From the new November-December 2011 issue of News & Letters:
Oakland, Calif.–As part of the autonomous but connected “Occupy Wall Street” movement, we organized here on Oct. 10, a rainy Monday evening. About 500 people, the great majority under 30 years old and a very diverse group (race, gender, age, etc.), met in a general assembly and collectively decided to occupy and camp out in a small park in front of City Hall. Over the next five days, this park became packed with many dozens of tents, with an unknown but large number of (mainly young) people camping out. A wider circle of supporters visit regularly, coming with various material and other expressions of solidarity.
The Occupy Oakland movement is, like those around the U.S. and the world, arguably the beginning of a new and exciting revolutionary movement of class conscious youth who want fundamental change. They are a part of the hundreds of millions of unemployed and underemployed people worldwide who want a completely new and democratic political, economic and social system, one that is the opposite of the current hierarchies operated by a corporate capitalist system run by and for a small ruling class of top income and wealth holders. A main chant is: “We are the 99%.”
Participatory and transparent democracy is the practice, with no formal leadership; general assemblies and committees run the encampment and its activities. Anyone who shows up can participate. This example threatens all existing hierarchies, pointing out that democracy is a verb, not a noun, it is something we all do together or it is not real.
One is reminded of how all great revolutions began with the uncompromising actions of relatively small groups of people, completely fed up with the existing system and sick to death of the “same old crap.” No one can say where this will go, if the movement will spread, and if the U.S. working class, a class in itself, is rapidly becoming a class for itself with nothing to lose but its chains. But we can all hope and begin to act on the belief that the age of acquiescence in an unjust, alienating, and corrupt capitalist system is finally over and that we are all the revolutionaries that we have been waiting for.
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Early morning Oct. 25, a massive police contingent, at great cost, came to tear down the orderly assemblage of occupiers camped on the plaza in front of Oakland’s City Hall. Eighty people were arrested and all equipment trashed by police. Later that day Occupy Oakland reassembled at the Oakland Public Library and several thousand marched to City Hall, determined not to let officials wipe out their presence. The police rioted against the demonstrators, firing rubber bullets, sand bags, flash-bang grenades and lots of tear gas canisters directly at the marchers. One projectile hit Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, in the head, critically wounding him. Vigils were held for him across the country. Occupy Oakland retook the plaza and a General Assembly of over 1,500 put out a call for a solidarity general strike on Nov. 2.
In Minnesota, winter is setting in very early this year. And winter here is severe. In Duluth, we occupiers have been marching back and forth from Civic Center Square and a very old statue of “Patriotism”–which for generations was the traditional place for protests and demonstrations–and Lake Superior Plaza, which we’ve been trying to make a new place for protest.
The big building of Minnesota Power (MP) sits beside Lake Superior Plaza, and MP has gone berserk with all this public talk of the greed of corporations. MP has been broadcasting a lot of ads describing themselves as “responsible,” “good environmentalists,” etc. The son of a friend of mine was killed several months ago in a workplace accident involving one of MP’s power-plants. They denied any responsibility. There were indications that they had the time and liberty to tamper with the death scene.
Union members have joined the occupiers in Duluth. Mike Kuitu, the president of the Carlton County Labor Assembly, has shown solidarity with the occupiers very publicly. Tom Gilliam, of an old Garment Workers local, has been active with the occupiers on a daily basis and some days around the clock.
In Minneapolis, we occupiers were herded off to a privately owned park to get us out of the way. Now the park owner is trying to evict us. The occupiers have been sleeping overnight in tents, refusing to be removed. Every day there have been public statements against the bankers and corporate greed. In both Minneapolis and Duluth, the protests have been continuing around the clock. In Siberian Minnesota, you really have to mean business if you engage in meaningful protest!
Memphis–The Occupation here officially started on Oct. 15 in coordination with many other solidarity occupations going on throughout the U.S. Most Memphis occupiers are new to activism. Many attended direct action training. It’s encouraging to have new activists from the working class getting involved with the struggle.
Tennessee has some of the lowest corporate taxes in the country, but the jobs have not shown up. Most Memphis police and firefighters have seen a pay cut of 4.6%. The occupiers have symbolically taken over the park in front of the City Government building. It’s refreshing to see the city’s unions are joining in solidarity.
About 25 people maintain the occupation nightly and many supporters drop in and out throughout the day to bring supplies and/or participate. Nearly 150 are in attendance throughout the weekends. Memphis was supported by many visitors from the Gandhi-King Conference Oct. 20-23. Occupiers were even treated to a free concert by David Rovics.
Occupy Los Angeles
Los Angeles–Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, Occupy L.A. started on Oct. 1 on the south lawn of Los Angeles City Hall. Over 350 tents and 700 occupants are camped out on the south and north lawns. The occupation is made up of a wide range of groups, including anti-war, immigrant rights, women’s rights, Black, environmentalists, anti-capitalists, Chicanos, many young whites, anti-police brutality and individuals fed up with their situation. Many committees were formed, to keep the occupation running smoothly, and to discuss various topics such as education and politics. Many protests link with or originated from Occupy LA. For example, on Oct. 15 15,000 people, mostly immigrant workers, demonstrated in a “We are the 99%” theme. On Oct. 18 “Occupy Los Angeles Unified School District” protested against the layoff of 1,200 teachers.
From Arab Spring to Wisconsin to Spain, a lot of people are starting to realize they’re not alone. We see things happening all over and it inspires us to act locally.