned County Executive Ike Leggett.
Huh? Was there a do-it-yourself bomb shop in Bethesda? An open sewer in Silver Spring? An organization dedicated to teaching kids in Chevy Chase to smoke cigarettes? No, Leggett was fretting about a local, non-binding peace resolution.
The measure, that just a week earlier had appeared sure to pass the Montgomery County Council, would urge Congress to reallocate funds from spending on wars and weapons toward starved local services and community needs.
When I first saw this quote in a Washington Examiner article, I thought I must've misread it. I located those darned reading glasses and read it again. OK, he really said that. "Leggett asked the council to table the resolution because it is a 'dagger pointed directly at the heart of Montgomery County,'" wrote reporter Rachel Baye.
Whoa. A dagger pointed directly at the heart of Maryland's Montgomery County? Nearly 1 million people live in the county, which blends Washington suburbs, medical research facilities, assorted government installations, and zoning-protected farmland.
I live in neighboring Prince George's County but have many friends and colleagues living there. I go to the movies in Bethesda. I sometimes buy food at the Takoma Park Co-op or the Trader Joe's in Sliver Spring. I would hate to see it all destroyed. And Montgomery, which happens to be one of the nation's 10 most affluent counties, has a pretty big heart. All that blood should the dagger, I mean the resolution, actually pass?
Leggett's outburst surprised me, in part because I recently participated in a town hall meeting where this topic was discussed with hundreds of Montgomery County residents, as well as some elected officials, and experts. I even said a word or two about the $2.5 trillion U.S. taxpayers have squandered on endless wars in the last decade and how Montgomery County's taxpayers will hand the Pentagon $2.5 billion next year. I think we'd all be better off if we spent that money on things that actually make our lives better.
The sentiment that excessive, inefficient, unnecessary military spending came at the expense of critical health, education, infrastructure needs of county residents seemed reasonable and unanimous. I didn't sense fear of imminent danger in the room. Plus, remember that this is a non-binding resolution. As Baye explained, "it had no chance to actually end wars or starve the Pentagon."
So, what's got Leggett so upset?
The military contractor Lockheed Martin is located in Montgomery County and employs 5,200 people in the county. We're all scared about jobs. Surely the resolution doesn’t want to cut jobs. I looked at the resolution again. Nope. There's nothing in there about firing Lockheed's employees or tossing any corporations into the Potomac River.
But we want plentiful and good jobs. As the hundreds of participants in that town hall meeting discussed, and the squelched resolution declares, the least economically beneficial way to spend a federal dollar is through military spending. Analysts have demonstrated that more and better jobs, which spur greater economic benefits for our local, state, and national economies, arise through federal spending on jobs in non-military fields such as infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, and education.
In other words, the government can create more jobs by hiring more teachers and doctors than soldiers. Economically, building bridges beats making bombers.
Montgomery County, like most other U.S. counties, has suffered significant cutbacks to these critical areas of community and human needs in recent years. The Pentagon's budget has not.
Lockheed may be particularly nervous because military spending cuts are on their way, thanks to the drive to shrink the budget deficit. The defense industry is already beginning to shift some operations away from military production more and more into non-military related activities. Lockheed Martin, like its competitors, employs thousands of people in areas of technology services that have nothing to do with the military.
Finally, shifting resources in that direction by cutting war spending won't only bring dollars home, but will push companies like Lockheed Martin further in the direction of non-defense jobs, thus creating more and better jobs for the county. This resolution puts Montgomery County residents on the side of progress and urges the state to move in the right direction sooner rather than later.
When deficit reduction is the goal of federal policy, the more money we spend on unnecessary weapons programs, costly ineffective wars, and unnecessary military bases, the less money there will be for teachers, police officers, firefighters, bridges, and roads in Maryland's Montgomery County and the rest of the nation.
Mr. Leggett, the dagger threatening our life's blood is the unnecessary suffering brought on by underinvestment in the vital services that provide our children with a good education, our families with good health, and our communities with green infrastructure improvements and jobs.
While many defense-industry jobs can't be immediately transitioned to the more economically beneficial jobs, many can and must be in the near future. This isn't only good economics, it's good for Maryland.
Every county in the nation should have similar resolutions urging the same thing. Thank you, Montgomery County, for leading the way.
October 13, 2011 · By John Cavanagh
A journalist asked me the other day where the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC protests came from. This is the story I told him.
These movements have deep roots. They were planted over the past century by the millions of workers who stood up to exploitation and won basic labor rights and drove up taxes on the wealthy to create a middle class.
That fight sprouted a new root — the struggle for civil rights — and that fight melded with fights to end an unjust war in Vietnam. Then, in the 1970s, women came together to change how the nation thought about sexism, creating the space for new movements that said if you think sexism is wrong, why is homophobia OK? Then environmentalists started asking why it's OK to leave our grandchildren with a polluted planet. These are deep roots.
Around that time, in 1976, the exiled Chilean leader who was working at the Institute for Policy Studies, Orlando Letelier, was speaking before a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden, demanding an end to dictatorship. When he and his IPS colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt were assassinated by that dictatorship 15 days later, their family and friends — including some here tonight at this human rights awards ceremony we hold in their names — responded by turning this tragedy into a powerful force for international human rights.
Then, two decades ago, these movements gave birth to the global justice movement, and millions came together to oppose corporate greed and corporate rule. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous people stood up to free trade They said: enough. Nine years ago, 15 million people in 600 cities said no to war against Iraq. Three years ago, millions poured into the streets to fight for immigrant rights.
This is the Peoples History. And if Howard Zinn were alive today, he'd be writing a new chapter right now.
It might start with the fruit vendor in Tunisia who said: enough. It would describe the millions of Egyptians who said: enough. It would describe the thousands of Mexicans who have stood up to the violence and said: enough. And it would tell about the brave people of Wisconsin who said: enough.
Yes, a part of our history is one of war, racism, genocide, and violent inequality. But, the more important part is the history of people coming together, fighting back, and creating a more decent and humane union.
So, today, we celebrate you all: you who are ending the wars, from CODEPINK to Peace Action; you from trade unions; you from progressive faith groups; you who are stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; you who are creating marriage equality; you who are rebuilding the American Dream and winning support for a DREAM Act; you who are Caring Across Generations; and you who will build the new economy that will provide dignified livelihoods to our next generation in a way that preserves the planet.
And for the thousands who are unrolling your sleeping bags in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza and Liberty Park tonight, and in occupations all over this country, we celebrate you as you continue the history of resistance to make this country and this world better for all of us.
What does the Institute for Policy Studies have to do with Occupy Wall Street? For 48 years, IPS has turned ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment, linking our work with the dynamic social movements of our time. And, we speak truth to power, so today, for example, one of our central messages in this time of supposed austerity is that there is no shortage of money.
And, our work details how we can mobilize that money while pursuing peace — by eliminating hundreds of billions in war spending; while pursuing justice — by sensibly taxing the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street speculation; and while protecting the environment — through carbon and pollution taxes.
There is plenty of money for jobs and for the other things this country so desperately needs.
Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh is a leader in the movement against corporate-led globalization. He delivered this speech at the 2011 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards ceremony on October 12.
October 11, 2011 · By Andrea Gordillo
On the newly ratified "Indigenous People's Day," in place of "Columbus Day," by the General Assembly, students from all over the city marched across Boston in solidarity with the wider movement.
In just one weekend of organizing, more than 1,000 students rallied in the Boston Commons before leading a vibrant march to Dewey Square, where they met with various labor unions and the occupiers. They then continued to march around the city in stronger, larger numbers — by one estimate over 5,000. Unfortunately, this isn't a breaking news story. Instead, we have vague details of an assault by the police and the city on the protestors.
Interestingly, the police issued a warning to the occupiers that they would be forcibly removed shortly after the march and after they expanded their camp into the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park. A Twitter war and a showdown between the Boston Police Department and Occupy Boston began at nightfall. The police explained that they were there to "curtail additional damage to newly developed green space" because, "the Greenway Conservancy recently invested over $150,000 in new plantings for all to enjoy." Occupy Boston's twitter feed encouraged their followers to adhere to their protocol of non-violent resistance. As they indiscriminately arrested medics and legal observers, beat Vietnam War veterans, and arrested hundreds of peaceful protestors, they destroyed and discarded their personal property.
It's no secret that the state has much to gain in discrediting and destroying popular social movements, particularly now that our government is colonized by corporations. In a smooth, but transparent, PR move, the city's Commissioner Ed Davis told the Boston Herald that "a new group, the anarchists, wanted to take control."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Since its recent birth, the Occupy movement has successfully aimed to be completely inclusive and horizontal. That's beginning to the reshape social norms and mores, and it scares those with power who believe they are champions of the common good. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek eloquently put in his address to the General Assembly of New York, "They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely the way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not the dreamers, we are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare."
People everywhere are waking up from this dream, feeling empowered. The powers-that-be must realize that we're on a deadline, that our options have been exhausted, and that we're here to stay. Yes, it's a sad day when the Boston police department beats up our veterans, but our tenacity is already showing and hundreds of people have donated to bail out the people who were arrested.
I can't reiterate enough that the ideas behind the occupations can't fit in a sound bite. I encourage you to engage in imagining a better world. If you find yourself scared by these PR tactics by the police and the government, remember that history will absolve us. The whole world is watching.
Andrea Gordillo is a member of Occupy Boston, a student at Northeastern University, and an intern at the Boston office of the Institute for Policy Studies. She was researcher on the recent IPS report, America Loses: Corporations That Take "Tax Holidays" Slash Jobs.
September 4, 2011 · By Daphne Wysham
As a single mother whose life's work has largely focused on solving the climate crisis, I'm often in a quandary. How much should I share of the work I do on this issue — which overwhelms those rare adults who immerse themselves in the details with grief — with my 11-year-old son?
When I posed this question in an interview with NASA's top climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who often speaks of his grandchildren as his motivator for speaking out on climate change, he advised me that it's more important to let a child be a child. Let them experience the wonder and beauty of nature, not fear it, he said.
And so I was a bit perplexed as to what to tell my son as I prepared to get arrested for the first time in my life. It turned out I'd be joining over 1,000 people from around the United States and Canada in nonviolently protesting a pipeline that President Barack Obama is poised to approve.
This isn't just any pipeline: It is, as Dr. Hansen calls it, a pipeline that, if opened, would ignite the "carbon bomb," a move that would signal "game over" for the climate.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, my son and I watched the movie Avatar on DVD (for the nth time). As it ended, I thought: This might be a good opportunity to explain my plans for that week.
"You know, this movie is very close to what's happening in Canada right now," I explained. "And it's one reason I'll be getting arrested this week."
As my son took in my explanation for my planned act of civil disobedience, he quickly concluded that he, too, wanted to be arrested. But, after some hours of contemplation, I had to reluctantly tell him no.
Why "reluctantly"? Because I felt I was denying my son the right to act, politically, on an issue that would very likely have a much larger impact on his life than on mine. He, far more than the adults who were weighing in, should have a vote on this issue. Yet he, and all our children, have little say on the world they'll inherit, one that may be changed utterly, in ways we can't even comprehend.
As I stood before the White House gates a few days later, listening to the police issue their warnings of our impending arrests to our group of over 100 demonstrators, I thought of what I would say as they carted me away — what cry I wanted the president to hear.
And I recalled the day Obama stood before the American people, in those days and months as BP's deepwater well billowed millions of barrels of oil from that horrifying wound in the Gulf of Mexico floor. I remembered him remarking that, yes, he was very concerned about the spill because, while he shaved one morning, his 11-year-old daughter Malia had asked him, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"
Children have a way of speaking to our hearts. And so, I mused, even if President Obama didn't hear the songs and the chants of the more than 1,000 people who were arrested over the course of two weeks, even if the prayers of religious leaders and Native American elders went unanswered, even if he didn't read the editorial opposing the Keystone XL pipeline in The New York Times, even if he ignored the advice of his very own EPA, perhaps, in this instance, Sasha or Malia might see us outside the White House gates, and ask him, "Did you stop the pipeline yet, Daddy?"
As the police handcuffed my hands behind me and led me off to a white school bus, I shouted: "For Sasha and Malia!"
I don't think Obama or his daughters heard me, I thought, as I watched my fellow protesters be cuffed, searched and photographed through the bus's caged windows. But perhaps, if we keep this up, they will.
Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, and host of Earthbeat Radio. www.ips-dc.org