Monthly Archives: November, 2011

Occupy City Hall

Read This--You Will be Tested


Times like this, I wish I was a reporter and not just a humble blogger who was working near downtown and decided to walk over and check out the Occupation of City Hall.

City Councilman Luis Aponte introduced a resolution in support of allowing the Occupiers to stay in Burnside Park indefinitely and exercise their right to free speech. Word went out on the intertubes that Occupy would hold the General Assembly in City Hall and attend the City Council meeting, in support of this Democratic process.

I had been in City Hall a few times. My point of reference was the 2003 Providence City Council session where the city passed a resolution against the Iraq War. I expected a large crowd and a peaceful session.

When I got to Burnside Park I was surprised to find just a couple of dozen people huddled under umbrellas, holding a planning session by the fountain. There were rotating speakers representing the different working groups that hash out details and bring proposals to the whole Occupation. There were calls for volunteers for Safety and Support to stay by the tents during the City Hall action, to speak with the police and the press. To stand by the door to City Hall and make sure it was kept open.

Ashley and Annie Rose explained the hand signals, the process, and the philosophy. ‘This is not a leaderless movement, this is a movement of leaders.’ And, ‘this is not planning for the movement, this is the movement.’

The amazing thing is– it was working. The mood was peaceful, civil, determined. But kind of loud. ‘We Are Unstoppable–Another World is Possible.’ Marching past the bus commuters in Kennedy Plaza. The people waiting in Kennedy Plaza see it all– the demonstrations, the RIPTA cuts.

We marched up to the doors and walked in.

From a chilly rain to a comfortable and grand public center. Providence City Hall is a treasure, built in 1878, gilt, marble, tile and paintings. Chandeliers, brass and a curving staircase. And no one stopping us.

A policewoman came up and talked to some occupiers, she didn’t look worried. Men in suits walked through the crowd of demonstrators and conversed or opted for the elevators, but they were doing their job and so were we.

City Hall is distractingly beautiful. There were a few children, who were enjoying this like a field trip to the museum. I ran into Dave, who was taking in the gallery show– an exhibition of WRNI’s ‘This I Believe’ contributors photos and statements. WRNI is brought to you by Rhode Islanders who organized to make it happen, and one of the photos I recognized as Barbara Schweitzer, a poet and friend. Which is to say, in Rhode Island you know people– that’s our strength.

The General Assembly was held on the stairs. People had been trickling in, the second floor filled up. A speaker reviewed the drill. Councilman Aponte had introduced a resolution for the Occupation to stay. We were there to observe and show support.

One of us was in a wheelchair, and I saw him still on the first floor. I went down to see if he needed any help to get into the hearing room, if there was any problem with the elevators. He was fine, but I overheard him talking with the policewoman, who had spent most of her time at the desk by the door. The man had apparently not been here before.

‘…this place is with a church?’ he asked.

‘No’, the policewoman said, ‘I think that’s the whole idea, it’s separation of Church and State.’

I can understand the man’s confusion. We don’t build civic temples like Providence City Hall anymore.

I went back up the stairs and heard a young woman ask ‘Are we allowed to go inside a City Council meeting?’
‘Yes,’ a man answered, ‘and more of us should. It’s not only a right, it’s an obligation.’

Occupy Providence marched loudly up the stairs to the third floor and filled the room, including some in the balcony. Not quite the crowd that filled the room in 2003, but a presence.

The session opened with an invocation, and the chaplain asked for blessings on the council members and on Occupy Providence. We pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Councilman Aponte asked that the Occupiers be allowed to continue their exercise of free speech. ‘The Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words, ‘and justice for all.’ ‘let’s allow them to occupy Burnside Park. Though it may be inconvenient, let’s err on the side of more freedom and not less.’

After Councilman Aponte spoke, five more members stood up in support. Several of them mentioned the nonviolent nature of the protest, the consideration and cooperation of the Occupiers. The justice of their cause. ‘You are treating the park like it is your park, thank you, I appreciate your message.’ More than one said that Burnside Park is cleaner and safer since the Occupiers moved in than it ever was.

Those of us who spend some time in Downtown know that this is true.

Councilman Aponte’s resolution will go to committee. The Occupation was still there when I left, cheering a motion to support RIPTA. The City Council seldom has so much attention to their sessions.

Lobbyists and the wealthy have their paths of influence. If the rest of us are willing to put ourselves into City Hall on a cold rainy night after a hard day’s work, it has an effect. What if the cost per vote becomes priceless? This is what Democracy looks like.

I think the Occupiers are demonstrating a new model of power. Nonviolence is a fine word, but a negative. An absence of harm, but what fills the gap? Does our language have words to describe it?

When I walked into Burnside Park and joined the group I could have been anyone, and I could have volunteered for anything. There was no security check on me. How can this work? How can it work when the park is the long time hangout of people who have nowhere else to go, some so troubled that they are not accepted anywhere? How can this movement operate this way when history tells us there will be provocateurs and predators of all kinds?

I think the answer is that a new way of relating is being worked out. Perhaps this could only happen in a time of crisis. Danger and opportunity.

Americans famously come together in crisis. This may be the dynamic of the bucket brigade. When the house is burning you don’t argue– you grab a bucket and put the fire out.

Our country is in crisis, caught between fear and hope. This may be the birth of a 21st Century way of being. It is a sure thing that endlessly expanding consumption is not sustainable, and circling the wagons spins into a space so small that most of us will be outside the safe zone.

It was cool to see children and adults discovering the beautiful building downtown that they had never seen from inside. And it’s ours. Our own government, of the people, by the people and for the people. This is what Democracy looks like.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL: First report here. Richard Dujardin reports ‘at least five’ of the eleven members supported Occupy Providence. I counted six. It’s on the record, anyway. The resolution was sent to committee, so keep those calls and letters coming.

Our House

This is what Democracy looks like–


From the Occupy Providence Facebook page

Thursday, November 17 · 6:00am – 8:00am
OCCUPY CITY HALL
6pm General Assembly :: 7pm City Council Meeting
25 Dorrance St., Providence

On Thursday, join Occupy Providence to show that City Hall belongs to the 99%. We will meet in the lobby at 6pm for a brief General Assembly before entering the City Council meeting at 7pm to show our support for a pro-Occupy Resolution, as well as for an Ordinance that will lift the curfew on Burnside Park and expand free speech rights for all. We will then return to Burnside Park together to celebrate more than one month of Occupy Providence!

I was present at the City Council meeting in 2003 when the City of Providence passed a resolution opposing the pending Iraq War. I saw the faces of the council members, and the impression it made on them when the council room filled to the rafters…

Lead by newly elected Green Party city council member David Segal

Providence Journal-“Activists lobbied members with calls, letters”

02/07/2003

BY GREGORY SMITH
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Adding their voices to a chorus of doubts across the
nation, City Council members last night declared themselves opposed to a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The council adopted a resolution calling for a diplomatic strategy to
deal with “the Iraq situation” and a reliance on world courts and
international justice to promote international and national security.

The declaration was met with cacaphonous applause, cheering and
foot-stomping by a crowd of 150 or more antiwar activists who filled the council chamber in City Hall.

A great array of placards and signs were held aloft by the activists,
some of whom sat on the floor in the main aisle or wore costumes.

“Providence City Council: No War for Oil,” one sign said. “Let Iraq
Live,” read another. And one sign proclaimed, “Bush’s Bottom Line is
Overhead Iraq.”

One man carried what looked like a cardboard missile and one woman was
costumed as if a rocket had gone through her head, with each end showing.
She wore a bib that was dotted with peace symbols.

The vote for the resolution was 10 to 1, with 4 abstentions. In favor
were Councilmen David A. Segal, Miguel Luna, John J. Lombardi, Josephine DiRuzzo, Luis A. Aponte, Kevin Jackson, Rita M. Williams, Balbina A.Young, Peter S. Mancini and Joseph DeLuca.

Councilman Patrick K. Butler voted no and members John J. Igliozzi, Carol A. Romano, Ronald W. Allen and Terrence M. Hassett were recorded as not voting.

A campaign in favor of the resolution, organized in part by the American Friends Service Committee, had bombarded members with telephone calls, letters and e-mail, to some effect.

DeLuca, for example, made it plain that he was voting to uphold the
convictions of his constituency rather than his own beliefs in supporting the resolution. He called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein “a horrible threat to the world.”

The council also received a petition bearing the signatures of 226 people — all but about 25 gave Providence addresses — asking for an anti-war resolution.

Hassett said he abstained because it is too soon to say what the correct course of action will be until the next report from the United Nations inspectors is submitted. Igliozzi said the resolution is premature.

Segal sought to bring the question home when he said that the issue is
not war versus no war, but the expending of national resources on war
that are badly needed in Providence and other places.

He quoted a figure produced by a group called the National Priorities
Project asserting that a war and post-war occupation of Iraq would
conservatively cost the nation $100 billion and would divert $28 million in federal aid from Providence.

Luna cited a Vietnam-era quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession.”

So far, 69 state legislatures and city and county councils, including
Providence, have adopted resolutions opposing war with Iraq, or a
majority of their memberships have signed letters to that effect,
according to a coalition called Cities for Peace.

[from The Providence Journal, . Visit them at ProJo.com and support our one statewide newspaper and treasure of Rhode Island history.]

Recently Facebook lit up with agitation about the proposed resident permit parking fee, but I went to the hearing and less than a dozen people showed up, all of them apparently supporting permit parking.

The comments section in the Providence Journal is full of hostile remarks about the Occupiers, mainly of the ‘dirty hippie’ vintage. I’ve visited and talked with them at Burnside Park and it’s a very diverse group, united– as far as I can see– to say ‘NO’ to the escalating economic injustice built into our current way of life. I trust the Occupiers to exercise their rights to participate in the City Council meeting with dignity and effectiveness, because I saw this happen in 2003.

MORE: Thanks to Kiersten for finding the great vintage postcard of our City Hall. I notice a bicycle parked on the sidewalk. The night the City Council passed the anti-war resolution there were about 100 bicycles chained in front of the City Hall steps. Some of the people who have been biking, planting, rehabbing and meeting all these years are coming together in Burnside Park and all around town. We’re in it for the long haul.

Class Warfare

The poor lost.

I have five minutes before I have to get to work. Thinking about how the NYT gave Katie Roiphe space to conflate Herman Cain’s sexual harassment trouble with harmless flirtation– and why can’t those office drones take a compliment?

I’ve also seen interviews with some of Cain’s past executives and business associates, and he seems to have been seen favorably by his peers.

But missing from the story are the invisible people– the low-wage workers who made the pizzas at Godfathers. Cain opposed the minimum wage and put a lot of them out of their jobs in cost-cutting. This may be good business, but politics is different. You can’t fire Alabama and give Utah a raise.

Will anyone bother to ask the workers what things were like when Herman Cain was boss?

HOPE

Roger Williams Park Museum

There is a show a the Roger Williams Park Museum called ‘Curiosities’. Specimens from the natural history collection are arranged in installations by local artists– rabbit in a cabinet, owls behind lenses, walls of transparent bricks sheltering birds.

The museum itself is a work of public art on a scale that we don’t aspire to anymore, but can still enjoy for free– long may it wave.

I’m Getting Too Old for This

Don't Do This

Katie Roiphe is a writer who made her reputation fresh out of college as a maverick with ‘The Morning After’, a book that argued that date-rape was a largely imagined problem. This put her on a fast track to success and won her praise from critics who saw her book as a repudiation of her mother, Ann Roiphe, a feminist.

Katie dredges up arguments I haven’t heard in ages in today’s New York Times op-ed ‘In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risque Remarks’. Roiphe uses Herman Cain as a point of departure, but doesn’t let the facts slow down her rush to resume her rewarding career of telling women to stop whining and accept that you have to take some hits and pinches if you want to succeed in a man’s world.

‘After all these years we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime.’

Sez who?

Roiphe may specialize in nostalgia for the MadMen era, but the allegations against Herman Cain are of a pattern of behavior resulting in payoffs and lost jobs. Sharon Bialek, one of five women alleging sexual harassment by Herman Cain, says that when they were alone in his car he grabbed her in a way that meets the legal definition of sexual assault, and when she objected, said, “You want a job, right?”

You can’t get a more clear example of sexual harassment– making sex a condition of employment, but Roiphe isn’t interested in looking at the actual news story. It doesn’t fit her well-worn riff that it’s all about dirty jokes at the office and women who have no sense of humor.

She calls American culture ‘Puritan’ and cites ‘Orwellian’ attempts to regulate behavior when she was at Princeton.

Well, okay. The most recent references to American Puritanism I’ve seen in the press were from French critics asking why it was possible that an important man could be arrested on the word of a mere maid, or why a very important film director has to languish in Europe. If I remember my Orwell correctly, abuse of power on a personal level was one of the most harrowing chapters of ‘1984’, when Winston Smith is being tortured by interrogator O’Brien at the Ministry of Love. But then, I’ve actually read the book. I’ve read some history too.

‘We don’t legislate against meanness, or power struggles, or political maneuvering, or manipulation in offices, and how could we?’

This is an echo of that old line from the opponents of the Civil Rights movement, ‘you can’t legislate morality’. Actually, you can legislate morality. You can arrest people who steal things, you can name, shame and prosecute discrimination, call out workplace bullies and make it less safe to bait people over their race or religion. This very imperfect world is a little less hostile for many because of the much-despised, ‘political correctness’ that makes it risky to throw slurs at co-workers.

Roiphe suggests that it is a soft bigotry of low expectations to think that women might need protection from slurs and worse, ‘when women are yet more powerful and ascendent in the workplace.’

I don’t want to get all ‘class-warfare’, but I have to wonder how many workplaces Roiphe has ever seen. From Princeton to a successful writing career is a happy circumstance– and good for her, but maybe she missed some things along the way. Roiphe imagines that ordinary working women might need some horndog men to to bring sunshine to their empty, dreary little lives…

‘Is the anodyne drone typing away in her silent cubicle free from the risk of comment on her clothes, the terror of a joke, the unsettlement of an unwanted or even wanted sexual advance truly our ideal?’

Jeeze, Katie, thanks for looking out for us drones. ‘Our ideal’? You and who else. You don’t sound like you’ve worked in many offices, or talked to many women for that matter. And F.Y.I., most women don’t work in offices.

Herman Cain, if the allegations are true, demanded sex in exchange for a job. If the allegations are true, he caused two women to lose their jobs.

Imagine, in this terrible economy, getting a job you desperately want and need. Imagine discovering that the price of keeping that job is to placate a workplace bully or try to evade them, to appease them with sex or to make a complaint that will likely go nowhere and get you labelled a complainer. Being caught between dread of going to work and dread of losing your job sounds pretty Orwellian to me.

Laws that are intended to give workers some recourse when they are discriminated against or extorted for sex are partial and imperfect, but have given a little power to workers who have been wronged.

More often than not, workers get along by using some common sense about what their co-workers consider to be okay, and by respecting their feelings.

My first job as a nurse was in a public health clinic at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Candy dishes full of condoms sat on doctor’s desks. Some of the safe-sex literature had photos I wouldn’t show my mother. I did pre and post-test counseling for HIV with many people, in confidence, answering questions about relative risk of various acts. The clinic had a diverse staff and a high-pressure work environment where gallows-humor got us through.

Two of the doctors, one a Seventh Day Adventist, one a Hindu, did not like any kind of profane or risque humor. So we watched our mouths around them, because what’s funny to one person is offensive to another. If you have a grain of social sense, you consider who you’re talking to.

I wish Katie Roiphe and her editors at the New York Times had not rushed to replay that old line about how men can’t have any fun without being accused of sexual harassment. And worse, conflate overreaction to a ‘dirty joke’ with the claims against Herman Cain.

Herman Cain is accused of using his power in the National Restaurant Association to extort sex. If these allegations are true there’s a character flaw that would likely affect how he would use his power as president. A very big deal.

Workplace relations go much better if people remember to practice civility and respect. It’s better to save your wild side for when you’re among friends, not in a group of people who have to spend time with you because it’s their job. At least pick your times and save your jokes for people who think they’re funny, not people who are afraid not to go along. Why is it even necessary to keep on pointing out the obvious?

I’m getting too old for this.

AND ANOTHER THING: No More Mister Nice Blog has more.

FURTHERMORE: I have a long resume. I’ve cleaned toilets and counseled people through health decisions and retouched high school portraits. I’ve wiped up blood in the ER and hung wallpaper and visited the sick and supervised nurses aides and have been a nurses aide. Now for the first time in my life I’m working in a cubicle. Strangely enough I think the work I’m doing is useful and interesting. Some guy draping himself over my desk and breathing in my face would not improve my day. I like the guys I work with, but not in that way.

PART II: I’m waiting for Roiphe to follow up with an op ed about workplace Napoleons and how much fun they are– and why their unlucky targets should try to enjoy being picked on.
The movie, ‘Office Space’ has some wonderful send ups of petty office tyrants. Workplace bullies are disruptive–good managers should step on their heads when they start with that.

Blossom S. Kirschenbaum

Blossom passed on November 5, just saw it on Facebook.

She was a writer, scholar, translator from Italian, New York girl, single mother, fierce critic and kind friend.

She had been sick, did not want to talk about it, walked everywhere and whenever I saw her had attitude. She was active in SWAP– ‘Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties’ and there are probably houses standing because of her efforts. She told me which houses on her street were empty during this latest real estate crash.

We were in a writing group together. She could be overwhelming, but she was a fine writer. Her short stories are a snapshot of a time on the cusp of great change, when bright women tried to balance love, work and family and succeeded or failed on a tilted field. I don’t see her fiction on the net, her children might get it into print in a collection that would stand up well with others of her contemporaries, including her friend, Grace Paley.

And, speaking of children, the one Providence School Board meeting I attended was livened by Blossom speaking up for the gifted program. Maybe a gifted girl who grew up in an immigrant/working neighborhood had some life experience to bring.

Blossom told me that once Norman Mailer came to speak and she asked, ‘What about the women?’ which really ticked him off.

For that I thank you Blossom, and for all the love you gave to your city and your friends.

Cost Per Vote

Thought for the day before I head off to work–

I once read an analysis of an election where the losing candidate invested his personal fortune and major money in the campaign. Dividing that number by number of votes he got gave the ‘cost per vote’ figure. His opponent spent less and got more votes and won.

I have already been personally called by Wayne La Pierre of the NRA (National Rifle Association), though possibly it was a recording– I was on my way out and couldn’t talk to him. I also have Herman Cain of the NRA (National Restaurant Association) popping up on every web page I visit, begging for $999,000. Right now I don’t even have $9.99 to spare so his pleas are wasted on me.

I have not forgotten the election of 2000, and Florida’s Secretary of State Kathyrn Harris. I have not forgiven her flawed blacklist of banned voters that resulted in citizens being turned away at the polls because someone with a similar name appeared on her list. And I am not reconciled to states narrowing access to the vote in a witch hunt for voter fraud at the polls. Voter fraud is much more efficient at higher levels.

The deluge of money into our electoral process, amplified since the Citizens United decision, will result in the death of many trees and gazillions of kilowatts of screen power to direct our attention to the most well-funded candidates.

However, there is not a straight line between cost per vote and winning. The dedication of people who are Occupying worldwide is driven by a sense of urgency not owned by any political party or drummed up by advertising.

The cost per vote, really, is the sweat, blood and tears of patriots. When we defend our voting rights and the rights of others we are defending Democracy from the appeals to fear and apathy that serve the interests of the corporate persons who can outspend any mere human citizen.

Synchronicity

From City Hall the Mayor and City Council can look out the windows at the tents in Burnside Park. Last week Mayor Taveras signed this executive order to popular acclaim…

Mayor Angel Taveras today signed an executive order that closes the corporate tax loophole that allows foreclosing banks to hold onto the owner occupied homestead exemption, and enables new homeowners of foreclosed properties to immediately receive their owner occupied homestead exemption.

Mayor Taveras signed the executive order surrounded by local elected officials and housing advocates in front of a foreclosed, bank-owned single family home on Ardoene Street in Providence’s Reservoir neighborhood.

“In my first 10 months as Mayor I’ve worked daily to address the impacts in Providence of our nation’s most serious economic downturn in decades. In particular, there is a great need to address the foreclosure crisis that is crushing hope and opportunity for too many in our community,” said Mayor Taveras. “Banks shouldn’t get owner-occupied tax breaks – we’re fixing that immediately. Together with our friends in the housing community, we are moving forward decisively to rebuild our city and make sure that all the citizens of Providence have access to safe and affordable housing.”

The City Council did not want to be left out of this parade…

And a few hours after the mayor acted, Councilman Bryan Principe filed an ordinance that would force lenders and trustees of foreclosed properties to continue houses’ upkeep while they are vacant. Among other responsibilities, they would need to landscape, remove graffiti, shovel snow and keep the land free of trash.

The council’s ordinance committee will review the regulation before a vote is taken, but every council member asked Thursday to co-sponsor the ordinance.

As a Providence homeowner– this rocks! I have watched neighborhoods empty out as houses are left to deterioration and vandalism, at the same time the number of displaced and homeless people increases every year. Why have the banks been allowed for so long to take a tax break intended for owner-occupied houses, and not been held responsible for maintaining the properties they seize?

The Mayor and the City Council have decided that this is an urgent matter.

Coincidence? I think not. I think that a group of determined people putting their time and comfort on the line, supported by many in the city of Providence is exerting a counter-pressure to the financial powers and their lobbyists.

Occupy Providence 101

The General Rides on the Wild Side

INTRODUCTION TO OCCUPY PROVIDENCE

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10
11-12 and 12-1PM
SATURDAY 1-3

A ONE HOUR CLASS ON OCCUPY PROVIDENCE
TOUR OF THE PARK–
KITCHEN, HEALING ARTS TENT, WELCOME AND COMFORT TENT, SECURITY AND SUPPORT (24 HOUR VOLUNTEER STAFF), OUTREACH/MEDIA/INFO TENT

NO SIGN UP NEEDED, FIND DAVE AT THE KITCHEN TENT (GREY HAIR AND GREY BEARD)

This message brought to you by Ninjanurse, who ran into Dave at the Coffee Hour at First Unitarian. I mentioned the difficulty many, this writer included, have getting a handle on what the occupation is all about. Dave says that they are looking at the logistics of continuing to stay in the park while their right to occupy is debated in court. As to what it’s about, he said, “You gotta hang out. The community is the Revolution, simple community dynamics.”

I have spent time in retreat, among feminist women, among anti-nuclear activists. Something changes after a few days and the ‘normal’ world takes adjusting to. Me and Mr.Green stopped by the Occupation this morning and talked to a few people, then went to Stop and Shop. I felt a little jolt of when worlds collide– the food line in the park and the rows of soda and chips in the market. I have, and we all have, known other ways of being than power and consumption. Is this a power whose time has come?

Today’s Scripture Lesson

Sunday at Occupy Providence

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