Occupy at Netroots

It was a truly weird feeling to be looking out the window of the swanky Convention Center at my friends camped out on the sidewalk several stories down. Maybe it’s an ex-Catholic thing, but I half-expected that they would challenge me to share their sacrifice and discomfort. I had spent time with them through the Fall and Winter, met many people who held down jobs and dedicated all their time off to the Occupation. Though they have sympathizers and allies from diverse communities, it’s a small group who have continued meeting twice a week for the General Assembly.

But Artemis said “we each do what we are able, we need everyone’s contribution.”

Inside the Convention Center there was much the same feeling, though some I talked to asked why Occupy could not change its strategy and engage in electoral politics. I said that we need a goad to our conscience, we need people who put the issues out there– issues of economic justice. Both parties are so compromised by the influence of money in politics that it’s rare to hear plain speaking. Maybe that’s why so many politicians resort to simple-minded ‘us vs them’. It’s the junk food of discourse.

Daily Kos has an analysis of the role of Occupy in bringing the issue of economic injustice to the front page…

The post-election challenge for the members of Wisconsin’s uprising is finding a new way to fight for and achieve needed change without simply pinning their hopes on a candidate or an election. After all, that’s part of what absorbed the nation when a bunch of students first moved into the Wisconsin state capitol and wouldn’t go home, or when a ragtag crew of protesters camped out in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and wouldn’t leave either. In both cases, they had harnessed the outrage felt by so many Americans for a cause other than what’s usually called “politics” in this country.

And they were successful—even in the most traditional terms; that is, both movements affected traditional politics most strongly when they weren’t part of it. The Occupy movement, for all its flaws, moved even mainstream political discourse away from austerity and deficit slashing and toward the issues of income inequality and the hollowing out of the American middle and working classes.

Avoiding politics as we know it with an almost religious fervor, Occupy still managed to put its stamp on national political fights. Last October, for instance, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to repeal SB 5, a law that curbed collective bargaining rights for all public-employee unions. Occupy’s “We are the 99%” message reverberated through Ohio, and the volunteers who blitzed the state successfully drew on Occupy themes to make their case for the law’s repeal. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $500,000 in Ohio fighting SB 5, told me at the time, “Every conversation was in the context of the 99% and the 1%, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street.”

I want to mention that Occupy Providence is not a student movement, a youth movement, a homeless movement, a grey-haired lefty movement, a church movement, a worker’s movement, a GLBT movement, an immigrant movement, a worker’s movement– but all of these.

Inside the Convention Center, speakers like Van Jones made a convincing case for staying engaged with electoral politics. I will be volunteering for Democratic candidates this election, and for the re-election of Barack Obama. We need all Americans, Democrat, Republican, Independent to look at the issues and make our best choices in a real world that is full of tough choices.

Got to Meet Pam

I finally got to say ‘hi’ to Pam Spaulding, tireless blogmistress of Pam’s House Blend. Also heard Jessica Valenti speak and show her film, ‘The Purity Myth’. I saw Autumn Sandeen, who writes for the Blend.

Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth gave a rousing call to action on cutting carbon emissions, making a point echoed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse– that we have passed a point in atmospheric carbon that will change future climate.

Occupy Providence
set up with banners on the sidewalk across the street, a strong reminder to keep it real. We are accountable to one another, and there is a lot of work to do.

May Day 2012

Just got back from the May Day march for workers and the 99%. The crowd looked about 200 people, diverse in age, class, race and politics. What Cheer Marching Band was there. The march route took us through the City Hall lobby and I was right next to the tuba player. That was an experience.

What was it all for? For a more fair tax system, for a stop to illegal evictions and help for homeowners, for health care, for employment, for immigration reform and an end to profiling, for youth of all colors, for education.

The march started in Armory Park with drums and music and proceeded downtown. Stops were the Providence School Department, Verizon, City Hall, Bank of America and the Federal Building.

It’s something to get that many people to come out on a chill, rainy day for over three hours. One of the signs said, ‘Another World is Possible’. Not without work and sacrifice, but possible.

Occupy Sexism

Most likely there is not a Personal Goddess who favors Her worshippers with good weather. April 22 was one of those ‘cruelest month’ days.

The rally sponsored by the ‘Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League’ had been planned for City Hall Park, with a march through downtown, but rain changed the meeting place to the shelter of the tunnel under the skating rink. There, about 30 people assembled for a speak-out on economic injustice, inequality and violence against women, and men too, who get on the wrong side of gender roles.

The miracle, perhaps, is that a diverse group braved the chill and the damp to hear two hours of speeches. The miracle that this group comprised young and old, men and women, queer and straight, couples pushing strollers, students, teachers, workers and activists. This is the miracle I see at Occupy Providence– the reaching across lines.

The sad and frustrating thing is that we have to come to this place again. More than one speaker reminded us that equality for women will not be won in one generation.

The General Assembly of Occupy Providence has been meeting twice a week since leaving Burnside Park. I expect that in May the press will be reporting on the return of Occupy Providence. The truth is we never left.

Occupy at House of Compassion

I’m sitting here now resting my back from helping to haul an especially heavy dead water heater up some ancient stone steps. The guys had to reach consensus at points in the process, and– what I really appreciated– no one told me I couldn’t help because I’m a girl. We got it out of the cellar without anyone getting hurt, but I have taken some preventative Ibuprofen. Haven’t done that since I took karate.

Many hands make light work, they say. The work was still pretty heavy, but Occupy made fast progress with a much-needed Spring cleaning at House of Compassion today. Bringing the spirit of an old-fashioned barn-raising, we cleared out and sorted furniture and assorted cardboard and stuff that really never will come in handy.

I brought some compact florescents to bring the cellar into the 21st Century. Artemis Moonhawk was directing the crew (as much as you can direct a crew largely composed of philosophical anarchists). She showed me the room that was a part of the Underground Railroad. The room had a small window with wooden bars. Artemis said that the Abolitionists would fool the fugitive slave hunters that they were keeping prisoners there– instead of helping them escape.

I have an interest in old houses, especially the cellars. My first place away from home was the Kingston Inn, near URI. That house was older than the USA. So is the House of Compassion, built around 1730, according to the residents, maybe at the time of the Revolutionary War, according to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s listed as the Luke Jillson House.

Lived in for over 250 years it’s a home, not a museum. It shelters about ten people who share this beautiful house in Northern Rhode Island.

House of Compassion has always struggled financially, more in these times of budget cuts. There are nursing homes and high rise buildings, and these are necessary, but not the right choice for everyone. House of Compassion is more than just care and housing for a few people. It’s a model of alternative housing. Small and personal, respecting the individuality of the residents.

One focus of Occupy Providence is homelessness and preventing evictions. Coming to the aid of House of Compassion is very much in keeping with the spirit of economic justice and direct action.

This is a work weekend. Cleanup continues Sunday. Occupy Providence can be reached on Facebook, here.

Occupy Full Calendar

Statewide and ActiveSince Occupy Providence left Burnside Park, the General Assembly continues to meet twice a week. Public education, actions and planning are going strong. This past Saturday, GA was held in the Rochambeau Library, and visitors from Occupy Delaware and Occupy Philadelphia shared their experiences practicing community and negotiating with their respective city governments. We sat in folding chairs and heard the news firsthand.

In Delaware, Occupiers are calling on the District Attorney, Beau Biden, to take action against illegal foreclosures– ‘robosigned’ mortgages with no accountability unless the law protects the people. In Philadelphia, Occupiers are holding classes in non-violence training at the Friends Center, and bringing attention to the crisis of homelessness in that city.

In Rhode Island, a work weekend at House of Compassion takes place this weekend, to provide some volunteer help, as well as financial help, to a small organization that has worked for years to house people with HIV and other disabilities despite a worsening economy and budget cuts. You may have seen the ‘Occupy Providence Journal’, first edition in print, distributed statewide.

Yesterday I got an email from Pat Fontes–

Occupy Providence has not gone moribund. Just as an example, here was my yesterday’s involvement: 2pm -I visited the offices of our two Senators to check on their possible collusion in a “secret plan” reported in The Hill to trade off cuts in Social Security for some tax increases; 3:30pm – represented OP at the Rally of Rhode Islanders for Tax Equity (RITE) in the State House Rotunda; 4pm – attended General Assembly in Burnside Park at which funding for a clean-up at the House of Compassion in Cumberland (site of a small ‘occupation’) and signing of the RITE protest letter were passed; 5:30pm – participated in cross-group planning session for May Day Labor Action; 7:30pm – took part in the Editorial Board planning session for the second edition.

And I am just one of 30 to 40 people still active and carrying on as best we can the spirit of October. OP has five active new campaign groups: Stop Home Foreclosures, Tax Fairness Reform, Gender Inequality, Civil Rights (anti-profiling and prisoners’ rights), and Solidarity Economy. Over 30 OP members attended a potluck and cooperation planning meeting at The First Unitarian Church of Providence. Every Saturday for the last month OP has had a 4 -5 hour General Assembly, in varying indoor locations with between 12 and 30 people participating, as well as Burnside Park GAs on Tuesday nights. OP is active on the Brown U contribution to Providence issue.

If you’re wondering where Occupation actions can be found, a calendar of events for March is here. Occupy Providence is also collaborating with community and religious organizations for basic issues of economic justice– housing, tax fairness, education, gender equity.

Every time I attend a GA meeting I am amazed at the process. Change is a constant, but this experience of cooperative Democracy will stay with us and affect lives in a lasting way.

Save the Date

From Occupy Providence on Facebook–

Yellow Peril Gallery invites you to the opening night reception for #OCCUPY, a group exhibition featuring artwork inspired by the OCCUPY movement to launch the 2012 Gallery Night season in Providence, RI, on Thursday, 15 March 2012, from 5PM to 9PM.

#OCCUPY includes seven artists with firsthand experience with the OCCUPY movements in Providence, New York City and Salt Lake City: The Chair People Collective, Joey Kilrain, Melissa St. Laurent, Occupy The Light, Phil LeStein, Sandy Parsons and Tom West.

#OCCUPY will run at Yellow Peril Gallery from Thursday, 15 March to Sunday, 15 April 2012. Opening night reception will be on Thursday, 15 March, from 5PM – 9PM during Gallery Night in Providence, RI.