December 25, 2011

WWJD about Income Disparity?

Does the 1% versus the 99% mean it's time to throw the moneychangers out of the temple of finance?
"What would Jesus say about corporate greed?" Larry Hamm, NJ state chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, challenged motorists passing the Essex County Court House on Christmas afternoon.

For nearly six months, the People's Daily Campaign for Jobs & Justice has met challenges and grown, as more than 130 community-based, union-affiliated and religious organizations have join the campaign that People's Organization for Progress initiated last July. We haven't missed a single day of protest in the past 182 days. Through hurricane, flood, torrential downpour, and a pre-winter ice storm, the picket line/demonstration has rallied POP members, supporters and community residents every day.

Today however, POP and the Campaign for Jobs & Justice may have weathered our greatest test in the past six months. Christmas is traditionally a day folks feel compelled to spend at home with the family. To continue the campaign through this holiday constituted a serious challenge to the coalition. But, to some activists' surprise, today's rally drew more participants than many others days. Starting with about twelve pickets, the rally quickly grew to nearly fifty activists. As one veteran coalition member observed, "today may have been cold and windy, it might have been a day I'd have prefered to spend with my children, but it we had a great time!"
As much as the massive march and rally this past December 6th represented a turning point for the coalition and the campaign (see the People's Daily Campaign Honors Rosa Parks), the Christmas Day picket line proved the staying power of the People's Coalition for Jobs & Justice!
(to view a handful of additional photos from the Christmas Day demonstration click here)

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December 8, 2011

People's Daily Campaign for Jobs & Justice Honors Rosa Parks

When physicists refer to "critical mass" (the transformative moment when "the smallest amount of  fissile material needed for a nuclear chain reaction" occurs), it is a potentially violent and nearly invariably ugly moment. But when the people's movement reaches this level of activity it is beautiful!

It can be truly glorious, like when Christian Egyptians formed a protective line of defense so their Muslim brothers and sisters could observe Azzan (the call to prayer) during the Arab Spring uprising at Tahrir Square. It can be awe-inspiring, like when the NYC municipal unions joined Occupy Wall Street and that youth-led movement became truly mass in scope, or when folks replicated OWS in city-after-city (and small towns as well) across the US! It is fantastic, like the day People's Organization for Progress chair Larry Hamm recalls from the divestiture movement at Princeton when the daily demonstration against apartheid South Africa grew from tens of participants to hundreds!
Young Occupy Newark activists marched from their Military Park occupation site to rally with the People's Daily Campaign at the Essex County Courthouse.
And Newark's People's Daily Campaign may have hit this "transformative moment" on Tuesday, December 6 (a day so rainy that many activists feared the planned demonstration might flop) when more than 200 marchers, representing approximately 130 churches, labor union locals, students from Essex County Community College, school kids from Science High, activists from the recently begun Occupy Newark encampment, and many, many more joined the regular daily picket line near the Essex County Courthouse (see the Star Ledger article, here).
Youth participation is key to the future of popular movements.
The People's Daily Campaign for Jobs, Peace, Equality & Justice chose December 6 for this march and rally to honor Mrs. Rosa Parks who was arrested on December 1, 1955 when she refused to vacate her seat on a public bus for a white passenger and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956. The People's Organization for Progress and the Daily Demonstration Coalition took our inspiration from that boycott which began on December 5th when the Women's Political Council of Montgomery and labor activist E.D. Nixon (a Pullman Porter who worked with A. Philip Randolph) began the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That boycott continued for more than 380 days, and it is POP's intent to continue the daily pickets for at least the identical length of time.
Unionized hospital workers represented by 1199SEIU join the People's Daily Campaign.
The role of both movement elders and young activists was critical to the success of this transformative rally and demonstration. Stalwarts of local community and national activism Amiri and Amina Baraka joined us on this difficult rain-drenched evening as they marched along-side their son Ras Baraka (South Ward Councilman and principal of Newark's Central High School).
Poets and activists Amina and Amiri Baraka march with their son, City Councilman Ras Baraka, as well as Newark Public School Advisory Board member Richard Cammerieri.
The importance of new and younger organizers was highlighted by the presence of Occupy Newark, high school students from Science High, young teachers from Teachers as Leaders in Newark, and an impressive number of other young people.

For additional photos from this important demonstration see pictures by my friend Jon Levine here.

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December 6, 2011

A Kind Of Elegy For Zucotti Park

A few days back, I arrived at Zucotti Park at about ten in the morning. It was not a happy moment. Occupy Wall Street! is like a prison camp, the old partial line of interlocking police barricades on the outer edge of the block now filled in and supplemented by an inner circle of shiny new barricades courtesy of park owners Brookfield Property. Inside the Park are a bunch of "security" people hired by Brookfield in yellow reflector vests and a Crispness tree behind its own additional, third, ring of shiny barriers.

Given that there were fewer than two dozen occupiers present, and that any time someone so much as put down a newspaper or soda can on a bench, a rent-a-cop would dart over and throw it away, I was pretty bleaked out. When I told one long-time occupier I know that there were more pigeons than people in the park, he pointed out that the pigeons had made no specific demands, refused to appoint a leader and had been accused of shitting inside the park. We agreed that they had to be numbered among the OWS! supporters present.

Still, even as the movement continues to debate what path forward now that most of the large urban encampments have been broken up by state intervention and police attacks, I think it important to remind ourselves just how much we have lost with these attacks. I was in Zucotti Park for the afternoon on November 14, the last day before Bloomberg's middle-of-the-night assault on the camp. Here are some comments I made for an article explaining OWS! to folks in Norway:

Returning after 10 days away, I saw the self-organization of Liberty Plaza, as it was also known, had advanced notably from the previously high levels, let alone the more primitive structure of the early weeks. My friend Mike Zweig gave a tight noon-hour talk on how class works in the US to dozens in the northeast corner of the park via the Mic Check method, then delivered advance copies of his book, The Working Class Majority, to the professional and amateur librarians operating the library, 5237 volumes and counting, now in its own tent. The information, food serving and medical operations were all better housed and organized and a Zucotti Park Fire Department had popped up.

An unofficial stencil and spray can operation put slogans on shirts on one side of the park and on the other, a full scale silkscreen operation was turning out free t-shirts, raising from donations the money the GA had voted to buy shirts and supplies. On line to get one, I chatted with a retired Black clerical worker, 75 years old, on her third visit to the park from New Jersey. She agreed with me that right after actual tents had gone up in the park some weeks before, some of the openness and welcome of the encampment had been lost, and that it was now back.

Before I left, I chatted with a hard-hatted IBEW member and a dude from the Labor Outreach Committee. The three of us talking in union jackets attracted others who wanted to discuss potential labor participation on the upcoming November 17 action. At last, on my way out again, I paused to join in on "16 Tons" and "For What It's Worth" with four or five folks around a guy with a guitar. Occupy Wall Street! was in full flower.

That night, the hammer came down.
Two last points. First, watch Michael Zweig's video! At 15 minutes, it serves as a microcosm and a particularly stellar example of the kind of education that was taking place in the Zucotti Park. Despite the challenging conditions, Michael helped unpack the whole question of class in the US for an avid audience. Individual discussions continued for more than half an hour after his talk concluded.

Finally, I write this not to bum myself out, or you, dear reader, but to remind us what we were capable of building and what was such a threat as to demand scores of brutal raids, over 5000 arrests have taken place around the country and untold millions in police overtime to disrupt. And the struggle continues.

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