• September 17, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Yeah it’s Constitution Day, and we have a blog symposium for that. But today also marks the anniversary of a gathering of protests aimed at blasting the risky ways of large financial institutions that brought on a global meltdown and America’s Great Recession. Occupy Wall Street protests also railed against the increasing corporate control of politics, and helped raise awareness of economic inequality that undermines democracy.

    When those protests gathered steam and formed organization in places like New York’s Zuccotti Park, many right-wing pundits, like some on Fox News, belittled the protests as run by brain-addled youngsters and aging hippies with no real message. (Some on Fox News also expressed amazement at why any person would care about economic inequality.) But like so much of what spews from cable news carnival barkers, they were wrong.

    As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick put it, many of the OWS protesters were exceedingly clear in their messaging. “They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want – wait, no we want – to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.”

    In a Sept. 14 post on OccupyWallStreet, website the “common villain” is Wall Street, which “is robbing the 99% blind on behalf the 1%.”

    Likely a little hyperbole, but part of its message centers on the fact that for far too long, economic policy has been driven by lawmakers who cater to the superrich, ignoring a growing wealth gap and larger numbers of people falling into poverty.

    In So Rich, So Poor, Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman explains how right-wing economic policy has created a wholly ineffectual social safety net.

  • November 20, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As has been the case for too many involved in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, so it was at UC Davis, where a group of students engaging in peaceful, political assembly was confronted with excessive use of force by authorities.  

    OWS’s website states, in part, “Such incidents are unfortunately common,” and a “daily reality” of the country’s “marginalized communities.”

    As noted here, police actions to suppress OWS demonstrations have turned brutal in New York City, Boston, and Oakland, among others. The pepper-spraying of a group of University of California, Davis students involved in peaceful OWS protests, was captured on video, showing, as The Huffington Post reports, “the students seated on the ground as a UC Davis police brandishes a red canister of pepper spray, showing it off for the crowd before dousing the seated students in a heavy, thick mist.”

    The university’s chancellor, The New York Times reports, suspended some of the campus officers involved in the incident, and that “students and others affiliated with the Occupy U.C. Davis protests have called for the chancellor’s resignation.

    Glenn Greenwald, for Salon, says the “The now-viral video of police officers in their Robocop costumes sadistically pepper-spraying peaceful, sitting protesters at UC-Davis (details here) shows a police state in its pure form.”

    Greenwald says the brutality against OWS protestors, in demonstrations nationwide, is far too common a response, but highlights some “points to note about this incident,” such as:

    Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.

    The country’s history of allowing this type of reaction to political protests has been exacerbated, Greenwald continues, by developments “in the post 9/11 world,” such as the government’s aggressive “para-militarization” of the ”nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons."

    See Greenwald’s entire comments here.

    UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in statement that she feels the students “outrage,” adding she was “deeply saddened that this has happened on our campus ….”

    Meanwhile, others on campus are calling for the chancellor’s resignation. As The Huffington Post notes, an English professor, Nathan Brown, has released an open letter to the chancellor, calling for her resignation. He wrote, "You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt."

    Other commentators note that the brutality against OWS protestors is unlikely to oppress the messages being amplified about the nation’s growing wealth gap and the out-of-control power that Wall Street holds over policymakers.

  • November 17, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Continuing its involvement in helping to advance the ideals of Occupy Wall Street, organized labor is preparing to launch a nationwide effort to highlight Congress’s intransigence on President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which calls for funding of deteriorating infrastructure.

    A “Labor-Community-Occupy Day of Action” is scheduled for Nov. 17 in cities from coast to coast, including Los Angeles, D.C., Portland, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore and Boston. SEIU one of the nation’s fastest-growing unions is helping to spearhead the effort, which is intended to draw attention to the nation’s troubling and growing gap between the super wealthy and everyone else, and Congress’s refusal to move on initiatives to address some the nation’s ongoing economic difficulties.

    In D.C., SEIU, Occupy DC, and others are planning a “Get on the Bridge!” effort to draw attention to the “deterioration of our public infrastructure and public services.”

    On Nov. 17 “we will be marching from McPherson Square to the Key Bridge in solidarity with OurDC, and other labor organizations. We will call on Congress to create jobs, stop cuts, and make Wall Street banks pay. The gap between the 1% and the 99% continues to grow. But instead of creating jobs, Congress continues to ignore the concerns of the 99%, and focuses on job-killing budget cuts and tax giveaways for the rich. In Washington, the structurally deficient Key Bridge is a vivid example of the many roads, schools and other infrastructure sites in need of repair.”   

    In post for SEIU blog, Mike Link blasts Congress for not taking any action to help put people back to work, writing “Congress and the Wall Street banks continue to maintain the status quo, enriching themselves the expense of the rest of us.”

    He continues, “Our bridges need repair. Fixing them could put unemployed people back to work. These actions are a powerful symbol of our leaders’ failure to pass a jobs bill or do anything to help the 99%, while the richest 1% keep getting richer.”

    SEIU will be live-blogging tomorrow’s events, and providing more information via Twitter at @SEIU.

    Good Jobs Better Baltimore will also be involved in the demonstrations, drawing attention to the dilapidated bridges in that city. “According to a report released by Transportation for America, the Baltimore-Townson metro area, as 2009, had 167 deficient bridges. Over 3 million people crossed these bridges every day or about 35 drivers per second,” the group’s website states.

  • November 16, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As if more evidence is needed on the effects of growing economic inequality, a new study by Stanford University reveals, perhaps not surprisingly, that the wealthiest Americans are walling themselves off from everyone else, and poorer neighborhoods are burgeoning. As The Huffington Post reports, the Stanford study also provides yet another “sign of a deteriorating middle class.”

    “From 2000 to 2007, family income segregation grew significantly in almost all metropolitan areas (in 89 percent of the large and moderate sized metropolitan areas). This extends a trend over the period of 1970 – 2000 during which income segregation grew dramatically,” a summary of the report states.

    Regarding the proliferation of wealthy enclaves, the report explains that “high-income families are much less likely to live in neighborhoods with middle- and low-income families than low-income families are to live in neighborhoods with middle- and high-income families.” Additionally, the report found that “Income segregation among black and Hispanic families increased much more than did income segregation among white families from 1970 to 2007.”

    As noted by The Huffington Post, Sean F. Reardon, one of the report’s authors, told The New York Times that the segregation of the super wealthy essentially makes it easier for them to lose touch with the plight of everyone. Some leading economists have argued that the few Americans raking in the largest sums of money appreciate a federal government that can only seem to agree on policies that continue to protect their gilded lifestyles. Indeed Columbia University Business School Professor Joseph Stiglitz has written forcefully about the nation’s 1 percent, and its desire to maintain conservative economic policies.

  • November 15, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Though the First Amendment was given short shrift during the early morning raid of Zuccotti Park, birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, it appears that peaceful assembly and political protest will not be easily squelched.

    Nonetheless, authorities, such as those under the guidance of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, seem bent on trying.

    As reported by Brain Stelter for The New York Times' Media Decoder blog, “many journalists were blocked from observing and interviewing the protesters. Some called it a ‘media blackout’ and said in interviews that they believed the police efforts were a deliberate attempt to tamp down coverage of the operation."

    For Daily Kos, Barbara Morrill wrote, “When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to stage a middle of the night raid on the Occupy Wall Street protestors in Zuccotti Park, there was one thing he didn’t want … media coverage.” Morrill links to coverage by gothamist that says reporters with NPR and The New York Times were arrested trying to cover the clearing of the park.  

    The Times reports that nearly 200 were arrested in the early Tuesday raid. Similar raids, most just as aggressive, if not more so, have unfolded at other OWS encampments nationwide.

    Last month officers in riot gear descended upon OccupyBoston protestors, arresting more than 100, including a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, and a recent attempt in Oakland to clear protestors turned violent.

    Yesterday, the NLG and the ACLU lodged a lawsuit against the Oakland Policy Department (OPD) to stop the authorities from using violence against protestors.

    A statement posted earlier today at OccupyWallStreet said the effort to raise awareness about greed run amok on Wall Street, and growing economic inequality is not likely to die with the clearing of Zuccotti Park.

    The statement reads:

    Two months ago a few hundred New Yorkers set up an encampment at the doorstop of Wall Street. Since then Occupy Wall Street has become a national and even international symbol – with similarly styled occupations popping up in cities and towns across America and around the world. A growing popular movement has significantly altered the national narrative about our economy, our democracy, and our future.

    Americans are talking about the consolidation of wealth and power in our society, and the stranglehold that the top 1% have over our political system. More and more Americans are seeing the crises of our economy and our democracy as systemic problems, that require collective action to remedy. More and more Americans are identifying as part of the 99%, and saying ‘enough!’